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Observations on the Big GOP Debate Night

8-3-fs-pics-of-17-republican-presidential-candiates

Just my two cents on some of the major participants and what it all means for the 2016 election:

Ohio Governor John Kasich: 

This guy has got to be Hillary Clinton’s biggest nightmare.  Comfortable in his conservative beliefs but tolerant of those who differ; compassionate in his views about helping those in need.  Very strong moment for many moderates and independents, I think, when asked about his opposition to same-sex marriage and he said that, hey, he’s an old fashioned guy but how would he respond if one of his kids came out?  He’d love them.  Good answer!

Unapologetic about increasing Medicare subsidies in Ohio, he sounded a compassionate conservative theme I haven’t heard from a Republican in a long, long time.   He also has a smart political team.  The timing of his Presidential announcement gave him the precise buzz and bump he needed to get into the big 9 pm debate.   One of his major slogans right now to GOP voters is- “No Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio.  Ever.”

He also fills the “regular guy” role that was supposed to be Scott Walker’s specialty.   I honestly think Hillary Clinton beats every single GOP contender on that stage- except John Kasich.   The math gets really difficult for Dems without Ohio.

Brilliant move by Kasich to say Trump is touching a nerve with many and not belittling him.  Not only does he get Trump’s supporters at a later date but if Kasich gets the nomination, Trump will remember the kindness and maybe doesn’t launch the 3rd party bid.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

Pretty solid performance.  Really liked his take on the immigration issue when he pointed out the real problem no one talks about- the horrible, inane government bureaucracy that is so inept it turns immigrants who want to be law-abiding into criminals when they give up after waiting for years and years and end up sneaking in.   Rubio’s youth and energy could be a real contrast to Hillary the Grandmother.  And Dems like to win Florida too, and he wouldn’t be making that an easy task.   Not sure he currently has the Presidential demeanor.   I see Kasich as a Commander in Chief way before I picture Rubio.  But if the country really wants change- he’s an attractive, next generation alternative.

Donald Trump and Roger Ailes:

The Fox News President, I’m guessing, did his best to end Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination and probably succeeded with the first two questions that were asked in the debate.  Knowing full well what Trump’s response would be, the first question asked of “all” the candidates was to raise their hand if they would be willing to bolt the GOP and run as a 3rd party candidate.  Trump obliged, proving definitively, that he really does not give a rat’s ass what anybody thinks of him.  He is not a panderer.

Then Megyn Kelly asked about his insulting tweets about women.  Then Chris Wallace asked about his four Casino bankruptcies.

Was he diminished?  I think for some Republicans, the ones who care about the party, the luster has come off of the Trump infatuation.  But for many conservatives and for politically pissed-off people who don’t particularly care about the Republican party- he maintains and even gains a little.

Unless the post-debate Fox news panel with 21 Fox-selected participants reflects reality.  Fourteen of them went into the debate liking Trump only 3 remained loyal by the end of it.  They called him mean and selfish and bombastic.  And then later, a lot of Fox News analysts also were highly critical of Trump’s performance.   This is not subtle.  The Trump people are picking up on the conspiracy vibe.

Trump organization Executive VP and special counsel, Michael Cohen tweets the following:

A total setup by @FrankLuntz and #FOXNEWSDEBATE to try to lower #Trump2016 high poll numbers. American people will not fall for your tricks.

Are we on the verge of a Trump–Ailes war?  Because right now, it’s looking like the Donald walked into a gigantic trap.

Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker

He was sharp and well spoken.  He’s clearly crammed his little heart out on foreign policy.  He’s a guy with a family and a Harley.  He does “regular guy” very well.  He has certainly been consistently dissed and underestimated and just wipes out his opponents in every election he’s ever been in.  He’ll end up being a force to be reckoned with.  But I don’t think Kasich plays “regular guy.”  He actually is one and is a much more experienced political hand with a superior political operation.

