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The High Road To Nowhere

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August 21, 2008

He’s blowing it.  With each passing day, the opinion polls show increasing momentum by the McCain campaign.  For their part, the Democrats have put together a lineup of really uninspiring orators for next week’s Convention.  The schedule for this event will include such former stars as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and John Kerry.  (At least they had the sense to leave Mike Dukakis and Walter Mondale off the program.)  What is Jimmy Carter going to discuss?  … “How to Facilitate Runaway Inflation”?  Is Bill Clinton going to explain “How to Beat a DNA Test”?  (John Edwards will be listening to that one with abated breath.)  We can count on John Kerry to present a coma – inducing diatribe about “How to Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory”.  Meanwhile, Obama appears to be writing his own handbook on that subject.  After folding on the FISA (wiretap) bill and capitulating to the public’s ignorance on the offshore oil drilling controversy, he now appears ready to undermine his campaign theme of Change, by selecting a running mate, who has spent nearly his entire adult life in the Senate:  Joe Biden.

Obama would be better off running with his best choice: Virginia Governor Tim Kane.  Does Barack really believe that some chucklehead, watching “reality TV”, is going to be concerned about whether Kane has the adequate foreign policy acumen to attend the funerals of foreign dignitaries on behalf of the United States?  The people of Virginia will support the team that includes a fellow Virginian.   Southern voters will not vote for a ticket consisting of two individuals who put sugar on their grits.  Catholics will vote for the candidate with a Catholic running mate, despite McCain’s anti-abortion pander.

At this point in the campaign, the often – repeated mantra of the commentators is that “negative campaigning works”.  Obama has expressed his belief that by taking the “high road”, he will somehow be immune to any negative attacks.  If he wants to win this election, he must face up to the need to launch his own negative character attack against McCain.  For starters, he must restrain himself from saying nice things about his opponent.  He should then draw some attention to the following issues:

1.)  McCain’s divorce from his first wife, Carol, and Ross Perot’s feelings about that.  In the June 8 issue of Britain’s Daily Mail, Sharon Churcher discussed Perot’s reaction to how McCain ditched Carol upon his return from Viet Nam, when he first learned of her crippling injuries:

But Ross Perot, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics.

“McCain is the classic opportunist.  He’s always reaching for attention and glory,” he said.

“After he came home, Carol walked with a limp.  So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona. And the rest is history.”

2.)  McCain’s involvement in the “Keating Five” scandal.  In 1991, McCain was criticized by the Senate Ethics Committee as having exercised “poor judgment” in connection with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board’s investigation of Lincoln Savings and Loan.

3.)  Obama’s staffers should contact McCain’s fellow inmates from the Hanoi Hilton, to obtain a little more information than “no comment” as to their feelings concerning McCain’s candidacy.

4.)   Get in touch with McCain’s Vietnamese captors to find out whether he provided them with any worthwhile information, justifying  the reason for their offer of early repatriation, which he declined.

There’s a dirt in them there hills.  Obama’s camp has to go dig for it.  If they find it  . . .  they damned – well better use it.

It’s a dirty world out there, with such dirty players as: Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and the Chinese baseball team.  Unless he really can perform a miracle, the guy with the halo over his head won’t be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Of course, he could always trade in the halo for a nice set of darts.

This Flip Is Bound To Flop

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August 4, 2008

Most of the criticism directed against Barack Obama this past week concerned what has been described as his “Celebrity” status.   The McCain camp actually believes that this theme hurts Obama.  Greg Sargent reported in TalkingPointsMemo.com that McCain is spending over $140,000 per day to run the ad featuring Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.  This, according to Sargent, amounts to roughly one third of McCain’s TV ad spending.  Meanwhile, many of us in the audience are wondering whether this ad campaign may actually be helping Obama.  Given America’s fascination with celebrities, might some people be motivated to vote for Obama simply to put a celebrity in the White House?

