Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Edwards Plans Iowa Bus Tour

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 539

After pedaling through part of the state during last week's RAGBRAI, John Edwards is trading in his bike for a bus and planning a 30-county campaign swing, to take place August 13 - 19.

Starting and ending in Des Moines, Edwards' bus tour will be making the following stops:

Des Moines

Sioux City
Ida Grove
Rockwell City
Clear Lake

Charles City

Grundy Center
Des Moines

Iowa City

Cedar Rapids

Des Moines

After a similar jaunt by Chris Dodd a month ago, during which singer/songwriter Paul Simon came along, I wonder if Edwards' will be bringing along any musical accompaniment of his own? Couldn't hurt!


Monday, July 30, 2007

The Mailbag, Vol. 2

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 540

This is a post on some things sent over the transom that caught my eye during the past week, but didn't otherwise make for posts in and of themselves.

YouTube Ripple

No, not the latest flavor at Ben & Jerry's; I'm talking about how campaigns are starting to riff on the CNN/YouTube debate. First, the Richardson campaign kicked off it's own initiative to take questions from voters via video, email or on-line form. In an email announcing what its calling "Ask Bill," Richardson's campaign described it as follows:

"We're going to upend the status quo and skip the media middleman. Direct questions, direct answers. That is the strategy we've been using in living rooms and meeting rooms across the country -- and our rising poll numbers show it's working.

Want to know more about my experience negotiating with the world's toughest dictators? You won't get that answer on the CNN debate -- but you will from "Ask Bill." Want to know my favorite flavor of ice cream? I'll take that question too. ¿Quiere saber cómo aumentaré el sueldo de maestros? Pregúnteme ahora- en inglés o en español- y contestaré en cualquiera."

A few days later, John Kerry weighed in with his own twist on the theme, launching the "Roadblock Republican Radio Contest." An email from Kerry's Senate reelection campaign gave the following details:

"Republicans are feeling the pressure for change on Iraq. But I'm not a patient person. Especially when the lives of our troops are at stake. I refuse to wait around for the Republicans to move without giving them a little more pushing.

Quite simply, we want to take an unusual step - and we want to do it early. I think we need to run radio ads in the states of the Roadblock Republicans, making it crystal clear that they don't deserve to be reelected because of their continued support for the Bush Doctrine of escalation without end. We need to turn up the heat even higher.

It's the pressure of activists and the voice of the people that have gotten us this far in the Iraq debate, not the cookie-cutter ads and thirty second soundbites of Madison Avenue media firms.

So we decided, why don't we let you speak in this radio campaign? If user generated content can change presidential debates, I know it can help change the next election on the most pivotal of issues.

That's why we're running a contest. We want you to send in a script for a 30 second radio spot (that's about 65 words long), we'll whittle it down some to the top 20, and then we'll open up the voting to everyone. The winner that's chosen by the people will be what we air in the states. And we'll fundraise for the airing of that spot, with each of you able to choose with your contribution where you think we should run the ad. No political professionals making the spot, or choosing where to run it. It's all done by you."

All this is a direct result of the buzz from this week's voter-submitted questions in the CNN/YouTube debate. Look for more of this in the coming weeks.

And While You're Asking Richardson...

Chris Dodd's communications director, Hari Savugan, sent me an email last week with a subject line of "FYI - Richardson Admits Flip-Flop on Guns." The email contrasts Richardson's statements during his widely-panned May 27, 2007 appearance on Meet the Press with a story that ran in the Albuquerque Journal July 27. What it boils down to is that, in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy earlier this year, Bill Richardson reversed his position on a loophole in current law that allows buyers at gun shows to purchase firearms without passing a background check (Richardson supported the exemption before, and now does not). When I asked how Richardson's current stance on this issue compares to Dodd's, Savugan replied, "Chris Dodd has consitently [sic] favored instant background checks and closing the gun show loophole, whether he's running in a Democratic primary or not." So, while Dodd and Richardson now hold the same position on this issue, Dodd's camp faults Richardson for the switch.

The real story here, to my mind, is not the position on guns, although I think Richardson did the right and responsible thing in switching his position; the switch appears to have been driven by events - not polls, but events - and changing one's views in response to real-world developments is far more virtue than vice (think about the last 4+ years of "staying the course" for perhaps the best lesson here). In my view, Bill Richardson was wrong before, and now he's come down on the right side of this issue. So I'm not really troubled by the flip-flop, if that's what this was.

