Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap of Faith

This is Leap Year. And today is Leap Day.

What better time to take a leap of faith and see what the God-o-Meter says about the religious conviction of the presidential field?

Conventional wisdom and statistical reality has held that religious conservatives are overwhelmingly in the Republican Party, but, according to the God-o-Meter, the Republicans are on the verge of nominating someone whose religious rating is behind both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Candidates are ranked from 1-10 in the God-o-Meter. Mike Huckabee has made it to 10 a few times, but he has an unfair advantage. He was a Baptist minister earlier in his career; currently, his rating is 9. Longshot Republican Ron Paul rates 7. John McCain's ranking is 5.

On the Democratic side, Clinton has a 9 and Obama has an 8. The only candidate (and the term must be used extremely loosely for this individual) whose ranking is below McCain's would be Democrat Mike Gravel, who has a 4 -- but it must be noted that the God-o-Meter hasn't bothered to adjust Gravel's ranking, up or down, since August 2007.

What will religious conservatives do in November? Will they vote Republican from force of habit? Or will they cross party lines and support a candidate who may or may not share their views on everything, but whose faith is devout?

Perhaps this is part of a larger trend.

Ronald Brownstein writes, in the National Journal, that "a new Democratic coalition is being forged" in this year's primary season.

"[E]xit polls from this year's contests show the Democratic coalition evolving in clear and consistent ways since the 2004 primaries that nominated John Kerry," Brownstein writes. "The party is growing younger, more affluent, more liberal, and more heavily tilted toward women, Latinos, and African-Americans."

Well, let's see. This "new" coalition is made up of young voters (who do not have a strong record of showing up on Election Day), women (who have tended to be Democrats all along), Latinos (who don't have a strong record of showing up on Election Day), and African-Americans (who have been Democrats all along).

Is this the coalition that's going to produce a political shift in the fall?

Talk about a leap of faith.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Eligibility Requirements

An article in the New York Times addresses the issue that's been raised about birthplaces and eligibility for the presidency.

The matter has come up lately because John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father, who was in the service, was stationed.

The law says a president must be a "natural-born citizen." It does not say a president must be born on American soil.

The Times correctly points out that Lowell Weicker and Mitt Romney's father were born in foreign countries. Both men sought the Republican nomination. Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona while it was still a territory. He was the Republican nominee in 1964.

And one of our presidents, although officially listed as being born on American soil, reportedly was born in Canada.

I believe that some people confuse the terms "natural born" and "naturalized."

If someone's parents are Americans, it doesn't matter where that person is born. He/she is an American.

It certainly shouldn't matter if someone was born in a foreign land because that person's father was enlisted in the service and was serving where he had been sent.

In my own case, both my parents were Americans. They spent five years abroad as Methodist missionaries in Africa. I was born while they were doing their missionary work.

I was born in Africa, but that doesn't make me an African. If you follow the logic that it would make me an African, how would you classify someone who is born on board an airplane or a ship?

A cat may have kittens in the oven, but that doesn't make them biscuits.

I'm an American because my parents were both Americans. I'm a "natural-born American." It doesn't matter where I was born.

And that means I can run for president. If I want to.

In the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he's clearly a "naturalized" American. He's lived in this country a long time, he's the governor of the largest state in the country, and his wife belongs to a prominent political family. He also has been through the process of changing his citizenship, so he is legally an American, but he was born in Austria to Austrian parents.

Schwarzenegger is not a "natural-born citizen." And that has nothing to do with the Austrian village where he was born. It has everything to do with the fact that his parents were not American citizens.

Schwarzenegger is not eligible to run for president. Clearly, he is eligible to be governor of California. But the law prevents him from being president.

I don't mean to suggest that Schwarzenegger is less of an American than I am. It's just that there are a few differences between us.

And one of those differences is that I, legally (and theoretically), could become president. He cannot.

The Lone Star State

I'm about to say something that almost certainly will surprise my readers here in Texas -- and my readers who used to live here.

But bear with me.

I'm going to be watching Tuesday night's primary results to find out more than whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wins the presidential primary here. I want to see which party is attracting Hispanic votes and how many Hispanics participate.

If Clinton is going to win Texas, she's going to do it with the help of Hispanic voters, the way she did in Nevada and California. And I haven't looked at the numbers from Florida as carefully as I should have, but I would guess that the Hispanic vote was a factor there, too.

If Hispanics participate in the Texas primary, that may help Clinton's cause. Nearly one-third of Texas' population is Hispanic.

The Hispanic demographic is growing faster than any other in the country -- and the numbers tell the story better in Texas than anywhere. Part of that story is the historically low participation rate in elections by most Hispanics. Will those numbers go up in the primary? And will that increase favor the Democrats or Republicans?

If they're participating in part because of their frustration over the Republicans' hard-line approach to immigration, that's not good news for the Republicans, who, not so long ago, were the minority party in Texas.

When George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, he received about 40% of the Hispanic vote. But Hispanics watched with the rest of the country in 2005 and 2006 as Hurricane Katrina whipped New Orleans, the war in Iraq dragged on with no end in sight, and Bush and the congressional Republicans tried to pull every string they could to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

When Texans went to the polls in 2006, some unexpected things happened.

Here in normally rock-ribbed Republican Dallas County, Democrats were elected county judge and district attorney, and almost every contested judicial race was captured by a Democrat.

And even though now-disgraced Rep. Tom DeLay had gerrymandered the congressional districts to make them more receptive to Republicans, Democrats had a better-than-expected showing in Texas' congressional races in 2006. Democrats won DeLay's old seat after he was forced to resign from the House under the weight of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

And in the newly redistricted 23rd District, Ciro Rodriguez upset seven-term Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla. In 2004, Texas' voters sent Bonilla to Washington with 69% of the vote. But in a redrawn district with an all-party primary in the 2006 general election, Bonilla failed to get a majority and, in the December runoff, could only muster 46% against his Democratic opponent -- who supports abortion rights and gun control.

Nationally, the numbers showed that support for Republicans among Hispanics had dropped to the low 30s. Experts had been predicting that another election with 40% support from Hispanics would make the Republicans the majority party for a generation.

But that didn't happen. And now it remains to be seen if the Hispanic support level has dropped even more since 2006.

I'm not saying the Democrats' presidential nominee will win Texas this year. The last Democrat who carried Texas was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

But keep your eye on what the numbers say about Texas' Hispanic voters. I believe they hold the keys to success in November.

And I believe the Republicans should be worried about what the numbers will tell us.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Noteworthy Day

Whether one is talking about current or past events, February 27 is a noteworthy day.

* For starters, today is the 75th anniversary of the Reichstag fire. Hitler used that event as the pretext for grabbing power in 1933, but, as Deutsche Welle observes, the fire only "accelerated" Hitler's rise. "[H]e would have seized power even if the blaze hadn't occurred."

The Reichstag fire occupies an important spot in the 20th century history of the world. But if one could go back in time and somehow prevent it from happening, that wouldn't keep the Nazis from taking over Germany or putting the world through the pain of the Holocaust.

* Perhaps the most legendary living conservative, William F. Buckley Jr., died today.

Joe Lieberman, a senator from Buckley's home state of Connecticut, offered some thoughts in the publication Buckley founded, the National Review.

The one-time Democrat, now Independent, wrote, "There's so much I could say about Bill Buckley’s contribution to our country, about his openness to ideas, about his civility.

"One could disagree with him -- as I did quite frequently -- and never lose respect or affection, dare I say love, for a wonderful human being."

Lieberman had Buckley's support when Lieberman successfully challenged incumbent Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker in 1988.

* The battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may be about over. The general consensus is that, in last night's debate, neither candidate won a clear victory. And Clinton needed a clear victory to change the dynamics of the race.

The two candidates have now taken part in 20 debates. There doesn't seem to be a good reason to have any more. The voters have seen both candidates and they've apparently made up their minds.

The latest delegate count, according to CNN (and I presume this accounts for the defection of super-delegate John Lewis of Georgia from Clinton to Obama), has Obama with 1,365 and Clinton with 1,268.

Dick Morris, who once advised President Clinton, left no doubt what he thinks in The Hill: "Whether one likes, dislikes, loves, hates, admires, fears, despises, or envies them, every Clinton watcher has this in common: They are dumbfounded both by the incompetence with which Hillary has run for president and her intransigence at sticking to a failed message. ...

"Even now, with her back against the wall, fighting for her political career, Hillary, presumably with Bill’s acquiescence, insists on making the same mistakes that landed her in the soup. No new tactics, no new strategy, no new message emerges."

* Obama is getting some negative press today as well.

In The New Republic, Sean Wilentz says Obama has played the "race card" in Ohio, but it's a continuation, he says, of a tactic that has been in use at least since before the Iowa caucuses at the start of January.

"It may strike some as ironic that the racializing should be coming from a black candidate's campaign and its supporters," writes Wilentz. "But this is an American presidential campaign -- and there is a long history of candidates who are willing to inflame the most deadly passions in our national life in order to get elected."

