Showing posts with label republicans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label republicans. Show all posts


The Problem with Palin's Speech

Sarah Palin delivered a fiery speech at the Republican National Convention last night. This speech was important because it gave her the opportunity to reintroduce herself to Republicans and introduce herself to America as a whole. And because she was buffeted by the press, sometimes unfairly, as the media aggressively combed through her record as governor and mayor and her own personal issues, the country wanted to see how she'd perform. Would she have a glass jaw? Would she shrug it off? Or would she return serve?

The reviews are in and Republicans couldn't be more pleased. Palin clearly beat expectations and proved that she knew how to throw a punch. She gave Republicans a lot of red meat and seasoned it with some tough attacks on Barack Obama and the press, which the crowd loved. Republicans were clearly enthused by Palin and now have a reason to show up and vote for John McCain and not just against Barack Obama this November.

However, Palin may have done more harm than good to John McCain's chances of defeating his Democratic rival. But why?

First of all, if Republicans loved the speech, it goes without saying that Democrats hated it. So in addition to pumping up Republicans, Palin riled up the Democrats as well. Barack Obama capitalized on this by raising $8 million after her speech. Since Obama will not be limited by public financing guidelines, he is free to raise and spend this money at will. And given the rising number of registered Democrats and the stagnant number of registered Republicans, ginning up both bases should only work to the Democrats' advantage. This problem was not lost on one Republican strategist who was not joining in the Republican celebrations of her speech.

What about independents and undecided voters? Imagine going to two car dealerships and seeing two cars that you like. You test drive both of them and can't make a decision. Then one of the car dealers tells you that only losers drive the other car at the other dealership and that the people who work at that other dealership are scumbags. Upon hearing this, most people would probably be turned off by this dealer's attitude because it comes across as unprofessional, immature, and insulting.

In the case of this election, these undecided and independent voters were looking for a reason to vote for John McCain. But instead, they heard Palin mock Obama for being a community organizer, attack him for being self-absorbed, criticize his patriotism, drag his wife into the line of fire, regurgitate some old quotes from some missteps he made on the campaign trail this spring, and blame the media. To these voters, Palin came across like the immature car dealer who resorted to name calling. These voters did not know Sarah Palin prior to last night, but after her speech, they likely concluded that she was too undignified to deserve their vote. So she wasted her opportunity to present her case to voters why she should be in the White House with John McCain. Some news sites have picked up on possible blowback from independents who viewed Palin's attacks as unnecessary and over the top.

Obama was not the only person who was on the receiving end of Palin's barbs. She also inadvertently demeaned community organizers by claiming that as a mayor of a small town, she had "actual responsibilities." This was an ironic remark because Republicans quickly pounced on Barack Obama for his "bitter" remarks that were disparaging to rural America. But by claiming that community organizers didn't have "responsibilities," she offended the very same small-town people Obama offended and came across as an elitist. These community organizers work at the grassroots level and can mobilize their small neighborhoods to get to the polls. CNN's Roland Martin was offended by this remark as well and warned that these community organizers may seek payback at the polls later on.

Barack Obama has two primary bases of support: 1) Democrats and liberals, who probably can't be persuaded to change their minds and vote for John McCain, and 2) more persuadable Republicans, moderates, and independents who have grown weary of the "us vs. them" attack politics that reached their zenith in 2004. Palin's speech fired up the first group of Obama supporters and likely embarrassed the second group of supporters who are wondering where their Republican Party went.

After a highly negative and bullying speech by Rudy Giuliani; another negative speech by Mitt Romney; inappropriate chants of "USA" every time Democrats, liberals, or the media were attacked; and the loaded "country first" chants (which suggest that only John McCain and his supporters put America first); a lot of undecided voters were hoping Sarah Palin would demonstrate a bit of class and be tough without being abrasive. While her supporters may have thought she displayed class and tenacity, people who were not in the McCain-Palin camp likely thought she came across as rude and sophomoric. Barack Obama took the high road the day after her speech, which was a wise decision because the more negative the McCain-Palin campaign becomes, the more presidential it makes Obama look.

In 2004, Democrats learned that being "not Bush" was not good enough to win the presidency. In 2008, Republicans appear to be on their way to learning that running as "Nobama" will yield the same fate. Palin's speech may have pleased the partisans in the convention hall, but millions of voters watching the convention at local bars and in their living rooms were likely quite offended. At a time when voters are worried about the economy and international conflict, turning this election into yet another culture war and slimefest seems politically foolish and plays right into Obama's hands.


The Democrats' Missed Opportunity

During the speculation leading up to Barack Obama's vice presidential selection, a lot of attention was being paid to Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia. Kaine and Obama have a good personal relationship and a Kaine selection would have burnished Obama's outsider and change messages. Kaine was even whom I predicted would be joining Obama at the bottom of his ticket. However, one of the biggest problems with the Virginia governor was his relatively short tenure as governor and his lack of foreign policy credentials. The volatile situation in Georgia probably allowed Joe Biden to win Obama's favor at the expense of Kaine.

Republican strategist Karl Rove had an interview with Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer early last month and was dismissive of Kaine's credentials:

"With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he's been a governor for three years. He's been able but undistinguished. I don't think people could really name a big, important thing that he’s done.

[Kaine] was mayor of the 105th largest city in America. And again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it's smaller than Chula Vista, California; Aurora, Colorado; Mesa, or Gilbert, Arizona; North Las Vegas, or Henderson, Nevada. It's not a big town."
Richmond's population as of 2007 was about 200,000. The population of Wasilla, Alaska, where Sarah Palin served as mayor, is only about 5% of Richmond's population, at about 9800. Kaine has served as the governor of the 12th largest state since January 2006. Palin has served as the governor of the 48th largest state since December 2006, so Kaine has about a year more of gubernatorial experience than Palin.

For Democrats to not be able to capitalize on this quote is astounding. The debate over Palin has largely centered around comparing her to Barack Obama in terms of experience. These criticisms were predictable, as I mentioned earlier, and have probably led to a stalemate. Unfortunately for Democrats, they forgot that one of the most potent weapons in politics is to use your opponents' words against them. That's far more damaging than making the case yourself.

Karl Rove's criticisms of Tim Kaine's tenure as mayor of the "105th largest city in America" is political manna. And there are probably other incriminating videos or statements from other Republicans, such as this one, downplaying Kaine for similar reasons. Barack Obama and/or his Democratic allies could then parlay these attacks as being "the same old politics" and "predictable partisanship and hypocrisy." This would undercut Palin's selection without attacking her directly. After all, it would be Rove who was attacking Palin, not sexist and hypocritical Democrats. But now Democrats run the risk of "being against small town America."

Talk about turning lemonade into lemons.

The Democrats may have the right message to win this election, but the Republicans are much better at the actual politics involved.


The Palin Standard: The Obama-Palin Experience Debate

John McCain's bold selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has set off a firestorm in the media and the blogosphere about inexperience and hypocrisy in regards to Palin and Barack Obama. It has also led me to create a new entry that I will integrate into my own political lexicon: "The Palin Standard"

Let's examine the political resumes of both candidates:

Barack Obama

Illinois state senator: 8 years
Illinois US senator: 3 years, 8 months

Total experience as an elected official: About 12 years

Sarah Palin

Alaska governor: 1 year, 9 months
Wasilla mayor: 6 years
Wasilla city councilwoman: 6 years

Total experience as an elected official: About 14 years

Republican defenders of Palin commonly say that the difference between the two candidates is that Obama is running at the top of his ticket while Palin is running at the bottom of hers. However, this argument is flawed for two reasons:

1. An inexperienced politician should not be on a presidential ticket at all. It doesn't matter if it's for president or vice president. Both positions entail too much responsibility for a political greenhorn to be entrusted with the White House. It now seems like more experience is required to become a senator than a vice president. Democrats' arguable irresponsibility has introduced a risk quotient that Obama must minimize in order for him to be elected. So how did McCain decide to counter this? By exercising comparable irresponsibility and surrendering one of his few advantages over Obama. And Republican voters' subsequent glee has conveyed to McCain that they condone his decision. Now John McCain has his own risk quotient to deal with because of Palin and the realization that McCain is old and has had several cancer scares.

2. Barack Obama's success is directly attributable to the millions of votes he received during the primary season. So even though he may be relatively inexperienced, enough voters were apparently comfortable enough with his resume to entrust him with their support at the ballot box. His inexperience was essentially forgiven or overlooked by Democratic primary voters, so the critiques of Obama are misplaced. He may be inexperienced, but the voters are the ones who got him this far. He earned his spot at the top of the ticket. So an attack on Obama's inexperience is essentially an attack on the millions of voters who voted for him or donated to his campaign.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, did not arrive on the ticket because of votes she received or the campaign she ran, but rather because of the fact that she was appointed by John McCain. It is highly unlikely that Palin would have been given serious consideration from Republican voters had she participated in the Republican primaries earlier this year because even though she has experience, Republican primary voters would have concluded that she didn't have enough of it.

Palin does, however, have a unique biography and a message that could potentially resonate with certain constituencies. Of course, everyone in the race right now has a unique biography, so I'm not sure why Palin's is any more or any less unique than the other three candidates'. But stressing this message is a much better strategy for her campaign than stressing her experience because no amount of message-massaging will make this controversy go away.

Her appointment flies in the face of traditional Republican rhetoric, especially in regards to affirmative action. Given Palin's political positions and biography, she is essentially Mike Huckabee in a pantsuit. But he has more experience than she does. The same could be said of Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. Thus, it seems that the main reason why Palin was chosen was gender, even though he had to pass over other more qualified candidates, male and female alike, in the process. If that's not affirmative action, which Republicans reject, then at the very least it's pandering. In light of Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden instead of Hillary Clinton to be his running mate, the pandering charge has more plausibility. This could be a terrible miscalculation on McCain's part though because the PUMA wing of the Democratic Party is loyal to Hillary Clinton, not just any woman aspiring for higher office.

Of course, McCain has the right to choose whomever he wants, but conservatives should not be happy about an affirmative action selection or a selection that overtly comes across as him using another politician as a tool. Of course, all presidential nominees, including Obama, choose their running mates to help them get elected, but the fact that McCain had only met with Palin once and hardly knows her should be quite disturbing to most voters. This plays right into Obama's message of "judgment."

Republicans are indeed happy that Palin is fiercely pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax, and anti-Washington, but the way in which McCain arrived at this particular selection should suggest that their glee is misplaced. To compensate and reconcile their own dissonance, Republicans have tried to portray Palin's record in the best possible light, such as saying she has military experience because she has been in charge of the Alaska National Guard.

However, all governors are in charge of their states' National Guards. This means that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, President Bush, and even Michael Dukakis were even more qualified than Palin when it came to military affairs because they were in charge of their states' National Guards for longer than she was.

Speaking of the military, because she has a son about to be deployed to Iraq, she somehow has enhanced credibility on managing the war there. Are Republicans, the party of national security, prepared to say she is more credible on Iraq than McCain and Bush are because they she has a child deploying there and they don't? For what it's worth, Joe Biden also has a son deploying to Iraq, so it would seem that this issue of military children should be removed from the table altogether.

This spin exposes other problems for Republicans with their rhetoric:

1. Republicans claim that because Palin was a mayor and a governor, she has more executive experience than Obama. However, Obama has been the chief executive officer of his presidential campaign for 18 months (which is as long as Palin has been governor) which has been the most successful fundraising operation in political history and has been successful enough to win him the nomination. And given the number of campaign workers he has in all 50 states, the size of his campaign may be as large as the entire Alaska state government Palin manages. Of course, Palin was elected and Obama wasn't, but Obama's campaign was a sort of entrepreneurial enterprise, which Republicans should find appealing.

2. If Palin has more executive experience than the Barack Obama, that also means she has more executive experience than her boss John McCain. She would have more executive experience than Joe Biden as well. Does John McCain want to risk undercutting his own message of strength and leadership by having a running mate who has more executive experience than he does? Does she want to risk looking arrogant by claiming that she has more executive experience than Joe Biden even if it's true? Such questions wouldn't concern Obama so much because he's running on change, rather than experience. After all, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Jim Gilmore, Fred Thompson, and Tommy Thompson all tried running on experience and lost. The McCain campaign would be wise to get away from the discussion of experience and focus more on change because the voters already know about Obama's inexperience and are still more inclined to vote for him than McCain according to most polls.

