Showing posts with label scandal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scandal. Show all posts

9/10/2008

Thoughts on the 2008 Campaign and a Presidential Endorsement

This is a post I was planning to write in October, not September, because I wanted to wait until after the debates to make a more accurate judgment of the two presidential candidates. But this nonstory about lipstick forced my hand.

I am angry. I am disappointed. And I am scared. But I am hopeful.

Coming into this election season, I was hopeful for America because I believed we finally had a chance to pick up the pieces and get America back on track after our long national nightmare. President Bush has been the worst president of my lifetime. I don't say that as a partisan. I say that because I genuinely believe he is the only president in my 31 years who has left the United States in a worse position than when he came into office. There is a pervasive sense of gloom, despair, apathy, and mistrust swirling around the nation that I have never observed before.

I love the United States of America. I believe this is the greatest country on Earth. It is only in America that someone can progress from having absolutely nothing to being on top of the world. It doesn't matter if you are a third-generation daughter of Polish immigrants, a true-blue son of Appalachia, a waitress working the late shift at a local diner, or a man whose parents abandoned him as a child on a street corner in Los Angeles. The United States offers more opportunities for everyone to succeed than any other nation on Earth.

But lately, it seems that more and more people are falling behind and the American Dream is becoming more and more unattainable. It's not just poor people or those who have made poor decisions who are falling behind. It's middle class people and those who are working hard and playing by the rules who are struggling now too. It costs more to drive our cars because of spiking gas prices. It costs more to go to college because of rising interest rates on student loans. It's more difficult to buy or sell a home. And it's harder to deal with being sick because health care is increasingly unaffordable.

There is a lack of confidence in our government, a lack of sophistication in our politicians, and a lack of professionalism in the media that cover them. People feel that the government doesn't understand their problems, the government doesn't understand its own responsibilities, and the government doesn't care. I'm not saying this as a criticism of conservatism which naturally advocates smaller government. I'm saying that people are losing faith in the very governmental institutions that run America. Think of the Federal Reserve, the State Department, and Homeland Security for example.

Having spent many years of my life abroad, I have seen the transformation that is taking place beyond our borders as well. Gone is the enthusiasm that outsiders once had for this nation. Gone is the respect that the mere mention of "America" commanded. This respect has been replaced by disdain, condescension, and lament.

This brings us to the start of the presidential campaign season.

There were about 20 candidates in the race altogether at the start of the campaign in the spring of 2007, so I figured there should be several candidates whom I'd be willing to support. But then I began to learn more about the candidates and began to cross them off my list.

The Republicans

Rudy Giuliani was a moderate Republican, so I thought he warranted a second look. However, I found him to be a fraud and jumped ship because who was once "America's Mayor" had since descended into pitting Americans against each other on the campaign trail by using terrorism to drive a wedge between Democrats and Republicans. And I believe he reduced September 11th to a mere political talking point.

Mitt Romney was a nonstarter because of the sheer number of policy reversals he undertook in an attempt to pander to certain parts of the Republican base. He came across as the type of politician who had no shame and would do and say whatever it took, even at the expense of his own dignity, to get elected. So I trusted nothing that came out of his mouth and viewed him to have no ideological core.

Fred Thompson was also a nonstarter because he did not seem serious about his campaign and figured that he could charm his way to the nomination with his Southern twang and red pickup truck. The basis of his campaign was merely that he was a Southerner with a wry sense of humor. There was no policy heft there. No thanks.

Sam Brownback was a candidate of the religious right, so he was automatically disqualified.

This left three palatable Republicans: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul.

I am most definitely not a social conservative. But why would this disqualify Sam Brownback and not Mike Huckabee? Because Huckabee was civil in his political presentation. He was humble, likable, substantive, and in touch. He talked about the economy from the point of view of regular workers, not corporate managers. Even though I strongly disagreed with him on issues like abortion and gay rights, I would have been okay with him as President because he did not use wedge issues to divide the electorate for the sake of finding common ground.

My inner libertarian is what endeared me to Ron Paul. I applauded the courage of his convictions, even if that made him a laughing stock at the Republican debates. He spoke about the insanity of staying in Iraq even though the Iraqis want us to leave and the billions and billions of dollars that are spent propping up countries that are hostile to the United States. Unfortunately, Paul's candidacy came about 40 years too soon and in a party that moved away from Barry Goldwater conservatism decades ago.

This left John McCain. I had a favorable opinion of McCain after his 2000 presidential campaign and appreciated the way he occasionally bucked President Bush and the fringe elements of his own party. His participation in the "Gang of 14" at a time when the Senate was about to explode went a long way towards cementing my respect for him. When the race for the Republican nomination came down to McCain and Romney (Huckabee was still in the race too, but he had been marginalized), I was banking on McCain. I figured that of all the Republicans in the race, he was ultimately the most appealing.

The Democrats

As for the Democrats, I was not one of those voters who was bowled over by the Big 3 of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. All three of them were my last three choices.

I originally started off in Bill Richardson's camp. His resume was simply incredible. Like he said in some of the debates, nominating him would give voters both "change" and "experience." Being from New Mexico, he had the right geography. And as a Latino, he had the right demographics. Combining all this with the fact that he was a centrist Democrat made Richardson bulletproof. His "Interview" campaign ads were impressive too, so I felt comfortable showing my allegiance to the New Mexico governor. He was the first candidate to whom I ever donated money.

But then came the debates. He seemed sluggish, disoriented, and disappointing. I gave him several chances, but he never "popped." And his campaign staff didn't seem all that interested in my offers to volunteer for him either. So he left me cold.

As Richardson's star faded, Joe Biden's stock rose. He was my second choice who later became my first choice. Biden was an exceptionally strong debater with a good sense of humor. He had a lot of experience too and clearly understood the world in which we live. I had the opportunity to meet him three times and he genuinely seemed to talk to me as a person and not as just another voter. I donated money to his campaign too and was surprised when I received a thank you letter from him personally with a real signature. Not one of those computerized signatures, but a real signature with ink stains. This was a United States senator actually taking the time to be gracious to me, a generic PhD student in South Carolina.

As I watched him perform strongly in debate after debate, I hoped that the people in Iowa were paying attention. Despite my enthusiasm for Biden, I worried that he did not have enough star power to shine in the Iowa caucuses because Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards were sucking up all the media's oxygen. But I strongly believed this candidate could be trusted to win the White House and govern with a sense of competence and an awareness of the magnitude of his responsibilities. Unfortunately, he finished 5th in Iowa and was thereby disqualified from the subsequent debate in New Hampshire that Bill Richardson, who finished fourth, could participate in.

Chris Dodd was Joe Biden without the personality, so he didn't have a chance. Mike Gravel was not a serious candidate. And like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich was about 40 years ahead of his time.

Why wasn't I in the Barack Clintedwards camp? Because they were polarizing personality candidates with thin resumes. Obama seemed like a nice guy, but he did not have much of a record to run on. When it comes to voting, I place experience and accomplishments ahead of identity politics and personality. This is why John Edwards was also disqualified. He had even less government experience than Obama and did not prove himself to be a strong campaigner because of how little he helped John Kerry in 2004.

As for Hillary Clinton, she was certainly the "toughest" of the top three candidates, but I had really grown tired of the Bush vs. Clinton storyline and the constant snipping between their surrogates on the cable news channels. I was sick of hearing accusations of President Bush's lying be countered by reminding everyone about President Clinton's lying. I really wanted to move on from the Bush-Clinton dynastic noise and start over.

So my heart was with Biden. But after his loss in Iowa, Richardson's defeat in New Hampshire, and Edwards' embarrassment in South Carolina, I knew I would have to choose between Obama and Clinton. (I still voted for Biden in the South Carolina primary even though he had already dropped out of the race.)

After Super Tuesday my respect for Obama and his political skills increased. He was racking up delegates because he wisely created a campaign apparatus in far more states than Clinton, who felt she didn't need to do this because she was entitled to the nomination. As Clinton fell further and further behind, she became a lot more negative and off-putting. That just reminded me of the Bush-Clinton feuding and further turned me off from her.

But even though I was warming to Obama, I still wasn't sold on him. I appreciated the movement he was trying to create by giving regular people a greater stake in their democracy. And I appreciated his tone, which was more civil and not based on treating voters like they were stupid. But I feared he had too much brain and not enough heart. Hillary Clinton picked up on this and began to run up the score on Obama during the final two months of the campaign and largely rehabilitated her image in my eyes. Unfortunately for her, she had dug herself too large a hole.

Obama won the nomination fairly. The PUMA wing of the party can complain about superdelegates, Florida, Michigan, and half votes, but they should blame the Hillary Clinton campaign, strategist Mark Penn, and the Democratic National Committee for that instead, not Obama. He earned his place at the top of the ticket.

The outrage

So the battle was between a respectable Republican with a record and an intriguing Democrat without one. I thought this campaign would be a lot more civil and uplifting than the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, so I figured that regardless of who won the election, America would come out on top.

But then something changed. Channeling John Kerry, Senator John McCain became Candidate John McCain, and I did not like what I saw. And my worst fears about Senator Obama being overly cerebral came true.

Because of my disagreements with John McCain over foreign policy, the ongoing war in Iraq, and his tack to the religious right, I figured that there was only about a 30% chance that I'd vote for him. That has since become a 0% chance. Some of this is due to John McCain directly, but some of it is also due to his allies.

I am sick of this election being about middle names, flag pins, e-mail rumors, Paris Hilton, religion, and lipstick.

I am sick of the media fixating on insignificant nonsense while ignoring the issues that really matter to people.

I am sick of dishonest political advertising, political red herrings, stupid talking points, baseless accusations of media bias, and phony outrage.

I am sick of having my patriotism questioned because I thought the Iraq War was a terrible idea and don't support most of President Bush's policies.

I am sick of having flag pins determine how much an American loves this country.