For his part, Obama disappointed many of us last week with his “flip” on the issue of offshore oil drilling.  There is unanimous consensus among experts on the point that planning new offshore oil rigs will do nothing to effect the availability of gasoline for approximately ten years.  By then, we will likely have the infrastructure and technology available for cost-effective electric cars.  Nevertheless, Obama appeared to be reacting to mounting pressure from the Republicans to allow for more offshore drilling.  Worse yet, new poll results reveal that a majority of Americans actually believe that enacting legislation to permit more offshore drilling would reduce the price of gasoline now.  A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released on July 30 revealed that 69% of the respondents favored offshore drilling, with 51% actually believing that legislation approving increased offshore drilling would lower oil prices within the next year.  The people participating in these polls were probably the same poll participants who expressed belief (and who probably still do believe) that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11 attacks.  Rather than attempting to educate those “low information voters” on the futility of planning more oil platforms to solve today’s problems, Obama has chosen to drink the Kool Aid favored by McCain and announce that he supports expanded offshore drilling.  One would have expected this issue to die when McCain had to cancel a speech he was going to give on an oil rig, because of Hurricane Dolly on July 24.  If he wanted to, Obama could have chosen to ridicule McCain for this failed stunt and criticize McCain’s claim that Hurricanes Rita and Katrina did not damage any oil rigs located in the Gulf of Mexico.  As reported by Michael Shear of The Washington Post on July 23, those hurricanes actually destroyed 113 oil rigs, contrary to McCain’s claim.

The article by Adam Smith and Wes Allison of The St. Petersburg Times on August 1, contrasted Obama’s earlier campaign promise with his current position.  Quoting a speech given by the candidate early this summer, they included this passage:

“And when I am president,” Obama said in June in Chicago, “I will keep the moratorium in place and prevent oil companies from drilling off Florida’s coasts.  That’s how we can protect our coasts and still make the investments that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and bring down gas prices for good.”

Obama’s new position on this subject goes back to that same type of compromise we saw him demonstrate by voting in favor of the FISA “wiretap” bill.  The voting public is not likely to see this type of weak compromise as the sort of “change” promised by the sign on the podium.

Looking back to Jonathan Darman’s July 11 article for Newsweek, he discussed the results of their poll taken on July 9 – 10.  Senator Obama voted in favor of the controversial FISA bill on July 9 (after having discussed his intention to do so a week earlier).  This poll revealed that the Democrat lost his 12-point lead among independent voters and fell behind McCain among independents by 7 points.  The people “sitting on the fence”, the independents, are the voters tracking Obama’s campaign moves with the most scrutiny.  They are also the voters he needs most.  This latest “flip” in favor of offshore oil drilling could have the same effect on the independent voters as his vote in favor of FISA.  Given Obama’s concern about the poll results concerning the popularity of offshore drilling, the next poll results to show the impact of his position change on this subject, particularly from the perspective of independent voters, might give him a good scare.

Bob Barr Gets It Going

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July 24, 2008

Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, Bob Barr, turned some heads when the July 6 Zogby Poll had him capturing 6% of the nationwide popular vote.  Given the fact that Barr has received almost no national media attention, some commentators began to take notice of this interesting candidacy.   Of particular concern is Barr’s impact on the races in those “battleground” states that draw attention in polls.  Conservative blogger, Kevin Tracy, has complained that the poll results listed on RealClearPolitics.com, do not disclose Barr’s numbers.  As for the “battleground” states, Zogby has Barr with 8% of the vote in Colorado, 7% of the vote in Ohio, 7% of the vote in McCain’s home state of Arizona, and 6% of the vote in Florida.  A July 22 Rasmussen Poll had Barr getting 5% of the vote in Georgia, in contrast with the July 8 Zogby result of 8% for Georgia.  MSNBC’s polling expert, Chuck Todd, reported that the July 23 MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll results showing Barr with only 2% have a much greater margin of error than the results for a two-way race because only a “half-sample” was used for the four-way race that included Barr and Ralph Nader.  He suspected that a full sample would likely indicate a larger number for Barr.

So far, Barr is on the ballot in 31 states.  He has a fight underway to get on the ballot in West Virginia.  In Ohio, Federal Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr. held that the Ohio state Legislature failed to revise ballot rules after they were struck down as unconstitutional in 2006 by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner (a Democrat) is seeking an expedited appeal.  Of course, the court hearing her appeal will again be the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, so a victory for Barr seems likely there, as well.

