Adam Ash

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

US Diary: some thoughts on the coming presidential election

1. Democratic Stars Aligning
With such a stellar line-up of Democratic presidential contenders and such a problematic crop of Republican ones, it promises to be a revolutionary political year.
By Robert Kuttner/American Prospect

Looking at the Republican presidential field, you might be forgiven for thinking that none of the main contenders can be nominated.

The presumed front-runner, John McCain, never a favorite of the Bush crowd, has lately emerged as more hawkish than Bush himself. But by primary season 2008, the war is likely to be even more unpopular, and most Republicans will be distancing themselves from the Iraq mess, not urging its escalation.

Rudy Giuliani did well after 9/11, and was an impressively well-liked Republican mayor in liberal New York. But Giuliani was popular as a steadfast social liberal, respectful of gay rights and abortion rights. Unlike former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Giuliani was far too forthright to start doing pirouettes now. It's hard to imagine the GOP base going along.

And speaking of Romney, the malleable Mitt has done so many reversals that makers of flip-flop commercials will have a field day. Romney is also on the defensive as a Mormon, since many fundamentalists don't consider Mormons Christians. Almost half a century after the civil rights revolution, this should not matter, but that's right-wing politics for you. Romney is having trouble getting out of first gear.

Of the also-rans, Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas fundamentalist, is unlikely to travel well. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has likewise failed to take off. And Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a traditional conservative, would make a good president; but he's too vocal a critic of Bush to be forgiven by loyalists.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is constitutionally disqualified as foreign-born. Jeb Bush might be plausible if his name were anything other than Bush. An oft-mentioned long shot, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has never run for office.

And it gets worse. The Bush administration has collapsed on so many fronts that Republican officeholders up for re-election will be torn between saving their own necks and remaining loyal to the hard-core base. Eight or nine Republican senate seats could be at risk.

But someone will win the GOP nomination -- only to face the strongest Democratic field in many decades. And here is an incautious prediction. The Democratic nominee is most likely to be Barack Obama.

I have followed politics far too long to fall in love, but I have to say that Barack Obama is like nothing we have seen since Bobby Kennedy and maybe since FDR. If you haven't read his first book, Dreams From My Father , you owe it to yourself.

Obama wrote the book when he was 33, having spent nearly three years as an organizer on Chicago's South Side, and then three years at Harvard Law School where he was elected president of the Law Review. From there he went to Kenya, to come to terms with the African side of his family.

Reading this work, you think: no 33-year-old has the right to such uncommon wisdom and humanity. The comparisons that come to mind are the young Martin Luther King, or Vaclav Havel, or maybe Jefferson.

If you think Obama is a pretty boy with a gift for rhetoric and not an effective politician in the most noble sense of the word, read the chapters about his small victories organizing in the desolate neighborhoods of the South Side, one pastor and one kitchen table at a time.

Never mind the picture of the Clinton machine against the innocent Obama -- Hilzilla vs. Obambi, as Maureen Dowd memorably framed it. Obama's mass appeal could well roll over Hillary's money.

Obama is the only rock star in the campaign. We are likely to see a tidal wave of Americans under 40 who have never seen such a leader. Obama is young, and the Republican field is nothing so much as old. And this is a generation casually accustomed to revering the likes of Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey.

Obama lacks the foreign policy experience of, oh, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. But read of his first trip to his ancestral Kenya and you'll feel quite comfortable that he has an unerring grasp of the complex world beyond these shores.

I could be wrong, of course. John Edwards, with his authentic populism, would also make a formidable nominee. Hillary Clinton, despite her flaws, has always done better than her detractors predict.

But consider: here we have the first serious African American presidential candidate, a person of stunning character and principle who could be the redemption of this country. And over here, the first serious female presidential candidate, a woman of real substance and expertise if she can just stop trimming. And over there, we have the most populist Democrat since Roosevelt.

With candidates of this caliber, the primary campaign will energize a resurgent Democratic base that will stay mobilized through the November election. Any of these three would also make a fine president, and not just because George W. Bush has so thoroughly lowered the bar.

