Archive for January, 2008

John McCain: The GOP’s Wizard Of Oz?

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

John McCain seems to be the GOP frontrunner…a position he has rarely held while aspiring to be the Republican presidential nominee. Following his victory in Florida, McCain and his campaign seem to have accepted the esteemed moniker. His apparent inevitability is troubling to many establishment conservatives and a number of evangelicals. As I watched the Senator in the GOP debate from the Ronald Reagan Library, I couldn’t help but notice the emergence of what I would characterize as the leading edge of his desire to release a blend of pent-up bitterness and spiteful and surly bravado.

Let me be clear, I don’t seek to disparage the Senator or his debate performance. I’m sure he and his fellow candidates must be tired. Nonetheless, McCain’s temperament has long been a topic of discussion…and a reason for pause. Last evening, in my opinion, I observed a man who has longed for the authority and the opportunity to speak his mind without the filters politicians so often employ. It left me wondering if I was watching a man who, upon attaining the presidency, might shed his subtle sophistry in favor of an unbridled style of authoritarianism.

Stay with me for a moment. McCain has made a career of portraying himself as a “straight talking” politician who is amenable to reaching across the aisle. When he’s done so, it’s often been to the chagrin of his fellow Republicans. On the surface, that’s an admirable trait and one that seems to have served the Senator well…especially with the mainstream media…the tool he often utilizes to assuage the animosity and skepticism his actions have generated amongst his peers. In my estimation, whether it’s a demonstration of sincerity or a carefully executed strategy is open to debate.

Now consider the 2000 GOP primary and the character assassination and personal assaults John McCain endured at the hands of his adversary, George W. Bush. If one can believe the media reports, the attacks were understandably quite hurtful to the Senator…and they are thought to have played a significant role in derailing his presidential aspirations.

Next, think about a man who spent over five years in captivity…a man forced to hold his tongue and bide his time in the face of adversity. Such treatment can undoubtedly alter one’s relational skills and interaction style…as well as lead one to adopt a strategy that I would equate with treading water. Essentially, it’s a recognition that survival is the fundamental objective…and that may mean saying what is expected or demanded in order to keep one’s head above water…until one has the opportunity to do otherwise. As such, John McCain certainly understands what it means to tarry.

As I’ve watched the run up to the 2008 election, I’ve felt that McCain has made a number of strategic decisions intended to afford him another shot at the prize he seeks…the presidency. His campaigning for the reelection of George Bush struck me as an attempt to receive the party’s presidential baton…in spite of his dislike of his former adversary. His subsequent forays into mending fences with the evangelicals he once assailed were more of the same. As best I can tell, in most instances, these mea culpa moments took place absent the dialogue one would expect to accompany a difficult reconciliation.

At the same time, my sense is his memory is akin to that attributed to an elephant. Hence he never forgets a slight, a fight, an insult, or a defeat. Like with his time as a prisoner of war, McCain has spent the last seven years plotting his escape from the subservience he resents and his ascendancy to the authority he craves. The phenomenon isn’t unique to prisoners of war. The same often exists in spouses who stay in abusive relationships until they can envision and enact their escape and exact their revenge.

His occasional episodes of vitriolic derision directed at his primary opponents may offer a glimpse of what lies beneath the affable surface he labors to demonstrate. The measured and halting nature of his recent speeches…delivered with a structured and rhythmic cadence…suggest an alternative stream of thought is on the verge of surfacing…and ample energy must be diverted to keep it at bay until the opportune moment.

His palpable dislike of Mitt Romney prompts other concerns and considerations. One, McCain is apt to see Romney’s flip-flopping campaign as a usurpation of the McCain “go along to get along” style. Two, the occasionally uncensored animosity aimed at Romney supports the psychological concept of projection…which essentially posits we’re prone to recognize and resent in others that which we have failed to expunge from our own suspect identity.

John McCain may well win the GOP nomination…and that may occur as a function of voter’s calculating he is best suited to defeat the nominee of the Democrats. If my hypothesis is correct, the more proximate McCain finds himself to his quintessential objective, the more difficult it will be to suppress the psychological scars that power his psyche. If this happens, the intervening months between his nomination and the November election may pull back the curtains and expose him as little more than the GOP’s angry, though impotent, wizard.

The following graphic is a tongue-in-cheek summarization of the above observations.

