Thursday, January 31, 2008

Talk About Putting Your Heart Into a Game

Apparently, being an avid sports fan is bad for your heart -- at least when your team is in a big game. Brings a whole new meaning to "heartbreaking loss" doesn't it?

Still, you won't find me turning off the TV when my team is playing. Maybe I'll just invest in a defibulator. In team colors, of course.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Little Political Truth

“Of all the strategic errors that all of the campaigns have made this cycle, Romney's effort to appeal to all the individual factions of the GOP may have been the biggest.”

That’s from a great article from Dean Barnett of The Weekly Standard. The truth is fun. Read these other quotes:

On Republicans…

[T]he link between all the current Republican party-approved issues is tenuous if indeed it exists at all. If you favor a muscular approach in the war against Radical Islam, do you necessarily contradict your support for the war if you favor gay marriage? The same question holds for lower taxes and environmentalism. While many of these issues have become part of the tribal warfare that separates the two parties, it's impossible to identify a coherent philosophy that demands a voter adopt all the Republican orthodoxies.

On John McCain…

Right now, it looks like we have a party composed of members who pick and choose from a menu of Republican positions that have no logical reason for co-existing with one another. How else do we explain John McCain's success?

And on the Democrats…

The Democratic party has long been a multi-member marriage of convenience. The only thing that truly unites its disparate members is their disdain for the Republican party. The preceding, by the way, is one of the reasons Barack Obama has a chance to be such a transformative figure--he's the first Democratic politician in well over a generation to offer a sweeping (though vague) vision that offers anything more than a bunch of little schemes to rip off a piece of the federal government's carcass to give to each member of the coalition.

We don’t have parties anymore. We have two political buffets and we get to choose at which we’d rather eat.

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The Failed Arguments of John Edwards

Another presidential campaign, another also-ran badge for John Edwards. Only this time he won’t even get the VP consolation prize.

Edwards got lost this year amidst the Clinton v. Obama rumble. You could say a rich, middle-aged white guy simply had no shot in a year when historic firsts beckoned the party. But, really, I think voters just weren’t convinced that this patrician with the Southern drawl as meticulously maintained as his hair would really change America for the better.

Oh, sure, he had that speech, the one members of the media fawned over four years ago. The one that sounded so stilted and contrived at the convention in 2004. Two Americas. One for those slimy rich jerks, one for us poor oppressed masses. The fact that Edwards himself is filthy rich was apparently a sign that he knew what he was talking about – rather than an indication that he might be clueless.

Those on the right often accused Edwards of waging class warfare. Maybe in some people’s definition. But, really, he’s just a typical 20th century era liberal who believes people have little hope of a good life without the government assuring them one. That’s not to say he believes in an endless welfare state. He truly loves the virtues of hard work and believes a good day’s labor should earn a good day’s pay. In a perfect world, it should, yes. In this world, the rise of the service economy has left us with lots of jobs whose labor is worth little so that the products we buy might cost less.

John Edwards wanted to fix that, which is a positive mission. But he wasn’t advocating the removal of hurdles that make it difficult for individuals to compete in the free market or lowering the barriers that make it hard for small businesses to prosper. He believed in more regulations, more restrictions, more government that would artificially elevate wages, close off trade and try to hold back the inevitable transition to a global economy. He wanted to protect us from the big, scary free market, not help us operate in it.

A lot of us would love more opportunity to lift ourselves up, but, apparently (thankfully), not many think Edwards’ brand of protectionism is the answer. What Edwards got wrong is that there are not two Americas. It’s not so simple. There are hundreds of Americas. Thousands. And each state, each city, each neighborhood and each person doesn’t need governmental coddling. We need freedom. We need the federal government to cut away the layers of unfairness not add more layers for us to navigate. It’s not even about smaller government. Just smarter government, more focused on creating opportunity than trying to create some unreachable ideal of classlessness.

Edwards’ ideas live on within the Democratic party. Hopefully, his failure will help temper the party’s more protectionist instincts. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help the less fortunate – in fact, the impulse is noble. But some solutions are far better than others.

Cross posted at PoliGazette.

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The Obama Backlash

There are some posts highly critical of Barack Obama at Stubborn Facts (here and here). One at Centerfield here and a whole host at PoliGazette (a concise one here).

The general theme? Obama is a fraud, nothing more than a generic liberal with rhetorical chops. He won’t actually unify anybody. He has no way to pay for his “solutions.” He’s just an inexperienced joe who is flying high thanks to the endless adoration of the media.

All this is coming from writers who are reasonable people and not prone to spout off party-line arguments or twist logic just so “their side” can look good. Their critiques do make me worry that I’m a sucker for preferring Obama to Clinton and believing, even with reservations, that he has the capacity to bridge some of the divides in this nation.

Part of this backlash is probably just contrarianism for the sake of balancing out the recent rush of Obama love. But a lot of it is pretty earnest and some of the writers seem quite concerned that Obama proponents are falling into a potentially dangerous trap. Maybe so. But their aversion is based on no more evidence than my attraction. It’s all a matter of perception.

Really, I’m an Obama admirer more than a supporter (McCain would get my vote if the election occurred today), but I’m going to let Obama and not his critics drive my judgments. I’d rather be audacious enough to believe there are still great men who can achieve great deeds than be so calculatingly cynical as to reject even the hope of greatness.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Florida, Florida, Florida

McCain wins -- even in a state that only permits registered Republicans to cast ballots. Either Floridians are more moderate than the rest of the Republican party or the Republican party is more moderate than its Limbaugh wing. I imagine Romney supporters will claim McCain played dirty. They might want to consider the fact that a flip-flopper from Massachusetts simply doesn't play well.

Meanwhile, Giuliani completed his historic crash and burn. He's done now. I'd be surprised if he even bothered to actively compete in Super Tuesday. What's the point?

And it looks like we have another super strong Ron Paul showing. It must be a conspiracy. Or, you know, maybe he's just not that great of a candidate.

Also of interest, Hillary Clinton won the blue ribbon for most recognizable name. That didn't stop her from pretending as if the delegate-less Florida was a big win. Of course, Obama would have done the same if he'd managed to pull out a victory. In the end, it's a nice photo-op for Clinton but it changes nothing. Super Tuesday is where it's at and where we'll find out if Obama can really compete or if he's just a great story.

And now, the big week begins. Everything heads to Super Tuesday where maybe the Republicans will wrap things up. Most likely, we'll still be left with questions even next week.

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Bush and the Very Average Presidency

He’s still got almost a full year left in office, but George W. Bush is already being discussed in the past tense. PoliGazette has an interesting discussion about his legacy. There is, as you might expect, a good deal of disagreement on how Bush rates as a president. My take is this:

Bush has been an average president during extraordinary times. During his presidency, we suffered the worst attack on American soil and the nation’s worst natural disaster — neither was preventable by the president (although a lot of people like to argue otherwise). Both could only be responded to and that’s how Bush is and will be judged. He did great after 9/11 and then that trailed off in the lead up to and invasion of Iraq. He and everyone else did poorly after Katrina. My guess is a lot of our presidents would have had a similar performance with errors befitting their own weaknesses.