Former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush

Meh.  No flubs.  Selling himself as the voice of reason.  Dealt smartly with Trump and didn’t get into the mud in any way.  Stuck to his talking points on his accomplishments as Governor.  I don’t feel it for the third Bush.

New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie

He was pretty solid and articulate but kind of transparent in regard to his strategy of goading one of the other candidates into a brawl and so it was Rand Paul he chose to target.  I thought Paul held his own in the fiery debate between the two on the issue of national security versus privacy rights.  Christie came off tough alright.  Unfortunately for him, that mantle’s been taken by Donald Trump.  In the battle of the bullies, Christie gets Trumped.

Kentucky Senator, Ron Paul

His brand has been deeply tarnished over the months but I thought he put on a decent debate performance.  His libertarian views were pretty clear and consistent and he resisted pandering.

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee

What ever happened to the happy warrior who tells jokes and plays bass with rock n’ roll bands?  He seems so angry these days.  “Get off my lawn” kind of angry.  He stayed away from oven analogies- a wise choice.  He had a staged joke at the end criticizing a candidate that sounded like it was going to be Trump and it ended up being Hillary.  The Fox News hosts thought this was really funny.

Dr. Ben Carson

No surprises. Didn’t get much air time and stood his ground about it.  Fairly funny staged joke at the end saying that as a neurosurgeon there are things he’s done no one else on the stage has- like separate Siamese twins and operate on people with a half a brain which he compared to the half-brains in Washington.

Texas Senator, Ted Cruz

Got seriously short-changed on air time and answered every single question precisely as you would expect him to- extreme hard right.  It struck me that as the champion college debater he was, Cruz would be killer in a more traditional and structured debate setting.  But this was not that.  This is the age of Trump and politics as reality television.  This is the age of 17 candidates and not enough time for any of them, really.

Former HP CEO, Carly Fiorina

Voted Most Likely to Succeed in Leaving the Kid’s Table and Moving Up to the Adult Table for the next debate.   It seems to be very important to the Republican party that there be a woman who criticizes Hillary Clinton non-stop and either the rules will be changed or the good press she got will put her into the top 10, but she WILL be in the next debate with the top folks.  She’s also looking very Vice Presidential to me.   Kasich-Fiorina.

You got some work ahead of you, Hil.

An Election Prediction a Year and a Half Out

April 22, 2015 1 comment

White_House_Front_Dusk_Alternate

Do not mistake this as endorsement or repudiation.  I don’t really care one way or the other if Hillary Clinton gets elected President.  Whatever happens, I’m sure the Republic will survive.   But as an amateur pundit who watches politics like a ghoulish NASCAR fan watches car racing- waiting for the spectacular crash- I’m sorry to inform you that my prediction is fairly mundane: Hillary Clinton will be elected the next President of the United States.

It doesn’t matter how many scandals are brought up, dredged up, or created.  It doesn’t matter how many Republican-backed books hit the best-seller lists on a monthly basis. Whitewater won’t matter.  Monica Lewinsky will not matter.  The State department e-mails will not matter.  The Clinton Foundation and which foreign governments did or did not contribute to it will not matter. We don’t even need to get into the latest CNN poll that finds she is ahead by double digits against all the potential GOP candidates. Surely, that will narrow significantly.

But Hillary Clinton’s narrative is set. She has been such a long-time player in American political life that opinions about her are concluded, cemented, done and finished.  The real question is this:  Is the tiny number of American voters who have no opinion of Hillary Clinton larger than the roughly 2 to 3% margin that her positive ratings generally outpace her negative ratings?

The opposition will have a new attack line every month right up until Election Day.  And every single time, regardless of the merits of the arguments, Hillary Clinton will call it predictable partisan vitriol and the slight majority that supports her will completely agree.  Partisan attacks on Hillary Clinton will be eaten up like candy by the anti-Hillary faithful but will change not one single mind among her supporters and I’m not sure there are enough “undecideds” left to make any difference.