3. If experience is at a premium, then Joe Biden has the most experience of the four candidates on the tickets. However, Republicans gleefully blasted him as a Washington insider because of his long Senate record. So it would seem to Republicans that if you are inexperienced, you are a weak candidate. But if you have too much experience, you can't be an attractive candidate either. So those two messages are in direct conflict with each other. Also, the Obama-Biden ticket actually has more years of combined experience than the McCain-Palin ticket. So the McCain-Palin ticket loses that argument as well. Obama is not making light of this fact, however, because again, he's running on change instead of experience.

Had Palin at least completed one full term as Alaska's governor, the outrage at her selection would be muted. But because she has not even finished half of her first term, her short gubernatorial tenure is compounded by the small size of the state from which she hails and the size of the town she governed as mayor before that. Palin has served as the mayor of a town that has fewer people than my university. And in regards to Alaska, there are 19 mayors who govern more people than Palin. Fairly or unfairly, that makes her governorship appear less significant.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with her resume, passing this experience off as sufficiently preparing someone for the vice presidency in Palin's case is a bit of a stretch. How comfortable would shareholders at IBM feel if their new vice president were the recent owner of Jack's Computer Repair Shop on the corner of Green Street and 4th Avenue in Parkersburg, West Virginia? Somehow I think most shareholders would be anxious.

Using the new Palin Standard, I could argue that a manager of a bowling alley has executive experience. The owner of a small business that has 50 employees has executive experience. A high school student council president has executive experience. A first lieutenant in the Army who serves as a company commander has executive experience. The director of a preschool has executive experience. Every single parent in America has executive experience. According to the Palin Standard, Republicans should have no reservations about any of these people being appointed vice president. They also should have voted for Al Gore instead of George Bush in 2000 for the same reason.

This is where the political risk to Democrats enters the equation. If someone objects to Palin's experience as a small town mayor and a governor of a small state, they risk being accused of mocking rural America and the people who live there. (Never mind the fact that Obama represented his small community in Chicago as an Illinois state senator for eight years.) Republicans will portray these criticisms as an affront by liberal elitists who are dogging small town America and will back up their charges with Obama's "bitter" remarks.

But this might not be an effective line of attack for two reasons:

1. Obama and his wife largely acquitted and reintroduced themselves in their speeches at the Democratic National Convention last week and will force most people to admit in their heart of hearts that perhaps Obama is sincere. The impact of his speech is likely a more salient memory of Obama than his "bitter" remarks from this spring. Thus, "bitter" might have lost most of its potency by now and threatens to make McCain and the Republicans seem like they have no new ideas.

2. The Democrats learned in 2004 that running as "not Bush" was not a strategy for winning a presidential election. Republicans who try to run as "not Obama" may end up with the same fate. Would the GOP really be wise to spend its upcoming convention talking about Democrats' disdain of rural America instead of talking about why voters should give Republicans a second look?

Republicans would be wise to stress Palin's message of reform and get away from talk about her experience because at best, it's a wash. And at worst, it's a distraction and eats up time the McCain campaign does not have. Obama is leading in the polls and time the McCain-Palin ticket spends comparing her experience with Obama's is time they are not spending articulating why Republicans should be entrusted with the White House for four more years even though the overwhelming majority of voters believe the nation is on the wrong track.

There's one other unintended consequence of the Palin selection that should concern the McCain campaign. McCain was able to deftly handle the media by announcing this surprise pick immediately after Barack Obama's acceptance speech. He successfully stepped on Obama's post-speech coverage and got him out of the headlines. The new risk for McCain, however, aside from Palin's own unknowns, is the fact that the spotlight currently on Palin could threaten to turn the election from a referendum on Obama into a referendum on McCain's judgment and Palin herself. (Consider this incriminating video.) Barack Obama's chances of winning this election diminish when the election is seen as a referendum on him. However, if the election is a referendum on McCain-Palin, who will undoubtedly continue to be linked to Bush, then Obama has to like his chances.

As I mentioned in my original Palin analysis, she presents McCain with both high risk and high reward. But perhaps there's too much shock value and star power for McCain's own good. At the very least, Republicans will never be able to criticize another Democrat or even another Republican for a lack of experience from now on because of the Palin Standard. She may have been good for McCain in that she got Obama out of the headlines, but the long-term damage to the GOP's ability to discredit a rival politician and the fact that it contradicts key elements of the Republican platform may not have been worth it.


Lame Political Discourse: Tire Gauges

Fresh off of the controversy surrounding Paris Hilton in a John McCain attack ad, the latest episode of political nonsense stems from Barack Obama's suggestion that Americans ensure that their tires are properly inflated and that their cars are properly maintained so that they can improve their gas mileage and help use less oil. John McCain and Republicans seized on this comment by claiming it was indicative of Obama's naivete by being overly simplistic. McCain even turned this into a fundraising tool by showing the image of a tire gauge with the misleading term "Obama Energy Plan" written on it. In response, Obama labeled the attacks and ridicule as ignorant.

Properly inflating your tires and getting regular tune-ups is obviously not a comprehensive solution to our nation's energy crisis. However, Barack Obama is not saying that it is despite Republicans' outright lies to the contrary. Obama is on record for supporting increased fuel efficiency standards, increased reliance on renewable energy sources, and even offshore drilling as part of a compromise solution. And regarding tires and tune-ups, Obama even said that it was simply something we could all do now--obviously just one component of an overall energy solution. Will anyone call Republicans out on this distortion?

According to Time and Politifact, Obama's solution both makes sense and is factually sound. Inflating your tires and getting regular tune-ups is a good first step for several reasons:

1) It can be done now, so the savings can be felt immediately.
2) It requires no big government intervention.
3) It is not dependent on Congress reaching a compromise and the President signing a bill.
4) It makes our roads safer because cars that are properly maintained are less likely to break down.
5) It has no adverse environmental impact.
6) It encourages personal responsibility.
7) It actually works, thus increasing fuel economy, saving money, and using less oil.

The fact that Obama is advocating an immediate and legitimate solution that encourages personal responsibility and needs no government solution would suggest that conservatives and Republicans should embrace his message. But instead, they are mocking him out of partisan blindness. Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican and possible McCain running mate, has made the exact same recommendation. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California also echoed this approach. Where was the ridicule then?

Voters who are joining in ridiculing Barack Obama for this solution are akin to those who dismiss common sense approaches to protecting their children from inappropriate content on television. You could propose increased fines for indecency, V-chips in all televisions, or even outright bans on adult or violent content. Those are all solutions with various degrees of merit. But they take time to implement and require lots of compromises, as do offshore drilling, taxing oil companies, and harnessing renewable energy sources. But a common sense approach that everyone could adopt immediately to protect their children is to take greater control over what their children watch by watching television together or restricting the times in which their children are allowed to watch it. Of course that won't solve everything, just as properly inflated tires won't solve all our energy problems, but at least it's something that can be done now and is something that actually works. So again, why the ridicule? Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune suggests that these sophomoric jabs might be misplaced.

It will take years before the oil obtained from offshore drilling can actually be pumped into our gas tanks. But Republicans are right to argue that we should have started drilling years ago because we had these exact same arguments during the 1990s.

It will also take years before automakers are able to mass produce automobiles that run on more environmentally-friendly sources of fuel. But Democrats are right to argue that we should have increased fuel efficiency standards years ago. President Jimmy Carter was right to make energy conservation and fuel efficiency central issues of his presidency 30 years ago, but he was relentlessly mocked for it. Everybody remembers the sweater he wore during his "malaise speech," but the overall point of his message fell upon deaf ears. Obama tire gauges now are the new Carter sweaters.

Republicans are mocking Obama for not being serious about energy and are essentially trying to turn him into a cartoon or a laughing stock. But this abject lack of maturity in their response to this solution is appalling. By mocking Obama, they are essentially saying that getting tune-ups is not important and that it's okay if you drive with underinflated tires. They are also saying that even though Obama's solution actually works and incorporates conservative principles of small government and personal responsibility, it shouldn't be taken seriously, thus further exacerbating our nation's energy problems. And by falsely reducing Obama's overall energy policy to something you can buy at your local Auto Zone, Republicans are banking on voters' ignorance and lack of sophistication.

These voters should be offended, not tickled. Instead of joining the chorus of voices who are laughing at Obama, they should be asking John McCain and Republican operatives why this is even a laughing matter to begin with.

This kind of childishness makes me wonder how many people are supporting Obama not because they endorse his liberal policies, but rather because they are tired of the inane debates over freedom fries, flag pins, middle names, and now tire gauges. To these voters, would a McCain victory be seen as a tacit approval of this kind of nonsense while an Obama victory direct repudiates it?

Both political sides are guilty of overheated rhetoric, intellectual dishonesty, fact tweaking, and petty namecalling. Neither side is immune to hysteria, fear-mongering, feigned outrage, and mudslinging. But abject ignorance is an even worse offense and speaks volumes about the politicians who prey on it and the voters who buy into it.


How Obama Can Lose the Election

Voters' trust is the single most valuable commodity any politician can have. Trust is what prompts voters to donate their hard earned cash to a candidate's campaign, give a candidate hours of their precious time by working at a phone bank or voter registration drive, and win their support at the ballot box. But once this trust has been lost, it is impossible to get it back. A politician who displays sufficient contrition or humility might be able to recover some of the trust that was lost, but the bond will never be as strong as it once was.

Earning voters' trust has been Barack Obama's main strength, as he has successfully tapped into the hearts of millions of voters who want to believe that he can usher in a new chapter of American history that is brighter than what characterizes the nation today. This trust is manifested in millions of small-dollar campaign contributions, viral videos on YouTube and Facebook, and record-breaking attendance at his campaign events.

Having defeated a cadre of talented rivals who boasted much longer track records of public service and accomplishments, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. His focus has shifted from keeping John Edwards from overtaking him to muscling past Hillary Clinton to putting Hillary Clinton away for good to keeping John McCain out of the White House. Of course, as a nominee's focus shifts from the primaries to the general election, it is common to make a strategic move towards the political center. Partisan bases may win primaries, but crossover appeal wins elections.

Barack Obama understands that this type of political posturing is essential for his success this November. However, as he makes his transition to general election mode and gets used to his status as the frontrunner instead of the insurgent, he runs the risk of damaging his political fortunes far more than anything the Republicans may throw at him.

Obama's campaign slogan is "Change we can believe in." Unfortunately for Obama, his post-Clinton campaign has provided several warnings that he should be cognizant of, lest he risk permanently damaging his brand and the commodity of trust I mentioned earlier.

For example, John McCain has extended several invitations to Obama to have them conduct town hall meetings together for ten consecutive weeks. However, Obama has rejected these invitations for various reasons. John McCain is to be commended for proposing these town halls because they allow voters to engage the candidates directly and without the presence of obfuscating campaign spokesmen and staffers. In an age where so many politicians are scripted and message discipline and gatekeeping are par for the course, informal town hall debates seem like a bit of fresh air.

The Obama campaign cites a desire to reach a broader audience as its primary reason for refusing to participate in the town hall debates. However, that would seem to contradict his popular campaign anecdote about the "fired up" woman from Greenwood, South Carolina, and how "one voice can change a room" and how "one room can change a city, etc." The reason why Obama is not participating in these town halls has nothing to do with reaching as many people as possible; it's simple politics. Frontrunners typically want to avoid debates because they don't want to elevate their opponents or give them a chance to inflict lasting damage. Underdogs typically want to have more debates so they can have more opportunities to increase their exposure and share the stage with their better positioned rivals. Not participating in town halls with John McCain over the summer is about preserving his lead in the polls and not giving McCain any opportunities to cut into that lead.

How politically convenient.

