Monday, December 31, 2007

Bhutto Case Grows More Bizarre

Reports in the news today indicate that Pakistani police prevented an autopsy of the body of Benazir Bhutto after the former prime minister was assassinated on Dec. 27.

Rawalpindi's police chief allegedly stopped doctors from conducting an autopsy, according to a report from CNN, but the police chief claimed that he wanted an autopsy performed but Bhutto's husband objected.

The reports followed the release of a new videotape of the attack, which appears to show Bhutto was shot and did not strike her head on a sunroof lever in her vehicle, as the government has claimed.

We get still more of pass the buck, pass the buck, pass the buck.

The case gets murkier and murkier.

Read the medical report. View every video tape. Look at every photo. Reach your own conclusions.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Some Editorial Rumblings

The 2008 voting season kicks off on Thursday with the Iowa caucuses.

Here's what some newspapers and their columnists are saying a few days before the event.

* The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wonders, "Is this the best the two parties can do?" when it comes to potential nominees.

"Neither the Democratic nor the Republican slate of candidates seems ... to contain an excellent future president," worries the Post-Gazette, which goes on to pick apart the shortcomings of every candidate.

The fact is, every future president has been considered inadequate in some way before taking office. After becoming president, some never exceed the expectations of mediocrity that were established by the media and their fellow citizens, but truly great presidents prove themselves on the job, not on the campaign trail. That's been true from the early presidencies of Washington and Jefferson to the present day.

In 1860, no one was saying that Abraham Lincoln would be the next George Washington. In fact, Lincoln may have had more than his share of detractors. In 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt became president after William McKinley's assassination, no one said he would be the next Lincoln. And no one thought Harry Truman could measure up to Franklin Roosevelt when he succeeded FDR in 1945.

You can find other, similar examples throughout American history.

Think of every president you consider to be great, then go back and read about the period before he became president. You'll find that there were many times when that president was accused by his rivals of being mediocre. But his performance in office exceeded expectations.

You know the old saying. "You can't judge a book by its cover."

Actually, that brings up another point. Pundits and politicians alike tend to treat running mates as valuable only for what they can bring to the ticket electorally.

But running mates are more important than that. Between 1841 and 1974, a vice president became president (due to the death or resignation of a president) about every 15 years. It has now been 33 years since a vice president became president following a death or resignation so we're way overdue.

The next vice president might well become president. That's more important than whether he can put his home state into your column on Election Day.

It's an issue that was addressed as part of the storyline in the TV series, "Commander in Chief." Geena Davis played a vice president who became president when the chief executive died. Davis' character had been chosen as running mate primarily because of her gender and which votes she could attract to the ticket. When the president died, people in her party and outside the party had to confront questions about her policies, of which they knew little or nothing.

Even though the story is fictitious and the show is no longer on the air, it's a cautionary tale.

* The Manchester Union Leader wonders about Hillary Clinton's "experience" during her husband's presidency in the 1990s.

Mrs. Clinton claims to have been a part of the "White House team" that molded policy during the Clinton years. The Union Leader rightfully says that voters are entitled "to see exactly what experience she really has. Which policies did she help shape? Which did she oppose? Did she serve as a de facto staff member or did her role primarily consist of whispering suggestions into her husband's ear?"

The Clintons have claimed that the National Archives won't release the records, but an Archives official has said Bill Clinton hasn't authorized release of the records. "That history is blackened out, and [Mrs. Clinton] is keeping it that way. Why?" asks the Union Leader.

It's a fair question.

Is there something in the records Mrs. Clinton doesn't want the public to see? Or is it the absence of her name at those White House meetings that she doesn't want the public to see?

* In the United Kingdom, Andrew Sullivan writes, in the Sunday Times, that voters in the United States have a "clear-cut choice: the candidates of hope or fear."

In one of his most remarkable statements, Sullivan suggests, "After following this race for an almost interminable preamble, all I can say is that I can’t imagine a more constructive race than one between [Barack] Obama and [John] McCain. The odds are still against it. But it is more imaginable now than at any time in the past year."

Just something to think about when the voting gets started.

* Also from the United Kingdom, The Guardian says, "Our challenge is to restore faith in the power of global liberty."

And The Guardian warns its readers that Great Britain "cannot afford to wait and see what kind of president emerges to replace George W. Bush. [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown must use his influence abroad and his power at home to make Britain a beacon of liberal democracy."

A Team of Destiny

We live in a new world this morning, a world in which an NFL team has remained focused enough for four months to win all 16 of its regular season games.

The New England Patriots finished the regular season 16-0 after rallying to defeat the New York Giants last night, 38-35. Quarterback Tom Brady set a new season record for touchdown passes and receiver Randy Moss set a season record for touchdown receptions.

The Patriots will have next week off, then they will be set to host the next two playoff games en route to the Super Bowl.

A win for the Patriots on the weekend of January 12-13 will match the single season mark set by the 1972 Miami Dolphins of 17-0. Another win on the weekend of January 19-20 will make New England the first team ever to go 18-0 in a single season -- and it would clinch a berth in the Super Bowl.

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe crowed that the Patriots were "just perfect" and provided the "fitting finish to Boston's magical year in sports" -- which included a World Series title for the Boston Red Sox and the winningest football season for Boston College in more than half a century, but no similar success for the NBA's Celtics or the NHL's Bruins.

As good as the Patriots are, a little humility would suit them better, according to's Andrew Perloff, who says the Pats "walk the fine line between supreme confidence and arrogance."

It's true that going 16-0 is going to make a team very confident. Does it have to make a team arrogant as well? Perhaps that's the negative side that the Patriots must contend with as they enter the home stretch of the season. After all, the playoffs and the Super Bowl will force them to play three of the best teams the NFL has to offer in the coming month.

That could certainly include dates with last year's Super Bowl winner, the Indianapolis Colts, who played New England earlier this year, and an NFC team the Patriots beat this year, the Dallas Cowboys. For the record, the usually dominant Patriots only beat the Colts 24-20. They handled the Cowboys by a wider margin, 48-27.

Other teams New England beat who are potential playoff foes include the team New England beat last night, the Giants; the Chargers (losers to the Patriots, 38-14); Steelers (who lost to the Pats, 34-13); Browns (who can clinch a playoff spot today and lost to New England, 34-17); and Redskins (who can clinch a playoff spot today and lost to the Pats, 52-7).

The Patriots did lose to two potential playoff opponents back during the preseason games in August. They lost their preseason opener to Tampa Bay, 13-10, and they followed that with a loss to Tennessee, 27-24. But, counting the last two preseason games, New England has proceeded to win 18 in a row.

One thing the Patriots can be sure of -- in the postseason, they won't be facing teams like Miami, Buffalo and the New York Jets, who accounted for six of the Patriots' wins in the regular season and, thus far, have combined for a record of 11-34.

Each postseason opponent will want to be the one to knock the chip off the Patriots' shoulder.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Exhumation Receives Approval

Pakistani officials have approved the exhumation of Benazir Bhutto's remains for an autopsy, CNN is reporting.

But the government apparently is standing behind its most recent version of events -- that Bhutto died as the result of her head striking a sunroof lever in her vehicle.

CNN quotes Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema as saying, "We don't mind if the People's Party leadership wants her body to be exhumed and post-mortemed. They are most welcome, but we gave you what the facts are."

I'm glad there will be an autopsy, but it remains to be seen what kind of evidence we get and the conclusions that are reached.

We must be vigilant about verifying the authenticity of every autopsy photograph and video recording.

More About the Cause of Death

CNN reports that one of Benazir Bhutto's top aides, who helped bathe the body after the assassination, contends that "there were clear bullet injuries to her head."

The aide also says, "It's beginning to look like a coverup to me."

The aide refers to assertions by the Pakistani government that Bhutto suffered no gunshot or bomb shrapnel injuries, but instead died after striking her head on a lever inside her vehicle.

That is the third and most recent version of events as provided by the Pakistani government.

If there is a coverup in the works in Pakistan, I would say that al-Qaeda -- or whoever is behind the plot -- has a lot to learn about engineering and carrying out a successful coverup.

There have been high profile assassinations in this country -- i.e., John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King -- and there always has been a segment of the population that has been convinced that they were the results of conspiracies.

But if they were plots, they were designed to answer (however weakly, in some cases) questions that were bound to come up or confuse the issue on questions that couldn't be convincingly answered.

It's called "plausible deniability." You've got to pick a story and stick with it. Constantly changing a story to deal with inconvenient facts makes the case weaker.

If the responsibility for Bhutto's murder is being covered up, the perpetrators didn't plan well enough to deal effectively with the most obvious question that was likely to come up.