It promises to be a revolutionary political year, and it's been a long time coming.

(Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. A version of this column originally appeared in the Boston Globe.)

2. Keep an Eye on the GOP Field -- by David Shribman/ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Psst. Let me tell you a secret. The Republicans also will be nominating someone for president in 2008.

Not that you could tell by reading the papers or watching television, where Barack Obama's primary-school education, Hillary Rodham Clinton's White House education and John Edwards' really, really big house in North Carolina are dominating the news. But the Republicans are better at winning presidential elections recently (they've won about 72 percent of them since 1968), so maybe we ought to pause a second and consider them.

It isn't only the Democrats who are going through an identity crisis. The Republicans are, too. There's been a Bush or a Dole on every GOP ticket for the last seven elections. There's been a prominent role for religious conservatives in each of those elections. This may be the election when the Republicans' conviction that they have replaced the Democrats as the natural party of executive government will be tested.

The Democratic race is interesting because of the personalities involved, because of the novelty factor of having a female front-runner and a strong black challenger, but there's no mystery about what the Democratic ticket will stand for next year. It will oppose the war in Iraq, oppose the Bush tax cuts, favor a stronger regulatory state and favor vigorous action to fight global warming.

The Republican race lacks such colorful personalities, its only novelty factors being these two questions: Can a party in the post-boomer era actually nominate someone older than Ronald Reagan was when he was elected? Can a party competing in a post-diversity nation nominate a Mormon for president? There actually are a Bush and a Dole who could be nominated, just for old times' sake, but the Bush (Jeb, the former governor of Florida) has said he's not interested, and the Dole (Elizabeth, the senator from North Carolina) performed so poorly as chief of the Republican senatorial campaign effort that she couldn't get a hearing.

A year from the Iowa precinct caucuses and New Hampshire primary, you've got to wonder what the Republicans are going to do.

They agree basically on Iraq, but there are outliers who could cause trouble. Sen. John McCain of Arizona (the old guy) is the chief author of the "surge" idea in Iraq; his days of opposing everything George W. Bush stood for are way, way in the past. But watch Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, whose Vietnam bona fides (two Purple Hearts) are every bit as compelling as McCain's. He was the lone Republican dissenter in a key Iraq vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, and his disquiet about Iraq has not been quiet. If he gets in the Republican race, the silence on Iraq in the caucuses and primaries would be shattered in about a nanosecond.

Then there is the Christian right. Iowa's Democrats are bigger peaceniks than Democrats generally in the country (they have been at least since 1984, when Gary Hart found himself delivering an entire speech on the nuclear freeze in Council Bluffs), and its Republicans are more fervent religious conservatives than Republicans elsewhere (which is why the Rev. Pat Robertson actually finished ahead of Vice President George H.W. Bush in the 1988 caucuses).

Liberal, anti-nuclear, pro-labor, pro-environment, pro-abortion activists are the straws that stir the Democrats' drink in the caucuses and primaries. Anti-abortion, anti-smut, anti-Hollywood, anti-secular activists are the straw in the Republicans' (non-alcoholic) drink. I exaggerate, but only a bit. The truth is that there are plenty of people for the liberal Democratic base to vote for next year and hardly anyone for the (religious) conservative Republican base to vote for, except maybe Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who will double his support in the polls if he ever reaches 2 percent.

Now Mr. Brownback is not someone to be underestimated. He defeated Sen. Bob Dole's handpicked GOP regular in a special Kansas election and has the advantage of appealing to the largely Protestant mass of religious conservatives (prominent in Des Moines) while actually being a Catholic (helpful in Dubuque). He's smart, agile, appealing. He's from a neighboring state. But he's still a long shot.

The hands that move serenely together in prayer are being wrung in despair right now. Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is a social conservative, all right, but he has consorted with social liberals in the Bay State. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani supports abortion rights and thus is going to have a hard time having lunch in Ottumwa and Cedar Rapids.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary -- beat that, George W. Bush, Yale '68 -- and was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. As an actual religious conservative, as a onetime overweight guy now 110 pounds lighter, he preaches an appealing gospel of abstention. But a score of unknowns like him have tried to replicate Jimmy Carter's Iowa insurgency, and none has prevailed since the onetime peanut farmer pulled it off a third of a century ago.