The Soft Launch

There was much criticism of the “soft launch” of the Hillary campaign.  Many liberals and just about all conservatives, seemed to blanch at what they saw as the emptiness of her announcement video.  She was waging identity politics, they argued, featuring nothing more than a cartoonish smorgasbord of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Gays in her ad.  She had no policy details whatsoever. Her vow to be the champion of the middle-class echoed hollow to the critics from the left and the right.

Politically/strategically- it looks like it pretty much did the trick.  You could see it in the grudging back-handed compliments from the opposition’s punditry class.  “Slick but empty,” was the common refrain from conservative commentators like Jennifer Rubin.  What was noticeable was the recognition that the ad was actually pretty smooth.  It was, like her or hate her, good packaging.

Politico had these quotes from Republican operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire, about Hillary Clinton’s soft launch:

 “Honestly, I was very impressed,” said a top Iowa Republican…“She’s always been seen as cold. I think this helps warm her up for the general election. It also creates a soft launch for her.”

“She can be very hard to listen to speak, at times shrill, so this was refreshing and a little inspirational,” said a second Iowa Republican. “She knows she needs to earn people’s vote. It’s a smart way to brush off being the ‘anointed one.’”

“The drive to Iowa is the smartest play I’ve seen her make in a while,” declared a New Hampshire Republican.

A second Granite State Republican described the road trip as a masterstroke. “The campaign is, rightly, underplaying it and letting the social media activity promote her and her travels,” he said. “Really, really well played.”

But “where’s the beef?”  Of course, this was all empty calories.  That’s the nature of American politics.  Joe McGinnis articulated it all quite nicely in the Selling of the President written in 1968.  Forgive my cynicism, but when was the last time we expected any kind of substance at all from a politician?  Besides, everybody knows Hillary Clinton is a total policy wonk and would greatly prefer noodling policy then actually campaigning.  I would bet she’s being urged to NOT be that policy wonk, and instead is being counseled to be warm, approachable, humble, Grandmother-like (who doesn’t love grandmothers?) and also generic, non-specific and pure pabulum.

But does it really matter?  Whether she articulates to the granular level or not on every issue known to man, don’t most folks have a pretty good sense that Hillary Clinton will govern quite differently than whoever the Republicans will nominate (Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, is my current pick to get GOP nod)?

Keeping the Obama Block

Some argue she will never approximate the block of voters put together by the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012.   I would concur.  But she doesn’t need to get to that level in order to win.  What she does need is a big turn-out election.  While polls are currently finding there may be less novelty and fascination with a woman becoming President than may have been generally assumed- I don’t believe those numbers.

On the eve of election day next year, a woman standing on the precipice of the American presidency, taking the mantle of Commander-in-Chief for the first time in history, potentially elected as the leader of the free world- will be a really big deal.  It will be historic in every sense of the word.  As has become patently obvious in the last two elections, large turn-out amplifies the country’s changing demographics just as surely as low-turn-out, mid-term elections distort them.

It’s just a prediction ridiculously offered more than year and a half before the main event.  A lesser margin than either of Obama’s victories, but a victory nonetheless.

The Congressional Vote on Syria; Brilliance out of Desperation

August 31, 2013 2 comments

msyria

So the President is throwing the issue to Congress. From the White House perspective, it’s so crazy it just might work.

It was looking bad. Like the president had painted himself into a corner with his own words about “red lines” being crossed if there were ever to be proof of chemical attacks in Syria. Astoundingly, the British parted with their American cousins for the first time since Lexington the War of 1812 and refused to go along.

The United Nations, which President Obama generally decried as feckless today, was a dead end with the Russians and the Chinese exercising veto power in the Security Council. Plus, uselessly, the U.N. inspection team that just left Syria is charged only with confirming that a chemical attack occurred, not which party was responsible for initiating it.