Rather, I think the real story is that, with a little less than 6 months to go before the caucuses, the sixth-place candidate (Dodd) is taking this kind of shot at the fourth-place candidate (Richardson), rather than one of the top three. As we move into August, the gloves are starting to come off. There's no doubt that Chris Dodd's best hope - perhaps his only hope - of moving up from the bottom of the field is that one or more candidates above him stumbles; but that being the case, I would have thought he would have aimed higher, at Clinton or Obama. Last week would have been a particularly opportune moment for doing so, with the top two contenders embroiled in a war of words between themselves over foreign policy; imagine, then, the impact of a solid shot from Dodd on a domestic issue would have had in opening a second front against the most prominent rivals in the Democratic race. That really might have helped Dodd. As it was, I think his campaign went for the forward pass and wound up not moving the ball at all.

The Candidate Formerly Known as Kucinich

Finally tonight, news from Planet Kucinich. The Kucinich campaign sent around an email on July 22 from campaign manager Make Klein (who took over from David Bright last month), announcing that Kucinich's initial website at http://www.kucinich.us had been scrapped in favor of http://action.dennis4president.com. But neither the hiring of Klein as campaign manager, nor the retooling of Kucinich's website could match the breathtaking impact of the news Klein flashed to supporters in an email dated July 27:
"Last week, Dennis Kucinich launched his presidential campaign with house parties from coast-to-coast, a ground-breaking new website and a historic campaign to change government policy by sending text messages."

Learning that Kucinich had launched his presidential campaign only the previous week must have come as something of a shock to supporters who had been laboring under the misapprehension that the candidate who's campaign now refers to by his first name, rather than his last, had declared himself a candidate back on December 12, 2006 ("I am announcing my candidacy for President of the United States" was the exact quote from the speech - not much ambiguity there, I would have thought). But, now that Mark Klein has declared that the campaign has finally begun, I think we can expect to see signs that the kidding around from Dennis has come to an end. Really. Big things will happen. Naysayers will come crawling to Cleveland for forgiveness. Front-runners will lay down and quit the race. The clouds will part, and angels weep in gratitude at the advent of global justice now.

Or not.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's All Local

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 543

Its been said that all politics are local. Judging by this clip up on the Washington Post's website today, this is particularly true if you eat at the diner down the street from my house.


Dodd Rolls Out Health Care Plan, Looks to Private Sector for Universal Coverage

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 543

Senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd rolled out his health care proposal today at a "kitchen table" campaign stop in Marion, Iowa.

Details of the plan, as released by the Dodd campaign, are:

  • Universal HealthMart. The Dodd plan will create a health insurance marketplace called the Universal HealthMart that is based on, and parallel to, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP). Individuals and businesses will pay for coverage within Universal HealthMart based on their ability to pay. If a person or business is unable to pay for insurance, the government will subsidize their premium share on a sliding scale based on income. Universal HealthMart will offer a variety of comprehensive plans and entitle every American to the same benefits and types of plans as Members of Congress.
  • Universal Affordable Coverage. Under the Dodd plan, coverage will flow automatically to all Americans regardless of their employment status, health status or economic means. Coverage will follow people, not their jobs. Enrollment will be automatic unless individuals and employees choose to have insurance outside Universal HealthMart. Coverage will be phased in over four years. As more and more Americans participate, Universal HealthMart will gain increasing leverage to negotiate premiums and lower costs. Price discrimination based on condition will be eliminated.
  • Better Care for Kids: Under the Dodd Plan, every child in America will have guaranteed health insurance equivalent to the health coverage Members of Congress have for their children. All children will have access to preventive health screenings including vision, hearing, autism, and other neurological disorders.
  • Portability. Health coverage will be portable as it follows individuals, not jobs. Regardless of where people live, they will have access to and be able to maintain their Universal HealthMart insurance. Universal HealthMart health care will carry across jobs as long as employers participate in the system.
  • Automatic Coverage. Coverage will occur through direct enrollment or automatically when people file their tax returns, complete W-4 forms, or show up for health care with a provider. Through the process of automatic coverage and enrollment, universal coverage will be guaranteed.
  • Choice. Every American will be guaranteed a number of comprehensive health coverage options in the Universal HealthMart. Individuals will gain the ability to choose for themselves and their families the kind of health plan they want. The choice no longer needs to be in the hands of employers whose primary interest may be controlling costs.
  • Focus on Prevention. The Dodd plan will focus on chronic disease management and preventive measures. People who make personal choices to improve their health through smoking cessation, weight loss, and exercise will have access to plan rewards and incentives. Chronic illness will be prevented and treated through an integrated system of chronic disease management modeled after the system used by the Veterans Administration and outstanding private delivery systems. Within Universal HealthMart, this care model will employ the most innovative methods of care coordination including interoperable health information technology and coordination between providers and levels of care.
  • Lower Costs for Employers. In addition to realizing the benefits of reduced premiums brought on by the bargaining power of Universal HealthMart, employers who participate in Universal HealthMart will no longer be required to negotiate insurance premiums or shoulder the costly task of administering health plans. Employers and their employees will have guaranteed access to a variety of plans and will contribute based on their ability to pay. Better and guaranteed coverage of employees will result in better health, less absenteeism, and higher productivity.
  • The Power of Technology. The Dodd plan will lower administrative costs and eliminate inefficiency by investing in technology and data collection for better care. Better use of interoperable health information technology will reduce administrative costs, improve quality, and enhance coordination of care. Widespread use of information technology will provide the mechanisms for monitoring and improving quality. In addition to improving quality and enhancing the coordination of care, incentives for using technology will also result in further cost savings and lower premiums.
  • Affordability. Savings in better care and better efficiencies will help finance new coverage. Premiums will be driven down for employers and employees as negotiators bargain from strength on behalf of a large pool of people and businesses. In exchange for a larger market and a lot more customers, most of whom are pretty healthy, the insurance industry will be forced to end price and coverage discrimination against people who need medical care.
  • Funding. Universal coverage will not require a new tax. Instead, much of the plan can be paid for by eliminating the existing inefficiencies in the system. Universal HealthMart will be financed primarily by employer and individual premiums and contributions. Other revenue streams such as those that would result from ending the war in Iraq will be identified for transition costs.
  • Easy to Accomplish. The Universal HealthMart model, the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Plan, already operates in every county in the country.
  • Action now. Universal coverage is an important priority for our productivity, our economic growth and the lives and health of our people. Within two years of enactment the Dodd plan will phase in universal coverage by age group based on current levels of insurance and health need. Within two years of enactment, all children, young adults to age 29, and adults age 55-64 will have health insurance. In the following two years, all remaining adults age 30-54 will be enrolled.
  • Existing Public Insurance. Under the Dodd plan, Medicare remains intact but will be given power to negotiate with pharmaceuticals on the cost of prescription drugs. Medicaid will also remain intact. All people under 100% of poverty will be eligible for Medicaid with adjustments in the federal match to hold states harmless.

Addtional details are available on Chris Dodd's website.

In a conference with the media after the announcement, Dodd commended John Edwards and Barack Obama for introducing their own proposals to achieve universal health care coverage, but faulted the Obama plan for lacking a clear path to coverage for all, and said Edwards' proposals fell short in envisioning regional, rather than national coverage plans, and also in requiring a tax increase. Senator Dodd maintains that his plan, which he says would cost $50 - $70 billion over the four years required to implement it, could be paid for without increasing taxes, mainly by using money that's currently being spent on the Iraq war.

My initial impression is that Dodd's plan is a very, very conservative approach that relies on the existing health insurance market to bridge gaps primarily created by that very same system. The Universal Healthmart Dodd proposes seems little more than the type of federal buying pool long discussed as a means of reducing insurance premiums and pharmaceutical costs. There's nothing here that would set the insurance industry or American Medical Association trembling in their shoes, certainly. Senator Doodd is right when he identifies health care as an issue of deep concern to Americans, but I suspect many who look at his proposals will wonder how you fix the existing system while at the same time going out of your way not to rock the boat.



Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 543

Non-native Iowan that I am, I must confess that the annual RAGBRAI bike marathon across the state has never held the mythic stature with me that it does with others who have lived here their whole lives. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a cool event, but to hear some talk of it, you'd think it's right up there with the Iliad, rather than roughly on par with the Butter Cow at the State Fair.

[Now having cleared the room of native Iowans, let's continue, shall we?]

I first heard about RAGBRAI more than 20 years ago, back when Bruce Babbitt was tooling up for his White House run and hit upon RAGBRAI as the ultimate Iowa "get to know you" event. Babbitt rode the entire route, almost 400 miles, and summed up the experience by muttering, "They told me this state was flat."

