Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Break in the Weather?

WeatherNerd is saying that the latest advisory on Hurricane Gustav suggests New Orleans "will most likely dodge a bullet."

Instead of making landfall Monday as a Category 3 or 4 storm, the advisory indicates the hurricane may have weakened to a Category 2.

"There may be significant flooding in the West Bank, but if so, it will be mostly because of the levee system’s fragile and incomplete state," writes WeatherNerd, "not because of anything extraordinary about Gustav."

There will be the usual amount of death and destruction that is always left by such a storm, but the most important WeatherNerd conclusion is this — "we should not see a citywide repeat of Katrina."

That's something to be thankful for.

On Being a Good Neighbor

In a city as large as Chicago, there are many congressional districts.

Illinois' 14th District is one of those districts. For 20 years, from 1987 until Nov. 26, 2007, Republican Dennis Hastert represented the 14th. He was speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007 and was forced to relinquish his post after the Democrats captured the majority in the House in the 2006 election.

Hastert had announced his intention to retire after this term, but when the party lost its majority and Hastert gave up the speaker's post, he appeared to lose whatever joy he derived from serving in the House, and he announced his resignation in November of last year.

A special election was held in the district in March, with Democrat Bill Foster (who was endorsed by the Chicago Tribune) defeating Republican Jim Oberweis (who was endorsed by the Chicago Sun-Times), 52.5% to 47.5% (which was a margin of about 5,000 votes).

Illinois' 14th slithers along the northern part of the state, straddling an imaginary line between the boundary of the city of Chicago with its metropolitan, ethnically diverse voters and the more rural — and more rustic — blue-collar, downstate voters of Illinois.

Foster and Oberweis will be facing each other in a rematch in November. Larry Sabato writes that the district "leans Democratic" right now, but there are some questions that remain to be asked:

"Was it only a battle between the flawed candidate (Oberweis) and a political outsider without external import? Was Oberweis a casualty of a contentious primary ... or his own political shortcomings? ... Was this only an isolated incident or a sign of things to come for Congressional Republicans in the fall?"

I expect John McCain to make an appearance for Oberweis. McCain campaigned for Oberweis during the special election.

But if Obama is a good neighbor (even one who lives in one of the ritzier parts of Chicago), he'll make an appearance or two on behalf of Foster.

Whoever wins the presidency will need allies in Congress. If Obama occupies the White House, it would be helpful if some of his allies were from his home state.

And Foster's margin in the special election was close enough (especially when one considers that less than one-quarter of the district's voters bothered to participate in March) to warrant a little political attention from the presidential nominee.

Change of Plans in St. Paul

The St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports that the Republicans have decided to abbreviate Monday's schedule, performing only the tasks that absolutely must be performed as part of the process of nominating the candidates for president and vice president.

They will be monitoring the progress of Hurricane Gustav, which is expected to make landfall in the New Orleans area sometime Monday.

Beyond the adjustment of Monday's schedule, everything else is "optional," according to Rick Davis, who is John McCain's campaign manager. Party officials will monitor events in the Gulf of Mexico and hold daily briefings to advise members of the press of changes in the daily schedule.

Depending upon what happens with the weather, McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, may have to postpone their acceptance speeches.

Consequently, it appears likely that the 2008 Republican convention will have a different flavor from past conventions — and I'm not just talking about the fact that a woman will be on the ticket.

It's possible that, depending on the circumstances, the Republicans will approve a change in the rules allowing McCain and Palin to give their speeches via video feeds from other locations at a later date.

Thus, the acceptance speeches may not be delivered in front of a convention hall filled with party activists. Perhaps they will be delivered in front of a few hundred supporters — or at a facility housing Gulf Coast evacuees.

It's even possible McCain and Palin won't be in the same city when they give their acceptance speeches.

Wouldn't it be ironic if old man McCain, who admits that there are times when he struggles with modern technology, became the first presidential nominee to deliver his acceptance speech via streaming video?

Radical alterations in the schedule may require the approval of a majority of the delegates, and some of the delegates from states that are expected to be affected by the storm already have left Minnesota, the Pioneer-Press reports.

More Hurricane News

It is about mid-day on Sunday, August 31. The Republican National Convention is scheduled to begin on Monday.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Gustav is churning through the Gulf of Mexico (if you want to see what it looks like from space, see the photograph at right).

According to CNN, President Bush and Vice President Cheney will skip the convention because of the hurricane.

Both men were scheduled to speak to the delegates on Monday night.

CNN reported Saturday night that Republican officials are "considering turning the convention into a service event, a massive telethon to raise money for the Red Cross and other agencies to help with the hurricane."

On the surface, that seems like a generous gesture — although, if it isn't handled correctly, it could be interpreted as a very self-serving move.

CNN also reported last night that four governors whose states are in Gustav's projected path — Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Haley Barbour (Mississippi), Charlie Crist (Florida) and Rick Perry (Texas) — will skip the convention because of the storm.

Perry had been scheduled to speak on Monday night. Jindal had been scheduled to speak on Wednesday night. Crist was scheduled to speak on Thursday night.

The Ides of September

In the chronology leading up to the hijackings and terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I don't think the date of August 31 has any significance.

By this time seven years ago, all the hijackers had purchased their airplane tickets.

It is my understanding that the hijackers sent back unused funds to al-Qaeda paymasters shortly before the date of the attacks.

At this point in 2001, some of the hijackers may have started moving into position, even though the hijackings were still nearly two weeks away.

So what is there to be said today as we approach the seventh anniversary of the hijackings of the airplanes that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center, penetrated the Pentagon and disintegrated in a field in Pennsylvania?

Those hijackings put the United States on the path it has followed ever since — a path of war (one was necessary, one was needless). The sand of the Middle East has been turned into quicksand that has greedily gobbled up American lives and treasure.

It is clear, I think, that Osama bin Laden won’t remain in the shadows. And the United States has mostly left him alone for the last seven years while it’s been busy settling old scores with a weakened Saddam Hussein — like the old general who insists on fighting the new war by focusing on correcting the mistakes and tactical errors from the last war.

(Which reminds me of a wonderful Dana Carvey ”Saturday Night Live” skit in which he portrayed President George H.W. Bush speaking about the Persian Gulf War from the Oval Office. ”This is not Vietnam,” Bush/Carvey says solemnly. ”For we have learned the lesson of Vietnam. And that lesson is — ‘Stay out of Vietnam!’”)

Saddam’s dead now, and the United States occupies Iraq, but we’re still having to spend billions of dollars to fight the insurgents.

If the terrorists were to pull off another attack on American soil today, frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me — although I suspect it would surprise a lot of people.

What would surprise me would be the form of the attack — because I have almost no idea what it will be.

The only idea I have on the subject is that it won’t involve hijacking airplanes.

That’s something the terrorists have already done.

And, because it is something they’ve already done, airline security has been under pretty intense public scrutiny for the last seven years.

Some screeners at airports have taken their lumps, at times, for permitting contraband to be carried on board by passengers who turned out to be investigators or reporters.

But the industry has made efforts to improve cockpit security as well as passenger security. It isn't perfect — it remains a work in progress — but it's better than it was.

So, while I have no doubt that the terrorists have not abandoned their plans to attack the United States, I don’t think airlines will be used as the weapons next time.

The next attack will exploit a different weakness.

When I was fresh out of college, I worked for a year and a half as a police reporter. And, as the police told me then (and I’m sure they would tell you today — since the fundamentals of criminal activity do not seem to change), a criminal needs to believe that a target isn’t being watched.

Criminals like to break into a car that’s parked in a dark corner of a parking lot or parking garage.

They prefer to pick a safe in a shadowy business office.

They want to climb in through a window of a home in which no lights are shining.

In the last seven years, the spotlight on air travel has been far too bright.

So, if you want to identify probable targets, look for something with little or no security — and the potential to undermine the U.S. economy.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the economy suffered for months before starting to turn around — but the recovery period was relatively short because the economy had been in pretty good shape prior to the attacks.

Given the state of the economy of 2008, a well-chosen target in another terrorist attack could cripple the economy for who knows how long.

I also believe the next ”teams” of terrorists — if the next plot involves teams — will not look like Arabs, the way the hijackers of 9/11 did.

The new generation of terrorist ”teams” will have a more Western look. They may be white or black — or Hispanic or Asian. I believe they will be chosen because they blend in.

For that reason, they might be Hispanic if the attack originates in a state that has a high percentage of Hispanic residents — like California or Texas. They might be black if the attack originates in the Deep South — someplace like Atlanta, perhaps — or a Northern city that drew large numbers of black migrants from the South — like Chicago or Detroit.

If there are multiple, simultaneous attacks, like there were in 2001, I believe the team members will have characteristics that won't raise any eyebrows in their locations.