John McCain - The GOP's Wizard?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Political Strategy: Handicapping The Homestretch

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Now that it appears that John McCain has the inside track on the Republican presidential nomination, it’s time to draw some general election comparisons with his two potential Democratic opponents.

Before focusing on narrow specifics, my general impression has long been that McCain is the most formidable GOP candidate…despite the tepid support he receives from establishment conservatives and his shaky bona fides with the evangelical base.

Race & Gender:

When looking at either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, both must overcome potential bias…her with regards to being a woman and him with regards to being an African American. My own suspicion is that gender and race could cost either candidate a segment of the voting public. I’m of the opinion that could equate with a low to mid single digit percentage. Advantage McCain.

Conversely, race and gender may be an advantage for both candidates with their respective voter contingencies. If so, it would seem that Senator Clinton would have the most to gain given that women make up a larger portion of the overall voting public. However, that advantage may be somewhat offset by the fact that Clinton elicits high negatives amongst GOP voters. No clear advantage.

Experience (Age) vs. Change:

With regards to experience, the lines of demarcation are relatively clear. Clinton and McCain have more experience and each can be viewed as a Washington fixture. McCain can argue his maverick persona gives him an advantage over Clinton…pointing out that her election would be a return to a prior era of partisanship and acrimony. At the same time, John McCain’s record as a Senate contrarian could lead some Republicans to sit out the election. No clear advantage between Clinton and McCain. Both have an advantage over Obama.

As to change, this may be an area where one candidate has an unmistakable advantage. The mood of the country and voter dissatisfaction with the country’s direction support the notion that voters are looking for measurable and meaningful change. Obama’s age and his inspiring orations position him as a man of vision. Advantage Obama.

Nonetheless, that segues into two important caveats. One, while Obama’s message of change provides him with a noticeable advantage, the degree to which he is able to convince voters he can implement it and that they should forego the safety of two known commodities would be essential to his success in capitalizing upon it. Two, this requires a look at age. McCain could appear too old and Obama could be viewed as too young (green vs. eclipsed). Thus a slight advantage affords to McCain based upon historical data suggesting that the elderly turn out in greater numbers than the youth vote. Clinton’s age is generally neutral though her primary success with the elderly offsets McCain’s age advantage and leaves her with the same narrow potential preferential over Obama.

Foreign Policy & Terrorism:

This is truly a wildcard factor given the uncertainty with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and terrorism (al Qaeda & the Taliban). The status of these situations just prior to the election can and will likely alter this calculation. At the moment, I view the situation in Iraq as a wash between the Democrats and the Republicans. The reduced violence resulting from the surge minimizes the advantage of calling for immediate withdrawal. Additionally, while a wide majority opposes the war, the preferred exit strategy is murkier.

With regard to individual candidates, Obama and McCain have an advantage over Clinton based upon their positions having been more consistent.

If we approach the election with Iraq achieving the political resolutions identified before the surge, McCain likely has an advantage over Obama based upon the voter belief that the GOP is strong on national defense and the Democrats are more inclined to measured diplomacy. McCain would also have an advantage over Clinton but possibly not to the same extent.

If Iraq fails to progress, or deteriorates as the election approaches, Obama would have an advantage over both Clinton and McCain. Obama’s persistent opposition to the war would trump Clinton’s evolving position as well as McCain’s strident support. In this scenario, voter dissatisfaction should bode well for Obama. Advantage Obama.

A terrorist attack in the homeland prior to the election would likely provide McCain with a marked advantage based upon his incessant argument that radical Islamic extremism is the “transcendent issue of the 21st. century” and his military credentials.

Obama could argue that Iraq was an unwarranted distraction from the primary goal of combating terrorism…but the fact that the Democrats have failed to push that position since taking control of Congress in 2006 would likely handicap that argument and be overshadowed by the constant GOP contention that we must defeat the terrorists on their soil. I believe that the virtual silence of the Democrats since 2006 would be portrayed as indecision and political calculation and afford McCain and the GOP the high ground.

As long as Iraq is left to fester unchallenged, the GOP will appear to have demonstrated the willingness to lead and the Democrats will be seen as enablers looking to straddle the fence. Advantage McCain.

The Economy:

Assuming the downturn will persist until the election, voter concerns will benefit the Democrats. McCain’s downplaying of his economic credentials coupled with his focus on cutting spending may be warranted sincerity…but it could also be the wrong message for these difficult economic circumstances.

