Showing posts with label george bush. Show all posts
Showing posts with label george bush. Show all posts

7/14/2008

Lamentations of an Educated Voter: On Whiners, Pragmatism, and Reality

Barack Obama and John McCain are experiencing great difficulty keeping their surrogates in check and on message. Last week, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson got in trouble by making a vulgar remark in regards to his frustration with Obama. The media had a field day with this, as they couldn't stop talking about Jackson's diminished stature or possible fissures on Obama's left.

The McCain camp, however, would not be outdone. Shortly after Jackson's mouth got him in trouble, chief economic advisor and former Texas Senator Phil Gramm created even more controversy by claiming the United States was in a "mental recession" and accusing us of being "a nation of whiners." (You can access the video clip here.) Obviously, voters don't like to be called names, but on top of that, in an election in which economic anxiety is weighing heavily on voters' minds, these remarks could not have come at a worse time.

Of course, this brouhaha was catnip for pundits and journalists. Gramm tried to backpedal a bit by claiming our political leaders were the "whiners," not the actual voters. But he did not retract his statement at all, nor did he apologize. McCain has since cut ties with Gramm and said that he doesn't speak for his campaign. McCain and Gramm are personal friends who share a long history, but he really didn't have much choice because had Gramm stayed on board, that would have made McCain risk looking out of touch with voters' needs. And lingering complaints about Barack Obama waiting so long to dissociate himself from his church would ring hollow because McCain would still have his association with the advisor who claimed that voters were whiners.

That's politics. Fine.

But what if there were real kernels of truth to what Gramm was saying? I wrote about the need for consumers to practice fiscal responsibility earlier this year when the economic stimulus rebate checks were being debated in Congress. I argued that the economy was worse for people who brought about their ruin through their own poor financial decisions:

"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."
Gas prices notwithstanding, Gramm was likely arguing that consumers should live within their means and that those who haven't been doing so are really feeling the pinch now.

Many consumers seem to have forgotten this and tried to live above their paychecks. This was made easier by offers of no payments for 6 months, 0.9% financing, and two-for-one specials. Nice cars with powerful engines and big homes in well-to-do neighborhoods are expressions of wealth that usually take years to acquire. But telling voters that they should have bought a 27" regular television instead of a 40" flat-screen one or that they should have bought a base model car instead of a limited edition model car is the exact kind of "eat your vegetables" rhetoric that voters tune out. President Jimmy Carter learned this the hard way when he talked about the need for voters to conserve energy and reduce waste only to be ridiculed and have his message be dubbed the infamous malaise speech.

Solutions without sacrifice seems to be a common theme that voters respond to.

Voters want to find a solution to our nation's energy crisis. But they don't want to drill in certain areas or increase fuel efficiency standards for automobiles.

Voters want to pay less for gas. But they don't want to drive slower on the highway. And they want to keep driving their SUVs and cars with V6 engines.

Voters want to increase social services and have a better transportation infrastructure. But they don't want to pay the higher taxes necessary to support them.

Voters want to win the battle in Iraq. But they don't want to send their own family members over there to fight even though the military is stretched thin.

Voters want to increase border security and crack down on illegal immigrants. But they don't want to pay the higher prices that would result from their deportation.

Voters want the best possible health care they can get. But they don't want to give up their smoking, drinking, overeating, junkfood, and couch potato lifestyle.

Voters don't want to be overwhelmed by the economy. But they don't want to give up the houses they should not have moved into or the cars they should not have bought.

Voters want the best, brightest, most pragmatic, most worldly, and most prescient people to occupy the White House. But they (voters and the media) don't want to ask them any substantive questions during the campaign because they get bored (or they think their audiences will get bored) by gory policy details. (What happened this primary season was a travesty.)

This mentality seems to start young and only become more glaring with age.

Students want to get good grades. But they don't want to study for their classes. So they use CliffsNotes or complain to their teachers when they get a B or a C.

Overweight people want to be thin. But they don't want to go on diets or exercise regularly. So they get surgery or complain about discrimination against fat people.

Adults want to be wealthy. But they don't want to stop spending their money on sales, dresses, and video games they can't do without. So they use their credit cards and spend money they really don't have.

Politicians have unfortunately seized on this "solutions without sacrifice" mentality by making promises they can't keep and offering broad goals that we can all agree with, unencumbered by pesky specifics. And voters lap it up like candy.

After September 11, a grieving nation was solidly behind the president and ready to do whatever it took to get the United States back on its feet and help bring justice to the terrorists who attacked us. President Bush then told the nation to "go shopping."

John McCain talks about fiscal responsibility with government finances. But he won't include defense spending when it comes to balancing the budget. Thus, the Iraq War would essentially be financed by simply printing more money, thus further weakening the dollar--a practice that could have consequences that more than offset the fiscal discipline exercised by working within the non-defense portion of the budget.

Barack Obama talks about the need for standing up to President Bush and his prosecution of the War on Terror. One of the central parts of Bush's anti-terrorism policy is the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act which grants telecommunications companies immunity in the event that accusations of warrantless wiretapping were pursued in court. Obama was long opposed to FISA, but ultimately supported an amended FISA compromise that kept this immunity intact.