They may be given clothing that will help them blend in. If the attack originates near a military installation, they may be given military uniforms. If it originates near a college campus, they may be given attire that is typical of today's college students.

They might even be women.

We’ve already seen cases of pregnant women serving as suicide bombers in the Middle East. It is indeed ironic that the desire to destroy others can be made to overrule the innate instinct in these young women to protect their children.

The point of how frustrating it can be to prevent that kind of enemy from attacking was driven home by the character of Admiral Fitzwallace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the ”West Wing” TV series:

”The laws of nature don't even apply here,” he complained bitterly near the end of the third season.

And how does one prepare for an attack when it is unknown (a) what form the attack will take, (b) where the attack will take place, (c) who the target(s) and attacker(s) will be, and (d) when the attack will commence?

As Joe Pesci's character said in the movie "JFK" ...

"It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma."

World Reaction to Obama's Nomination

As the Republicans gather for their convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, this week, it may be helpful to see what the world's reaction is to Barack Obama's historic presidential nomination in the other major party.
  • Simon Jenkins writes, in the Times of London, that Obama's acceptance speech last Thursday was "an epic performance."

    Jenkins puts it this way: "Every American voter casts a de facto proxy vote for the disenfranchised millions who consume America’s foreign and military policy abroad ... Obama’s global popularity lead over McCain is thus more than a beauty contest. Were he to be elected, his country would unquestionably experience an immediate and dramatic surge in popularity."

  • The Times of India raises the tired, old points about Obama's names.

    On the (at this stage) remote chance that you are unfamiliar with those points, Obama's middle name is Hussein (which is, obviously, the name of Iraq's deposed and now deceased dictator), and "Obama" sounds an awful lot like "Osama."

    (On the subject of his name, I've even read one article in which it was suggested that it doesn't take much of a stretch to make the Democratic ticket sound quite a bit like the name of America's top living nemesis — i.e., Obama bin Biden.

    (I ask you, is that a legitimate argument for or against either side?)

    Even if his middle name and surname are reminiscent of the most notorious American enemies of the last two decades, the Times speaks optimistically about what Obama's campaign means.

    "[T]hese are momentous times in America," says the Times. "It might not translate fully on November 4 into a 'Black man goes to the White House,' kind of storied ending, but Barack Obama has brought colour and panache to the usually monochromatic US elections.

    "Here’s a man who did not feel the need to change his name to 'Bobby' or whitewash his views to wow the mainstream. He just let it all hang out."

    Well, actually, I believe Obama went by the first name of "Barry" when he was young.

    But he's gone by "Barack" for most, if not all, of his adult life.

  • Despite the glow among Democrats after their convention in Denver, the GOP designation of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the presumptive vice presidential nominee has "dragged the spotlight back to John McCain," says The Scotsman.

    The paper acknowledges that the selection "was cleverly designed to inject some youth and enthusiasm into the Republican ticket, together with a reminder to Hillary Clinton supporters that McCain, for one, was happy to put a woman in the White House."

    It remains to be seen if that will make the difference in the election.

    However, The Scotsman says, "This newspaper ... believes Obama should take over from George Bush. ... But we will not decide the outcome of this election. ... [F]or all the dazzling speeches and hope of change, Obama might not win."

  • Der Spiegel writes about the "staged unity" at the convention.

    "The fact that the Clintons' two speeches calling for voters to back Obama were treated as great events attests only to the absence of real events at the convention," writes Der Spiegel.

    Well, in case you hadn't noticed, the main goal of the modern political convention is to give the appearance of a party unified behind a candidate and a message. It is supposed to be a positive experience.

    If there are no "real events" (read: real news), then the convention is a success in the eyes of the party officials.

    We all saw — in 1992 — how much the Republicans struggled when the overall tone of their convention was perceived by the public to be negative.

    And some of us are old enough to remember the problems the Democrats had after TV cameras broadcast the clashes in the streets between the Chicago police and the demonstrators in 1968.

    In the age of television, perception has become reality. The modern convention is about style — not necessarily substance.

    Entertainment — not education.

  • Michael Gershon of the Calgary Herald wasn't impressed with Obama's speech.

    "The setting invited comparisons to John F. Kennedy," Gershon writes. "The anniversary invited comparisons to Martin Luther King Jr. The stage invited comparisons to Zeus."

    But the speech did not live up to the invitations, he says. "In tone, Obama's big speech was small, partisan, often defensive and occasionally snide. ... And some of the attacks were simply unfair."

    The speech was "aggressively unexceptional, as if he set out to be unmemorable," Gershon writes. "Ronald Reagan drew lines from Clint Eastwood movies: 'Go ahead, make my day.' Obama drew his tag line — 'Eight is enough' — from a 1970s sitcom. (The song, you might remember, goes, 'Eight is enough to fill our lives with love.')"

Bush and Gustav

The Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting this morning that George W. Bush's plans to attend the Republican National Convention in St. Paul as scheduled on Monday have been put on hold.

Bush, who is scheduled to deliver a speech to the delegates on Monday, is monitoring the progress of Hurricane Gustav in the Gulf of Mexico.

I hope he has thoughts of the Hurricane Katrina experience on his mind — and I particularly hope he has FEMA ready to respond immediately to a crisis.

(That would be appropriate — not only as a way to compensate for FEMA's abysmal record after Hurricane Katrina but also because, ironically, Monday night's theme at the Republican convention happens to be "Country First: Service." This would be a good time for the Republicans to demonstrate their commitment to service in what would certainly be a big way.)

Everyone is welcome to hope and pray that the forecasts are wrong.

But, unfortunately, a crisis situation seems to be headed in New Orleans' direction.

"You need to be scared and you need to get your butts out of New Orleans right now."

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

When New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin called it the "mother of all storms," he wasn't kidding.

When Katrina made landfall three years ago, it was a Category 3 storm. Current projections call for Gustav to be a Category 4 storm when it is predicted to make landfall on Labor Day, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

And, if that is correct, the surge from the storm will overtop the levees that are strong enough to withstand the violence of the storm itself.

The levees that haven't been rebuilt completely may not have a chance against Gustav.

Residents along the Gulf Coast already are evacuating their homes and moving farther inland to escape Gustav's wrath.

If you're in the New Orleans area, pack up what you can and leave.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Another Ill Wind Heads for New Orleans

It was quite a statement, coming from the man who was New Orleans' mayor three years ago when Hurricane Katrina caused such extensive death and destruction.

A short time ago, Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation starting at 8 a.m. on Sunday — but he urged the people of his city to start the evacuation right away.

Hurricane Gustav is taking aim at New Orleans. And Nagin, who lived through Hurricane Katrina and FEMA's feeble response to the tragedy, described it as "the mother of all storms" and "the storm of the century."

Observing from afar, as I do, I can only hope that the forecasts will be wrong and something will happen to spare the people of New Orleans from having to go through another disaster.

But if they do, though, I hope the federal response is faster and better prepared than it was in 2005.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush is scheduled to give what amounts to his farewell address to the delegates in the opening session of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Monday night.

Sam Youngman writes, in The Hill, that Bush does not plan to attack Democratic nominee Barack Obama in his speech.

"White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Bush's remarks will express gratitude to his friends and supporters, and he will explain why he thinks Republican candidate John McCain should be president," Youngman writes. "Perino said Bush will not make a case for his legacy, and he will not go after McCain's opponent."

That's a wise decision — especially when you consider that America may be revisiting the scene of the Bush administration's greatest domestic failure while he gives his speech.

But you know what would be an even greater show of wisdom?

Staying on top of the weather reports, staying in touch with the Louisiana governor and New Orleans mayor — even if Bush is scheduled to give his speech in a matter of minutes — and being ready to order FEMA to respond immediately to a crisis.

The country needs to see Bush actively responding to the emergency. It doesn't need to see Bush reading another book about a pet goat.

That's what leadership is about.

Some Questions on Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend is the traditional kickoff for a presidential campaign (as well as the start of football season).

And, now that Sarah Palin has been designated to be John McCain's running mate, there are some new (or at least revised) questions to be asked — and answered — before November 4.
  • On the matter of experience — it's true that Barack Obama has been in the U.S. Senate less than four years.

    It's also true that Palin has been governor of Alaska less than two years.

    And, back when he was a candidate for president, Joe Biden made a remark about how the presidency didn't lend itself to "on-the-job training."

    Actually, Biden was wrong about that. He's been in the Senate for 35 years, but he has no executive experience. Palin is the only candidate with executive experience. And that experience is comparable to the presidency — at best.

    This is something the presidency has in common with many professions.

    It has always been a job that its occupants had to learn as they went along.

    A new president may bring experience to the job that can be transferred to his/her new responsibilities — much like someone changing careers in the private sector (i.e., you may not have personal experience with the computer software that is used by your new employer, but perhaps you have comparable software experience in a previous job).