I don't know if the accusation against Obama's campaign is correct. But I do know that, in my attempt to learn more about the two candidates who want to be the Democratic nominee for president so that I could make an informed choice when I vote in the Texas primary next week, I've been accused of sexism by Clinton's supporters and racism by Obama's supporters.

Now, that hasn't been true of everyone. But it has been true of several of them.

Hey, all I asked for was some information! As Steve Martin used to say, "Excu-u-u-u-use me!"

So if the accusation is true, it wouldn't surprise me.

And then there's the matter of what Byron York of National Review calls "the Farrakhan trap."

In the debate, Obama tried to sidestep it by saying it was a matter of "semantics," but York makes a valid point, wondering what the response would be if one substitutes the name John McCain for Obama and the name David Duke for Farrakhan.

A little hypothetical reverse racism appears to be the result.

One may not like the presence of race or gender as factors in this campaign, but they won't be ignored, will they?

What will it be like if voters choose Obama or Clinton this fall? After they ponder the matter for the next several months, will voters decide to elect the old white guy rather than put up with frequent references to race or gender for the next four years?

* That leads us to something else. The Wall Street Journal is wondering if McCain is too old to be president.

But the Journal answers its own question by providing a list of people who rose to leadership positions at advanced ages -- including Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Golda Meir and Charles de Gaulle. In addition to that, McCain's own mother is still alive at the age of 95, which, as the Journal points out, indicates that "Mr. McCain's own genetic material appears to be strong."

Even so, I think McCain needs to prepare himself for this kind of question on a regular basis. He'll be 72 by the time he gives his acceptance speech at the Republican convention.

* Attention, Texas Democrats:

Read this editorial from the Dallas Morning News.

Thanks to a complicated process, delegates will be committed in part based on the results of Tuesday's popular vote and in part based on the results of caucuses to be held after the polls close. You almost need an advanced degree to make sense of it all.

"Why does the Texas Democratic Party insist on giving its voters such headaches?" asks the Dallas Morning News. "The idea is to promote participatory democracy, not drive voters to the point of exasperation."

(By the way, I like the word "exasperation" because it implies -- to me, anyway -- that the speaker is deadly serious. I suppose that harkens to my childhood. When I was a boy, there was a mother in my neighborhood who had a rather extensive vocabulary, and most of it seemed to define her level of annoyance with something we kids were doing -- whether we were being too loud or running too much in the house or whatever it was.

(When she told us she was "exasperated," we knew she was running out of options and her next move would be to start calling our parents.)

Amen to that. Read the editorial, do your civic duty -- and then contact the party leadership and demand a process that encourages participation.

The Power of Words

We're a week away from the Texas and Ohio primaries. By this time next week, John McCain should have the GOP nomination locked up, if the polls from those two states are to be believed.

And the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination intensifies with each passing day.

It's become a battle over words. And that's the kind of battle journalists can never resist. Most of them have to jump into such a battle head first.

You know the old saying about an opinion being like a person's hind quarters? Everybody's got one.

I suppose, if everybody's got one, some are more substantial than others.

Nearly 30 years ago, Stephen Hayes writes in the Wall Street Journal, critics blithely dismissed Ronald Reagan's campaign for being heavy on optimism and light on specifics.

There are times when that's a good campaign strategy. One of Reagan's advisers, as Hayes points out, wrote that "Reagan's 'secret weapon' was that 'Democrats fail to take him very seriously.'"

If you're old enough, do you recall the catch phrase Republicans put on their bumper stickers to encourage voters to support Reagan and other Republicans on the 1980 ballot?

"Vote Republican. For a change."

And, in November of 1980, enough voters did vote Republican to sweep President Carter out of office, transform the Senate to a Republican majority for the first time in decades and dramatically reduce the Democratic majority in the House.

Hayes goes on to wonder if Republicans are making the same mistake with Obama. They may well be.

At the time of Reagan's election in 1980, Republicans hadn't been as dominant as they have been in recent elections. In the previous 20 years, Democrats had won three presidential elections and Republicans had won two. But, realistically, the Democrats' hold on the White House had been almost continuous since the Great Depression. The only exceptions had been the two Eisenhower victories in 1952 and 1956 and the two Nixon victories in 1968 and 1972.

Optimism (hope) combined with a call for change resonated with the voters in 1980, just as (I assume) it did in 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt's victory over Herbert Hoover turned out to be a generational transition during the darkest days of the Depression.

The desire for change may be so great in 2008 that Obama may be unstoppable.

But there is a down side to relying on change as the message, as Steve Kornacki points out in the New York Observer.

Four years before Reagan was elected, he lost the GOP nomination to incumbent President Gerald Ford, who remains the only man to serve as both vice president and president without being elected to either position.

Ford wasn't a very inspiring speaker, and his biggest selling point was his experience.

At a strategy session in the summer of 1976, Ford and his advisers decided to focus on what they believed were Jimmy Carter's vulnerabilities: "His lack of experience, his lack of accomplishments and his lack of specificity on the issues."

In 1976, Carter's appeal wasn't based so much on the concept of change. In an election coming on the heels of the nation's experience with Vietnam and Watergate, Carter's appeal was based on trust.

So in the fall campaign, Ford talked about the tough times he had faced in the job he had inherited and pointed out that "trust must be earned."

The strategy very nearly worked. By the time the votes were counted, Ford "came within an eyelash of a political miracle," Karnacki writes. He goes on to point out that many people still believe Ford would have won the election if the campaign had gone on for another week.

"Obama may prove a more durable fall candidate," Karnacki writes. "He’s been more specific in his proposals than Carter was (see: health care and diplomacy with hostile nations), and his personal bond with the electorate may prove deeper and more intense than Carter’s ever was. But if you’re tempted to think Obama has too much working in his favor to lose in November, just remember what very nearly happened in 1976."

Clinton has argued that the press has been giving Obama an easy ride, failing to subject him to the kind of scrutiny she has received since she and her husband became fixtures on the national scene in 1992.

For that matter, she was a punching bag for the Arkansas press when her husband was governor in the 1980s.

But that's not an effective argument for electing a president.

"Beating on the press is the lamest thing you can do," writes Obama supporter Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. "It is only because of the utter open-mindedness of the press that Hillary can lose 11 contests in a row and still be treated as a contender."

There is no doubt that words have power. But some words lose their power if they're used too much.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More About the No. 2 Slots

My recent post on possible running mates from among the nation's governors needs a follow-up, based on a report from CNN.

Minnesota's Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty told CNN's John King, "I don’t need a day job. I have one. I’m focused on being governor."

And Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told Fox News, "I do have a very important job at hand, which is governing Virginia." Kaine is a supporter of Barack Obama, and he told Fox, "I want to do everything I can to help Barack win Virginia, and I think I can do that as governor."

So Pawlenty and Kaine apparently are out of the veepstakes.

We're already guaranteed of having two senators running against each other for president, whether Obama or Hillary Clinton is nominated by the Democrats. But it now appears that two Republicans from the Senate aren't interested in sharing the GOP ticket with John McCain.

There has been much speculation here in Texas about the prospects for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson. But she told ABC's This Week, “I think that Sen. McCain has a lot of options, I think he has to look at a lot of different factors. I don’t want to be vice president."

Hutchinson was just re-elected to the Senate in 2006, with 62%. Her decision deprives McCain of a solid vote-getter who could assure him of the support of a large Southwestern state in the fall.

(Personally, I expect the Republicans to carry Texas this fall, anyway. The Lone Star State hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976 -- but, of course, the GOP ticket has had someone named George Bush on it in all but one of the elections since that time. And in the single exception? In 1996, Bob Dole won the state, but he received less than 50% of the vote.)

And Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who has already decided against seeking re-election to the Senate this year, told CNN's King, “Chuck Hagel is out of the mix. I’m going to continue to focus on my job in the Senate, and do what I can to influence the direction of our country over the next year.”

Both parties will wind up with a running mate. It remains to be seen who those running mates are.

On a personal note, yesterday a response was posted to Sunday's blog entry about possible running mates from the gubernatorial ranks.

I have no objection at all to people posting responses to the things I write. In fact, I welcome the responses.

But this particular post was a blatant attempt by an aggressive campaign to draft one of the prospects I mentioned in my post. A link was posted, and readers were encouraged to click on the link and sign the online petition supporting the nomination of this prospect for vice president.

As soon as I became aware of this post, I took steps to delete it.

I post a lot of links on this blog. I maintain a list of all the websites for all the active candidates for president. I post links to most of the articles to which I refer in my writings. If I feel a link will contribute to the reader's understanding of an issue, I post it.

But it is not my intention to endorse or appear to endorse anyone's candidacy.

I have asked readers to provide information that will help me decide how to vote when I participate in next week's Texas primary. And I have acknowledged that my party affiliation is centrist Democrat.

But beyond that, I have tried to avoid direct references to my personal political philosophy.

