Showing posts with label congress. Show all posts
Showing posts with label congress. Show all posts

5/15/2008

A Warning to Republicans

Even though the presidential race is generating the most headlines these days, one of the most important political developments this week has been the special election in Mississippi's 1st Congressional District (MS-1). This district, located in the northern part of the state, has been reliably Republican. In this week's special election, however, Democrat Travis Childers defeated Republican Greg Davis 54%-46%. This is the third special election that Democrats have won this year, thus increasing their majority in the House of Representatives to 236 Democrats to 199 Republicans.

Republicans could blame their previous special election losses on weak candidates and/or more hostile electorates. However, this special election can only be interpreted as a flat rejection of the Republican Party. George Bush carried the district with 62% of the vote in 2004 and the district has been represented by a Republican for more than 10 years. Even Vice President Cheney was sent to the district for a bit of last-minute campaigning, but the GOP lost this solidly Republican district by a very healthy eight points.

Given the overall composition of the district, not just any Democrat can win here. Childers is pro-gun and pro-life, much like other moderate to conservative Southern Democrats. However, Democrats aren't supposed to win these kinds of seats. Democrats and party strategists are surely licking their jowls because there are dozens of congressional districts elsewhere that are less Republican than MS-1 and are currently represented by Republicans. Republicans are justifiably terrified at their electoral prospects this fall because it could potentially be another wave election like 2006. And if that happens, Republicans would truly be in the political wilderness, as Democrats would be tantalizingly close to a supermajority that could override a potential presidential veto from John McCain.

Why are the Republicans losing? Partisan Democrats gleefully cite a tarnished Republican brand for their defeats, but here are a few other reasons along with some actual solutions that Republicans might wish to adopt for their own political survival.

1. There's a lack of new ideas. What is the newest great Republican idea? It seems that all Republicans talk about these days is tax cuts and not "surrendering" in Iraq. These two issues do not offer any vision about where the party wants to take the nation. In the past, especially during the Gingrich Revolution, Republicans were able to articulate bold ideas that excited the electorate. Entitlement reform and personal responsibility were fresh ideas that contrasted greatly with what the Democrats were offering at the time. If the GOP chooses to run on the same ideas that they ran on in 2002, then they had better get used to losing elections.

2. There's a lack of solutions. Voters are angry. They are angry about the economy. They are angry about healthcare. They are angry about gas prices. They are angry about Iraq. They are angry about immigration. They are angry about unsafe and defective Chinese products. They are angry about jobs disappearing overseas. So what did Republicans offer as solutions in the MS-1 special election? Accusations of liberalism, warnings about tax increases, linking the Democratic candidate to Barack Obama, and invoking Jeremiah Wright. Politics is obviously a contact sport, but there comes a point when voters expect those who seek to represent them to be able to offer meaningful solutions to their concerns. The Democrats' ideas are not necessarily good, but at least they are something. You can never beat something with nothing in politics. Interestingly, congressional Republicans seem to be guilty of exactly what they criticize Barack Obama for--offering a lot of talk, but no real solutions. Hearing the word "liberal" bandied about is not what voters want to hear when 80% of voters think the nation is on the wrong track.

3. A vote against a Republican is a vote against Bush. The public knows that the Democrats control Congress. And this Congress is not popular. However, the public also knows that a Republican controls the White House and leads the country. Republicans were tripping over themselves to have Bush campaign on their behalf in 2002 and 2004. But he has since become a radioactive albatross and Republicans down the ballot are paying the price. Bush's approval ratings are now south of 30%. Even though Bush will never be on another ballot, it is possible that voters are trying to vote against him by voting against his party. Bush might not be keen on listening to Democrats, but he should be more receptive to listening to Republicans. It might be in all Republicans' interest to pull Bush aside and tell him about how much he is killing them politically. If Bush were to up his approval numbers to 40%, voters might be a bit less apt to punish his party at the ballot box. Republicans should be more proactive in helping their party's leader right his ship because the further Bush sinks, the further Republicans everywhere sink. Or perhaps they would be better served by not letting Bush speak for them. Could Republicans benefit by going against the President and redefining what it means to be a Republican?