I am sick of politicians demeaning our allies and then complaining when they don't enthusiastically support our policies.

I am sick of equating a politician's popularity abroad with political leprosy at home.

I am sick of the fact that a vice presidential nominee that nobody knows won't give media interviews because the media are not "deferential" enough to her.

I am even sicker of the media who let her get away with this in the first place.

The fears

This nation is in a state of historical decline in which we are becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the world and our own quality of life is decreasing. And that scares me.

We are spending billions of dollars in Iraq. Where is this money coming from?

Millions of people can't even afford to get sick, much less actually go to the doctor because health insurance and health care cost too much money.

The world is unstable, as Russia's incursion into Georgia and Iran's nuclear ambitions illustrate.

The environment is slowly degrading and the balance between man and nature is becoming skewed.

It costs three times as much to fill up my gas tank compared to 10 years ago.

A growing percentage of young people are failing to graduate from high school. And for those who do, it's more difficult for them to pay for college because tuition keeps rising and there is less financial aid available.

People are getting kicked out of their homes because of rising interest rates on their mortgages.

Brave Americans are dying and getting hurt every day in Iraq because of an ill-conceived war with an ill-defined mission. And these brave warriors are being neglected when they return home.

There is no transparency in our government. Instead, our national leaders are saying "Trust us" even though they have given us every reason not to.

Laws are being written, passed, and ignored because of presidential signing statements.

An American city drowned and has yet to be rebuilt.

We are one Supreme Court appointment away from major reversals in longstanding social policy.

Politicians are accusing other politicians of being elitists because they went to private schools and sent their children to private schools even though these very same politicians want to institute vouchers that would let parents send their own children to private schools.

Politicians are politicizing America by using phony and loaded slogans like "country first," as if every other candidate running for president doesn't do so.

I am sick of it. There are too many serious issues that need to be addressed, but the quest to win the daily news cycle is crowding everything out.

The endorsement

John McCain would probably be a competent president. And should he win, I would pray for his health every day because I have little respect for and little confidence in Sarah Palin. And I hope that President McCain would govern as Senator McCain, not Candidate McCain.

I have strong disagreements with Barack Obama when it comes to illegal immigration, corporate taxes, tort reform, and entitlement programs. But after what I have seen from the increasingly dishonorable McCain campaign and the doe-eyed media over the past two or three weeks, I have decided that enough is enough.

The path McCain took to get here has caused me to lose a lot of respect for him. His "country first" slogan is a total farce and the phony outrage coming from his campaign over accusations of sexism and celebrity show him to be nothing more than a tool of the very same people who turned George Bush into a polarizing 30% president who only cares about 30% of the electorate.

Real leaders don't accuse their political rivals of wanting to lose a war before losing an election. That's not "country first."

Real leaders don't distract the electorate from substantive issues by throwing up smokescreens about minutia. That's not "country first" either.

Real leaders don't choose their vice presidential nominees after just meeting them once. It reminds me of "looking into Vladimir Putin's soul." While Palin has so far turned out to be a tremendous success for his campaign, the fact remains that this was an irresponsible gamble that has been rendered even more irresponsible by the fact that he is restricting media access to her as if she should not have to be scrutinized by the press.

Real leaders don't cry sexism over stupid remarks about lipstick, especially when they themselves have used the exact same expression in the past and commonly ridicule others for political correctness.

Real leaders don't scare voters by linking their political opponents to children and sex education.

Real leaders don't continue to shout out talking points that have long since definitively been proven false.

An Obama defeat would vindicate the strategists who believed that diverting discussion from education policy, the economy, and Iraq to a discussion about lipstick and sexism are the keys to winning the White House.

An Obama defeat would vindicate a media that is derelict in its responsibilities.

An Obama defeat would lead to a likely Clinton nomination in 2012 and signify to voters that the only way you can win the White House is to throw mud and engage in character assassination. Bush did that in 2000 and 2004, McCain is doing that this year, and should McCain win, Hillary Clinton will do that again in 2012. I don't want politics to be that way.

No more wedge politics.
No more journalistic negligence and irresponsibility.
No more lipstick. And freedom fries. And jokes about France.
No more chants of U-S-A whenever a Republican politician bashes a Democrat.
No more scaring the electorate by linking politicians with children and sex.
No more hiding behind the flag and impugning another American's patriotism.

I have serious reservations about Obama's lack of experience. But the fact that he chose Joe Biden as his running mate reassures me. The two have a good personal relationship, so I know that Biden will always speak his mind even if it means giving Obama bad news. And he can serve as a liaison between the old Washington and the new. Biden-Obama would have been preferable to Obama-Biden, but that is not how the campaigns turned out. But perhaps because Obama is at the top of the ticket, that makes the contrast in tone between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin all the more stark.

I do not endorse Barack Obama because I care much for his political views. And I do not endorse him because of his personal story. I endorse Barack Obama because everything he's running against must not be validated by his defeat.

Even if you may not agree with Obama's political ideas, I hope you at least agree with his political approach. After Paris Hilton, feigned cries of sexism, blaming the media, and lipstick, it is safe to say that the United States can't afford to have this nonsense be rewarded by a McCain victory because that will only allow it to continue in 2012. America deserves better than this.

9/08/2008

McCain and the Media: Part 3

I have been critical of John McCain because of his failure to use the media to his advantage, either by avoiding good media opportunities that were presented to him or by not sufficiently preparing his staff to deal with interviews and losing control of the ensuing narratives that result from it.

However, the media have done John McCain a tremendous favor that has allowed him to turn the media into a perfect foil that further enthuses his supporters. The media's arguable overreach in regards to probing into Sarah Palin's family affairs turned the Republican vice presidential nominee into a victim with whom many voters could empathize because Palin's troubles were similar to their own. Millions of voters know what it's like to have their teenage daughter break the news of an unplanned pregnancy and are offended by total strangers with microphones asking them about it. Millions of voters would recoil in disgust at being asked about taking flights after their water broke. Of course, Sarah Palin is a public figure, but the gut reaction to this media coverage is one of anger and disgust, not a logical determination of who is and is not fair game.

So after turning Palin into a victim, she was able to display her tenacity by striking back with zinger after zinger against the media in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week. Palin was allowed to play the role of victim, fighter, and anti-media crusader all at the same time.

Of course, the media were not the engine driving most of this invasive coverage. The responsibility for this overreach primarily lies with anonymous bloggers, such as those at the Daily Kos, as the rumors about the Palin family originated on such sites. But this distinction doesn't matter to average people. The storyline they're going to hear is "Media unfairly attacks Palin" or "Media coverage is unfavorable to Republicans." Oh, and it pushes Barack Obama and Joe Biden out of the headlines.

This buys the McCain campaign some time. They can keep Palin off the campaign trail and let her study foreign policy privately while publicly telling voters that the media don't deserve interviews. Attacking the media is a common tactic Republicans employ to lower expectations about their own candidates ("You guys in the media won't give our [Republican] candidate a fair shake."), drive up enthusiasm among their base ("Let's stand up to the New York Times!"), and attack Democrats without attacking them directly (by referring to the media as "the liberal media elite" or "the Manhattan and Georgetown cocktail circuit, as Fred Thompson said in his speech at the convention).

But there is a risk that the "blame the media" tack will backfire. To start, some people in the media are defending themselves, rather than taking these criticisms lying down. After all, a journalist's job is to ask questions and gather information that the public finds important. Other people in the media are aware of their missteps and are cleaning up their act. While some of their coverage may have been unfairly invasive, the public still does have a right to know about its candidates running for the two highest offices in the land. And the longer Sarah Palin is kept away from the cameras, the more doubts may creep in about her preparedness for the job. The McCain campaign does not want the dialogue about Palin to switch from "She's one of us" or "She was unfairly attacked" to "Why can't she answer any real questions?" or "What is she hiding?" Once the halo disappeared from Barack Obama, he had to answer tough questions about his past and his record. That will happen to Sarah Palin too.

Of course, the McCain campaign may try to use last week's media coverage as a way of inoculating her from having to answer tough questions later on. If the media pile onto Palin for not being able to articulate her policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the McCain campaign may say "See? The liberal media is being unfair to Palin again." But that may backfire, as even some Republicans are imploring other Republicans to be a bit more discerning in regards to Palin because despite her appealing narrative, nobody knows anything about her and shouldn't get too excited about her until she at least gives them some sense of direction in regards to where she wants to take this country. And the McCain campaign cannot use the "biased liberal media" as a shield to prevent her from having to answer legitimate questions.

This media strategy introduces some new problems. First of all, Palin cannot attack Obama on the campaign trail and then not make herself available for interviews to elaborate on the attacks or clarify what they mean. This makes her look like she's hiding from Obama or the media and conveys the message that all she does is talk tough without being able to defend herself.

Secondly, this presents an opening for Barack Obama in that he can compare Vice President Dick Cheney's secrecy to that of Palin's and link her to the Bush administration in that regard. He can also remind voters that he, McCain, and Biden are all making the rounds and answering tough questions. Obama even appeared on Bill O'Reilly's show, which is hardly friendly to liberal Democrats. This would plant seeds of doubt in voters' minds about Palin's political credibility.

Third, because she's not making herself available for interviews, she is inadvertently raising her own expectations and setting herself up to be savaged by the media in the event that she makes a misstep. If she can't explain McCain's economic policy, the media won't have anything else but that mistake to report on because she simply hasn't given the press much material to work with. And there will be more pressure for her to go before the cameras and clear up such a mistake.

And finally, Obama's surrogates can chide Palin for being "tough enough to take on Vladimir Putin and Al Qaeda, but not tough enough to take on the Washington Post and Tom Brokaw." This would make a mockery of Palin's candidacy much like the mockery she made of Obama during her speech. Some Republicans are further muddying the waters by boycotting Oprah Winfrey's show. That feeds into the perception that Palin only wants soft interviews while also contradicting the idea that the McCain campaign is keeping her away from the media in general.