And I want this to be absolutely clear. While I welcome posts from any reader who wants to further discuss points I make or questions I ask in my writings, I will continue to delete any responses like the one yesterday that are designed to promote a candidacy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The JFK Files

It's probably the most high-profile murder mystery of this or any time.

John F. Kennedy was gunned down in the streets of Dallas nearly 45 years ago. Last week, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins announced that documents related to the case had been found in a little-known vault in his office. Watkins said he was releasing them to the public.

Then the Dallas Morning News said that it had posted documents the district attorney's office made available in electronic form and invited anyone to take a look.

"Given the volume, we haven't been able to review most of the files," the Dallas Morning News said. "That's why we are calling on you. ... Take a look, and let us know if you see something interesting."

Do you believe a conspiracy led to Kennedy's murder? Do you think these files might have the clue for which the world has been waiting for nearly half a century?

Here's your chance to be a detective. Look at the files that have been posted by the Dallas Morning News. Let me know if you uncover anything.

Good luck.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

McCain and That N.Y. Times Story

The New York Times may turn out to be the best friend John McCain has.

As it has become clearer that McCain will be the Republican nominee, it seems he's had more and more difficulty persuading conservatives that he's one of them.

For that matter, based on the ratings from the God-o-Meter, he may be having problems with religious conservatives as well. His overall ranking is not only behind party challenger Mike Huckabee, his ranking also trails the two Democratic contenders, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Conservatives aren't much of a threat to defect to the Democrats. But McCain's problem is what to do to motivate them to go to the polls and vote for him instead of staying home.

In the short term, he may have found the assistance he needs in the pages of the Times, says Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune.

Referring to the article about the allegedly improper relationship between McCain and a young lobbyist eight years ago, Chapman writes, "Years from now, if you type into Google, 'Why do people hate the news media?' this story will pop up."

McCain may always be suspect in conservative circles, but Chapman notes that "[conservatives] may come to echo what was said about Grover Cleveland when he was nominated for president in 1884: 'We love him most for the enemies he has made.'"

For now, conservatives are defending McCain against the evil New York Times.

For the newspaper's part, Clark Hoyt writes that executive editor Bill Keller has been trying to explain what the New York Times intended to say in the article. He says the article was "about a man nearly felled by scandal who rebuilt himself as a fighter against corruption but is still 'careless about appearances, careless about his reputation, and that’s a pretty important thing to know about somebody who wants to be president of the United States.'"

Hoyt acknowledges, "The newspaper found itself in the uncomfortable position of being the story as much as publishing the story, in large part because, although it raised one of the most toxic subjects in politics -- sex -- it offered readers no proof that McCain and [Vicki] Iseman had a romance."

I understand what the writers thought they were saying in the article. But most readers apparently thought they were implying something else.

And, as is the case with the flap over Michelle Obama's recent comments about being proud of her country for the first time in her adult life and the entities involved in that matter, the Times has to deal with the perception in the McCain story.

Because perception has become reality.

"Some of the loudest voices of the modern conservative movement -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Gary Bauer, -- flogged the Times while hardly pausing to consider the underlying facts of the story," wrote Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei in The Politico.

The response to all this suggests to me that the Times should (1) know by now the nature of its political opposition and what it takes to set it off (usually, not much), (2) take as many editorial steps as necessary to make sure the phrasing of an article as potentially incendiary as Thursday's is not ambiguous and (3) always be prepared to defend itself.

I know the Times endorsed McCain in the New York Republican primary, but that doesn't matter. For most conservatives, McCain's clash with the newspaper is a microcosm of the confrontation conservatives feel they face with the "liberal" New York Times and its allies all the time.

Conservatives believe the Times is part of a "liberal conspiracy" in the media, and they feel obliged to defend anyone who is "attacked" by the Times.

Perception trumps reality.

A Governor for Vice President?

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press has written a general guide to the top running mate prospects in both parties who are governors.

Voters have shown a clear preference for the executive experience of governors when choosing a presidential nominee, but that isn't going to be an option this year. The Republicans have already settled on a senator for their nominee, and the Democrats are in the process of choosing between two senators in the race to be their standard bearer.

American history has no precedent for a campaign with two senators running against each other for president. And, while the last sitting governor to be nominated for vice president was on the winning ticket, it's never been clear whether executive experience is considered as valuable in the vice presidency as it is perceived to be in the presidency.

Anyway, that vice president's record in office is not something most vice presidents would be eager to duplicate. I'm referring to Republican Gov. Spiro Agnew of Maryland in 1968.

And Agnew wasn't really picked for his executive experience. He was picked (so the story goes) because he had shown he could attract votes in a Democratic state (although that didn't translate to a GOP win in Maryland 40 years ago); because he was from a Southern border state and could help attract moderate voters in the South without being associated with the Deep South and the segregationist politicians of that region in that era; and because Richard Nixon believed Agnew gave a rousing speech nominating Nixon at the convention.

Sometimes running mates are picked for personal reasons.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater reportedly selected New York Rep. William Miller as his running mate because of the reputation Miller had for being a thorn in Lyndon Johnson's side.

And Nixon may well have selected Agnew because earlier in 1968, Agnew had been a foot soldier in the movement to draft Nelson Rockefeller -- but, after Agnew's apparent snub by Rockefeller in an episode detailed for history by Theodore H. White in The Making of the President 1968, the Maryland governor shifted his allegiance to Nixon.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Running mates are selected for a variety of reasons. In past elections, they often were chosen for whatever value they were believed to bring to the ticket. Usually, the hope was to give the presidential nominee a foothold in a region where he appeared weak.

In the old days, that's what was called "geographic balance," but that doesn't seem to be as important anymore.

In 2000, for example, both nominees chose running mates who came from states their parties expected to carry that fall anyway. Republican Dick Cheney came from Wyoming, which hasn't voted for a Democrat since voting for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And then-Democrat Joe Lieberman was from Connecticut, which last voted Republican in 1988.

Both parties, by the way, won the running mates' home states. The only nominee that year who failed to win his home state was Al Gore -- if he had carried his home state, history would have been radically different.

Four years ago, John Kerry picked John Edwards. On the surface, having a Massachusetts senator and a North Carolina senator on the ticket provided "geographic balance," but that selection was based more on a desire to unify the party than a realistic expectation that Edwards could help Kerry in the South against a Republican incumbent.

"Geographic balance" clearly had nothing to do with the 1992 Democratic ticket. Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, chose Gore, then senator from neighboring Tennessee, as his running mate.

Of course, the more time a presumptive presidential nominee can devote to the decision, the better. At least in theory.

George McGovern didn't have much time in 1972 -- and apparently didn't use the time he did have efficiently. Only a few weeks after the convention, McGovern's choice was dropped from the ticket because of allegations about his mental health.

Anyway, I'd like to examine Sidoti's prospects by party.


It seems to me that John McCain could do worse than choose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Young (44), with a reputation as a reformer, Palin's selection would not be without drawbacks.

She wouldn't bring a state to the Republican column that political experts don't already expect the party to carry in the fall. Alaska, after all, has voted in 12 elections since becoming a state in 1959. Only Lyndon Johnson carried it for the Democrats -- the year Palin was born. The rest of the time, Alaska has been (usually) solidly in the Republican fold. And, with 3 electoral votes, Alaska hardly qualifies as an electoral prize.

It can be argued that Alaska is sensitive to concerns about being used as an entry point for illegal aliens. And nominating Palin would give McCain the opportunity to make some history for the Republicans at the same time that the Democratic presidential nominee is making history of his/her own.

But balancing the age difference may not necessarily be a cure-all for the soon-to-be 72-year-old McCain. Having a young Dan Quayle on the ticket didn't appear to alter the dynamics for the then-68-year-old George H.W. Bush when he sought re-election in 1992. Nor did Quayle's presence on the ticket appear to be much of a factor when Bush defeated Michael Dukakis for the presidency four years earlier.

Also, I'm not sure Palin has the conservative credentials McCain needs to mollify the right wing of his party.

If McCain values conservative acceptability more than age or geography, he could do worse than Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who was political affairs director for Ronald Reagan and chairman of the Republican National Committee when the party took control of both houses of Congress in 1994.

But, once again, the age factor will raise its head, even if McCain chooses to ignore it when making his decision.

Barbour may not be quite as young as McCain would need to counter the obviously youthful Barack Obama -- if Obama turns out to be the Democratic nominee. Barbour will turn 61 about two weeks before Election Day.

Now, I guess it really goes without saying that the age difference won't be that much of a problem for McCain if his general election opponent turns out to be Hillary Clinton. She will turn 61 only four days after Barbour does. The difference between Clinton's age and McCain's age wouldn't be so severe.

But the general assumption these days is that McCain will face Obama. In that scenario, age has to be considered. There is a difference of a quarter century in the ages of those two candidates, which translates to differences in national -- and global -- political, economic, and social views.

A potential running mate who could put a "blue state" into play is Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He meets the age credentials (he's 47), he's mostly conservative (he did vote for a gay rights measure as a freshman legislator in the Minnesota House, but later said he had made a mistake), and he's captured enough Democratic votes to be elected governor twice, having been elected to replace the Reform Party's Jesse Ventura in 2002.

