Showing posts with label al gore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label al gore. Show all posts

4/27/2008

Obama's Veepstakes

Barack Obama lost last week's Pennsylvania primary by 10 points. Since then, Clinton and the media have been buzzing about the notion that Obama may actually be a weaker general election candidate than the former First Lady. This was the source of a good debate over at Not Very Bright, one of the more popular South Carolina bloggers. NVB correctly argued that even though Obama lost Pennsylvania, the fact remains that Clinton did not amass enough pledged delegates to make a difference. I disagreed and said that pledged delegates don't really matter because superdelegates' main responsibility is to nominate someone who can win in November, and not to simply echo the winner of the pledged delegate race. (Normally, these two ideas coincide, but this year might be different.)

However, this post will not address the electability of both candidates. Instead, I will just pretend that this race is over and that Barack Obama will be the nominee. Thus, the focus switches from how he can finally put Clinton away to whom he will tap as his running mate, which leads me to this post.

First, Obama's running mate must satisfy several preconditions:

1. This candidate cannot be a knuckle dragging partisan. Such a candidate would cancel out his message of unity.

2. This candidate must not be an Iraq defender. It would be ideal for Obama to tap someone who had similar "judgment" regarding the war, but politicians who have since come out against it probably aren't disqualified. This "judgment" is one of the cornerstones of his campaign, so he cannot choose a running mate who contradicts this.

3. This candidate should be able to appeal to Whites and rural voters. Obama is still smarting from his ill-conceived remarks about rural voters "clinging" to guns and religion. Blacks, liberal Whites, and urban voters were already in Obama's corner. More moderate and rural Whites were slowly warming up to him. They may have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt earlier, but taking Bittergate in conjunction with Michelle Obama's "proud" remarks and Jeremiah Wright might be too much for them to overlook. And there also remains a silent subset of the electorate that is simply uncomfortable voting for someone of color, as the Bradley effect suggests.

4. This candidate should be able to compensate for Obama's perceived weaknesses regarding experience and national defense. Tapping a Senate freshman or a one-term governor would not do much to quell the concerns about Obama not being ready for primetime.

5. This candidate should help heal the rift that has opened up between the Obama and Clinton camps. The acrimony between them is creating real divisions that risk sending Democrats to John McCain in November or keeping Democrats at home. This is not to say that Obama needs to ask Clinton to be his veep, but he does need to extend an olive branch somehow to her supporters, lest he risk having to spend precious weeks trying to win them back the hard way.

So let's address some of the more common names generating VP buzz:

John Edwards will not be on the bottom half of an Obama ticket. To start, Edwards already ran for VP and would probably loathe to do it a second time around. Secondly, Edwards was unable to deliver North Carolina for John Kerry in 2004, so his electoral heft is weak. And finally, Edwards has yet to endorse Obama--a point not lost on the Obama campaign. Maybe Obama would tap Edwards to be Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, or a poverty czar, but Vice President is probably out of the question.

A lot of people have been buzzing about Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. A former Republican with a strong military background, Webb would certainly enhance Obama's ticket by providing credibility on foreign affairs, national defense, and the ability to appeal to rural voters and gun owners. The problem with Webb, however, is that he is a perfect fit for Virginia as its junior senator. Should he be tapped for Vice President, his Senate seat would be lost. Yes, the governor of Virginia is a Democrat who would appoint a Democrat to replace Webb, but the most attractive candidate (former Governor Mark Warner) is already running for retiring Senator John Warner's seat. With the prospect of the Democrats making it to a filibuster-proof 60 Senate seats, Webb would probably be better off representing the people of Virginia.

General Wesley Clark would be an attractive option in that he would help bridge the gap between the Obama and Clinton camps. As a former NATO commander and four-star general, Clark would instantly give Obama's ticket the ability to go toe-to-toe with or even outdo John McCain when it comes to military affairs. It's hard to tell a retired four-star general that he is weak on defense. Clark would also probably deliver Arkansas and give McCain a run for his money in Virginia. Clark ran unsuccessfully for the White House in 2004 and only won the primary in Oklahoma before being forced to quit. Since then, he has improved his political skills and is probably a better campaigner now. This would be a smart pick for Obama.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson turned out to be one of the biggest busts of this year's presidential cycle. He had the ultimate resume, but turned out to be a disappointing candidate in the debates and struggled to connect with voters. However, now that the race for #1 is more or less settled, perhaps he can relax a bit more knowing that he simply has to run against John McCain instead of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Joe Biden at the same time. Richardson would be a tremendous help to Obama because he could help deliver the Latino vote and make New Mexico and Colorado more competitive. And the fact that Richardson drew the Clintons' ire (and was even called Judas) by endorsing Obama displayed a level of courage and loyalty that John Edwards has failed to do thus far. The National Rifle Association loves Richardson and he cannot be pegged as a tax-and-spend Democrat. But would a "black-brown" ticket be too much "change" for the nation to handle at once?

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius endorsed Obama and is highly popular in her state. She would be able to appeal to red state voters as well as female Clinton voters. If Obama wishes to heal the rift between his camp and Clinton's, she might be an attractive way to do so. White women form the base of Clinton's support and many of them are sticking with her because of the historical nature of her candidacy and the perception that her rivals and the media have been unfair to her because of it. But are they loyal to Clinton because she's a Clinton, or are they loyal to Clinton because she's a woman? If it's the latter, then Governor Sebelius may be able to help. If it's the former, Clinton's female supporters will either have to grudgingly accept Obama or simply stay home. Kansas is an overwhelmingly Republican state. Even with Sebelius on the ticket, it might be too much to ask of her to deliver it in a presidential election year.

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano also endorsed Obama early and is popular in her state. However, she was unable to deliver Arizona for Obama in the primary. And the fact that favorite son John McCain hails from Arizona, she probably couldn't deliver the state for him in November either. If Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee were the Republican nominee, maybe Napolitano would be a more attractive option. But John McCain eliminates her because of his popularity in her state.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appears unlikely. He has lots of money, but probably does not add much to an Obama ticket. His greatest assets are his personal wealth and the fact that he's an independent. That ties in nicely with Obama's message of unity. But what state could Bloomberg deliver? Obama should be able to win New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey without him. Thus, it's hard to see the argument for Bloomberg over other options.

Retiring Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska would be a fascinating choice for veep. Like Wesley Clark, Hagel gives Obama some much needed heft in terms of military and foreign affairs expertise. And as a Republican, he would definitely lend credibility to Obama's message of unity. A Hagel pick would show voters that Obama doesn't just talk about bipartisanship, but actually practices it. Hagel was considered part of the Unity '08 movement and was rumored to be considering a third-party ticket with Bloomberg. Surely he'd be receptive to running with Obama because they both have an interest in getting politicians of all stripes to work together. Having a split ticket like this would make it really hard for Republicans to paint Obama as an ultra liberal because ultra liberals don't select center-right Republicans as their running mates. And should John McCain choose independent Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate, a Hagel nod would offset it as far as "bipartisanship" is concerned. Hagel is well respected both in Nebraska and the Senate and would help Obama connect with rural Whites and Republicans who have soured on Iraq.