Ever since Babbit, at least one or two candidates have saddled up for RAGBRAI each presidential cycle (excuse the pun), although so far Babbitt is the only one to have gone the distance. This year, John Edwards spent a day in the saddle, hanging with Lance Armstrong, and Joe Biden deputized his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and his niece, Missy Owens, to ride on his behalf.

What riding in RAGBRAI actually buys a campaign has never been entirely clear, beyond some free media some six months before the caucuses (a lot more important back in Babbitt's day than in this year's insanely accelerated race). But it's nice to see the tradition hold up, all the same.

Here are links to coverage of the experiences of this year's political RAGBRAI-ers:

John Edwards
Jill Biden


Monday, July 23, 2007

Flash Read on the CNN/YouTube Debate

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 546

Here's my flash read on the CNN/YouTube debate.

Home Runs:

Joe Biden - for his answer on Darfur: "By the time we're done with diplomacy, those kids will be dead." A home run not only for Biden forcefully getting his point across, but even more for taking Bill Richardson's answer about diplomacy and turning it from the home run Richardson thought it was and making it look like a called third strike instead.

Barak Obama - for his answer on the minimum wage: "We would be willing to work for the minimum wage because most of the people up here already have a lot of money." Particularly damaging to Chris Dodd, who had the bad luck of being the previous speaker.

Chris Dodd - for not having a bad word to say about anybody on the "candidate to your left" question.

Hillary Clinton - for the look of pure steel on her face when answering the question about whether Islamic countries would take a woman president seriously.

CNN - for giving the moderator's job to someone other than Wolf Blitzer.

Strike Outs:

Barak Obama - for venerating Ronald Reagan every time he gave an example of effective presidential leadership. This was a Democratic debate, after all, not a Reagan tribute.

Joe Biden - for his response to the "do any of you have family serving in the military" question. Instead of talking about the MRV provision in the defense appropriations bill, why didn't he mention that his son is in the Delaware National Guard, subject to deployment to Iraq? The MRV thing may have been a valid point, but Biden missed a golden opportunity to make himself human to the electorate.

John Edwards - for the Hillary jacket thing. Edwards was going for lighthearted, but instead looked patronizing for talking about the outfit of the only woman candidate on the stage. Even worse, it reinforced the perception that Edwards is lightweight, superficial, and all about appearances.

Gravel and Kucinich - for meeting expectations. I'm starting to think that Clinton and Edwards had the right idea about them.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Richardson and "New Realism in American Foreign Policy"

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 550

New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson today gave an address to the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy in Des Moines on "A New Realism in American Foreign Policy." Richardson's campaign had billed this as a "major speech," so my expectations were quite high.

And so I trotted up to the Des Moines club at lunchtime, found myself a rare ringsisde seat near the rostrum, and had a nice chicken piccata while chatting with a really nice group of tablemates, including a state senator, two board members of the Center for Citizen Diplomacy, and an American expat to the UK in the process of returning to this country. And then came the introductions, followed by Bill Richardson taking center stage; I fired up the camera, took out my notebook, and got ready to scribe.

But that is where the usual blogging script ended today. After a few minutes, I capped my pen, stashed my notebook in my briefcase, and took the conscious decision to avail myself of the opportunity to view a campaign event through the eyes of a voter, a step removed from the virtual echo chamber of the political blogosphere. Here's what I saw.

A tired, possibly ill candidate read a prepared text from a teleprompter with a wheezy, wooden delivery, conveying the impression that his remarks had been scripted for him by someone else on a subject he really didn't understand or care much about. A "major speech" who's salient points, while substantive, detailed and well-reasoned, have been on the candidate's website for some time now. A rambling, distracted Q&A after the speech, including an awkward moment when the candidate confessed he had forgotten a question in the midst of attempting to answer it.

This is symptomatic of another sort of new realism in this campaign: the killing pace of the 2008 race a full six months before the Iowa caucus.Bill Richardson is a world-class authority on diplomacy and foreign affairs, and in reality is by no means the wondering, sometimes vacant person who delivered today's speech. Rather, Bill Richardson has been on the road for ten straight days now, and the realities of life on the second tier of the Democratic field are clearly taking their toll.