The vote in Congress on whether the U.S. will strike Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged involvement in the gassing of hundreds of its own citizens is not going to be along party lines. Strange bedfellows will be plentiful as hard core, dovish liberals join forces with folks like Republican, Rand Paul, whose libertarian views render him a foreign isolationist. Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner will be working for the President.

Commanders in Chief don’t have to do this and Mr. Obama, protecting Oval office power as best he can, says he could have moved on his own but insists he has an important moral case to make and that we may as well have a public debate about it. This is a good thing for democracy. Historians may argue Obama has just seriously diluted Presidential authority.

This move also gets the President off the hook. If Congress balks, it was them. More than that- it was the “people.” If they approve, he has the moral high ground he’d never have received from the United Nations anyway. The stunning defeat of a pro-American resolution in the British parliament had to have affected this move by the White House as well. It didn’t look good that the Brits could debate this but our Congress couldn’t. It also didn’t square with Senator Barack Obama’s own views years ago that Congress should have a say on matters involving military action.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle probably doesn’t have the greatest legacy for gravitas, but he was a savvy politician and it was he who suggested to George H.W. Bush that Congress get a vote on approving the use of force in the first Gulf War in the early 1990’s. The resolution passed, the nation was united on the military action and within months President Bush would be sporting a 91% approval rating.

In his response to the President today, Republican Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said the nation is at its best when President and Congress act together in common voice and he is right. There is much more riding on the coming Congressional vote than just a few surgical cruise missile strikes in Syria. The debate will encompass the totality of American foreign policy; the U.S. as global policeman, the lines that can and cannot be crossed in regard to how we respond to future atrocities- the proof needed to determine they happened and who was behind them.

Impressive throughout the debate has been the prominence of the Iraq experience in coloring the world perception of U.S. intervention in foreign affairs. The blow to American credibility has been severe. It was Iraq and the wild goose chase for weapons of mass destruction that led the Brits to decide that this go round- no thanks.

So the debate to come is also about how we, ourselves, come to terms with Iraq. Does the U.S. become reticent, like in the post-Vietnam period, to project power on the world stage forever more? Can exceptions be supported when there are issues of genocide and crimes against mankind that shock us and shake our consciences. Do we even have an international conscience?

All worthy questions to be debated in the days ahead. For President Obama, good move from a civics lesson point of view. And brilliant move, politically.

Beards: Presidential and Otherwise

For some reason, beards have been a big theme this week. It started Thursday when I attended a Washington Nationals baseball game and my good friend, Walter Ludwig, whom I had invited, noted the very excellent beard sported by right fielder, Jason Werth.

Beard Werth

Exceptionally full and outdoorsy, even woodsman-like, I’d say.

The beard theme continued Friday when I read this article in The Hill about the creation of a political action committee dedicated to the financial backing of bearded candidates, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.

This PAC is for real. The paperwork for the Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy (BEARD) was filed with Federal Election Commission Wednesday by a Jonathan Sessions, who describes himself on his website as a member of the board of education in Columbia, Missouri.

Sessions notes, as did this fine article on Slate.com nearly a year ago, that Benjamin Harrison was the last U.S. President to fashion a beard and that it’s high time political beards came back into fashion.

As this touches on Presidential history, one of my absolute favorite areas of study and expertise, some cursory research finds there were five American Presidents with actual beards:

Abraham Lincoln
US Grant
Rutherford B Hayes
James Garfield
Benjamin Harrison

This period of 1861 to 1893 was truly the high point for Presidential beards. The only exceptions were Andrew Johnson who had no facial hair at all and was, perhaps not coincidentally-impeached; Chester Alan Arthur, who did sport impressive mutton chops- and Grover Cleveland, one of our four mustachioed Chief Executives (the others: Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft). Early Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren were also mutton chop enthusiasts but did not have mustaches (or beards).