Former Vice President Al Gore could be an attractive option for Obama, although it's not certain whether Gore would be up for campaigning for anything other than the top job. Climate change and the environment are very important to him and he could have a greater impact on this from the White House than he could as a private citizen. Gore would please the Democratic base, but his appeal among Republicans would be limited. Independents who voted for Bush and regret having done so may be willing to give Gore a chance. The biggest problem with a Gore pick, however, is that he contradicts Obama's message of looking to the future. If Hillary Clinton is part of the past, wouldn't Al Gore be part of the past as well? It seems more likely that Gore would be an emergency consensus nominee (presidential, not vice presidential) in the event that chaos erupts at the party convention this summer and the superdelegates are deadlocked over Obama and Clinton. Gore's probably the most respected party elder who has yet to jump in the current food fight, but look for him to play some role in the process sometime in the future.

Hillary Clinton will not be on the bottom half of an Obama ticket. That was true when I first wrote about this in February and it's still true now. The fact is, she needs him far more than he needs her. If Clinton somehow became the nominee, she'd be obligated to tap him for veep or risk tearing the Democratic Party in half. Obama does not have this obligation to Clinton, however, even though it would be in his and the party's best interest to make some conciliatory gesture to her camp. This is what makes Wesley Clark the most obvious pick at present.

3/10/2008

Why Not Gore-Obama?

As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to fight for every delegate, both pledged and super, in their quest for the nomination, the fight over endorsements has largely died down. At this stage of the game, most major political figures have already publicly thrown their support behind one of these two candidates or have decided to remain neutral. Among those who have yet to endorse a candidate are former presidential candidates Bill Richardson and John Edwards.

However, one political figure looms far larger than any other. That candidate is Al Gore. Even though his endorsement of Howard Dean in 2004 did not amount to much as far as Dean's candidacy was concerned, 2008 is a different story. Obama and Clinton are deeply divided, and there's the possibility that this situation will become even more convoluted should the delegates from Florida and Michigan not be seated at the convention and a fight erupts on the convention floor.

Gore knows the Clintons well and has become an elder statesman in the Democratic Party. He's been in the news mostly because of the attention surrounding a possible Gore endorsement. However, the more Obama and Clinton tear each other apart and render themselves unelectable in the general election, the greater the possibility that Gore could make news in an entirely different way: by being the alternative to both candidates.

Al Gore is unique in that he could very well be the single candidate who can bridge the divide between the Democrats' two squabbling presidential aspirants. He is well respected by most in the party and is arguably a more formidable candidate than either Clinton or Obama. Gore has repeatedly denied that he wants to run for president again. However, the door has been left ever so slightly ajar. It seems that Gore would very much like to be president even though he most definitely does not like campaigning. But if the pledged and superdelegates throw their support behind him, how could he refuse?

Gore is essentially a hybrid of Clinton and Obama. He is sufficiently liberal to the Democratic base and has tapped into the youth vote and the grassroots that have powered Barack Obama's candidacy. He also can't be branded as inexperienced and is not nearly as polarizing as Hillary Clinton. Gore provides a link to the establishment that the Clintons brought to prominence and an open door to the new Democratic Party that Obama purports to represent.

In addition to being a statesman who got Iraq right from the very beginning, Gore has the experience of mounting a national campaign. Having learned from his previous campaign mistakes, Gore would likely not wither under the pressure of a rigorous no-holds-barred general election campaign the way many Obama supporters quietly fear. His path to the White House would entail cobbling together victories in all the states he won in 2000 and winning his home state of Tennessee this time around. He would also be more competitive in purple states that Clinton might not be able to deliver, such as Virginia, Ohio, and Missouri. His environmental positions may also allow him to play in Western states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

By adding Obama to the bottom half of the ticket, it would allay the fears of many Democrats that Obama is not quite yet ready for the top job just yet. So while he's vice president, he could serve as a goodwill ambassador to the rest of the world while being groomed for the presidency in 2012 or 2016. Voters who haven't bought into the Obama hype or don't trust him with the reins of the presidency just yet would have a chance to ascertain just how effective and politically competent he is without the consequences of any missteps being so severe because wouldn't be in the top slot.

Hillary Clinton has become the respository for the Bill Richardson-Chris Dodd-Joe Biden wing of the party. Since those experienced candidates did not survive Iowa and New Hampshire, their supporters grudgingly threw their support behind Clinton, even though she is not particularly "experienced" herself. A Gore candidacy would prompt these soft Clinton supporters to defect to him en masse.

The personally wealthy Gore would also be able to pour a lot of his own money into the campaign, thus minimizing the importance of fundraising. And Gore's wealth, combined with Obama's stellar fundraising ability, would be very difficult for the GOP to overcome. Republicans could not criticize Gore and Obama for their available cash without invoking class warfare, something they commonly rail against. This cash advantage would allow the Democrats to spend more time on offense against a beleaguered Republican Party.

Also, John McCain is not particularly well known for his charisma and his ability to connect with voters. Knowing this, Al Gore should not be at a disadvantage regarding perceptions of him as stiff. And for voters who fault Obama for being light on specifics, Gore's trademark wonkiness should be seen as a virtue rather than a demerit as in 2000.

Given how deeply divided Democrats are between Obama and Clinton and the risk their battle poses to the Democratic Party in general, giving the nomination to a respected party elder like Al Gore could forge a reasonable compromise. Obviously, should Barack Obama win more states, more pledged delegates, and more of the popular vote, he would have a stronger case to run at the top of the ticket (and not Gore or anyone else), but Clinton is showing no signs of bowing out without a fight. And depending on what happens with Florida and Michigan, it is entirely possible that Clinton can emerge with more popular votes even though Obama has more states and more delegates. This kind of split decision would spark an intense fight among the two candidates and Democrats in general. However, a Gore nomination would end such a fight decisively, and that is what makes him worth considering.

10/12/2007

Gored by Gore: Part 4

Throughout the 2008 campaign, there has been a lot of speculation about presidential bids by people who have expressed limited interest in joining the race. Such figures include Condoleeza Rice and Newt Gingrich on the right and Wesley Clark and John Kerry on the left. However, nobody has been more heavily scrutinized than former vice president Al Gore. Since coming out on the losing end of what was essentially a perfect tie in the 2000 election, much has been written about a potential Gore rematch with Bush in 2004 and/or avenging his controversial defeat in 2008. People have been looking for clues about his intentions everywhere, including watching his weight and travel schedule.

One of the biggest "ifs" of this speculation centered around the Nobel Peace Prize. Gore has long been considered a potential winner of this award because of his work on climate change. Pundits have speculated that winning this prestigious award would provide a perfect opportunity to for him to springboard into the presidential race armed with a reservoir of goodwill and international acclaim.

Today that speculation became reality, as Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee lauded Gore as "one of the leading environmentalist politicians." Gore himself said he was "deeply honored." The award ceremony will take place in December.

Now what?

The media are in a frenzy. (Check out these pieces from Time, the Washington Post, and the Politico, for example.)

Gore himself continues to say he has "no plans" or "no intention" to be a "candidate" again, but after Idaho Senator Larry Craig's declaration of his "intent" to resign from the Senate at the end of September in light of Tapgate, there's no telling what Gore really means.