4. No one political party can stay on top forever. The Democrats controlled Capitol Hill for decades before finally losing in 1994. Republicans have controlled all the levers of power for most of Bush's presidency. If 2008 is a "change" election, then no matter what Bush or the Republicans do, voters simply might have had enough. This does not mean, however, that Republicans should resign themselves to getting demolished at the ballot box. One of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's strengths was his ability to adapt to an ever-changing political landscape by repositioning himself and changing his message. Given that the current president is a Republican and that Republicans controlled Capitol Hill until 2006, "change" might be too hard a hard sell for Republicans to make. However, the success of Barack Obama at the expense of Hillary Clinton, the unlikely Democratic victory in the special election in Mississippi, and overall dissatisfaction with the way things are going with the nation right now suggest that "change" is a message smart politicians of all stripes should adopt.

2/05/2008

The Economy and an Argument for Conservatism

Aside from Super Tuesday and the presidential race, one of the biggest issues facing the country regarding its government is the economic stimulus package currently being debated in Congress. Economic volatility, a slumping housing market, and a weak dollar have contributed to a pervasive sense of pessimism among many voters.

To address these voters' concerns, President Bush, members of Congress, and even the presidential candidates have talked about the need for some sort of "stimulus" that will benefit American families and help jumpstart the American economy. However, their rhetoric and the very nature of the economic stimulus package on the table blatantly contradict some of the principal tenets of their political philosophies. Both liberals and conservatives are guilty of this, but it seems that conservatives are a bit more egregious in their hypocrisy because what should be their argument is actually quite credible.

One major part of the package involves mailing out rebate checks to people who paid federal income taxes last year. The size of these rebates depends on one's marital status and how many children they have. Republicans, including the presidential candidates (both current candidates and those who have recently dropped out), have talked about the need for Americans to get those rebate checks so they can "put that money back into the economy" by buying consumer goods, such as clothes or electronics.

However, these wishes fly in the face of traditional conservative campaign rhetoric about the importance of saving money or encouraging people to invest it. Encouraging people to spend money they received as some sort of "gift" from the government sounds more like telling people to take advantage of a government giveaway--something that appears more in line with liberal philosophy.

On top of this, the people who are struggling financially can't really afford to spend this money on a new pair of shoes or a new television. And if they did, then they would only risk plunging themselves deeper into debt. But then again, since many Republicans want Americans to spend these checks, it seems like they are only exacerbating the financial squeeze many families find themselves in at present.

People are generally pessimistic about the economy, but this pessimism has a lot to do with the choices one has made in the past. For people with mounting credit card debt and rising mortgage payments, the economy is obviously not so good for them. This is where true conservatism (not the current "conservative" rhetoric) could serve as a remedy. Many of the people struggling with their mortgage payments are those who had obtained subprime loans. In other words, their previous poor financial decisions are directly responsible for their poor credit and their poor decision to purchase a house they could not afford. And now they are struggling and need help.

True conservatism would warn people that they should live within their means. A house is the biggest investment any person will make in their lifetime. It takes decades to pay off a mortgage, and it takes stable and reasonably lucrative employment to be able to cover the payments. If someone is not able to handle these conditions, the solution is not to call for the government to bail you out. The solution is to rent an apartment.

As for credit cards, smart consumers know that if they are not able to pay for something in cash or if they can't pay off the bill in full at the end of the month, they should not use their credit cards for anything at all unless it's an emergency. However, consumers in all income brackets are buying iPods, PlayStations, and flat-screen televisions--often on credit.

Conservatives would rightfully argue that people who are not financially independent should be more careful when making these kinds of purchases. Put more bluntly, poor people should not have a Nintendo Wii in the house. People making $35,000 a year should not be making payments on a BMW 3-series. People who get paid by the hour or who work for tips should not be upgrading their cell phones every year.

For these people, their own poor past decisions are directly responsible for their current economic plight. For people who have lived within their means and managed their credit carefully, the economy is doing fine (save for declining property values and high gas prices). Renters aren't worried about rising mortgages, and people without credit card debt aren't worried about rising APRs. However, it is too politically risky for a politician to say this for two reasons: 1) it makes the politician seem "out of touch" with the voters who are suffering from problems they really brought upon themselves, and 2) their "you should have been more careful" rhetoric doesn't provide a solution to the fact that families are struggling now.