    But, really, is there any job (even the vice presidency) that can adequately prepare someone for the burdens of the presidency? Even the modern vice presidency, which has a more active role in the executive branch than it did even 40 years ago?

    In my lifetime, I've seen presidents who brought a wide variety of backgrounds to the Oval Office. They've come to the White House after working in the law, business, education, farming, acting. And most had served or were serving in government before they became president.

    He was before my time, but Harry Truman may have had the most varied résumé of any of our presidents. He was regarded as a failure in just about everything he tried before running for public office, and he wasn't popular when he left the presidency, but he is remembered as one of America's better presidents today — which is a tribute to the soundness of his decisions.

    (One of those decisions — to desegregate the armed forces — may have hastened the arrival of the day we recently witnessed — Obama's acceptance of the presidential nomination.)

    For a time, Obama was a "community organizer." Palin worked for a time in commercial fishing.

    Some of the presidents in my lifetime (including the president at the time of my birth, Dwight Eisenhower) served in the military — at least, for awhile.

    But I know of no profession that provides foolproof preparation for the presidency.

    Does anyone know of a job in which one can fine-tune all the skills needed to negotiate treaties, compile federal budgets, exercise vetoes, lobby for legislation, serve as commander-in-chief of the armed forces — and perform all the other tasks required of a president?

    Syndicated columnist Richard Reeves addresses the subject of experience in his latest column. "Is Barack Obama prepared to be president?" he asks. "No. Neither is John McCain."

    And then he elaborates. "The presidency is an act of faith."


  • Now that Palin has been picked to be McCain's running mate — and responses to the decision are coming in — Rebecca Traister wonders, in, if Obama should have chosen Hillary Clinton to be his running mate.

    After reciting the litany of "pluses" Palin reportedly brings to McCain's quest for the presidency — and acknowledging that "Palin presents some stomach-churning possibilities for Democrats" — Traister opines that "even a cursory glance at Palin's positions should be enough to warn Democratic women (and men) to stay far, far away."

    Traister goes on to observe, "If the Palin selection brings female voters to the McCain camp, there is likely to be a round of second-guessing about whether Obama read the tea leaves wrong and missed an opportunity to shore up his divided party more effectively by going with, or at least seriously considering, Clinton."

  • Along a similar line, Republican activist Bill Kristol writes, in the Weekly Standard, that Palin frightens those on the left of the political spectrum.

    As the conservative Palin pursues the vice presidency in the next nine weeks, writes Kristol, "she'll be swimming in political waters infested with sharks."

    But Kristol goes on to observe that Palin's nickname, as the point guard for her high school's championship basketball team, was "Sarah Barracuda."

    "I suspect she'll take care of herself better than many expect," Kristol writes, although he acknowledges that there will be some "rocky moments" — as there inevitably are when a novice is thrust into the national spotlight.

  • Tim Rutten writes, in the Los Angeles Times, that Palin's nomination may focus the debate on domestic issues — like abortion and gun rights.

    But even domestic issues can't be completely divorced from foreign issues, including foreign trade. Palin's nomination may also expand the debate on domestic oil drilling — an issue that clearly overlaps into America's trade relationships with the world's oil producers.

    Rutten suggests that the talk of McCain trying to appeal to Hillary Clinton's supporters by nominating a woman for vice president may be overblown. "Clinton's admirers feel about her as they do not just because she's a woman," he says, "but because she's a particular sort of woman."

    And he goes on to observe that "Palin is emphatically not that sort of woman."

    So, as I mentioned yesterday, perhaps this pick is not intended to appeal to women who voted for Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Perhaps it is intended to keep women who have been voting Republican in recent elections from bolting to the other side — as President Eisenhower's granddaughter did.

    There are many "perils of Palin," as Rutten says, and they're not all perils that Democrats face. The greatest peril for McCain, in gambling on a somewhat unknown quantity as his running mate, may be that "[i]f she isn't careful, Palin could emerge from [her debate with Biden] looking a lot like Dan Quayle in drag."

  • It seems to me that, if nothing else, the 2008 election marks the emergence on the national stage of the two states that were admitted to the Union the year I was born — Alaska and Hawaii.

    Obama, of course, was born in Hawaii. And Palin is the governor of Alaska.

    Both states have been political afterthoughts for most of the nearly 50 years they've been states. Hawaii has 4 electoral votes and nearly always supports the Democratic nominee. Alaska has 3 electoral votes and nearly always supports the Republican nominee.

    No political observers are suggesting any shifts in allegiances in those states.

A Potential 'First'

It has been brought to my attention that, if Sarah Palin is elected in November, she will become the first vice president who ever won a beauty pageant.

Obviously, that has nothing to do with her qualifications (or lack thereof) to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

But, for the record, Palin won the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant in 1984, which entitled her to compete for the title of Miss Alaska. She finished second and received a college scholarship.

Palin earned a degree in journalism from the University of Idaho (she was born in Idaho, but her family moved to Alaska when she was an infant), and she worked for awhile as a sports reporter.

She would have been about 20 when she competed for Miss Alaska, so I presume she was enrolled at the University of Idaho at the time that she won the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant.

And, while I know nothing of her family's financial situation at the time, it's possible that scholarship may have been what she needed to pay for the completion of her degree work.

She also worked for awhile in commercial fishing with her husband. I think that would be yet another first — we've had nearly four dozen vice presidents in our history, but I don't believe any of them ever worked as commercial fishermen.

Prior to her election as governor, Palin was elected mayor of Wasilla, the town where she was a beauty queen.

I found a picture of her from her beauty pageant days, and you can see it on the right.

Except for the absence of pigtails, doesn't she look like Mary Ann on "Gilligan's Island?"

Friday, August 29, 2008

Either Way, It's Going to be a Landmark Election

"Politics isn't just a game of competing interests and clashing parties. The people of America expect us to seek public office and to serve for the right reasons. And the right reason is to challenge the status quo and to serve the common good."

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin,
Republican vice presidential candidate,
Aug. 29, 2008

John McCain's choice for running mate made it official. The election of 2008 will be remembered in the history books as a landmark, no matter who wins.

And right now, I think, it's anybody's guess who will win.

If the Democrats win, Barack Obama will become the nation's first black president. He's also the first black nominee on a major political party's ticket.

If the Republicans win, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will become the nation's first female vice president. She's the first female on a Republican ticket.

With McCain's selection of Palin, both tickets now are clearly outside the historic box.

I've been thinking about the implications of McCain's choice. I have a few thoughts to share.
  • When I wrote about Palin as a potential running mate six months ago, I wrote about things like geographic balance and gubernatorial experience.

    Other things seem to have come up now that her nomination is no longer speculation but a virtual certainty.
  • Here's a point I haven't heard anyone mention today (perhaps someone has mentioned it and I just haven't heard it):

    We have no Southerners on either ticket.

    If you count the first George Bush as a Texan (and some of the Texans I know don't because he was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Connecticut, although he spent most of his adult life as a Texas resident), the last election in which no bona fide Southerners were on either ticket was 1972.

    (Again, I suppose that requires an exception — some people consider Maryland a Southern state, because it condoned slavery and tobacco was its primary cash crop in the early days. If that makes Maryland a Southern state, then Richard Nixon's running mate in 1968 and 1972, Spiro Agnew of Maryland, was a Southerner.

    (However, I never have regarded Maryland as a Southern state because, while there certainly were tobacco planters in Maryland who were sympathetic to the Confederate cause, the state did not secede from the Union during the Civil War nor did it fight for the South.

    (And if a state didn't fight on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War, I have a hard time reconciling the inclusion of that state as a "Southern" state. Some people, however, use different criteria when making that judgment.

    (Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, if one considers Maryland a Southern state, then the streak between elections without a Southern nominee really has to go back to 1948 — although one tends to run into much the same issue concerning the home states of Harry Truman of Missouri and his running mate Alben Barkley of Kentucky.

    (And — to proceed even farther along this particular slippery slope — if Missouri is considered a Southern state, that means the streak goes back to 1940, where it definitely stops. No more exceptions to be made. There were absolutely no Southerners on either ticket in 1940.)

    Anyway, for most, if not all, of the last 60 years, Southern or border state candidates have figured prominently on national tickets. But not in 2008 (although, again, someone could raise an argument about Delaware — even though it had mostly ended the practice of slavery by the time of the Civil War and never seceded).
  • In the past, my belief has been that historic "firsts" in American politics tend to be long on symbolism and somewhat short on a record of success.

    But, in 2008, it seems we can't miss.

    Both Obama and Palin are historic firsts. And, unless something wildly unpredictable happens between now and Nov. 4, one of them is bound to win.

    The other halves of both tickets — McCain and Joe Biden — are part of that "old white men's club" that represents the establishment. This year, though, one can be forgiven for seeing them both as transitional figures, serving as the bridges between their parties and the opportunities of the future.

    Voters can also be forgiven for wondering things about the selection of a female that they might not have wondered before.