In short, media overreach has given John McCain a tremendous advantage that may be reflected in polls showing him leading Obama. Sarah Palin has clearly reset this race and has closed the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats. The challenge for Obama is to stay relevant and find a strong and consistent way to attack her because treating her gingerly is not working. And the risk for McCain is overplaying his hand by running too much against the media and not enough against Obama or by running against the media at the expense of not running on his own record.

9/03/2008

McCain and the Media: Part 2

Back in July, I wrote about John McCain's failure to use the media to his advantage. The impetus for that post was McCain's nonattendance at the UNITY Conference in Chicago, a meeting of professional associations for journalists of color. McCain did not attend the conference because of "scheduling conflicts." (Barack Obama did attend the conference and took questions from the panelists there.) I wrote that McCain missed a golden opportunity to bolster his standing among skeptics and even help rehabilitate the Republican brand in the process:

"The audience at the Unity Conference was likely a hostile one seeing that people of color are reliably Democratic. However, the conference participants were there as media professionals, rather than partisans. And given Republicans' problems with voters of color, McCain could have made news by courageously showing up. Instead he gave Blacks, Latinos, and Asians yet another reason to think that McCain (and Republicans by extension) simply don't care about them or the issues that are important to their communities. Oh, and he gave Barack Obama yet another night of positive headlines because he showed up and took questions.

Again, the media are arguably covering Barack Obama more often and more favorably than John McCain, but McCain has certainly had his opportunities to make news. However, on more than one occasion, he simply chose not to participate or did not take full advantage of the golden opportunities that have come his way. And he has no one to blame for that but himself."
(You can read the entire post here.)

Now it looks like John McCain is making the exact same mistake with the Sarah Palin rollout. After successfully stepping all over Barack Obama's nomination speech by announcing his surprise vice presidential pick, the media and the public were all paying attention to the McCain campaign. He had the megaphone to match a captive audience. The Palin rollout initially went over well with the Republican base because her biography appealed to voters seeking an outsider who represented the future of the party.

However, since announcing Palin, the McCain campaign has done a terrible job of managing the media and taking full advantage of the opportunity her selection presented him. Failures to anticipate and execute have really taken a lot of the initial thunder away from her selection.

Sarah Palin is the final piece of the presidential puzzle. John McCain is a known quantity, having run for the White House in 2000 and being a high profile senator. Barack Obama has commanded the attention and respect of millions of Americans through his historical campaign and the slugfest with Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden is a veteran senator who is no stranger to presidential politics himself.

All three of these candidates are known quantities who have been raked over the coals by the media. McCain had the fallout with the Keating Five scandal, the bitter South Carolina primary against George Bush during the 2000 campaign, the fighting with the religious right, and the problems with his base over illegal immigration. Barack Obama has had to deal with coverage of "Bittergate," Reverend Wright, questions about his Blackness, and questions about a lack of substance. And Joe Biden has had his own media problems with his plagiarism episode from his first presidential campaign, the way he conducted himself during the Senate committee meetings he chaired, and his tendency to put his foot in his mouth.

However, nobody knows anything about Sarah Palin. Her biography is largely unknown, and nobody knows much about her political positions either. Of course, the media are going to comb through every video, press release, and interview they have to paint a picture of who Palin is. And when they find out something new, they're going to hammer the McCain campaign for not telling the public about it earlier. They want to know more about her because as a candidate for vice president, the public wants and has a right to know as much about her as possible.

But when these questions came up, his campaign commonly blamed the media for not asking Obama what his accomplishments were. This is an utterly ridiculous complaint because Obama has been running his presidential campaign for over a year and a half and has had to answer these questions on numerous occasions. And given the number of votes and the amount of money he has received, it is obvious that a large enough segment of the electorate is at least willing to accept his limited resume. Sarah Palin completely bypassed the state primaries and caucuses and received absolutely no votes in this campaign except for one vote from John McCain. So it is to be expected that the media and voters will have a lot of questions for her as they subject her to the same level of scrutiny that the other three candidates (Obama, Biden, and McCain) have experienced. It's as if McCain tried to turn his vice presidential selection into a recess appointment and is protesting because he has to subject her to the confirmation process just like everyone else has done.

The McCain campaign got into trouble by not sufficiently vetting Palin beforehand. Of course, this is one of the perils of going with such an unknown and unconventional pick. Because McCain wanted to surprise everyone, he couldn't make too many waves when vetting her earlier. Had the media and powerful political figures and aides in Alaska known about document requests from the McCain campaign surrounding Palin, her cover would have been blown. But had this happened, the media's vetting process would have happened a lot sooner.

Now the McCain campaign is angry that the media want to know so much about her. But it is unrealistic for McCain to expect to be able to introduce the nation to someone that nobody knows and then not expect the media to ask questions about her. That was a terrible mistake that has threatened to cause questions and controversy to eclipse the initial excitement surrounding her.

Secondly, the McCain campaign did not sufficiently prepare themselves or Palin for the media crush after her selection was announced. Palin gave a speech with McCain in Dayton, Ohio, in which she said she was a "hockey mom" who cleaned up Alaska and wanted to bring her reform agenda to Washington. But after that, she essentially disappeared. The McCain campaign has since restricted access to Palin, thus increasing anxiety and media speculation. This is terrible public relations management for the McCain campaign because the lack of access has led to idle speculation in the media that has fed into the storyline that "nobody knows who she is" or "there may be something else negative that she's hiding."

This lack of preparation extends to McCain's own spokespeople. Last night, one of McCain's spokesmen appeared on CNN's Election Center with Campbell Brown. She asked him to name one important decision Palin had made as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard. This seemed like a fair question, especially since the campaign was circulating that responsibility as one of her selling points. However, the spokesman was unable to provide one example for the audience and tried to pivot to a talking point about how "Sarah Palin had more executive experience than Barack Obama." Brown did not let him get away with this, however, but was professional about it as she gave the spokesman several chances to redeem himself. The McCain campaign then complained about the interview, citing unfairness, and canceled another CNN interview in protest.

These episodes are damaging to John McCain's campaign for several reasons:

1. They undercut his message of strength. John McCain is running as the strong leader who can keep America safe from terrorists and other threats abroad. However, he is too scared to stand up to CNN. That also undercuts Palin's own credentials as a tough woman who can stand up and fight and risks turning her selection into a gimmick.

2. The media narrative of Palin has progressed from brilliant to controversial to enigmatic. Now a lot of the luster has worn off of Palin and a lot of people have questions about her--questions that the McCain campaign should have been prepared to answer before they introduced her to the nation.

3. They have forced the McCain campaign to spend time debating why her limited government experience is more significant than Obama's limited government experience. Time the McCain campaign spends talking about how "she has more executive experience than Obama" is time the campaign is not spending talking about issues that are on actual voters' minds. The "experience" question is a wash that only runs out the clock and benefits Obama in the process because he's the candidate leading in the polls. There is no winner in the Obama-Palin experience debate, so McCain should get away from this discussion and move on.

4. They have raised the bar of expectations for Palin's speech at the convention tonight. Any mistakes she makes will be amplified. And she will have to answer a lot of questions.

5. They have called McCain's judgment into question. He had only met with Palin once before he made his selection, and there is still a lot of potentially damaging or embarrassing information out there that the campaign still doesn't know. One could then rightfully wonder if McCain would exercise a similar level of rashness or irresponsibility in the White House.

6. These episodes are overshadowing his own convention! This convention is supposed to be about John McCain, but it has turned into Sarah Palin's convention even though nobody knows who she is!

As I originally wrote in July, the McCain campaign has commonly criticized the media for paying too much attention to Barack Obama. But McCain certainly can't complain about not getting any media attention now. However, after a good start, he has totally botched the rollout of his running mate and has failed to take advantage of the increased attention that he should have anticipated. And now his campaign is suffering as a result.

Of course, Palin may deliver an excellent speech and allay many fears of conservatives and voters around the nation. But the vetting process will continue in the media, and the McCain campaign will not be able to keep her in a bubble far removed from the microphones and kleig lights. They had better figure out a way to manage the media before the media write her off. While he may not be able to control an inappropriately zealous press corps (as the Palin's daughter's pregnancy story suggests), he can at least control the messages his own campaign sends out and do so in a way that benefits his campaign.

9/02/2008

Unintended Consequences: Alaska's Senate and House Seats

Although Democrats are struggling with how to go on offense against her, the selection of Sarah Palin to be John McCain's running mate may have an unintended benefit for House and Senate Democrats. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has been hobbled by a federal investigation into alleged ethics violations and will face off against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Hopes for Stevens, who had just won the Republican primary, to fend of Begich are fading in light of ominous polls showing the mayor ahead of the veteran senator.

At first glance, Sarah Palin's presence on the national ticket would would seem to be a benefit for Alaska Republicans in that they would turn out in greater numbers to support their hometown hero. And that will probably happen. However, one of the central arguments for Palin's selection was that she was a reformer who cleaned up corruption in the state. As a result, she would be unable to endorse Stevens. Seeing that Palin is purported to represent everything that Stevens is against, it would highlight a rift between the two Republicans and likely leave Stevens with a diminished base of popular support.

The same could possibly be said of ethically challenged Congressman Don Young, who will have to hold off Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell. Palin endorsed Parnell, which, combined with Palin's nonendorsement of Stevens, burnishes Palin's profile as a bipartisan politician or an equal opportunity critic of corruption.

Palin's statewide popularity probably takes Alaska off the table for Barack Obama, even though polls have shown the race there to be more competitive than what would be expected. However, the corruption problems concerning the state's senior senator and lone congressman would likely lead to lots of ticket-splitting in which McCain-Palin would carry the state, Mark Begich would win a senate seat for Democrats, and Democrats would gain an unlikely house seat. Had Palin not been tapped by John McCain, both Stephens and Young could have made both contests local races. But the added media attention surrounding Palin will likely nationalize all statewide races and force her to choose sides. Unfortunately for Stevens and Young, that side is not Palin's side and both politicians stand to lose their races as a result.