Voters from all over the political spectrum are criticizing McCain and Obama for their apparent contradictions. McCain is a warmonger who will break the budget and Obama is an opportunistic flip-flopper. But the truth of the matter is, both politicians' decisions have merit in that prosecuting a war and gathering intelligence are complex issues that cannot be reduced to 30 second campaign ads or a slogan on a bumper sticker. So voters are excoriating both candidates for actually taking the complexities of geopolitical reality into consideration.

Back to Phil Gramm.

As was the case with Wesley Clark, perhaps Gramm should have been a bit more tactful when giving his remarks. As a result, like Clark's remarks, the central part of his message was obscured by how the message was delivered. However, he has touched upon something very real, not just about our struggling economy, but also about our own responsibilities to ourselves, our families, and our government.

You can't get something for nothing. And no complex problem has a simple solution. For voters to expect otherwise is irresponsible. There's only so much that a politician, media organization, or government agency can do. The rest is up to a mature and pragmatic citizenry. And in light of the fallout from Gramm's remarks, it seems that many of us still don't get it.

12/07/2007

The Iranian NIE (New Incredulous Explanations)

In my mind, one of the biggest political stories going on these days concerns the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's capability to develop nuclear weapons. This fall there has been a steady drumbeat to war, as was evidenced by the Kyl-Lieberman resolution in the Senate and President Bush going so far as to warn us about "World War III." But according to the NIE, Iran stopped its weapons program four years ago and is farther away from getting the bomb than was commonly thought.

That alone is a big story, but that led to a new story that's not being addressed at all: the criticism from conservatives who are skeptical about the NIE's validity. These conservatives are trying to downplay the meaning of the NIE because "the intelligence has been wrong before" and because "Iran is still a threat." (You can read some of these criticisms from the Boston Globe, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, and the National Review.)

I'm all for a free exchange of ideas and a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to the government and the media. But it should never serve as a distraction from the real issues at hand. And I worry that this is exactly what is happening now. And the general public is too apathetic and too distracted to care.

One common criticism I've been reading is that the intelligence is not to be trusted because it was wrong the first time regarding Iraq. So why should we trust the intelligence now? Because hopefully the intelligence community has learned something since taking us to Iraq. And if they haven't, then someone should be held accountable for getting the intelligence wrong again. And if this recent NIE is also inaccurate, heads need to roll because this is too important to not get right the first time.

And why are these people so critical of the intelligence to begin with? By extension, they are criticizing the intelligence gathering community. This community consists of military personnel and Department of Defense personnel. But aren't these neoconservatives who are so big on war with Iraq and Iran supposed to be the Pentagon's allies? Why are they denigrating the very community they rely so much on to accomplish their geopolitical objectives?

Why are these people more concerned with the accuracy of the intelligence than with the disconnect between the intelligence's findings and Bush's rhetoric about "avoiding World War III?" And rather than breathing a sigh of relief that the Iranian threat might not be as ominous as was once feared, why are they bellyaching about how the intelligence may be faulty? Would these same detractors be questioning the intelligence as fervently as they are now if the intelligence said that Iran had an actual bomb? Or is it only okay to criticize intelligence findings if these findings contradict your political wishes?

And why isn't this story getting more play in the media? Why isn't the public hopping mad about this? This isn't another one of those inside baseball stories that nobody outside of Washington cares about. This is about our national leader making irresponsible and provocative statements about the threat another country poses, which has led to chest-thumping from Republicans in particular raising the specter of a pre-emptive nuclear war. And these irresponsible statements are based on information that is not true now and was not true at the time these statements were made!

Where is the outrage? Where are the congressional Democrats? Where are the hearings? Where is Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? Where is Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee? Where are the Democratic presidential candidates? And where is the contrition among the Republican presidential candidates? Where are the voters who should be asking these Republican presidential candidates and Hillary Clinton about what went wrong?

Why are supposed "news" channels like CNN and MSNBC devoting their precious airtime to stories about Natalee Holloway and Stacy Peterson? Why are we more concerned with a presidential candidate's speech about faith than with our chief executive's rhetoric about World War III? Why are we more concerned with which superstar endorses which presidential candidate than the obfuscations the president's press secretary gives about what the president knew and when he knew it? And why is the president allowed to take credit for being so cautious about something now that he had been so reckless about in the past?

It's like Bizarro Land. It just doesn't make any sense. This nation is in trouble.

10/27/2007

Another Black Eye for the Bush Administration

While California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has generally been lauded for his leadership during the California fire disaster, the federal government is making headlines again for all the wrong reasons. According to CNN, the Federal Emergency Management Agency staged a phony news conference in which FEMA staffers posed as journalists and asked softball questions that lent themselves to gratuitous and self-aggrandizing responses:

Q: "Are you happy with FEMA's response, so far?"