He's also a McCain supporter of longstanding, and he will already be a focus of attention as host of the convention, with the Republicans gathering in St. Paul.

And, as governor of a state that lies along the nation's northern border, Pawlenty can contribute a fresh perspective to the debate on immigration and national security. To date, that discussion seems to have been dominated by talk about the southern border.

The presence of a governor from a northern state on the ticket might reassure skittish northern Republicans who have grown tired of the southwestern flavor of the national party in recent decades.

Minnesota only offers 10 electoral votes in the general election, but it could influence other Midwestern states. And, in the last two elections, a shift of only a handful of electoral votes would have reversed the outcome.

Speaking of recent elections, Sidoti points out that Florida is likely to be a swing state again in 2008, and McCain's primary victory there is seen as being due, in part, to the 11th-hour endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist is young enough (51), and he was comfortably elected to succeed Jeb Bush in 2006 (52% to 45%).

He might be able to secure Florida for the Republicans in the general election, but, as Sidoti notes, Crist may not be sufficiently conservative to please the party's base. And that could spell trouble elsewhere.

Other GOP prospects among the governors, says Sidoti, are South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Utah's Jon Huntsman. Both governors have been McCain supporters in the past, but Sanford chose to remain neutral, as governor, this year. Both are 47, but Huntsman has the more dependably conservative philosophy.

Neither state has voted for a Democrat in decades -- South Carolina last voted Democratic when it supported Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Utah hasn't backed a Democrat since voting for Lyndon Johnson in 1964.


With Obama in his 40s and Clinton in her 60s, requirements on age balance differ.

As do gender requirements, and Sidoti mentions two female governors who probably would be disqualified from consideration if Clinton captures the nomination.

Nevertheless, both women would bring a lot to the table if Obama is the one who is looking for a running mate. And both of them -- Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas -- are governors in usually "red states" who are Obama supporters.

Napolitano is 50 and she is the governor of McCain's home state. Although Arizona voted narrowly for Bill Clinton's re-election in 1996, that is the only time the state has supported the Democratic nominee since voting for Harry Truman in 1948, and it seems likely that Arizona will support its native son, McCain, in 2008 -- even if Napolitano is on the Democratic ticket.

Sebelius, who will be 60 by the time the Democratic convention is held in Denver, has been elected governor of traditionally Republican Kansas twice. She was elected in the nationally Republican year of 2002 with 53% of the vote and was re-elected in the nationally Democratic year of 2006 with 58%.

If Sebelius could put Kansas into play in the presidential race, that would be quite a coup. Kansas last voted for a Democrat in 1964.

If New Mexico's Bill Richardson doesn't decide to seek Pete Domenici's Senate seat, he might make an attractive choice. Not only has he been a candidate for president, but he is part Hispanic, which, as Sidoti notes, means that he "appeals to an up-for-grabs constituency in a politically shifting region." And his experiences in the Clinton administration gave him credentials in foreign policy.

And New Mexico has developed a reputation as a bellwether state. In the 15 elections since the end of World War II, New Mexico has only voted for the losing candidate twice (Al Gore in 2000, Gerald Ford in 1976). It only has 5 electoral votes, but getting the support of New Mexico may be the best good luck charm a candidate can have.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia could help, as Sidoti says, in a state George W. Bush carried twice. But, Sidoti doesn't point out that Bush was the first non-incumbent Republican ever to carry West Virginia. Historically, with no incumbent Republican in the race, West Virginia should be in the Democratic column in the fall. But Bush's victory there eight years ago brings that conventional wisdom into question.

Manchin's stock in West Virginia has been steadily rising, though, and there has been much talk of his future beyond the governor's mansion. He is 61 years old, and observers have mentioned him as a possible Senate candidate, as a possible member of a Democratic president's Cabinet and as a possible running mate. At this point, all I've heard about his electoral plans is that he is seeking a second term as governor this year. Considering that he received 64% of the vote in 2004, his prospects for re-election seem good.

Of course, his plans might change if he receives a phone call from the presidential nominee.

The other Democratic governors on Sidoti's list have declared their allegiances in the presidential race. Whether either will remain on the list will depend on which candidate emerges as the party's presidential nominee.

Ohio's Ted Strickland is a Clinton supporter. He could possibly bring swing-state Ohio into the Democratic column as Clinton's No. 2. He won the governor's office with 61% of the vote in 2006 and, although his age could work against him (67 by the time the convention begins), it isn't necessarily a deal breaker. His value as governor of electoral vote-rich Ohio might tip the scales in his favor.

Virginia's Tim Kaine is an Obama supporter. Virginia is a red state, but it has shown a tendency to support moderate Democrats (i.e., Jim Webb, Reagan's Naval secretary, who defeated Sen. George Allen in 2006 -- keeping Allen from seeking the GOP's presidential nomination this year).

Kaine was a practicing attorney specializing in civil rights for nearly 20 years. He had to overcome charges of extreme liberalism (opposition to the death penalty, support for gun restrictions and abortion rights) when he ran for lieutenant governor in 2001, but he did so successfully and went on to win the governor's office, 52% to 46%, in 2005.

Of course, there are other names being mentioned. There always are. Today is February 24. Neither party will hold its convention until August. This guessing game will continue for quite awhile.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pursuing the Prize

I hear the question asked over and over, sometimes phrased differently but essentially seeking the same information.

Is Hillary Clinton finished? Has Barack Obama all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination?

I don't know, but I will say this -- 11 straight wins is impressive, whether it's in sports or politics. And Obama deserves credit for accomplishing something that few expected him to do a few months ago. But, as the New England Patriots so clearly demonstrated less than a month ago, you've got to finish the job.

You don't get a Super Bowl victory or a presidential nomination because you came close. Nor do you get them because you feel you are entitled.

Before he won his party's nomination and went on to win the general election, Ronald Reagan knew about coming up short in convention delegates. He took his battle with Gerald Ford to the 1976 convention in Kansas City. President Ford won the fight and, ultimately, the nomination. He lost the election, setting the stage for Reagan in 1980.

You have to apply a certain amount of mathematical knowledge to this kind of judgment. In the football game they eventually lost, the Patriots were leading by four points with less than a minute to play. That made it appear the Patriots would win, but they gave up a touchdown in that final minute and lost by three points.

Were the Patriots too tired at the end of the game? Did they just run out of gas? Did they lose their focus? Or were they simply outplayed?

In the race for the nomination, the person who becomes the Democratic nominee will need to receive the support of 2,025 delegates. Based on the latest count that I've seen (which includes the "super-delegates" who are not bound to vote the way their states' voters did in the primaries or caucuses), Obama has 1,319 votes he can count on and Clinton has 1,250.

To me, that looks like the political equivalent of that four-point lead in the Super Bowl a few weeks ago.

Now, Obama can still stumble in coverage, or Clinton can be like Eli Manning, who led the Giants (from Clinton's adopted state) to one of the most dramatic comebacks in recent memory.

Clinton, incidentally, has even more in common with Eli than a New York address. Eli has spent his professional career toiling in the shadow of his more famous (and, frankly, more popular) brother, who won his first Super Bowl a year ago. It can be argued that Hillary has been in much the same position with her husband, who is only the fourth Democrat in the nation's history to be elected president twice.

Football analogies aside, I'm not the only one who argues that this race needs to be allowed more time to play itself out.

John J. DiIulio Jr., a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says "It ain't over 'til it's over" in a column in The Weekly Standard.

"[W]ith big Latino turnouts expected in Texas, older working-class Ohio voters sticking to her like rust, and friends in Pennsylvania ... Clinton can still nab the nomination," Dilulio writes. "Fence-sitting super-delegates would quickly warm to a three-state sweep."

Not everyone, of course, thinks the campaign is still in nomination mode. There are those, like political guru Michael Barone, who has been the co-author of The Almanac of American Politics (published in every even-numbered year since 1972), who saw a change in tone in the media coverage earlier this week when Obama was declared the winner in Wisconsin.

Barone may be right. Perception often is reality in politics, and the perception may well be, as he suggests in National Review, that Obama's nomination is becoming inevitable.

If it isn't already.

But there are potential pitfalls, as Barone says. "Obama’s cut-and-paste job does respond to the complaint that he is without substance. But it’s hard to mix poetry and prose and come up with an appealing product. Particularly when, as columnist Robert Samuelson points out, there’s not much that’s interesting about the substance."

And Barone also makes note of Michelle Obama's recent statement: "Hope is making a comeback, and let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but because I think people are hungry for change."

To which Barone says, "Coming from the realm in which Michelle Obama has lived her adult life -- Princeton, Harvard Law, a top law firm, a $342,000-a-year job doing community relations for the University of Chicago hospital system -- this may not sound out of the ordinary. As Samuel Huntington has pointed out, people in this stratum tend to have transnational attitudes -- all nations are morally equal, except maybe for ours, which is worse."