A second threat to Obama's campaign concerns public campaign financing. Obama's reversal on public financing is another issue that is not particularly newsworthy when taken on its own, but has a bit more significance when taken in the context of what his campaign is supposed to represent. Obama has spoken out about the need for "getting special interests and big money out of politics." He was a strong advocate for the public financing of presidential campaigns and transparency in government. But when he decided to renege on this commitment, he cited the need to defend himself against "opponents who have become masters at gaming this broken system."

Public financing of campaigns is a bit too archaic of a political issue to really engage voters. So it was a calculated gamble for Obama to sacrifice a few days of bad press for a few months of being able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. John McCain and his surrogates have attacked Obama for violating his word on this issue, but these attacks were likely not so effective because McCain is not exactly innocent when it comes to public campaign financing either.

However, Obama's supporters may have looked at his decision to opt out of public financing and wonder if the "candidate of change" is really doing nothing more than changing his political stripes. While partisan Democrats may relish the idea of their candidate being able to have a major cash advantage heading into the general election, a lot of new voters who responded to Obama's message of hope, staying positive, ushering in a new kind of politics, and "change we can believe in" may have some newfound reservations about him. He had one position when he didn't have so much money and was behind in the polls, but he had another position after he found himself becoming the most prolific fundraiser in American political history.

How politically convenient.

Public financing and ducking the town halls with John McCain are probably far more damaging to Barack Obama than his contortions on the Second Amendment or foreign policy. As I mentioned earlier, all politicians must tack to the political center for the general election. But this political posturing involves simple ideology. Voters can accept that as part of what politicians have to do for their own political survival. However, Obama's decisions regarding public financing and the town hall debates with John McCain constitute political posturing that involves civics. Ideology is about abstract and impersonal ideas, but civics are about actual voters. Voters don't like to be taken advantage of, and they will react harshly when they feel their trust has been violated.

Obama's political history is too short for him to have a deep reservoir of goodwill among voters. So he has to be very careful not to taint this well with his own gestures of political expediency. Republicans are right to bring this up in their attacks on Obama, but when his actual supporters start asking these very same questions, Obama will be in serious trouble.

If the November election is a referendum on President Bush, the Republican Party, the economy, jobs, or the overall state of the nation, Obama will win this election by a comfortable margin. But if the election is a referendum on Obama himself, John McCain may very well pull off one of the biggest upsets in political history.


The Obama Caricatures

Former Bush adviser Karl Rove launched the latest salvo against Barack Obama in an attempt to define him as unpalatable to the general electorate:

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."
These remarks may be nothing more than childish name-calling, but they do illustrate a larger problem confronting Republicans as they try to keep the polls close.

Rove is clearly trying to paint Obama as an aloof, wealthy, liberal. However, the problem with this line of attack is that it directly contradicts some of the other caricatures Republicans have been trying to make stick to the Democratic presidential nominee.

For example, earlier this year there was a whisper campaign accentuating Obama's middle name by referring to him as "Barack Hussein Obama." Some thought this was innocuous because they were simply referring to him by his full name, even though nobody refers to John McCain as "John Sidney McCain." Others thought this was identity politics at its worst by trying to subtly frame Obama as a Muslim and therefore potentially disloyal to the United States. Other than appealing to the darkest elements of human nature, there's one other problem with this caricature. How often do you find dark-skinned men named "Hussein" at a country club?

Another enduring caricature is the America-hating black militant Obama with his racist wife Michelle. This is the Obama that spent 20 years in Jeremiah Wright's church--the same church that was later visited by Michael Pflager who invoked White entitlement as he mocked Hillary Clinton. But how does one go from spending 20 years in a Black church preaching Black liberation theology to a country club that is presumably overwhelmingly populated by the very people his pastor was criticizing?

Then there's the young and inexperienced Obama. This is the Obama who has yet to complete his first term in the Senate and was still serving as a state legislator in Springfield, Illinois, at the start of President Bush's term. But if he's so young and inexperienced, how could he be an elitist at a country club? Young people and those who have not built up their network of connections through years of experience are going to have a hard time gaining access to such exclusive resorts. After all, not just anybody can join a private country club to begin with.

This brings up the caricature of Obama as an elitist. This is the Obama who went to Harvard Law and attended an elite academy in Hawaii. Republicans have tried to paint Obama as a "limousine liberal" who looks down on voters who "cling to guns and religion." But that goes back to the identity politics and class warfare question. Obama is less wealthy than the very strategists and party operatives who are accusing him of being a country club liberal. He recently finished paying off his student loans and had the smallest net worth of all of this year's major presidential candidates, including John McCain. And if surrogates want to bring Michelle Obama into this fight as an elitist, that would make Cindy McCain fair game. She's a former beauty queen and a multi-millionaire who inherited a brewery and owns a private jet. So who would be more elitist in that case?

We also have the liberal Obama caricature. This is the guy who makes Ted Kennedy look like a moderate. This is the guy who is the most liberal person in the Senate. But aren't country clubs more typically viewed as havens for the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party than liberals--especially biracial ones named Hussein?

The fact that Republicans have tried to redefine Obama in so many often contradictory ways suggests that 1) none of the previous labels have gained significant traction, 2) the party as a whole is largely bankrupt of new ideas, and 3) Obama has successfully innoculated himself from most of their prior charges. Of course, in addition to being petty, these kinds of attacks play right into Obama's message of "change" because he can point to this name-calling and show that the Republican Party is out of touch and that they care more about political posturing than solving real problems.

These kinds of attacks may gin up the base, but they will likely do little to bring independents and new voters into the fold.


The Plight of Black Republicans

Black Republicans are a rare breed. About 85% of the Black vote goes to Democrats, so they are perhaps the most reliable voting bloc in America. Blacks' loyalty to the Democratic Party stems from several factors:

1. Black voters tend to view the government as a protector, rather than an obstacle. This automatically places Blacks at odds with Republican conservatism, which advocates less government regulation and intervention. Protecting affirmative action, redress for civil rights violations, and government programs for the poor have wide support among Black voters. The government is not the enemy, as it gave them the right to vote. When they hear Republicans talk about entitlement reform and limiting government's influence, Blacks view these Republicans as a threat.

2. Blacks question Republicans' interest in their problems and their communities. Democratic politicians are far more likely to venture into their neighborhoods and listen to their concerns. Republicans are more likely to "hunt where the ducks are" and avoid campaigning for Black votes because they feel they could make better use of their time and money elsewhere. This may have worked with relative success thus far, but it betrays the notion of the Republicans' "big tent" and is not a viable long term strategy because of the nation's changing demographics. While winning a majority of Black votes is probably out of the question for Republicans, winning about 20% of the vote could make a huge difference in a competitive state like Missouri or Michigan.

3. Blacks sense a double standard when it comes to holding people accountable for racial insensitivities, racist behaviors, and the transgressions of members of their own race. When a prominent Black person says something ridiculous, Whites commonly call on Blacks to denounce the remarks. But when a White person says or does something equally stupid or offensive, the outrage among Whites is comparatively muted or the offensive remark or act is somehow explained away. And because there are so few people of color who are Republicans, the Republican Party has come to be synonymous with the "White party." So while many Blacks may actually agree with some parts of the Republican platform, they view the Republican Party as a hostile party.

Nevertheless, there is a small, but significant cadre of Black Republicans: Amy Holmes, J.C. Watts, Condoleeza Rice, Ken Hamblin, and Clarence Thomas are some of the most prominent Blacks who don't fall into the same crowd as Michael Dyson, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. These Republicans are pro-self-reliance, pro-life, and pro-entrepreneurial. And as the number of Blacks entering the middle class rises, the less appealing the same old arguments about "the government keeping people down" and "the government not giving people a fair shake" become, thus making conservatism get a second look.

Barack Obama's candidacy has presented a conundrum for these Blacks, however. Armstrong Williams and Colin Powell are two of the latest high profile Black Republicans to publicly state that they were at least considering voting for Obama. Even though they may not have much in common with the liberal senator from Illinois, they do think he may be able to help their communities in a way that the Republican Party has failed to do so thus far.

Obama's story is an example of the conservative story. He was not born into a wealthy family, and he did not have "friends" in high places to take care of him regarding getting a job or getting into school. And now he is the first person of color to have a real shot at winning the presidency. All Blacks, regardless of ideology, want to look at Obama and tell their children that anything is possible if they work hard for it. Seeing a dark-skinned man addressed as "Mr. President" will mean far more to a Black child or Black teenager than any rhetoric (even if from a Black person) about "personal responsibility" and "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps."

While these Republican voters are indeed conservative, they are also Black. And they do not want to see their communities fail. Republican outreach in Black communities has been abysmal. At least the Democrats show up, even if their ideas are not necessarily what's in their best interests. Many of Hillary Clinton's supporters want to teach the Democratic National Committee a lesson by voting for John McCain. Many Republicans want to teach John McCain a lesson by voting for the Libertarian or Constitution Party nominee. And because of the poor track record Republicans have with courting the Black vote (such as the "scheduling conflicts" that prevented so many Republican presidential candidates from participating in the debate on Black issues last fall), many Black Republicans are considering giving their votes to Obama. After all, Democrats are not the ones who are using his
middle name as an instrument of fear.

At this point, a lot of people would criticize these Black conservatives for "voting for Obama just because he's Black." But if John McCain is able to attract votes from White Democrats without anyone saying anything, why can't Barack Obama attract votes from Black Republicans? Whites have been voting for Whites for centuries without anybody calling them out on it, so why is it such a big deal with Obama?

If you are Black and you support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist.)

If you are White and you don't support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist.)

If you are White and you support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist who's trying to prove that you aren't.)

If you are Black and you don't support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're trying to prove that race doesn't matter by voting against him.)

So it would seem that nobody can support or oppose Obama at all without their motives being questioned.

People seem to ignore the fact that people simply tend to vote for people who are like them. And for better or worse, race is just another dimension by which people can assess one's commitment to "people like them." Even though the differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were minimal, Obama got routed in Appalachia. And Clinton got routed in the South. Republicans routinely beat Democrats among Christians, males, wealthy voters, and Whites. Democrats usually outperform Republicans among women, young voters, poor voters, and people of color.

While Barack Obama might not have much in common with Black Republicans in terms of his policies on national defense, taxes, or immigration, they may conclude that he is very much like them in terms of his commitment to the Black community. Their ideologies might not overlap much, but their concerns for their children and their communities do. This is not to say that the Republican Party does not care about Blacks, but that perception will remain until the GOP acquits itself though actual deeds. And that may very well explain why Black Republicans are up for grabs this fall.


What We Learned This Primary Season

The primaries are over, the votes have been counted, and the nominees have all but officially been crowned. This year's general election will be between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. Both are senators, but have vastly different personal histories. These histories and their unique personal dynamics will be scrutinized heavily from here on out. So before diving into assessing the general election campaign over the next few weeks, it is prudent to take stock of what has happened so far and what we have learned. Lessons from January may very well help better predict what happens in October.

1. This is a change election. Experience does not matter. In the Democratic primaries, the most experienced candidates were Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson. Biden and Dodd dropped out after being rewarded with fifth and seventh place in the Iowa caucuses. Bill Richardson tried to trumpet his experience in the four-person debate before the New Hampshire primary only to finish fourth and drop out shortly thereafter. John Edwards tried to position himself as an experienced statesman by criticizing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for their negative attacks. He was subsequently drubbed in Nevada and embarrassed in South Carolina. Inexplicably, Hillary Clinton decided to adopt the "experience" mantle and tried to frame Obama as "too risky" and "too inexperienced." And she lost too. Obama might be "inexperienced," but he won the nomination and raised the most money. The "experienced" candidates didn't. John McCain is the latest politician who is trying to take advantage of the "experience" argument against Barack Obama, but he should do so at his own peril. After all, voters may look at the current state of the nation's economy, Iraq, and gas prices and conclude that "experience" is overrated.