However, smart money is on him not entering the race. Why should he? He's making a lot of money and engaging a lot of minds talking about his passion--the environment. He seems to be in his element, as he can be as wonky as he wants without fear of political consequences. Why would he want to give all that up so he could subject himself to unflattering stories about "the NEW New Gore?" And on top of that, if he entered the race, there would be a deluge of stories pondering whether he could avenge his electoral defeat in 2000. That would create intense pressure on him that might take him out of his natural element and make him less appealing as a candidate. Plus, the bar of expectations would be sky high, as he would constantly be compared to "the 2000 Al Gore."

Psychology is another factor that makes a third Gore candidacy less attractive. For one, Democrats are desperate to win in 2008. There are a lot of voters who still remember "Sore Loserman." While those people are almost certainly Republicans who would never vote for him anyway, they do remind Democrats of their failures in the last two presidential elections. Why should Democrats take yet another chance on a mediocre candidate that couldn't quite get it done last time? Thus, it is understandable why Democrats may be a little gun shy about Gore.

But is there even room in the Democratic field for Gore to begin with? Seeing that Hillary Clinton is running away from the pack, I think there is. The reason why is because conventional thinking said that the race for the Democratic nomination would come down to Hillary Clinton and the ABH (Anybody But Hillary) candidate (or the "Clinton alternative," to put it nicely). Dodd, Biden, and Richardson are trailing Clinton badly. Edwards seems to be deflating. None of these candidates has gained enough strength and momentum to change the storyline of the Democratic race from "Hillary's inevitability" to "Hillary vs. Candidate X."

This leaves Barack Obama. Because of his impressive fundraising and his consistent second place showing in most polls, he is generally seen as the strongest non-Hillary candidate. However, he has not really made the case why voters should abandon Clinton and support him instead. And the inexperience questions are not going away. He does remind voters that he was against the Iraq War from the very beginning, but that doesn't address what should be done about Iraq now. Obama may have captured the imagination of many Democratic voters, but he hasn't captured their loyalty at the ballot box. So Clinton continues to widen her lead.

Enter Al Gore.

I like to think of Al Gore as Barack Obama 2.0. Like Obama, Gore was against the Iraq War from the very beginning, and he was very public in his opposition to it. He also has a much longer and much more impressive resume than Obama, so the "inexperience" charges won't fly. But despite this experience, because he has been out of politics since Bush's inauguration, he cannot easily be branded as "another Washington insider." Thus, he could legitimately lay claim to the "outsider" mantle. Gore also has no recent votes to atone for, such as voting for the surge, voting to cut off funding immediately, voting to label the Iranian military as a terrorist organization, and voting to confirm John Roberts and/or Samuel Alito. This freedom would help allow him to stay on message on the campaign trail.

Hailing from Tennessee, Gore comes from a decidedly less liberal part of America than body Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. He would also be from the same state as Fred Thompson, so he would neutralize the geography weapon ("another Northeastern liberal") in a general election. And for voters who yearn for a return to the Clinton years without "the Clintons," Gore offers the best vehicle through which they can do so.

And finally, because of Gore's extensive resume, he would drive a stake through the hearts of Biden, Richardson, and Dodd while likely consolidating their support. Supporters of Biden, Richardson, and Dodd often cite their experience as one of the reasons why they like them. Gore, however, would be able to match this experience and couple it with name recognition and deep pockets, which they lack.

And yet, Gore continues to throw cold water on the speculation that he'll jump in the race. Until he unequivocally says "I will not run," the door will remain ever so slightly ajar and the buzz will continue. However, there is one undeniable fact that speaks far louder about his plans than any of his repeated semi-denials, however: the campaign calendar. Simply put, Gore is running out of time. We're no longer in February or March. It's getting late in the nomination race. (Consider these pieces I wrote about Gore in February, March, March again, and May.) The other candidates have spent months putting together skilled campaign teams and opening up and staffing field offices. They've crisscrossed the early primary states dozens of times, knocked on a lot of doors, and pressed a lot of flesh. Will the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire reward Gore even though he would not have put in the weeks and weeks of campaigning in their states that the other candidates did? You may remember how Rudy Giuliani and John McCain were penalized at the Ames straw poll back in August for not participating.

But on the flip side, Fred Thompson provides an intriguing case study in how much this matters. Thompson, another late entrant, is only a half step behind his chief Republican rivals, as he is consistently placing a strong second or near third in Iowa despite formally entering the race last month. Reviews have been mixed about Thompson so far, but the point is that despite his late start and lukewarm reception, he is still polling quite well.

This sets up an intriguing possibility. Despite Clinton's surge in the polls, there is still a large segment of Democratic voters who is simply uncomfortable with her candidacy. Even if Gore ultimately decides not to throw his hat in the ring, could he still become the nominee by virtue of discontent with the current frontrunner? What if caucusgoers' support for Clinton continues to be tepid? Keep in mind that even if 40% of Democratic voters are in Clinton's camp, that means 60% of the voters are not.

Of course, if Gore opts not to run and is not essentially drafted, this would lead to speculation about who he will endorse. It's unlikely that he would endorse Clinton because of the much publicized rift between them. And besides, why would he run back to the people he tried to distance himself from during the 2000 campaign? If Gore wants to throw his support behind someone whose Iraq position is similar to his own, then Obama stands to benefit moreso than Edwards by virtue of Edwards' initial vote to authorize the war. If Gore wants to throw his support behind someone who is a bit more cerebral (remember his book "The Assault on Reason"), then he might endorse Richardson, Biden, or Dodd instead. After all, those three candidates tend to go into more detail (such as Richardson's "three-point plans" and Biden's Iraq plan) and perhaps are penalized for their wonkiness.

The value of a Gore endorsement may not be in winning over new votes (just ask Howard Dean), but rather in freeing up some of the talent loyal to Gore. A lot of operatives have remained on the sideliness thus far because their preferred candidate has not jumped in the race. But knowing that a different candidate had Gore's blessing would be enough for most of these supporters to finally get off the sidelines and join the fray.

And finally, it should be interesting to see how Republicans react to the news of Gore's achievement. Will they congratulate him? Will they downplay the news?

So far, the only story I could find about this is this piece by Jonathan Martin of the Politico that talks about conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham mocking Gore for receiving an award that was given to Yasser Arafat. (Of course, these people would be criticizing Democrats for not supporting Bush if he had won this award, but I digress.)

I have yet to find any press releases from any Republican presidential candidates expressing support or disdain for Gore. Surely they can't remain silent on this. But how will they respond? How can they respond? If they show support for his achievement, will they be criticized by the Republican base for being "Gore fans?" If they downplay its significance, will they be criticized by Democrats and independents for being "jealous partisans?"

My hunch is that any politician that downplays Gore's Nobel Prize is probably jealous, as they most certainly would love to have that award on their resumes. Being a statesman, setting politics aside, and congratulating him would probably be the best course of action, even if it seems politically awkward.