9/01/2008

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.

8/27/2008

On Phony Narratives and Media Reponsibility

One of the enduring stories of the Democratic National Convention this week is what Hillary Clinton's supporters will do. Much has been made about the fact that a significant number of them have yet to rally behind Barack Obama. Popularly identified reasons for this have to do with Obama's perceived inability to connect with White working class voters, possible racism, and lingering resentment from Clinton supporters that the nomination was somehow stolen from her.

However, the media are doing Barack Obama, Democratic voters, the broader electorate, and even John McCain a great disservice by continuing to advance these storylines. A lot of the reasons cited for the disenchantment among Clinton loyalists are farcical, self-serving, and manipulative. And they betray the media's credibility when it comes to accurately examining why this is happening.

First of all, attrition is a natural phenomenon. It can be found when conducting a longitudinal experiment or when conducting follow-up surveys. You may start off with 50 subjects in an experiment only to finish with 40 a few months later. Is a researcher going to think the experiment has a fundamental flaw because he could not achieve a 0% attrition rate?

The same thing happens in politics. When a candidate drops out of a race, sometimes voters simply lose interest in the rest of the campaign because "their candidate" is all that mattered. It's not a knock against the other candidates in the race; they simply don't have an interest anymore. Why not respect that? Barack Obama has not necessarily done anything to turn these voters off. They simply might not be interested in Obama because he's not who they really wanted to have win the nomination. That's not an Obama weakness at all.

When the Republican primaries were in full force and candidates began dropping out of the race, how many stories were there about Fred Thompson's voters not lining up behind John McCain and Mitt Romney's voters not lining up behind Mike Huckabee? It's the exact same phenomenon. Maybe the Fredheads only wanted to vote for Fred Thompson. And once Fred Thompson was no longer in the race, his supporters would stay home. Even after the Republican race was decided, John McCain was still losing about 20% of the vote to Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul in the remaining primaries. Where were the stories of discontent back then?

Put another way, if you want to eat Chinese food, but the Chinese restaurant closed down and your only other in-town dining option is Italian food, is it not natural for some people to simply want to stay home and cook their own food? How is that the Italian restaurant's fault?

Secondly, by hyping up this segment of the electorate, the media are inflating that segment's importance. Perhaps 30% of Clinton's supporters are considering staying home or voting for John McCain. But to report on their disillusion day in and day out runs the risk of turning them into kingmakers when they really shouldn't be. Why are Clinton diehards more important than strongly devout Christians who are not voting Republican this year? Using the media's logic, John McCain should be worried about losing a quarter of the evangelical vote to Barack Obama, Barack Obama should be worried about losing 5% of the Black vote to John McCain, John McCain should be worried about losing 40% of the White male vote to Barack Obama, and Barack Obama should be worried about losing a third of the Latino vote to John McCain. Do the media honestly believe that one politician's supporters or any particular constituency is really 100% monolithic? Does the fact that Barack Obama is not winning over 100% of Clinton's supporters mean he must have "a problem" with the segment of the electorate she did well with?

The media's fomenting dissent by reporting on this lack of unity has caused John McCain to try and capitalize on it by reminding Clinton's supporters that Obama is not on their side. It seems to be smart politics on its face, as driving down enthusiasm among your opponent's supporters makes good electoral sense. However, the media may be doing John McCain a service by inflating the severity of the rift between Clinton and Obama because this could cause McCain to overplay his hand and come across as an ambulance chaser trying to console the inconsolable. And that undercuts his own image of being a maverick who doesn't pander.

And finally, the media, pundits, and surrogates on both sides are ignoring something very important. What if John McCain is simply more palatable to some Clinton supporters than Obama is? In Clinton's speech last night, she did not mention abortion rights and the Supreme Court. Her populist rhetoric and ability to connect with conservative Democrats made her unique among recent Democrats. Obama has not campaigned extensively on the grits and molasses circuit and is more outspokenly liberal on these social issues. So there may be a comfort gap between these voters and Obama. It's not because Obama is a flawed candidate. It may very well be because John McCain is more effective at communicating with them than he is. Likewise, Obama is eating into McCain's base of moderate suburban women. Where are the stories about McCain's struggles to staunch the political bleeding among the once-fabled security moms?

Media professionals should be careful not to buy into overly simplistic thinking and assign causality where such a relationship may not or does not exist. While this may be good for John McCain because it undercuts Barack Obama at his own convention, it is the media's responsibility to display a bit more accuracy and independence in their reporting and begin challenging popular assertions that come from people whose interests may directly conflict with traditional media imperatives.

8/16/2008

Lame Political Discourse: Stupid Criticism

Politicians must have thick skin. The very nature of their profession exposes all politicians to ridicule, confrontation, and scrutiny on a daily basis. If you take offense to every single barb thrown your way, you won't survive the campaign trail and the media circuit. However, there comes a point when criticism becomes so petty, unfounded, or downright stupid that the criticizers end up aiding their targets.

Last week, Barack Obama took a break from the campaign trail and spent a week in Hawaii. In addition to taking a break from his presidential campaign, he wanted to take care of his ailing grandmother who lives there. And even though Chicago may be Obama's political home base, Hawaii is his true home, as he was born in Honolulu.

Nevertheless, political analysts dissected his vacation destination. ABC's Cokie Roberts criticized Obama's Hawaii vacation as "foreign" and "exotic."

"[G]oing off this week to a vacation in Hawaii does not make any sense whatsoever. I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be in Myrtle Beach [South Carolina]...if he's going to take a vacation at this time."
(Hat tip: Political Realm)

At some point, pundits and critics cease making legitimate arguments and start criticizing for the sake of criticizing. This does everyone a great disservice and is a true indictment of the irresponsibility of the media.

Over the course of this campaign, Barack Obama has been attacked for his middle name, the fact that he's thin, his favorite foods, and the way he greets his wife. Now his birthplace is apparently a liability.

These kinds of lame attacks are not new. John Kerry's campaign provided the precursors to the current attacks on Obama. Kerry was maligned for windsurfing and "looking French." Of course, the goal of these attacks is to portray a politician as out of touch. "Regular people" don't windsurf. "Regular people" don't eat arugula. And now "regular people" don't take vacations in Hawaii, even if they were born there and have families there.

But there's a difference between a politician or surrogate making these attacks and an actual media professional doing so. What does it say about a politician, surrogate, pundit, or journalist who spends more time talking about the food a politician eats than how the politician plans to deal with the very real issues of taxes, illegal immigration, Iraq, the economy, and Supreme Court appointments? Is criticizing a politician for going home to be with his family what passes for political analysis these days?

However, these criticisms may ironically be improving Obama's electoral chances. We all know Barack Obama is a youthful, liberal Democrat. He already has the youth vote, the liberal vote, and most of the Democratic vote already locked up. However, if these kinds of banal attacks continue, he may also attract the support of voters who disagree with his politics, but view him as a means by which they can repudiate this kind of nonsense that emanates from the media and the punditry.

A John McCain victory may serve as a tacit endorsement or validation of this so-called "analysis" and ensure that it persists long after November. This is discouraging to voters who seek a bit more substance, logic, and depth in their political analysis. And the more the media throw out nonsense like Cokie Roberts' criticism of Hawaii, the greater the desire may become for something new. Barack Obama may provide them with a chance to achieve it.

8/08/2008

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.

8/05/2008

Lamentations of an Educated Voter: Media Malpractice

I was watching television with my wife last night while we were eating dinner. Pundits were still talking about possible racist overtones in John McCain's internet ad showing Barack Obama with Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears. The chief pundit then introduced two guests who had completely different views of the ad. When I saw whom the two guests were, I told my wife they were about to start shouting. And sure enough, they did.

"I didn't interrupt you when you were speaking, so don't interrupt me!"

"This is absurd. Are you serious?"

The conversation then degenerated into a discussion about phallic symbols in the campaign ad and how that was an implicit reminder of Black male sexuality and lust over White women. The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Washington Monument both appeared in the ad and were somehow construed as symbols of male sexual organs.

Aghast at what I was watching, the conversation descended yet again to another high-decibel waste of time.

"This is nothing more than the perpetuation of stereotypical Black sexual imagery and must be denounced!"

"Oh, please! That's garbage. You're just mad because Barack Obama finally got called out on playing the race card!"

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! One at a time!"

After explaining what they were arguing about to my wife, who hadn't heard all of the discussion, she then chimed in with her own bit of political commentary:

"They sound like a dog and a monkey. How did they get on TV?"

(A message to the politically correct crowd: My wife, who is Japanese, was using a Japanese expression that says when a dog and a monkey are placed together, they will only fight. Nobody is calling anyone a monkey.)

Anyway, we've been down this road before--too many times in fact. First we had flag pins. Then we had campaign staffers calling candidates "monsters." Then we had John Hagee, Michael Pflager, and Jeremiah Wright. Bowling scores made a cameo before Cindy McCain's cookie recipes took center stage. The "terrorist fist jab" was next. Then Michelle Obama's temperament. And Barack Obama's testicles. Then came the New Yorker magazine cover. And now we're wasting time yet again discussing whether the Washington Monument is comparable to a giant phallus and interpreting it as a sign of latent Black male sexuality. Are you serious?

The main reason why these stories are able to persist so long in the media is that the media simply can't let them go. John McCain's campaign made a clever ad that may have had certain undertones. Or maybe it didn't. Barack Obama tried to preempt the opposition regardless by warning voters that they (his political opponents) would try to smear him in the future using wedge issues. But he erred when he linked John McCain directly to these campaign tactics and paid a political price. We get it. And now we don't care anymore.