A: "I'm very happy with FEMA's response so far. This is a FEMA and a federal government that's leaning forward, not waiting to react. And you have to be pretty pleased to see that."
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who apparently had no knowledge of this staged event, was outraged:
"I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government. I have made unambiguously clear, in Anglo-Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinarily poor judgment."
Chertoff's anger certainly is justified, but this gets at the very reason why so many Americans have written off President Bush and his administration.

Why should the FEMA staffers who set up this bogus news conference even be given a second chance at all? And why hasn't Chertoff's boss, President Bush come out hard against the perpetrators? Bush most definitely did not want to experience a repeat of the Katrina debacle, so he surely wanted the federal government to work seamlessly throughout this tragedy. But now FEMA has embarrassed itself yet again. And nobody is being held accountable.

Yes, it's "only" a phony press conference. But shouldn't we expect more from our federal government? And whatever happened to personal accountability? What kind of banana republic are we living in when incompetent people can continue to underperform so brazenly and without consequence? If this had happened at a private company, the company's boss would have swiftly fired any and all people involved with committing something so stupid. Why isn't that happening at the highest levels of our government? Consider this lame response from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino:
"It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House. We certainly don't condone it. FEMA has apologized for the error in judgment."
(That's it?)

Partisan defenders of the current administration may tell others to lighten up or attempt to trivialize this somehow as much ado about nothing. But they are missing the point. Governance is serious business. The federal government should not be in the business of making people laugh, nor should they be in the business of entertaining. They should be in the business of competently doing their jobs and providing for their nation's citizens because there are very real consequences for them failing to do so. Wasting taxpayer dollars, precious time, and media resources over some stupid staged news conference should be a firing offense. It's not something "we don't condone." It's not something "inappropriate." People's lives hang in the balance here. Chertoff is right to be angry, but if these people maintain their jobs, it only further makes President Bush and his administration look like a joke. This entire episode is both embarrassing and contemptible. And the saddest thing about all this is that it's not the first time something like this has happened. And nothing will change.

Where is the outrage? Does government not mean anything anymore?

10/26/2007

California, Fires, Race, and Partisanship

The California fires have been the big story in the news this week. As tragic as they may be, the media love such stories because of the wealth of story ideas they generate. Human interest stories about rebuilding, the criminality angle stemming from arson investigations, health stories about breathing in soot, political stories comparing Bush's response now with Bush's response during Hurricane Katrina, and stories of heroism on behalf of firefighters and emergency rescue personnel ensure that there won't be any slow news days for awhile. Unfortunately, some of what's being reported also illustrates what's wrong with America these days. I've been watching this media coverage over the past few days and have made a few observations.

Partisanship: Black vs. White

Blacks, especially those in Louisiana displaced by Hurricane Katrina, are listening to the media coverage of this disaster carefully. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there was a chorus of politicians and pundits who said they should not rebuild the communities in and around New Orleans because the city was below sea level and at high risk of experiencing a similar disaster in the future. One of the common criticisms from Blacks during this time was that if Katrina had happened in a majority White area (such as Southern California), these politicians and the government would take the disaster more seriously and questions about the wisdom of rebuilding would never enter the equation. Obviously, the California fires and Hurricane Katrina are catastrophes of two entirely different scales. California and Louisiana have two different governors with two different skill sets and two different styles of leadership. They have two different state legislatures, two different economies, and two different demographic composites. However, the California hills are in the middle of wildfire country just as New Orleans is in the middle of hurricane country. Fairly or unfairly, a lot of Black voters are listening to the way the media and politicians talk about rebuilding the communities in San Diego County and wonder why it's okay for those (mostly White) residents to rebuild, but not okay for the (mostly Black) residents of New Orleans to rebuild. Underneath all the fear and sadness associated with this tragedy, there is a sense of resentment among many Blacks who feel there is a level of disparity regarding the way they were treated during Katrina and the way the Southern Californians are being treated now. And that is unfortunate.

Partisanship: Unpresidential leadership

George Bush's remark that "it makes a significant difference when you have a person in the statehouse willing to take the lead" was both inappropriate and unpresidential. Bush is well aware that the California fire disaster gave him a second chance when it comes to responding to natural disasters at home, so he obviously remembers Katrina and all the players involved there. While he didn't name names, it was obvious that he was talking about Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. For all of Gov. Blanco's shortcomings during Katrina, there was no reason for him to disparage her when talking about the California disaster. When you talk about staying positive, healing, and the need for everyone to come together, what's the point of making cheapshots at the expense of state leaders who are unrelated to the situation at hand? At what point do we all become Californians? And shouldn't we expect a bit more maturity from our national leader? Comments such as this remind voters of one thing they particularly dislike about President Bush--his inappropriate remarks during times of crisis. (You can read more about Bush's "do over" here.)

Partisanship: A lack of respect

California's lieutenant governor, Democrat John Garamendi, angrily said that while they would be cordial to Bush during his visit, it was largely a "public relations" stunt of questionable value. Unfortunately for Garamendi, while it may be okay for private citizens to express such views, elected officials, especially high level ones like the lieutenant governor, should afford the president a certain level of respect, whether you support Bush or not. It is unbecoming for a lieutenant governor to bash the nation's chief executive prior to his visit to the disaster area. And of course, if Bush decided not to go to California, would the lieutenant governor criticize him for being too detached?