    For example ...

    The Wall Street Journal is already talking about McCain's mission to "seize the momentum" from jubilant Democrats wrapping up their historic convention.

    How much political consideration was given to the notion of selecting a woman (only hours after the first black presidential nominee had given his acceptance speech in a football stadium filled with screaming, adoring supporters)?

    If Barack Obama did not head the Democratic ticket, would McCain choose Palin?

    Is she the Republican he feels is most qualified to take over the duties of the presidency in an emergency?

    I'll admit, it didn't hurt that Palin paid homage to the women who blazed the political trail ahead of her — Democrats Geraldine Ferraro, as Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984, and Hillary Clinton, in her unsuccessful bid for the presidential nomination this year.

    I've heard many women in both parties praise Clinton's tenacity in her presidential campaign, and I know that many women came into 2008 believing they would have an opportunity in November that they could only dream of before — the chance to vote for a woman for president.

    Many blacks clearly felt the same way about Barack Obama. Obviously, both candidates could not be nominated for president. One had to lose — which means one candidate's demographic group had to be disappointed.

    Palin has the opportunity to fill the void left by Clinton's departure from the race.

    Women represent a huge share of the electorate. They don't vote as a bloc, but they do have similar (and related) needs and goals. In that sense, it appears that the Democrats' loss could well be the Republicans' gain.

    So, from the perspective of a nominee who wants to counter the groundbreaking nature of his opponent's presidential nomination, I think McCain probably did as well as he could.

    Earlier this year, I suggested that McCain might consider former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts. For all the reasons I mentioned, I still think Watts would be a strong national candidate in the future. But, in hindsight, I think it would have been unwise to put a black man on the GOP ticket and expect that to make the Republicans more competitive for the black vote in November.

    Blacks have been voting heavily for Democrats for generations. And, while Watts might have been able to put a small dent in the Democrats' share of the black vote, frankly, it would have been unrealistic to expect a massive shift of allegiances in support of a conservative black candidate for vice president over a liberal black candidate for president on the other side.

    But the gender gap is alive and well — especially given the lingering animosity between Clinton's supporters and Obama's supporters.

    And that fact did not escape ABC News, which observed that Palin said, "The women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."

    That could be an appealing pitch for many women who deeply wanted to see someone from their gender on a national ticket this year.

    While it remains to be seen how Palin is vewed after a weekend of intense scrutiny followed by the exposure a designated nominee receives at a convention, she got off to a good start in her coming-out party in Dayton, Ohio, today.
  • For those who were looking for a candidate who can reassure cultural conservatives, Palin seems to fit the bill:
    1. Palin is a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association.
    2. Palin has a son who was born in April with Down syndrome. Many women choose abortion when they learn they are carrying a child with Down syndrome, but Palin demonstrated her pro-life commitment by choosing to carry the child to term. He was with her family at the rally today.
    3. Palin is a supporter of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) — her running mate is not.
  • Add to that a few other "pluses" McCain acquired with his choice — Palin is charismatic. She has an engaging speaking style. She is the mother of a soldier fighting in Iraq, which reinforces McCain's support for the Iraq War. Most people can see, in Palin, their daughter or sister or mother. Or spouse. She appears to be capable of connecting with people on a number of levels. I think there are clearly some drawbacks, but it remains to be seen how severe they are:
    • Primarily, I think, the fact that Palin has been governor for less than two years undercuts McCain's argument that Obama, with less than four years in the Senate, isn't experienced enough.

      (Although, from a strategic perspective, perhaps McCain wants to nudge the Democrats into re-opening this discussion — since it would focus on the presidential, not vice presidential, nominees.)
    • Palin is the only major party candidate who isn't known very well by the American public. As a result, her statements and movements will be under a considerable public microscope for awhile.

      (Although she should be all right if she can avoid the problems that plagued Ferraro in 1984 — general missteps and her husband's financial scandal.)
    • It seems to me that most, if not all, of Hillary Clinton's supporters also support most of the same things Clinton does. Thus, I think it would be a mistake for McCain to think that disaffected Clinton supporters will automatically support Palin and the GOP.
    If you voted for Clinton, you're probably pro-choice. You're probably a supporter of universal health care. In short, you probably support most of the Democrats' agenda. Palin supports what has become the traditional Republican agenda. The question each of Hillary Clinton's supporters have to ask themselves is, will gender trump ideology? If most of them decide that it does, then this choice could be a big plus for McCain.
  • That really brings me to this "gender gap" matter.

    I don't know if the gender gap really exists. If it does, it seems to me that whatever "gap" exists owes its existence more to racial differences than sexual ones.

    I was looking at some exit poll figures that go back to 1972, and in every election from 1972 through 1996, women voted for the party that won the White House. They also tended to give a higher share of their vote to the Democrat than men did — although it's worth noting that President Reagan enjoyed a rare (for Republicans) double-digit victory among women in 1984, the year the Democrats put Ferraro on the ticket.

    Since 2000, women in general have favored the Democrats, even while the nation has been electing the Republicans.

    Now, the numbers among white women tell a somewhat different story.

    White women, who have tended to represent about 43% of the overall vote, have been more inclined to vote for Republicans than their black and Hispanic sisters, who have been responsible for adjusting the overall women's vote to reflect greater support for Democrats.

    Actually, since 1972, white women have voted for the Democratic nominee only once — in 1996, when they voted to re-elect Bill Clinton.

    Perhaps the Republicans are conceding the black vote to the Democrats — which, considering the historical pattern, would be a prudent thing to do, even if the Democrats hadn't nominated a black man for president.

    Perhaps Palin is intended to be a lure for the white women's vote that Republicans may be fearful of losing in 2008.
  • It's also worth noting that McCain turned 72 today. If he's elected president in November, he will become the oldest man elected to that office.

    Given the demands and pressures of the presidency in the 21st century, as well as McCain's own cancer history, it's understandable to be concerned about how secure his future would be.

    Well, the future is always uncertain.

    Even when you think you're on solid ground, that ground may well turn to jelly in an instant if an earthquake strikes. And, as someone who grew up in the famed "tornado alley," I've seen homes and businesses that were reduced to rubble by angry winds that were calm only minutes before.

    But ...
    1. if the Republicans win, and
    2. if McCain does not survive his term in office, then

    I wonder if Palin will be reviewing the early episodes of "Commander in Chief," the Geena Davis TV show from 2005-2006?

    The show began to change in inexplicable ways midway through the season, but the early episodes were intriguing explorations into the issues facing a woman who unexpectedly ascends to the presidency when the incumbent dies.

    (By the way — an interesting trivia point. Davis' character in "Commander in Chief" was named Mackenzie, and many people called her "Mac." In reality, of course, the 2008 presidential candidate is John McCain — and some people have taken to calling him "Mac.")
  • I don't consider myself old, but it's a little unsettling for me to realize that both national tickets have a candidate who is younger than I am. That's a "first" for me!

    For the record, I am 48. Obama is 47 and Palin is 44.
Oh, and by the way ...

Mark October 2 on your calendar. That's the day that Biden debates Palin.

It will be interesting to see if Biden, who has something of a shoot-from-the-hip style, can tone it down in the debate. (If memory serves me correctly, that was the same challenge being issued to Vice President Bush before his 1984 debate with Ferraro.)

The Plot Thickens ...

John McCain is only a few hours from naming his running mate.

And the choice remains a closely guarded secret.

The "favorites" who appeared to be emerging last night are not turning out to be such hot prospects in the light of the new day.

CNN's Dana Bash has been reporting this morning that the Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty camps are both saying that their men will not be traveling to Ohio to be with McCain today. And I've also heard reports — apparently from Ridge himself — that the former Pennsylvania governor doesn't plan to be in Ohio today, either.

If you read my earlier blog entries, both Romney and Pawlenty were being mentioned prominently last night — especially Pawlenty. Ridge seems to have cooled off quite a bit.

Bash is also saying that a "mysterious" airplane from Alaska — possibly carrying Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and two teenagers — arrived in Ohio in the last few hours.

Palin, of course, has been mentioned as a possible running mate — although her name hasn't been mentioned very often lately. Even so, if the running mate turns out to be Palin — or another woman, whether her name has been mentioned in connection with the running mate spot or not — such a choice may be intended to lure disaffected supporters (especially females) of Hillary Clinton.

However, reports from Alaska suggest that Palin is still in her home state.

If true, that would make it awkward — if not impossible — for her to travel to Ohio in time for the big rally McCain has planned for mid-day.

In Denver, which just played host to the Democratic National Convention, an Associated Press report in the Rocky Mountain News is saying that Palin is emerging as the favorite. "Two GOP strategists close to the McCain campaign said all indications pointed to Palin, 44, a self-styled 'hockey mom' and political reformer."

I guess we'll have to wait until McCain is ready to make his announcement.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Clues About the GOP Running Mate?