Barr has an interesting background that makes him well-suited for the Presidency at this time.  To start with, in 1966, he graduated from High School in Tehran, Iran.  In 1970 he received his Bachelor’s Degree, cum laude, from the University of Southern California.  He received a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from George Washington University in 1972.  He received his law degree from Georgetown in 1977.  During that time (1971 – 1978) Barr was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency.  Barr served in Congress as the Representative for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District from 1995 to 2003.  In Congress, he served as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, as a member of the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

Despite the lack of media attention, he is running a clever campaign.  On July 19, he made a surprise appearance at the Netroots Nation blogger conference, stealing a bit of attention from the “surprise” visit by Al Gore.  On July 22, while John McCain was visiting Manchester, New Hampshire, he drew a bit of attention away from McCain’s visit to that city by appearing there himself.  Mark Hayward of the New Hampshire Union Leader, reported on July 23 that Barr spent a good deal of time at a stop in Manchester, “explaining his disappointments with the way the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act turned out.”   Barr voted in favor of both the Patriot Act and the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  Although Barr is not yet on the ballot in New Hampshire, the Zogby Poll has him at 10 percent in that state.

As the campaign progresses, it will be interesting to observe where Barr gets his support.  MSNBC’s Chuck Todd pointed out that there is a component of “anti-Obama” voters among Barr’s supporters.  Whether this comes from racism, belief in the “secret Muslim” rumors, or a perceived lack of experience, will make for an interesting study.  It would also be interesting to ascertain whether any Obama supporters shifted their allegiance to Barr as a result of Obama’s vote in favor of the FISA “wiretap” bill.  Polls taken in the wake of that vote (July 11 Newsweek and July 13 Rasmussen) showed Obama’s support among independent voters dropping significantly.  Did they see Obama’s compromise on this issue as a lack of authenticity?

For now, Barr’s candidacy is perceived primarily as a threat to John McCain.  As Faye Fiore reported in the July 23 Los Angeles Times:

Barr is regularly compared to Ralph Nader, the Green Party spoiler who drew crucial votes from Democrat Al Gore in 2000.  Worried McCain supporters have begged Barr to drop out. The renegade responds with his famous bespectacled glare, referring to himself in the third person, as is his habit:  “The GOP has no agenda, no platform and a candidate who generates no excitement.  That’s not Bob Barr’s fault.”

When confronted about being a McCain “spoiler” during the July 6 edition of CNN Newsroom, Barr responded:

This is precisely the problem with the two-party system that we have here. They are always looking for someone to blame, other than themselves.

.  .  .  This preemptive blaming doesn’t do either party very well.   It’s an awfully weak position for the McCain campaign and the Republicans to be in months out from the election, already blaming me for their loss.

It will be interesting to watch what the pollsters can learn from Barr’s candidacy.  As Barr gets more publicity, his popularity is likely to increase.  If he can make it to 10 percent in a nationwide poll, he will be invited to participate in some of the debates.  That would be very interesting.

The Race Tightens

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July 14, 2008

Jonathan Darman’s July 11 article for Newsweek discusses that magazine’s latest poll, showing Barack Obama ahead of John McCain by only 3 percentage points.  Since this is probably within the poll’s margin of error (not discussed in the article) the two candidates are now in a statistical dead heat.   This is in sharp contrast with last month’s Newsweek poll, showing Obama with a 15-percent lead over McCain (51 to 36).  The July 13 Rasmussen poll showed each candidate with 46 percent.  Darman and other commentators struggled with this shift in popular opinion.  Darman noted:

But perhaps most puzzling is how McCain could have gained traction in the past month.  To date, direct engagement with Obama has not seemed to favor the GOP nominee.

Perhaps the explanation for McCain’s popularity bump is evident in the preceding text of Mr. Darman’s article, discussing Obama’s controversial position favoring the new FISA law.  Civil libertarians and the more liberal-leaning Democrats were outraged by Obama’s support for this bill.  The Obama camp believed that this disappointment would be short-lived, since those factions had no other alternative than to support Barack.  What these wizards failed to consider was the effect this betrayal would have on independent voters.  Hillary Clinton paid a high political price for her support of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  That Resolution was passed because there were too many Democrats in Congress who believed a vote against the Resolution would make them appear weak on national security.  It was that same fear of appearing weak on national security that drove Obama and other Democrats to vote in favor of the new FISA law.