Partisanship: Left vs. Right

Lt. Gov. Garamendi then suggested the disaster response would have been far better had the California National Guard not been in Iraq:

"How about sending our National Guard back from Iraq, so that we have those people available here to help us?"
In response to this, California congressman and Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter said:
"...[Y]ou can put the entire U.S. Army in front of [the fires] and you are not going to stop it and the proof of that is this. ... You simply don't throw a wall of bodies up against an incoming wall of flame that is coming with high winds behind it."
So in short, he was suggesting that it didn't make any difference at all whether the National Guard was in California or in Iraq. End of story.

Of course, conservatives and Republicans pounced on Garamendi's remarks and said that the California fires had been "politicized" by Democrats. Of course, these are the same Republicans who couldn't stress enough during Katrina how the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana were both Democrats. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour also made the "connection" between the chaos in Louisiana compared to Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, all of which happened to have Republican governors. So Republicans' outrage over Garamendi's remarks is a bit insincere.

Had enough yet? Ruben Navarrette certainly thinks so.

All of these remarks illustrate the partisan bimodal thinking about serious issues that does such a great disservice to the nation. It would be nice if we could have a serious discussion about troop levels and resources in Iraq without making it sound like taking all the troops out would solve all the states' problems or that no benefit could be obtained whatsoever by keeping all the National Guard troops over there. National Guard troops in Iraq could certainly be used to help deal with situations that arise domestically. After all, the firefighters and emergency response teams could use all the help they can get. But to blame Iraq for an inadequate emergency response that has generally received good reviews is overly pessimistic. And it is unseemly to use calamities such as these fires as an opportunity to score political points.

Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson captures the essense of this nonsense perfectly. At what point does partisanship become an unfunny joke? While it may be fun to crow about winning an election, a debate, or a news cycle, there are still real issues to deal with that affect real lives. It would be nice if people on all sides took these issues more seriously.

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

Hillary's First Mistake

It finally happened.

Hillary Clinton and her rock-solid campaign apparatus have finally gotten themselves off message. Hillary Clinton and her husband both stepped into the maelstrom that is the Scooter Libby commutation. They blasted Bush as advocating cronyism and issuing what is essentially a pardon to someone who they believe doesn't deserve it.

Of course, people in glass houses should not throw stones. However, some political strategists think the Clintons were going to have to confront this issue eventually because of the controversial pardons the former president granted in the final days of his presidency. So rather than deny your weakness, a common strategy is to shine a light on it because it may make you appear candid or make your own warts appear less gruesome by comparison.

However, I think in Hillary Clinton's case, this was the wrong strategy to pursue. I think she would have been better off expressing her disappointment with the commutation and then remaining silent. The Libby commutation is not much of a political winner for her because it reminds voters of her husband's controversial pardons. This has the added detriment of reminding voters of her husband (and thus overshadowing her in the process). Oh, and and it also reminds voters of the constant partisan volleying between the Bushes and the Clintons.

So now the spotlight is off of Scooter Libby and on Bill and Hillary Clinton. And the White House was all too happy to engage them. Bush is already toast, so he has nowhere to go but up. By attacking the Clintons, he can energize conservatives and get a bit of political breathing room because how is the Libby commutation any less controversial than the Marc Rich pardon?

Hillary looks a bit odd criticizing Bush in this regard. And Bill Clinton would have been wise to stay above the fray. So now Hillary has changed the subject, to Bush's advantage. Now she has to deal with questions about hypocrisy, polarization, and reliving the past instead of questions about health care and the environment (right as Al Gore gets ready to showcase his Live Earth concerts).

The most damaging result of this confrontation is the fact that it reminds voters of what America most definitely does not need right now: more partisanship. George Bush campaigned in 2000 as "a uniter, not a divider." He failed miserably. The nation is now even more polarized than it was under Clinton. I really think voters want to start over in 2008 with a fresh slate. Eight years of polarization under Clinton followed by eight more years of even worse polarization under Bush will make the appetite for another eight years of Clinton a bit weaker. So while Hillary may be able to display her political chops and her brass knuckles as she goes to the mat against Bush, voters may ultimately decide that they've simply had enough. Once Hillary's support begins to weaken, she's finished. Her unfavorables are too high to allow for any margin of error.

Obama should watch these developments carefully because he stands to reap a political windfall should these predictions actually materialize. In the meantime, Hillary needs to pick her battles more carefully. One could argue that the average voter won't remember how she retorted to this issue about Libby, but they may be paying more attention than we think. And they know hypocrisy when they see it.

7/02/2007

Pardon me?

President Bush has just commuted the prison sentence of Scooter Libby. The basis of his decision was that the 30-month prison sentence was "excessive."

And with one stroke of the pen, President Bush has cemented the animosity, distrust, scorn, and sheer hatred his political enemies have developed for him over the years. And for regular people (who generally opposed the idea of pardoning Scooter Libby by more than a 3 to 1 ratio in some polls), this commutation likely has turned them off from the remainder of his presidency. Bush will retain his formal and executive powers, but he will be a lame duck for sure who nobody respects.

Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed by President Bush, so it's hard to paint Fitzgerald as some over-zealous partisan Bush-hater. Also, the 30-month prison sentence was consistent with the federal sentencing guidelines as well, so why Bush views this as "excessive" would be interesting to know. And why Bush didn't pardon Libby much earlier would be another good question to ask because this investigation cost taxpayers millions of dollars. And what's the point of having an investigation if the president will overturn the jury's verdict? And how can Bush say he "respects the jury's decision" regarding the verdict and then eliminate the heftiest part of the very sentence he "respects?" Anyway, it is important to stress that it is Bush's presidential right to commute Libby's sentence. However, I think most Americans will conclude that even though this is Bush's right, that doesn't necessarily make it right.

(For what it's worth, the difference between a commutation and a pardon is that a pardon completely wipes a person's slate clean. Receiving a pardon basically restores one's legal record to its previous state--that is, before any legal proceedings took place. A commutation simply eliminates prison time, but does not remove any convictions from one's records. So in Libby's case, he will still have to pay a hefty fine of $250,000 and be placed on probation. However, since Libby hasn't yet served any prison time, a commutation is essentially the same as a pardon.)

What are the consequences of this?

Democrats are incensed by this development, and rightfully so. President Clinton was impeached for a similar crime (perjury), so they think this development reeks of a double standard and a workaround that cheats the justice system. As a result of this, they will have no desire whatsoever to work with President Bush in the future. Yes, they will want to accomplish some pieces of legislation so they can brag about their performance when they return to their districts. However, don't be surprised if they drag their feet or send Bush bills that they know he won't sign. It'll be far easier for them to blame their legislative failures on "the stubborn, unreasonable Bush" than on themselves.

Republicans are likely divided by this development. Bush loyalists are elated, as they viewed Libby's transgressions as the result of a "faulty memory" or "not remembering who told you something first," rather than perjury. However, more moderate and less partisan Republicans may disagree with this and think that since Libby did the crime, he should do the time. So they may be disillusioned by their own party and may suffer from tamped down enthusiasm for their own presidential candidates who have voiced support for pardoning Libby in the past.

Democratic presidential candidates will have even more ammunition to use to whack Republicans and gin up their campaign coffers. Democrats overwhelmingly disagree with this decision, the candidates may be falling over themselves to out-rip-on-Bush each other. "Outsider" candidates, particularly Barack Obama (and maybe Bill Richardson) may see their stock go up. "Establishment" and "Washingtonian" candidates (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd) may see their stock values fall because voters may become hungrier for someone "fresh." Hillary Clinton may be particularly weakened by this development because after 8 exhausting years of Bush, would another 8 years of Clinton (and the partisanship that would ensue) be the best remedy for the nation?

Republican presidential candidates might want to be careful with how strongly they defend Bush and Libby because that might damage them in the general election. And there are a lot of Republicans who feel Bush has hijacked their party and won't be receptive to candidates who defend him. I guess it largely depends on how far to the right the candidates are willing to run. Candidates who are on the record of supporting Bill Clinton's impeachment may be branded as hypocrites, so they can't sound too happy about this commutation. This could be particularly damaging to Fred Thompson who actually voted to impeach Clinton and expressed support for Libby. On another note, how will these candidates respond to the argument that Bush forgave someone who lied about national security matters? Would that not undercut their messages about terrorism?

Bush is hovering in the 20s in public opinion polls, so he doesn't have much to lose. But he will have to answer questions about this eventually. He's said many times before that "he can't talk about an ongoing investigation," but he won't be able to hide behind that argument anymore. He will not be in a position to demand much in terms of compromise from Congress, so look for him to be an isolated lame duck for the rest of his term with only ceremonial duties. His goal should be to run out the clock because investigations will only intensify from now on.

But here's will the average person will probably think about this:

The Bush Administration has absolutely no respect for the rule of law, and the concept of accountability does not exist. Be it Iraq, Katrina, Alberto Gonzales, Cheney's secrecy, torture, Guantanamo, wiretapping, or Valerie Wilson, the rules simply don't apply. Incompetent people get promoted and lionized, competent people get ridiculed, reasonable questions get laughed off, and whistle blowers get shoved aside. It's painfully obvious that the rules for average people are different from the rules for the well-connected. Up is down, and down is up. America is without adult supervision, and the majority of people now are probably counting down the days until Bush and his corrupt administration finally leave office.

What a disaster.

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.

5/13/2007

Iwrecked Iraq

I got another letter to the editor published in the local newspaper today:

Would war czar be Bush's new fall guy?
Why is President Bush looking for a "war czar" to lead the troops and develop a winning strategy for our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

As commander in chief, isn't that Bush's responsibility? Or is it possible that "The Commander Guy" (formerly "The Decider") simply doesn't know what he's doing?

Or is he just looking for another potential fall guy, should things on the ground fail to improve?