Speaking only for myself, I don't occupy that "stratum." And I'll admit that, with Vietnam and Watergate serving as the backdrop for my childhood and adolescence, my pride in my country isn't at the level of people in my parents' generation, who came of age during World War II.

But there have been many times when I've felt proud of my country. As a 9-year-old boy, for example, I felt proud when I watched Americans walk on the moon in the summer of 1969. A few weeks later, I was walking near a lake with my grandfather, and we walked out on a pier and looked up into the early evening sky. The full moon was clearly visible. My grandfather looked up at the moon and said quietly, "Our flag is flying up there now."

I've never needed a president -- or a presidential candidate or his/her spouse -- to validate those feelings of pride for me.

"Barack Obama has explained that his wife was just saying that she was proud for the first time of her country’s politics," Barone writes. "But that’s not what she said, and said with considerable emphasis. Tuesday night seemed to be the beginning of the general-election campaign. But what was said on Monday may prove to be just as important."

The St. Petersburg Times wasn't pleased with Michelle Obama's remarks, either. The Times quoted her husband's spokesman's efforts to clarify her statements, then said, "That may be what she meant, but that is not what she said and that is not what people heard. As her husband can tell her, words do matter, and Michelle Obama ... needs to choose hers more carefully."

Yes, words do matter.

If you saw Thursday night's debate, I'm sure you heard Clinton's line that alluded to charges of plagiarism that have been leveled against Obama lately. Clinton called it "change you can Xerox." Many in the audience booed.

David Lightman, writing for McClatchy Newspapers, observed that the reaction was further evidence that "2008, at least so far, is the year that negative campaigning just doesn't work as it once did."

That may not be good news for Clinton, at this stage of the campaign and with time running out, but signs that the politics of negativism are losing their effect is welcome news for many voters.

In state after state, Lightman observes, "voters said they moved from Clinton to Obama -- or, on the Republican side, from Mitt Romney to John McCain or Mike Huckabee -- partly because they were tired of what seemed like politics as usual."

As Lightman points out, in large part due to Clinton's husband's scandal involving a White House intern, the public's tolerance for misbehavior is much higher than it once was. "So when Romney questions McCain's tax-cut votes or Clinton hurls a plagiarism charge at Obama, the public often shrugs," Lightman says.

We may be witnessing the birth of a new paradigm in American politics.

Many in the media seem to believe that the momentum has truly turned against Clinton, and many of them are offering advice for what she should do to get her campaign on track again. CNN's Roland Martin says Clinton needs to settle on a single message.

"There has been one constant about Obama's presidential campaign," Martin says. "Ask anyone, and it has boiled down to the best bumper sticker you can find: Change. Simple. Direct. To the point."

Martin's complaint about Clinton's message is "we keep getting so many versions. In order for Clinton to right this ship, she should make this campaign about one issue, and that is the state of the American economy."

I think Martin is probably right about Clinton needing to focus on one area where she can draw a large distinction between herself and her opponent. And I think he may be right that focusing on the economy has the potential to do for her what it did 16 years ago when her husband was elected president, although I have to quibble about some of Martin's logic.

"Texas ranks third behind California and Florida when it comes to home foreclosures," he says. Well, that would be impressive except for one thing. Texas is the second-largest state in population, but it's third in foreclosures. And Florida, which is second in foreclosures, is fourth in population. California, of course, is first in both categories.

I'm certainly no economist. Neither am I a home owner. But doesn't logic suggest that voters in Florida would find more to worry about in Martin's statement than voters in Texas would? After all, those figures say that the state with fewer people has more home foreclosures.

Michael Cohen writes, in the Wall Street Journal, that, even though populism has been a part of the American political landscape for a long time, "Obama is crafting a new style of populism -- an affirmative and unifying message that offers a stark contrast to the divisive messages of the past."

If Obama continues to ride this populist campaign to the nomination and beyond, Cohen writes, it "could lead to a redefinition of presidential campaign rhetoric."

Oh, one other thing, for my readers in Texas who have asked me about this.

Whether you vote in the Democratic or Republican primary here in Texas, there are a couple of things I've learned in my somewhat limited research.

One, both parties have what appears to be complete lists of the original candidates for both nominations on the ballot. So, if you vote in the Republican primary and you think Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson would be the best nominee, you can vote for the one you want.

By the same token, if you vote on the Democratic side, you don't have to vote for Obama or Clinton if you don't want to. You can vote for John Edwards or Joe Biden or Bill Richardson.

Two, when you go to vote and declare in which primary you want to participate, the people who are working at your polling place will give you some sort of documentation that will authorize you to participate in the caucuses that are held the night of March 4 -- right after the polls close.

I believe, but I don't know for sure, that the caucuses are the method that will be used to assign delegates.

So, if you vote in the primary for someone who is no longer an active candidate, you've effectively said "None of the above." And it probably won't be worth your time to go to the caucus.

But if you vote in the Democratic primary and you choose Obama or Clinton, you probably need to go to the caucus.

Because it's the delegates that matter when the nomination is decided.

The latest polls show a tight race in Texas. On the Democratic side, both IVR Polls and Survey USA have Clinton leading here, 50% to 45%. Rasmussen Reports has Clinton ahead, 47% to 44%. ABC News/Washington Post reports a virtual dead heat, with Clinton barely in front, 48% to 47%.

Among Texas' Republicans, McCain seems to have a solid lead over Huckabee. Decision Analyst says McCain is in front, 59% to 35%. IVR Polls has McCain in front, 54% to 29%. Survey USA reports McCain is in front, 50% to 37%.

The other big prize on March 4 is Ohio.

Among Democrats, Clinton seems to be enjoying a lead that is a little larger than she appears to have in Texas. Rasmussen Reports says Clinton leads in Ohio, 48% to 40%. According to Decision Analyst, Clinton has a 54% to 46% lead in Ohio. Survey USA sees Clinton in front, 52% to 43%. And ABC News/Washington Post reports a 50-43 lead for Clinton. So the margin has been consistently in the 8-point range for more than a week.

Ohio's Republicans are solidly behind McCain. Rasmussen Reports says McCain leads, 57% to 30%. Decision Analyst says McCain's margin is 57% to 37%. Survey USA found that McCain leads Huckabee by more than a 2-to-1 margin, 61% to 29%.

Vermont and Rhode Island will hold their primaries on March 4 as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's Always Something

Back in the golden days of Saturday Night Live, one of my favorite characters was Gilda Radner's Roseanne Roseannadanna, who would appear as a commentator on the Weekend Update segment.

She would read a letter on some sort of current issue or event (the letter was always from the same Richard Feder in Fort Lee, New Jersey) and after a lengthy monologue in which she inevitably got away from the original subject, the character would find a way to bring everything together by saying, "It just goes to show you, it's always something."

I'm getting that feeling with John McCain and the article that appeared in the New York Times about McCain and his relationship with a young lobbyist eight years ago.

Polls show a tough fight ahead for McCain. Based on the results in the recent primaries, he's still having some problems with the right wing of his party. He needs to be using this time to patch things up with his conservative base, and he needs to be devoting a lot of attention to his choice of a running mate.

But as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, "It's always something."

I studied journalism in college. I majored in it as an undergraduate student at the University of Arkansas and as a master's student at the University of North Texas. I worked for newspapers for 10 years and I taught editing for four years.

And I have to say I'm very disappointed in the New York Times. The story was merely innuendo and gossip. It had no evidence of anything improper, only hearsay. In school or on the job, this kind of story had no news value, in my experience.

I can honestly say that no one I ever worked with and no one I shared a journalism classroom with believed that it was newsworthy to report something that someone said simply because someone said it.

In a business that is so concerned about being sued for libel that many newspapers retain the full-time services of attorneys who have specialized in that area of the law, it makes no sense to repeat anything that someone says without having something to back it up.

But it seems that things have changed at the New York Times.

A friend of mine who was a journalism student with me sent me an e-mail about all this. She said, "Sadly, journalism isn’t what it used to be in the 'good old days.'"

Maybe the Times has something to back up the story. I don't have to see it. But if I know that the Times has a paper trail that can prove what's been written, I'd feel a lot better about publishing it.

I feel there are a lot of gaps in the story. And that leads to gaps in the credibility of the newspaper. The Times is giving readers the opportunity to ask questions about how the article was handled. They pledge to answer questions on Friday. So use that link if you want to ask a question.

A newspaper like the Times needs to be held accountable.

On the other side of the political divide, I watched tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The prevailing wisdom was that Clinton needed to do something dramatic to change the dynamics of the race. If that moment came, I must have been in the bathroom at the time.

As much as I hate to give Karl Rove credit for anything, he may have been on to something in the Wall Street Journal.

In observing Obama's vulnerability as a candidate, Rove said, "[Clinton] can agree with Mr. Obama's statement Tuesday night that change is difficult to achieve on health care, energy, poverty, schools and immigration -- and then question his failure to provide any leadership on these or other major issues since his arrival in the Senate. His failure to act, advocate or lead on what he now claims are his priorities may be her last chance to make a winning argument."