Since Taft, we have had nothing but clean shaven Presidents beginning with Woodrow Wilson who was inaugurated in 1913. The first patent for a safety razor, by the way, was issued in 1880 but even then the early razors still needed to be sharpened by professionals. The point is that about 1916, some 15 years after the release of the first disposable razor, there was widespread adoption of this remarkable tool from Gillette. Politics has not been the same since.

The political beard article in Slate, by the way, points out that recent adoption of beards was significantly stymied by the images of both hippies and Fidel Castro.

(Fidel Castro, Jerry Rubin)

(Fidel Castro, Jerry Rubin)

This trend could have been stopped dead in its tracks had Richard Nixon done a Richard Nixon to China thing with beards (the analogy that’s probably outdated now about how only an anti-communist could escape political peril offering peace to communists).

Beard Nixon

That is, I must say, a pretty cool looking Tricky Dick.

And then, of course, there’s this gentleman:

Beard Uncle Sam

And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes beards as American as:

beard apple pie

RGIII’s Special Skills Wasted on Sports

December 5, 2012 Leave a comment

RGIII2

To say Robert Griffin III is an inspiration is a considerable understatement.

He seems to have single-handedly willed what, on paper, is a mediocre football team into a playoff contender. He shows up at the Verizon Center to take in a Wizards game and the doormat of the NBA somehow rises to the occasion and knocks off the defending champion Miami Heat.

I see no reason he cannot pinch hit, pitch relief and run the bases for the Washington Nationals from time to time. I suspect he wields a pretty mean slap shot if the Caps can use a little help and if they actually play hockey this year. DC United could certainly use a forward with blazing speed.

But we’re thinking way too small here.

In his primary job as quarterback of the Redskins, since he is already uniting Democrats and Republicans in Washington D.C., I propose that RGIII be immediately made an honorary member of Congress and the chief negotiator in the fiscal cliff talks. Trust me on this, if you can take something built by Daniel Snyder and make it look good, you are capable of anything- including finding a solution to the debt crisis.

With Hillary Clinton about to step down after four stellar years as Secretary of State there is an obvious void. Oh, the President likes Susan Rice for the post, but congressional Republicans threaten to block her nomination, so it would seem a natural that you-know-who be tapped as our emissary to the world.

Can RGIII mediate a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Please.
Could RGIII talk Assad into leaving Syria? Must the question even be posed?

With that smile, that work ethic, that humility and composure, and all the raw skill and talent, not to mention an IQ I would wager is close to Leonardo da Vinci’s, there are many, many more useful things Mr. Griffin ought to be doing than throwing a friggin’ football for Dan Snyder.

All that said, if he does it for just one more decade and ten playoff appearances, I can see RGIII’s first campaign appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire around 2024 or so.

And you can sign me up right now.

Nate Silver’s Probabilities vs Peggy Noonan’s Feelings

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Nate SIlver and Peggy Noonan


As part of the introspection that conservative partisans like Peggy Noonan are engaged in after the resounding reelection victory for President Obama Tuesday, surely one of the aspects of this exercise will be coming to the acceptance of the primacy of facts and research over emotion.

As conservatives started aiming their ire at New York Times numbers-cruncher, Nate Silver, in the closing weeks of the campaign, it is now apparent that all the froth was about what Silver was saying not the way he went about coming to his conclusions.  They were shooting the messenger.  And with every broadside, it seemed Silver would just keep upping Obama’s victory probabilities until by the final day, they had crested above 90%.   And for the second Presidential election in a row, he was spot on, accurately predicting 50 out of 50 states (presuming Florida finishes where it is now).

Over at the Wall Street Journal, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, seemed to be mocking Silver’s nerdy numbers approach by predicting a Mitt Romney victory based on, among other things,  the size of the Republican candidate’s closing crowds, their decibel levels, even her perception of how Romney lawn signs were outnumbering Obama’s.

There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.

She even magically entered the heads of the candidates at the annual Al Smith dinner in New York where she interpreted what she saw as an uncomfortable and distracted Barack Obama as someone who looked like they had just read disturbing data.