ANTHONY PALMER

Columbia

I haven't written much about Iraq in The 7-10 because of the sheer volume of information, quotes, positions, details, developments, factions, nuances, resolutions, and maneuvering involved. I simply can't keep up with all of it.

But I will say this much.

Politicians, especially Democrats, just don't get it.

If you want to end the war, there is an easy way to do so. If the Iraqi government decides to take a two-month vacation this summer, then cut off the war funding immediately. Giving deadlines and timetables and whatnot, no matter how noble, can easily be spun by Republicans as "telling the enemy to wait us out" and "issuing surrender dates." However, if the war funding is cut because the Iraqis are clearly not stepping up to the plate and assuming responsibility for their country, the blame would shift from the "surrender Democrats" to the "inept and ungrateful Iraqis," which is much safer politically. And if the situation does indeed improve by September, then future funding should be contingent upon a series of increasingly rigorous benchmarks that the Iraqi government and Iraqi military must meet regularly. If they don't meet them, then funding will gradually be cut while U.S. troops will gradually be pulled out of the country. So it's a win-win situation.

Here's another idea:

Give President Bush the funding he wants, but only until the end of September when General Petraeus said he could ascertain the "surge's" effectiveness. Keep tapes of all interviews and quotes by Republicans and President Bush about "how the surge hasn't been given a chance to succeed." If things do not improve, then throw these quotes back at them and then cut off the funding. Keeping the troops in Iraq past the end of this calendar year would be political suicide for Republicans, so they will have a much greater appetite for pulling the troops out later this year. And giving Bush the funding he wants until September will demonstrate a bit of good faith on behalf of the Democrats towards Bush and General Petraeus, who has to be given a chance to have his leadership succeed. I think Democratic and anti-war voters won't penalize the Democratic legislators for this just yet. They've already stood up to Bush on this issue, so that should placate the base a bit. Also, because of our nation's short attention span, I don't think voters will be paying too much attention to Iraq and politics during the summer, so I think they can afford to wait just a little bit longer.

Right now though, it seems like the Democrats are playing their hand too soon.

As for Republicans, I am not really sure what "victory" in Iraq looks like. And it seems like the best we can do is "not lose." Americans are not going to be happy with "not losing," which means that "staying to win" isn't worth it. I know these Republican lawmakers want to be loyal to their president, but it is this loyalty that has gotten them stuck in the situation they're in now--minority status in both houses of Congress.

When Republicans talk about "if we don't fight them over there, they will follow us over here," do they not realize how porous that logic is? Smart Democrats will use this phony argument to pivot to a discussion about immigration reform, securing the borders, screening what comes into our ports, and increased penalties for corporations that hire illegal immigrants. That would put a lot of those red state Democrats on friendly ground with the residents of the states they serve while driving a wedge between Republican legislators because immigration is one of the most salient issues to their party. I cannot believe I haven't heard any Democrats respond to that "they'll follow us over here" nonsense in any meaningful way whatsoever so far.

4/30/2007

The Legend of Mike Gravel

The most colorful figure in last week's Democratic presidential debate was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (official campaign site). From the very beginning he established himself as the unvarnished loose cannon who was not afraid to speak truth to power. Seeing that he really had nothing to lose, he came out with his guns a-blazing.

But did he actually hit any targets?

In my estimation, he actually did.

Let's be clear. Mike Gravel is not going to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee. However, he has already made a tremendous impact on the psychology of Democrats and Democratic legislators.

Let me explain. During the debate, Gravel fielded a question about how he would resolve the conflict. He said we should "get out" because "the Iraqis don't want us there, but we insist on staying!" He then said he would "make it a felony" for Bush to continue to prosecute this war and urged the other Democrats on stage to pass a law instead of a resolution to achieve this. After all, he reminded everyone, Bush said earlier that America was not pulling out of Iraq on his watch and that it would be a decision for "future presidents" to make.

That certainly got liberal antiwar Democrats fired up.

But then he went a step further. He said Pelosi didn't have to worry because she had the votes in the House of Representatives to keep passing bills ending the war. But for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), he said he should show some backbone and not worry about Republicans' threats of filibustering. Instead, he should schedule a cloture vote every day to get that bill passed. And if he did that while the Republicans continued to filibuster or Bush continued to veto this legislation, "it would be clear to everyone who was prolonging this war." (That's not an exact quote because I don't have the debate transcript with me, but that's the gist of what he said.)

And you know what? That's close to what the Democrats are going to do now. Even though Bush said he would veto the bill, the Democrats have said they will send him the bill anyway. Some Democrats have suggested they will send him the bill several times. I am not sure if they adopted this strategy before or after the debate, but at the very least, even if this idea did not come from Gravel himself, he still forcefully advocated this approach, which likely did not fall on deaf ears.

And by doing this, he showed the Democrats how to fight.