Domestically, he’s had about as many hits and misses as any other contemporary president. And, with the exception of a few notable policies like stem cell research, he’s followed a decidedly mainstream series of policies. The economy is not looking fantastic right now but, if you’re going to blame Bush for the current dip, you have to credit him for how quickly and thoroughly we climbed out of the 2001 recession. Again, a pretty average result.

As much as some may argue otherwise, he hasn’t been a terrible president. He has, however, been a very clumsy one, generally unable to rally the nation and frequently creating division where such divides were unnecessary and avoidable. He’s a man of big ideas but has not the capacity to express those ideas clearly. As a result, he’s too often relied on the tricks of marketing rather than on honest persuasion. When he has made a good case – such as the need to modernize social security now before there’s a crisis – he’s often lost because he’s squandered too much political capital on other matters.

There has been and still continues to be much hyperbole in the negative critiques of Bush. A fair number of people hate him, often with little rationality. Many others just strongly dislike him. Had Bush not so readily pursued politics of division to win elections and push through controversial policies, there would not have been such fertile ground for the Bush haters. Bush has helped spawn the very negativity that now attacks him from multiple sides. Those attackers in turn have made it almost impossible to have a reasonable discussion on Bush’s merits.

And yet, what has really left the Bush legacy so meek (at least to our contemporary eyes) are the times in which he served. When an average leader faces extraordinary times, the results will be unsatisfactory. The vast majority of leaders are average and there is no evidence we as a nation would have faired any better or been any more pleased under the leadership of a different man. I say that not to defend Bush but to put his presidency in perspective.

Our times are still extraordinary. Who amongst the candidates could be a leader of rarer ability? That’s really the most important question before us.

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A Real Stimulus Package

This could very well help the average family far more than anything the government will do. Free markets ... gotta love 'em.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

We Interupt This Election to Bring You ... The President of the United States

While we’re all bickering over who should be the next president, the current president still has a few things to say. Of course, we’ve heard almost all of it before.

Bush is against taxes. He’s in favor of continuing military operations in Iraq. He’s theoretically in favor of combating global warming but is against doing anything that could conceivably hurt business. He’s for education spending, particularly for helping out faith-based schools. And on and on.

He did encourage quick passage of the stimulus package – proving once again he’s about as fiscally sound as a teenager with Daddy’s credit card (with this congress, he’s in good company). He also came out against earmarks, although that emphasis was probably added as a way to focus criticism on the Democratic congress and their quickly broken promise of significantly curtailing such budgetary tricks.

Bush has always been a man of big ideas but tonight felt quiet and small. A lame duck president facing an oppositional congress has little hope of achieving anything significant in his final year. He can only reaffirm his priorities while reminding everyone the next guy (or gal) has yet to take office. Bush did just that and nothing more.

Historians will long debate this president’s legacy but one thing is inarguable: the man has great confidence in his own judgment. Right or wrong, good or bad, he’s standing firm until the end. Those crying for change will get no satisfaction until the next president takes over.

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Giuliani: Done in By Ego

Unless the poll numbers are wrong (which, you know, never happens), Rudy Giuliani is going down tomorrow. Needless to say, no one will be trying the “big state” strategy again anytime soon – except I think Giuliani’s crash-and-burn goes a lot deeper than failed election tactics.

Bowing out of the early contests was just one of many bad choices brought about by the central Giuliani problem: arrogance. This is a man who not only believes his own myth but believed the rest of us would easily succumb to hero worship. We haven’t. As a former Giuliani booster, I can say the mayor’s seemingly uncontrollable ego led directly to the withdrawal of my support.

What initially turned me off of Giuliani were the stories of him taking phone calls during speeches. Only a man of rare selfishness would be so bizarrely inconsiderate. Then there was his increasing inability to discuss any aspect of his campaign without invoking 9/11. He was most definitely a very brave, very strong leader that day but his use of 9/11 became a sad comedy, making the moniker 9iu11ani devastatingly appropriate.

Finally, his decision to make no effort in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina made it clear that Giuliani believed he could simply be anointed, that he didn’t have to play the game like everyone else. He’s always been one to demand special treatment (not to mention permitting underlings to act outside the rules) but I think it was 9/11 that propelled him from a typical, egocentric New York City mayor to a disastrously arrogant presidential candidate

Consider this passage fromthe profile of Giuliani in Time Magazine’s 2001 Man of the Year issue.

Giuliani is now cancer free, and [wife Judith] Nathan believes that God spared him so he would be able to lead on Sept. 11. The timing of his ordeals also makes the mayor think about God's hand. Had the terrorists struck one year earlier, "when I was going through daily radiation, I couldn't have done it." Had he not had the cancer, he probably would have stayed in the Senate race [against Hillary Clinton] and might have won--and thus would not have been on the scene to help his city get through the crisis. And if not for the cancer, he says, "I would have dealt with Sept. 11 effectively, but not as effectively. I would not have been as peaceful about it."

Even the most humble of men would question the role of destiny if they found themselves in Giuliani’s situation. But the mayor was hardly humble to begin with. Now, his ego-centricity is hours away from bringing down his campaign.

Waiting until Florida was an inarguably bad strategic gamble. But when you read pundits blaming Giuliani’s failure primarily on his election tactics, remember what character flaw prompted the mayor to adopt those tactics in the first place. How many voters have been turned off by Giuliani’s arrogance? Impossible to calculate. But his inability to compete for votes without seeming as if he deserved those votes has, in my opinion, done as much to sink his chances as has any strategic blunder. By acting bigger than he is, he’s seemed too small for the job. That’s a shame because he would have made a fascinating nominee.

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Disagreeing with Obama yet Supporting Him

How can I endorse Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination despite the fact that I dsagree with him on so many policy issues? I explain here at PoliGazette.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Undecided No More

Always one to follow the herd, I’ve made a decision on Campaign 2008. Actually, I’ve made two (how’s that for being a wishy/washy Centrist?).

If it hasn’t become obvious to all my readers, I’m supporting John McCain AND Barack Obama. See, I’ve decided it isn’t necessary to choose just one candidate and then really, really hope he gets his party’s nomination. I’m supporting one candidate from each party in the hope we get at least one good choice this November. If I get a two-fer-one and it’s McCain vs. Obama, I guess I’ll be one of those coveted undecideds for a good while.

So, while I have reservations about Obama’s liberal policy stances and concerns about McCain’s party affiliation (I’m not sure another 4 years of Republican leadership in the White House would be effective, no matter how appealing that Republican is), they are the only two candidates for whom I realistically could vote.

So, there you have it. Now when I write anything that favors McCain or Obama you can accuse me of blatant bias (although I still plan to be cool-headed and critically honest about every aspect of this campaign).

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama Clobbers Clinton

Barack Obama didn't just win South Carolina, he dominated the election, pulling in twice the votes of Hillary Clinton. The Clintons will not be able to spin this easily. Hillary lost hard and Obama did more than enough to prove his continued viability.

Now we head into Super Tuesday. Expect things to get even nastier -- but don't expect anything to be settled February 5th. This one is going to drag on for awhile yet.

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It's Over Between the Clintons and I

Jonathan Chait says a whole cadre of liberals have soured on the Clintons due to the disreputable tactics they’ve used in campaigning against Barack Obama. If liberals are feeling queasy, imagine what the multitude of independent voters who supported Bill Clinton are feeling.