Clinton’s policy dexterity should provide voters with tangible solutions to consider while Obama’s calls for a new direction could be the rejection of status quo politics that Americans seem to be willing to chance. Equal advantage to Obama and Clinton.

Immigration:

Of all the Republican candidates, McCain stands to receive the most Hispanic votes based upon his support of the president’s plan that provided for a path to citizenship. At the same time, he will need to appease the GOP base and their insistence that any form of amnesty be removed from the equation. That puts him in a tough spot and is apt to limit his appeal to Hispanics.

If the Democrats approach immigration by proposing meaningful border security, demanding real employer accountability with regards to curtailing the hiring of illegal employees, and pointing to the impracticality and extremity of deporting 12 to 15 million illegals, they can convince a majority of voters that the GOP has been disingenuous in fomenting fear with calls for harsh measures…especially in the aftermath of their own lackadaisical enforcement of existing laws in order to appease their corporate benefactors. Advantage Clinton and Obama.

Health Care:

I believe 2008 will be the turning point in the health care stalemate. It’s an issue whose time has come. I say as much because its impact is being felt by a large majority of Americans and they envision it will inevitably get worse. As such, I suspect that candidates that fail to offer significant proposals do so at their own peril.

The GOP and Senator McCain will likely posture in opposition to the ambitious plans of the Democratic candidate; offering little more than their standard fare solution of market driven expanded access to health care…fully ignoring that cost and affordability are the fundamental and immediate concerns of most Americans. The lack of tangible measures intended to install a new system rather than expand upon a broken one will cost the GOP votes. Advantage Clinton and Obama.

Looking at the Clinton and Obama health care proposals, both have merit. The Clinton plan is more amenable to short sound bites meant to engender voter support while the Obama plan is more cognizant of the fact that millions of Americans simply cannot afford health insurance…voluntarily or mandated…and that the solution must address that issue to actually provide health care solutions to those with immense needs and vacuous means. In the end, the existing political landscape probably favors Senator Clinton since nuance rarely works with impatient and inattentive voters.

Independent Voters & Party Expansion:

Hillary Clinton is at an obvious disadvantage with regards to attracting independent voters and expanding the membership of the Democratic Party. Her polarizing persona and her high negatives simply limit her ability to succeed in this regard.

John McCain, on the other hand, provides the GOP their best chance to draw independent voters and expand the ranks of the party. Unfortunately, those gains have the potential to come at the expense of votes from the party’s base. Therefore, in relation to Senator Clinton, John McCain has an advantage.

Senator Obama has an advantage over both McCain and Clinton for two reasons. One, the fact that McCain is the likely GOP nominee suggests that the country may be moving towards the center; making independent voters an influential constituency. When that reality is coupled with the desire for change and an end to partisan polarization, Obama offers the least encumbered candidacy.

Clinton and McCain have likely alienated some independent voters with their perceived positional fluctuations. Those actions are apt to be viewed as a propensity to pander more than a willingness to compromise or unite. McCain still holds an advantage over Clinton; but Senator Obama seems to be the candidate best positioned to draw independent voters and expand his party.

What’s At Stake:

Voters will encounter a number of difficult considerations as they head towards the November election and choosing our next president. Members of both parties are trying to evaluate their candidates’ ability to defeat the nominee of the other party. Simultaneously, the nation is in the midst of tumultuous times that lack the clarity we would no doubt prefer.

The variables in the 2008 election may well exceed the bulk of our prior presidential elections. We’re engaged in two wars with an overriding threat of terrorism…we have a woman and an African American running for the highest office…we face the likelihood of a recession and unprecedented declines in home values…and we enter an election year as a nation divided by unprecedented partisanship. Transcending these obstacles would not only be beneficial; it may well be necessary. It remains to be seen if we can turn this pivotal moment to our mutual advantage. The future of our nation likely hangs in the balance.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

And Then There Were Four- Edwards, Giuliani To End Presidential Bids

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

The field is thinning in the presidential campaign. Following big losses yesterday in Florida, Democrat John Edwards and Republican Rudy Giuliani have announced (or will soon officially announce) that they are throwing in the towel. And while there are still several “fringe” candidates for each party, the race for the presidential nominations have been winnowed to four. Funny how politics turns.