2. If you work the media hard enough, they will believe your spin. Hillary Clinton has made it a point to remind voters, pundits, and journalists that "she won more primary votes" than Barack Obama. Average voters don't really know much about primaries, caucuses, and delegates, so Clinton's statement somehow morphed to "she won the popular vote" and makes Obama look like George Bush in 2000 while Clinton is Al Gore. By the letter of the law, Clinton's "popular vote victory" is true. More people actually did vote for her than Obama. The spirit of the law, however, suggests otherwise. It is important to note that Clinton is able to claim this only by including her votes in Michigan, not giving Obama any votes in Michigan whatsoever, and not including votes in some caucus states that Obama actually won. If you say something enough times, people will eventually begin to think it's true. A second example of this concerns the whisper campaign about Obama's religion.

3. A candidate who is at least moderately acceptable on all levels has a better chance of political survival than a candidate who has several big strengths and at least one big weakness. For months, the Republican race was the more compelling one because there was no clear frontrunner:

Mitt Romney was the competent executive and looked presidential. But he was seen as an emotionless flip flopper and had to deal with unfair suspicions about his religion. He also had to deal with concerns about his true commitment to conservatism because of his moderate record.

Rudy Giuliani had the ability to appeal to moderates and had proven his leadership credentials in the minds of voters because of his performance on September 11. But the Republican base consists of conservatives, not moderates. And this base viewed him as out of touch on the social issues that were important to them.

Mike Huckabee seemed more authentic than the other candidates and was clearly the favorite of the Christian right. His populist message also connected with rural voters. However, his foreign policy and anti-terrorism credentials were weak and he had trouble appealing to voters outside of his base.

Fred Thompson had the name recognition, buzz, twang, and proven conservative record. But he was a terrible debater and did not seem to want to campaign.

John McCain was a credible conservative on spending, terrorism, and social issues. He was criticized for his impurity on some of these issues (e.g., the Bush tax cuts, immigration), but by and large, he was at least moderately acceptable to the most people. As a result, he won the nomination by staving off elimination the longest. McCain's victory showed that a candidate who rates as a 7, 7, and 7 on three issues is politically stronger than someone who rates as a 9, 9, and 3 on the same three issues.

4. All states matter. Hillary Clinton lost the nomination in February. She matched Obama step for step before Super Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, and from March and beyond. But from Super Tuesday to the end of the month, Obama racked up 11 consecutive victories and put Clinton in a hole that was too large for her dig herself out of. Not having a timely campaign apparatus set up in states like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Idaho cost her far more than her victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania could compensate for.

5. Due to campaign finance laws, breadth of support is more important than depth of support. Clinton was able to raise a lot of money out of the gates by racking up $2300 contributions from her most loyal supporters. Unfortunately for Clinton, once a supporter put up $2300, he was not allowed to contribute any further. So she had a lot of money, but from far fewer people. Obama, on the other hand, was pulling in $20, $50, and $100 donations from far more people. So he was able to overcome Clinton financially and eventually dwarf her because one $1000 donation from one person is worth far less than ten $100 donations from ten people. Appealing to regular people who think a thousand dollars is the same as a million dollars is how Obama was able to crush Clinton. Now he has an extensive donor base that he can take advantage of in the general election. John McCain would be wise to copy this approach to fundraising.

6. Iowa and New Hampshire must loosen their stranglehold on the nomination process. Michigan and Florida were penalized for what the other 46 states were privately thinking but couldn't say publicly. I've criticized these states' "me first" mentality many times before. The primary season may be over, but these criticisms are not going away. A more equitable primary system needs to be developed sooner rather than later.

7. Republicans might wish to consider proportional delegate allocation. Mitt Romney and John McCain could have had an epic fight like Obama and Clinton had the "winner take all" system not existed. Romney won several "silver medals" in the early contests and was clearly McCain's strongest rival. Florida was essentially a tie between the two candidates, but it was absolutely devastating for Romney's campaign. Conservatives began rallying behind Romney in their attempt to stop McCain, but it was too late. A proportional allocation of delegates would have given him a fighting chance at a comeback.

8. Democrats might wish to consider eliminating caucuses. Even though they came across as whining and sour grapes, Clinton's criticisms of the caucus system have merit. In a caucus, voting is done publicly and candidates who don't meet the minimum threshold of support can negotiate with other candidates' supporters. Caucuses are held at set times and at set locations that may prevent certain types of voters from participating. For example, voters may have to work, find babysitters, or take care of their parents at the same time the caucus is being held. What kind of system is this?

9. Identity politics may make various demographics feel good, but they are ultimately problematic. Democrats were priding themselves on the prospect of "the first Black president" or "the first female president." And now the party is divided. Superdelegates who really want to support Clinton fear the reaction among Blacks if they take the nomination away from Obama. And now that Obama won, he has to win over the legions of female Clinton supporters who are threatening to support McCain out of protest. The problem with identity politics is that it narrows one's political identity. The more Obama is identified as "the first Black president," the more it trivializes his actual legislative record and political platform.

The Republican Party would presumably care less about identity politics, but until a credible woman or person of color rises high enough in the party and decides to run for president, it is unknown how much resistance such a candidate would face from other Republican voters.

Recommended reading

  • The Republican Rorschach Test
  • The McCain McCalculus
  • Rethinking 2012
  • The Problem with Identity Politics
  • The Problem with the Clinton Brand
  • A Warning to Republicans
  • About Barack Hussein Obama
  • Calling the Democrats' Bluff

  • 5/27/2008

    The Future of Cable News

    (Note: This is a continuation of my previous post examining what "fair" and "balanced" mean. This post examines their impact on cable news.)

    In the case of MSNBC, Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" draws the highest ratings of any show on the network. Liberals may call this show "fair," but it is certainly not "balanced." Conservative guests are rare, so the show comes across like a liberal political echo chamber at times. His show has an obvious liberal bent, especially towards Barack Obama. But does Olbermann come across as sympathetic to Obama because he believes Obama has made fewer major gaffes in comparison to Hillary Clinton and John McCain? Or does Olbermann come across as sympathetic to Obama because he actually agrees with Obama's political beliefs? And when was the last time Olbermann has had anything positive to say about Republicans or the President?

    What will happen to Olbermann's show if Obama wins the election? Countdown has drawn rave reviews from liberals who view his show as a sort of watchdog ready to expose the excesses and improprieties of the Bush White House to the masses. But will he continue to serve as a tenacious watchdog against an Obama White House and call Obama out when he reneges on a campaign promise or engages in unseemly political behavior? What if Obama runs an administration that is so squeaky clean compared to the current administration's that Countdown simply runs out of material? Could this show really survive as an Obama cheerleader?

    How about MSNBC in general? A McCain presidency would probably keep Countdown on the air in its current form. McCain and his advisers would likely routinely make Olbermann's "Worst Persons in the World" list, and the likelihood of staying in Iraq under McCain's stewardship would allow him to continue to rail against the war.

    A Clinton presidency would likely do the same because of the "say anything" nature of her campaign and the sleaze that has come to define the Clinton brand. But unlike a McCain presidency, a Clinton presidency would give Olbermann a chance to present himself as an honest broker because there likely wouldn't be any shortage of avenues of impropriety for him to investigate and criticize. Calling Olbermann and MSNBC liberals would lose a bit of its potency because how often do liberals criticize liberals?

    As for the Fox News Channel, Bill O'Reilly's "The O'Reilly Factor" is the most watched cable news program and regularly trounces CNN and MSNBC in the ratings, although Countdown has occasionally beaten O'Reilly in in the demo (adults aged 25-54) as of late. O'Reilly's show has an obvious conservative bent, as is evidenced by his use of conservative icons such as Michelle Malkin as his substitute hosts. Liberals on this show are commonly treated like pinatas, and extending invitations to fringe left elements only makes the rhetorical slaughter easier while making O'Reilly look reasonable by comparison.

    Fox's 9pm show, "Hannity and Colmes," is even more partisan. Even though the show is called "Hannity and Colmes," it is clear that Sean Hannity, the conservative, controls the show and dominates the discussion while Alan Colmes, the liberal, sometimes offers what can only be described as token opposition. Conservatives may view both of these shows as "fair," but they too are not "balanced."

    O'Reilly, Hannity, and Fox would love to have a Hillary Clinton presidency because she is familiar and she can drive up Fox's largely conservative audience. But her chances of winning the nomination are slim. Barack Obama is more of an empty slate. Jeremiah Wright will be looming in the background, but to what end will his name be invoked? If Wright trumps President Obama's day-to-day governance as far as Fox or other media outlets are concerned, then that would be neither "fair" nor "balanced." A President McCain would maintain the status quo, especially given the fact that Democrats control Congress, but at what point will the status quo become tired? Fox News came to prominence as a result of the failings of Bill Clinton and the early successes of George Bush. Fox has thrived on these foils, but both political families might be completely removed from the White House after this year's election. What next?

    In short, cable news needs to develop contingency plans in the event that a candidate who forces them to change their business model ends up winning the election. Kicking George Bush around and blaming Democrats for everything can only get you but so far.

    Dissecting "Fair and Balanced"

    (Note: This is the first of two posts addressing the meaning of "fair," "balanced," and "fair and balanced." This post addresses what these terms mean and how they are flawed. The second post addresses their potential effects on cable news in the future.)

    CNN is "the most trusted name in news."

    MSNBC is "the place for politics."

    Fox is the source for "fair and balanced" news.

    All three of these cable news stations use these slogans to strengthen their brand image among viewers. CNN is the credible station. MSNBC is the station for people who want politics first and news second. And Fox is the station for people who are fed up with biased reporting. Of these three slogans, it is Fox's that will be scrutinized in this post because its veracity will truly be challenged by the results of this fall's election. Seeing that all news stations should strive to be "fair and balanced," this post should not be construed as a scathing critique of Fox in particular. (Fox just happened to choose a very good slogan.)

    To start, "fair" and "balanced" are not interchangeable. "Fair" means that a situation is analyzed impartially or objectively. In other words, bad news is not spun as good news and good news is not spun as great news. Likewise, good news is not diminished and bad news does not go unreported. There is no Republican side or Democratic side when it comes to news. There are only facts. And these facts should be met by viewers of all political leanings with acceptance, be it enthusiastically or grudgingly.

    "Balanced" means that all viewpoints are given equal consideration when analyzing or discussing an event. This often means having a liberal and a conservative be given equal time to present their arguments. Unfortunately, however, this "balance" usually means having a bomb-thrower on the left debate a fire-breather on the right. The ensuing shoutfest makes for good television, but it doesn't make for good journalism. And because most voters are somewhere in the mushy middle, moderates, independents, and people who fall into some other political category may not find partisan bickering particularly well "balanced."

    One common complaint, usually among conservatives but also among liberals, is the aspect of "media bias." Media bias is often cited in response to negative stories about the chaos in Iraq, reporting on transgressions and missteps by politicians, analyzing the campaign contributions of journalists, and nuanced or selective reporting.

    I wrote about media bias here last winter, but I also highly recommend this recent piece by respected political analyst Stuart Rothenberg on why criticizing Republicans these days is objective, rather than partisan:

    "But let's not pull any punches about the state of the GOP: You can't nominate mediocre candidates or candidates from divided state or local parties, have Members of Congress admitting to affairs that produced children, have Members' homes and offices raided by the FBI, have Members go to jail, have Members picked up in airport bathrooms and have an unpopular president pursuing an unpopular war during a time of increased economic anxiety and still expect to be popular--or to turn things around.

    "Yes, I know, the Democrats have had their share of embarrassments. For every Republican embarrassment, there is a Democratic one.


    "Still, it seems to me, and to most people I talk with, that far more Republicans are involved in these problems and investigations of late, especially involving Washington figures. Democrats haven't had anything close to resembling the Jack Abramoff fiasco, for example, during the past few years."
    Rothenberg makes a good point, but unfortunately, this is where "fair and balanced" often ceases to be either "fair" or "balanced."

    First of all, what may be "fair" is not always "balanced." And what may be "balanced" may not always be what audiences want. How many Republicans wanted Ron Paul to be excluded from the debates, for example? If a television show wished to address September 11, for example, a "balanced" panel might include speakers who viewed it as a terrorist attack against the United States by vile radicals who seek to destroy our way of life as well as speakers who viewed it as a response to perceived American terrorism or aggression abroad. How many people would automatically tune out the latter group of speakers or instantly cite their inclusion in the panel as an example of "liberal media bias" even though the panel is actually "balanced?" And does the fact that this panel is "balanced" make it inherently "unfair?"