One of the tenets of liberalism is that if you do your part and play by the rules, the government will help you or protect you if you are down on your luck through no fault of your own. The problem with this argument is that in most of these cases of current financial hardship, consumers did in fact break these rules and brought about their own ruin. Consumers who paid their bills on time never had to worry about subprime mortgages. Consumers with tight wallets who bought board games or comic books for Christmas instead of DVD players and laptop computers aren't worrying about paying down credit card debt. Lower-income consumers who are driving Corollas instead of Camrys and station wagons instead of SUVs aren't worrying about expensive car insurance and high car payments.

Conservative voters realize this, but none of the presidential candidates are really addressing it. To his credit, Mike Huckabee has warned that the Chinese economy stands to benefit more than the American economy given the glut of Chinese products on the market. But most of the other candidates and congressmen are spending more time talking about extending unemployment benefits and getting these rebates in the hands of the American people as fast as they can. Conservatives look at their (usually Republican) political leaders and shake their heads in disbelief at their rhetoric. It seems like politicians of all persuasions are more interested in pandering than in principle, and that's a shame.

12/19/2007

On Media Bias: Part II (The Nature of Media)

(Note: This post is a continuation of my initial post on media bias.)

Let me address the nature of the media in general:

The news media like to focus on change. News would be very boring if everything remained static, right? Imagine if the media started reporting how many people did not die on the roads this holiday season. Nobody would really care about that because it's not news. There's no "change" involved. But if 3 people died in an accident, that would be news.

Here's another example: Everybody remembers Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. But how many people remember what was happening in New Orleans prior to Katrina? Probably not many because there was nothing to report. There was no "change" that had compelled us to pay attention.

By definition, "conservative" means "does not change" or "changes slowly." This definition alone pits conservatism at odds with the media, which focus almost exclusively on change. A lack of change would sound the death knell for newspapers, internet sites, and television stations everywhere.

Consider this: After being panned for months, the surge in Iraq is now producing positive results. And the media are covering Iraq more favorably. A "change" happened--that is, the situation in Iraq changed from ominous to more hopeful. Earlier, conservatives commonly criticized the media for focusing so much attention on car bombings, Iraqi civilian casualties, and dead American soldiers than on the rebuilding of schools, distributing toys to children, and repairing the country's infrastructure. Do you hear these conservatives complaining about "liberal media bias" now?

Changes in mass communication and Republicans' political success have also given rise to increased media scrutiny, which is often misidentified as media bias.

Regarding political successes, Republicans have won five of the last seven presidential elections and will have held the White House for 28 of the last 40 years by the election next fall. Republicans also controlled Congress from 1994 until 2006. And with the exception of a brief period in the Senate thanks to party-switching former Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Republicans controlled the Senate for six of President Bush's first seven years in office.

Since Republicans controlled all the levers of power in Washington for so long, it would naturally follow that Republicans made the most news. The media fulfilled their responsibilities to the public by reporting on these politicians' activities and scrutinizing them through interviews, extended pieces, fact-checking, and so on. Since Republicans had all the power, they should have received most of the scrutiny. Why would the media invest so much time in criticizing Democrats who had so little power and often had so little input regarding the bills that made it out of Congress? And if the media aren't allowed to provide negative coverage of political activities and legislation, then what's the point in even having political opposition or checks and balances? Or are we supposed to take these politicians at their word?

Now that Democrats control Congress, it is clear that the media have been tough on them as well once the initial honeymoon ended at the start of the year. Whenever Congress passes another funding bill for Iraq, the media report on how the Democrats "caved in and gave Bush what he wanted." The media have criticized the Democrats for acting like a weak opposition party for not holding members of the Bush administration accountable, not standing up to Bush, passing fiscally irresponsible bills laden with earmarks, and not following through on their campaign promises to enact sweeping ethical reforms.

So what about changes in mass media?

When Bill Clinton was president, the media dutifully reported his problems with Whitewater, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky, just as the media dutifully reported Reagan's problems with Iran-Contra and the amnesty bill he signed.

However, and this is very important, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were president before media demassification and new media became so influential. CNN was the only game in town for cable news throughout the 1980s and about half of the 90s. MSNBC and Fox News did not exist. Blogs did not exist. The internet was not the internet. And if you had said "YouTube" fifteen years ago, people would have thought you were talking to your television set. Most people still relied on traditional newscasts to find out what was happening in the world and on the campaign trail.