In the age of YouTube.com, authenticity has become a politician’s stock in trade.  A politician’s denial of having made a statement (or of having played golf recently) can be easily rebutted with an audio-visual presentation of that politician’s own words or acts.  The lack of authenticity is perceived as a measure of dishonesty.  Concern for appearing weak is itself a sign of weakness. Obama’s support for the FISA bill tells me that he would indeed have voted in favor of the Iraq Resolution, had he been a member of United States Senate at the time.  Hillary Clinton learned her lesson from the Iraq Resolution controversy and voted against the FISA bill.  Nevertheless, had she been the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, would she have voted the same way?

The information obtained from the recent Newsweek poll suggests that authenticity may have played a role in the popular opinion shift.  As Jonathan Darman pointed out:

In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage.

What may have come as a surprise to Obama’s advisors, was that the Democrat has lost popularity among independent voters.  Although these voters may not have been as heartbroken as the members of MoveOn.org, over Obama’s support for the FISA legislation, they may have detected the strong odors of weakness and inauthenticity.  As Mr. Darman observed:

In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June’s NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.

In other words, Obama lost his 12-point lead among independent voters and he now trails McCain among independents by 7 points.  McCain has apparently taken a page from the Bush playbook by deliberately making gaffes in order to appear less polished – and hence, more authentic to the voters.  (One example of this was his repeated conflation of the activities of Iranian operatives and those of Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq.)  McCain is appearing as “likeably” less articulate than his opponent, reinforcing the aura of authenticity.  The only way for the Obama camp to stay in this fight is to keep McCain’s own “flip-flops” in the public eye.  Taking “the high road” at this point appears to be political suicide.  Although it doesn’t make for a good slogan:  “Less of a flip-flopper than McCain” should become the theme for the Obama campaign.

“My Oath Is To The Constitution, Not To The President”

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July 3, 2008

David Iglesias is making the talk show circuit, promoting his recent book: In Justice.  The book provides an insider’s account of the scandal involving the politicization of the Justice Department under the Administration of non-attorneys George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  As I have said before, these two men have little regard for our Constitution because they know little about it and they have contempt for our courts because they know almost nothing about the law or the concepts of justice and due process.  Bush/Cheney made a point of having culls run Justice:  John Ashcroft, who (surprisingly) to his credit, was not trusted by them to authorize their FISA bypass, so they tried to have him authorize it while he was in the hospital, under sedation.  Once Alberto Gonzalez became Attorney General, we had someone in charge of the Justice Department, who was even more subservient to the whims of non-attorneys Bush and Cheney.  This resulted in what history will view as the most disgraceful abuse of the Justice Department as Soviet-style enforcers of political allegiance to the party-in-charge.  David Iglesias and at least six other important federal prosecutors, who had devoted their careers to fighting organized crime, terrorism and (oops!) corporate fraud, were summarily terminated by Bush-Cheney for failure to align their missions with the political vendettas of this administration.  The title Iglesias chose for his book was an obvious reference to the widespread opinion that the Bush Administration had changed the Justice Department to the Injustice Department.

David Iglesias explained to Tavis Smiley that an underlying theme throughout his book was that as a federal prosecutor, he understood his oath of office as to support the Constitution of the United States, despite the Bush Administration’s mandate that a prosecutor’s highest obligation was to support the President.

This theme is particularly timely in light of the recent dispute arising from the appearance of retired General Wesley Clark on the CBS News program, “Face The Nation” on June 29.  During that conversation, Wesley Clark, in his vanity, forgot that it was actually Barack Obama running as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President, rather than himself.  Clark expressed a rationale that only Commanding Officers, such as himself, had the type of military experience to qualify one for the Presidency.  He tactlessly contrasted this with the experience of John McCain, who was shot down as a fighter pilot and was held for years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.  When asked by Dan Abrams on MSNBC’s “The Verdict”, to explain his minimization of McCain’s sacrifice, Clark again reinforced his position that only Commanding Officers, such as himself, had the type of military experience to be qualified for the Presidency.  The McCain camp made the most they could of this denigration of the Republican candidate’s service.  Barack Obama found it necessary to distance himself from Clark’s comments on this subject.

The McCain camp then targeted Virginia Senator Jim Webb, for his remarks to Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s “Countdown” show of June 30.  During that interview, Webb pointed out that:

We need to make sure that we take politics out of service.  People don’t serve their country for political issues and John McCain is my longtime friend and if there is one area I would ask him to calm down on it is: don’t be standing up and uttering your political views and implying that all the people in the military support them because they don’t, any more than when the Democrats had political issues during the Vietnam war.  Let’s get politics out of the military, take care of our military people and have our political arguments in other areas.