All this is why the Republican race may be more interesting than the Democratic race. The Democrats will debate nuances (even if Sen. John F. Kerry, who lives in the wrinkles of nuance, is out of the race). The Republicans will debate issues. The Democrats will agree with each other (which, as a novelty for the party, shouldn't be minimized). The Republicans will fight each other.

In the end, how surprising will it be for the Democrats to nominate someone who is black, female, liberal or some combination of the three? But for the Republicans to nominate someone who makes religious conservatives uneasy rather than someone whom the religious conservatives made into a presidential contender? That would truly be something different.

3. Net Roots Gets Meta
Which presidential candidate has the best Web site? You can surf them all, or just go to
By Daren Briscoe/Newsweek

March 5, 2007 issue - In the early race for 2008, most national polls have Hillary Clinton thumping Democratic rival Barack Obama by double digits. But the junior senator from Illinois can take comfort in at least one tally: MySpace, apparently, is Obama country. About 48,000 members of the wildly popular social-networking site have added Obama to their online profiles as a "friend," while only 25,000 have "friended" Clinton. It may seem a trivial statistic. But to the political junkies who run, a new "group blog" that obsessively follows how the presidential campaign is playing on the Internet, no Web trend is too small to track.

Micah Sifry, the site's cofounder and editor, says he's trying to make sense of "how candidates are using the Web and how the Web is using them." A lot has changed since the 2004 campaign, when Howard Dean helped pioneer a new kind of Net politicking, creating an online community of supporters that ultimately brought in $27 million and redefined campaign fund-raising. Now all candidates—drawn by the Web's potential to help get their message out, yet leery of its ability to magnify the smallest mistake—are Web savvy. (Or at least they hire people who are.) Sifry is trying to make sense of it: "We want to be an interpreter, to help people understand how the Internet is changing politics on a daily basis."

The trick is doing that without being accused of being a stooge for one side or the other. TechPresident's stable of bloggers includes Zephyr Teachout, the Internet director of Dean's 2004 campaign, and Mike Turk, the e-campaign director for Bush-Cheney 2004. Sifry, a former political reporter for the left-wing Nation magazine, forbids techPresident bloggers from making "partisan" arguments. "If we have a bias, it's toward making campaigns to make smarter use of the Web," he says. (TechPresident is financed by cofounder Andrew Rasiej and doesn't pay bloggers.) In recent posts, the site critiqued a photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton in a fund-raising e-mail (too much Bill, not enough Hill); praised John Edwards for linking to 24 different social-networking sites on his homepage ("I like the spaghetti tactic—let's throw it all at the wall and see what sticks."); and chided the major Republican candidates for not having a single, candidate-created MySpace profile among them ("The No. 1 most popular watering hole," wrote David All, a "modern media" consultant for Republican candidates. "I guess I just see things a little bit differently."). In addition to the blogs, the site also features a tracker tallying how often candidates are mentioned in the blogosphere and a daily digest of what other sites on the Web are saying about online campaigning.

And prominently displayed on the homepage is that up-to-the-minute scorecard of nearly all of the presidential candidates' MySpace friends. The Republican hopeful with the most pals—2,757, as of last Friday—is Ron Paul, a GOP Texas congressman who's running for president. Sifry says the MySpace numbers mean ... something, though it's unclear if a candidate's online friends will cast real-world votes. "It is a measure of enthusiasm," he says. "It's the world live Web now, and it reflects the conversations people are having around the digital water cooler." Such as: who, exactly, is this Ron Paul guy?

By John Pdhoretz/NY Post

February 27, 2007 -- IT is nearly impossible for the chattering classes - on all sides of the political divide - to comprehend the heat being generated by Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid.