Was Bhutto shot from up close? (If you're familiar with Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, you know that a similar question has dogged the case for nearly 40 years. Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, fired his weapon from Kennedy's side, but witnesses have said there were bullet wounds in the back of Kennedy's head, supposedly fired from point-blank range. Sirhan was a few feet away, and he was never in a position to fire his gun at the back of Kennedy's head.)

This is why I have said that it probably will be necessary to exhume the body and perform a proper autopsy to obtain definitive answers.

An autopsy can tell us, for example, whether someone was struck by gunfire -- and how close the weapon was when it was fired. With the lack of security, it's possible that the shot was fired from inside the vehicle. The suicide bomber, who was captured on film firing a gun, may have been equipped only with blanks -- possibly a diversionary tactic. His bomb may have been intended to obliterate all evidence -- and accomplices.

But the most important evidence -- the body itself -- is still available.

The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration is worried about a new offensive by Islamic extremists in the region.

At the very least, in the United States, this is an important opportunity for voters to find out how much each presidential candidate really knows about the world and its politics.

If recent comments tell us anything about Mike Huckabee, for example, they indicate that those who expressed concerns about his lack of foreign policy experience were sadly correct in their assessments.

The New York Times reports that, in the aftermath of the assassination, candidates with foreign policy credentials who hadn't caught on with the voters (i.e., Joe Biden and Bill Richardson) are finding themselves in the spotlight. Whether those candidates remain in the spotlight, voters need to keep their attention on foreign policy.

George W. Bush's lack of foreign policy expertise came up briefly in the 2000 campaign, but it was soon reduced to a very low order of priority. Voters seemed to find the trait endearing and preferred to discuss the economy, taxes, Social Security and other domestic issues -- and leave foreign policy matters to Dick Cheney's "gravitas."

And that was despite the fact that terrorists attacked the U.S.S. Cole less than a month before the election.

David Frum says, in the National Post, that candidates in both parties have demonstrated "truly disturbing indifference to the outside world and its dangers," and he urges them to "confront some dangerously neglected facts."

What's the view of the crisis from other parts of the world? Well, The Australian says America fails to protect its Muslim allies. It's hard to argue that point.

In 2008, voters will have to debate the foreign policy merits of each candidate. We have to educate ourselves about the world and we have to insist on leaders who know as much about the globe as they do about voting districts and demographics.

If we're fortunate enough in the future to have another Benazir Bhutto on our side in the Muslim world, we have to do everything in our power to protect her. We clearly cannot count on governments like the one ruling Pakistan.

Isolationism is not practical. And neither is it practical to assume the rest of the world wants to be just like the United States.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bhutto's Cause of Death -- Clarified?

It was reported today that Benazir Bhutto actually did not die from a gunshot wound or shrapnel from a bomb.

Although I guess you could say they contributed to her death.

Actually, it really isn't clear today what caused the two-time Pakistani prime minister's death. CNN reports that Pakistan's Interior Ministry claims Bhutto was not hit by the gunfire; instead, it appears she died from a fractured skull when her head struck a lever inside her vehicle. The lever allegedly was connected to the sunroof. Bhutto had been standing in the open sunroof prior to the attack.

A national security analyst for CNN says Bhutto's enemies are "trying to deny her a martyr's death" by minimizing the circumstances. And the Washington Post reports that Bhutto had many enemies, that there were many people who had the means -- and the motive -- to assassinate her.

Al-Qaeda remains a likely suspect, but apparently there were also those in the Pakistani government who had their reasons for wanting to see Bhutto dead.

I'm inclined to believe that al-Qaeda was involved. It seems to me that Osama bin Laden put a multi-million-dollar bounty on Bhutto's head some 10 years ago.

This is starting to look like another one of those cases we may never resolve. But we'll probably get to hear many conspiracy theories.

In The Hill, Sam Youngman writes that Sen. Hillary Clinton is calling for an independent international investigation into Bhutto's slaying.

In keeping with Muslim practice, Bhutto was buried today, the day after her assassination. She was laid to rest in the family's mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, near the remains of her father and two brothers.

The Islamabad International News reports the burial was carried out "amid touching scenes." Those "scenes" presumably included her husband and three children.

With questions surrounding the cause of death, I think it will be necessary to exhume the body and conduct an autopsy to get the answers. In my life, I have seen many cases that became shrouded in uncertainty because proper autopsies were not performed. It seems ridiculous not to take advantage of the knowledge that can be gained with today's forensic methods.

Friday was another day of violence and unrest in Pakistan. And it was another busy day on the campaign trail in the United States. At, Michael Medved says there are "five powerful messages for American voters –- and candidates" in yesterday's assassination.

The candidates, who have spent much of the campaign debating domestic issues, should read Medved's piece and address the threat of terrorism before Iowa's voters participate in Thursday's caucuses. I don't dispute the fact that it's important for voters to know how candidates feel about health care, the economy, energy, the environment and abortion, but it's essential for them to hear about terrorism.

Medved makes some good points. I don't always agree with what he says, but it's hard to argue with some of his logic in the immediate aftermath of yesterday's attack.

Those who ignore the implications of the attack do so at the risk of us all.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Today's assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto was a sobering reminder of an observation that I believe is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. If I'm wrong about that, please, someone set me straight!

The observation, essentially, was that anyone who was willing to exchange his life for Lincoln's could do so.

That's what happened today in Pakistan -- literally. Bhutto's assassin apparently fired a gun at Bhutto, striking her with a fatal shot, and then blew himself up with a bomb. News reports indicate the assassin's head was found about 90 feet away.

Bhutto had been prime minister of Pakistan twice. And twice she was driven from office. She was attempting a comeback at the time of her death.

In the Washington Post, David Ignatius remembers the young Benazir Bhutto he knew.

But he also knows that her assassination is "a warning that the path to the modern Pakistan she dreamed of creating won't be easy."

The extremists are determined to resist, and al-Qaeda appears to have found some safe havens in that country. Many people feel that it is all but certain that al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban had a role in this attack.

It's also a reminder that the extremists do not permit gender to stand in the way of violent acts.

When one thinks of political assassinations, one is inclined to think of men because mostly men have been the victims of violent attacks. And women are usually seen as the nurturers of the species. But attacks are rarely bloodier or more violent than the one that took Bhutto's life.

And assassinations often spark chaos and rioting. In the hours after Bhutto's death, large cities in Pakistan, such as Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, witnessed outbreaks of rioting. It is similar, in some ways, to the rioting that broke out in the United States in the hours following Martin Luther King's murder in 1968.

It doesn't take much of a leap of one's imagination to anticipate a bleak immediate future for Pakistan, possibly dissolving into civil war.

The United States must be prepared to take an active role in Pakistan's future. Now and for a long time to come. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards told CNN's Wolf Blitzer tonight that America has "enormous leverage" to wield in this regard.

With the presence of Islamic extremists and people with nuclear know-how in the same country, it is in America's interest to act. There is more at stake in that part of the world than ever before. Make no mistake about it.

There are no easy answers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Playing for History

When the New England Patriots take the field this weekend to take on the New York Giants, the Patriots will be aiming to be the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season.

That will be two more regular season wins than the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins had -- but Miami went undefeated in the era when the NFL season was 14 games, not 16. The postseason was three games for Miami, the same as it will be for New England, so the Patriots will have to go 19-0 to cap a perfect season. Miami went 17-0.

Today, it was announced that new TV arrangements make the Patriots-Giants game accessible to just about everyone. Instead of airing only on the audience-limited NFL Network, both CBS and NBC will televise the "potentially historic game," in the words of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

It reminds me of the fuss that was made in 1974 when Hank Aaron was about to break Babe Ruth's career home run record.

At the end of the 1973 season, Aaron pulled within one home run of Ruth's career mark, and that left him with the entire offseason to think about what he would be trying to do the following spring.

I was 14 at the time and, as I recall, Aaron tied the home run mark in Atlanta's first series of the 1974 season, which was being played in Cincinnati. After Aaron tied the mark, the Atlanta manager took him out of the game and benched him for the remainder of the series. He wanted Aaron to break the record in front of the home fans.

Major league baseball wanted to televise the historic event. In those days, there was no cable so major league baseball wasn't accessible every night of the season. The networks did have Monday Night Baseball, but it didn't usually begin broadcasts until the summer, when the networks were heavily into reruns.

In this case, baseball made the exception and had a special broadcast of Monday Night Baseball in early April. Everyone wanted to see Aaron break Ruth's record. And, as it turned out, he did break the record that night.

But he might not have broken the record that night, and baseball would have wound up with egg on its face.

I don't think that's a possibility here. Whether the Patriots win and finish the regular season 16-0, or they lose and finish 15-1, it's an historic game. Either the Patriots make history, or the Giants prevent it, which is historic in itself.

The Patriots deserve to be congratulated for their accomplishment. Nothing that happens this weekend can change what they've achieved this year.