10/03/2007

A Lack of Democratic Leadership

I found this interesting piece in the Politico by David Paul Kuhn about the fears of nervous Democrats who wonder how they'll manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2008 presidential race. Kuhn's piece includes a lot of damning quotes and examples of recent Democratic flops (see Dukakis, Michael, for example), but doesn't really address the issue of why Democrats even end up in these situations to begin with. However, looking at the current "top tier" of the Democratic field, it's easy for me to understand why.

Exhibit A: Consider this piece by the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson. In his commentary, Robinson assails the (three leading) Democrats for not showing straight talk or leadership on the Iraq issue. Perhaps the most important quote in his piece is this:

"The Republican candidates' view of Iraq, Iran and the Middle East is dangerously apocalyptic, but at least it's a vision. What's yours?"
That just about covers it. I can only imagine how frustrated and dejected the antiwar left felt at the recent debate at Dartmouth in which neither Clinton, Obama, nor Edwards could guarantee that the troops would be out of Iraq by 2013. Obviously, these three candidates didn't want to say anything that would jeopardize their chances with moderate and swing voters in November, but the problem is that by showing such timidity and political calculation, they risk losing their base and not making it to November at all.

Richardson, Biden, and Dodd have all expressed firm positions on Iraq, but they are starved for media attention because they are generally considered second-tier candidates. And on top of that, instead of giving their Iraq policy differences a bit more airtime, the media choose to focus on garbage, such as Clinton's "cackle". (Yes, the way a candidate laughs is considered more newsworthy than a substantial difference of opinion regarding our Iraq policy.) Anyway, I don't think it's a coincidence that the three best qualified candidates for president on the Democratic side of the ledger happen to be the three who have expressed the clearest positions on Iraq, but I digress...

Barack Obama had the "judgment" to be against the war from the start, but he doesn't seem to have any plans that deal with the fact that we're there now. He identifies "bad" options and "worse" options, but doesn't really say which options he'd like to pursue. And the fact that he couldn't make any guarantees about withdrawing all U.S. troops by 2013 only serves to muddy his Iraq "purity" just a bit.

John Edwards wants to get 50,000 troops out immediately, though it's unclear where they will be sent or how long it will take to accomplish this. He doesn't believe in keeping troops in Iraq to battle Al Qaeda because he considers that a way of "continuing the war in Iraq." But he also won't pledge to take all the troops out by 2013, so it's hard to understand what role the remaining troops would even have there. And what does he plan to do about the foreign terrorists who are obviously in Iraq now if he doesn't want to "continue the war" there?

Good luck to anyone who endeavors to figure out what Hillary Clinton's position is. She voted for the war, "takes responsibility for her war vote," voted against funding for the surge, blames George Bush for mismanaging the war, says we must get out responsibly, and then voted to designate the Iranian military a "terrorist organization." In other words, she's everywhere.

Remember Robinson's words. At least the Republicans have a vision.

Exhibit B: Consider this piece by Jason Horowitz of the New York Observer. Horowitz's piece talks about anxiety in the Obama camp stemming from the fact that he's not closing the gap with Hillary Clinton. His supporters and donors are uneasy while his campaign staffers and aides try to allay their concerns by reminding them that "early polls don't mean anything" and that "Obama is well positioned in the early states--the states that matter." Okay, that's all well and good, but it illustrates a major problem that Gore '00 and Kerry '04 had: When your current strategy is not working, change it! You would think that most Democrats who criticized Bush for not changing his failing strategy in Iraq would be able to pick up on this. But for some reason, Obama is continuing down his path of optimism, limited engagement, and subtlety. And Clinton is only widening her lead.

Al Gore should have easily trounced George Bush in 2000. Gore was clearly the superior candidate. He had a lot more relevant experience and the advantages of incumbency during a period of unprecedented economic growth. However, he pursued a strategy of running away from the politician who was his greatest weapon. Instead of the focus being on the good things about the '90s, the campaign focus switched to "earth tones, multiple Al Gores, and woodenness." After a hugely successful national convention speech, his lead in the polls began to evaporate. But even though the polls tightened up, Gore did not really change his strategy. (The changes he did make were more in his own personal style, which only intensified the "multiple Al Gore" charges.) The point is, he did not do what he obviously should have done and let the commander in chief become the campaigner in chief. As a result, Gore lost.

The 2004 election was even more winnable. John Kerry had a long record of public service and was a decorated war veteran. By this time, a large segment of the public had soured on the war and was growing tired of George Bush's perceived incompetence (which was later validated in his second term after Katrina and Harriet Miers). Kerry should have mopped the floor with Bush when it came to foreign policy and he could have even towed the traditional Democratic line on social programs without penalty. Instead, Kerry tried too hard to be as likable as Bush was. So rather than engage Bush in a discussion about an end game in Iraq (something that would have played to his strengths), we ended up with an obviously out-of-place John Kerry in hunting gear that became emblematic of his campaign. He was an out-of-touch panderer. And worse yet, Kerry did not seem to make any real changes in his political strategy to change the subject! Bush's 2004 reelection campaign could basically be summed up as "You might not like my positions on the issues, but at least you know where I stand. And in these dangerous times, it's important for a leader to be firm and to know where he stands." As a result, Bush earned "political capital."

Now Obama '08 seems to be traveling down the same woeful path of Kerry '04 and Gore '00. Is Obama really a fighter? Can he be counted on to change his approach when things are obviously not working? Is he really that averse to going on political offense, or has he boxed himself into a corner because of his own rhetoric about "the politics of hope?" (And just for the record, the only reason why I'm singling out Obama here is because he is the best positioned to overtake Hillary Clinton.)

As for Clinton, she doesn't really have to change her strategy to overtake a candidate in a superior position simply because she is the dominant candidate right now. However, Clinton's cautiousness (such as her refusal to engage in "hypotheticals" or to "put anything on the proverbial table when it comes to Social Security") gets at what Bush was able to win against in 2004. You have to be bold if you want to be president. It seems like Clinton is trying to say as little as possible and win the nomination and the presidency on a lack of specificity.

2008 is a very winnable election for the Democrats, but if they do not stop pursuing strategies that aren't working (Obama's subtlety), don't evoke leadership (Clinton's "hypotheticals"), and have little vision (Clinton, Obama, and Edwards on Iraq), then the Republicans may end up turning 2008 into 1988 and win the White House for a third consecutive time. Should that happen, the Democrats will be absolutely devastated.

However, if that happens, the Democrats will have no one but themselves to blame. In politics, you can never beat something with nothing.

7/18/2007

Edwards and Romney: A Study in Caricatures

John Edwards is in a lot of trouble.

The $400 haircut fiasco has become for him what "I voted for it before I voted against it" became for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. Fairly or not, this caricature is sticking to Edwards and I'm not so sure he is able to successfully play it off.

The problem with caricatures is that they interfere with a politician's actual message. Obviously, a $400 haircut is not really worth talking about, especially since wealthy people and politicians often spend far more than that on their private jets, aged wines, fine dining, and hired help at their homes. A caricature requires less thought to process and internalize than an actual policy position. How many people actually know what Joe Biden's position on the Iraq War is? I'm willing to bet that far more people know that "he's the guy who says stupid things" or that "he's the gaffe machine" than know of his idea of partitioning Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions.