I voted for Bill Clinton twice and, while I was a true-blue Democrat at the time, I have not regretted those votes even after I made a rightward leap and became an independent. I’ve continued to hold Clinton in high regard – out of admiration for the calm and prosperous times he presided over and out of defiance towards those who’ve used immoral means to smear the Clinton legacy.

In a matter of a few weeks, all the respect I held is gone. I can still admire what Clinton achieved as president (Bosnia, NAFTA, welfare reform, deficit reduction, liberalizing the military’s policy on gays), but his recent deplorable behavior has severed whatever affection I had for Clinton the man.

Sure, I was outraged at his conduct during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But I successfully deceived myself into believing that he was just a great man cursed with great flaws – human frailty far more universal than it was insidious. Boy was I a chump.

Clearly (far too clearly now), he is not possessed of common failings, he’s possessed of uncommon perfidy. He is the snake and too many of us have eaten the apple.

And Hillary? We can only assume she is the same – all amoral ambition and little regard for those who get in the way. If liberals are now waking up to that fact and feeling a little unclean, us independents are waking up screaming. Can we really give these people the keys to the nation again? No. If I have to hold my nose and vote for Romney (an idea that seemed outrageous just a few weeks ago), I’ll do so.

It’s over between the Clintons and I. And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one feeling that way.


Friday, January 25, 2008

"George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party"

So says Peggy Noonan. Over his tenure, Bush has fractured the party’s coalitions and set them against one another. The result is the contentiousness now seen in the nomination process.

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McCain a Less Risky Choice than Romney

Mitt Romney is gaining in the Republican polls and that’s simply not something I understand. Yes, I know John McCain is not well-loved in his party but it takes some serious mental contortions to believe Romney is a better choice.

Let’s leave aside the fact that McCain is vastly more qualified and has shown a level of courage and leadership far surpassing whatever sits inside the well-tailored suit of Romney. Let’s also leave aside electability, which also greatly favors McCain. Let’s just look at what makes both these candidates unacceptable for Republicans.

McCain: Has repeatedly and often proudly committed the sin of ideological independence. While I find this to be a sign of strong character and mental acuity, I understand why pure-blooded Republicans see it as tantamount to apostasy.

Romney: Has committed the sin of flip floppery. The man held one set of beliefs when governor of Massachusetts and now holds a whole different set. He hasn’t merely had one or two opinions evolve over time, he’s had a whole grab bag full of opinions change overnight.

So, this is the choice facing Republicans. They can choose a man who, while holding some heretical beliefs, is known as a decisive leader who will keep conservativism alive if not pristine. We know where McCain stands and we know he won’t shift and slide with every new wind.

OR, Republicans can choose a man whose true beliefs are an absolute mystery. Sure, he currently says all the right conservative things but will he make dramatic course changes the moment a poll shows public opinion is against him? Haven’t Republicans been telling us for the last seven years that what makes Bush so great is that you always know where he stands and that you know he won’t falter? Now Republicans want a guy who could very well fall over at the first mild breeze.

Obviously, the choices before Republicans are not perfect. But it’s not like free-spending, amnesty-pushing, McCain-Feingold signing, federal-power expanding George Bush has exactly been a good steward of conservativism. If a return to Reaganism is impossible (and it is), then shouldn’t Republicans pick the candidate likely to do the least damage to their beliefs?

McCain is essentially just a few inches to Bush’s left. Romney? Who knows. And who really wants to take the risk?

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stimulus? More Like Wealth Redistribution

In a display of political showmanship and fiscal irresponsibility, congress and the president have agreed to the terms of an economic stimulus package. First, from CNN, the details:

Sources on Capitol Hill and at the Treasury Department said the plan would send checks of $600 to individuals and $1,200 to couples who paid income tax and who filed jointly.

People who did not pay federal income taxes but who had earned income of more than $3,000 would get checks of $300 per individual or $600 per couple.

A Democratic aide and Republican aide said there will be an additional amount per child, which could be in the neighborhood of $300.

Those who earn up to $75,000 individually or up to $150,000 as a couple will be eligible for the payments, said Republican and Democratic sources familiar with the tentative deal.

What we have here is a nice little wealth redistribution plan. If these kinds of tax rebates actually stimulate the economy, then we could debate the appropriateness of excluding wealthier households. But the problem is, rebates don’t work. Historically, people use the rebates to pay down personal debt or they put the money into savings. They don’t put the funds back into the economy. That means, by limiting who gets money from the stimulus package, our government is taking money away from a small group to help a large group pay off their credit cards.

If the point of this legislation is to infuse the economy with money, what does it matter how much you make? Are people who make over $75,000 a year less likely to spend a rebate? Certainly not. Would giving a rebate to these households (they make up just 5% of U.S. households) significantly increase the expense? No. But these people are “rich” or at least “not poor” so I suppose it would be unseemly for the government to be padding their wallets.

And yet, $300 checks are going out to those who pay no taxes at all. On one end of the income scale we have a full-on handout and on the other end we have what amounts to a tax penalty. All I can figure is that President Bush was so desperate to get this showpiece of a bill passed that he let the Democrats dictate the terms. And Democrats are too often more interested in symbolic shows of supporting the less fortunate (and marginalizing the well off) than they are in making substantive reforms.

Of course, I’m not turning down my check. It’ll help pay off some debt. That will help my finances but not the economy.

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'Cause I Can't Control Myself

Thanks to some well-placed begging, I've been invited to ruin join the outstanding team at PoliGazette. My first post is here.

I'll of course still be filling up Maverick Views with my thoughts and also posting the occasional rambling at Donklephant. When it comes to blogging, I seem to be all or nothing.


Congratulations, You're a Phony!

If there are seven signs of our coming doom this company is certainly one of them. Named Celeb 4 A Day, they allow average joes like you and me to pay for the privilege of being chased around by paparazzi for a few hours. Pay enough and they’ll even provide you with a publicist to keep the paparazzi at bay.

I probably don’t need to be snarky. The inanity of this is self-apparent. But, for the love of God! Is it not enough that the supermarket shelves are plastered in celebrity gossip? Is it not enough that CNN makes the pregnancy of Brittney Spears’ sister a lead story? Are all the Paris Hiltons and Lindsey Lohans and all the talent-less, personality-less, wax-molded reality “stars” not enough to fully satiate our cultural need for fame? People now want to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars so that they appear famous to all the absolute total strangers who happen to pass by their paparazzi lovefest?

Hey, I’m all for a little decadence in life. But I like mine with some lasting pleasure. So what if you’ve had four, five, six guys snap photos of you for an hour and had onlookers go all agape, trying to figure out who the hell you are. Look at you, you’re famous. Except you’re not. You’re a phony and when the photographers collect their check and leave, you’re still just some schlub who has to spell his name five times to the helpdesk guy in India.

Yeah, I’m probably missing the innocent joy in something like this. But, to me, our fame and celebrity addiction is nausea inducing. If we’re going to be a decadent society, can’t it at least involve old scotch and plates of foie gras?