    In the case of "fair," consider President Bush's approval ratings. By all polls, Bush is a decidedly unpopular president. He has recorded the highest disapproval ratings of any president in modern history. (This is according to reputable polls by CNN, USA Today, and Gallup.) In other words, he is in the same league as Carter and Nixon, at least as far as these polls are concerned. He has been under 40% for about two years now. Partisan defenders of Bush may say that this kind of "negative coverage" and "Bush-bashing" is not "fair," but numbers and statistics have no bias in this case. There is no "balance" when it comes to this. (Consider this graph that has tracked Bush's approval ratings since his inauguration.) The same poll questions are being asked every month and the news is being reported in the same way. So even though stories about "Bush's popularity reaching a new low" may not be positive, they are indeed "fair." "Balance" is irrelevant in this case.

    Surely these defenders were happy to trumpet the polls that showed the President with approval ratings above 60%. And shortly after September 11, his approval rating spiked above 90%. Why did polls matter then, but not matter now? When polls actually do matter now, partisans gleefully cite the even more dismal approval ratings of the Democrat-controlled Congress to show that Bush is not the least popular person in Washington. But if reporting on polls is only "fair" when it makes one's preferred politician look good, then it's not really "fair" at all and the quest for "balance" when it's not necessary only further erodes the idea of "fairness."

    (This post is continued here.)


    McCain's Veepstakes: Reassessing Romney

    Ever since John McCain effectively clinched the Republican nomination back in February, he has had trouble staying in the headlines and getting media attention. After all, the chess match between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has become quite a political spectacle. However, McCain recently grabbed headlines by revealing that he was meeting with Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, and Charlie Crist at his home in Arizona. These three names are significant because they are all plausible vice presidential nominees. Thus, this meeting is seen by pundits as the first major step of the vetting process to determine McCain's vice president.

    I wrote earlier that Florida Governor Charlie Crist was well positioned to be McCain's running mate. He's a good-looking popular governor of a critical state that could offset McCain's age. He also has little baggage and has no ties to the unpopular Bush administration. This would make charges of "George Bush's third term" a bit harder to make. However, George Bush carried Florida in both 2000 and 2004 and is trending Republican, so a Crist selection would be more of a defensive pick. It wouldn't add much to the electoral map, but it would take the state out of play for the Democrats.

    Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's inclusion as a possible running mate is a bit of a surprise because he has the same weaknesses that Republicans have criticized Barack Obama for. He served as a congressman for three years before being elected governor in 2007. He assumed office this January, thus giving him about five months of executive experience. Obama has served as a state senator for eight years and a senator in Washington since January 2005. Obama, who has been mocked as "Obambi" because of his age and relative inexperience, is 46. Jindal, however, is only 36. So this would take Obama's youth off the table as a political weapon. One advantage of a Jindal selection, however, is that it could help inoculate Republicans from charges that they are insensitive to people of color, especially if Obama is their opponent, because Jindal is of Indian ancestry.

    Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is slowly rehabilitating his standing among Republicans. He had a tough time in the race for the Republican nomination and didn't really begin to catch fire among conservatives until it was too late. Given the Republicans' winner-take-all primary system, narrowly losing Florida was the straw that broke his campaign.

    Despite his obvious political ambitions, I originally argued that Mitt Romney had nowhere to go because there were other more credible conservative alternatives out there and Romney's conservatism only looked appealing in comparison to his Republican opponents, all of whom had a serious flaw.

    But three issues are working in Romney's favor:

    1. Voters are increasingly pessimistic about the economy. McCain himself volunteered that he doesn't know much about economics. That remark is coming back to haunt McCain, so he desperately needs to burnish his economic credentials to regain his credibility. Mitt Romney has a good track record of turning businesses around and is well regarded by the business wing of the Republican Party. Democrats will have a difficult time attacking Romney over his economic competence because he obviously understands Wall Street. Railing against "tax cuts for the rich" probably won't get them very far.

    2. The chaos engulfing the Democratic Party over Michigan and Florida is threatening to put both states out of reach by tamping down enthusiasm among the Democratic voters there. John McCain was already strong in Michigan (he won its primary in 2000 and narrowly placed second this year), but adding favorite son Mitt Romney (the winner of this year's primary) to the ticket could turn it into a prime pick-up opportunity for the Republicans. And because the Michigan economy is tanking right now under Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, voters there might respond favorably to Romney's economic message. The word "change" may also backfire on Democrats there for this very reason. Any message of "change" could be viewed as a "change" from Granholm's stewardship. If a McCain-Romney ticket can peel away Michigan, it would force the Democrats to defend Pennsylvania and pick off Ohio.

    3. McCain is still regarded as the underdog against both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. If McCain loses the election, Romney would be poised to assume the mantle of party leader and Republican frontrunner in 2012. And by being loyal to this year's standard bearer, he is burnishing his credentials as a reliable Republican who will do whatever it takes to see that Republicans get elected. Campaigning as McCain's veep would also give Romney the opportunity to show voters his softer side, thus helping him overcome the perception of him as emotionless and sterile. So really, even by losing the nomination, Romney can still win. It's as if Mitt Romney is to John McCain in 2008 as Ronald Reagan was to Gerald Ford in 1976.

    Obviously, it is still early. It is not urgent that McCain choose his running mate right away, especially since Obama and Clinton are still fighting and the summer lull is coming. And the controversies surrounding Jeremiah Wright and John Hagee may reignite suspicions about Romney's faith, especially in light of the raid on the polygamous FLDS sect in Texas. All in all, however, Romney's stock value appears to be rising. Romney is not the consummate Republican, but McCain could certainly do worse.


    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.


    The Conservative Christian Contradiction

    The impetus for this post came from three events:

    1. One of the more active discussions currently taking place in the blogosphere, at least as it pertains to my blogroll, is a discussion about intelligent design over at According to Nikki, a conservative political satire blog written by Nikki Richards. In her post, which has generated more than 20 comments, Richards suggested that both intelligent design and evolution be taught as "legitimate 'theories' in science," presumably in public schools.

    2. Earlier this month, residents of Columbia, South Carolina, where I live, voted by a more than 2 to 1 margin to allow alcohol sales on Sunday, with the exception of liquor. For those who are unaware, blue laws are still in effect throughout South Carolina and other Southern states. For example, shops in the western half of Columbia, located in Lexington County, are not allowed to open until 1:30pm on Sundays while shops in the eastern half of the city, which lies in Richland County, can open at 10:00 or 11:00.

    3. Before the GOP nomination was settled, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney were heavily criticized by the religious wing of the Republican Party. The criticism of Romney was unfair, as it pertained to his Mormon faith, which made lots of evangelical Christians uncomfortable. The thrice married and socially moderate Giuliani was simply out of step with the conservative base on issues like abortion and gay rights. And John McCain was not trusted because he once referred to Christian conservative heavyweights Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "agents of intolerance" and did not make social issues the centerpiece of his campaign. This is what made Mike Huckabee so popular among the frequent churchgoers.

    These three seemingly unrelated issues strike at one of the main problems confronting the modern Republican Party. One could argue that there are four main wings of the GOP: religious/social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, anti-tax conservatives, and defense hawks. But on a broader and more important level, today's Republican Party consists primarily of an awkward coalition of Southern religious conservatives and Western libertarian conservatives. Moderate Republicans from the Northeast and Midwest are a dying breed.

    During the Bush administration, the Southern religious brand of conservatism has had the stronger influence regarding the party platform. This has held true for issues like gay marriage, stem cell research, and curbing abortion rights. John McCain, on the other hand, represents the Western, more libertarian brand of conservatism. Thus, his commitment to these issues is suspect.

    Here's the problem: One of the principal tenets of conservatism is the idea of "limited government." It is an easily digestible slogan that clearly allows voters to understand the difference between Republicans and Democrats. However, the agendas of religious conservatives and libertarian conservatives are incompatible in this regard.

    Consider the Nikki Richards blog post I cited earlier about teaching schoolchildren intelligent design. Surely there are lots of conservative politicians who agree with her and some who would like to take things a bit further by instituting prayer in the classroom or putting the Ten Commandments in public buildings. But wouldn't the government's mandating of increasing the profile of religion (namely Christianity) in the public square and public classrooms reek of the same "big government" initiatives conservatives commonly criticize liberals of advocating? This is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of intelligent design, school prayer, or the display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings. However, the contradiction is obvious.

    Regarding blue laws, "big government" has infringed upon people's freedom to buy alcoholic beverages whenever they choose. I spent my childhood and adolescent years living in Germany, where alcohol was sold everyday. And I lived in Japan from 2003 to 2007. Like Germany, Japan also has 24-hour alcohol sales, but they even have vending machines that sell alcoholic beverages. So coming back to South Carolina, a staunchly conservative state, it was a surprise to not be allowed to buy wine on a Sunday even though I wanted to use it for cooking rather than drinking.

    Defenders of blue laws claim that they are necessary to promote and preserve public morality. But aren't these advocates guilty of trying to use the government to shape society's values in the same way that they criticize "activist judges" and liberals in general for doing when it comes to discussing homosexuality and anything but abstinence in public schools?

    To further muddy the waters, libertarian conservatives don't really care one way or the other about these issues, so long as they are decided at the state or local level. And if the local voters decide to do something they fundamentally disagree with, they accept it as a consequence of the will of the voters. But religious conservatives would be more likely to recoil in horror and take steps to overturn such a verdict that is out of line with their beliefs.

    The constitutional bans on gay marriage were a major issue in several states in 2004 and are largely credited with George Bush's reelection. Several states have also placed similar bans on the ballot since then. However, consider these three results: Conservative Mississippi overwhelmingly approved the ban, similarly conservative South Dakota almost defeated the ban, and equally conservative Arizona became the first state to actually have the initiative rejected outright by voters. All three states are easy layups for Republicans in presidential elections, so why did they yield such different results? It's because their brands of conservatism are different.

    Since John McCain's initial repudiation of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, he has made nice with the religious conservative community. At a time when Republicans are not particularly enthusiastic about their political fortunes (though the bickering between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may change that), McCain knows that he will need their support in the general election. But the only way to win this support is to pursue their agenda even if it contradicts his own principles.

    Religious conservatives may talk about the importance of "small government," but it seems they very much want "big government" when it comes to promoting or protecting the causes that are important to them. Likewise, libertarian conservatives value "small government" as well. However, what if this "limited government" approach to governance leads to the adoption of laws and ordinances that are morally offensive to large numbers of voters?

    Public morality and limited influence from Washington are both attractive political messages. However, it is becoming increasingly clear these two goals are often incompatible. Were Clinton and Obama not so busy highlighting the divisions that exist among the Democrats, would the spotlight not be on their equally divided conservative opposition?


    Lame Political Discourse: Part 3

    Until the Pennsylvania primaries two weeks from now, there is not much new going on in the political world. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still fighting each other tooth and nail, John McCain is still trying to cobble together Republican support, and the pundits keep poring over fluctuating polls measuring head-to-head general election matchups. A consequence of these slow news periods is that it is easier for the media to focus on trivial or mundane matters. However, these dry periods also pose a risk for politicians because the magnifying glass of a larger news hole makes it easier for them to be caught flatfooted and for their warts to be exposed.

    The latest political foul ball comes from John McCain, who took offense to a comment liberal talk show host Ed Schultz made prior to a Barack Obama campaign event last Friday. Schultz called McCain a warmonger while he was ginning up the crowd prior to Obama's appearance. John McCain called upon Obama to repudiate the remarks:

    "Mr. Schultz is entitled to his views, [but] I would hope that in keeping with his commitment that Senator Obama would condemn such language, since it was part of his campaign."
    Republican National Committee Chairman Robert Duncan took things a step further:
    "Enough is enough. Senator Obama has an obligation to speak out and publicly reject and denounce--not applaud--the shameful and contemptible remarks made by his surrogates."
    Phony political outrage at its best.