I presume that, within 24 hours, we'll know who John McCain has chosen as his running mate.

There's a certain amount of pressure being applied by interest groups as the deadline gets closer.

For example, the Washington Post says that "[c]hoosing [Joe] Lieberman or someone else who supports abortion rights, such as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, would be risky for a candidate who has worked hard to rally conservatives to his side, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

"The survey indicates that 20% of McCain's supporters would be less likely to vote for him if he selects a running mate who supports abortion rights."

A friend of mine was telling me that anyone who votes on the basis of a single issue (like abortion, for example) shouldn't be allowed to vote.

I'm inclined to agree with him — except that, in a democracy, everyone has the privilege of voting — and using whatever information he/she wishes. It does not depend on the individual doing the responsible thing and studying the issues and each candidate's opinions on those issues.

And that's part of what makes it hard to predict what McCain is going to do.

Clearly, McCain doesn't want to alienate part of his political base. Especially if the race is as close as it appears to be.

From that standpoint, one would expect him to choose a pro-life conservative. (I wonder. Does Romney — an habitual flip-flopper — qualify as a pro-life conservative? Not too long ago, he was pro-choice.)

But if what matters the most to McCain is the Iraq War and the global war on terrorism — and a candidate's views on domestic issues don't matter to him (nor does it matter if McCain's running mate "could be someone who voted against the confirmations of conservative Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.") — I could see McCain choosing someone with whom he feels comfortable — like Lieberman or Ridge.

Frankly, I don't know which McCain will make this decision.

Will it be the principled maverick who ran against George W. Bush in 2000?

Or will it be the pandering McCain of 2008, who was last seen in public at Saddleback a couple of weeks ago?

There's a lot of speculation about McCain's running mate — although not nearly as much as there was when Barack Obama was about to introduce Joe Biden as his choice last Saturday.

But many people think they're finding clues in seemingly little things.
  • Michael Shear reports, for the Washington Post, that the so-called "Veep Watch" is on "high alert" for clues to the identity of McCain's running mate-to-be.

    "The top possibilities continued to be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and ... Lieberman," he writes. "Other names included ... Ridge and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

    "One senior Republican who has talked personally with Romney, Ridge and Pawlenty during the past two days said none of them had been told yet by McCain. 'All of them believe that it's not them,' the GOP source said."

  • The Bipartisan Rules blog says "Pawlenty looks to be a much better choice at this stage of the game than does Romney."

    The blog lists several "compelling reasons" to choose Pawlenty.

    1. "Pawlenty has been in McCain's corner ever since McCain announced his candidacy; Romney has been a supporter for about four months."

    2. "Pawlenty is a true-blue conservative; Romney is a flip-flopper."

    3. "Pawlenty is a fresh face and 47; Romney is not and is in his early 60s."

    4. "Pawlenty offers McCain a clear electoral advantage; Romney's advantage in Michigan and the mountain west is somewhat speculative."

  • Marc Ambinder's blog at The Atlantic is reporting that Pawlenty's schedule for Friday has been cleared.

    Is that an indication that Pawlenty is preparing to appear with McCain as the designated running mate?


    But, as Ambinder points out, "McCain's campaign could have made similar requests of other candidates. But Pawlenty's is the first we know about."

    I would add to that one more thing — it's nearly 10 p.m. here in the Central time zone, and I have seen no similar reports about any of the other prospects.

  • "If security sweeps are the giveaway," writes David Drucker in Roll Call, "Romney may be on the brink of being selected as ... McCain’s ... vice presidential running mate."

    Drucker reports that "[a]ccording to sources with strong Michigan ties, the Secret Service has conducted a security sweep of the home of Romney’s sister."

    But he has a caveat.

    "[A] sweep of such a location could have been conducted in advance of Romney appearing as a surrogate — not the vice presidential nominee — at an upcoming McCain campaign stop in Michigan" where Romney was raised and his father was governor.

  • It may turn out that McCain chooses a former rival for the nomination to be his running mate.

    It wouldn't be the first time. That's what Obama did, after all. John Kerry did it in 2004. Ronald Reagan did it in 1980. John F. Kennedy did it in 1960.

    But if National Review's Campaign Spot blog is correct, Fred Thompson isn't going to be the former rival who occupies the No. 2 spot on the GOP's ticket in 2008.

    "[T]here's no sign that Fred Thompson is the pick," the blog states — before asking an intriguing question.

    "Wouldn't a Biden-Thompson debate be worth the price of admission?"

    I don't know if it would resolve anything — but it sure would be entertaining!

Obama's Challenge

"We stand at the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus."

Sen. John F. Kennedy,
Democratic presidential candidate,
July 14, 1960 acceptance speech

In a few hours, Barack Obama will give his nomination acceptance speech.

And when he does, we will live in a new America, one that I wonder if even John F. Kennedy could have imagined on that July night in 1960 — an America in which it is no longer a "dream" (to coopt a word that Dr. Martin Luther King used frequently in his famous speech in Washington 45 years ago today) for a black American to be nominated for president.

(I suspect, however, that, if someone had asked Kennedy which party would be the first to nominate a black for president, he wouldn't have hesitated in saying that the Democrats would be the first to achieve that milestone.)

That's about as much of the American dream as can be pledged to anyone. All Americans are promised the right to participate — not necessarily to succeed.

Success (in any endeavor) depends on things like effort and desire — as well as some things that are beyond an individual's control.

And, while success can be defined as winning the nomination (especially when no one from your demographic group has won the nomination before), a presidential nominee should not be satisfied with that achievement alone.

(It is possible to win a nomination, lose the election, and later be renominated and go on to victory the second time — Richard Nixon proved that when he was elected in 1968 after losing to John F. Kennedy in 1960.

(For that matter, Andrew Jackson was renominated in 1828, four years after losing the first time, and was elected. Grover Cleveland was nominated in three consecutive elections, winning in 1884, losing in 1888, and winning again in 1892 — he's still the only president elected to two non-consecutive terms in office, although he won the popular vote all three times).

(But much more common in the American political experience have been people like Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale — candidates who were nominated for president once, lost and were not nominated again. Apparently, John Kerry and Al Gore are destined for that fate as well.)

Tonight's final session of the 2008 Democratic National Convention will be held at Invesco Field, where the Denver Broncos play their football games. The first three sessions of the convention were held indoors at the Pepsi Center, which is home to basketball's Denver Nuggets.

Clearly, the Invesco Field audience will be appreciably larger than the one that greeted Obama's wife on Monday night or Bill and Hillary Clinton for their speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

The TV audience might well be larger than the others, too, although that (obviously) won't be affected by the venue. The schedule of speakers clearly has something to do with it. According to the Weekly Standard, the Nielsen ratings for the convention revealed that Tuesday night's viewership went up 16% over the previous night.

Based on that, Hillary Clinton was a bigger draw than Michelle Obama.

"Tonight’s Obama-Palooza at Invesco Field should smash all the old records," says the Weekly Standard, "if for no other reason just to see if the Democratic nominee wears a toga to match the Greek columns."

In what is sure to draw comparisons from political observers, Obama's acceptance speech will be the first delivered outdoors by a Democrat since John Kennedy's 1960 acceptance speech — the "New Frontier" speech, as it has come to be known, that Kennedy gave at Los Angeles' Memorial Coliseum.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who was being urged to run for president again nearly a year ago, also is scheduled to deliver a speech tonight.

Obama faces some challenges tonight, as Kennedy did half a century ago.

Kennedy, as a Catholic, had to convince a largely Protestant electorate that he could be trusted. Obama, as the first black presidential nominee, has to do the same with a predominantly white electorate.

Kennedy's challenge differed a bit. In the world of 1960, in which there was a very limited number of political primaries as well as limited private ownership of television sets, it was necessary to use an event like a national convention to introduce himself to the public.

Obama won his nomination in an information-obsessed world — one in which an entire generation of voters has grown up with cell phones, personal computers and cable and satellite TV. It is not as vital to Obama's quest to make introducing himself one of the goals of tonight's speech.

Most viewers will already be familiar with much of Obama's personal story. Many of them will know far less about his positions on the issues.

Of course, like every nominee of the party that is out of power, Obama must present a list of problems that have not been adequately addressed by the incumbent administration.

It won't be enough to say that electing John McCain would mean "four more years of the same." That may be true, but voters need to hear specifics about the problems and what Obama wants to do to correct them.

And that's the "red meat" the delegates want, too.

They need details.

By the way ...

While we're on the subject of details, the Republicans have eagerly used the events of September 11, 2001, for their own political purposes in the last seven years — including their selection of both the location (New York) and timing (early September) of their 2004 national convention.

But the Democrats may have the edge this time when it comes to using that event.

The city of Denver didn't figure prominently in the tragic events of September 11. But the stadium in which Obama will speak tonight was the site of an NFL game for the very first time on Monday night, Sept. 10, 2001 — only a few hours before the hijackings began.