McCain’s claim was that this was another attack on his service in the Vietnam War.  Nevertheless, we can see that Webb was attempting to distinguish a soldier’s obligation to the President (or in this case, a Presidential candidate) from a soldier’s obligation to defend our Constitution.  The oath of enlistment for people serving in the military is as follows:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (So help me God.)

Although military personnel are bound by their oath to follow the orders of the President, in accordance with regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, their primary duty is to support and defend the Constitution.  When McCain takes for granted that those serving in the military will support his entire political agenda, he is mistaken.  Their oath does not require it, nor could he enforce such compliance if elected President.

What is actually going on with all of this is that the Obama camp is out to “level the playing field” with respect to Obama’s lack of military experience.  McCain’s delusion that he can speak for all the troops and that they are aligned with his entire political agenda is the “Achilles heel” where the Democrats are directing their fire to achieve their goal.  “McCain doesn’t speak for all the troops” is the argument that will pay off when the pollsters focus on the Presidential choices of those in uniform.

As an aside, it’s only fitting that at a time so close to the day we celebrate our Independence, we can celebrate the rescue of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt from the FARC rebels.  My Colombian friends and I thought she had been killed several years ago.  Let’s all make a toast to Ingrid when we think about freedom this year!

They’re At It Again

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June 23, 2008

The Democrats on the Hill are at it again, doing what they do best:  capitulating, sucking up, caving in, selling out and providing lame excuses for this conduct.  This latest round of misfeasance concerns the Congressional approval of what is being called the “FISA compromise bill”.  This bill is also known as the “wiretap bill” and the “telecom immunity bill”.  Last February, the Senate passed a version of this bill, giving the President broader, unchecked powers in ordering wiretaps on American citizens.  The current bill, intended to be a compromise, falls far short of the expectations of those concerned with protecting the right to privacy.  Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin summed up the widespread frustration over this bill with the following statement:

And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration.

Throughout his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama has assured us that had he been a member of the United States Senate at the time, he would have voted to oppose the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  That Resolution was passed because there were too many Democrats in Congress who believed a vote against the Resolution would make them appear weak on national security.  It is that same fear of appearing weak on national security that is driving Democrats to vote in favor of the current FISA bill.  Concern for appearing weak is itself a sign of weakness.  Obama’s support for this bill, out of concern for appearing weak on national security, gives us a more honest view of how he would have voted on the use of military force in Iraq.  His support for the FISA bill tells me that he would indeed have voted in favor of the Iraq Resolution.  Although Senator Obama has promised to remove the telecom immunity provisions from this bill, nobody believes this could be accomplished.  The telecom lobby has been driving this bill for the specific purpose of shielding that industry from lawsuits by American citizens, who became the subjects of illegal wiretaps.  Instead of promising to remove the telecom immunity provisions, Obama should be asserting this position on the bill:  “I am supporting this bill because, as President, I want to be able to tap the phones of my Republican opponents without court oversight.”  He might be able to scare some Republicans into voting against this bill.  That announcement might also give Hillary Clinton a strong reason to oppose it.

Obama’s stance on this bill is likely to do him more harm than good.  MoveOn.org has started an e-mail campaign for its members to contact Senator Obama and demand that he stick to his earlier promise that he would support the filibuster of any bill providing retroactive immunity for telecom companies that participated in Bush’s unauthorized wiretap program.  A more longstanding liberal organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, has also decried the impending passage of this bill:

More than two years after the President’s domestic spying was revealed in the pages of the New York Times, Congress’ fury and shock has dissipated to an obedient whimper. After scrambling for years to cover their tracks, the phone companies and the administration are almost there. This immunity provision will effectively destroy Americans’ chance to have their deserved day in court and will kill any possibility of learning the extent of the administration’s lawless actions. The House should be ashamed of itself. The fate of the Fourth Amendment is now in the Senate’s hands. We can only hope senators will show more courage than their colleagues in the House.

Will Obama alienate his “base” by supporting this bill?  He has promised his supporters “Change We Can Believe In”.  What kind of “change” is it when a Democratic Senator facilitates yet another controversial assault on the Bill of Rights by the Bush Administration, out of fear of appearing “weak” on national security?




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