Giuliani was once the Republican front-runner, but his inability to overcome his 9/11 Tourette’s syndrome and his “liberal” positions on things like abortion and immigration didn’t endear him to many Republicans outside of the Northeast. Of course, by pulling himself out of the initial primaries, Giuliani also pulled himself out of the headlines and voters minds, which was bad for him and his campaign, but pretty good for America, IMO. Giuliani was never presidential material in my eyes. Of course, neither was George W. Bush, so what the hell do I know? (Oh, right- hindsight has proven me right on that one…)

I like Edwards in many ways, and was all set to give him my primary vote in 2004, but he pulled out just before I got a chance. He wasn’t going to get my vote this year, but I think the man has the right attitude and some good ideas for solving some of our domestic problems. If we end up with a democratic president, they’d be wise to try to include Edwards in their administration. But I think that Edwards, and his non-stop campaign since 2005, created some voter fatigue, relegating him to “wanna-be” status instead of “real contender” status. People like the man and like what he has to say, but like a professional student who has a zillion degrees but never a job, one who never leaves the campaign trail seems to lose the aura of leader and becomes more of a cheerleader for the cause.

Clinton. McCain. Obama. Romney.

One of these four will likely be our next president. I like Obama. I like his message of change. I’ll be voting for him in the primary, and if he gets the nomination nod, I plan to do more to help him win.

Looking at the four above, who would be your choice for president? Why?

California Prop 93: Lawmakers Try To Extend Term Limits For Themselves

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Billed as a “necessary tweak” to California’s term limit laws by proponents, California Proposition 93 on the February 2008 ballot is little more than a bait and switch and a classic example of how politicians try to subvert democracy for their own personal gain.

Currently, California has a term limit law that limits state assembly-persons to 6 years (or 3 terms) in that body and state senators to 8 years (or 2 terms) in that body,  for a total of 14 years combined in those offices. After an individual has reached their limit in an office, they have to go back to the private sector or get elected to an office outside the state legislator. These term limits were voter approved as a way to inject fresh ideas into government and prevent the kind of pay to play system that has destroyed real democracy in government. Also, these term limits served as a guaranteed way to get rid of incumbents who do not truly serve the interests of their constituents, but rather their special interest donors or their narrow party platforms. Since incumbents have a natural electoral edge in any contest (mostly because of voter apathy), the limits prevent any sort of legislative dynasties from being created. At least, in theory.

Prop 93 changes all of that to reduce total time allowed in office from 14 years to 12, but allows all 12 years to be spent in a single office. Again, proponents argue that by increasing their allowable time in one office, they can “better learn” the ways of legislating. What they’ll really do is get extra time to learn how to cozy up to big donors and make their own personal fortunes better in the process while continuing to learn how to ignore citizens and force bad legislation on the citizenry of the state.

Two soon to be termed out legislators are leading the drive to get this term limit change passed into law- Fabian Nunez, Speaker of the California State Assembly and Don Perata, President pro tempore of the California State Senate. Both will be termed out of office without the new legislation. Frankly, they should be termed out. Neither of them is a shining example of good stewardship in government. And they are both Democrats too.

Nunez has come under scrutiny for spending thousands of dollars of campaign money on personal expenses. Perata has been under investigation by the FBI since 2004 for shady political donations from Indian tribes while advocating for expanding gaming pacts to those same tribes. Both men spend considerable time advocating legislation to benefit illegal immigrants at the expense of legal state citizens and both have had their hands in California’s horrible financial mess. Neither merits more time in office, IMO. And while that may be beside the point, it also is exactly the point. After all, these two guys are spearheading this whole idea so they can stay in office longer. It’s not really about creating a better government so much as it is about these guys keeping their jobs.

It would be one thing if this proposition were created and backed by voters who truly felt their legislators needed more time in office to make things work right. They didn’t and they don’t. This proposition is funded primarily by lawmakers and unions and/or special interests with a vested interested in keeping these politicians in office. That’s what makes this proposition so self-serving and cynical. By pretending that they are shortening the terms of lawmakers (which I suppose they technically are), these self-serving politicians hope to fool voters into letting them keep their jobs, their bribes, and their cozy lifestyle.

Proponents say that politicians need more time to learn the system. I say that the system is broken and that giving these folks more time in office doesn’t help a thing. If we aren’t going to ban special interest money and move to publically funded campaigns…if we aren’t going to get a chance at real redistricting (right now the politicians even draw their own district boundaries)…then at least we should be able to toss the bums out of office after their somewhat short terms are up.