There's some debate about whether longshots should be allowed to participate in presidential debates because they often take precious time away from more viable candidates to express their positions. However, they can be beneficial in that they can throw more established candidates off script. In Gravel's case, it may behoove Democrats to keep him on the stage at the debates because he may be quite instructional to his colleagues in Washington and activists everywhere. Of course, Republicans will love to give Gravel as much exposure as possible because it would allow them to tar all Democrats as "far left lunatics." But I think most responsible voters see Gravel as a fringe candidate based on his lack of decorum alone.

National Journal was really miffed by his "rudeness" and dropped him from their biweekly race rankings. I think that's a mistake. My view is that knowledge is everywhere. You just have to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Even if Gravel comes across as something less than what is commonly considered senatorial or presidential, his advice about resolving the Iraq impasse suggests to me that people are giving him far less credit than he deserves.

Update: According to Parker (check the comments to this post), John Edwards advocated the exact same approach that Mike Gravel mentioned in the debate. Again, according to Parker, John Edwards stated this on NPR "about a month ago." If John Edwards owns this strategy, then Mike Gravel may have further validated it. At the very least, this is very favorable for John Edwards and really puts Barack Obama on the spot.

3/22/2007

The Bush Presidency: Trust or Bust

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow is faithfully towing the White House line maintaining that the White House will not go along with "fishing expeditions" in the form of "show trials" and subpoenas. The White House says it will make Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and their assistants available for "interviews," but not under oath and without the creation of any transcripts.

Is Bush serious?

First of all, let me talk a little about how the average American is likely to view these remarks. First of all, when you talk about testifying but not under oath, it sounds like you have something to hide. And since "Mr. Family Values" himself vowed in 2000 to "restore honor and dignity to the White House," having his staff testify under oath shouldn't be a problem. So why does he resist that?

Secondly, what is the point of having these "interviews" if no record of the content discussed can be created? In an age when government officials all over the place seem to have "I can't remember" and "I have no recollection" disease (at least when it comes to investigations), does the White House believe that members of Congress are going to remember the intricacies of whatever Rove and Miers have to say? What if their stories are inconsistent? What if they contradict themselves at a later date? What if future developments lead to new information that can't be followed up on because it can't be cross-checked with what was said in the interview itself?

Obviously, the Democratic Congress is not going to go along with this. Bush may deride them for "playing politics," but I think his political antennae must be severely damaged or compltely nonfunctional if he expects the Democrats to accept his "compromise."

And here's a news flash that Bush does not seem to be aware of: He hasn't earned the right to cite executive privilege regarding having his staff testify under oath. He hasn't earned the right to be taken at his word. He hasn't earned the right to be trusted without question. Maybe he could have gotten away with that in early 2002 when his popularity was sky high and the electorate was scared into placing all their faith into him, but too much has happened since then for any reasonable person to "trust Bush" or his administration anymore.

Why should people trust Bush after four years of misjudgments and "turning the corner" in Iraq?

Why should people trust Bush when people in Louisiana and Mississippi are still living in FEMA trailers despite his pledge to rebuild the areas ravaged by Katrina?

Why should people trust Bush when his vice president's chief of staff has been convicted of perjury, presumably to avoid embarrassing Cheney and even Bush himself, and none of the people implicated by this trial have been fired despite pledges from Bush to do just that?

Why should people trust Bush when he pledged to be "a uniter, not a divider" and the nation is more polarized now than ever before?

Why should people trust Bush when he proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" 3000 U.S. military deaths ago?

Why should people trust Bush when his attorney general dismissed the latest scandal as "an overblown personnel manner" when evidence shows that was obviously not the case?

Why should people trust Bush when he proclaims that "we don't torture" even though the Abu Ghraib photos and testimony from detainees clearly contradict that?

Why should people trust Bush when he signs laws and then quietly adds signing statements giving him the permission to ignore the very laws he just signed?

Again, is Bush serious? It seems like every time something foul comes up, his administration throws up smokescreens, faulty memory defenses, fallguys, and "playing politics" excuses. This administration offers everything in the form of excuses and evasions, but nothing in the form of meaningful answers and accountability. Bush's track record is so abysmal that people WANT his power to be curtailed. For him to cite "executive privilege" now would be beyond comedy if it weren't so scary.

(By the way, Tony Snow seemed to agree with this when Clinton was president. Now he's singing a different tune. How interesting.)

Anyway, regardless of your politics, the idea that the President has the right to be beyond the reach of accountability or investigation just because he's the President is very disturbing. National security has nothing to do with this attorney firings case. I sense a constitutional crisis in the works. Republicans, particularly in the Senate, might want to think twice before they echo the White House line regarding this matter. I really think the majority of Americans have permanently turned against Bush. It is obvious that he has no grasp of what is happening.

(I still can't believe he referred to oversight hearings as "show trials" and "fishing expeditions." Did he really expect Democrats to play nice with him after all the times he lambasted them as supporting the terrorists, hating America, wanting to see our military fail, not being patriotic, wanting to coddle our enemies, and being advocates for defeat?)

Having said that, Bush does have one ace in the hole. He is a second term president with a vice president who harbors no presidential ambitions. They have nothing to worry about politically, and that is what makes them very, very dangerous. Because Democrats are still afraid of their own shadow, I don't think they are willing to push back against "the Decider" as hard as they should. But compared to the previous Republican Congress, the public probably appreciates the resistance they have put up so far because at least this resistance is there.