But 2007 is very different from 1987 or, even 1997. Media demassification has led to politics-only news sources, such as The Politico and Real Clear Politics. There are also influential blogs (Daily Kos, Red State), opinion shaping bloggers (Michelle Malkin, Arianna Huffington) and talk radio programs (Rush Limbaugh, Air America) that keep the heat on politicians of all persuasions. More media outlets mean more scrutiny, and politicians had better get used to it.

It seems that people who cry the most about media bias often don't seem to do so until it happens to their candidate or a member of their political party. And until that happens, these people seem content with gleefully sitting back and letting the media go after their opponents with their "hard hitting questions" and "tough interviews."

But this is not media bias, nor is it hardball journalism. More often than not, it's simply partisanship.

On Media Bias: Part I (The Candidates)

(Note: This post is divided into two parts. To read the second half of this post, click here.)

As the Iowa caucuses draw closer and politicians become increasingly concerned with making momentum-stalling gaffes on the campaign trail that could derail their nominations, the media they have relied on for much of the year to help shape and advance their campaigns has now become a double-edged sword.

Politicians love the element of control--control over their message, control over their legislation, and control over their opposition. However, the one variable that is often out of politicians' control is the media. The media are notorious for building people up one day and then savagely tearing them down the next. The media are also infamous for catching politicians red-handed and providing a means by which moments of infamy can be replayed over and over again, as former Virginia Senator George Allen could attest to.

However, one of the most enduring criticisms I hear from politicians, pundits, politicos, and partisans is the allegation of media bias, especially against conservatives and Republicans. These criticisms have led to fault lines, especially in cable news, as people view CNN and MSNBC as friendlier environs for Democrats and Fox News as more benevolent to Republicans.

The focus of this particular post is not to provide a content analysis of the cable newscasts or their hiring trends. While at first glance, one may buy into this notion of bias, there are so many other examples to the contrary to suggest that even if the media are not always nonpartisan, they are decidedly not biased in that they collectively constitute an equal opportunity risk.

First of all, it is important to stress that negative coverage is not always the same as biased coverage. Every campaign gets caught in stumbles, contradictions, improprieties, and awkward moments. And it is the media's duty to report on those. The media have a responsibility to their audience to address legitimate, substantive issues, such as what role Bill Clinton would play in a Hillary Clinton presidency, why Barack Obama voted "present" (rather than "yea" or "nay") on several controversial issues when he was in the Illinois state legislature, whether Mitt Romney is a credible conservative given his moderate rhetoric in the past, and whether Mike Huckabee has ethical problems. This should be fair game. For politicians to bemoan this type of coverage simply because it's unflattering displays a certain level of silliness that is beneath them. It would behoove these politicians to simply own up to their mistakes or address these negative stories head on, rather than just whining about "media hit jobs."

However, the media have also gone to great lengths to cover frivolous nonissues that have poisoned our political dialogue. The greatest tragedy of this coverage is that it has often come at the expense of discussion about more important topics.

Earlier this year, Barack Obama had to deal with insulting questions like "Is he Black enough?" These questions frustrated Obama so much that his wife Michelle even got involved. And when Oprah Winfrey endorsed him, he had to deal with stories about her only doing so because he was Black. Why did this endorsement and the debate that followed receive more airtime than his views on why illegal immigrants should be allowed to have driver's licenses?

We also have the media to thank for associating the word "cackle" with Hillary Clinton. When was the last time a politician's laugh received so much attention? And why should we care? I remember there being a story a few weeks ago about Clinton's shoelaces becoming untied. Are these people serious? It seems that the media do not allow politicians to be human anymore. Imagine the fallout if a politician couldn't suppress a burp at a diner at a campaign stop while the cameras were rolling! What madness!

John Edwards hasn't escaped the knives of the media either, as the stories about his mansion and expensive haircuts are well known to everyone. On the money front, Mitt Romney is actually the wealthiest candidate running for president this year, but the "rich" label has stuck to Edwards, thanks to the media. But in defense of both Edwards and Romney, why should one's wealth even be an issue at all? Shouldn't we want to elect a candidate who knows how to manage and grow his money? Would we really be comfortable electing someone who makes $45,000 a year and pays $750 a month for a 3-bedroom apartment? And why is it okay to talk about a $400 haircut while we ignore politicians who spend their money on exotic houses, imported wines, and designer suits?