    Politicians are called on to repudiate their supporters' remarks far too often. Hyperbole is common fare for politicians, but at what point does political rhetoric border on the ridiculous? Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley wrote an excellent piece last month about political hypersensitivity:
    "...I unequivocally dissociate myself from remarks by my second cousin to the effect that my worthy opponent is a 'prize bitch.' My cousin is a dog breeder and thought she was being complimentary. She did not appreciate that such phraseology could give offense to certain segments of the population who are unfamiliar with dogs. Nevertheless, there is no room for canine imagery in a national political campaign, and Cousin Maisie has dropped out of our family in order to avoid causing any distraction from the central issues that we ought to be debating, such as terrorism and health care."
    In the case of McCain and the GOP, however, hypersensitivity is not really what's going on here. It's hypocrisy. For example, John McCain maligned Hillary Clinton in January with this statement regarding her position on Iraq:
    "...[I]ncredibly, incredibly Sen. Clinton decided that she wants to surrender, she wants to raise a white flag..."
    This line of attack impugning the patriotism of their Democratic rivals is pretty standard fare for the GOP, as I addressed here and here. Republicans may say that it is true that Clinton (and the Democrats by extension) wants to "surrender" to terrorists simply because, they argue, it's hard to equate troop withdrawals with anything but that. But if that's the case, then wouldn't Ed Schultz's "warmonger" comments also have some validity, especially given McCain's "bomb bomb bomb Iran" remarks?

    But it gets even better.

    Last year, in response to a nonstory about the spelling of flak jackets, a McCain aide quipped:
    "Obama wouldn't know the difference between an RPG and a bong."
    So this aide essentially called Obama a bonehead and a pothead at the same time. But whatever happened to "condemning such language" and "rejecting shameful and contemptible remarks made by surrogates?"

    The problem with contemporary politics is that you have a bunch of grown men and women who aspire to be our national leaders and represent this nation to the world, but carry themselves as if they are running for 7th grade student council president. Do politicians reduce themselves to pettiness for the sake of driving down turnout among all but their most loyal supporters? Do politicians really believe that childish namecalling, feigned outrage, and gutter-level insinuations espouse true leadership? Are they hoping that some of these charges stick to the point of crippling their rivals? Does intellectual integrity and statesmanship not matter anymore? Why do voters not demand more from their leaders in this regard? And why do the media lend credence to this nonsense by reporting on it in the first place?

    These kinds of back-and-forths between the candidates might be fun for political junkies, but politics is not a sitcom. People are losing their homes and dying in Iraq, but it takes a mild bit of namecalling from a political surrogate to generate this level of political outrage?

    Sometimes politicians just don't get it.


    Mitt Romney: Nowhere to Go

    In my last post, I addressed presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's potential vice presidential picks. I primarily examined the merits of former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. However, there was one prominent name that I deliberately left unmentioned because I felt he deserved his own post. That potential pick is former presidential rival and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

    Mitt Romney received a bum rap during this year's presidential campaign. Some of it was unfair because it pertained to issues beyond his control that should not have even been issues to begin with, such as his religion. Other problems he experienced were of his own doing, such as exaggerating, changing his positions on several key issues, and a general sense of artificiality or detachment because of his wealth and perceived "perfect" family and personal image. But all in all, he had run a decent campaign and was methodically putting together support in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire until two things happened:

    1. Fred Thompson's candidacy wounded Romney in that Thompson assumed the role Romney was trying to fill, but with a lot more name recognition, buzz, and fanfare. This essentially relegated Romney to second fiddle in the minds of voters who were searching for an authentic, consistent conservative. However, Thompson turned out to be a disappointment. This, coupled with Rudy Giuliani's flagging campaign, was excellent news for Romney until...

    2. The meteoric rise of Mike Huckabee, who was able to rocket up the polls on a shoestring budget. Huckabee's perceived authenticity and humility contrasted greatly with Romney, who had come to be seen as trying to buy votes because of how much of his personal fortune he had invested in his campaign. In addition, Huckabee's exploitation of the discomfort some Republicans had regarding Romney's faith took Romney off message and forced him to deliver a speech on faith in America, which was symbolically similar to the speech Barack Obama gave on race earlier this month. Time he spent addressing his religion was time he could have spent shoring up his support in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

    In the end, both Thompson and Huckabee led to Romney's undoing. Thompson was a nonviable candidate, but he ended up draining votes that could have gone to Romney in Iowa and South Carolina. Huckabee had a bit more support than Thompson, but didn't have the money and was seen as a one-dimensional candidate (a religious conservative) who could not go the distance against McCain. Had Romney stopped Huckabee in Iowa, Huckabee's campaign would have been stillborn and Romney very well may have won South Carolina.

    By the time Florida came around and it appeared that the conservative candidates' cannibalizing each other was doing nothing but clearing the way for the distrusted and perceived moderate John McCain, conservative Republicans wizened up and began to rally behind Romney. However, it was too little too late and McCain was well on his way to becoming the presumptive nominee.

    Since then, Romney's name has been bandied about as a possible vice presidential choice. Despite his previous stances on core conservative issues, Romney is now much closer to the Republican base than McCain is. And given how attractive he ultimately ended up in comparison to the flash-in-the-pan or one-dimensional candidacies of Giuliani, Huckabee, and Thompson, it is reasonable to assert that Romney's stock value increased significantly in the minds of conservatives. Thus, Romney could be seen as the face of the New Republican Party in 2012 if John McCain's campaign ends in failure.

    So could McCain groom Romney by tapping him to be his running mate this year? It's possible, but I view it as unlikely for the following reasons:

    1. Romney and McCain do not personally like each other. McCain has hit Romney hard in the debates for his flip-flopping and mockingly referred to him as "the candidate of change." Both men may be able to swallow their distaste for each other, but it seems a bit far-fetched to think there could be a true sense of synergy between them. McCain-Romney seems about as awkward as Kerry-Edwards.

    2. Conservatives were unhappy with this year's Republican field because there wasn't a credible, consistent conservative in the running. Thompson, Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, and Romney all had at least one fatal flaw. But now the race is over, and John McCain can choose anyone he wants. His pool of potential vice presidential picks is far richer than the pool of actual Republican presidential candidates. Romney may be more in line with conservative Republicans now in comparison to his former rivals. However, there are many more current and former Republican governors, senators, and congressmen who are even more attractive to the base than Romney is. And Romney will likely have to compete with these more attractive candidates in 2012 as well, should he decide to run again. Despite his current ideology, Romney is still an emotionally sterile candidate who is seen as a flip-flopping opportunist to many voters. For the charismatically challenged John McCain, Mitt Romney would not complement him much in this regard.

    3. Romney's candidacy would take several traditional Republican weapons off the table in the general election. Wedge issues like gay marriage would not be as effective because of its legalization in Romney's home state of Massachusetts. Attacking "socialized medicine" also wouldn't work because of the healthcare system Romney enacted during his gubernatorial term. And how would Second Amendment defenders feel about Romney, especially if the eventual Democratic nominee chooses a muscular Democrat like Virginia Senator Jim Webb for the #2 slot? In short, having Romney on the ticket would force the Republicans to reconcile several inconsistencies that exist between their presidential ticket and their common criticisms of their Democratic opponents.

    4. Romney would not "deliver" a state or help deliver a region in which McCain is weak. Republicans will not win Massachusetts this fall. It just won't happen. And McCain is strong enough to put New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey in play without Romney. But more importantly, Romney probably will not help McCain at all in the South. Barack Obama has performed quite well in the South, where there are high percentages of Black voters. This is not to say Obama's support is only high among Black voters, but if Blacks make up 30-40% of the vote and Obama is winning 85% of these votes, that gives him a very high floor from which he can expand his support. Mike Huckabee won several Southern states, but Mitt Romney got completely shut out. Hillary Clinton will probably take Arkansas and could put Tennessee and Florida in play, while Barack Obama could legitimately contest North Carolina and Georgia. Mitt Romney will probably not do much to stem this.

    My sense is that Romney's window has closed and there's nowhere else for him to go except in a future Republican president's cabinet. This year's Republican presidential field is similar to the Democratic presidential field in 2004 in that both fields consisted of relatively weak candidates. Should McCain lose this year's election, there will be a new wave of conservative presidential aspirants looking to lead the party out of the wilderness. At least one of these aspirants will be the consensus candidate that unites fiscal, social, and foreign policy conservatives--and probably do so more effectively than Romney ever could. And the fact that Romney will likely have to contend with such candidates in 2012 does not preclude him from having McCain consider such candidates right now.


    The McCain Veepstakes

    Seeing that the race for the Republican presidential nomination is essentially over, the only real storyline on that side of the ledger now concerns whom John McCain will chose as his running mate.

    Vice presidents are chosen for a variety of reasons. They are tapped to bring ideological balance to a ticket (e.g., a conservative trying to broaden his appeal by selecting a moderate), add geographical balance (e.g., a Northeasterner selecting a Southerner), or simply deliver a state (e.g., choosing a governor from State X to take it out of play for the opposing party in the general election). Other vice presidential picks are chosen for reasons unrelated to state-by-state electoral calculus, such as complementing one's resume (e.g., a stiff policy wonk choosing someone more charismatic who can connect with regular people) or to even placate one segment of the party base (e.g., a Republican moderate on illegal immigration choosing a hardliner as his running mate).

    There are some factors that may preclude a nominee from selecting a particular running mate that are not due to any weakness of the potential running mate himself. For example, if a Democratic nominee likes a Democratic senator that hails from a state which has a Republican governor, there's a good chance that the Republican governor would appoint a Republican senator, thus changing the balance of the Senate. So in that case, choosing this particular Democratic senator as a running mate may do more harm than good, especially if the Democrat's presidential bid is ultimately unsuccessful.

    In the case of John McCain and geography, he has effectively taken Arizona off the map because that is his home state. Democrats had been looking at Arizona as a possible pick-up opportunity, but that will have to wait until 2012 at the earliest.

    Regarding ideology, McCain has two paths available to him. He could make a play for the center by selecting a moderate Republican or he could firm up his base by selecting a conservative. McCain still enjoys relatively favorable ratings among moderates, independents, and even Democrats because he is not seen as a hardcore partisan. If he wants to drive a stake in the heart of Democrats everywhere, he would choose a popular Republican governor from a blue state. Former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania would seem to be a particularly wise choice because Pennsylvania is one of the most important swing states that the Democrats have been able to win in recent elections. Should the Democrats lose Pennsylvania, they would have to flip Ohio or Florida to offset it and hope that Michigan doesn't slip through their fingers.

    Florida Governor Charlie Crist may also be a wise choice because Florida is not nearly as Republican as Georgia and Tennessee are. Governor Crist has good looks, strong favorability ratings, and a youthfulness that cancels out McCain's age. And more importantly, taking Florida off the map would force the Democrats to compete elsewhere. A Crist selection seems plausible because of his endorsement of McCain before the Florida primary. So McCain owes Crist.

    Of course, the weakness of selecting Gov. Ridge, Gov. Crist or any moderate would be a potentially dispirited conservative base. McCain was pummeled in the primaries for not being sufficiently conservative on taxes and illegal immigration. In fact, John McCain would not have been the nominee had Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson not all split the conservative vote. Would evangelical Christians and staunch conservatives stay home, or will they vote for the Constitution Party nominee? If these conservatives don't turn out at the polls, swing states like Missouri and Virginia could go blue.

    Why would these conservatives rather stay home instead of vote for McCain even if that means they are helping the liberal Democratic candidate? It's because they want to send a message to Republicans that conservatives and conservatism matter. These conservatives care more about ideology than party. In other words, they are more conservative than Republican.

    The second ideological tack McCain could take would be to select a conservative as a running mate. This would certainly please the base. However, the problem here is that the most fertile conservative territory is to be found in the South. Tapping Senator John Cornyn of Texas or Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia is not going to help much. Running up the score on Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in Alabama and Oklahoma is not going to bring McCain any closer to the nomination because those Southern states are states he should carry anyway.

    Governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Haley Barbour of Mississippi are strong conservatives, but neither of them will help McCain win any states he shouldn't already be able to win by virtue of being a Republican. Even if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, South Carolina and Mississippi are decidedly uphill climbs for Democrats, especially in presidential elections. Conventional wisdom says these two candidates are good choices, but I ultimately believe their selection is unlikely. Gov. Sanford did not endorse McCain until long after the South Carolina primary and Gov. Barbour would probably rather remain as Mississippi's chief executive so he could help rebuild the state after Hurricane Katrina.

    Geographically speaking, McCain would be unlikely to choose a candidate from the West. In addition to a lack of candidates to choose from in that part of the country, such a pick would not add much geographic balance to the ticket. On top of this, most Western and Plains states have small populations that would not be of much help electorally. This would eliminate otherwise attractive candidates like Senator John Thune of South Dakota.

    McCain could also choose a personal friend as his running mate. The advantage to this would be the natural rapport between the two candidates. The Kerry-Edwards and Gore-Lieberman tickets seemed a bit awkward and forced. That would be akin to McCain choosing someone like Tom Tancredo. Two of McCain's closest friends happen to be the two senators that joined him on his most recent trip to the Middle East--Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

    Both senators would be safe picks in that they hail from states that have Republican governors (who would therefore likely appoint Republican Senate replacements) and they would be acceptable to both conservatives and moderates. Sen. Graham is a center-right senator, rather than a hard right senator. And Sen. Lieberman is seen as Republicans' favorite Democrat. Lieberman could give the Democrats fits because they need his seat in the Senate even though liberals are flummoxed by his defense policy. Then again, partisan Democrats may already view Lieberman as a traitor because of Iraq, so they may be happy to see him go. Lieberman has not expressed much interest in another White House run, but if his good friend McCain asked him, who's to say he would refuse? Another point worth considering is that Lieberman could also put the light blue states of Connecticut and New Jersey in play.

    And lastly, no serious discussion of the McCain veepstakes would be complete without assessing his last serious rival for the nomination--Mike Huckabee. Conventional wisdom says that Huckabee would be a good fit for McCain because he could consolidate support among Southerners and evangelical voters. And they both needed each other to beat Mitt Romney. However, I disagree that Huckabee is a likely choice for McCain because 1) his economic populism likely would not go over well with fiscal conservatives, and 2) Huckabee may have worn out his welcome by staying in the race too long and potentially embarrassing McCain. Of course, Huckabee could have been sowing the seeds for another run at the White House in 2012 instead of trying to further endear himself to McCain, so maybe Huckabee doesn't care about McCain's decision.

    Of course, all of this is idle speculation. Until the Democratic race gets settled, it would be prudent for McCain to focus more on improving his own relations with the GOP base, rather than worrying about his vice presidential pick. And besides, there's no sense in choosing a running mate before you even know who your own general election opponent is. McCain's choice should be at least partially be based on countering what the Democrats ultimately decide on. Suppose an Obama-Clinton ticket actually does materialize, despite my skepticism. Could McCain then look to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice or her predecessor Colin Powell? What a coup that would be!

    In the meantime, considering all current and recent governors and senators, it would appear that Tom Ridge, Charlie Crist, and Joe Lieberman have the inside track.


    Obama, Clinton, Ferraro, and Race (again)

    Hillary Clinton supporter and 1984 vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro recently threw the latest stinkbomb into the Democratic presidential race:

    "If Obama was a White man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."
    Uh oh.

    When pressed for a reaction to Ferraro's comments, the Clinton campaign initially offered this muted response:
    "We disagree with her."
    Of course, the Obama campaign was livid about this, especially given how hard the Clinton campaign came down on Obama recently for one of his advisers' calling Hillary Clinton "a monster." That's when the chairs and fists started flying and the Democratic presidential race descended to a whole new level of ridiculousness. The fact that Ferraro did not apologize, but rather identified herself as a victim only made things worse.

    (There are too many twists and turns in this story, but MSNBC's First Read offers a good timeline of this controversy.)

    Ferarro's remarks strike at the crux of an angry sentiment percolating just beneath the surface of voters of all ideologies and races everywhere regarding Obama and Clinton. Race, gender, and experience have congealed into a total mess that has forced Democrats and liberals to wrest with issues they normally criticize Republicans for being unable to adequately deal with on their own.

    Let's examine these issues one by one.

    One of the most enduring criticisms of Barack Obama is that he is too inexperienced to be President. And yet, he's the frontrunner. This dovetails with Ferraro's remarks by reminding (White) voters of how non-Whites may be at an advantage when it comes to hiring and university admissions courtesy of affirmative action even though they may be less qualified than their White counterparts.

    There may be some validity in this argument, and it shouldn't be dismissed as sour grapes or resentment among "racist Whites." However, voters need to realize that race is not what's responsible for the advances Obama has made in his political career. Simply put, Barack Obama could not have gotten where he is without millions and millions of voters of all races putting him over the top in election after election. Obama would not have even made it to the Senate if the voters of Illinois didn't show up at the polls. And it's not Obama's fault that his Republican opponent at the time was the inept Alan Keyes.

    Voters had the chance to reject Obama's inexperience in Iowa and New Hampshire, but that didn't happen. The three most experienced candidates (Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd) placed a dismal fourth, fifth, and seventh in Iowa. After Biden and Dodd dropped out, voters had another chance to vote for a similarly "inexperienced" White man, John Edwards, but he got routed in New Hampshire, was demolished in Nevada, and had nowhere to go after his weak finish in his backyard of South Carolina. A diversity-conscious political human resources office did not reject John Edwards' job application. The voters did.

    When people criticize Obama for his inexperience and attribute his success to his race like Ferraro did, they are essentially attacking the millions and millions of fellow citizens who have entrusted him with their votes and campaign donations, and this is quite insulting to them. There is no affirmative action when it comes to the privacy of the ballot box. There is no political overseer who is trying to fill a quota when it comes to providing election results. Obama simply received more votes than any of his opponents in most of his elections thus far, regardless of race. The failings of his White opponents cannot be attributed to their Whiteness. It's because they were poor candidates, did not connect with the voters, or were not offering what voters were looking for.

    Another point worth keeping in mind is that the very first contests of this presidential season took place in overwhelmingly White states. Obama's detractors cannot say he performed so well in those states just because of his race. The Black vote in Iowa is negligible! Black voters weren't even warming up to his candidacy until the Clintons began race-baiting in South Carolina. Republicans and rogue Clinton staffers were the ones peddling the Barack "Hussein" Obama meme. Bill Clinton was the one comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson. This race-baiting pushed Blacks firmly into Obama's corner, but there simply aren't enough of them in Utah, North Dakota, or Vermont to make a difference. Obama romped in all these states too, and it's because voters there were rejecting Hillary Clinton and the way she was conducting her campaign.

    These Obama detractors' anger is misplaced. However, this is not to say that Obama, his campaign, and his supporters are without fault. Hypersensitivity has led to absurd accusations of racism against anyone who dares criticize Obama. Of course, this hypersensitivity is what turns off a lot of White Democrats who would otherwise be supportive of Obama's campaign. It's gotten to the point where no one can talk about Obama without the injection of race at some point. But instead of Democrats battling Republicans on the issue, as was commonly the case even before Obama, it is now Democrats attacking Democrats.

    At least Republicans, for all their faults, seem to have figured identity politics out. Issues of race and gender don't really matter as much to them as they do to Democrats because Republicans value ideology more than demographics. And despite the Republican Party's current unpopularity, it has actually been quite progressive regarding those who have served at the highest echelons of power. Consider former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former National Security Adviser and current Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and current Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

    The Republican Party's problem with women and people of color is not so much its policies, but rather its marketing. As a result, perceptions of the GOP as being anti-woman, anti-Black, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant persist and make purple states and purple districts harder to win. As the nation becomes more diverse, the GOP risks being stranded in the political wilderness if it doesn't hone its message to non-WASP communities.

    But that's a longer term problem the GOP will have to face. For now, Republicans can find solace in the fact that they are looking far more attractive to independents, moderates, and nonpartisans than the Democrats who seem to be doing everything in their power to give voters a reason not to vote for them. It is doubtful that disaffected liberal Democrats will vote for conservative Republicans in November, but at the very least, they may decide to sit this election out.

    Again, Geraldine Ferraro made a valid point, but the substance of her argument got overshadowed by her antagonistic delivery and the media firestorm that followed. Reagan Democrats (blue-collar Whites who voted twice for Ronald Reagan and twice for Bill Clinton) probably agree most with Ferraro and are less likely to support Obama as a result. Now that she's out of the Clinton campaign, a lot of these voters may simply reduce the complexity of this story to "Ferraro spoke out, Ferraro got called a 'racist,' Ferraro got kicked out of the campaign." This condensed narrative may be factually true, but it ignores the complicated reality lying beneath the surface.

    These Reagan Democrats may be fed up with Republican leadership on the economy and the war, but they may be even more fed up with all this talk about race, and that's why John McCain may have a chance. Ferraro's comments could be seen as yet the latest race-baiting salvo to come from a Clinton surrogate in an attempt to marginalize Obama as "the Black candidate," but the more tainted Clinton becomes by this kind of campaigning, the more unelectable she renders herself to the Democratic electorate she needs to win over if she even wants to make it to the general election.

    Pundits shouldn't be too surprised to find John McCain getting a second look from voters because he appears to be the grownup in the room right now.


    Junior Super Tuesday: Advantage GOP

    With his victories in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont, John McCain has amassed enough delegates to effectively clinch the GOP nomination. More loose ends were tied up when rival Mike Huckabee ended his presidential bid and threw his support behind McCain. Meanwhile, the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama remains in flux. As of this writing, Clinton has won Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas while Obama won Vermont.

    Two months ago, few politicos would have predicted that the Republican nomination race would be settled long before the Democratic one. Republicans had to deal with five strong candidates who conceivably could have won the nomination as they tried to don the cloak of Ronald Reagan. Some pundits were even dreaming of a brokered convention in which social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, defense hawks, and moderates were pitted against each other.

    And yet, despite all this, the Republicans have emerged in a far more advantageous position than they ever could have dreamed of, especially given all the factors working against them, such as the poor economy and the unpopularity of Iraq and the Republican president.

    Even though John McCain only generates lukewarm feelings among several wings of the Republican Party, he is at least an acceptable consensus candidate. Democrats, on the other hand, are deeply divided. Barack Obama is drawing his support from twenty-somethings, college graduates, Blacks, independents, and wealthy voters. Hillary Clinton's base consists of women, Latinos, blue collar Whites, and organized labor. And the longer these two candidates slug it out, the longer it will take for the eventual victor to heal these divisions. And regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, there will be a lot of resentment among voters who were not in that candidate's camp. And should Clinton secure the nomination via the "smoke-filled room route" (as Political Insider terms it), this resentment could be even stronger.

    Many pundits were writing off Hillary Clinton prior to Junior Super Tuesday, but given her performance tonight and judging from her Ohio victory speech, she will likely fight all the way to the party convention in Denver. This is good news for her, bad news for Obama, and excellent news for the GOP.

    John McCain and the Republican Party couldn't have asked for a more favorable scenario. While Obama and Clinton continue to attack each other, they inadvertently give the GOP new weapons they can use against them in the general election. In addition to this, Obama and Clinton will continue to pump millions of dollars into attack ads and campaign operations for Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oregon, and North Carolina. And remember, Pennsylvania provides the next contest which is about seven long weeks from now. This time and money they spend attacking each other is time they can't spend raising money for the general election against the Republicans. Instead of concentrating on opposition research against McCain and trying to frame the debate, Obama is forced to continue the debate over experience and judgment.

    Republicans had been expecting to face Clinton in the general election. They were nervous about Obama because they simply weren't prepared to face him. And his shorter resume offered less information for them to troll over. But now that Obama will be occupied with his Pennsylvania campaign, the GOP will be able to test their arguments against him and define him as a raging liberal who can't be trusted with national security. Should Obama win the nomination, he will enter the general election as a predefined candidate who will have to reintroduce himself to voters with a diminished halo. That costs money and will take Obama off message. Advantage GOP.