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Race Should Not Be The Storyline

Dick Morris has a nasty take on the Democratic primaries. He opines:

If Hillary loses South Carolina and the defeat serves to demonstrate Obama's ability to attract a bloc vote among black Democrats, the message will go out loud and clear to white voters that this is a racial fight…
[I]f blacks deliver South Carolina to Obama, everybody will know that they are bloc-voting. That will trigger a massive white backlash against Obama and will drive white voters to Hillary Clinton.

Wow. I don’t know what upsets me more: that Morris would so brazenly declare that white Democrats are racist or that he might be right.

If Hillary wins the nomination, we’ll likely never know exactly how much race played into the voters’ decision. There are plenty of reasons to support Clinton over Obama without race ever entering the debate. But if Clinton should win, there will be those like Morris who declare it a result of racism. Those same people will likely use that claim to try to drive a wedge into the Democrats or at least make the Clintons look more ruthless and conniving than they already appear.

This all sits very poorly with me. Intellectually, I know race relations and race politics are still a major part of the American political system just as racism is still very much with us. But in my heart I hope the vast majority of voters can judge a man, as Dr. King dreamed, not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.

I hope Morris’ nasty little analysis does not become a dominant storyline. I foresee nothing but ugliness in that.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fred Thompson, We Hardly Knew Ye

No, seriously, who was that guy? He came and went without leaving a print, an elusive beast that cryptozoologists will whisper about for years to come. A grumbling, phlegmatic Bigfoot.

Last summer Republicans complained that there was no true conservative in the race. Thompson came to their rescue – an arthritic old dog more inclined to lay where sunbeams once shined than move across the room. If he was the best hope for a Reagan revival, there’s not much hope at all.

In the same way Democrats held on to FDR and JFK for far too many years, Republicans keep holding up Reagan as the perfect model for America past and future. Thompson himself has huffed that there will be no more Reagans. How true that is. Reagan was of a time and a nation that are gone. There’s nothing wrong with admiring the man for what he did but resurrecting 25 year-old policies is not the way forward. New eras need new leadership.

Thompson is nothing new. I suppose he may still end up as a VP candidate but that would just be furthering the same ideological mistake that pulled him into the campaign in the first place.

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It's About Neo-Fascism not Liberal Fascism

Jonah Goldberg, author of the provocative new book Liberal Fascism is upset at how his book has been received. He believes most critics are missing his main point which is:

[T]o the extent that fascism of any kind will come to America, it will do so in the guise of something "progressive." Indeed, American progressives, particularly before Hitler arrived on the scene in the 1930s, were openly sympathetic to Italian fascism. This isn't to say they copied it (or the fascism of Soviet Russia), as many claim. But rather that the ideas that gave birth to and fueled American progressivism -- philosophical pragmatism, Bismarckian "top-down socialism," Marxism, eugenics and more -- share common intellectual sources and impulses with those that gave us both socialism and fascism.

Mainly Goldberg just seems pissed off that “fascism” has come to be applied nearly exclusively to politicians and ideas on the right/Republican side of the spectrum. He wants to show that the roots of fascism can be traced to leftist ideology. Great. Fine. Except, as Callimachus at Done With Mirrors points out in an excellent essay on the subject, Goldberg’s whole premise rests on a faulty notion of the political spectrum and lacks a workable definition of fascism.

The political alignment of the mid-20th century called fascism was primarily a reaction to communism. Unsurprisingly, the two most prominent targets of communists, capitalists and religious figures, made up the initial fascists. What transformed fascism from a reactionary position into a political movement was the addition of other more complex concepts and urges involving cults of personality and notions of cultural purity.

In Italy, a hubristic nationalism took hold. In Germany, anti-Semitism and Aryan primacy became prominent. Both nations also undertook expansionist agendas which had as much to do with Europe’s historical power struggles as with the fascist ideology. These aspects, more so than the anti-communist base of fascism, are why “fascist” became synonymous with evil. The tag ultimately became associated with the political right because fascism was erroneously seen as the opposite of communism.

The problem with all this is, the words fascist and fascism have lost any clear definition. Those on the left hurl it at those on the right most often to mean “policies which suppress individual freedom for the advancement of the military/industrial/religious complex.” Fascism has come to be associated with anything that helps the powerful stay in power or even anything that helps the Republicans win elections.

However, if we strip fascism of historical context and see it as an action rather than an ideology, we could give it a contemporary meaning such as: any political policy which suppresses personal liberty in order to achieve a higher cultural, nationalistic or societal goal. Neither liberalism nor conservativism as practiced in America are inherently suppressive. However, I could easily identify neo-fascist elements on both sides from hate-speech laws to warrantless wiretapping, from gun control to abortion restrictions.

In this definition, fascist does not have to mean evil or even wrong – but it is still worthy of great suspicion. A fascist policy is one that restrains the liberty of the individual. Whether that restraint is acceptable is a case-by-case debate. But the more a nation suppresses individual liberty the more fascist it becomes so that, ultimately, fascism would be nothing more than an intellectually complex justification for authoritarianism.

A truly fascinating book might examine the historical context of fascism and then explore how the neo-fascist elements of our society are affecting our concepts and practice of freedom. One could get a lot of licks in at both the right and the left. Unfortunately, Goldberg seems more inclined to focus exclusively on delegitimizing the left. He shouldn’t wonder why he’s received such a harsh reaction. The book is positioned as an attack piece and whatever honest scholarship certainly exists is washed away by the book’s overall presumption that liberalism is to blame for a historically destructive ideology.

There’s a lot of good reasons to discuss fascism in both a historical and contemporary context. Goldberg’s book doesn’t seem up to the task but maybe it’ll still spur some great debates.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Gloves Come Off in Democratic Debate

Did you see tonight's Democratic debate or at least catch the video clips (coverage here)? Obama changed the whining tone I noted earlier today into a very combative tone. Clinton responded with her own ferocity.

The result? It's all in the eye of the beholder. If you think Hillary is a lie-a-minute dirty politician, then Obama gave her a well-deserved lashing. If you think Obama is a snake oil salesman, then Clinton undressed him. For voters who are undecided, I guess John Edwards came out looking best as he stayed above the fray.

From my vantage point, Obama helped himself. I thought he appeared tough without seeming petty. But, then again, I'm no Hillary fan. What I do know is Democrats are going to have a lot of patching up to do at the convention.

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Obama Whines About Bill Clinton

So, Barack Obama thinks Bill Clinton is going overboard in his campaigning for Hillary. Basically, Obama doesn't like Bill, a former president, playing the attack dog role.

Yes, it's unseemly, but there has never been much about Bill Clinton that is seemly. Bill Clinton might be playing loose with the facts in his attacks but he's just playing politics as usual. He's done nothing outside the typical playbook.

Obama sounds like a whiner with these complaints. He needs to find a far stronger defense than moaning that the Clinton's are playing unfair.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

McCain Wins South Carolina

He's now the clear frontrunner. Huckabee is running for Vice President. And Romney? He could easily hang around long enough to make this thing very interesting. But Republicans like to get in line sooner rather than later. If McCain can win Florida, he'll likely clinch the nomination on Super Tuesday. And as far as I'm concerned, a McCain nomination would be a very good thing.

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Tax Rebates...