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.

3/12/2007

Potpourri

I have been busy lately, so I haven't had much time to update The 7-10 or do much of anything else. But here are a few links to keep you and your mind busy until the smoke clears and I have more time to spend scouring the web for news to feed your political mind:

Is this man responsible for the nonsensical mess that is supposed to be our primary season? Speaking of which, it looks like New York wants to join in the frontloading fun as well. Lovely. Good luck to the second tier candidates who wish to compete in the expensive New York City market.

Looks like Newsweek agrees with me regarding how voters tend to look for a president who represents the opposite of what the previous one did. Is an "Urban Cowboy" (Giuliani) a little too similar to the "Tough Talking Texan" we have in the White House right now?

It's amazing how losing an election can send you from self-aggrandization to self-repudiation in a few short months.

As of last week, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton were leading the endorsement race among congressional members. I'm not sure what this means outside the Beltway, although it might lend itself to organizational support at the state and local levels.

Does this response from the Conservative Political Action Conference go far enough in repudiating Ann Coulter's recent inflammatory remarks? And does Mitt Romney wish that this landmine happened before the advent of YouTube? (More on this later.)

Could Chuck Hagel be the best hope Republicans have for retaining the White House in 2008 even if he splits a ticket with a Democrat? Or is telling fellow senators to go sell shoes a bit too close to the truth for the establishment to handle?

Regarding Bush's foreign policy prowess in comparison to that of other presidents, 1104 scholars can't all be wrong. Also, at what point do record low poll numbers cease to have any significance regarding the current president?

I recently heard a quote attributed to former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan: "When it comes to the presidency, people don't elect resumes. People elect men." That might not be an exact quote, but the spirit of it helps explain why George W. Bush was able to prevail over Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom had superior resumes. Noonan's words seem to be validated by the 2008 campaign which has Clinton, Obama, and Edwards ahead of veteran politicians Richardson, Dodd, and Biden. Similarly, Romney and Giuliani are giving McCain a run for his money while veteran Duncan Hunter is stuck at the back of the pack. Why does character trump policy?

How likely is it that voters are suffering from a bit of buyer's remorse after last year's elections put Democrats at the helm of Congress? Not likely, at least after this little article in Congressional Quarterly.

Have Democrats found a new strategy for dealing with Fox News? Did Obama and Edwards start something big?

3/02/2007

2008: The Year of the Anti-Bush

I have stated before that I subscribe to the Chris Matthews theory of presidential selection in that voters eventually grow tired of a president's quirks or defining characteristics and are more inclined to elect someone who reflects the exact opposite of these characteristics. The most recent example of this occurred in 2000 when voters thought the humble, folksy Bush who would not cheat on his wife was an attractive contrast to the skirt-chasing Clinton. Fairly or not, Gore was seen as an extention of Clinton and his parsing.

Now Bush is generally regarded as an ineffective, incompetent president. His approval ratings are in the gutter and have been for a very, very long time. Because of this, I stated earlier that I believed voters would place a premium on competence and experience in 2008 and less of an emphasis on personality. An analytical person who could take various forms of information, assess it, and draw logical conclusions from it would be more attractive than a person who just feels his way through complex matters and relies primarily on his intuition.

The most recent example of behavior that reinforces what the general electorate dislikes about Bush can be found in an Associated Press article by Jennifer Loven. She was reporting on a disaster response and training exercise to test the federal government's ability to respond quickly and effectively to a simulated crisis. In light of the Katrina debacle, one would think this training exercise was a good idea.

However:

Stanzel said the drill revealed gaps in the government's ability to respond, but also showed that there have been many improvements since Hurricane Katrina. The storm exposed federal inadequacies when it devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. For instance, coordination with state and local authorities and the ability to get federal resources in place quickly--key missteps after Katrina--appeared much better now, Stanzel said.

President Bush went on a bike ride yesterday morning and did not take part in the test.

I think that last sentence speaks for itself.

The 7-10 is not supposed to be a partisan blog, but I can't help but wonder about the extent to which those who voted for Bush over Gore and/or Kerry regret their decision.

Let me reiterate. The voters are angry. They were able to get some of their anger out in 2006, but I think as long as stories like this keep coming out (and as long as the Iraq War continues to be mismanaged), look for the statesman instead of the soothsayer to win the presidential election next year. Even though the next GOP nominee will not be directly related to the Bush administration, that candidate will unfortunately be seen as its successor. And that will be an albatross unless this candidate distances himself from Bush (and infuriates the Republican base in the process).

I've seen recent political cartoons mocking Gore as a vampire or Frankenstein, but such cartoons are geared only to people who would never vote for Gore even if the GOP nominated Satan himself. But don't look for the voters to be as dismissive of competence and experience this time around. The voters want what Bush doesn't have, and Gore, Richardson, Gingrich, and McCain are the only ones who can give it to them.

2/26/2007

How Radioactive is Bush?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.