But that didn't happen tonight. And time may be running out for Clinton. Early voting has already begun here in Texas. By the time she gets around to following Rove's advice, she may have lost too many votes already.

I haven't decided how to vote in the Texas primary. But I can't help feeling that a cult seems to be developing around Obama.

I had dinner with my father tonight, and I told him it reminds me of Peter Sellers in the 1980 movie "Being There." Sellers plays a naive man who has had limited exposure to other people. He suddenly finds himself cast into the world, where he hardly says anything and spends a lot of time mimicking people he's seen on TV.

The people who come in contact with him become enamored with him, projecting a lot into what they think he says to them. At the end of the movie, without his knowledge, a movement to nominate him for president is building, and in the last scene the audience sees, he appears to be walking on water.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Obama is naive or stupid or anything like that. And I'm certainly not implying that this is the Second Coming. But over the last several weeks, I've heard words like hope and change bandied about a lot. I want details. I heard a few new details from him in tonight's debate, but not much. I'd really like to see more media scrutiny applied to his candidacy.

On the day that the New York Times' piece about John McCain made its appearance, though, I'm not too optimistic.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gimme Some Truth

People everywhere remember John Lennon's classic 1971 song "Imagine" and the solo album by the same name.

Fewer, perhaps, recall the song "Gimme Some Truth" from that album, although it seems to be appropriate as today's Democrats pursue their party's presidential nomination.

Here's a sample of the lyrics:

"I'm sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics.
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth.
I've had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians.
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth."

I was reminded of this song today while reading a column by the Washington Post's Robert Samuelson. The Post, by the way, is published by the Washington Post Co., which in our increasingly corporate world also publishes Newsweek. Samuelson's columns can be found at websites for both publications.

In the column, titled "The Obama Delusion," Samuelson observes that, because of their lengthy careers in the public spotlight, he feels Hillary Clinton and John McCain are "known quantities," but Barack Obama is "largely a stage presence defined mostly by his powerful rhetoric. The trouble, at least for me, is the huge and deceptive gap between his captivating oratory and his actual views."

Obama was here in Dallas today. I wasn't able to attend the rally, and I've only seen snippets of it on the local newscasts, but apparently he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of thousands at Reunion Arena. And he appears to have delivered a speech that, like most of his previous campaign speeches, carried a "powerful appeal," in Samuelson's words.

"But on inspection, the metaphor is a mirage," Samuelson writes. "Repudiating racism is not a magic cure-all for the nation's ills. It requires independent ideas, and Obama has few. If you examine his agenda, it is completely ordinary, highly partisan, not candid and mostly unresponsive to many pressing national problems."

Samuelson outlines his complaints about Obama, then concludes by saying, "He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't."

In the aftermath of our experience with the current administration, isn't truth at the top of the list of the things we need from our next president? I say that not just with Obama in mind. The voters need truth from Clinton and McCain as well. But candor seems to be most lacking in Obama's campaign. No matter how pleasant the poetry or how uplifting the prose, just gimme some truth.


And Obama's campaign is the one that received an endorsement from the Teamsters today.

That's right.

The same organization with ties to organized crime, the same organization that Jimmy Hoffa ran in the 1950s, the same organization that is run by Hoffa's son today.

One of my favorite comedians, George Carlin, observed that the Teamsters joined forces with the Moral Majority to produce the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Carlin called it a coalition of "organized religion and organized crime."

Now I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to just about anyone. Because I realize that anyone can make a mistake and needs a second chance to demonstrate a change of ways. But the persistence of racketeering charges that has followed the union's presidents makes it a little difficult to do that with the Teamsters.

When you consider the number of "second chances" the Teamsters have been given to prove themselves over the decades, you have to figure that we're well into double digits by now.

If you're wondering how the endorsement might affect the vote in the Texas primary on March 4, I can't say for sure. But I would remind you that Texas doesn't have a reputation for being a union-friendly state. And I would guess that regard for organized crime is even lower.

Several observers in the foreign media are convinced that the Democratic race is over. Or, if it isn't, it might as well be.

Richard Adams writes, in The Guardian, that Clinton actually lost the nomination two weeks ago, on "Tsunami Tuesday," because she and her advisers believed they would wrap it up by then and failed to plan for a campaign that would go on beyond that day.

Gerard Baker, in the London Times, says that Clinton may have no choice now except to take a negative approach to Obama. She "could turn toxic" as the options dwindle, Baker says.

And no matter who wins the nomination, warns Michael Lind in the Financial Times, it may be a false assumption that "[w]ith the country mired in an unpopular war in Iraq and perhaps in a prolonged recession, voters will treat the November election as a referendum on George W. Bush and punish his party."

In fact, Lind suggests, "freakish circumstances" in 1976, 1992 and 1996 led to Democratic victories -- otherwise, Republicans might have held the White House continuously for the last 40 years. And, he says, "The era of Republican presidential hegemony that began with Richard Nixon may not be over."

And, Lind contends, whoever wins the Democratic nomination must appeal to millions of Democrats who are "the heirs to the Wallace and Reagan Democrats" if he/she wants to capture the White House.

A nominee who hasn't been candid with the voters probably won't win their support in November.

So my advice to Obama and Clinton is simple: Take your cue from John Lennon. Give us some truth.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Campaign Goes On

The polls will be closing in Wisconsin in a few hours. The Democrats and Republicans are holding primaries there today -- and in Washington state. And Hawaii's Democrats are holding caucuses today. In case you didn't know, Barack Obama was born in Honolulu.

After that, there will be a two-week break before primaries resume. Two big states -- Texas and Ohio -- will be holding their primaries on March 4. Rhode Island and Vermont will be holding primaries that day as well, but, for obvious reasons, Texas and Ohio will get most of the attention. Both parties will be holding primaries in all four states that day.

Obviously, with last week's endorsement from his nearest competitor and the delegates he had captured in the previous primaries and caucuses, John McCain will be hoping that Texas and Ohio put him over the top -- if he isn't able to reach that point in today's contests. It is certainly to his advantage to wrap up the nomination and have about six months to choose his running mate and preserve his resources for the fall campaign.

A presumptive nominee always has to contend with media speculation about the running mate. In fact, writers are already weighing in with their choices for McCain's No. 2. In today's USA Today, DeWayne Wickham proposes the selection of Condoleezza Rice.

"[N]o matter what the outcome, the Democratic Party will make history by selecting either a white woman or a black man to head its presidential ticket," Wickham writes. "[McCain] can make history of another sort by picking Condoleezza Rice as his running mate."

By wrapping up the nomination early, McCain would also have the opportunity to put an end to the questioning of his conservative credentials. If he's going to retain the conservative base of his party and make sure those conservatives come to the polls on Election Day, this is something that must be done.

It does seem odd that McCain should have to defend his conservatism, but it's really nothing new in Republican politics.

Christopher Buckley, who worked for George H.W. Bush when he was vice president under Ronald Reagan, writes in today's New York Times that Reagan faced the same kind of skepticism when he sought the presidency in 1980.

Believe it or not, there were conservatives in those days who didn't think Reagan was conservative enough.

"Funny," Buckley observes. "Mr. Reagan, to judge now from utterances by presidential candidates on both sides -- ahem -- of the political divide, appears to have survived that charge."

Indeed. Reagan has become an icon of conservatives, and virtually every Republican who ran for the nomination this year was eager to wrap himself in Reagan's legacy like a cocoon.

The day before Buckley's column appeared, his old boss was doing his best to promote McCain. Former President Bush endorsed McCain's candidacy Monday, saying "This criticism of conservative or not conservative is absurd."

If you look at McCain's ratings from groups like National Taxpayers Union, it's hard to imagine him being considered anything else. Yet he still must defend his credentials.

With McCain all but assured of the GOP nomination, most attention is focused on the race for the Democratic nomination between Hillary Clinton and Obama.

No matter what happens in today's contests, the Clinton-Obama race won't be decided tonight. Nor will it be decided in two weeks, when Texas and Ohio vote.

In fact, that leads me to an unusual request I'd like to make of anyone who reads this blog. But I'm going to save that until the end of this article.

Interestingly, as the debate continues in the Republican Party about just how conservative John McCain is, a similar debate seems to be brewing in Democratic circles.

Scott Moss of The Politico wonders whether Clinton or Obama is more liberal.

"We could stand to hear a little more on issues and a little less on polling," writes Moss, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School.

Speaking of the polls, American Research Group reports that, in a poll concluded Monday, Obama leads in Wisconsin, 52% to 42%. That's a reversal from an ARG survey a few days earlier that showed Clinton leading in Wisconsin, 49% to 43%. Public Policy Polling finished a poll on Sunday that had Obama leading in Wisconsin, 53% to 40%.

Draw whatever wisdom you may from those numbers. It may not matter now. Max Brantley writes, in his blog for Arkansas Times, that the Democratic race is over. Brantley acknowledges that he supports Clinton, but he goes on to say that "The media talk, the popular mood, the times -- they all work for Obama."