Democrats in particular have fared the worst when they fall prey to a caricature. It seems that Democrats and Republicans respond to them differently. Democrats try to compensate for the perceived flaw, thus coming across as unprincipled or scripted because it seems awkward. They may then be labeled as an opportunist or a political weathervane. Think about Al Gore's presidential run in 2000. People criticized him for being stiff. How did he "solve" the problem? By being overly aggressive and getting in George Bush's face at a debate. His overcorrection led to unfair (but effective) charges of there being "multiple Al Gores," thus creating yet another caricature that provided a convenient foil for the "plainspoken" Bush. When Gore actually found the "right" balance in the final debate, it was too late because this "new" Al Gore was just like the "old" one in that nobody knew who the "real" Gore was.

In 2004, John Kerry was caricatured, among other things, as an elitist who had nothing in common with "the average American." To compensate for this, he donned hunting gear and participated in a hunting trip/photo op in Ohio in the weeks before Election Day. This was absolutely disastrous for him because he obviously seemed out of his element, thus reinforcing the charges that "he cannot relate to what average people do because he's an elitist." At the same time, the photo op reeked of political opportunism and pandering, thus reinforcing yet another caricature of him--that he would say or do anything if he thought it would get him elected.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem to handle caricatures a bit more effectively. When their warts are exposed, they shine a lantern on them and play it off as "authenticity." George Bush was derided as "a lightweight" or "a buffoon" in the 2000 campaign. But rather than attempting to compensate for it by staging photo ops in libraries or using advanced vocabulary in his speeches, he turned it into an opportunity to appear humble and average--just like the average voter. How many times have you heard Bush and his handlers respond to claims of ineloquence by saying "that's just how he is"? They made no apologies for it and moved on. In the end, what separates Bush from Gore and Kerry in this regard is that with Bush, the caricature became a part of his identity, but it actually became Gore and Kerry's identity.

It appears that John Edwards is falling into the same trap. And what makes this trap even more lethal is the fact that the expensive haircut story contradicts the main pillar of his campaign--his crusade against poverty. So when he rails against the "two Americas" on the campaign trail, voters may have a hard time discerning whether Edwards is authentically talking about "his" campaign issue (poverty) or if he is trying to awkwardly compensate for being branded as a "rich kid who gets expensive haircuts."

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney is being blasted as a flip flopper. But you'll notice that this label is not sticking to him as easily as the "rich kid" label is sticking to John Edwards. Instead of denying his obvious "conversions" on issues social conservatives hold dear (e.g., abortion, gay rights), he is actually embracing these new positions. He is not apologizing for holding views that are in line with those of the GOP base. And it is working because he is now buoyed by strong poll performance in Iowa and New Hampshire. There may be derisive remarks about "flip flop Mitt," but there are a lot of other remarks about "how Mitt is clearly running to the right."

However, even though he is responding to the flip flop caricature effectively, I believe he is doing a far less sufficient job of responding to the panderer caricature. It is no secret that Romney is trying to appeal to the millions of evangelicals that form the religious right. It is also no secret that many voters are uncomfortable with the fact that he is a Mormon. Romney recently created an ad comparing America's children to being trapped in a sea of filth and smut. One would think this ad would go over well because it appeals directly to the people he's trying to reach--religious voters. However, his overtures appear awkward and this latest ad is no exception. Voters may forgive Romney for his flip-flopping on conservative issues, but they may not forgive him for appearing like a fraud. Perhaps it would be wiser for Romney to address his Mormonism head on, rather than let it percolate beneath the surface every time he makes overtures to evangelical Christians without addressing the very issue that makes these Christians skeptical of him to begin with.

Hillary Clinton seems to understand this, as she is now bringing Bill Clinton along on the campaign trail. She is caricatured as "living in Bill's shadow." So what does she do? Rather than feed into the caricature by campaigning solo and letting these doubts linger, she lets him warm up the crowd for her. And even if she is not as charismatic as he is, at least she's able to show that she can stand on her own two feet even in his presence.

Rudy Giuliani seems to get it too. He knows he is not going to be seen as the champion of family values. So he doesn't showcase his wife when he's on the trail. What's the point of trying to show that your marriage and family life are really healthy when people already accept the fact that it's not? So Giuliani doesn't showcase his wife in his campaign ads. He's not running as the "family values" candidate either. Why should he? There's no benefit for him to do that.

John Edwards really needs to be careful because he has little margin for error now, especially in light of recent polls showing him in a statistical tie for third with Bill Richardson in New Hampshire. Once the candidate becomes the caricature, you're doomed.

7/05/2007

The Horserace (D)

The second quarter fundraising totals are out and there are a few surprises.

First and foremost, Barack Obama raised the most cash between April and June--an impressive $30+ million haul. More significantly is the fact that this money came from over 250,000 donors. Hillary Clinton raised more than $20 million, most of which coming from a smaller cadre of mega-donors. This is significant because it suggests that Obama's support is broader. It also gives him a larger network from which he can solicit more funds.

John Edwards finished third with about $9 million and Bill Richardson raised about $7 million. Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich raised under $4 million each.

What does this mean?

This means Obama must be taken seriously. People may criticize him for being inexperienced and for being a blank slate that speaks in platitudes without saying anything of substance. And he hasn't been able to overtake Hillary Clinton in the polls. However, he is still generating large crowds and is getting a lot of people involved in his campaign who are new to politics. The importance of this cannot be overstressed.

Obama is clearly making a connection with voters. It could be because he is the first Black candidate with a legitimate shot at winning the presidency, but I think there's more to him than that. Obama, despite his inexperience, seems to truly be a person who remembers where he came from and seems much more genuine. And it's not just rhetoric either. Obama is one of the few senators who has consistently shunned earmarks, or pet projects. He ventures into the neighborhoods that other politicians generally ignore. And he is giving regular people significant roles in helping organize his campaign, as is evidenced by his "friends" on MySpace and Facebook.

Clinton may have the establishment's support, but Obama truly seems to be a man of the people. He's not going away. But he's going to have to be a bit more aggressive in his campaigning if he wants to overtake Clinton because she is not going to shoot herself in the foot and allow him to overtake her. Her strategy should be to just run out the clock and engage the Republicans, as opposed to her Democratic rivals.

However, Obama's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Obama has prided himself on running a positive campaign because "voters are sick of negativity and cynicism." And this message resonates with voters who desperately want Republicans and Democrats to get along and get something done. However, if he were to run an attack ad on Clinton, she could retaliate by saying Obama does not practice what he preaches. So he is stuck in a box.

John Edwards is in trouble. $9 million is a bit underwhelming for a supposed top-tier candidate. His campaign has basically come down to Iowa. If he fails to win that state, his campaign is finished. Edwards has been making a few tactical errors that are preventing him from getting his message out. One of these errors is engaging Ann Coulter, as his wife did on a recent edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC. John Edwards will never be able to convert Coulter's followers, so he should stop wasting his time because all he's doing is firing up her base and the Republicans. Democratic voters who are sick of Coulter are probably in Obama's camp simply because she represents what Obama rails against.