And the Dolphins should be remembered in the history books for what they did in 1972, even if New England goes 19-0 and wins the Super Bowl.

After all, no one else went 14-0 during the era of the 14-game seasons. And no one else went 17-0, including postseason wins, during that era. That distinction belongs to the 1972 Miami Dolphins. And it always will.

The real challenge for the Patriots will come next season -- if they finish 16-0 or 19-0 this season. Because next season will be when everyone will be gunning for them. That's when the Patriots will have bull's eyes on their chests and it will be a fight to the finish every week. Whoever snaps the streak will be remembered by history. Playing the Patriots will be each team's Super Bowl.

For the record, the 1973 Dolphins were nearly as good as the 1972 team. The streak was snapped in the second game of the season by the Oakland Raiders, but Miami went 12-2 in 1973 and won the Super Bowl again, finishing 15-2.

Not a bad encore, eh?

The Day After Christmas

It almost seems traditional for people to reflect on some of the lesser-known attributes of the Christmas season the day after the big day.

In today's New York Times, Maureen Dowd observes that "When consumerism curdles, it’s tempting to become an emotional Marxist about Christmas. Not Karl. Groucho."

When Groucho Marx and Christmas are mentioned in the same breath, you know you're in for something.

Actually, it was kind of a sneaky way to work in Caroline Kennedy's book, "A Family Christmas," a collection of all sorts of holiday stories, poems, songs, etc., into the column.

Ms. Kennedy says the book continued her mother's holiday tradition. Jackie Kennedy wrote holiday poems for her mother, and Ms. Kennedy and her brother wrote holiday poems for Jackie.

Dowd remarks that she found a 1953 letter from Groucho to Fred Allen in Kennedy's book, and she goes on to speculate that just about everyone would have a holiday tale to contribute to the book.

Her story, Dowd said, would be about Trigger, "one of those wooden horses that bounced on springs." It was a gift she received as a little girl, one that she clearly treasured.

But one day, Dowd says, she awoke to find the horse was gone. Her mother, who experienced the loss of her father at the age of 12, had been touched by the sight of a young boy who "stared longingly at the horse" when he and his mother passed the house. Dowd's mother gave the horse to the child.

It took several years for Dowd to learn what her mother's generous gesture really meant.

"Her lesson was lovely: that materialism and narcissism can only smother life -- and Christmas -- if you let them," Dowd writes.

It's a lesson we would do well to remember, even if Christmas has come and gone.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

As They Prepare for the Caucus and the Primary ...

Today is Christmas, and my gift to my readers is my view of the presidential races and what is likely to happen when Iowans hold their caucuses a week from Thursday and voters in New Hampshire hold their primaries two weeks from today.


Hillary Clinton likes to use the word "experience" to describe her qualification to be president. But this is her first national campaign as the candidate. Previously, she was in a supporting role.

The one with the experience in a national campaign is John Edwards, and he has a network of support in place in Iowa that propelled him to a second-place finish there four years ago. The question in the caucus is whether those supporters will actually turn out this time. Are those voters as reliable in 2008 as they were in 2004?

I've heard political analysts say that only about 10% of Iowa's electorate turn out for the caucuses, so the old adage about how "every vote counts" really is true in Iowa.

I have the feeling that Edwards is poised to spring a surprise in Iowa. He can survive until the New Hampshire primary the following week, even if he finishes second again in Iowa. But to remain in the race, he needs a strong showing in one or both of those states -- if only to demonstrate his appeal and vote-getting ability outside the South.

Can Barack Obama fail to win Iowa and New Hampshire -- and still be a factor in the race? That depends on how well he does. If he loses either state -- or both states -- by double digits, it may be over for him. If he is close to the top finisher, his campaign can survive awhile longer.

If Mrs. Clinton finishes first in both states, the party is over for the rest of the field, and momentum will take over. If she loses in both states, the party may be over for her.


I think Mike Huckabee is likely to win Iowa, where evangelical Christians represent a sizable bloc. They seem comfortable with him. He's apparently the kind of candidate those voters thought they were getting when George W. Bush first sought the nomination in 2000.

Mitt Romney will likely finish second in Iowa. I think he and Huckabee will combine for perhaps 60% of the Iowa vote. The remaining 40% will be divided up among the rest of the Republican field.

After that, Romney's main challenge in New Hampshire appears to be coming from John McCain. Like Edwards in Iowa, McCain has a strong core of support in New Hampshire from his successful primary campaign there eight years ago. But McCain must contend with questions about his age. He will be 72 when the next president is sworn in.

I think Romney may be able to pull off the win in New Hampshire, but I think he will be wounded in Iowa and may not be an effective candidate in the other primaries that are coming up in January and early February.

If he's unable to win in New Hampshire, McCain's campaign is probably finished.

I think Rudy Giuliani's best chance to win comes later in January when voters in Florida will vote. Giuliani has been polling well in Florida. American Research Group, for example, has been reporting that Giuliani consistently has been receiving between 26% and 33% in Florida, which leads the field there.

If Giuliani's support in Florida collapses in favor of McCain (following a hypothetical McCain triumph in New Hampshire), Giuliani should consider withdrawing from the race.

Fred Thompson needs to win somewhere early in order to establish the momentum he needs in the primaries to come. The super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5 will be costly for candidates and only those with the best financing and the best organizations will be competitive that day.

One last thing ... VOTE! If you live in Iowa, participate in the caucus. If you live in New Hampshire, vote in the primary.

And a Merry Christmas to all.

Romney's Strategy in Peril

I guess it comes as no surprise to anyone that Mitt Romney's blueprint for winning the Republican nomination is in trouble.

A few months ago, polls showed him coasting along in Iowa and New Hampshire, and his strategy of winning the early states and building momentum seemed to be succeeding.

But polls in Iowa show that Romney's lead there has eroded as Mike Huckabee has gained support from social conservatives, many of whom are uneasy with Romney's Mormonism, even after his speech on religion (which included a reference -- now being challenged -- to his father joining in a civil rights march with Martin Luther King in the 1960s).

And polls have been showing a rise in support for John McCain in New Hampshire. Eight years ago, McCain beat front-runner George W. Bush in New Hampshire, paving the way for a bitter campaign in the South Carolina primary. It's worth noting that, in the last two presidential campaigns in which the Republican nomination was seriously contested (1996 and 2000), New Hampshire's voters rejected the eventual nominees. They may be poised to do so again.

The Washington Post says Romney and his staff are working on a strategy to beat back Huckabee in Iowa. The Post points out Romney's campaign devised the "early state" strategy in December 2006 -- a year later, Romney's advisers find themselves improvising in the hope of halting Huckabee's momentum in Iowa.

"Are there moments of quiet and sometimes not-so-quiet desperation? Of course. But . . . this is the strategy we have. We don't have the option of doing anything else," the Post quotes one of Romney's advisers as saying.

When Romney and his staff began planning their strategy for the campaign, the Post reports, it was always assumed that Romney would have to face a challenge from within the party that would cast doubt on his conservative credentials. But the thinking was that his main rival would be Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani or McCain, not Huckabee.

Nevertheless, Huckabee it is, which appears to be causing some scrambling from within the ranks in the Romney campaign. Huckabee wasn't a factor a year ago, but the former Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor has emerged as Romney's nemesis in Iowa. A win there could make him a factor in New Hampshire five days later as well.

The good news for Romney, the Post suggests, is that Huckabee's rise has changed the expectations for Romney. At one time, anything less than a resounding win in Iowa would have been considered a defeat. Now that polls have shown Romney falling behind Huckabee, the Post says, "Huckabee's meteoric rise has reset expectations for Romney, who will be credited with a meaningful win in Iowa should he pull it off."

The Post also reports that Romney has changed his approach in campaign speeches in Iowa lately. He seldom mentions Giuliani, McCain or Fred Thompson these days. Instead his message has focused on Huckabee.

But with McCain's rise in New Hampshire, Romney suddenly finds himself in the position of a general who must wage a two-front war.

And, as the Nazis found out in World War II when they were fighting Britain and the United States to the west and Russia to the east, winning a two-front war is extremely difficult.

Huckabee is not without his own problems. Elsewhere in the Post, Peter Wehner writes that, as a conservative and evangelical Christian, he is "queasy" about some of the things Huckabee has said. It leads Wehner to this question: "Is Mike Huckabee, a man of extremely impressive political gifts and shrewdness, playing the Jesus card in a way that is unlike anything we have quite seen before?"

And Jonathan Martin observes, in The Politico, that Huckabee resembles the last three insurgent Republican candidates -- Pat Robertson in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1996 and John McCain in 2000 -- as he assumes the role of rebel.

Bear in mind that rebels seldom win nominations. When they do, they seldom win the general election. George McGovern can tell you all about that. So could Barry Goldwater. They both won the nomination, only to get buried in a landslide loss in November.