Brantley continues, "Obama will win the nomination. Polls today say he'll beat McCain everywhere -- in every key state and nationally. Those same polls said the same thing about Hillary Clinton's sure dominance a few months ago. For the record."

John Brummett, writing for Arkansas News Bureau, apparently doesn't think the race is over. He thinks Clinton's "inevitable comeback-kid heroics" could begin in Wisconsin tonight.

Stay tuned.

Assuming the race hasn't been decided today, Obama and Clinton are supposed to have a debate from the University of Texas campus in Austin on Thursday night. It's set for 8 p.m. Eastern time, and you can see it on CNN.

And now, for my request.

As a resident of Texas, I will be voting in the primary in two weeks, and I need some advice on how to vote.

Although it is possible for me to vote in either party's primary simply by declaring my preference at the polling place, I have always voted in Democratic primaries and I consider myself a centrist Democrat. Originally in this campaign, I supported John Edwards.

And, while I believe Edwards' name will remain on the ballot and I could probably vote for him, the fact is that the Texas primary has rarely been important in my lifetime and I would like to cast a meaningful vote instead of one that says, basically, None of the above.

The polls seem to show a tight race here. Survey USA released its most recent poll of Texas Democrats on Monday; Clinton led Obama, 50% to 45%. CNN/Opinion Research concluded its latest poll on Sunday; Clinton led in that poll, 50% to 48%. On Valentine's Day, Rasmussen Reports released a poll showing Clinton ahead, 54% to 38%. That same day, American Research Group released a poll that had Obama leading in Texas, 48% to 42%.

In order for me to decide whether to vote for Obama or Clinton, I need more information about the candidates.

Particularly in Clinton's case, I don't know enough about her accomplishments -- which is odd, I suppose, since I grew up in the state where she was first lady for a dozen years. I know some things about her activities as Arkansas' first lady and as America's first lady, but I don't know much about her actual achievements.

In Obama's case, I realize he's in his 40s, and he hasn't had as much time as Clinton to build up his resume, but I would still like to know why his supporters believe he would make a good president.

I've listened to the speeches, I've watched the debates. They don't tell me everything I need to know.

Voting is a very personal thing, and people often can't put into words what moves them to vote for one candidate or another. A friend of mine told me her vote in her state's primary was based more on instinct than logic. When it comes to picking a president, instinct may be more valuable than logic, since there is no job I can think of that will adequately prepare a person to be president.

In just the last century, for example, history recorded the election of presidents who had backgrounds in farming, acting, retail clothing sales, the military, newspaper management and academia. The current occupant of the Oval Office was co-owner of a baseball team at one time.

But if you can share some insights with me, I would appreciate it very much.

Just try to be civil!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Search for Closure Continues

As another day has come and gone since the shootings at Northern Illinois University, the victims, their families, the school, the community and the nation wrestle with questions and continue to look for answers they may never find.

And the vigils continue as well.

The Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch reported this morning that Virginia Tech was going to hold a candlelight vigil for the NIU shooting victims tonight. The newspaper pointed out the special poignance that last week's shooting holds for those at Virginia Tech, who lived through the bloodiest campus attack in the nation's history last spring.

Answers seemed to come more readily for those at Virginia Tech, though. At least, when a little time had passed, Virginia Tech could see the red flags that were out there before the shooting started.

When you can see the red flags, you know what needs to be corrected.

At this point, it's still hard to spot the red flags that must have been there in the NIU shootings case.

Is it that we can't see them, or is it that we won't see them?

There are still some pieces missing from the puzzle. We'll be in a better position to assess everything when we know what Steven Kazmierczak's diagnosis was and what his doctor had prescribed for it.

But not having the information we need leads to a general feeling of frustration and helplessness.

"[I]t's still frustrating" to have no answers, writes Dawn Turner Trice in the Chicago Tribune.

"Can we build a fence that's tall enough or install metal detectors that are sensitive enough?" she asks. "Can we strengthen gun laws so that they're error-proof or find surefire ways to identify those so mentally deranged they'd harm themselves and innocent bystanders?

"We probably can't. There always will be that one person who slips through the greatest of security nets."

We need more details before we can say whether Kazmierczak slipped through the cracks.

"And yet, that doesn't mean we stop trying to close all the gaps."

It's only human nature, I suppose, to want to find answers to unanswerable questions.

Because we always believe there is an answer to be found. We just have to look long enough and hard enough.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Looking For Answers

Today is the third day since the shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University.

Victims and relatives of victims are flailing about in search of answers to the complex questions of "Why?" and "How can it be prevented in the future?" reports the Chicago Tribune.

"I'm mad," the father of one of the wounded told the Chicago Tribune. "There's a lot of anger, and there's nothing you can do about it. I wish you could go somewhere and get rid of that kind of anger."

Politicians have built careers around assuring voters that there are simple answers to complex questions. Because that is what most people want to believe -- if you're faced with a bad situation, it can be corrected with a simple answer.

It's a tempting notion, of course. If one is overweight, one wants to take a magic pill that will make the excess pounds melt away without requiring the person to eat bland foods and exercise for weeks, months, or even years. If one smokes or drinks or uses drugs excessively, one wants an easy solution that spares the addict the pain of withdrawal and the pangs of desire for the substance.

Sadly, that's not the way the world is. It would be nice if there were easy answers to the complex questions that confront us. But there aren't.

At NIU, the victims, their families and friends are trying to come to grips with a terrible situation and trying to find a simple, one-size-fits-all solution. But they will find -- as others before them have found -- that it's a long, torturous road back to normalcy.

If normalcy can be achieved.

And that road is different for everyone. The twists and turns are different. The obstacles are different. The challenges are different.

Do you recall the fire five years ago in a Rhode Island nightclub? A has-been 1980s band called Great White was performing when a pyrotechnics display got out of hand and turned the club into an inferno, killing and maiming hundreds of patrons, mostly blue-collar types.

An article in today's New York Times reminds readers that many of the victims live with the scars of that night to this day. Some of the scars are visible, some run deeper and cannot be seen with the naked eye.

But long after the public attention to their plight faded away, the victims have continued to seek normalcy. And to seek answers to why it happened.

"Reason has its limits; there are no constructions or formulas that would reshape the universe," writes the Tribune's John Kass today. "No matter how hard we try to puzzle things out, the act of figuring gives no control over life."

There is much truth to be found in Kass' words.

There is a seemingly random quality to life that can lead one to all sorts of fruitless questions. There were well over 100 people in the NIU auditorium when Steven Kazmierczak opened fire on Thursday. He killed about a half dozen people and wounded about a dozen more. Why did so many people, including people who were seated near the victims, escape the carnage with not so much as a scratch?

It was the randomness of life.

In my own life, that randomness often has made its presence known.

Nearly 13 years ago, for example, my parents were out having dinner with friends when an extremely intense storm front moved through the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

My parents and their friends tried to get to their homes in spite of the weather. The storm caused severe damage to property and claimed the lives of about two dozen people. My parents' friends were spared. My parents were trapped by the storm about a mile from their home. My father was seriously injured. My mother was killed.

I often wrestled with the question of why my mother died that night. In the end, I've had to accept that it was simply the randomness of life.

Four years before that, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer and died a few months later. He died about a month before what would have been his 30th birthday. And when I was in third grade, a classmate of mine died of leukemia. In both cases, I wondered frequently why my friends had to die so young.

Again, I had to accept that it was the randomness of life.

No doubt those on board the ill-fated ocean liner Titanic who survived its sinking in 1912 wondered why it happened, why so many people died when so many lifeboats were not filled to capacity. Perhaps they carried those questions with them to their graves.

In the aftermath of something as terrifying as Thursday's NIU shootings, perhaps all that can be done is to, in the words of the old song, accentuate the positive.

That father to whom I referred earlier told the DeKalb (Ill.) Daily Chronicle that he didn't know "where the anger comes from in a person that young."

His wife told the newspaper that their daughter has been overwhelmed by the response she has received. "[S]he didn't realize how many friends she had or how many people cared about her. She was surprised.”

But if that family "can't understand the anger that tears people apart," wrote the reporter for the Daily Chronicle, "at least they can appreciate the love that pulls them together."

Let's hope that love sustains them in the days ahead.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What Can Be Done About Campus Shootings?

A few days before Wisconsin voters go to the polls, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are calling for common-sense changes in gun laws in the wake of Thursday's shootings at Northern Illinois University.

Given the proximity of the NIU campus to Wisconsin, it's not surprising, really, that the subject of gun laws should come up on the campaign trail.

But I have to wonder, what was the violation of the unwritten rules of common sense? If we can identify that, maybe we can do something to improve the situation and make it less likely that something like the NIU campus shootings happens again.

But what could have been done?

The gunman apparently had a valid state-required firearm ID card. That meant that he could purchase guns legally -- as it appears that he did -- in the days before the shootings.