And the team that visited Denver that night was none other than the New York Giants.

(I've often wondered how many conversations about the Giants' 31-20 loss in that game were interrupted the next morning on New York's trains, subways and buses by reports — or actual sightings — of the carnage at the World Trade Center.)

The Republican convention, which is going to be held in St. Paul, Minn., won't lack its own ties to September 11.

Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted of being part of the 9-11 conspiracy, had some flight training in Eagan, Minnesota, which is only a few miles from St. Paul.

But, although Moussaoui reportedly was considered by Osama bin Laden for the role of the so-called "20th hijacker," investigations have been able to conclusively determine only that he was a member of al-Qaeda.

While he was convicted on conspiracy charges that related to the 9-11 attacks, apparently, he was rejected as a member of the hijacking teams because he had not yet learned to fly adequately. (As a matter of fact, he already was in custody in Minnesota on the day of the hijackings.)

He is serving his sentence in a federal maximum security prison in Florence, Colo., which is about 100 miles south of Denver.

One Big Happy Family

Four current and former vice presidents
on Inauguration Day 1969.

At their national convention in Denver, the Democrats have been putting on a happy, unified face — even the supposed malcontents Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Hillary gave her speech to the delegates on Tuesday, then made various procedural moves on Wednesday to boost Obama's support level among the delegates.

Her husband, the former president, made his speech to the delegates Wednesday night, declaring that Obama (who is about the same age as Bill Clinton was when he first sought the presidency in 1992) is ready to lead the nation in a world that has changed a great deal in 16 years.

It seems to me that the Clintons have done everything they can to help Obama make this convention a success. If he does not receive the "bounce" he expects, he can take that as evidence that there is a (perhaps unidentified) fault within himself and his candidacy that kept it muzzled — and/or his opponents may steal some of his thunder with the expected announcement of John McCain's running mate tomorrow.
  • Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin report in Politico that McCain has decided on his running mate and will inform that person today.

    (This reminds me a bit of reports I was hearing last week in the hours before Joe Biden was unveiled as the Democratic vice presidential candidate. Those reports focused on the fact that Obama had settled on a name, but never mentioned whether Obama had actually asked his choice if he/she would accept.

    (That may seem like a mere formality to many observers today, but when I was younger, a presidential nominee still had to ask his choice for running mate to join him on the ticket. And they didn't always accept.

    (In 1972, for example, I don't know how many people were offered the second slot on the Democratic ticket before Sen. Tom Eagleton accepted it — and, a few weeks later, after revelations of Eagleton's hospitalization for exhaustion in the 1960s, including some electric shock treatments, prompted him to withdraw, presidential nominee George McGovern went through several additional public rejections before Sargent Shriver agreed to replace Eagleton on the ticket.)

    As I mentioned last week, it seems a little arrogant of a presumptive nominee to assume that his choice for running mate will accept his offer.

    But, based on what I've read from Allen and Martin, it appears that McCain will make the offer today.

  • Elisabeth Bumiller and Michael Cooper report, in the New York Times, that McCain still plans to reveal his choice on Friday.

    So, presumably, McCain has a backup plan in place — in case his choice turns him down at the last minute.

    If you're looking for clues as to who might be McCain's pick, sources close to the campaign say the top three prospects are:

    1. Mitt Romney

    2. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty

    3. independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut

    A little vice presidential trivia here.

    Dick Cheney is the 46th vice president of the United States. All but four of the individuals who have served as vice president had backgrounds that included service as governor or in the Congress.

    The last one who didn't have that experience in his background was Henry Wallace — who was Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president through most of America's involvement in World War II.

    Wallace had the good fortune of running with Roosevelt when FDR had already served two terms as president. And Wallace had been part of Roosevelt's Cabinet, as secretary of agriculture, from 1933 to 1940.

    But, in the early days of the republic, if you wanted to become president, the best way to get on-the-job training was to be secretary of state. That was considered the real stepping stone to the presidency. Six of the 15 presidents who came before Abraham Lincoln had been secretary of state. Five had been vice president.

    Politically, the secretary of state may no longer hold that kind of significance. But the job retains its importance in many ways, both in its status as the most significant Cabinet post and its position in the presidential succession.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Buzz About McCain's Pick

The deadline for announcing John McCain's running mate still appears to be Friday.

I haven't heard his name mentioned much recently, but I'm still predicting that McCain will pick Tom Ridge as his running mate.

Everyone's got an opinion.
  • Steven Thomma writes, for McClatchy Newspapers, that McCain is under some pressure with the deadline looming.

    Thomma also writes that the "fast-changing landscape in recent days has helped some potential choices and hurt others."

    Thomma proceeds to list these changes:

    1. "McCain has pulled into a neck-and-neck fight with Obama after trailing for weeks."

    2. "He's shored up support from social conservatives and has seen a payoff in the polls."

    3. "Obama picked Biden ... which could put a new emphasis on finding someone who could take on Biden in the vice presidential debate this fall."

    As a result, he suggests that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney have the inside track. But Pawlenty has said he is happy as governor of Minnesota, and it has been widely reported that McCain doesn't like Romney.

  • Julie Mason writes, in the Houston Chronicle, that one of the senators from my home state of Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison, is "getting a push from conservative and other pundits in the lead-up to next week's Republican National Convention."

    It seems, as Mason writes, a longshot. Hutchison has spoken openly of her desire to run for governor of Texas in 2010 (even though the incumbent, a fellow Republican, Rick Perry, indicates that he wants to seek another term), so a four-year hitch as vice president doesn't appear to be in her plans.

    But, with so many of Hillary Clinton's backers apparently looking for someone to support in November, McCain might be thinking about putting a woman on the ticket.

    And Hutchison is Texas' senior senator, with 15 years' experience in the Senate. She was elected to finish the unexpired term of Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, who resigned to take a Cabinet post under Bill Clinton, and she has been re-elected easily ever since.

  • If the choice was up to Henry Olsen, I'm not sure who he would pick. But he's pretty clear, in the Wall Street Journal, that he does not believe McCain should put Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman on the ticket.

    Olsen points out something that has already been pointed out several times — Republican Abraham Lincoln put Democrat Andrew Johnson on his ticket when he ran for re-election in 1864.

    "That episode ended unhappily," Olsen writes, "for reasons directly relevant to the current situation."

    Perhaps the most significant point Olsen raises is this: "One must also contemplate the awful possibility that President McCain will not survive his term. Do Republican voters want to see a President Lieberman negotiate with a Democratic Congress on taxes, entitlements, judicial nominees and abortion? To ask this question is to answer it."

T.R. and the Election of 1904

Kenneth Walsh has brought his series of articles on the consequential presidential elections in American history into the 20th century with this week's installment on the 1904 election in U.S. News & World Report.

But, while I don't dispute that Theodore Roosevelt — who was elected to a full four-year term in 1904 — "expanded the power of the presidency and demonstrated the power of the 'bully pulpit,'" I never really felt the election of 1904 had all that much to do with it.

Roosevelt became president less than a year after becoming vice president, when the incumbent, William McKinley, was assassinated.

And Roosevelt was president for more than three years before the 1904 election was held. During that time, Roosevelt came up with a compromise that ended a coal strike that could have severely disrupted the fuel supply for homes and apartments in just about every major city in 1902.

For turn-of-the-century America, that would be the equivalent of a politician resolving the problem of high gas prices today.

Roosevelt established himself as an activist president long before he appeared on a ballot to seek a full term on his own.

So, in my opinion, the election of 1904 more or less served as confirmation of public approval of Roosevelt's record as president.

And, to be fair, Walsh acknowledges that there is truth in that. "The campaign of 1904, when Roosevelt sought the presidency in his own right, was a referendum on him and his policies," Walsh writes.

As you can see from the graphic above, Roosevelt received 56% of the popular vote and just about every electoral vote outside the South (he was competitive in a few of the region's border states, but the Democratic Party still controlled the South at the turn of the century).

It's also worth pointing out that, while the Western states were reliably Republican in the last half of the 20th century, they were not that secure for the GOP in the first half of the 20th century. Neither McKinley in 1900 nor William Howard Taft in 1908 swept the Western states the way Roosevelt did in 1904.

It never seemed to me that Roosevelt's victory was ever in doubt.

Of course, it's not a requirement that an election be close for it to be considered consequential as well.

And sometimes a consequential decision enjoys wide support with the electorate. I guess I've always had the impression that a consequential election would be one in which the electorate is divided and a relative handful of voters makes a crucial decision that affects the masses — in ways that were anticipated as well as ways that were unforeseen.

Personally, I always felt that, while the 1904 election was consequential for the reasons Walsh cites, the more significant election in which Roosevelt was a candidate was the 1912 campaign.