Even so, it's hard to argue with a Huckabee observation that an insurgent victory will mean that no candidate can take Iowa for granted in future campaigns.

So Huckabee faces his own questions about politics, insurgency and religion. And an insurgent from the past, McCain, has to deal with the issue of his age (71).

My question is: Can the Romney campaign overcome the challenge from Huckabee in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire -- and win its two-front war?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The News from New Hampshire

Right now, attention in the presidential campaign is rightfully focused on Iowa, where the presidential caucuses will be held on Jan. 3.

But less than a week later, on Jan. 8, voters in New Hampshire will hold their traditional first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

American Research Group still sees Hillary Clinton leading among New Hampshire's Democrats with 38%. Barack Obama has 24% and John Edwards has 15%. About 9% of New Hampshire's Democrats say they are undecided.

But the Gallup Poll says Clinton and Obama are tied in New Hampshire with 32% apiece. Edwards has 18%, according to Gallup.

On the Republican side, ARG says John McCain shares the lead with Mitt Romney, both with 26%. From there, it's a sharp drop to the third spot, which belongs to Rudy Giuliani with 16%. Mike Huckabee is fourth in New Hampshire with 11%, and 10% of New Hampshire Republicans are undecided.

Gallup agrees that Romney has the lead, and it says he leads McCain by seven points. Huckabee, Giuliani and Ron Paul essentially share the third spot, Gallup says.

How much will these figures be affected by what happens in Iowa on Jan. 3?

A New Voting Bloc Gets Attention in Iowa

We've all heard about the influence the social conservatives are having on the Republican polls in Iowa. And we've heard about the influence they presumably will have when the caucuses are held in 11 days.

Now, CNN reports on another voting bloc that candidates need to be aware of -- the youth vote and the influence it could have on the Democratic side.

According to CNN, the top three Democrats -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards -- have been actively courting young voters in Iowa. The state's election law says people as young as 17 may participate in the caucuses if they will be 18 by the time the election is held in November. And people from out of state may participate if they are attending college in Iowa.

So the target group is larger -- and more diverse -- than you might expect in a state in which the population is more than 90% white.

But the drawback, as CNN observes, is that younger people haven't proven to be reliable caucus-goers in the past -- and the fact that the caucuses are being held when most colleges are still on winter break means the younger voters aren't centrally located, as they would be if classes were in session.

That makes it more difficult to do the things that can be done to get people out to participate. In some instances, the out-of-state students won't be in Iowa in time to attend the caucuses, and they can represent an important part of a candidate's equation.

Turnout rate among young voters hasn't been good in the past, but activists, including young activists, who spoke with CNN insist 2008 will be different.

We'll see.

The 'Billary' Campaign -- A Symbiotic Relationship

In today's New York Times, Maureen Dowd discusses the presence of former President Bill Clinton on the campaign trail.

Dowd wonders if Bill Clinton is savior or saboteur for Hillary Clinton. It's a good question. But it's not a simple question to answer.

Dowd notes that the Clintons have always needed each other to succeed. "Their relationship has always been a co-dependence between his charm and her discipline," Dowd writes, and I tend to agree with that.

But in politics, especially since the advent of television, what voters see comes first and what they hear comes second. So, while the message may be on target, it misses the mark completely if the voters don't see something appealing first.

For example, much has been said -- and written -- about the different interpretations from radio listeners and TV viewers of the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Those who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon won, but TV viewers, perhaps influenced by Kennedy's tanned and rested appearance, picked Kennedy over the haggard-looking Nixon.

Today, any news event, including a debate, clearly will have far more TV viewers than radio listeners. Although that does lead to an interesting personal point. On Sept. 11, 2001, I was at work and had no access to a TV. Every person at a desk that had a radio was listening to reports of events that almost everyone else in the country was seeing.

That can be a blessing, especially when you realize that everyone in my office was spared seeing people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers.

But back to the point at hand ...

Lacking President Clinton's kind of appeal means Mrs. Clinton needs her husband's charisma if she's going to pull off the deal that Dowd says she's trying to make with the electorate -- i.e., "asking people to like her if they liked him."

Dowd goes on to assert that "it’s almost as if she’s offering herself to Clinton supporters as the solution to the problem of the 22nd Amendment."

It reminds me of George and Lurleen Wallace in the 1960s. George was barred by Alabama law from seeking a second consecutive term as governor in 1966, so his wife ran and was elected. George was governor behind the scenes for 17 months. But Mrs. Wallace died of cancer and was succeeded by the duly elected lieutenant governor, leaving George with no elected platform to use while seeking the presidency as an independent in 1968.

By the way, Lurleen Wallace remains the only woman ever elected governor of Alabama.

Dowd correctly concludes that this is a "coattails strategy." It's also a symbiotic relationship. Someone who was stronger in the sciences would know the answer to this better than I, but it seems to me that it isn't necessary for a symbiotic relationship to be mutually beneficial. It is possible to have a symbiotic relationship of a parasitic nature -- in which one party benefits and the other does not.

For awhile, this particular symbiotic relationship seemed to be working. Now, it's not so clear that it's working. Electorally, at least. I don't know how well it works on a personal level.

But the problems on the campaign trail puncture the balloon of Mrs. Clinton's "inevitability" as the Democratic nominee.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Candidates' Christmas Ads

Along with the usual Christmas commercials for products and services, this year we have seen commercials for presidential candidates with Christmas/holiday themes.

Ads by Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani and Barack Obama have been on the airwaves, and political strategist Dick Morris took some time to discuss the ads on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" recently.

Of the Clinton ad, Morris says it was a "terrible" ad, in which Clinton was surrounded by gift packages, each bearing a tag that mentioned a specific issue, like "Bring the Troops Home," "Universal Health Care" and "Middle Class Tax Breaks."

But Clinton's ad was more generic than the others, referring only to the "holiday season" and making no specific mention of Christmas, for which Clinton was punished by the God-o-Meter.

Huckabee's ad was the "greatest ad," in Morris' words, "because we have to appreciate, politically, that Christmas is Huckabee's season." And the Huckabee ad, as the God-o-Meter points out, is the only one that mentions the birth of Christ.

Besides, the God-o-Meter already punished Huckabee this week after Bob Novak reported that the"elite evangelicals" who support Huckabee's candidacy are short of Southern Baptists.

"He did not join the 'conservative resurgence' that successfully rebelled against liberals in the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago," Novak writes of Huckabee, a former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Novak says Baptists aren't on board with Huckabee, but other Christian conservatives are, particularly in Iowa.

Morris says the "Huckabee-Romney split ... mirrors the division between economic and social conservatives. The country club, upper income, Wall Street, business community is [for] Romney, the Joe Six-Pack, Christian right community is with Huckabee. That's the fault line that's running through it."

And Morris predicts Huckabee will win Iowa.

Like the Clinton ad, Obama's ad was punished by the God-o-Meter, as was Giuliani's. The God-o-Meter hasn't said anything about the Edwards ad.

But Morris says he liked the Obama ad, which achieves the "warm and fuzzy" level Clinton sought by showing Obama with his family. Morris didn't particularly care for Giuliani's ad, in which the former New York mayor (sitting next to Santa Claus) "lists those issues" of concern to voters, as Clinton's does. Edwards, Morris points out, "discusses" them in his ad.

Morris also says he believes the "anti-Hillary vote is coalescing around Obama." He predicts that Obama will win in Iowa and when that happens, much of the Edwards vote will gravitate toward him, leading to Clinton's defeat in New Hampshire as well.

And that could produce a new front-runner among the Democrats a little over a week into the calendar year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Entering the Home Stretch in Iowa

As the races in Iowa near the finish lines, a friend of mine, who was in Des Moines on business this week, reports that everyone in Iowa has an opinion about what will happen in the Jan. 3 caucuses, but no one has any hard facts.

The latest poll of Democrats, from American Research Group, shows Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama, 29% to 25%, with John Edwards drawing 18%.

Mike Huckabee tops the Republicans with 28%. Astonishingly, the ARG survey shows John McCain running second with 20%. In most of the recent polls in Iowa, McCain has been registering in single digits.

But the numbers suggest that he has gained support as support has dropped for Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson. Romney was third with 17% and Rudy Giuliani was fourth with 13%. Thompson registered in single digits and those claiming to be undecided are at 11%.

E.J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post today that Huckabee scares the Republicans because he is an "evangelical populist."

Dionne points out that, in an endorsement of Romney, National Review fretted about the future of the conservative coalition that has been responsible for the Republican Party's successes in the last few decades.

Dionne suggests that the "crackup" that National Review fears already may have begun. The Pew Research Center identified two years ago a sub-group within the GOP, representing about one-third of its base, called "pro-government conservatives." These voters are religious and socially conservative, but they favor things that are not considered traditionally Republican, like more government involvement in regulation and more financial aid for feeding the poor.