And yet, the media can't help themselves. Long after everyone has moved on, this story is still getting oxygen, much to the detriment of both the Obama and McCain campaigns. People who are not affiliated with either campaign whatsoever are now threatening to turn this stupid story into a full blown cultural war at a time when people of all political leanings are more worried about gas prices, retirement security, job losses, and Iraq instead of this nonsense, as Paris Hilton's mother and even John McCain's mother reminded us.

We know the media can't resist a good story. And we know the media love controversies. But at some point, the media need to learn that they don't exist for themselves. They exist for regular people who want to know what's happening in the world and on the campaign trail. The job of the media is to filter out the nonsense and report on what matters. Arguing about racial overtones in an ad is already borderline silly. Fortunately, that is at least a debatable issue. But to prolong this discussion by injecting comparisons between national landmarks and phalluses is jaw-droppingly stupid.

And it needs to stop.

The presidential election process is already bastardized enough by an inequitable primary calendar, an antiquated Electoral College, two out-of-touch political parties, and a crude 24-hour cable news cycle of gotcha journalism that magnifies the trivial and glosses over the substantial. The American people deserve far more than the petty shouting and schoolyard taunts we're subjected to on a daily basis. This is supposed to be an election for the single most powerful elected position in the world, but we're treating it like an episode of Jerry Springer or Melrose Place.

Shame on the media for feeding us this garbage, and shame on us for not demanding more from it. Where is the outrage?

7/30/2008

Ted Stevens and an Opportunity for McCain

Powerful Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has been indicted for concealing gifts and services and making false statements. Even though he claimed to be surprised by this, he had been under investigation for many months. Sen. Stevens is well known for the funding he is able to secure for his state, including the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."

On its face, this latest indictment couldn't have come at a worse time for Republicans who are still reeling from the 2006 midterm elections in which they were heavily punished for their ethical transgressions. Of course, Democrats were not without their ethical woes, but they paled in scope and number to Republicans, as is evidenced by Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, and Larry Craig. The Stevens indictment simply reminds voters of Republican corruption and makes Barack Obama's message of "change" and "new politics" a bit more resonant.

Veteran Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye defended Stevens and believed he was innocent. This is not surprising, seeing that both Inouye and Stevens are personal friends. To people outside of Washington, this simply comes across as sleazy Washington politicians protecting their own. This would be another advantage for Obama in that even though he is also a senator, he is not really seen as "Washington." This is a result of his short resume of federal service and Republican reminders that he was just a state senator in Springfield, Illinois, a few years ago.

Obama and congressional Democrats can easily use this indictment for fundraising and another example of why it's important to help elect more Democrats to stamp out the "culture of corruption" they ran against in 2006. And for disaffected voters, they may be more inclined to respond favorably to Obama's "I'm not part of them" image.

However, this news also presents a unique opportunity for John McCain. McCain now has a golden opportunity to burnish his maverick image and fiscal conservative credentials. McCain should be on the campaign trail everyday criticizing Stevens for his waste and lack of ethics. That would instantly grab media headlines because it would show that McCain is standing up to his own unpopular party. That would make McCain look more like an outsider, a reformer, a leader, and yes, an "agent of change."

Outrage from Barack Obama and Democrats is predictable. It's dog bites man. Democrats criticize Republicans all the time. The line between sincere outrage and mere partisan reflexes is blurry enough to blunt the potency of their criticisms.

Outrage from the Republican presidential nominee, however, would be a lot rarer. It's man bites dog. Republicans don't publicly criticize Republicans unless their names are Ron Paul or Tom Coburn.

In short, Ted Stevens is yet one more headache for Republicans, but a political gift for John McCain. For a candidate who is looking to get more out of the media and temporarily change the narrative from Iraq and the economy, this is a perfect opportunity for him should he be courageous enough to take it.

7/15/2008

The Obama Caricatures Revisited

The liberal magazine The New Yorker provided the latest bit of controversy with the cover of its latest issue. If you haven't seen this provocative cover by now, you can access it here.

The New Yorker essentially took every false impression of Obama and meshed them together into cover art that can accurately be described as brilliant, tasteless, courageous, and slanderous. While some may have found this cover tasteless or irresponsible, cries for censorship seem a bit overboard and will not gain much traction.

Voters who understand satire know what this cover is all about. Barack HUSSEIN Obama is dressed as a proud Arab Muslim while an angry-looking Michelle Obama is dressed as a radical Black militant with a machine gun and an afro. Both are doing a "terrorist fist jab," as opposed to a more benign fist bump. No flag lapel pin is to be found on Obama's shirt, but an American flag is burning in the fireplace under a portrait of Osama bin Laden, whom Obama reveres. After all, Obama is an unpatriotic terrorist sympathizer who has no allegiance to the United States and can't wait to destroy this nation from within.

The New Yorker's combination of satire and hyperbole should (emphasis on "should") lead voters to realize that these persistent rumors about Obama are completely unfounded and that this caricature of him is obviously both invalid and silly. However, voters who didn't buy into these Muslim rumors to begin with or who later arrived at the truth about Obama didn't need this magazine cover to prove these rumors false. Also, it is important to note once again that The New Yorker is a liberal magazine. Obama's liberal base would be more likely to read this magazine than other voters, but they were already comfortable with Obama and understand the satirical aspect of the cover. So that begs the question of exactly who The New Yorker's audience was. (Imagine the outrage if a conservative publication like the National Review had used this cover!)

Notice my use of the word "should" in the previous paragraph. Remember, this nation is not long removed from "freedom fries," accusing people who disagreed with President Bush's war policies of being "against America," and viewing flag pins as the only unequivocal way to express one's patriotism. But these voters don't read The New Yorker. Many of them have probably never even heard of it. And they probably weren't going to vote for Obama either. These voters will probably look at this provocative magazine cover and conclude that his lack of forcefully denouncing it means the caricature must be true. Obama can't win with these voters and shouldn't waste his time with them.

Yes, a significant part of the electorate is decidedly anti-Obama for reasons that are unrelated to his liberal ideology. Think about all the advantages a generic Democrat has over a generic Republican on issue after issue in most polls. There's an unpopular war, a shaky economy, an unpopular two-term Republican president, and greater dissatisfaction among voters with the Republican Party. But Barack Obama the candidate is only barely beating John McCain the candidate. So it would seem that Obama's underperformance in spite of so many favorable indicators to the contrary is at least partially due to an anti-Muslim, anti-Black vote. The anti-liberal vote doesn't care one iota about Obama or The New Yorker either, but at least their opposition is more benign.

The danger for Obama is that these kinds of stories only get people talking about the very stuff Obama is trying to avoid--not because he's a closet Muslim radical, but rather because it takes him off message. He would much rather talk about his plan for the economy and Afghanistan than how offended he was by some magazine cover. And because Obama is still new to the political scene, voters are still forming their impressions of him as a politician. Surely, he would rather define himself than have others define him the way Tony Rezko, Jeremiah Wright, Michael Pfleger, Wesley Clark, Jesse Jackson, and now The New Yorker have done with varying degrees of success.

As for political ramifications, this controversy is not good news for Hillary Clinton either. Some of her campaign volunteers were responsible for spreading some of these rumors before the Iowa caucuses last fall. And Clinton herself did not definitively swat down rumors about Obama's religion by claiming that he was not a Muslim "as far as she knew." In other words, her veepstakes odds may have become a little longer.

Of course, the fact that people are at least talking about this magazine cover is good for society because dialogue breeds understanding. Anytime the nation talks about ethics and race, progress is being made. Obama's candidacy is forcing everyone to reassess issues of race, religion, and gender.

Also, as an unintended advantage for Obama, voters who disagree with his politics may support him regardless because they view his election as a means by which they can repudiate the media, the punditry, and tabloid journalism in general. They might not like his politics, but they are fed up with the sideshows, phony outrage, misplaced priorities, insincere retractions, and forced expressions of contrition that have plagued this campaign season.

Having said all that, this controversy illustrates another problem with the nexus of politics, the media, and voters.

When voters complain about their politicians not offering enough specifics, media feeding frenzies like this magazine cover are often to blame. Until voters demand more from their politicians and audiences demand more from the media, it will only be a matter of days before the nation is distracted yet again by another surrogate- or media-induced controversy. Politics should be about governance, but it is treated as an extended soap opera in which people spend more time dissecting and anticipating missteps than actually analyzing their policies. Our short attention spans are exploited by the media whenever they seize on these distractions.

At what point will voters and the media stop focusing on these sideshows? Why should anybody care what Pundit X, Talking Head Y, and the staff at Media Organization Z think? This campaign should be about Barack Obama's and John McCain's plans for the nation. Our political discussion should be about the economy, taxes, immigration, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Supreme Court, domestic spending, and foreign policy. But this pragmatism is nowhere to be found, as the campaigns have come to be defined by flag pins, fist bumps, cooking recipes, genitalia, Vietnam, pastors, White entitlement, and now magazine covers. Again, while it is good that the nation is discussing issues of race, gender, and religion, even if awkwardly, it must be stated that the way in which our nation's political dialogue can so easily be derailed by peripheral matters is doing everyone a great disservice.

7/14/2008

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

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

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

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

That's politics. Fine.

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

"Consumers who paid their bills on time never had to worry about subprime mortgages. Consumers with tight wallets who bought board games or comic books for Christmas instead of DVD players and laptop computers aren't worrying about paying down credit card debt. Lower-income consumers who are driving Corollas instead of Camrys and station wagons instead of SUVs aren't worrying about expensive car insurance and high car payments."
Gas prices notwithstanding, Gramm was likely arguing that consumers should live within their means and that those who haven't been doing so are really feeling the pinch now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Phil Gramm.