Another problem for Edwards is his falling poll numbers. He is now in danger of being overtaken by Bill Richardson in New Hampshire. If Richardson had raised $2 million more during the 2nd quarter, Edwards would have had to deal with a rash of stories about how a second-tier candidate raised more campaign cash than he did. For Edwards to get back on the right track, I think he would be wise to spend his time in Iowa and Florida. South Carolina might be a little too tough for him to win even though he's a native son because of the strength of Hillary Clinton and the Black vote going to Obama. Edwards might be a good fit for Floridians, however, because of his favorable geography and the high population of White retirees. He also needs to spend less time with this tit for tat with Ann Coulter because she's a loose cannon that is not even worth using as an effective foil. After all, when TV stations spend time talking about the latest spat between Edwards and Coulter, that's less time being spent talking about Edwards and health care, Iraq, and labor.

Bill Richardson is slowly seeing his fortunes improve. He seems to have separated himself from Joe Biden and Chris Dodd and is now just a half step behind John Edwards. He is rising in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls. And while his debate performances have not been stellar in terms of charisma, he has definitely shown that he is executive material based on the thoroughness of his responses to the debate questions. Voters who yearn for competence may be responding well to Richardson. If this is the case, then President Bush is Richardson's greatest ally.

Richardson is well-positioned for a breakthrough. Edwards is fading. Obama is threatening Hillary's aura of invincibility. Once this aura is shattered, her campaign is in serious trouble because her campaign strategy is to prevent attrition since she will have great difficulty attracting new voters. What if Obama takes out Hillary and people then worry about Obama's lack of heft in the experience department? That might give Richardson the opening he needs. A strong showing in Iowa and Nevada should help launch his campaign.

Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are doing all they can reasonably be expected to do, but the writing is on the wall. There just isn't enough oxygen left for them. Biden in particular would have been better off running for president in '04 when the field was much weaker. Had he done so, he wouldn't have had to deal with Hillary and Obama. He has nothing to lose by staying in the race though. Perhaps he knows he has a 1% chance of winning the nomination, so maybe he's auditioning for Secretary of State?

Chris Dodd has also been campaigning hard and meeting the right people. But he seems to be the generic Democrat that has no real niche or identity in this campaign. Hillary is Hillary and needs no further explanation. Obama is the new kid on the block with all the buzz. Edwards is the former vice presidential nominee. Richardson has the Latino angle working for him. Even Biden has gained a reputation as the funny guy who occasionally puts his foot in his mouth. But what is Dodd known for? After the Kerry debacle, are Democratic voters really looking for another career senator from the Northeast?

Dennis Kucinich is not going to be the Democratic nominee. However, the more he presses his case against the Iraq War and for impeaching Vice President Cheney, the greater his chances are of becoming a liberal kingmaker. Do the other more credible candidates want to be hounded by journalists asking if they support impeaching Cheney like Kucinich does? Who wants to be labeled as the politician who has less courage than Kucinich, "the liberal peacenik?"

Mike Gravel has worn out his welcome. He was entertaining at first, but now his 15 minutes of fame are over. I think voters would appreciate it if he dropped out so that future debates would be more meaningful. If he stays in the race, he could help the other candidates by making them seem moderate or reasonable by comparison.

Meanwhile, Al Gore's name is still floating around out there. He will not enter the race if both Obama and Edwards are still viable in the fall. But if one or both of them fade, look for him to take up the mantle of the non-Hillary candidate. Gore is the biggest threat to Clinton because he has much more experience, is much less polarizing, and reminds voters of the Clinton years without being tainted by nearly as much of the Clinton baggage. A Gore candidacy will single-handedly eliminate Richardson, Dodd, and Biden because they are all trying to position themselves as accomplished, veteran statesmen--something Obama, Edwards, and Clinton are not.

The next Democratic debate is on July 23. Time is definitely running out for the second-tier candidates. The Iowa caucuses are only six months away now and Hillary's lead is solidifying. Someone needs to throw some punches, and quick. While the candidates should be commended for having generally civil debates so far, that benefits no one except for Hillary.

5/01/2007

Gored by Gore: Part 3

The presidential field is saturated with candidates now. As of today, there are 8 declared Democrats in the race and 10 declared Republicans. These numbers have the potential to further swell as Fred Thompson, Wesley Clark, Chuck Hagel, and Mike Bloomberg continue to flirt with presidential bids. (Stuart Rothenberg thinks these candidates should stop stalling and jump in.)

Aside from Newt Gingrich, perhaps the most frequent subject of speculation is former Vice President Al Gore. There was yet another recent post in The Fix about a "20-year reunion" of Gore's 1988 campaign veterans. They deny talking about "strategy" at this reunion, but like Chris Cillizza says, "until he gives a definite 'no' we will watch and wait." You can read more of my own thoughts about a Gore run here and here.

Why do we speculate so much about a third Gore candidacy?

It could be because of the creation of a shadow team that can mobilize and create a campaign operation on short notice.

It could be because of quotes like this from other politicians who are coyly keeping their presidential plans close to the vest.

It could be because some analysts think nobody shined at last week's debate.

It could be because John Kerry may be flirting with getting back in the race. (A Gore candidacy would end such flirtation immediately. Also, Kerry might be wise to spend more time thinking about his Senate re-election race instead.)

It could be because Gore could split the vote and give the nomination to Hillary. Is this why people like James Carville (e.g., Hillary operatives) have been talking about Gore's strength?

Anyway, it is my belief that only Gore has the ability to single-handedly winnow the field of candidates by simply entering the race. But unlike other candidates who have a set base (i.e., young people and Blacks for Obama, women and moderates for Hillary, populists and Whites for Edwards, etc.), Gore is unique in that his base could capitalize on all the other candidates' weaknesses. In other words, he may very well be the perfect candidate for the Democrats because his base could consist of voters who like the other candidates, but view them as having a fatal flaw.

Al Gore could appeal to the Hillary supporters who want to return to the Clinton years without the Clinton baggage and polarization.

Al Gore could appeal to the Obama supporters who were against the Iraq War from the start, but worry about the lack of experience Obama has.

Al Gore could appeal to the Edwards supporters who respond to populist messages, but fear that Edwards is still not a heavyweight when it comes to experience and articulating policy beliefs. A Gore candidacy would also remove Edwards's position as the lone Southern White male in the Democratic race.

Al Gore could appeal to the supporters of second-tier candidates (Biden, Dodd, and Richardson) because he has all the experience that they do while also having the advantage of name recognition which they lack. Gore could even blunt Richardson on the environment and blunt both Richardson and Biden when it comes to foreign policy.

Al Gore owns environmental issues, which appeal to liberals, and is obviously competent, which appeals to pragmatists and independents who voted for Bush. It seems that the people who cry the most about Gore's chances are Republicans, who obviously don't want to run against Gore because he could easily turn his "defeat" in 2000 into a "chance for atonement" among voters in 2008.

But Gore is smart. He knows that this campaign season is starting far too early. He also knows that if he declares his candidacy, he will lose his status as a "global warming crusader" and becomes "another presidential candidate," which is a less flattering role for him. For Gore to enter the race and have a chance at the nomination, he will need to delay his candidacy until one of the major candidates commits a major gaffe or the field winnows a bit. For someone who is not even a declared candidate to consistently place third or fourth in most polls, Gore has to be feeling pretty good about his chances.