The fallback explanation is just to say "9/11" and be done with it. After all, how else can you explain a man with Giuliani's supposedly liberal social views possibly rise as high as he has - besting John McCain among Republicans by as many as 22 points in one poll?

Many on the right profess amazement at the lead he's opened up among Republican primary voters, considering his pro-choice views and sloppy personal life.

Meanwhile, writers on the left express disbelief at the notion that a pro-choice Republican candidate might be able to win the GOP nomination. According to the best Leftist analyst of American politics, Michael Tomasky, abortion is simply "too fundamental an issue for most Republican caucus goers and primary voters (even in California, with its likely Feb. 5 primary) to work around."

There's a perfectly simple answer to the Rudy paradox. When Republican voters look at Rudy Giuliani, they know one key fact about him: They know he's no liberal.

They may not exactly know why yet, but they know it.

And they're right.

Rudy may call himself pro-choice. He may have signed legislation mandating benefits to gay couples. He may have been a supporter of gun control. He may even have endorsed Mario Cuomo for governor in 1994. These are all things he's going to have to explain and answer for in Republican debates and the like.

But more than any other candidate in the race, Rudy Giuliani is a liberal-slayer. When he rejects liberal orthodoxy, which he does often, he doesn't just oppose it. He goes to war with it - total, unconditional war.

He spent his political career chewing up liberal orthodoxy and spitting it out - and I think that somehow, in some way, voters in Oklahoma and Kansas get that about him even without knowing the specifics.

His success in turning New York around wasn't merely a matter of changing policies. He had to sustain those policies when they came under deliberate, systematic and unrelenting assault by the city's liberal elite.

In case after case, he refused to accept the veto of liberal public opinion. He drove porn shops out of residential neighborhoods, even though his administration had to fight more than 30 lawsuits on the matter. He crusaded against bilingual education, a disastrous policy that had gone unquestioned in this city for decades.

And most important, he stood up for the police department against any and all attacks - which were incessant and incredibly unjust. The race baiters and their shills at the Not-So-Great Grey Lady talked as though the NYPD was engaging in genocide when the opposite was the case - many thousand of people are alive today who would have died if the NYPD hadn't taken on its newly aggressive posture under Giuliani.

Did Giuliani go too far in defending the police against charges that officers were trigger-happy and brutal? Sure he did, and some of his more aggressive efforts in this regard will also become campaign fodder over the course of the next year or more. But his defensiveness was nothing compared to the shameful and shameless effort to delegitimize his crime-fighting approach by slandering the NYPD as a bunch of goons and killers

He basically took the view that these 38,000 people were an army fighting an enemy, and that they were liberating the people of New York City from a reign of lawlessness.

And this, more than anything else, ties into the national sentiment about Rudy as the Hero of 9/11. He didn't just represent New York to the nation and the world. He had, in fact, changed New York in a way that made this city's response to 9/11 so astounding.

In September 2001, as his mayoralty was winding down, New York had achieved civic equilibrium. This was a city at peace with itself, no matter what Al Sharpton might have said. The New York of 1991 would not have responded with the calm dignity and sense of common purpose that the New York of 2001 did.

The New York of 1991 was a city governed by the liberal elite. The New York of 2001 had been changed utterly by an anti-liberal mayor.

We're going to hear a lot about how rude, abrasive, arrogant, high-handed, combative, isolated, difficult and aggressive Rudy Giuliani was as mayor. And yet he was the key factor in turning New York into the safe, clean, pleasant, polite, neighborly and genuinely nice place it was when we were attacked on 9/11.

His record is clear: He fought the left mercilessly, and he not only won politically, he won as far as history's proper judgment of his tenure in New York.

Is it any wonder conservative Republicans are so eager to think the very best of him?


5. Giuliani: 'Party of Freedom' Will Define Republicans -- BY RUSSELL BERMAN/NY Sun

WASHINGTON — Mayor Giuliani is calling on the Republican Party to redefine itself as "the party of freedom," focusing on lower taxes, school choice, and a health care system rooted in free market principles.