It's possible, under some existing laws in some jurisdictions, to prevent a person from purchasing a firearm if that person has exhibited unstable behavior, making him/her a threat to himself/herself and others.

Did the gunman, Steven Kazmierczak, exhibit such behavior?

Further details may emerge in the days to come, but right now, all I've heard is that he stopped taking whatever medication he was on in the days leading up to the tragedy. Based on the very limited information I've heard, I can only assume he had been diagnosed with some sort of mental disorder -- perhaps he'd been diagnosed as bipolar -- and had been taking some sort of prescribed medication to deal with it.

University police say that people close to Kazmierczak say he became "somewhat erratic" after he stopped taking the medication in recent weeks. But we have no other information about this "erratic" behavior. Was he physically threatening other people?

Until we get more details, there's no way to know if the medication was what prevented Kazmierczak from committing acts of violence in the past.

And if it was, how can we pass -- and enforce -- laws requiring people to take their prescription drugs?

I think it's fair to say we can deduce, in this case, that at least one person in the medical community believed that taking a certain medication would be beneficial to a certain patient. But actually taking the medication is still a matter of individual freedom and choice. If we're going to pass laws that require dispatching officers to make sure the patient takes the medication, doesn't that put society in a hornet's nest of privacy issues?

From the details that have emerged, there were no advance warnings to indicate that beneath a seemingly calm exterior there was a simmering cauldron on the verge of exploding.

It's not unusual for friends and family members, in the aftermath of such an horrific event, to express shock that the perpetrator would do such a thing. I have often observed, to my friends and family, that, within a few hours of a mass shooting, TV reporters can be expected to be airing footage of shocked colleagues and relatives, all saying, "He was always such a good boy."

If my memory serves me correctly, that's what Ted Bundy's mother said when he was arrested.

This case is no different, really. But what is different is how many people are saying it about Kazmierczak.

The graduate student seemed to have had no problems with students or faculty.

"I found Steven to be a very committed student, extremely respectful of me as an instructor and adviser," his adviser at the University of Illinois said.

Kazmierczak "was an awarded student. He was someone that was revered by the faculty and staff and students alike," the campus police chief said.

He seemed to have no problems with his landlord. The man says his former tenant "always paid on time, never a noise problem, left the place spotless."

A criminal justice student, Kazmierczak seemed to have had no problems with police. The only previous run-in with the law that has been uncovered was a speeding ticket in an accident on a snowy day in December 2006. There were no injuries, and Kazmierczak paid a $75 fine.

In the aftermath of the shootings, police have said he was "a fairly normal, unstressed person" who had no known motive for what he did and left behind no notes explaining his actions.

From the information we have in this case, what would Obama and Clinton suggest that would make society safer and protect the rights of gun owners at the same time?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes Obama, who represents Illinois in the U.S. Senate, as saying that America needs to "get a handle on all the violence that's been taking place and ... do a more effective job of enforcing our gun laws, strengthening our background check system, being able to trace guns that are used in violent crimes ... (and) close the gun show loopholes."

Perhaps Obama should have taken the opportunity to speak out against gang violence and spousal abuse as well. Those subjects have virtually the same relevance to the NIU case.

I agree, violence is out of control in this country. But how were gun laws not enforced in the Northern Illinois University shootings case? What is the weakness in the background check system? How can we trace guns better? And how, for that matter, would that have prevented the NIU shootings from occurring?

And how did "gun show loopholes" get inserted into the discussion?

I remember that such loopholes were factors that contributed to the Columbine shootings in 1999. But I've heard no evidence that suggests Kazmierczak ever attended a gun show. And, if he did, there's no evidence that the weapons he used were purchased at a gun show.

Clinton was similarly obsessed with issues that had no connection with the reality of the NIU shootings.

"I do support lifting the prohibitions on local law enforcement being able to track guns to gun dealers who have a record of selling guns without appropriate oversight. ... I do support closing the gun show loophole. I support reinstating the assault-weapons ban," she said.

As I understand it, Kazmierczak brought a shotgun and three handguns with him. No assault weapons.

I agree that assault weapons should be banned. Permanently. But they simply have no bearing on this case.

Both candidates affirmed their support of the Second Amendment and the right of citizens to own guns.

"I believe strongly people have the right to own and bear arms under the Second Amendment," Clinton said. "And I also believe we can reconcile our constitutional rights with common-sense measures that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and people with mental health problems."

Based on the information available, Kazmierczak was not a criminal. He was not a terrorist. The report that he had stopped taking whatever medication he'd been prescribed implies the possibility of "mental health problems" but doesn't confirm that -- yet.

The concerns that both candidates raised are important and need to be addressed. But they don't appear to be relevant to this case.

In other shootings, like the Columbine shootings, there are obvious issues that need to be addressed -- like the gun show loopholes.

And, in the case of the Virginia Tech shootings last spring, the perpetrator had a history of run-ins with the law and mental health issues.

But the NIU case is bewildering because none of that appears to be a problem. So we struggle with the question: What could have been done to prevent this?

Both campuses are gun-free zones. But how can campus police, which are notoriously understaffed and underequipped, adequately enforce that with campus populations of 25,000 (the approximate enrollment of NIU) or 27,000 (the approximate enrollment of Virginia Tech)? Or more?

Is the answer to build brick walls around every campus and install metal detectors at every entrance? That could be pretty expensive -- especially with talk about building walls along our country's northern and southern borders to keep the terrorists out.

With the federal government already spending billions of dollars on the war in Iraq and contemplating spending who knows how much on border walls and increased patrols, campuses large and small could not count on much, if any, financial help from outside their home states. And most states are struggling to meet their obligations as it is.

Or should we reverse the gun-free zone policy? Do we want students and professors coming to class armed? Is that conducive to the kind of learning atmosphere college campuses are supposed to provide?

By the way, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed Obama today. Its editorial made no mention of the NIU shootings -- or either candidate's reaction.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Romney Endorses McCain

Mitt Romney endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain, his former rival for the Republican presidential nomination, today.

"This is a man capable of leading our country in this dangerous hour," Romney said.

The endorsement apparently includes Romney's urging to his delegates that they give their support to McCain at the Republican convention this summer. Romney doesn't command a huge bloc of delegates. At a glance, it wouldn't appear to be a meaningful number.

But, according to CNN, McCain has 827 delegates he's won in the primaries and caucuses. Romney has 286 delegates and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has 217.

And if you combine Romney's delegates with the ones McCain already has, that would give McCain 1,113 -- only 78 delegates away from the number (1,191) needed to win the Republican nomination.

I don't mean to suggest that Romney isn't sincere in his support for McCain. I think Romney probably did look at McCain and Huckabee and decided that he believes McCain is the better choice.

But I also think there's more to it than that.

I think Romney is angling for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

Romney isn't stupid. He has an M.B.A. from Harvard. I think he looked at the numbers and the lukewarm response that McCain has been receiving from conservatives -- and possibly the actuarial tables.

I'm not suggesting that Romney would be hoping that McCain would die in office. But anyone who votes for McCain has to be aware of the possibility that a 72-year-old man might not survive a four-year term as president. His running mate has to be viewed as a potential president.

In the American Spectator today, Quin Hillyer writes about the qualifications for McCain's running mate.

Hillyer doesn't go through a list of prospects and narrow them down to a perfect choice. But we do get a summary of what McCain needs -- "a solidly 'full-spectrum' conservative, reformist, youngish, cool, well-rounded, brainy, all-media-respected, articulate, telegenic, border-state/constituency-challenging, non-party-weakening, executive-experienced, running mate who can handle the presidency at a moment's notice."

Does Romney fit the bill? My feeling is that he delivers on some points, he doesn't on others.

On some of Hillyer's points, Romney seems made to order. "It is preferable ... for the running mate to have some executive experience ... Why? Because voters usually like executive leadership. McCain, despite his heroism, doesn't have that."

And while some people dismiss the importance of geographical balance, Hillyer does not. "McCain ought to choose somebody who can plausibly make him at least competitive in a state or region or constituency where he otherwise would not be," Hillyer writes.

As a native of Michigan and a former governor of Massachusetts (both states he won in the primaries), Romney could conceivably put two states in play that haven't voted Republican since the 1980s.

And Romney's presence on the ticket would give the GOP its own opportunity to make history while the Democrats are making history by nominating the first woman or the first black. Romney would be the first Mormon on a national ticket.

Romney does have his drawbacks, and there are other prospects who might meet more of Hillyer's requirements. But, frankly, I don't know if there's anyone who can meet all of them.

So, in Hillyer's words, "Good luck to McCain in finding such a candidate."

By the way, a little presidential trivia.

They were pointing out on CNN last night that this will be the first presidential campaign between two sitting U.S. senators. And Hillyer's article makes a reference to that, too.

But did you know that only two senators have been elected president? Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy.

They were both elected in years ending in a zero, and they both died in office in years ending in a 3.

Neither lived to seek re-election. Of course, Kennedy was assassinated. Harding died of a heart attack.