3/18/2007

My Generation: A Different America

There's a lot of talk in politics about the importance of senior citizens, Baby Boomers, military veterans, Southerners, gun owners, union members, evangelicals, and suburbanites as they pertain to elections, poll data, and the crafting of political and media messages. However, there's one group that I believe is often ignored, but perhaps even more important than any of the demographic groups I listed above: Twenty-somethings.

I myself turned 30 in January, so I believe I can relate to this group. People born after about 1975 have been shaped by an entirely different set of events than their parents. For one thing, the Vietnam War is an abstract concept. I lost an uncle in Vietnam shortly before he was supposed to return home. While obviously a sad event, his death does not touch me the way it touches my mother, who was his sister. I had not yet been born when my family was notified of his death. The whole war itself means something different to me, my sister, and my cousins than it does for my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Similarly, Watergate is another major news story that happened before my time. When I was born, President Ford was cleaning out his desk at the White House to make way for Jimmy Carter. When I read stories about Watergate, it seems interesting from a historical perspective, but because I was not alive when this news was breaking and when Nixon resigned, again I feel a certain sense of distance or detachment from the true significance of these events.

Even as a Black male, the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s have a different meaning for me than they would for a Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who participated in the marches and parades and boycotts and struggles and was actually beaten because of it. These events do not touch me like they touch a Jesse Jackson, or a Betty Shabazz or even my own parents, who grew up in South Carolina and spent their childhood living under segregation. I simply cannot conceive of a reality in which it was legal for me or someone who looked like me to be treated so cruelly and so dismissively even though I was a law-abiding citizen. When I think about the civil rights leaders of yesteryear, I admire their strength. But at the same time, I cannot fathom how much strength was actually required for them to help me enjoy the rights and freedoms I have today simply because I was not there.

My generation spent its childhood in growing up in the 80s and 90s. World War II, the JFK and RFK assassinations, the Great Depression, Vietnam, Woodstock, Watergate, and the Iranian hostage disaster are all abstract concepts to us. Even the Cold War is difficult for us to wrap our minds around because we were mere children or young teenagers when the Berlin Wall fell and the Eastern European nations were slowly opening up their borders. I remember East and West Germany reuniting when I was a 7th grader. What is a 7th grader supposed to think about this? For example, someone in my family was able to get a piece of the Berlin Wall to keep as a piece of history. When I saw that chunk of rock, I said "cool." What else was I supposed to think, since I didn't know so much about the history?

So what DOES shape our generation? Well, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and the Bush family pretty much constitute all of our firsthand presidential knowledge. Culturally speaking, we are the children of MTV, computers and the internet, blogs, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, trashy TV talk shows, break dancing, iPods, video games, The Wonder Years, Will Smith, and The Simpsons. Before 9-11, the biggest news stories for us were the first Gulf War ("Where is Daddy going?"), the Oklahoma City bombing, the OJ trial, Monica Lewinsky, Elian Gonzalez, and the 2000 recount.

You could easily argue that because of our access to information via the internet and cable television, television shows that frequently pushed the envelope (Beavis and Butthead, Jerry Springer, 90210), and integration throughout all of our schooling, our generation is a lot more liberal and/or tolerant than older generations. Things that are a big deal to a lot of people don't really bother us so much at all.

For example, one of the news stories that had a major influence on our generation was the Monica Lewinsky scandal. People of our generation were in high school or college at the time. We commonly cracked jokes about President Clinton and even gave him props for being able to get some nookie in the White House. Even though he was obviously stupid for doing it (actually, we thought he was stupid for getting caught), we really didn't care. So many of us came from homes headed by one parent, step-parents, live-in "pseudo parents," or even grandparents, so the concept of infidelity was a nonissue for us. And regarding perjury, we knew that Clinton was lying because he didn't want his wife to smack the crap out of him. He was more afraid of his wife than he was of the law. The legal significance of perjury was a nonissue for us. We could not figure out why people in Congress were tripping over themselves to launch investigations and begin impeachment hearings. We listened to congressman after congressman and senator after senator talk about the importance of "the rule of law" and "family values" and "respecting the Office of the Presidency." We were thinking, "these guys are so full of themselves" and even wondered if some of those holier than thou congressmen were jealous. Most of us had no children at the time, so the "family values" argument had no meaning for us. And in general, we did not look to our elected politicians for moral guidance. That's what our friends and family and religious deities were for. We liked Bill Clinton because "he was the hip politician who wore the cool shades and played the saxophone on late night TV" unlike those "boring politicians who made speeches all the time." This whole sordid affair turned a lot of younger people off from politics, and actually soured a lot of them on the Republican Party. (These Republicans' recent hypocritical clamoring for pardoning Scooter Libby does not sit well with us either.)

This social liberalism among my generation is reflected in other attitudes as well. Since we went to school together, played together, and worked part-time jobs together, a lot of prejudices that older people have are far less prevalent among us. We learned about "the differences between the races" from our parents and grandparents. But as was often the case, what they warned us about was often incongruent with our actual life experiences. So many of us have friends of several different races. I know Blacks that fit in easily with the White J. Crew crowd, and I know Whites that are comfortable chilling with their homegirls or chicas. Many of us have dated interracially and never thought twice about it. The majority of my friends are either in interracial marriages, an interracial relationship, or have dated interracially in the past. I myself am in an interracial marriage, although I view my partner as "my wife who happens to be Japanese," as opposed to "my Japanese wife."

Anyways, the reason why I created this post was because of a recent commentary by former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming. Senator Simpson talked about how his views on gays serving in the military have changed over time and how it's foolish to discharge homosexuals from the military even though they may have the skills and knowledge that are most critical right now, including fluency in Arabic. A few months ago I saw a news story on CNN about this very issue and they interviewed a member of the conservative Family Research Council. The woman they interviewed said that "soldiers should not have to worry about a fellow soldier sexually harrassing them in a foxhole." Unbelievable. (And here is another article that further reflects this sheer stupidity.)

I think our generation is overwhelmingly more tolerant of this issue than our parents' and grandparents' generations. Even though most of us are happy heterosexuals with no desire to experiment with same-sex relationships, we really don't care about homosexuality. It's just not a big deal for us. Many of us had gay friends, gay classmates, and gay coworkers when we were growing up. We can't figure out why it seems okay for gays to be treated as second-class citizens. Seeing these social conservatives lambast gay rights today reminds us of the furor over the Monica Lewinsky nonsense yesterday. Even if many of us think homosexuality is "gross," young people just don't care and don't see why people can't be left to do their own thing. And the more people push this issue, the angrier and more disenchanted we become. Perhaps homosexuals today for our generation are what women and Blacks were 50 years ago for our parents' and grandparents' generations. Even though most of us aren't gay, most of us also realize that discriminating against them is simply wrong.

(Incidentally, after originally deciding to write this particular post, I found different commentary in the Washington Post by Justin Britt-Gibson, which talked about his own multicultural experiences and how those typified his [our?] generation. So I'm obviously not alone here.)