Delivering a policy-driven overview of his presidential platform yesterday, Mr. Giuliani outlined the agenda in a Washington speech before a conservative think tank that sought to make clear distinctions between his vision and that of the Democrats, if not his rivals for the Republican nomination in 2008. The former New York mayor's proposed redefinition of the Republican platform would signal a shift away from any focus on social issues, on which Mr. Giuliani is much less ideologically aligned with the party.

Mr. Giuliani reserved his strongest criticism yesterday for Democrats, but he also said the government's handling of the war on terrorism had done "damage" to America's reputation abroad.

"We have to say to the rest of the world, ‘America doesn't like war,'" Mr. Giuliani said. "America is not a military country. We've never been a militaristic country," he added, saying national leaders have fallen into an "analytical warp" by defining the battle as a war on terrorism and not, as he deemed it, a "war of the terrorists against us."

More than 200 scholars from Stanford University's Hoover Institution greeted Mr. Giuliani warmly, but a few had pointed questions for him. One audience member asked him to respond to a "deep concern" that his background as a mayor had given him little experience in foreign policy.

"What makes you think that the mayor of New York City doesn't need a foreign policy?" Mr. Giuliani shot back, drawing a roar of laughter and applause from the luncheon crowd.

He said that as mayor, he was familiar with every aspect of foreign policy that affected the city in the 1990s, and he added that since he left office in 2001, he has made "91, 92" international trips to "34, 35" countries, often meeting with heads of state or top deputies. "It's something that I think I know as well as anybody else who's running for president, probably better than a lot," he said.

He also cited his company, Giuliani Partners, which he said has done business around the globe. "So I know the world," he concluded.
In his 30-minute speech, Mr. Giuliani focused more on policy than he has in many previous campaign stops. His speech was also notable for its departure from two cornerstones of his candidacy thus far: his record of reducing crime in New York and his experience leading the city after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Instead, Mr. Giuliani talked about taxes, education, and health care, saying they are areas where Republican ideas trump those of Democrats.

Democrats, he said, would want to raise taxes to pay the higher costs of a war. "That shows a dividing line, and to me, a misunderstanding of how our economy works," Mr. Giuliani said. He said that while Republicans believe that the American economy is "essentially a private economy," Democrats "really believe, honest, that it is essentially a government economy."

Citing the tax cuts of President Kennedy, Mr. Giuliani said the Democrats' move away from a low-tax policy was one reason he left the party to become an independent and later a Republican.

On education, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that he had more success overhauling the New York City welfare system than its public schools, but he lauded "school choice" programs that allow parents to use government money to send their children to private schools. Those initiatives have long drawn criticism from some who contend they amount to an abandonment of public schools.

Mr. Giuliani promised to take on the nation's public school system, but he said would not seek to dismantle it. "I would not destroy it," he said. "I would revive it, reform it, and change it."

While saying the government needed to "find ways" to expand access to health insurance, Mr. Giuliani criticized Democratic proposals for universal health care that he said would threaten a "socialization" of the American medical system. "That would be a terrible, terrible mistake," he said. The solutions, he said, "have to be free market solutions. They have to be a competitive system."

The Giuliani campaign announced yesterday that the former mayor will address the Conservative Political Action Conference here on Friday. The annual conservative summit also will feature speeches by two former governors of Massachusetts and Arkansas, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Notably, an early Republican front-runner, Senator McCain of Arizona, has not accepted an invitation to speak at the gathering.

After speaking in Washington, Mr. Giuliani headed to northern Virginia to appear at a fund-raiser for the state Republican Party.

Mr. Giuliani's campaign also said yesterday that a former Republican nominee for governor of California, Bill Simon, has signed on as Mr. Giuliani's policy director, and that a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Michael Boskin, will serve as the former mayor's chief economic adviser.


At 3/02/2007 12:06 PM, Blogger merjoem32 said...

Interesting views on the 2008 presidential race. I also like Obama because he is intelligent. He is also a staunch critic of the war in Iraq and he has remained consistent on the issue unlike Hillary. I haven't read his book yet but I hope that I get the chance to read it someday.


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