If Mike Huckabee thinks he's being unfairly targeted with questions about religion now, he should look at Mitt Romney. Media coverage about Romney's faith rivals coverage about Obama's "Blackness" in terms of sheer absurdity. However, perhaps to evangelical Christians (regarding Romney) and skeptical Blacks and Whites (regarding Obama), maybe these really are important issues. But the media are complicit in fueling this dissonance by devoting so much time to issues that have absolutely no relevance whatsoever to one's ability to govern effectively. If the media could use their influence to make John Edwards' haircut a national story, couldn't they also have used their influence to minimize the significance of Romney's religion or Obama's race?

This is not to say that all of Mike Huckabee's gripes are unjustified, as he is now having the content of his ads scrutinized. First, he received criticism for not being serious when he used Chuck Norris in one of his earliest campaign ads. Then he was criticized again for using the term "Christian leader" to describe himself in another ad. The latest controversy is about the perceived image of a cross in his latest "Merry Christmas" ad even though the "cross" was really just a part of a bookshelf. Why not just take these ads at face value and focus on his platform?

Rudy Giuliani has had to deal with questions about his relationship with his ex-wives and children. Some people might say these are important stories because it's important that the President be "a family man." But why? Ronald Reagan was on his second wife and Bill Clinton had tinges of infidelity swirling about him, but both were elected. After all, when the bombs are falling and your finger is on the nuclear button, does anybody really care if you played board games with your children every Friday night?

There was a time when Fred Thompson's wife was receiving more media coverage than Fred Thompson himself. That talk has been replaced by talk about how little energy he has on the campaign trail and how disappointing his candidacy has been. Talk about his actual record, on the other hand, is a bit harder to find. Of course, prior to jumping in the race, the media (and conservatives alike) had annointed him as the great conservative hope for disaffected Republicans based on the fact that he "looked" presidential and was an actor. Is that all it takes to get people to pay attention to you? Where was the "liberal media bias" when everyone was fawning over Fred?

Joe Biden was lambasted by the media for using the phrase "clean and articulate" to describe Barack Obama. I doubt that his campaign has ever fully recovered from the damage this nonstory caused. More people remember the word "articulate" than know about his well thought out Iraq plan, which is a travesty given that Iraq is probably the single most important foreign policy challenge facing this nation.

Dennis Kucinich unfairly received a question about UFOs during a debate this fall. Media outlets had a field day covering the aftermath of that. The fact that his views on labor, health care, Iraq, and impeachment are shared by a large segment of the Democratic base doesn't seem to matter because everyone just remembers "Dennis and the UFOs."

It seems that the only candidates who have not been brutalized by the media's focus on pabulum have been John McCain, Bill Richardson, and Chris Dodd. McCain had to deal with stories about disarray in his campaign and running out of money, but those were legitimate issues because they struck at his own viability. That's simply negative coverage, not stupid coverage.

Bill Richardson has generally flown under the radar. He received favorable media coverage for his "Job Interview" ads and has also been criticized for running a lackluster campaign and performing poorly at the debates. However, the media have not really piled onto him.

Dodd hasn't generated much coverage in general, be it good or bad (aside from joking about the fly in his hair at one debate). It could be because he is mired in the 1-2% range of most polls. Or it could be because he hasn't had any breakout moments that generated news. Or it could be that he hasn't made any mistakes. Or it could be that he doesn't fit into the "Clinton vs. Obama" storyline in the Democratic race. Whatever it is, it's too bad because he is a competent, disciplined politician that sits in the Democratic mainstream.

Ron Paul is in a totally different category. After being treated as something of a gadfly for most of the year, the media have been forced to take him a bit more seriously as of late because of his unbelievable fundraising. I get the impression that nobody really knows how to cover his campaign because nobody expects him to win even though he has such strong support online and is raising so much money.