Anyway, young people look at all the fighting and all the tough talk going on in Washington these days and can do nothing but shake their heads. When the 60-year old politicians retire and the 80-year old politicians pass away, the younger generation will be left to pick up the pieces. My generation is the one that has to live with the consequences of the previous generation's (poor) decisions. Iran, Iraq, terrorism, and abortion rights come to mind.

For example, young people wince when they hear President Bush and his administration officials talk about or hint at bombing Iran. Doing so would only completely inflame an entire generation of young Iranians (who don't hate Americans nearly as much as their parents do) and make our lives much more difficult and impact our lives much longer than in the next 15 years a 70-year old likely has remaining in his life. Most of us were toddlers, babies or embryos when the embassy in Iran was sieged, so we can't appreciate the severity of this event as it relates to US-Iranian relations. However, the consequences of us being the aggressor this time scare us more than the actual threat.

Even though young voters are less reliable voters than older ones, my prediction is that within the next two presidential cycles, turnout among 18-30 year olds will skyrocket because at some point, young people are going to say enough is enough. Perhaps bad government has been good at heightening our consciousness of politics and current events. Iraq, Katrina, terrorism, and infringing on personal freedoms have made us, a generation that grew up in an era in which freedom was expanding, pay a little more attention than we have in the past. Politicians would be well served to take note of this. This is why Barack Obama and Al Gore have become so popular among voters our age. This is also why younger voters don't vote Republican. When was the last time you met a 24-year old who was enthusiastic about Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney or even John McCain?

It's because they don't speak our language.

3/08/2007

More Gore

Al Gore is not going away. If anything, he's breathing down the necks of Obama and Hillary while all but sending the rest of the Democratic presidential candidates into virtual obsolescence.

Need more proof? There's a new poll out from USA Today/Gallup:

Democratic voters' first choice:

Hillary Clinton: 36%
Barack Obama: 22%
Al Gore: 18%
John Edwards: 9%

-----

Democratic voters' second choice:

Hillary Clinton: 59%
Barack Obama: 43%
Al Gore: 34%
John Edwards: 21%

Look at those results again. Al Gore has the support of 1 out of 5 Democrats for the nomination and he's not even a declared candidate. And he's the second choice of 1 out of 3 Democrats! This means a little more than half of all Democratic voters would be inclined to support another run by the once-derided "Ozone Man." Again, Gore is not even on the campaign circut. If anything, he has tried to downplay the idea of another run for the White House without actually shutting the door completely. Is his coyness working? Is this a case of the Democratic voters wanting what they can't have? Could a Draft Gore movement be in the works?

I've said earlier that Gore is well-positioned for another run because he has rehabilitated his image considerably, developed immense personal wealth that would help him with a campaign, and maintained an extensive fundraising network. Could Democratic voters lament the lack of experience that Obama and Edwards (and to a lesser extent, Hillary) have in their resumes and then look to Gore? After all, Gore's resume is rivaled only by Bill Richardson's. But unlike Richardson, Gore has name recognition.

The big loser in this poll has to be John Edwards. He's really been invisible in the media as of late. The Coulter flap brought him back to the spotlight, but his "Coulter Cash" capitalizing on this whole sordid affair is not particularly flattering and it made him look opportunistic, thus potentially feeding into the caricature of him as an ambulance-chasing, opportunistic lawyer. Seems like Edwards is stuck in no man's land between the frontrunners Hillary and Obama, and the second-tier candidacies of Richardson, Biden, and Dodd. For Edwards, who has practically been living in Iowa since 2004, to be polling behind Gore, an undeclared candidate, it must be quite a blow to him.

Actually, a lot of the second tier candidates have to be pulling their hair out these days because even though they are clearly more experienced than Obama and Hillary, they are still only registering asterisks in the polls. CNN has an excellent article about the frustrations Dodd, Biden, and Richardson are having regarding gaining traction. I don't think they'd mind so much if they were trailing Gore, but for them to be trailing Obama and Edwards, I'm sure it's driving them crazy.

Anyway, the main point is that Gore is a sleeping giant. Or maybe he has one eye open. The porch light is on at the very least. A Draft Gore movement could result in the elder statesman assuming the mantle of reluctant warrior. If Hillary or Obama become too bloodied by the fall, look for Gore to "be compelled" to enter the race.

3/01/2007

Gored by Gore: Part 2

I recently posted my thoughts on Gore's performance at the Academy Awards. There seems to be a small boomlet of good press surrounding the event. Most of the articles I read reached the same conclusion: that Gore is well-positioned should he actually decide to get in the race. He commonly polls as the third or fourth highest Democrat, behind Hillary, Obama, and sometimes Edwards.

Many people, particularly Republicans (but also a few on the left as well), are dismissive of Gore and view him as past his prime or the wooden candidate who blew an easy election. However, there are signs that these critics are taking Gore seriously. Which signs are these? Well, they are attacks on Gore as they relate to his signature issues--energy and the environment.

Consider these excerpts from a press release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR), which describes itself as nonpartisan:

...[T]he Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

...

Gore's mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

...

In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh--more than 20 times the national average.

...

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year.

...

Gore's extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore's mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

...

"As the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to be willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to home energy use," said Tennessee Center for Policy Research President Drew Johnson.

The TCPR is obviously not non-partisan, as is evidenced by the selections I bolded. ("Posh? Devoured? Extravagant energy use?") But that's not the point I want to make. The point is that there are organizations out there that are already trying to cut Gore down at the knees. This TCPR press release serves dual purposes: 1) to neutralize Gore's signature issue by presenting him as a hypocrite, and 2) to redefine Gore as a liberal elitist who has nothing in common with the "average American family."

Gore has been promoting "An Inconvenient Truth" for ages now, so everybody should be well aware of his commitment to the environment and energy conservation. You can't fake that. Why is the TCPR just now talking about his energy bills from "last August?" They claim to have gotten this information from the Nashville Energy Source, but a spokeswoman for the NES claims to have never received a request from them for this information, thus further impugning the TCPR's credibility.

To Gore's credit, his spokeswoman Kalee Kreider issued a statement repudiating the TCPR's claims:
"Sometimes when people don't like the message, in this case that global warming is real, it's convenient to attack the messenger."

Gore explained that this high energy bill was due to the fact that his estate participates in a "green power" program which subsidizes renewable energy sources. He then went on to explain that he is currently installing solar panels at his house and that he does not use standard light bulbs.

This whole brouhaha may seem like a tempest in a teapot. After all, Gore is not even a declared candiate and there are far more pressing things to probe, such as the management of the Iraq War. However, it is indicative of the fears a large swath of the population has of a Gore candiacy. Hillary, Edwards, and Obama are naturally afraid of Gore. But those on the right should be particularly anxious, especially if Gore declares and ends up running against another relatively inexperienced candidate with an easy-going, awww shucks personality like he did in 2000. Given a second chance, I think the voters would be a bit more pragmatic at the ballot box.

2/27/2007

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:

Newsday
USA Today
The New Yorker
Washington Post

2/09/2007

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 2007-2008 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.