"The faithful are restive," concludes Dionne, "tired of being used and no longer willing to do the bidding of a crowd that subordinates Main Street's values to Wall Street's interests."

As The New York Times observes, Romney is learning that “facts are stubborn things.” The Times refers to the assertion that Romney's father marched with Martin Luther King, well before the Mormon church reversed its racial discrimination policy. Turns out, that might not be quite true.

It will be interesting to watch the Republican race in the next several weeks.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Business as Usual

A week after the release of the Mitchell Report, baseball is shrugging it off, according to an editorial in today's San Diego Union-Tribune.

The newspaper makes a good point. The players union has to take the lead in this, or steroids will continue to stain the sport and every accomplishment by individuals and teams.

It seems odd, to me, that there should be mechanisms in place for punishing people who engage in recreational drug use, but nothing in place to punish those who use drugs to profit.

Is the profit motive considered so pure and praiseworthy that the ends justify the means? And the recreation motive is considered selfish?

What are your thoughts?

Comings and Goings From The Campaign Trail

The Iowa caucuses are two weeks away and ...

* Tom Tancredo dropped out of the Republican race today.

The congressman from Colorado was a longshot from the beginning, much like Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who dropped out of the race a couple of months ago.

Tancredo credited himself with making illegal immigration a key element of the debate and said he was supporting Mitt Romney. With the latest polls showing Tancredo getting less than 1% of Republicans' support, one has to wonder how much his endorsement is worth.

But, as Romney falls farther behind Mike Huckabee among Iowa Republicans, I'm sure he welcomes any support he can get.

* An interesting side note ...

Historically speaking, it's not too surprising that Tancredo never caught on with the voting public. Although they've had other opportunities (such as Kerry, Gore, Dole, Mondale, Humphrey, etc.), Americans haven't elected a president whose surname ended in a vowel (unless you count the y at the end of Kennedy's name) since Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Before that? You'd have to either go back to 1900, when William McKinley was re-elected, or go back even farther to 1852, when Franklin Pierce was elected.

I guess that doesn't bode too well for Messrs. Giuliani, Huckabee and Obama. Or Romney -- if you count the y at the end of his name!

And no one with a surname exceeding two syllables has been elected president since Kennedy in 1960. But multi-syllable surnames have been a little more common in the Oval Office than surnames ending in vowels. Before Kennedy, Eisenhower was elected to two terms. Franklin Roosevelt was elected four times, and Theodore Roosevelt was elected once.

Before that, McKinley was elected twice, Benjamin Harrison was elected once, James Buchanan was elected once and William Henry Harrison had the shortest administration -- one month -- after falling ill on Inaugural Day and dying a month later.

And, of course, the very first president, George Washington, had more than two syllables in his surname. And so did another president whose face adorns Mount Rushmore -- Thomas Jefferson.

In fact, three of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore had surnames with more than two syllables. The exception? Abraham Lincoln.

* According to the Associated Press' David Espo, Ron Paul, who is virtually the last "longshot" remaining on the Republican side, is shaping up to be the Republicans' "spoiler."

Oh, that's right. Duncan Hunter is still in the race, isn't he?

* Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned to the campaign trail today after he was released from a St. Louis hospital following an overnight stay for "flu-like symptoms."

Giuliani, who was treated for prostate cancer in 2000, returned to New York after receiving a "clean bill of health" in St. Louis.

* Former Democratic congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia has decided to enter the presidential race as a Green Party candidate.

McKinney says the Green Party is "my new political home."

* A good friend of mine passes along a web address that will provide you with obscure information about methods used in the nominating processes in each state.

It's called The Green Papers.

Thanks, Doug.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Latest -- and Perhaps Last -- From Aruba

CNN reports that authorities in Aruba have dropped the case against the three young men who are suspected of being involved in the disappearance and presumed murder of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway in May 2005. Aruban authorities cite a lack of evidence.

We were hearing a different tune from prosecutor Hans Mos about a month ago. Back around the time of the American Thanksgiving, Mos was saying that it wasn't necessary, under Aruban law, to have a body to prove that a murder had occurred.

But today the public prosecutor's office announced there was not sufficient evidence to convince a court "that a crime of violence against Natalee Holloway had been committed nor that her death has been caused by involuntary actions by ... the suspects."

Seems to me the prosecutor doesn't know as much about Aruban law as he should to do his job.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lieberman Takes A Stand in the Campaign

Back in 2000, Joe Lieberman was the Democratic nominee as Al Gore's running mate. Today, he is an unapologetic supporter of the Iraq War, and he is no longer a Democrat. He is still in the Senate, but he's now an Independent who usually lends his support to the Democrats in the Senate.

When it comes to his choice for the next president, although Lieberman is supporting one of his colleagues from the Senate, it's not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Joe Biden or Chris Dodd -- or even John Edwards, who is now a former senator. It's John McCain, Republican senator from Arizona.

This makes three endorsements McCain picked up in roughly 36 hours. The others were the endorsements from the Des Moines Register, which I discussed here yesterday, and the Boston Globe.

It remains to be seen whether the Register's support will make a difference in the Iowa caucus, scheduled for Jan. 3. But Lieberman's endorsement and the support of the Globe may help McCain when New Hampshire voters hold their primaries on Jan. 8.

McCain's chances may be better in New Hampshire than they are in Iowa. Eight years ago, McCain was a distant fifth in Iowa and he hasn't put much of an effort there lately, either. But New Hampshire voted for McCain over George W. Bush in the 2000 primary.

The snow storm seems to have bumped just about everything else to the back burner in New England, as it has in just about every other place in the northern United States. But the Lieberman endorsement caught the attention of the Washington Post.

Actually, things might not be over as quickly as you might have anticipated. Adam Nagourney writes, in The New York Times, that there is a "growing sense among Republicans" that their nomination won't be wrapped up when the primary-laden date of Feb. 5 comes and goes.

And, if that is the case, all it will take is a handful of wins to keep someone in the race beyond Feb. 5.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Predictions for the New Year

As we approach 2008, it is traditional to predict what will happen in the new year.

If the respondents to the Gallup Poll are correct, you might prefer to stay in 2007.

According to the Gallup Poll, Americans expect a recession in 2008, gas selling for $4 a gallon, an increase in unemployment, rising out-of-pocket health care costs and falling housing prices.

What do you think will happen in 2008? Will any of it be good?

New Endorsements in Iowa

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, with more than a majority of its editorial board being female, but the Des Moines Register has endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic caucus for president.

"Readiness to lead sets her apart from a constellation of possible stars in her party, particularly Barack Obama [who has taken the lead in recent Iowa polls], who also demonstrates the potential to be a fine president," writes the Register.

"When Obama speaks before a crowd, he can be more inspirational than Clinton," the Register says, and I'm inclined to agree. I was watching C-SPAN yesterday and I saw a live broadcast of Obama speaking to an audience in Iowa. It was impressive, but it reinforced my opinion that Obama's biggest problem is that he's green, not that he's black (even though his race may be a major stumbling block in the South).

The Register seems to agree about Obama's inexperience. "Yet, with his relative inexperience," the newspaper says, "it’s hard to feel as confident he could accomplish the daunting agenda that lies ahead.”

More surprising, perhaps, is the newspaper's endorsement of John McCain on the Republican side.

Polls have shown McCain far behind Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in Iowa, where McCain has barely made any effort at all. But the Des Moines Register seems intent on rewarding McCain for his consistency in his positions -- even when those positions hurt Iowans, as in his opposition to ethanol.

“The force of John McCain’s moral authority could go a long way toward restoring Americans’ trust in government," the Register says, "and inspiring new generations to believe in the goodness and greatness of America.”

That's going to be a tall order for the next president, whomever it turns out to be.

By the way, for a humorous take on the Clinton-Obama war of words, read today's column by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

Ambiguity and Baseball

Mitch Albom makes a valid point in the Detroit Free Press.

He gives two lists of statements, one supporting the position "Why Steroids Don't Matter" and the other supporting the position "Why Steroids Matter." Readers are asked to circle the statements they agree with, then compare the number of circled statements from each list.

"Bigger number is where you stand," Albom writes, using phrasing that, perhaps unintentionally, reflects the nature of the problem.

"And if that sounds like confusing, non-declarative, mixed signals," Albom concludes, "well, now you know how baseball came to this sorry point in the first place."

I couldn't agree more. It's the ambiguity that has existed in baseball on this issue for many years that has led the sport -- and others, as well -- to the predicament it faces.

Thomas Boswell says, in the Washington Post, that "Perhaps what is most chilling in the Mitchell report is the casual business-as-usual comments of general managers and scouts as they discuss what they assume is the steroid use of players."