Ending Economic Recklessness

I do not believe the U.S. president can significantly affect the economy. But I do believe the president’s priorities can lay the framework for a healthy economic environment.

The Bush administration has failed to control spending, letting Congress binge like a drunken sailor, filling budgets with an embarrassing amount of pork and borrowing money with reckless abandon. It’s no surprise that one of the largest loan crises in American history has occurred at the same time as our government’s unhinged escalation of the national debt.

Bush and Congress have promoted an “easy money” culture. Whether they are simply following a larger cultural trend or whether they’re actively creating this irresponsible attitude, our government’s disastrous money management must bare a solid portion of the blame for our current economic woes.

We will rally past this slowdown because we Americans are an industrious people. But since it’s an election year, we should use this experience as a chance to elect a new president who can correct the economic mistakes of Bush and company.

Almost every candidate gives lip service to balancing the budget, but it’s not so much about desire as it is will. We have to determine who actually has the canjones to stand up to congress and curtail spending. Who will actually make balancing the budget and reducing the national debt a priority? Who will lay the framework for an economic environment of financial responsibility?

I’ll be listening. And I hope a lot of other people will be too.


What We Know After Nevada

We know endorsements from labor unions help but the Clinton organization helps more.

We know African-Americans are starting to turn towards Obama in large numbers.

We know Hispanics are still far more comfortable with Hillary.

We know Edwards is done, even if he keeps his campaign going through Super Tuesday.

We know with the way Clinton and Obama continue to split delegates fairly evenly, the nomination could still be up in the air after Super Tuesday.

We know Mormons will vote for Romney in heavy numbers.

We know Nevada, the state that takes greatest advantage of its states rights, is the best place for Ron Paul – and Paul’s best is still far from good enough.

We know Giuliani’s big-state strategy may be one of presidential politics greatest blunders.

We know South Carolina’s results are far more important to Republicans.

We know this whole election is still a crap shoot.

NOTE: All facts pulled from CNN's televised coverage. All commentary pulled from my -- well, you know.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Recession Cometh (Maybe)

The Stock Market is not doing well and recession fears are mounting. Is this just the media needing a good story or should we all be worried about the economy?

I don’t know but, like any blogger worth his weight, I have an opinion. As many of you know, I’m a freelance writer working in advertising and marketing. When companies face hard times, the first thing they cut is their advertising budget (i.e. Hyundai’s decision to pull its Super Bowl ads). The first thing advertising agencies cut is the amount of work given out to freelancers. Thus, when economic times turn rough, advertising freelancers often face the first blow.

Think of me as a canary in the mine. And guys, I’m not doing so well.

My regular sources of work have dried up and I’m struggling to find new opportunities. Maybe this is just an individual problem and not indicative of larger economic ills. But when I hear we’re headed for a recession my first thought is: hell, I’m already in one.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Anyone Know...

...if Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani plan to show up for this election? I keep hearing they're viable but shouldn't they at least be getting support out of the single digits even in states where they haven't campaigned much? In Michigan they both got under 5% of the vote.

Giuliani is, of course, betting on his "late state" strategy, which is kind of like not buying any property in Monopoly until you land on Boardwalk and Park Place. Sounds like an OK plan until you realize everyone else already has hotels before you have a house. Romney, McCain and Huckabee have hotels. It may be game over for Rudy.

And Thompson? He's apparently focused on South Carolina -- maybe he's campaigning between naps and snacks. The man has all the dynamism of breakfast toast. I'd be shocked if he even places top three in SC.

What an odd election year.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Clinton's Iraq Strategy: First Lie and Then Deflect Responsibility

Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Debra Saunders takes a look at Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s record on Iraq. The two have sniped at each other over who is the most intensely against the war. But forget the details for a moment (I’ll get to those) and just read Saunders line of attack against Clinton:

Hold it against Obama if his rhetoric flagged, [Clinton] suggested, but don't hold it against her if she voted for a war resolution thinking it was something else.

I thought Clinton did the right thing voting for the war resolution, but then I was foolish enough to think that, having done so, she would do right by the troops who were tasked with carrying out the will of Washington.

Instead, she turned her back on the mission when the polls showed Americans had soured on the war. Cold to the plight of those who put their lives on the line, she proclaimed in February, "This is George W. Bush's war" -- as if she could toss it like a hot potato. She opposed the surge, which reduced U.S. casualties. She was too busy trying to win the White House to work to win the war.

You see, Clinton voted for the war resolution but now claims she believed the vote would merely lead to further inspections rather than all-out war. That’s clear bullshit. But it gets worse. Not only is she blatantly dissembling she’s abdicating responsibility for one of the most important decisions of her short political career.

John Edwards has apologized ad nauseam for his pro-war vote. Obama wasn’t in the Senate at the time of the vote but clearly opposed the war, even if his oppositional intensity has fluctuated over the years. And Clinton? She has taken a very Clintonian track – first lie and then deflect responsibility.

Does it really matter how competent Clinton is or how many good ideas she has when, at the end of the day, we know she’s going to dodge, weave and refuse responsibility whenever it’s politically expedient? Haven’t we had enough with presidents who treat us like we’re too stupid to know fact from fiction? Haven’t we had enough of presidents who view responsibility as nothing more than a minor annoyance? Haven’t we had enough of the politics of obfuscation and personal destruction?

The Democrats would do the nation a favor by picking Obama or Edwards and ensuring there will be no more continuation of the Bush/Clinton years.

UPDATE: The Clinton “lie then deflect responsibility” storyline must be in the zeitgeist today. Amba writes about it in the context of Hillary’s phony claim she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary. And Donklephant identifies the same pattern in one of Clinton’s closest supporters.

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Courts to MSNBC: Let Kucinich Debate -- UPDATED

Without getting into whether the courts should be telling media organizations how to conduct their business, this is a good thing. I thoroughly dislike the way networks try to play kingmaker by permitting and denying certain candidates the right to participate in televised debates. I understand that they can’t give a podium to every Tom, Dick and Jane but they should invite any candidate with a functional national organization.

Elections, particularly primary elections, are about finding the best candidate for the job. They are not about choosing between the two or three candidates with the best poll numbers. Networks sabotage the democratic system when they close off their debates. The people, not the media pollsters, should decide who is an who isn’t viable. A candidate with low poll numbers will never have a chance to climb higher if they are pushed out of the debates. And yet, the networks egotistically remove candidates from contention, denying voters the right to hear all views.

Kucinich, while hardly in the mainstream, is still a U.S. Congressman and has supporters across the nation. He deserves a spot in the debates just like the equally out-of-the-mainstream and low-polling Ron Paul deserves a spot in the Republican debates. MSNBC should be ashamed that this issue went to the courts.

UPDATE - January 16th. Yeah, nevermind. The Nevada Supreme Court has sided with MSNBC, ruling that the lower court's decision was a violation of the network's First Amendment rights. From a legal standpoint, that's the right ruling I think. But from a political standpoint, I still think Kucinich should be allowed to debate.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Obama Follows Big Words with Small Steps

Of all the candidates, I find Barack Obama to be the most enigmatic (which is why I keep writing about him). I am certain he his not a con man but I am not at all sure what realities prop up his rhetoric. Is his earnestness a product of naiveté or does it come from a deep wisdom about America and our government?