But sitting there listening to the jokes and speeches, the archbishop of New York sitting between them, Obama looked like a young challenger—flinty, not so comfortable. He was distracted, and his smiles seemed forced. He looked like a man who’d just seen some bad internal polling. Romney? Expansive, hilarious, self-spoofing, with a few jokes of finely calibrated meanness that were just perfect for the crowd. He looked like a president. He looked like someone who’d just seen good internals.

The remarkable thing about Noonan’s approach to political prognosticating, is that you’d think she’d know better by now.  She’s had her hand in the political game for nearly half a century.  Not that she’s alone in couching her hopes on imaginary factors she thinks she sees, like massive, noisy, huge campaign crowds at Republican rallies, advantages in political lawn signs, or someone’s demeanor sitting at a dais.   It’s natural- it’s human  to hope against hope.

Granted I was all of 16 at the time, but I remember feeling such hope for George McGovern in 1972.  Surely, polls can be wrong.  I mean, wow, 20 thousand people came out for him at one event or another.  How could a decorated World War II Air Force veteran with such strength of character be losing to Richard Nixon, for Christ’s sake.

Not too dissimilar, I suppose, from a conservative partisan thinking how such a good, religious, responsible family guy like Romney could possibly be losing to the likes of Barack Hussein Obama, for Christ’s sake.

Well, McGovern, of course, would go on to win  only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. and Mitt Romney would go on to lose every single swing state in the election except for North Carolina (and again, we await Florida).

The lessons here are obvious.  Not that it really matters, of course, if pundits get their predictions right or horribly wrong- they are paid to bloviate no matter what.  But if one wants to be accurate and be taken seriously again someday- it would be wise to keep emotions out of it.

It would be essential, I think, to not let your observations be colored by your tribal leanings.  It might make sense to understand that 21st century polling, for example, is actually a science and that the study of statistical probability actually has an anchor in reality.

The trick for those who want to be in the business of predicting things, is learning to accept that the facts you see may not be what you wish they were.  It’s human, even endearing to think that wishing can make things happen.  But it’s not very professional.

 

What All Those Political TV Ads Could Have Bought

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I suppose the nation’s radio and television stations are quite happy with all the campaign cash that’s been spent with them this year, but when you consider their effectiveness- wow- what a colossal waste of cash.

I read about a study the other day that found that when a political partisan sees a negative TV ad that attacks their candidate, instead of changing minds, the commercials tend to strengthen their support for their guy.   And since undecided voters number about 3% of the population that basically means you are throwing away billions on the 97% you not only didn’t convince- but whose resolve to despise your candidate, you likely strengthened.

So…let’s break out the calculator, shall we?  According to non-partisan research group, Center for Responsive Politics, $700 million were spent in 2008 on federal elections.  This year?  After the Citizen’s United Ruling that allows anybody to spend as much as they want with no limits- federal elections will eat up $6 billion.  That’s the total spent by the campaigns themselves, the political parties and all those new limitless Super Pacs.

So what does 6 billion buy you these days?

– You could have paid about a third of all the property damage inflicted by Superstorm, Sandy.

– You could have fed 7.5 million American families for a month.

– You could have put 120 thousand people to work making 50 grand a year.

– You could have bought 300 thousand people a $20 thousand car.

– You could have purchased more than 1.5 billion gallons of gas.

– You could have bought schools 6 million, thousand-dollar lap tops.

– Instead of making people ill with your political ads you could have just bought them 1.7 million top-of-the-line Samsung 60-inch, HD flat screen TV’s.

But, no.  Instead, we have spent billions on TV commercials with grainy, black and white footage of politicians, punctuated by ominous background music as golden-throated announcers try to scare the crap out of us with doomsday scenarios of the horrible things that will happen to us the day the other guy gets elected.

Just three more days of this, folks.