When the report was released Thursday, commissioner Bud Selig "incredibly said ... he hadn't read [it]," Boswell points out, but "[t]he metastasizing problem was clear before the strike of '94, not several years after it, as the commissioner likes to rewrite history. The media couldn't prove it. Many fans were indifferent to it. But that doesn't excuse baseball for conveniently ignoring it."

Now, as Boswell concludes, "with its analysis of the past and its recommendations for the future, the Mitchell report gives baseball a choice: stop digging deeper into denial, throw away that damn shovel and grab this rope like it's your last hope."

In the coming years, the players who have been using steroids will face their own consequences when the performance-enhancing drugs have done their lethal work. The players have reaped the temporary benefits, but, as no less an authority than the Bible says, "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

Baseball must deal with that inheritance now. And it must try to understand the reasons why it stood idly by and allowed this to happen. And then take credible steps to clean up the mess.

Good luck with that.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Fallout From the Mitchell Report

J.C. Bradbury writes in the New York Times that baseball players should police themselves.

It is not possible, he says, to achieve the total elimination of performance-enhancing drugs. Therefore, the objective must be "the second-best goal of reducing performance-enhancing drug use."

Under a system of significant fines and bonuses, baseball can clean up its act, he says.

In the Los Angeles Times, Helene Elliott says baseball players need to take responsibility for what happens in their sport.

Childs Walker, in the Baltimore Sun, reassures everyone that baseball will bounce back, as it always seems to do after a scandal.

And Jason Whitlock, in the Kansas City Star, is even more reassuring. It's the fault of the system, he says. This is a drug culture in which everyone does it. Everyone self-medicates to keep doing their jobs.

I think Whitlock could be on to something here, but I can't help feeling he takes it to the extreme. I do believe, however, that he's right when he says there's no easy solution to the problem. But, just because it isn't easy or self-evident, does that mean we shouldn't even try to find an answer?

I'm glad we're having this discussion. And I hope there will be much more said about this. We've turned the other way for too long, when everyone knew there was a problem.

So even if Whitlock is right and the steroid scandal is the result of peer pressure, it's time for some tough love.


Rich Lowry writes in that Republicans will be committing political suicide -- "huckacide," as the headline on his column calls it -- if they nominate Mike Huckabee for president.

Lowry makes a good case, comparing Huckabee to Howard Dean in 2004, but it can't be overlooked that cast its lot with Mitt Romney earlier this week -- and, therefore, has a vested interest in seeing Huckabee start to fall in the polls.

Lowry points to many Huckabee weaknesses -- his unabashed opposition to the theory of evolution, his history of raising taxes while governor of Arkansas, his lack of national security credentials. "Wherever you scratch Huckabee on policy, he seems an inch deep," Lowry writes.

"Democrats have to be looking at Huckabee the way Republicans once regarded Dean," Lowry says, "as a shiny Christmas present that is too good to be true."

We won't have to wait long to find out how Huckabee's message is really playing with the Republican voters. Iowa holds its caucuses in less than three weeks, and the New Hampshire primary is a little more than three weeks away.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where Baseball Needs to Go Now

Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle thinks the Mitchell Report is a "sad day" for baseball.

I disagree.

Sure, it's sad to realize that some of the biggest names in the game -- Roger Clemens, newly crowned home run king Barry Bonds and others -- have been cheating to succeed.

But this is one of those pivotal moments, a fork in the road. Major league baseball must make a real commitment to ridding itself of the cheaters, as surely as it did in the 1920s following the Black Sox Scandal.

If handled correctly, the rehabilitation ultimately will be joyful for the sport and its fans.

I'm not saying it won't be painful for a time. As it is for an individual who must deal with the withdrawal from an addiction to nicotine or alcohol or heroin, baseball must cope with its withdrawal pangs from performance-enhancing drugs.

But, as the old saying goes, no pain, no gain. And there is so much to be gained.

The release of the Mitchell Report is, as Jay Mariotti writes in the Chicago Sun-Times, "the first day of the rest of our baseball lives."

What kind of life that will be depends on how baseball's owners and players -- and fans -- react to this issue.

It's out there, no longer hidden in the shadows. Out there for all to see. Will we sweep it under the rug? Or will we learn from it?

The Politics of Race

A Huffington Post forum raises some interesting points about white men and their role in American politics.

It seems to be politically incorrect to discuss white men and their issues, even though we welcome discussions about the needs of women and blacks and Hispanics, and they are, to be sure, important voting blocs that each candidate must consider. Few people seem to mention white men, yet they represent a clearly significant bloc of the electorate.

Whites still make up about 80% of the population, as Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation observes, and that makes white men close to half of the voting population. Based on that alone, Vanden Heuvel and I agree that a candidate ignores this group at his/her peril.

I'm a member of that group. And I've seen more and more white men turn from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in the last three or four decades, particularly here in my native South. White men, who once formed the backbone of a coalition of voters who elected Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, haven't given a majority of their votes to a Democrat since Jimmy Carter's successful bid for the White House in 1976. Four years later, they began to move in the direction of Ronald Reagan and the Republicans, and there most of them have remained.

There are many reasons, and winning them back will have to be an incremental achievement. As forum member David Paul Kuhn of The Politico says, Democrats need to "be pragmatic instead of dogmatic." Even a small gain can mean dramatic results. Kuhn points out that John Kerry could have won the 2004 election if he had merely narrowed his deficit among white men.

Thomas Schaller, from the political science department at the University of Maryland, doesn't think white men are a significant group. Maybe it seems that way in Maryland, where the governor, both senators and six of the eight House members are Democrats (and two members of the House delegation are black). Not to mention the fact that 55% of the registered voters in Maryland are Democrats and nearly 28% of its population is black.

But I'd like to hear how he explains the shift here in the South. When I was growing up, Democrats held most Senate and House seats from Southern states, and most governors were Democrats -- in fact, winning a Democratic primary was the equivalent of being elected in most races.

But, following the quixotic campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and the emergence of the "silent majority" to which Richard Nixon appealed in 1968 and the "states' rights" speech Ronald Reagan gave in Mississippi in 1980, white men gravitated to the Republicans and have been responsible for the GOP's victories in seven of the last 10 presidential elections.

And Republicans have captured most of the Senate and House seats in the South as well.

Michael Lux, CEO of Progressive Strategies, makes a worthwhile point when he says that Democrats should be asking themselves two questions about white men: "(1) [A]re there some sub-groups within that demographic that are base-voting Dems that need to be identified and turned out to vote?; and (2) are there swing voters to be found within that demographic?" Lux contends the answer to both questions is yes.

It's an important discussion, and it holds the key to success next year. Unless the Democrats can stop the bleeding, they will never regain even a sliver of the support they've lost.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Petrino Made Right Decision

I've been reading some columns about Bobby Petrino's decision to leave the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and take the coaching job at my alma mater, the University of Arkansas.

I'm a little surprised at what I'm reading.

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated has been lamenting Petrino's departure after coaching for less than a full season, writing with the apparent conviction that being an NFL coach is the pinnacle of a coach's career -- and returning to the collegiate ranks is a step down.

Interestingly, Banks never mentions the job Petrino took. Not even once. And I think it's fair to say that the competitive level that Petrino will encounter in the Southeast Conference is considerably higher than it is in the Big East, in which Petrino's former team, Louisville, plays.

It may not be the NFL, Mr. Banks, but I'll wager that the SEC is stronger, top to bottom, than any other conference in the land. In January, LSU will play for its second national title in this decade. Florida won the national title last year.

SEC football is tough, exciting and its fans pack the stands.

Dennis Dillon mentions Petrino's destination in his Sporting News column, but he appears to believe that Petrino is cutting and running when the chips are down.

Dillon looks upon this as a betrayal by Petrino, but I think it's the other way around. Petrino took the job expecting to build his offense around Michael Vick at quarterback, but he was cut off at the knees by Vick's legal problems.

After that, things snowballed, and the Falcons' season has turned into a genuine disaster. It's not Petrino's fault. This catastrophe was dumped on him.

I am glad, though, that Dillon mentioned a previous Arkansas coach, Lou Holtz, in his column, because I do see some similarity between Holtz and Petrino, particularly the one to which Dillon refers. Dillon points out that Holtz left college coaching to take the job coaching the New York Jets. He left New York before the season was over, took over at Arkansas and had a great year his first year there, leading the Razorbacks to an Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma.

I don't think Holtz abandoned the Jets, and I don't think Petrino abandoned the Falcons.

After he returned to the college level, Holtz won a national championship at Notre Dame. Coaching college football was where he excelled, not in the money-driven NFL. College sports and pro sports are different games, and different personalities excel in each.

Perhaps Petrino is like Holtz. Perhaps the college game is where he stands out.