In 1912, Roosevelt broke with the Republican Party and his hand-picked successor, Taft, and ran as the Progressive Party candidate. Democrat Woodrow Wilson took advantage of the Republicans' inability to unite and ended the GOP's 16-year hold on the White House.

And, with the exception of the two decades from 1932 to 1952, when Franklin D. Roosevelt and his last vice president, Harry Truman, occupied the White House, neither party has held presidential power for more than 12 years at a time since.

Walsh may yet write about the 1912 election in the next four weeks. But, if he doesn't, I recommend that you read what you can about it. I think it had a more significant impact on American history than the 1904 election did.

Hillary Deja Vu

Perhaps it was during, perhaps it was after Hillary Clinton's speech to the delegates at the Democratic convention last night.

But, at some point, I was reminded of a similar speech she gave at the national convention in Boston four years ago.

Of course, in 2004, Clinton did not challenge the eventual nominee, John Kerry, during the primaries.

And, both last night and in 2004, Clinton said all the right things in support of the party's nominee.

But I got the same feeling last night that I got in July 2004.

It seemed to me that Hillary was going through the motions. She made the right gestures at the right times, and she smiled when she was expected to — and she said the things that were expected of her. But, in her heart of hearts, I got the feeling that she really doesn't want the Democratic ticket to win in November.

Because that will make it easier for her next time.

(Maureen Dowd of the New York Times writes about this — in a way, although Dowd's distaste for Hillary and her adulation for Obama have never been in question. Dowd writes about "a vibe so weird and jittery, so at odds with the early thrilling, fairy dust feel of the Obama revolution" in a column that is dark and foreboding — and is headlined "High Anxiety in the Mile-High City.")

If Kerry had won in 2004, he probably would have been the favorite for the party's nomination this year, and Clinton would have known that she wouldn't have a realistic shot at the nomination until 2012 — unless Kerry turned out to be a disaster (as the Bush presidency has been for the Republicans), which might well have rendered this year's Democratic nomination meaningless.

This time, if Barack Obama wins the election (and if he survives the four-year term), conventional wisdom suggests he will be favored to be renominated in 2012. His age would not preclude him from seeking a second term, and there are currently no known health issues that might interfere with such plans.

So, if Obama wins the election, Clinton may have to put her presidential ambitions on hold until 2016 — by Election Day that year, Clinton will be 69 years old.

There is something of a sense of urgency for Clinton because of her age.

It wasn't an issue during this year's primaries, and it probably wouldn't be an issue if Obama loses the 2008 election and Clinton has a clear shot at the nomination four years from now.

But only one politician — Ronald Reagan — has been elected president at the age of 69 or older. Bob Dole was the Republican nominee at the age of 73, and he was unsuccessful in his attempt to deny Bill Clinton a second term. John McCain will be 72 when the voters go to the polls in November — it remains to be seen if he will be successful.

I'm not saying that Clinton will do anything deliberate to derail Obama's campaign.

I believe she is sincere when she says, "Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose."

Clinton has had many purposes in her life, and she devotes herself wholeheartedly to whatever purpose she is drawn to at a particular time. It is true that she has always worked for causes that would benefit working mothers and their children. She has long been an advocate of affordable health care. She has been a champion of minority rights.

But she has also been married to a political pragmatist for more than 30 years. Even if that was not her nature initially, some of it must have rubbed off on her. When she was first lady of Arkansas and, later, first lady of the United States, there were often times when she put her own needs on a shelf, allowing her to dedicate herself to the public needs of her husband.

At this stage of her life, her husband's ambitions have been realized. And political pragmatism says that an Obama defeat in November will serve Hillary's ambitions better than an Obama victory.

Whether that would serve the interests of the nation better is, of course, something each voter must decide.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Republican Rumblings

We're getting closer to the announcement of John McCain's running mate.
  • RealClearPolitics refers to rumors that John McCain will make the announcement on Thursday — instead of Friday, as was originally suggested.

    Bad move, says RealClearPolitics. "Obama is going to be the story on Thursday night and the headliner on Friday morning, and McCain shouldn't try to fight it."

    RealClearPolitics is referring to a Fox News report.

    It does not indicate why McCain would want to move up the announcement to Thursday, but it does observe that Friday will be McCain's 72nd birthday.

    If McCain really is considering moving the announcement to Thursday, is it to avoid having renewed scrutiny given to his age?

    If McCain is hoping to avoid appearing old, insensitive and out of touch, is that the best way to do it?

    It's reminiscent of Harris' Lament — if you're too young to remember, Detective Harris was a character on "Barney Miller," and he used to say about his apartment search in New York City that "all the good ones are taken!"

    In the years since "Barney Miller" went off the air, Harris' Lament has been applied to all sorts of things, from the perceived shortage of good, available lovers to the alleged scarcity of memorable website addresses.

  • McCain should be aware that there is some evidence that the much-hyped "running mate bounce" is overblown.

    A tracking poll conducted by Gallup suggests that Joe Biden's selection changed nothing in the first three-day period following the announcement.

    Taking that into consideration — as well as the possibility that McCain doesn't want to announce his choice on his birthday — maybe McCain would be wise to put it off until Saturday.

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell may be one of the busiest people at the Democrats' convention, at least in its early stages.

    Already, the Morning Call blog quotes Rendell as saying that Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, will not be McCain's running mate.

    The reason given is an apparent guess, based on the fact that Ridge is supposed to introduce McCain at an event in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

    From that information, Rendell apparently has concluded that Ridge is not likely to be named McCain's running mate on Friday ...

    ... which makes about as much sense (to me) as the guesses that were made about the viability of various Democratic veep prospects based on their speaking assignments at this week's convention.

    Rendell, who supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries, has some words for the presumptive Democratic nominee as well.

    The Washington Post's blog The Trail quotes Rendell as saying that Obama is "not exactly the easiest guy in the world to identify with."

    Rendell's elaboration may be even more damning.

    "He is a little like Adlai Stevenson. You ask him a question, and he gives you a six-minute answer. And the six-minute answer is smart as all get out. It's intellectual. It's well framed. It takes care of all the contingencies. But it's a lousy soundbite."

    Personally, I admire many of the positions Stevenson took in his career. But Rendell makes a valid point about the lengthy answers not lending themselves to soundbite status.

    The only soundbite-worthy phrase that has emerged from the Obama campaign is the slogan "Change We Can Believe In," which Frank Rich of the New York Times suggested, during the weekend, needs to be replaced with something more urgent.

The Magic of the Kennedy Name

It's tough to beat the charisma of the Kennedys, even when you're Michelle Obama and your husband is your party's presumptive presidential nominee who wants to use this week's convention to introduce himself to America.

Typically, in American politics, the national conventions are the events in which the general election campaigns are launched. Each party's activists, of course, are familiar with the presumptive nominees — and the Democrats' pursuit of this year's nomination went on much longer than usual so rank-and-file Democrats have already heard Obama's campaign themes.

But not everyone pays close attention to the primaries, so the conventions are opportunities for nominees to connect with voters who haven't heard their messages.

Michelle Obama was supposed to begin that process with her speech last night. And it's a vital process in a close race.

She was hardly slighted by the delegates' response. But she was clearly upstaged by Sen. Edward Kennedy, who made an unscheduled appearance less than three months after his brain surgery and received a more enthusiastic welcome.

Kennedy did his best to promote Obama's candidacy, telling the delegates, "I come here tonight to stand with you to change America ... to elect Barack Obama president of the United States."

But the delegates could hardly be blamed if they were more aware of Kennedy's medical condition — and, considering what the senator has been through this year, more inspired by his call for affordable health care.

"For me, this is a season of hope," he said. "New hope ... that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American ... will have decent, quality, affordable health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege."

There are few prominent Americans who are in a more credible position to argue for affordable health care than Ted Kennedy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Revival of Mitt Romney?

Now that Barack Obama has chosen his running mate, attention is gradually shifting to the final piece of the puzzle — who will be John McCain's running mate?

Most of the attention for the next few days will focus on the Democrats and their convention. But the last report I heard was that McCain would announce his choice on Friday — the day after the Democratic convention wraps up.

So I wouldn't be surprised if we hear more and more speculation about the identity of McCain's running mate the farther we get into the week.
  • I haven't heard Mitt Romney's name mentioned too often lately in discussions that focus on the identity of John McCain's running mate.

    But if the San Francisco Chronicle is correct, Romney might be the answer the Republicans are looking for in the West.

    In particular, the Chronicle reports, McCain's campaign would like to inspire the Mormons who live out West.

    And not all of them live in Utah. "We have a lot of Mormons in Colorado," a Democratic activist told the Chronicle.

    Colorado is already being mentioned by many as a battleground state in the election. So the mere mention of a demographic group that could be a recipient of some attention can be meaningful.

    Candidly, however, the Mormon vote doesn't seem to be all that significant in Colorado — roughly 2% of the state's residents are Mormons.