Maybe it’s neither. Maybe Obama is simply pulling off the most difficult of all political maneuvers – appearing optimistically revolutionary while being decidedly wonkish. Newsweek has an enlightening profile of Obama and his real-world achievements. Read the whole piece, but this line is its essence:

Though in speeches he sounds like an idealistic revolutionary out to take back the capital, Obama's record suggests he is actually more of an incrementalist.

Newsweek reveals a number of incidents where Obama has chosen pragmatism over idealism, preferring to hammer out a compromise rather than play the usual zero-sum game. He defines success as any forward movement, however small, toward his goals.

Over the last decade plus, both political parties have followed a scorched-earth policy, opting for total victory or suffering total defeat. Our nation is not better for it and could certainly use more pragmatism. However, read the article and tell me if you think Obama is better suited for the White House or Majority Leader in the Senate?

Take away his golden tongue and Obama is a mainline liberal who has shown an aptitude for combining persuasion and compromise to achieve incremental change. His rhetoric is made for primetime but his political temperament is more the stuff of C-Span. That’s not to say he wouldn’t make a decent president – just that those who vote for him need to look behind the big speeches and understand that by “change” Obama almost certainly means “small, drawn-out steps towards change.”

Obama may be right that, in today’s political environment, the only way to achieve meaningful change is through baby steps. But I’d really like to see his rousing oratory backed up by a Rooseveltian sense of the possible. Smart, unifying governance does not have to mean narrow maneuvers. There is room to strive valiantly and dare greatly. So far, all I’ve heard from Obama are well-written platitudes. Where are the visionary ideas? Where’s the audacity? Perhaps that’s just not who Obama is.

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Lovin' the Border

I spent some time down on the border this weekend – always an educational experience. The land itself is thick with thorn brush, two raindrops shy of a desert and suitable for nothing more than deer hunting and hardscrabble ranching. With earth this unkind, it’s no surprise some of the nation’s poorest counties are down here.

If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re at a disadvantage. There is not even the pretense that English is the first language of the U.S. Many signs are only in Spanish. At least half the residents speak little or no English. White people are practically nonexistent. This is the nightmare of Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs.

As for me, I love it. The problems and challenges of illegal immigration aside, I love the cultural intermingling, the fusion of language and foods and religion and ideas. I like that I can get chicken-fried steak and a bowl of menudo from the same restaurant. I enjoy sliding between two languages to express ideas that either alone can’t contain. There is something so authentically Texan in the Rio Grande Valley. And it’s a shame so many can look at these cities and see nothing but Mexican infiltration of our culture.

It’s not infiltration. It’s fusion, a kind of assimilation that is creating its own vibrant culture. I always come back from the Valley feeling enlivened. I think we talk too much about the problems of the border and spend too little time recognizing its vitality.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

RIP Unity '08

Just received an email from Unity '08. They are ceasing their efforts to get a bi-partisan ticket on the ballots of all 50 states. They site a lack of money and members as the problem.

They also just lost two board members who've apparently gone to work with Michael Bloomberg. The email is long and I won't bore you with a long quote, but after kinda-sorta taking credit for Barack Obama, they had this to say:

The past year has taught us that it's tough to rally millions for a process without a candidate or an issue...Motivating people to fix a broken system that drives candidates to the extremes by creating something more inclusive and sensible has proven to be a lot harder than we expected.

Yeah, coulda told them that. I've been involved in a similar, albeit much smaller effort. We couldn't get about eight self-proclaimed centrists to agree on much of anything. Unity '08 was trying to rally a whole nation.

Hey, centrism, moderation, independent-mindedness (whatever you want to call it) is not dead. It's just not possible to organize in any large or meaningful way. That's what makes those of us non-partisans so important to the process. We're unpredictable. You can't win the independents with the same song-and-dance in each election. You gotta keep evolving.

Unity '08 says they're evolving too. But, really, it's over for them. But it may just be beginning independents.

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Evil Cabal Stealing Our Elections

From the crazy conspiracy department: Diebold e-voting machines may have helped Hillary win New Hampshire. That’s right, that’s the same insidious company that allegedly stole the 2004 election for George Bush by switching or manufacturing hundreds of thousands of votes in Ohio. Apparently, they’re now working for Hillary.

OR, maybe Diebold is just a tool of a secret and cunning society working to keep the Bush/Clinton legacy alive and well. And who has benefited the most from the last 20 years? That’s right, political writers. I’m now prepared to reveal, after plenty to drink extensive research, that our elections are being stolen by a malevolent cabal comprised of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Al Franken and Michael Moore.

Those guys will stop at nothing to stay on the bestseller lists.

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Kerry Sabotages Endorses Obama

So, John Kerry is for Obama, with the Massachusetts senator's golden touch planned for today. Actually, other than a slap at former running-mate John Edwards, Kerry's endorsement is not that big of a story. Maybe Kerry can help with organizational efforts but, otherwise, I'm sure Obama is just hoping the former nominee's support is a little more portentous than Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean in 2004.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hillary the Machine

Forget the theories that Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire because she shed a few tears or because she out-debated Obama. The best explanation is the simplest one: she mobilized the traditional Democratic base.

The Clintons have a political machine. Hillary turned that thing on full speed yesterday and got the right people to the polls. The pundits will want to make this a story about Hillary’s changing strategy. The numbers seem to show nothing has changed at all– the machine simply worked for a primary where it failed for a caucus.

Obama isn’t up against a new Hillary. He’s facing the same powerful political engine that’s been here all along.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Nobody Knows Nothin'

So, the rumor of Hillary’s demise was greatly exaggerated. Obama is a fantastic story but apparently not everyone is convinced he’ll be a fantastic president.

For Democrats and the nation at large, Clinton’s win in New Hampshire is actually a good thing. It gives more voters more time to examine the inexperienced Obama rather than simply giving him a coronation. The longer the race remains undecided, the better.

Meanwhile, the Republicans politely kept the results in line with the polls and went 1)McCain 2)Romney 3)Huckabee. That changes nothing. This is still a heated race.

I can only hope at least one party’s contest is still in play by the time Texas holds its primary sometime next century (it’s in early March, but it might as well be in 2108). I’d love the chance to pull a lever rather than just spouting off on-line.

More tomorrow after all this sets in.


One More Fatherhood Moment

Inspired by my friend’s fatherhood poem, I add this bit of a story. All true expect for the names:

The day's last moments lingered in the ribbons of pink clouds dipping to the west. They could still hear the carnival, the children's voices endless like a waterfall, the deeper hum of parents conversing, laughing, scolding. They had barely pulled Ian away, spending the last of their cash on a child’s football game requiring too much skill for a three-year old. The game operator gave him a toy anyway, just enough of a bribe to get the boy to finally leave.

He sat now in Dad's arms, clinging on in that way only tired children do. "We go 'gain tomorrow?" he asked.

"It's just here tonight," Dad answered, pretty sure the carnival would be around tomorrow but damn sure he wouldn't be going back.

"I wanna go tomorrow," Ian insisted.

"We're done with the carnival. It'll be back next year."

"I wanna throw foo'ball 'gain."

"We'll throw one at home."

"I wanna win."