One final thought. Regarding the presidential race, the media commonly talk about six Republican candidates (Huckabee, Romney, Thompson, McCain, Giuliani, and Paul). However, they usually only talk about three Democrats (Edwards, Obama, and Clinton). Yes, Richardson, Dodd, and Biden are polling far worse than Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are, but they are all credible candidates because they are raising money and have campaign staff in several states. If anything, the media are biased in favor of the Republicans regarding the presidential contest because while they are covering almost all of the Republican candidates (excluding the single-issue and vanity candidates), they are only covering half of the Democrats. This is not to say that this coverage is always meaningful, however.

7/01/2007

The Restive States of America

My apologies for not updating The 7-10 for almost three weeks. Class, a new job, and a hard drive failure have kept me off of the internet for awhile.

Anyway, lots of news has taken place over the past few weeks. Thwarted and bungled terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom plus heightened levels of security in the US have brought terrorism back to the forefront. The immigration "compromise" legislation died a second painful death, much to the embarrassment of President Bush who said he would "see [his political opponents] at the bill signing." Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson has all but officially entered the presidential race and has rocketed up the polls. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is flirting with a presidential bid of his own. Congress's approval rating is in the toilet. Second quarter fundraising totals will be released shortly. The Ames Straw Poll is in a few short weeks and will significantly winnow the GOP field. And there are rumors that John McCain's candidacy is on life support.

What I would like to address in this post is Congress's miserable approval rating. Some of this is due to the fact that it's Congress that we're talking about here. It's always convenient to bash the government. Politicians do it all the time when they "run against Washington" or accuse their political opponents of having an "inside the Beltway mentality." So that's nothing new.

However, people generally expect their government to be competent and to handle the nation's business. But it seems like Congress is not doing that. While Congress is knee deep in oversight hearings, they tend to be hearings that are unrelated to Joe and Jane American. Despite the reek of malfeasance on behalf of Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the average person isn't paying attention to their possible transgressions. The average person is not thinking about fired US attorneys or Dick Cheney's energy task force or even Scooter Libby. Those are all inside baseball subjects that only partisans, pundits, political junkies, and power players care about. Your average Walmart shopper or school teacher is too busy trying to make ends meet to care.

I said that people expect their government to be competent. At the very least, they don't expect their government to bungle everything up. But that's what's happening at several levels. And people are being exposed to this inefficiency, incompetence, and infighting in a level they have never seen before.

News stations regularly talk about product recalls and consumer safety alerts concerning products from China. Poisonous pet food, children's toys covered with lead-based paint, cheap automobile tires, and now tainted seafood have shocked consumers and leave them wondering how these products are even allowed to make it to US supermarkets and retailers to begin with. Are there no standards? Who's responsible for ensuring that American imports are safe for American consumers?

The State Department announced heightened security measures and went to great lengths to indicate that visitors to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean would need a passport from now on. So current and future travelers across the nation filled out passport applications in concordance with the new travel rules. However, the State Department became so inundated with applications that they were unable to process the applications in a timely manner. And then they announced that they'd relax the very rules they just implemented because they were so far behind. Did nobody in the State Department anticipate this? How could you create a scenario that would undoubtedly require increased manpower and then not have enough available staff on hand to handle the scenario you created?

Americans are hopping mad about the illegal immigration "compromise" legislation. They see illegal aliens marching in droves demanding citizenship and the rights that come with it. They see the strain that illegal aliens place on their communities and social services. They see the impact this problem is having on their schools and neighborhoods and local employers. It incenses them. So Congress creates a monstrosity of a bill that nobody read and is chock full of unbelievable provisions that offer illegal aliens more rights than US citizens have, such as in-state tuition at public colleges. This left a sour taste in voters' mouths as they wondered exactly who their government represented. So they contacted their senators en masse only to crash the DC switchboard. How could the government not provide a phone system that would be able to compensate for thousands of callers, callers who are represented by the people who created that controversial legislation? Or was the phone system really designed to keep average people from contacting their elected representatives?

Iraq is a mess, and it has been for many months now. The "surge" was supposed to be the trump card that would yield significant progress by September, but now the surge's advocates are playing down their earlier expectations, which leads voters to think that the US is simply spinning its wheels again. The Democratic Congress is passing non-binding resolutions with no teeth in them, the Republican minority seems to have forgotten that they are no longer in charge because of their maneuvering and fillibustering on the subject. And President Bush continues to dig in his heels whenever someone disagrees with his stance on the war. The soldiers, meanwhile, continue to come home in bodybags or serve longer tours while their families are placed under more and more strain.