    But 2% can be important in Colorado. Yes, Colorado has been in the habit of voting for Republicans, but frequently it's been by slim margins.

    George W. Bush received less than 52% of the vote there in 2004 — and less than 51% in 2000. In 1996, Bob Dole's margin of victory over Bill Clinton in Colorado was less than 1.5%.

    Colorado has only 9 electoral votes — but in many of the election projections I've seen, that would be enough to tip the balance from one side to the other.

    Can McCain overcome his discomfort with Romney and put him on the ticket?

    If so, will he be doing it because Romney can make a difference with the Mormon constituency?
  • CNN's blog Political Ticker says, "[T]he Republican campaign to take advantage of fresh reports of friction between the Clinton and Obama camps shifts into high gear" with its second advertisement aimed at "wooing the New York senator's disappointed supporters."

    Is that an indication that McCain is planning to put a female on the GOP ticket — like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, perhaps?

    Obama might not want it that way, but Hillary does seem to be a factor, even though she won't be on the ticket. Rich Lowry writes, in the New York Post, that "[i]t's Hillary's convention. ... [T]he convention narrative revolves around her in important ways."

    And Susan Page reports, in USA Today, that a USA Today/Gallup survey of Clinton supporters indicates that less than half are planning to vote for Obama in November.

    Sean Wilentz may have the answer for Obama in Newsweek. He points out something that resembles what one of my Clinton-supporting friends said. "Obama must convince the country that he is a man of substance, not just style," Wilentz writes. "History suggests this won't be easy."

    The Obama campaign has been dismissive of what the New York Times calls the "Clinton fallout."

    Perhaps he shouldn't be so dismissive.
  • Bill Kristol, writing in the New York Times, contends that McCain needs a "bold" choice for running mate.

    (Palin might be a bold choice, but Kristol doesn't think she has enough experience.)

    Kristol thinks Connecticut's Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent, is the choice.

    "Lieberman could hold his own against Biden in a debate," Kristol writes (well, I know some Democrats who would cite Lieberman's performance against Dick Cheney as evidence against that).

    "He would reinforce McCain’s overall message of foreign policy experience and hawkishness. He’s a strong and disciplined candidate."

    OK, I'll concede the last couple of points.

    But Kristol sees some drawbacks as well.

    "[H]e is pro-abortion rights, and having been a Democrat all his life, he has a moderately liberal voting record on lots of issues."

    Of course, if Lieberman wound up on the GOP ticket, he could occupy a unique niche in history as the first Jewish nominee for both parties.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Responses to Obama's Choice

Today is the day after Joe Biden was introduced to the American public as the running mate on the Democratic ticket. And responses continue to pour in.
  • Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen write, in Politico, that Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate tells us five things about the presumptive presidential nominee:

    1. He's fixing for a fight.

    2. He's a lot more conventional than advertised.

    3. He’s insecure about security.

    4. He’s more worried about Lunchbox Joe than Bubba.

    5. He doesn't hold a grudge — or at least he doesn't let it get in the way.

    I won't elaborate on the points. The post is short. I recommend that all my readers take a few minutes to read it for themselves.

  • In what is sure to become familiar fare (for those who watch the Democratic convention this week, it will be familiar by the time Biden gives his acceptance speech), the Washington Post writes in glowing terms of Biden's life of "comebacks" of which the latest is his emergence as Obama's running mate after dropping out of the presidential race in the wake of an ignominious loss in Iowa.

    "Setbacks are followed by successes" in Biden's life and career, write Eli Saslow and Amy Goldstein in the Post, "and the cycle repeats. A tragic car accident, brain aneurysms, a plagiarism scandal, two failed presidential runs — nothing has permanently derailed him."

  • But the response in the Washington Post hasn't been uniformly enthusiastic.

    In a group asssessment of the choice, Ed Rogers (former White House staffer under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush) says there are three reasons that Republicans should be glad Biden was the choice:

    1. Biden is not "another lightweight left-wing snob."

      "Everyone who cares about good government and serious politics can imagine him as president," Rogers says, "unlike Obama."

    2. "Biden has no following in a key state or among any particular voter group that will help Obama appeal to the center, nor does Biden reinforce Obama's appeal as an agent of change."

    3. "On any given day, there is a good chance that he will say something that could destroy the Democratic ticket or at least hurt its chances in November."

    Rogers says that, as a McCain supporter, he is "relieved and encouraged by the Biden selection."

  • (Pardon a personal note here: There is, I believe, something to be said about the fact that the Congress is, in part, to blame for the giant sucking sound we hear, of American lives and treasure being lost in Iraq. Congress has been the enabler of problematic behavior in this dysfunctional relationship that has existed between Congress and the Bush administration.

    (But, as Congress has continued to authorize exorbitant defense spending, even as the economy has soured, are any of the presumptive nominees in a position to cast any stones?)

    In the same assessment piece, Rutgers University history professor David Greenberg says, "Obama blew it." Greenberg says Obama's "over-the-top coyness damages him three ways —"

    1. "First, it feeds the idea that he's a narcissist."

    2. "Second, after so much hype, the choice could only disappoint. And really, we waited three months for Joe Biden?"

    3. "Third, the protracted process short-sightedly allowed Hillary Clinton's name to re-enter the veepstakes — a move bound to further alienate her backers when she wasn't selected."

      We might get an idea how Hillary's supporters feel about the selection process when, on Wednesday, she is reportedly going to tell her delegates that they are free to vote for Obama on the first ballot. Will they still vote for Hillary? Will there be a floor demonstration?

      Stay tuned.

  • Elizabeth Holmes writes, in the Wall Street Journal, that Biden and McCain share "striking similarities."

    "In their roughly 57 combined years in the U.S. Senate, Sen. McCain and Sen. Biden have forged much the same path," Holmes writes. "The pair has each earned a reputation for a quick tongue and become outspoken on foreign policy."

  • The sub-headline on the article by Mike Dorning and James Oliphant in the Chicago Tribune summed up what the Obama camp appears to want voters to see when they look at the Obama-Biden ticket: "Experience. Foreign policy chops. Fists for a political fight. And, if Obama's lucky, an appeal to white working-class voters."

  • Frankly, I expected to read something about the selection in Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times this morning.

    But she seems to be too busy obsessing over John McCain's "dalliances that caused his first marriage to fall apart after he came back from his stint as a P.O.W. in Vietnam" — and the "powerful get-out-of-jail-free card McCain had earned by not getting out of jail free."

    Although the article was written by someone who was adamantly anti-Hillary during the primaries, the argument sounds like it could have been fashioned by a feminist Clinton supporter in a general election campaign against McCain. It doesn't really seem like a plausible complaint coming from an Obama backer.

    Presumably, this is in response to the subject that was raised by the revelations in recent weeks about John Edwards' affair — although Edwards is never mentioned in Dowd's column today.

    And Edwards only appeared to threaten Obama's run to the nomination briefly — and in a marginal sort of way, at that, after finishing a fairly distant second to him in the Iowa caucus on January 3. In fact, Edwards found himself competing with Clinton for second place that night. When he came in far behind both Obama and Clinton the next week in New Hampshire, Edwards prepared to throw in the towel.

    Perhaps Dowd will have something to say about Biden in her next regularly scheduled column — which presumably will be Wednesday, the day Biden is supposed to accept the nomination.

  • Dowd's colleague, Frank Rich, doesn't mention the running mate, either — except tangentially. But he may have provided a hint of what may be to come when the Democrats convene this week in Denver.

    "Change We Can Believe In" was an effective slogan during the Democrats' "familial brawl," Rich says in the New York Times, but now the opponents are McCain and the Republican Party. The message must be blunt.

    So it's time, Rich says, to put to rest "Change We Can Believe In" in favor of something like "Change Before It’s Too Late."

    If so, perhaps that puts the Biden selection into its proper perspective.
If that doesn't do the trick, here's something that might.

Yesterday, I wrote that the selection "was made with no apparent consideration given to the effect it might have on the electorate in November."

But Dan Balz raises a point in the Washington Post that I hadn't thought of.

"The die may have been cast for Biden ... when Russian forces invaded Georgia this month," Balz writes. "Until then, Obama may have believed he had more latitude in his choice, that he could worry less about dealing with his perceived weaknesses and instead pick a running mate who would more clearly buttress the change and generational messages at the heart of his candidacy.

"Once the tanks rolled, the weight of evidence shifted toward someone who would raise no questions in the area of national security. ... Among those under serious consideration, Biden, 65, was at the top on national security credentials."

In that Washington Post assessment piece I mentioned earlier, Todd Harris, a former McCain spokesman, refers to the Russia-Georgia clash and writes that Biden "brings decades of foreign policy experience to the ticket — and more than a little baggage."

Another example of how unforeseen events have the power to move campaigns in unexpected ways.