"You can win." Dad stopped there, suddenly aware of a warm wetness against his side. "Ian?" he said, not really wanting to ask. "Did you just pee?"

"Yeah," the boy answered, drawn-out as if he too had just realized what happened.

"You peed on me."

"Yeah." There seemed to be almost a giggle to Ian's voice.

Feeling the wetness spread across his ribs and down his side, Dad walked on. There were three more blocks to go and he couldn't set Ian down now. In the end, the son always wins.

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Donklephant has a good discussion on why Obama is inspiring such admiration.

My thoughts: Obama exudes hope in a way few candidates can — not just because he says a lot of pretty things but because there is something fundamentally dynamic about him, he’s not moribund like so many of our politicos. People believe he can change America because he himself seems changeable, in the very best meaning of that word.

Or maybe it is the race element. Cynically speaking and using a purposefully borad brush, whites see Obama as the great guilt healer, as if electing him president would bring a kind of wound closure to our nation. That’s certainly too cynical, but he does represent a post-racial-politics America where color is only one aspect of identity rather than the driving force behind who we each are.

When I read his “issues” section of his website I think “very typical liberal.” But when I hear him speak — there’s something powerful. Either he’s one hell of a charlatan or he’s one of those “right men at the right time” we Americans have proven so adept at finding throughout our history. There’s a leap of faith required in supporting Obama. Where that leap takes us remains to be seen.

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And Now, A Moment of Fatherhood

From good friend Rob over at NoFrowns Nation. If this doesn’t capture what it’s like to be a young father, I don’t know what does:

You asked for a hug
and to sit on my lap
But you couldn’t admit
your desperation to yack

I picked you up
to prevent your tears
you wretched and proceeded
to puke in my beard

You declared “I don’t feel good”
while I rubbed your back
You said “I don’t like this”
I thought, “Ditto that!”

Mom came to bathe you
and dispense of your clothes
while I cleaned the floor
and purelled my toes

But I’ll tell you what
as sure as can be
I’d gladly trade places
so you can puke on mommy

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An Independent State of Mind

Independents in New Hampshire are lining up for McCain and Obama. McCain’s independent credentials are well established. But Obama? Outside the unification, post-partisan rhetoric, is he really an independent who is breaking free from the usual political categories?

A trip to the Obama website is the kind of in-depth-to-the-point-of-tedium experience you expect from any wonky Democratic website. There are plans upon plans upon plans. The Democrats, even with all their sub-species, are essentially the party that believes in the efficacy of national government. There isn’t a problem in the world that can’t be solved through federal power, and Obama’s policies do not deviate from that predilection.

Of course, a tendency towards statism does not mean Obama isn’t an independent at heart. After all, without evidence that he is deceiving us, we must assume the senator is sincere in his desire to bridge the political divides. Still, the vast majority of his policies are tried-and-true Democratic initiatives:

Reversing Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy • Quickly withdrawing all combat forces from Iraq (he supported getting us out by March 2008) • Fixing Social Security by removing the cap on taxable earnings • Curtailing CAFTA and NAFTA • Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation • Instituting a Fair Pay Act to ensure equal pay for women • Banning racial profiling • Providing affordable childcare to working families • Capping carbon emissions and investing LOTS of money and effort in developing clean energy

I could go on and on. Without judging the individual merit of these positions, I think we can agree they are hardly independent of politics as usual.

So why the enthusiasm among independents? Outside the soaring rhetoric, is Obama offering any significant changes not found in the platforms of Hillary Clinton or John Edwards? Well … yeah.

All the candidates talk about reforming government, but Obama’s website is the most passionate and most specific about changing the way government works. He has numerous governmental transparency initiatives which would illuminate the flow of money through our system. He wants political contributions documented and shared. He wants citizens to be able to see where federal dollars end up and who directed them there. Simply put, he wants accountability through transparency and he would use Internet technology to ensure anyone and everyone can see the money flow.

If you can categorize “independents” at all (a tricky task to be sure), you’d probably give them two qualifications. 1) a preference for new ideas that come from outside the usual party politics; and 2) a desire to reform politics and government as usual. Obama really doesn’t appeal to the first but he’s right in line on the second. Add to that his stated commitment to reinstating PAYGO, and I can see why independents are responding to his message.

It’s not that Obama is overflowing with new ideas, it’s that he’s promising responsibility at a level not offered or at least not accentuated by any other Democrat. In effect, he's saying: we’re going to do this the right way rather than continuing the closed-doors, backroom handshake system. After eight years of Bush’s hyper-secrecy and the previous eight years of Clinton’s equivocations, the promise of a new era of government disclosure and responsibility is truly alluring.

Obama may not be a policy independent, but he has an independent spirit, a will and a want to reform. In the end, his mainline Democratic platform may lose him independent support. But, for now, Obama’s message is one independents can get behind.

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Monday, January 07, 2008


That’s how some liberal blogs refer to Rudy Giuliani – using l33t speak to devastating effect. Giuliani’s moment has not officially passed, but it looks like it may be gone in, well, a New York minute.

Polling at 8-11% in New Hampshire (a state where an independent-minded fellow like Giuliani should do well) is a bad sign. Sure, he didn’t spend a lot of time campaigning there, but his poll numbers in the state are slipping and, in fact, his national poll numbers have been declining since even before his terrible showing in Iowa. What’s gone wrong?

The 9iu11iani name says it all. In an election where “change” is the buzzword and both parties are looking to the future, Giuliani has campaigned almost exclusively on one signature moment that happened six years ago. We all should have great admiration for the mayor’s leadership on that terrible day, but a president needs more than just the ability to operate in a crisis. A president needs a vision for the nation’s future. Giuliani hasn’t communicated his.

That’s a shame. He had great and numerous successes as a mayor. He has a unique political compass that balances a strong will with real compassion. He is charismatic. He is bold. But he has come across as a dictator wannabe, way overplaying his tough-guy image and allowing the 9/11 moment to hogtie him in an awkward “the past is our present” pose. That’s the wrong strategy in a year when the majority of voters want to escape our nation’s recent past and blaze anew into the future.

It’s too bad Giuliani has made so many missteps. He coulda been a contender.

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Is McCain the Only One Who Can Beat Obama?

That’s what some believe.. I’m inclined to agree. Not only can McCain wrest away some independents but he (unlike any other Republican or even Democratic candidate) can simultaneously offer comprehensive experience while standing for change.

Of course, assuming he gets the nomination – and that’s still a big assumption – McCain will have to deftly communicate his support for the Iraq war in a way that makes sense to a nation fatigued by the conflict. He will also have to choose a socially conservative vice president and find a way to speak to the so-called values voter in a way that brings out enough of the base without alienating independents. None of this would be easy, but McCain appears to be the most equipped Republican to execute such an acrobatic political maneuver.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Finding Meaning in Iowa

Some must reads on the Iowa caucus results:

Shay at Booker Rising gives an in-depth look at what Obama’s victory means for racial politics and black politicians in America.

Michael Reynolds at Sideways Mencken looks at the results and forecasts what’s to come.

Joe Gandelman of Moderate Voice examines how both parties bucked their establishments.

Donklephant has all kinds of news including some live-blogging from last night and analysis of Obama’s victory as well as Ron Paul’s decent showing.