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

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

7/11/2008

The Jesse Jackson Gaffe in Context

Jesse Jackson stepped in it again this week by criticizing Barack Obama during what he thought was a private conversation. He was a guest on a Fox News political program and was talking with another Black guest when he was off the air. However, his microphone was still on and the remarks were caught on tape. Jackson was complaining about Obama's support for faith-based initiatives and accused him of "talking down to Black people." In an unfortunate moment of bravado, he then told the other guest that he "wanted to cut Obama's nuts off." Jackson has since apologized for his "crude remarks," but the damage had already been done, and not to Barack Obama. This story proved to be a bit too sensitive for male journalists to cover, as this humorous compilation reveals. (Hat tip: TV Newser)

What is happening regarding Black leaders of yesteryear like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton is nothing new, but the media have been slow to catch on. I first mentioned how Barack Obama represented a changing of the guard more than a year ago in regards to Al Sharpton:

What does Sharpton do when his role within the Black political community and the Black community in general is diminished? What does Sharpton do when he does not have to be kowtowed to in order to deliver the crucial Black vote for Democratic candidates? What does Sharpton do when he has such a long history of civil rights activism and is treated like a gadfly only to watch a first term senator come out of nowhere and be so unbelievably well received?

What does any animal do when it feels threatened? It lashes out. And that's why Sharpton is worried.
Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are the media-anointed spokesmen for the Black community. However, many Blacks don't believe Jackson and Sharpton speak for them. Blacks are not a monolithic voting bloc at all. They overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, but often have conservative values. These values include self-reliance and personal responsibility.

Jackson and Sharpton run contrary to this philosophy. While the history and effects of institutionalized racism and discrimination in America can never be forgotten, a growing number of Blacks are tired of simply blaming White injustices for the ills in their communities. Citing racism as the reason why you dropped out of school, discrimination as the reason why your child is a drug addict, and the lack of reparations as the reason why your neighborhood is riddled with gang violence doesn't hold water. Blacks want to improve their communities and realize that even though they don't have control over government policy (except at the ballot box), they do have control over themselves.

Many Blacks, including national figures such as Colin Powell and Bill Cosby, have spoken out about the need for Black men to be more involved in their children's lives and for Black children to stay in school. These people have been criticized by the Jackson wing of the Black community for "acting White" or having "a lack of pride in their Blackness," but this resistance is getting weaker and weaker. Even though it may be a tough message for some people to hear, it is a message of truth that cannot be disputed. Barack Obama is only the latest leader to remind Blacks that there comes a time when you simply have to stop blaming others for the mistakes you make.

The political consequences of Jackson's remarks are obvious. Obama benefits anytime he is criticized by people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Jackson and Sharpton are seen by many Whites and Republicans as radical Black leftists. Falling out of favor with them makes Obama look reasonable by comparison and works against the caricature of him as an angry race-baiting liberal closet Black Muslim. By extension, that helps put more distance between him and the likes of Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright, thus further increasing his appeal among Whites. It also makes Obama look more moderate because Jackson is seen as one of the figureheads of the liberal fringe. Jackson's complaints do not reveal any real danger on Obama's left flank because these Black voters are going to vote for him in November anyway.

Jackson's stature within the Black community is diminished. He did nothing to help his cause with his macho talk during what he thought was a private moment. Blacks who have grown tired of the same old arguments are only going to be more drawn to Obama's message of taking responsibility rather than simply complaining about still not receiving their forty acres and a mule. Older Blacks may be more receptive to Jackson's message, but there is a growing generation gap that consists of younger Blacks whose lives were not shaped by the civil rights movement and desegregation and older Blacks who still remember what it was like to have to drink from "colored-only" water fountains and endure blatant racism as they walked down the street. Racism obviously still exists and is a serious problem, but this new generation of Blacks, starting with Obama's generation, is less inclined to buy into the traditional arguments about race relations that have been debated for decades without arriving at a meaningful consensus.

Obama's candidacy has advantaged this nation by forcing people of all races to reassess race. He is forcing people not just to merely consider the prevalence or perpetrators of racism in today's society, but also how we can discuss it intelligently and arrive at new solutions. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton don't offer any of this, and that is why their relevancy is restricted to journalists who are too lazy to search for new Black voices who offer new messages and new ideas.

7/10/2008

The Veepstakes: Mark Sanford

One name that keeps being mentioned as a rising political star is South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican currently serving his second term. Sanford may be the governor of a relatively small state, but he is far from a political unknown. After George Allen's "macaca" meltdown, some pundits looked to Sanford to fill the void left by the former Virginia senator as a consensus conservative by running for president this year. There were even a few Draft Sanford movements online that persist to this day.

Sanford is young, handsome, a Washington outsider, and a strong fiscal conservative. The anti-tax wing of the GOP would love to see him on the ticket. He is also a small government Republican with a libertarian streak. So he would appear to complement John McCain in that regard.

However, he might not be the best pick for McCain because even though Sanford is a relatively popular second-term governor, he will likely have a lot of explaining to do for his South Carolina record. The problem isn't so much Sanford as it is the legislature he has to work with. His libertarianism has been a common source of friction between him and the state legislature. The South Carolina legislature routinely overrides his vetoes and behaves in such a way that polarizes large segments of the state's population. So the legislature's antics are marring Sanford's record.

South Carolina's government is overwhelmingly Republican. The lieutenant governorship and all statewide offices are controlled by Republicans. The only Democratic statewide office holder is Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. Republicans have a 73-51 advantage in the state house and a 27-19 advantage in the state senate. Both senators and four out of the six congressmen are Republicans. So Democratic opposition can't really be blamed for South Carolina's ills.

For example, the South Carolina legislature recently passed a bill allowing Christians to profess their faith by the creation of a license plate displaying a cross and the words "I Believe." The bill passed the legislature unanimously and became law without Governor Sanford's signature. (Many legislators thought it was a bad bill, but nobody wanted to see their name in an attack ad claiming "they voted against God.") Opponents of the bill have filed a lawsuit claiming that this license plate violates the separation of church and state because similar license plates for other faiths do not exist and would have to meet far more restrictions before being approved, such as not being able to incorporate any text.

South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer even offered to personally pay the $4000 fee required by the Department of Motor Vehicles to begin production of the plates. In light of the potential lawsuit, Bauer remained defiant:

"We're not going to back down. We're going to fight for a change. I'm tired of seeing Christians back down in fear of a lawsuit."
It is worth noting that South Carolina has a very strong evangelical Christian presence. Blue laws are still enforced, as some businesses are not allowed to open before 1:30pm on Sundays. Sunday alcohol sales were prohibited until voters finally overturned that law at the ballot box this spring. Legislation banning sex toys even made it to the house floor two years ago.

Knowing the history of Christian conservative influence on South Carolina's government, this license plate controversy should not come as a surprise. But should Sanford be tapped to be McCain's running mate, he will likely have to take a stance on the license plate issue at the risk of exacerbating McCain's problems with the evangelical wing of the party or alienating the moderates and independents he desperately needs. These moderates and independents (and even some conservatives) are devout Christians, but many of them are also increasingly uncomfortable with the blurring of the lines between politics and faith. This could also bolster Barack Obama because his message of inclusion and unity could contrast with the South Carolina legislature's polarization. Sanford would also have to explain why he never signed (or vetoed) the bill or why he couldn't keep his lieutenant governor in check.

To be fair, Mark Sanford has tried to control the legislature with his veto pen, but the legislature commonly overrides his vetoes and enacts policies that are fiscally unwise or otherwise divisive. This doesn't matter to Sanford's political opponents because they will claim that as the chief executive of the state, ultimate responsibility for the state rests with him.

It is also worth noting that Sanford did not endorse McCain before the South Carolina primary in January. McCain narrowly won that contest, but by not endorsing him when he needed it most, Sanford likely lost a bit of his clout in the McCain camp. He did eventually endorse McCain, but by then, absent an unbelievable comeback by Mike Huckabee, it was clear McCain would be the nominee. By contrast, Florida Governor Charlie Crist endorsed McCain shortly before the hotly contested Florida primary, thus burnishing his standing with McCain through his loyalty.

Looking at the electoral map, Sanford doesn't do much more than solidify Republican support in the South. However, the South is the base of the GOP. If McCain is unable to carry this region on his own, then he has a serious problem that cannot be remedied with Sanford or any other candidate. At the very best, Sanford could make it a bit tougher for Barack Obama to pick off North Carolina and Georgia, but Sanford will be of little help in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

His fiscal conservatism should help McCain win New Hampshire, but again, that is a state that McCain should be competitive in without any help. After all, he won that state's Republican primary in 2000 and 2008. So all in all, Sanford is neither an offensive nor defensive pick. He doesn't help hold Republican states that are significantly threatened (he won't be of much help in Virginia or Ohio) and he doesn't help McCain pick up vulnerable Democratic ones either (e.g., Pennsylvania).

In addition to this, Sanford's national profile is a bit too low. Voters outside of the South know very little about him. The brand of Republicanism he and his legislature practiced in South Carolina may make these voters less comfortable with McCain because South Carolina Republicanism is very different from the more moderate brand of Republicanism one can see in Colorado or Wisconsin. Democrats will probably attempt to tie Sanford to the evangelical wing of the party, thus making a McCain-Sanford ticket less appealing in the competitive states McCain needs to win. Running up the score in Kentucky and Alabama will not get him to 270.

All in all, Mark Sanford may look like a strong contender on paper, but he appears to introduce a lot of controversies that McCain can ill afford. Unfortunately for Sanford, many of these controversies are not due to his own actions, but rather to the tribalistic actions of the state legislature he has limited control over. And because his endorsement was "a day late and a dollar short," he would not appear to have the inside track to the vice presidential nomination. The fact that he doesn't do much to expand McCain's map the way Mitt Romney, Tom Ridge, or Tim Pawlenty does should serve as another disqualifying factor.

(For two very comprehensive and well written South Carolina blogs, I recommend reading The Palmetto Scoop and Elonkey.)