And of course, Congress voted itself an annual raise. While it is technically a cost of living increase, it comes across as a raise that is most definitely undeserved. Is Congress tone deaf? The borders are broken, dangerous goods are entering the US market from China, Iraq is in flames, and the government at all levels seems dysfunctional. People are livid at where this nation is heading. Bush's approval rating is under 30% in several polls now, but he continues to govern as if he has a 70% approval rating. The Democratic opposition is spending more time on political payback and probing issues that don't affect average people. Minority Republicans are dragging their feet on the war, thus preventing Democrats from being able to end the war by cobbling together a veto-proof 2/3 majority.

This is why Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, and Chuck Hagel are so intriguing to the electorate. It seems that people aren't really looking for conservative government or liberal government. They are looking for competent, efficient, bipartisan, low-rhetoric government. And they're not getting it.

American voters have generally not paid too much attention to politics as of late, as is evidenced by voter turnout. But I think 2008 may be something special because a lot of these apathetic or uninformed voters have been jolted from their slumber because their government's ineptness is affecting them in ways they have never experienced before.

3/04/2007

New Orleans, Old Problems

The Republican wipeout of 2006 was largely a result of Iraq and dissatisfaction of Bush's leadership. However, there was another force in play that led to the Democratic wave: Republican corruption. Tom Delay, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, Scooter Libby, and Mark Foley all became poster children for the broken Congress and the Republican leadership's inability to keep their own members in line.

However, Republicans did not have a monopoly on corruption, as is evidenced by the William Jefferson saga. For those who may be unaware, Rep. Jefferson of Louisiana is under investigation by the FBI for bribery involving a telecommunications company in Africa. While the FBI was investigating Jefferson's home, they found $90,000 in his freezer, thus leading him to be lampooned as "Dollar Bill" Jefferson. His antics led to him being ridiculed as one of the Ten Worst Congressmen.

Rep. Jefferson did not receive enough votes in the regular election to win re-election outright on November 6. This is because Louisiana's election laws stipulate that all candidates must appear on the ballot and the top two vote getters will participate in a runoff at a later date, regardless of their party. The only way a candidate can win the election outright is to win more than 50% of the vote. Thus, there are no primaries in Louisiana for House and mayoral contests.

Anyway, Democrats were likely secretly hoping that Rep. Jefferson would be defeated because his very existence and his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee undermined the Democrats' "culture of corruption" argument and gave the Republicans a useful weapon. However, although Jefferson did not win the November 6 election outright, he did win the runoff. In response, to project an image of no tolerance for ethical violations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took Jefferson off the Ways and Means Committee and reassigned him to the lower profile Small Business Committee. She generally received favorable reviews for doing this.

However, Jefferson still has not been indicted despite his ethical problems. Speaker Pelosi also wants to reassign Jefferson to the more powerful Homeland Security Committee because of the direct impact Hurricane Katrina had on his New Orleans district. Republicans are now crying foul and want to schedule an up or down vote to put all congressmen on record of supporting Jefferson or not supporting him. They argue that an ethically-challenged congressman under investigation should not have access to homeland security information.

To Pelosi's credit, it is true that Jefferson has not been charged with any crimes. However, the mere appearance of impropriety may cause her more trouble than Jefferson's appointment is worth. Washington insiders and political junkies understand that Jefferson is not a convicted felon, so technically there's nothing wrong with his being reassigned to the Homeland Security Committee. But to the average American in Terre Haute, Indiana, this does not go over well. They will want to know why "the guy with all the cash in his freezer" is getting a seat on the Homeland Security Committee. And they're going to be angry because they thought that putting Democrats in charge of Congress would end the corruption that festered under Republican rule.

Republicans are smart to hold Pelosi's feet to the fire here, even if it is just about "politics." Until the allegations against Jefferson have been definitively disproven and his innocence has authoritatively been declared, Democrats would do well by keeping Jefferson's profile as low as possible. Yes, the voters of Jefferson's district essentially gave him a second chance. But to voters across the nation, Rep. Jefferson is a crooked laughing stock that doesn't deserve anything better than political table scraps.

Read more about Jefferson's plight in Congressional Quarterly.

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.