And, finally, from the MSM, David Brooks looks at the two earthquakes felt last night and what they mean for both parties.

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Is it Just Me...

... or is our democracy still working pretty well? At least for one night in Iowa. When the forces of inherited and “inevitable” power (Clinton) AND the forces of filthy rich power (Romney) both lose, I say we’re doing all right.

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Now It's a Race

So, after one of the most intriguing (and bloated) primary-season lead-ups in the history of humankind, the first results are in. Huckabee and Obama get the win in Iowa. Clinton and Romney get the “struggling campaign” tag. The rest of us get a real election.

A few weeks ago I openly hoped for an exciting election season. Some found my remarks overly flippant. But I stand by them. Unexpected results keep the candidates on their toes, make them go off script and fight for real votes rather than just fighting for war chest dollars. Plus, an exciting race is good entertainment, which keeps all of us more attentive to what the candidates are really saying and doing.

What do the Iowa results mean? They mean the evangelical wing of the Republican party is very strong in Iowa. They mean fundraising ability isn’t the most accurate predictor of victory. They mean Obama’s appeal really can be widespread, at least among Democrats.

The finish line is still a long way away, but here’s what I think: Huckabee just secured himself the nod for Vice President. Clinton’s campaign will fight hard (and turn nastier) but her third-place finish gives the Clinton-haters all the ammunition they need to paint her as unelectable. If she can’t take New Hampshire, the Democratic nomination will flow smoothly to Obama. If she does win Tuesday, all bets are off.

On the Republican side, there is a serious fight ahead that will last at least until Super Tuesday and quite possibly into March. Huckabee, Romney, McCain, Thompson and Giuliani are all still viable and Ron Paul will continue to shake things up.

Time for political junkies to strap on their hats. This could get bumpy.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Maverick Views Political Predictions

I don’t make lots of predictions. Forecasting the future is generally just a good way to prove one’s abject ignorance. Then again, it’s not like I’m working with a platinum-level reputation here. So, without further adieu, here’s what I see happening in the 2008 political season:

• After some early success, Mitt Romney’s fortunes falter quickly when Republicans realize that a flip-flopping politician from Massachusetts is not the best of bets.

• Hillary Clinton’s black hole charisma will make what should have been a cakewalk to the nomination a very competitive race.

• Once their candidate drops out of the primaries, Ron Paul supporters will fail to get the Republican to mount an independent campaign. They will, however, remain fantastically weird and stage the only unscripted moments at the Republican convention.

• Huckabee finally drops out of the race after making yet another gaffe, this one involving a poorly considered joke about Giuliani, pizza and the Virgin Mary.

• As for Giuliani, he discovers that skipping Iowa and New Hampshire was not the best way to keep his name in the news. He places third in Florida and the media deem his campaign over. He withdraws a week later. He later hosts Saturday Night Live and unveils a hilarious John McCain impersonation.

• Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, John Edwards recaptures his glorious also-ran status of four years ago, consistently placing second or third but never getting media coverage as Clinton assumes the Howard Dean flameout role and Obama takes the Kerry ascendancy role.

• McCain will regain his mojo and end up with the Republican nomination. He will make peace with the Jesus wing of the party by choosing Huckabee or Sam Brownback as his VP. McCain will then do everything he can to distance himself from his own VP, assuring the second-banana role goes back to its “bucket of spit” status of the pre-Cheney years.

• Obama will take advantage of the Clinton charisma gap and end up with the Democratic nomination. Fifty-percent of those who vote for him will then be shocked to discover he’s actually a good deal further left than Clinton. These folks will be somewhat relieved when Obama chooses Joe Biden as his VP.

• Michael Bloomberg will not run. Unity ’08 will not gain any traction. “Centrists” around the nation will split off into pro-McCain and pro-Obama factions, realizing they never had that much in common in the first place.

• McCain’s maverick instincts will inoculate him against Obama’s soaring rhetoric but increasing chaos in Iraq will make the election extremely close. McCain ends up winning by just a few electoral votes but Democrats will gain an even stronger hold of Congress as split-ticket voting runs rampant.

• If none of this happens, something different will.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

When a War Isn't a War

There is no more War on Terror. At least not in the language of the British government, where they’ve chosen to stop using the phrase. The U.S. government attempted much the same linguistic maneuver over two years ago. Except, in America, it was just a new name (the catchy “global struggle against the enemies of freedom”) and not really a new outlook. In Britain, the views seem to be changing with the words.

The Brits said terrorist fanatics are not soldiers fighting a war but simply members of an aimless death cult. The official added:

The people who were murdered on July 7 were not the victims of war. The men who killed them were not soldiers. They were fantasists, narcissists, murderers and criminals and need to be responded to in that way.

Well, it’s never been a “war” in the traditional sense. But neither have the events of the last decade been some crime wave carried out by an “aimless death cult.” Their aim is pretty clear: to decrease Western and Western-allied power and make room for the ascendancy of their corrupted, radical brand of Islam. The most applicable word for these terrorists is “guerilla.” Like typical guerillas, they are part of a loosely (sometimes extremely loosely) affiliated network of rebels who share a common ideology and compatible goals.

I guess “the struggle against loosely affiliated, radical Islamic guerilla terrorists” is not exactly a workable name. But it’s better than no name at all. If we do not categorize events such as 9/11, London, Madrid and others as part of an ongoing pattern, we are denying that there is a bigger picture that requires bigger strategies. Additionally, labeling the perpetrators as “fantasists, narcissists, murderers and criminals” is overly dismissive of these terrorists who very much consider themselves soldiers in a global conflict.

Language matters. Labels help guide thought. I agree that the term “war” is far too limiting and has contributed to the kind of narrow thinking that took us into Iraq. But neither is it helpful to approach these terrorists as if they are half-insane death cult members or members of some crime syndicate. The truth is more complex.

I’m sure that the British government is still taking the global threat of radical Islamic terrorism seriously. But I’m concerned by their use of language. We must find words that walk the right line between overstating and dismissing the struggle at hand.

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If Heaven Were Beef, It'd Taste Like This

One of my greatest joys in life is food. I enjoy fine dining. I enjoy a good greasy spoon. I enjoy spending four hours in the kitchen cooking up something entirely new. I’ll eat just about anything and I believe the best part about traveling is trying new restaurants. So I don’t say this next part lightly:

Two nights ago, I ate the most amazing steak I’ve ever tasted.

Succulent, as a word, falls embarrassingly short. Life-changing is better. Some have called it an epiphany. Imagine a steak that actually melts in your mouth. You have to eat it slowly like you might sip a 30-year old scotch, letting it waltz in your mouth before finally, regrettably swallowing.

The beef is called Akaushi and, yes, it’s pretty much the same cow that produces the famous, much over-hyped Kobe beef. Expect Akaushi doesn’t have to travel half-way around the world. It’s raised in Texas and served at San Antonio’s most-accomplished steakhouse.

Oddly, the ranchers of Akaushi market it as much for its healthiness as for its transcendence. But, honestly, if they told me it was so high in cholesterol that I’d need bypass immediately upon finishing my steak, I’d still eat it. It’s that good. I’m already plotting my next experience.