Next installment: Joe Biden

7/01/2008

The Wesley Clark Gaffe in Context

Due to his military service, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threat of terrorism, national security is John McCain's calling card and is the one issue where he outpolls rival Barack Obama. Using the strategy perfected by Karl Rove of attacking an opponent's strength, McCain's military service has been sharply criticized by both the right and the left. CNN commentator Jack Cafferty even wondered if McCain's military service is overrated.

Former General Wesley Clark created a firestorm of controversy last weekend when he criticized John McCain's presidential leadership ability:

"I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility."
CBS's Bob Schieffer then reminded Clark that Barack Obama did not have this experience either to which Clark quipped, "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

Republicans and the McCain campaign immediately called on Obama to repudiate Clark's remarks. In addition to putting Obama on the defensive, Wesley Clark likely took himself out of contention to be his running mate.

Given the bluntness of his remarks, Republican outrage was predictable (although they may be overplaying their hand by using this as an opportunity to attack Clark's military record in return). However, what is lost in the ensuing political posturing, denouncements, and expressions of outrage is the actual message Clark was trying to convey.

Wesley Clark was arguing that getting captured by enemy forces has no correlation with executive leadership. And even though this may be impolitic to say, he makes a valid point. The fact that McCain endured torture and made it home alive without dishonoring his uniform or the nation he served obviously makes him a hero worth everyone's respect. But at the same time, the fact that he got shot down and captured by the enemy has no bearing whatsoever on his ability to be President. Wesley Clark was arguing that executive judgment and being the victim of an enemy attack have no relationship. It's obviously difficult criticizing a former POW on anything related to the military, but this point is at least worth considering.

Having your house broken into does not make you an authority on home security measures. (It does, however, make you uniquely qualified to talk about the impact of crime.)

Being diagnosed with a terminal illness does not make you an authority on cutting edge medical research. (It does, however, make you uniquely qualified to talk about the effect of such an illness on families.)

Having to apply for food stamps does not make you an authority on entitlement reform. (It does, however, make your perspective on the reasons why people need federal assistance a bit more credible.)

Wesley Clark is arguing that being captured by enemy forces makes John McCain an authority on talking about the demands faced by our armed forces in combat, not on executive leadership. The problem is, even though Clark's argument is valid, it is politically foolish because criticizing McCain's military service only reinforces Barack Obama's lack of military service and shifts the conversation back to McCain's strength. Also, time Obama has to spend defending McCain's war record and distancing himself from his surrogates is time not being spent hammering Republicans on the economy.

Interestingly, this conjures up the 2004 presidential campaign when John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, had his patriotism and military credentials impugned by people who had never even worn the uniform. George Bush, who never served in a combat zone, was seen as tougher on national security than McCain in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. It seems that McCain learned the lessons of hardball politics and the art of swiftboating and was determined not to become their latest casualty.

Barack Obama never served in the military. He was too young to be drafted during the Vietnam War and spent most of his adulthood living during peaceful times. Obama himself has been quite civil and respectful regarding McCain's military service and even turning it into a pivot by reminding voters of McCain's flawed judgment as it pertains to the chaos in Iraq. But as the fallout from Clark's remarks illustrates, attacking one's military credentials is risky business, no matter how valid the point may be. A bit more tact on behalf of Wesley Clark may have led the media to question the actual substance of his remarks rather than the way the remarks were delivered.

Score one for John McCain.

6/28/2008

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.

6/25/2008

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.

6/23/2008

Echoes of Katrina: A Case for Conservatism

The major weather story this month concerns the terrible flooding in the Midwest. Torrential rains upstream have caused what is now being described as a 500-year flood. Communities all along the Mississippi River are being destroyed by floodwaters racing through breaches in levees, some of which may have been unacceptably weak to begin with. Dozens of lives have been lost and losses from crops and businesses total in the billions.

The biggest tragedy, however, is that many residents affected by these floods had no flood insurance. Some of them didn't feel they needed it. Others said they were "misled" by federal authorities who suggested they didn't need it. And others still believed the levees in their communities would protect them from the rivers nearby.

This introduces a teachable moment that shows the appeal of conservatism and the role of individuals in society. The inspiration for this blog post came from a well reasoned defense of conservatism written by Rick Frea over at Freadom Nation. In short, Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires last fall should have taught homeowners everywhere about the importance of taking precautions.

But apparently, these lessons were lost on those who most needed to hear them.

A house is the single most important and most valuable investment a person will make in his lifetime. Not purchasing adequate insurance seems illogical at best and irresponsible at worst. If you live on a floodplain near a river that periodically overflows, you need to purchase flood insurance.

Purchasing a home without purchasing insurance is akin to driving an expensive car without insurance. It might save you a little money to drive without insurance each month, but when you get in an accident or get pulled over by the police for a traffic violation, all the money you saved by skimping on insurance is more than offset by having to pay a hefty no-insurance fee or having to pay for a new car out of pocket. And no matter how careful a driver you are, there are times when accidents and poor drivers are simply unavoidable.

This is the conservative position. Because these families were negligent, they have lost everything. Many of them are blaming FEMA and the government for not telling them they needed to purchase flood insurance. But you shouldn't need the government to tell you that. If you live near a major river that has flooded before and is likely to flood again, you have no one to blame but yourself when the inevitable happens. This flood has affected both liberal and conservative counties in Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. And liberals and conservatives alike are blaming the government for not protecting them. But whose fault is that?

One of the criticisms of conservatism is that it is too harsh or insensitive, particularly when it comes to personal responsibility, self-reliance, and helping those in need. However, what can be said for people who are knowingly negligent? Should responsible homeowners in other parts of the United States be forced to use their tax dollars to subsidize the negligence of uninsured homeowners who should have known better?

The frequent rains should have given these homeowners and river communities sufficient warning. The flooding in Wisconsin should have given at-risk communities downstream sufficient warning. Hurricane Katrina should have given waterfront communities everywhere sufficient warning. The historic floods of 1993 should have given residents of these low-lying areas sufficient warning.

And yet, so many homeowners didn't heed these warnings.

These communities should rebuild, just as New Orleans should rebuild. After all, if these communities disappear and people move away from the Mississippi River and its surrounding floodplains, who will manage our shipping lanes? Who will plant our corn, raise our livestock, and grow our wheat?

Natural disasters are unavoidable, and they can happen anywhere. There are earthquakes on the West Coast, hurricanes in the Southeast, wildfires in the West, blizzards in the Northeast, tornadoes in the Great Plains, and flooding near any river. But home is home, so it may not be practical for a person to simply pack up and move. But even though you may be at the mercy of nature, you should at least have the wisdom to protect yourself, your family, and your home by making sure you have the proper insurance.

Perhaps liberalism would have helped protect these homeowners by providing them with appropriate flood maps, building subsidies, insurance requirements, and levee improvements as Barack Obama has criticized John McCain for not supporting. But part of the beauty of being an American is that even though we may need help at times, we are ultimately the masters of our own domain. And nothing good could be said of a government or a nation that must take it upon itself to protect its own people from themselves.

The Republican brand may be damaged, but with the right messenger, conservatism could find a larger audience.

6/18/2008

On Political Opportunism and Manufactured Controversies

The 2008 presidential campaign is turning out to be the campaign of surrogates and guilt by association. John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many other candidates have had to apologize for and/or distance themselves from some of their supporters who have made provocative, embarrassing, or downright offensive remarks. Some of these transgressions and embarrassments happened on the campaign trail, as was the case with Black Entertainment Television founder and Clinton supporter Bob Johnson who alluded to Barack Obama's past drug use. In other instances, the controversial remarks happened several years in the past, as was the case with Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor.

Some of these remarks are truly outrageous and deserve to be covered by the media. Any politician affiliated with a person who makes such remarks should rightfully be prepared to explain them. However, we appear to have reached a level of hypersensitivity and absurdity in which feigned outrage stems from truly stupid remarks that nobody should really care about, such as former Obama adviser Samantha Power's calling Hillary Clinton a monster. She was subsequently fired after the Clinton campaign pounced on the remarks as crude.

The fallout from these incidents should serve as a fair warning to all candidates that in the first YouTube presidential campaign, all of their words and all of the words of anyone moderately associated with them are fair game. For better or worse, any surrogate who has engaged in the slightest bit of impropriety or who had made an embarrassing remark 10 years ago will be scrutinized carefully.

In the grand scheme of things, these silly stories don't matter much. Now that both nomination races are settled and there are only two candidates to cover instead of ten, journalists have far less material to work with. Naturally, that means every minor transgression, misstatement, contradiction, or embarrassment is going to be scrutinized heavily by the media. This may be good for partisans and political junkies who care about such minutia, but it is ultimately unimportant and provides a great disservice to the broader electorate. Even worse, it seems as if the media are trying to create dustups and controversies on their own just to give politicians something to respond to, no matter how stupid it is, and shape the political dialogue rather than having the candidates shape it themselves.

Exhibit A: One of the media storylines gaining traction is the idea that Barack Obama is having trouble with White voters, and especially White women. The primary results in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky confirmed this. As a result, Obama has had to work a bit harder to appeal to these so-called Reagan Democrats lest he risk losing them to John McCain.

But why is this such big news? Democrats in general tend to do worse among White voters than Republicans do. People of color and immigrants are more likely to view the Democratic Party as friendly and receptive to their interests. So if Barack Obama is having such trouble attracting White voters, why won't the media examine why John McCain is having such trouble with Black voters or evangelical voters? Or is Obama's inability to attract support from one group of voters more significant than McCain's?