I will be anxious to see if Petrino, with his history of coaching the pass effectively at Louisville, can blend the passing game with Arkansas' tradition of a strong running game. That will be his major test at Arkansas.

Along with facing his predecessor, Houston Nutt, when Ole Miss comes to town.

In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mark Bradley blithely talks about the general mess the franchise is in (as if actions -- or, rather, inactions -- by management had no consequences) and then speculates about who should be selected to clean it up and get it moving in the right direction.

His choice? Bill Cowher.

But it's going to take more than a big-name coach to fix things in Atlanta.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The New Definition of 'Flip Flopping'

I don't know which candidate or which political party most people associate with the phrase "flip flop."

Although it may have been used by earlier campaigns, I guess the first time I remember being exposed to the concept was when I was 12 and Richard Nixon was running against George McGovern. I remember a TV commercial that was aired by the Nixon campaign (which, as we all learned later, was engaged in many more sinister covert acts in that election season).

This commercial showed a picture of McGovern on a yard sign. McGovern's face was staring directly in one direction, but it was a two-sided sign, and McGovern was looking in one direction on one side and in the other direction on the other side.

In the background, the narrator described an issue and told the listeners what McGovern's position on that issue had been in the previous year (1971). Then the narrator described McGovern's position on the issue this year. Over and over again.

The point was that McGovern's positions in 1971 were not the positions he was taking in 1972. And the sign kept switching sides as the narrator described one position, then the other, and the camera showed McGovern looking to the left, then showed him looking to the right.

At the end, the sign was practically spinning like a top. And the narrator said solemnly, "Last year. This year. The question is, what about next year?"

Since then, "flip flopping" has been largely a factor Democrats have had to battle. Jimmy Carter was accused of it in 1976, but it wasn't severe enough to cost him the election. After four years in the White House, Carter was more vulnerable to the charge and wound up losing the general election to Ronald Reagan.

Subsequent Democratic nominees Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis never overcame the stigma of being labeled "flip floppers." The terminology changed during the Bill Clinton era, and he was accused of being a "waffler," but Clinton seemed to have fun with the label and it didn't seem to hurt him until the impeachment proceedings began.

"Flip flopper" was back in vogue when Al Gore and John Kerry were the nominees.

But, if Jane Swift is correct in today's Manchester Union Leader, 2008 may be the year when the Democrats turn the rhetorical table on the Republicans.

Swift was the interim governor of Massachusetts in the years prior to Mitt Romney's election to that post. She stepped aside to give him a clear shot at the nomination in 2002 -- and ultimately helped elect him governor. But she was a supporter of Romney's when he sought a Senate seat against Ted Kennedy in 1994 -- so she's familiar with his record on a long-term basis.

"Mitt Romney is campaigning on his record as governor," Swift writes, "yet he has become unrecognizable to the citizens who voted him into office."

Swift, who supports Arizona Sen. John McCain, says Romney has become a "chronic flip flopper," and she says that is the reason why Romney will be doomed to fail in the general election if he wins the nomination.

"Democrats need only take a page from the George W. Bush playbook," she says. "Undermine the voters' sense that Romney can be trusted by highlighting the number of times he's conveniently changed his mind. And don't forget: He will have to do some more flipping if he becomes the party's nominee."

Senate Prepares to Debate Farm Bill

Senators have been through a long period of negotiations, but it now appears that they will debate the farm bill this week.

Each party is allowed 20 amendments to the bill. And neither party is required to make the amendments relevant to the farm bill.

Some amendments will be related to the farm bill, including

* Elimination of the agriculture disaster fund,
* A ban on subsidies for those who earn less than two-thirds of their income from farming, and
* Cuts in federal crop insurance spending.

Contact your senators to express your view of the bill. You can find out how to contact them here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Life Imitates Art?

Well, maybe not exactly.

I was just thinking about "The West Wing" and the fictional presidential campaign that consumed most of the final two seasons of that program -- and its similarities to our current presidential campaign.

Devotees of the series already know how that campaign turned out -- while the first vote has yet to be cast in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Still, we can paint this one in fairly broad brushstrokes. We don't need to know how the story ends right now.

For starters, Rudy Giuliani may not be the only Republican candidate who is pro-choice, but he's really the only one who hasn't run away from that position. And he's been leading in most Republican polls for most of this year, although Christian conservatives have been looking elsewhere.

On "The West Wing," Alan Alda played a pro-choice Republican who won the nomination but struggled to get the support of Christian conservatives and even put one on his ticket to make his candidacy more palatable to Christian conservatives.

Now, on "The West Wing," Alda's character was from California. Giuliani, of course, is from the opposite coast, the former mayor of New York. But Giuliani's nomination would put a large Democratic state in play, much as Alda's character did.

On the Democratic side, it now appears that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will be nominated. If that happens, we will have the first woman or the first black at the top of a national ticket. On "The West Wing," the Democrats nominated the first Hispanic candidate -- played by Jimmy Smits.

The fly in the ointment looks like it could be Mike Huckabee, who is now leading in Iowa polls and has pulled into second place, behind Giuliani, in the latest national poll from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation.

Huckabee is a former Baptist minister. "The West Wing" had its Christian conservative making an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination -- and then declining to be considered for the No. 2 spot. It's far from clear whether Huckabee would accept or reject the No. 2 spot if it is offered to him.

If the rest of the story follows the lead of "The West Wing," it will be a cliffhanger of an election. As divided as the country seems to be politically, it's not much of a stretch to predict that.

It could be a bumpy ride!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

News From The Sports World

The first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy is Tim Tebow of Florida. He was crowned the latest Heisman winner in New York last night in a ceremony that was carried live on ESPN.

The Gainesville Sun says Tebow is "tightening his grip on history."

But you didn't have to be in New York to make sports news -- or to be speculating on it.

* Barry Tramel writes, in The Oklahoman, that a four-team playoff in college football is "possible" in the near future. Four teams, he says, is about as many as you can expect.

His column today, however, points out that a playoff in college football is not a new idea. Such a proposal was brought before the NCAA convention more than 30 years ago. There was little discussion and the proposal was dismissed. And, in the 1990s, Division I-A voted heavily against a playoff proposal.

But Tramel contends that the current BCS "has the structure to expand its playoff from two to four teams. When the current Fox television contracts expire in 2011, the BCS bowls could establish a four-team playoff with no major reconstruction."

Meanwhile, Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star says forget it, a playoff system won't succeed in college football.

Who's right?

* In pro football, the teams are marching steadily toward their playoffs. Most of today's games have been played and we're getting a clearer picture of who will be in the playoffs -- in the NFC, anyway.

In the NFC, three teams clinched division championships today -- Dallas, Green Bay and Seattle. Tampa Bay could have clinched the fourth and final division title, but lost its game to Houston.

Things are a little more unsettled n the AFC, where it's been a given for most of the season that New England, still undefeated at 13-0, would be in the playoffs. The Patriots are playing against history these days. The Steelers, Colts and Chargers are close to clinching their divisions, but they haven't done so yet.

* Tom Dienhart of the Sporting News looks at what he calls college football's "coaching carousel."

He says Michigan has plenty of options left, but the other schools that are looking for new coaches may not find much to address their needs.

Many of those schools, Dienhart says, may have to hire assistant coaches rather than guys with experience as a head coach.

The prospect he mentions that intrigues me, as a graduate of the University of Arkansas, is East Carolina coach Skip Holtz, the son of Lou Holtz. If Skip Holtz is being mentioned as a possible coach at Arkansas, as Dienhart implies, he would be a candidate for his father's old job.

Lou Holtz was coaching the football team when I was a student there. And Skip was a student at Fayetteville High School with my brother.

TV Recommendations

I don't usually make TV recommendations, but today I do have a couple of suggestions to pass along. Please indulge me.

* Is a single year significant in the history of a country? Most of the time, a single year probably isn't significant by itself, only when seen as part of the overall picture.

Tonight, however, The History Channel will be showing a two-hour documentary on such a year -- 1968, which was an extremely significant year from start to finish.

More than most years, it seemed, 1968 had more than its share of triumph and tragedy. And there was no all-news, all-the-time channel to cover it, the way there is today.

It was a year that started with the Tet offensive in Vietnam, which led many people (including Walter Cronkite) to conclude that the United States could never win in Southeast Asia. It was a year that ended with an Apollo space mission at Christmas time that took man closer to the lunar surface than he had ever been (and set the stage for the moon landing the following year).

And, in between, America witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. in April and Robert F. Kennedy in June, as well as the unexpected withdrawal of President Lyndon Johnson from the presidential campaign in March and the riots in the streets of Chicago at the Democratic convention that nominated Hubert Humphrey for president that summer.

Later that year, Richard Nixon was elected president, setting in motion the events that would lead to the Watergate scandal.