    So right now, Obama is getting hit from all sides. McCain and the Republicans are attacking him relentlessly. A reinvigorated Clinton will unleash a new assault on him in Pennsylvania. And the media are showing signs of ending their honeymoon with him. Obama can't focus too much on McCain because Clinton could still plausibly become the nominee. And if Obama focuses on Clinton too much, he will risk elevating her and losing his perception as the frontrunner. And given the fickle nature of the Democratic superdelegates, he can't rely on "mathematical near certainties" regarding delegate counts to put him over the top. Not a good position for Obama to be in.

    The continued attacks by Clinton, coupled with the attacks from McCain who is free to attack both candidates, only serve to weaken Obama and make him less appealing to the moderates, independents, and disaffected Republicans currently backing him. Clinton did McCain a huge favor with the NAFTA debate which clearly hurt Obama in Ohio. This issue would probably cause Obama to hemorrhage support among Reagan Democrats (that Clinton won) and send them over to McCain. Meanwhile, McCain can shore up his own Republican base (he will receive President Bush's blessing tomorrow) and present a united front to the voters. United parties trump divided ones every time.

    John McCain's victories and Mike Huckabee's withdrawal tonight are obviously great news for him and his campaign. Hillary Clinton should be beaming from her Ohio and Texas victories. Political junkies are obviously grinning from ear to ear because the campaign will go on. Even Democratic voters, especially those in the later states, should be happy because they will have more opportunities to assess their candidates and avoid buyer's remorse.

    However, no group is happier right now than the Republican Party. The longer Obama and Clinton tear each other down, and the more money they spend doing so, the more advantageous the GOP's position becomes.


    About Barack Hussein Obama

    Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote a must read piece about Barack Obama and how his appeal among voters depends on their definition of "change." A lot of what Rothenberg wrote reinforces my argument that Obama's support is inflated because it seems that many of his supporters are more attracted to his presentation than his politics, even though these politics may be out of line with their own long held views. Of course, these supporters would likely retort that this is exactly why they like him so much. Obama is not about politics; he's about people and progress.

    I identified this inflated support as one particular potential weakness of Obama's candidacy. Assuming that Hillary Clinton does not become the nominee, it is a valid point that conservatives and Republicans should be able to take advantage of in a general election. Some of them are already trumpeting that he is "extremely liberal."

    The "L-word" is a tried and true way to gin up the base and fill Republican campaign coffers. It's as common as Democrats linking their Republican opponents to President Bush. Both lines of attack may seem petty, but at least they are not out-of-bounds. Unfortunately, however, it appears that many conservatives and Republicans are choosing to attack him for something that is even more childish and more contemptible.

    Now that it appears Obama is on the verge of securing the Democratic presidential nomination, John McCain's surrogates, Republican pundits, and conservative talk radio hosts have recently been making a conscious effort to remind voters about Barack HUSSEIN Obama. I already wrote about this contemptible political practice last fall, but it appears that a too-large segment of the electorate is either 1) willing to continue perpetuating this smear, or 2) too uninformed to assess the validity of these attacks on their own.

    Of course, John McCain is not going to be so politically stupid as to refer to Obama by using his middle name himself. However, his supporters and those campaigning for him will likely continue the despicable practice. The media will then get angry, the Obamas will probably draw more attention to these "fear bombs," McCain will repudiate the remarks, and another Republican will start the cycle all over again "without speaking for McCain himself."

    This approach allows McCain to benefit by getting the smear out there while maintaining plausible deniability. His supporters and partisan Republicans can "speak for themselves" while McCain can appear to take the high road. Meanwhile, the uninformed and easily spooked segment of the electorate will begin to have more doubts about "Obama the Muslim" and either defect to McCain's camp or simply not vote for Obama.

    Obviously, accusations of bigotry will continue to fly. Seeing that the GOP's image among minority groups is already in tatters, they don't have so much to lose by attacking "Barack Hussein Osama-I-Mean-Obama." However, aside from the contemptibility of this practice, it is a politically foolish approach that does not take the future of McCain's candidacy and even the Republican Party in general into account.

    To start, Obama's electoral base is much larger than McCain's base, as the enthusiasm gap exhibited by caucus and primary turnout so far suggests. John McCain should be more concerned with trying to broaden his appeal and snatch a few of Obama's supporters. However, McCain is not going to win over voters who are responding to Obama's message of hope by presenting them with the politics that preys on their fears.

    Secondly, Obama has been quite adept at batting down the persistent rumors about his patriotism and religion. Even though there are voters who might not know Obama is a Christian, Obama's impressive grassroots organization is effectively fanning out and correcting any misconceptions people may have about him via direct mail, e-mail, and phone calls. Given how effectively Obama has been able to parry these charges so far, it would suggest that Republicans are wasting their time by trying to revive the Hussein innuendo.

    Third, even though these innuendos are often coming from conservative-leaning talk radio hosts, columnists, and pundits, Republicans on the ballot may be the ones who are most affected by this behavior. There are many good Republicans who are embarrassed by the Limbaugh-Coulter-Hannity wing of the party and may simply decide to stay home in November. Fear was an effective message in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns, but voters clearly rejected it in 2006. Why would 2008 be any different? These plays on fear only make Obama's message look even more appealing, especially among the independent voters that McCain so desperately needs.

    In fairness, it must be said that the people bringing up the "Hussein" line of attack may not necessarily be doing McCain's explicit bidding. However, as long as these people continue to speak in McCain's defense and at his campaign events, McCain will be tarnished by association. "Hussein" might win political points among Republican partisans, but it likely won't win over any new Republican voters--many of whom have already turned a deaf ear on the Republican brand.


    Republicans and Race

    According to the Politico, Republicans have quietly been polling voters about their attitudes regarding attacking female and ethnic minority candidates. This research is being conducted in preparation for waging a general election campaign against an opponent who, for the first time, will not be a White male.

    Given today's era of hypersensitivity, identity politics, political correctness, and coded language, it would seem wise that politicians are wise to engage in this kind of research. And it would seem especially wise for the Republican Party to express an interest in this kind of research seeing that they are generally seen as less sensitive to the needs of women and people of color. However, the fact that such research is even necessary illustrates the problem both political parties have with race and gender.

    Why is the GOP is conducting this research? Fairly or unfairly, the Republican Party has produced lots of evidence to suggest that it is a party for White Christian males who are comparatively better off financially than other Americans. Consider the paucity of non-White Republican politicians and the isolated dark faces you see in a sea of lighter ones at Republican campaign events. Regarding the GOPs appeal among Blacks, George Bush received less than 15% of the Black vote in his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, which mirrors Republicans' dismal performance among Blacks in general.

    Why the GOP is conducting this research is easy enough to understand. However, why the GOP feels it even needs to conduct this research is quite revealing. Do Republicans believe that criticizing Obama's environmental policies, for example, will lead to accusations of racism? Let's hope not. (If it does, then it's not Republicans who have the problem.) Criticizing Obama on something a bit more loaded, such as welfare reform, however, would likely cause them to act a bit more cautiously. However, if they are worried about accusations of racial insensitivity, perhaps they should have a little more faith in others. And if voters misconstrue something benign or innocuous as a racially insensitive remark, then those hypersensitive voters have some serious soul-searching to do. And in the event that this happens, Republicans could at least say they tried. Republicans in particular have a lot of work to do in regards to making inroads into various minority communities, but they can't give up if their overtures are rebuffed.

    Politicians should understand that it is perfectly okay to criticize or attack a political rival, so long as it is done on the merits. It doesn't matter if the rival is black, brown, purple, female, left-handed, vegetarian, or short. However, when you invoke race for the sake of invoking race or to appeal to the worst in voters, that's when you will run into trouble. It doesn't require thousands of dollars in commissioned studies and focus group testing to know this. Voters understand that race exists, but politicians should also understand that the lion's share of voters simply don't care about race and strongly object to having it thrown back in their faces.

    Hillary Clinton's South Carolina campaign is a textbook example of how not to use race. Ideally, race shouldn't be "used" for anything, but if it must be addressed, then it is far better to reference it to show empathy or cognizance of a group's needs than to employ it as a wedge issue. Should Clinton's presidential campaign end in failure, trying to link Barack Obama with Jesse Jackson and make hay out of his past drug use would be the moment that sent her presidential campaign from its zenith after its come-from-behind New Hampshire victory to a lonely trip back to the Senate. In addition, that race-baiting strategy also probably permanently tarnished the Clinton brand among Black and White Democrats alike.

    The Clintons' race-baiting in South Carolina is not the first time prominent Democrats have tried to use this as a wedge issue to drive voters into their corner, as anyone who has followed alleged Black spokesmen Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton knows. However, knowing that Democratic politicians have not exactly been innocent regarding race themselves, why do ethnic minorities continue to ignore Republicans at the ballot box? The image of the Republican Party being a White party is obviously an obstacle, but another problem that they might not be aware of is that people of color often don't think that Whites and Republicans come down hard enough on "their own" when they make remarks that disparage other groups.

    Put another way, whenever a Republican puts his foot in his mouth regarding issues of race or religion, it is usually Democrats who complain the loudest about it. While their outrage may be predictable and political, the fact remains that Republican outrage seems comparably muted to these voters, thus causing members of these "outgroups" to believe Republicans in general tacitly approve of the offensive or insensitive remarks by not condemning them strongly enough. Consider this piece I wrote last August regarding Tom Tancredo and his idea of bombing Mecca and Medina (the two holiest cities in Islam) to tell the terrorists that "America means business." Republicans tended to distance themselves from those remarks, but it was more because they viewed Tancredo as a fringe candidate instead of because of how offensive his remarks were.

    Compounding this is the lack of attention Republicans pay to reaching out to ethnic minority groups. Republicans may say they don't like pandering to various interest groups, but the way the Republican presidential candidates were essentially tripping over each other to appear more Christian, more conservative, more of an illegal immigration hardliner, more of a tax cutter, and more hawkish on defense than their rivals suggests otherwise. This hypocrisy suggests that Republicans are fine with pandering, so long as it doesn't involve people of color. That may not be true, but that's certainly how it comes across.

    Perhaps the most egregious snub of ethnic minority groups concerned the absence of the then leading Republican candidates (Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson) to participate in the Republican forum on Black issues hosted by Tavis Smiley at Morgan State University last September. Four empty podiums were set up on stage to signify their absence. It is simply not enough to say that you are committed to at least listening to the concerns of certain groups of people and then blow them off because of "scheduling conflicts" when you have the perfect opportunity to speak to them directly. There's no other way to spin that. Simply put, these Republicans need to show a bit more courage and not just "hunt where the ducks are."

    A cursory examination of voting patterns among people of color would suggest that Republicans are wise not to waste their time in infertile political environments. But this is foolish. Republicans write off the Black and Latino vote because they think they'll never be able to win a majority of their support. However, they don't need to win a majority of their support in order to put together a nearly unbeatable electoral base of support. Consider purple states like Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. If Republicans could bump up their percentage of Black support from 10% to 15%, for example, that would be enough to give Democrats heartburn and swing these politically competitive states and their congressional districts in their favor. But blowing them off as they did at Morgan State suggests they simply don't care.

    Given the Democratic Party's reliance on lower income voters and their perpetuation of class and racial differences, an argument can be made that they really don't deserve the support of people of color, many of whom are more likely than Whites to be poor. However, the Republican Party should be ashamed of its lack of outreach regarding these politically ripe constituencies. Rather than spending its money researching how to best attack a minority candidate, as the Politico addresses, they should invest more in voter outreach and explaining why they may be better able to address the needs of people of color than the Democrats who may take their support for granted.

    Here are some other entries from The 7-10 on this subject that may be of interest:

  • The Essence of Obama: Changing of the Guard
  • The Republicans' Small Tent
  • Not Sharp, Sharpton
  • Identity Politics: Risk vs. Reward
  • T.E.R.R.O.R.
  • Republicans and the Black Vote: Part 2
  • Oprah, Obama, and Race! Oh my!
  • Clinton vs. Obama: The Problem with Identity Politics
  • Barack Obama: A Second Look at Race

  • 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.