An alternative explanation for Obama's troubles is Rush Limbaugh's Operation Chaos in which Republicans were encouraged to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries in an attempt to drag out the contest and have Clinton and Obama continue to bloody each other up while McCain sat on the sidelines and conserved his resources. These voters were never going to vote for Obama in November. But they were never going to vote for Clinton either. Now there are polls saying that a significant number of her supporters are considering staying home or voting for McCain. Some of these voters are indeed dejected or angry over Clinton's loss. But surely others don't really care because these voters weren't loyal to Clinton to begin with. Perhaps it is only lending greater credence to Limbaugh and his influence, but the fact that this idea hasn't received greater follow-up coverage is unfortunate.

Exhibit B: Shortly after Obama clinched the nomination, he assembled a team that would be responsible for spearheading his search for a running mate. This happens all the time and is usually of no consequence. However, the leader of this search team, Jim Johnson, had ties to the subprime loan industry and received controversial housing loans.

This was a poor political decision by Obama because it contradicted his message of change, transparency, and decent governance. Republicans, the media, and McCain's campaign pounced on this as an example of "poor judgment," and Johnson soon resigned from the team.

Obama lamented that we had reached the point in our politics where we had to "vet the vetters." He has a point because should he win the election, how will he be able to appoint people to his cabinet and various administrative offices if anyone who has any blemishes or scuff marks from dealing with Washington is automatically disqualified? Almost every politician is tied to a lobbyist, a corporation that has engaged in questionable business practices, or a major donor/fundraiser whose contributions might not be entirely clean. Unless Obama is going to bring in a truckload of outsiders who know nothing about how things actually get done in Washington and have no relationships with anybody in Washington at all, this controversy regarding Johnson is going to come back up over and over again.

And if Jim Johnson is going to be criticized for having ties to the seedy subprime loan industry, should McCain adviser Carly Fiorina not be criticized as well for her business ties to Iran?

Exhibit C: After Jeremiah Wright, Bob Johnson, Jim Johnson, and "monster" comments, everyone should have been put on notice that the spotlight on everyone's surrogates and their surrogates' histories was real.

Despite this, John McCain foolishly scheduled a fundraiser with Texas Republican Clayton Williams, who once said that if women were being raped, "they might as well just lie back and enjoy it." These remarks are obviously offensive and indefensible. However, Williams made these remarks in 1990. So one would think the statue of limitations has run out on these remarks. But in today's political climate, that was not going to happen. Once Democrats and the media found out about this, the outrage forced McCain to cancel the fundraiser.

What were once questions about Obama's "judgment" suddenly became questions about McCain's "judgment." However, the McCain campaign should have learned that if they wanted to attack someone for their surrogates' ties, they were giving free reign for their opponents to attack them for the very same thing. This is why they should not have been surprised when the controversy surrounding Williams blew up in their faces. And now McCain risks giving this story legs by claiming ignorance of these remarks and not returning Williams' campaign contributions. Whatever happened to "repudiate" and "denounce?"

But this is all political wrangling. Lost in all of the noise is the fact that neither politician was directly involved in these transgressions. They were wounded by surrogates and people who were only tangentially related to their campaigns. It is true that you can learn a lot about a person by the company he keeps, but at what point does genuine and legitimate outrage become political opportunism, media hypersensitivity, or a failure of journalism?

Most of these guilt by association stories are certainly not the best use of journalists' time, but that is the sorry state of journalism today. Journalists and politicians are outraged over the wrong things. And perhaps because the nomination races are settled and there's not as much news to cover, the lack of news is causing journalists to be a bit less selective in regards to what they cover. And when they do cover something, they often fail to dig a little deeper and instead opt to manufacture their own controversies to advance convenient media storylines. And that's a shame.

6/12/2008

Gas Prices: A Failure of Conservatism

Gas prices have become one of the most important political issues this year. When the average price of a gallon of gas first reached $2 a gallon, there was shock. When they reached $3 a gallon, there was disbelief. And now they have topped $4 a gallon. People are suffering. Small businesses are suffering. Truckers are suffering. Farmers are suffering. Airlines are suffering. Everyone is suffering.

Last month I wrote about the absurdity of the gas tax holiday that John McCain has proposed. (Hillary Clinton also proposed this, but she's not a candidate anymore.) I argued that repealing the gas tax (currently 18.4 cents per gallon) would only encourage more consumers to buy more gas at a time when we're complaining about our dependence on foreign oil. Reducing our consumption of foreign oil and making gas cheaper by temporarily eliminating a fuel tax are not reconcilable.

To drive down gas prices, you only have two choices: increase supply or reduce demand. Repealing the gas tax does neither. Increasing supply can be done, but it is not a short term solution. Drilling in Alaska, the Mountain West, and the continental shelf along the Gulf of Mexico will take several years before the oil there makes it into our automobiles. Energy analyst Chris Nelder of Energy and Capital is skeptical about the overall value of these solutions for similar reasons.

The only short term solutions center around reducing demand. And this is where conservatism, and to a lesser extent liberalism, has failed.

Regarding the failure of liberalism, liberals would argue that high gas prices should drive down demand, thus leading to a greener environment. With slumping SUV sales, perhaps this is happening now. But it came too late for many people--at least as far as their wallets are concerned. When gas was a then astronomical $3 a gallon, Americans were still driving just as much as they were five years ago when gas prices were much lower. So in theory, while high gas prices should steer people more towards conservation or purchasing more fuel efficient vehicles, it has not happened in a timely enough fashion to avoid the current economic disaster taking place. And could the economy really sustain itself if people are forced to pay an artificially high price for gas? And how many people are willing to put the well being of the environment ahead of the well being of their personal finances?

Having said this, conservatism and the principles it supports are where I find the most fault. Here's why:

There are several reasons why the United States is having to grapple with such high fuel prices. The economies of China and India are growing, the distribution of oil supplies from the Middle East is disrupted, the dollar is weak, no new refineries have been built in the United States for decades, and there are untapped areas rich in domestic supplies of oil that we have not yet taken advantage of. Most people can agree on this.

There's another reason, however, why gas is so expensive. But nobody wants to talk much about it. It's us. And our consumer behavior regarding gas has given conservatism a black eye. (For a well written contrary view to this post, read this piece by Rick Frea at Freadom Nation.)

Increasing fuel standards for American automobile manufacturers has long been offered as a solution to rising gas prices. But the automobile industry has railed against this because they feared it would increase production costs and make their products less competitive. The major industrial areas of the Midwest and cities like Detroit would be particularly hard hit, so they have resisted increasing fuel standards.

Conservatives favor little or no government intervention when it comes to the market. "Letting the free market decide" is a common rallying cry by laissez faire capitalists and economic conservatives. It sounds good in principle. Businesses should have the freedom and flexibility to adapt to consumers' needs. But how has that turned out?

American automobile manufacturers are losing ground to imports, especially from Japan. Japanese companies tend to make smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles. Trucks and SUVs, while popular, are not as critical to the success of companies like Honda and Toyota. These companies make the top selling and fuel efficient Accord, Camry, Civic, and Corolla. They also led the way with hybrid cars like the Prius. American companies manufactured larger, more powerful, less fuel efficient vehicles. The Ford F-150 full-sized truck is the top selling vehicle in America, but its sales are slowing and Toyota has since become the #2 automaker in America as a result.

The increase in gas prices is pushing consumers to buy smaller cars. This is great for the environment, but it is bad for the companies that are making the vehicles people no longer want to buy. This means plants are closing. And when plants close, jobs disappear. Average blue-collar workers do not think about economic speculation and market forces when it comes to hitting the resume circuit. They're thinking about landing a job. And now these jobs are disappearing. So decisions made in corporate boardrooms about their product lineups have forced thousands of people out of work.

When gas was less expensive, people were happy driving large vehicles, some of which they may not have needed. They bought Hummers. They bought trucks. They bought SUVs. And they were not towing anything. And instead of driving these vehicles off road, they were driving them to the shopping mall or to soccer practice. Now they are feeling the pinch as they pay $60 or $70 to fill up their tanks.

At this point, conservatives would say there's nothing wrong. "Personal accountability," right? That is true. If you bought a gas guzzling Ford Explorer instead of a Ford Taurus, that's your responsibility. But this decision affects far more than just the family who bought such a vehicle. That extra $50 an unhappy SUV owner is spending at the gas pump is $50 they are not spending at a local restaurant, a small business, a department store, or a shopping mall. And that means small business owners are taking in less revenue, thus making it more difficult for them to compete with larger corporations that are also hit. So that translates into even more job losses because businesses become less profitable and have to cease operations at some sites. So in short, one person's poor choice can have ramifications that reach far beyond their own wallet. Put another way, the effects of "personal accountability" are not so "personal."

What about people who purchased SUVs and are still making payments on them even though the amount they still owe is greater than the rapidly depreciating value of their SUV? So these people can't sell their SUVs because nobody wants to buy them, but they must continue making the monthly payments to protect their credit rating. This would be another example of "personal accountability" or perhaps even "not living within one's means," but like in the previous example I cited, that is further decreasing the amount of money consumers can pump into the economy. They have less money to get a mortgage, buy a smaller car, or purchase a big-ticket item like a television. And the dominoes start falling again.

And what about small car owners? Consumers who drive smaller, more economical vehicles are paying more at the pump partly because other consumers who drive larger gas guzzling vehicles they don't need are placing a disproportionately high demand on gas. Conservatives would argue that the small car owners are doing the right thing and that how much gas you need should determine how much you should pay. But if more people were driving smaller cars, there would be more gas available (the supply would increase) and gas would therefore be cheaper. This sentiment is shared by Mike at The Pluribus Driver.

The market is indeed changing to meet consumers' demands as capitalism says it should, but this change has happened too late for too many people. And it's having ripple effects. The point of this post is not to criticize people for what they drive or to propose strict government regulation of business, but rather to remind consumers, economists, and politicians of all stripes that even though conservatism makes a lot of sense, as I argued in February, when it comes to gas prices and oil consumption, we are all in this together.

Will any politician have the courage to tell us what we don't want to hear even though we need to hear it?

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.