It was a year that affected -- and continues to affect -- politics, culture and race relations in America. From what I've read, the program will present the perspectives of many people, the famous and the unknown.

Hosted by TV journalist Tom Brokaw (who has written books on "the greatest generation" that came of age during the Depression and won the war against the Nazis and the Japanese), the program airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time, 8 p.m. Central time.

It will be repeated at 1 a.m. Eastern time, midnight Central time.

* The other night, I watched a movie on the Independent Film Channel that I've seen on cable before in recent months. Somehow, it slipped under my radar when it was released at theaters in 1996, but I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it.

The film is called "Sling Blade," and it stars Billy Bob Thornton, who won an Oscar for his writing. He was nominated for an Oscar for best actor, too, which he did not win, but he won comparable awards from the Screen Actors Guild and the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Thornton plays a simple man named Karl who has been incarcerated in the state hospital for many years for killing his mother and her lover when he was 12. Karl committed the act with a knife called a "sling blade" (Karl calls it a "kaiser blade"), a curved cutting tool that is often used for clearing brush.

Karl has been deemed "rehabilitated" and is being released from the hospital. He returns to the small town where he lived before the killings and befriends a young boy and his mother.

The cast isn't exactly an all-star cast, but it does have some familiar faces, including the late John Ritter and Robert Duvall. Ritter, who played a straight man pretending to be gay in the TV series "Three's Company," plays a real homosexual in this film and does so with a quiet dignity. Duvall has a cameo role as Thornton's long-lost father that is a masterful performance.

Other cast members you might recognize are Dwight Yoakam and Lucas Black.

It's the only film I can recall in which the last word said by all the main characters (except Thornton's character) is the same: "Karl?" It isn't spoken in unison but in four separate scenes and in four separate contexts.

The film is set in the South. Maybe that's part of the reason the characters seem so familiar to me. Much of it apparently was filmed in a town where I used to live -- Benton, Arkansas. I've also read that Thornton wrote the script in longhand at his family's home in Hot Springs, Arkansas -- a city I've visited on many occasions.

So, while I'll admit that there is a personal connection for me to this film, that doesn't mean it isn't outstanding!

The Independent Film Channel will be showing this film again at 9 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, Dec. 23, and at 3 a.m. Eastern on Monday, Dec. 24.

Two For the Price of One

David Ignatius writes, in today's Washington Post, about "Hillary's Ex Factor" -- the possible role of Mrs. Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, in her presidential administration.

In stores, two for the price of one is seen as a good deal. Back in 1992, a lot of voters were put off by the thought of it on the presidential level. And there are still people who balk at the notion in 2007.

Iagnatius offers a thoughtful evaluation of the situation. There certainly would be benefits to having a former president around. After two terms in the White House, Bill Clinton would be uniquely positioned to offer advice to a new president to help avoid making mistakes, large and small, that can slow down or even halt momentum in a particular direction.

Ignatius does a good job of discussing the pros and cons of such a relationship, but he leaves out what I think may be the most important factor -- the role of the former president in the debate between the Republicans and Democrats in next fall's general election campaign.

I have long maintained that, if Hillary Clinton is nominated by the Democrats, the general election debate will be a rehash of her husband's presidency, the impeachment proceedings, Monica, etc., and the American public will be deprived of a real discussion of the issues that face us today -- as well as a genuine evaluation of which candidate is best qualified to deal with them in the next four years.

Just as we were deprived of a real discussion of foreign policy, the Iraq war, and other important issues in 2004 when most of the attention was riveted to the "swift boat" matter that ultimately contributed to John Kerry's defeat.

It's fine for Barack Obama to say that he will not hesitate to offer Bill Clinton a role in his administration. Obama is not married to Bill Clinton, and his presence in the White House would not be a given if Obama is elected.

But if Hillary is the nominee, the question "What about Bill?" becomes unavoidable. Just as Mormonism became the issue that Mitt Romney could no longer avoid, once Mike Huckabee started winning the support of Christian conservatives on the Republican side.

It is, as Ignatius puts it, "the elephant in the room."

Or, perhaps, to use a more appropriate political analogy, it is the "donkey" in the room.

Either way, it is something for Democrats to consider when they go to the polls to vote in the primaries.

Do you want the general election campaign to be about yesterday -- or tomorrow?

Another Dead End in a Cold Case

Less than a month ago, news reports included developments in Aruba, where the three young men who were the original focus of the investigation into the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway had been taken into custody.

Today, those three young men are once again free, once again because a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to hold them any longer under Aruba law.

The chief prosecutor, Hans Mos, sounded optimistic last month that charges would be brought in the case and asserted confidently that there was no need, under Aruba law, to have a body in order to prove that someone was dead.

Today, however, Mos sounds anything but confident.

Mos says he does not expect to find Holloway's remains and he believes that it would be "very hard" to prosecute a suspect without them.

"We promised the suspects that after December 31, we will not pursue the case," Mos said Friday. "This investigation should end at a certain point."

What needs to end is the seemingly endless harassment of Holloway's family.

Aruba is not very big. Searches of that tiny island have failed to produce any evidence of a corpse since the teenager disappeared in May 2005.

It's time for Aruba to acknowledge that its officials haven't been smart enough or resourceful enough to bring closure to this case -- and allow Holloway's family members to grieve and move on with their lives.

Enough is enough for all concerned.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Remembering John Lennon

Twenty-seven years ago today, John Lennon was gunned down in front of his apartment building in New York.

I think that was perhaps the most significant event that occurred during my college days. And my college days seemed to be filled with significant events.

Even today, more than a quarter of a century later, the thought of the night that Lennon was killed brings back vivid memories. Of all people, I got the news from Howard Cosell during that night’s broadcast of Monday Night Football. I don’t remember which teams were playing that night, but I’ll always remember hearing the news.

I had just turned 21, and I was with some friends at a local watering hole. It was during final exams, although none of us had an exam scheduled for the next day. My friends and I had all turned 21 within the previous three weeks and we were celebrating, you might say.

What had been a light-hearted evening shared by friends who were enjoying their first night together as legal adults dissolved into tragedy almost immediately.

It was a different world in those days. Cable wasn’t the pervasive influence it is today, and, while CNN existed, it wasn’t a part of the basic cable package. You had to pay extra for it. That is, if it was even available in your area.

To get breaking news, you still had to rely on local network affiliates. And I remember going home that night and frantically switching channels until I found one providing a report on the shooting. I guess I needed to confirm the information. Maybe I didn’t fully trust Cosell. Or maybe I just didn’t want to believe what I had heard.

In the Liverpool Echo, Dawn Collinson reflects on the night Lennon was killed. Liverpool, of course, felt the impact of the murder more keenly than almost any other city in the world, since it truly was the birthplace of the Beatles.

A couple of years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the shooting, I read numerous articles online about Lennon, the Beatles, and Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.

Many of those articles had sections where readers could post their reactions. One reader posted something about how wrong it was for people to remember the anniversary of Lennon’s death instead of observing the anniversary of Pearl Harbor the previous day.

The statement wasn’t true, of course. Then, as now, there was an observation of Pearl Harbor on December 7 by veterans of that attack in Hawaii. But Pearl Harbor was more than 65 years ago, and, in the natural progression of time, the vets of Pearl Harbor are dying off. There will come a time when no one alive remembers what happened that Sunday in 1941 that lives in infamy.

Just as there will come a time when no one alive remembers the shooting of John Lennon on that Monday night in 1980.

But does that mean those events will cease to be acknowledged? No. History doesn’t really work the way that reader suggested. No one I’ve ever known made a choice between whether to acknowledge the Pearl Harbor anniversary on the 7th or the Lennon killing on the 8th. For my part, I’ve always acknowledged both sacrifices.

In The Star, Kathleen O’Hara writes today about Lennon’s memory. The latest example of the ongoing interest in the late former Beatle is a new film, ”The Killing of John Lennon,” which apparently just opened in London, where O’Hara is based these days.

The film is due to open in the United States on January 2. And, from what I’ve read, it focuses mostly on Chapman and his descent into madness.

O’Hara recalls her experience as a youngster living in Toronto at the height of Beatlemania. And she explains her reasoning for not wanting to see the film.

”I prefer to remember the John Lennon I saw deftly dodging a popcorn box in Toronto,” she writes, ”than the one lying in blood outside the Dakota apartment building in New York City.”

I’m not sure that memories or the mind work that way. Are choices like that really possible?

O’Hara may want to remember seeing Lennon and the Beatles in concert in the 1960s, but she may not be able to divorce that memory from the one of his death in 1980.

Nor can I successfully separate my memories of the Beatles and Lennon’s fledgling comeback effort earlier in 1980 from my recollection of Cosell reporting the shooting.

It’s all part of the tapestry of the human experience.