And really…the founders of our democracy never wanted politics to become a career for anyone anyway-because then government becomes nothing more than a bunch of little dynasties, not so unlike the feifdoms and kingships we shunned in forming this country.

Vote no on California Prop 93 if you get the chance.

The Difference Between Obama & Clinton: “We” vs. “I”

Monday, January 28th, 2008

It’s history now, the South Carolina primary, that is. Barack Obama trounced “Mrs. Inevitable”  Clinton and “Home State Johnny” Edwards in that southern state on Saturday, reigniting his campaign and making his chance at winning the Democratic nomination even better than before. And while the Obama campaign celebrated their victory, the Clinton campaign could only wonder what went wrong.

I’ve got an idea though, and it’s something that I’ve said before. There is a fundamental difference between the campaign of Clinton and Obama, but you have to listen carefully to really hear it. It’s not so much in their policy ideas- both want to help average Americans with health care and the economy; they both talk about developing energy independence and protecting the environment; they both talk about schools and jobs and retirement concerns. And with some minor detail differences, it’s tough to distinguish one message from the other. But there is an overriding difference, and that difference could make all the difference in the world.

The difference is simple- in speech after speech, Clinton’s main focus is what she will do for you. Take a look at her pre-State of the Union remarks today and you will find a whole lot of “I believe this” and “I will do that.” Clinton is so ensconced in the politics of one doing it all for the many that she is missing the driving force behind the Obama candidacy, and the force that is energizing voters in ways not seen in decades. That force is the simple inclusion of us all.

Obama, after his win in South Carollina took some time to thank supporters and stump for the next big contest. Take a peek- notice the almost near absense of the word “I”? Instead, Obama talks about what WE can do, things WE can fix, change WE can make. Obama knows that America is tired of the special interests that tie politicians to corporations, leaving out the American people. We are tired of politics that make the politician and their sinuous ties to corporate money the most important piece of the puzzle. We are finished with the pay to play mentality that all of DC is immersed in. We are ready for a real change, and Obama alone is talking the talk that puts average Americans at the front of that change.

Look, I’m no fool. I know that the kind of change Obama presents won’t magically occur when Obama take the oath of office. That would be but the start. Once elected, he would still face the same intransigent system he is railing against. But is he used his office effectively, and the bully pulpit as well, he could ask the American people to continue the change they began and turn out all the politicians who won’t evolve. He could energize the voters to put new people in place who would feel the need to change the corruption so endemic to our national politics. And to do that, he needs all of us- the “we” he speaks of so much.

Change will not come to American politics unless American voters fight for it and toss the bums out who insist on keeping things as they are. Hillary Clinton’s campaign focus on herself and her abilities is just more of the same- big brother politics that say Americans can’t handle the tasks of government without the “pro’s” running the show. Well Hillary- we’ve seen how badly the “pro’s” have screwed things up. It’s time for a change. And Obama is the only one offering the kind of change we really want and need. The difference between old politics and new politics is easy to spot when you know what to look for. See if you can tell the difference yourself…

From Hillary:

 ”If you will stand with me, if you here in Connecticut will support me on February 5th, I promise you that I will get up every single day and wage a winning campaign against whomever the Republicans nominate.I’ve been up against Republicans for a very long time now. I was thinking the other day, wouldn’t it be nice if they just announced that they were embarrassed about what happened to the country and they weren’t going to run for the White House again? Somehow I don’t think that is going to happen. I think we will have to wage a vigorous and winning campaign. Since I have been on the receiving end of their incoming fire for all of these years and much to their dismay, I am still standing here, I think I know how to take us to victory in November.”

From Obama:

“Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can seize our future. And as we leave this great state with a new wind at our backs, and we take this journey across this great country, a country we love, with the message we’ve carried from the plains of Iowa to the hills of New Hampshire, from the Nevada desert to the South Carolina coast, the same message we had when we were up and when we were down, that out of many we are one, that while we breathe we will hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt and fear and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of the American people in three simple words: Yes, we can. “

Now ask yourself this question: Do you want a government that views you as a partner or one that views you as a dependent. Because that is the real difference between these two candidates. And that is what you need to think about.

(cross posted at Common Sense)


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