Bill Richardson isn't the only candidate to suffer these slings and arrows. Just last Friday, I listened to Joe Biden explain how flying commercial from D.C. to Iowa adds something like 13 travel hours to every round trip and lessens his campaign productivity by 30% compared to other candidates fortunate enough (i.e, well-funded enough) to make the trip on privately chartered aircraft. But the effect on Richardson as evinced at today's event must be particularly worrisome to himself and his staff, given that he has been saying that the way he plans to win not just the Iowa caucuses but the Democratic nomination is by outworking the rest of the field.

But the really bad part of all this is that this event showed those in attendance the worst public side of Bill Richardson: the Bill Richardson of Meet the Press and the first two debates, the rambling, ill-prepared, less than impressive Bill Richardson. This in contrast to Richardson's best side, which usually comes out at events like today's: engaged, authoritative, funny, and winning.

That said, the actual substance of Richardson's speech was nothing but solid, and deserves not to be overshadowed by its poor delivery today. In aid whereof, here are the main talking points:

"A New Realism in Foreign Policy

"This administration’s lack of realism has led us to a dangerous place. We need to take a different path. A path based on reality, not unilateralist illusions. A path that understands that the gravest dangers that threaten us today do not threaten only us – and that therefore to pursue our national interest and meet these challenges we must work with our friends, our enemies, and everyone in between. This is a path not of hard words, but of hard work. A path of moral strength, not pious judgments. A path of strong diplomacy, backed up by a strong military and strong alliances. This is the path of American leadership.

"First and Foremost, We Must Repair Our Alliances

"This means restoring respect and appreciation for our allies, and for the democratic values which unite us.

"Renew Our Commitment to International Law and Multilateral Cooperation

"This means expanding the Security Council to reflect international realities, and it means ethical reform at the UN, so that this vital institution can meet the challenges of the 21st century. It means more third world debt relief, and a World Bank focused on poverty-reduction. It means shifting aid from loans to grants for the poorest countries. It means reviving the Doha round of trade talks and seeking agreements which seriously address wage disparities, worker rights, and the environment. It means more resources for the IMF, so that it can protect the international economy from financial panics and shocks. And it means respecting the Geneva Conventions and joining the International Criminal Court.

"Lead Global Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

"We must join the Kyoto protocol on global warming, and then go well beyond it. We must lead the world with a man-on-the-moon effort to improve efficiency and to commercialize clean, alternative technologies. We must cut our fossil fuel consumption dramatically and rapidly, and get others, including China and India, to follow us to a sustainable energy future.

"Use Tough, Patient Diplomacy

"We need to stop treating diplomatic engagement with others like a reward for good behavior. The Bush administration’s refusal to engage obnoxious regimes has only encouraged and strengthened these nations' paranoid and hard-line tendencies. The futility of this policy is most tragically obvious in regard to Iran and North Korea, who responded to Washington’s snubs and threats with intensification of their nuclear programs.

"Focus on the Real Security Threats, From Which Iraq Has So Dangerously Diverted Our Attention

"We must do the hard work to build strong coalitions to fight terrorists and to stop nuclear proliferation. Most urgently, we need to lock down ALL of the world’s fissionable material. Quickly. Before terrorists get their hands on a nuclear bomb. To accomplish this, we must increase funding for the Nunn-Lugar program to secure former Soviet nuclear weapons. And we must work aggressively with our Pakistani allies to make sure that, no matter what happens in the future, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal cannot fall into the hands of Jihadists.

"Pay attention to the Americas

"To our own back yard. Illegal trafficking of drugs and persons across the Mexican border threaten our national security. We need both better border security and comprehensive immigration reform – reform that provides for a guest worker program with a realistic and earned path to legalization. And we must abandon this notion of building a fence along the border. No fence ever built has stopped history and this one wouldn’t either. It just won’t work. Let’s use that money for real border enforcement -- and I have proposed doubling the number of border guards to do just that.

"Lead the global fight against poverty – which is the basis of so much violence.

We must promote equitable trade agreements, to create more jobs in all countries. And through our example and our diplomacy we must encourage all rich countries honor their UN Millennium goal commitments. A Commission on Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, composed of world leaders and prominent experts, should be created to recommend ways of meeting Millennium commitments."

In many ways, these proposals can be said to embody the sum total of Bill Richardson's impressive foreign policy experience, and they merit serious debate among the candidates and serious consideration from voters. But whether these proposals get the hearing they deserve will largely depend on the effectiveness of Bill Richardson as his own best messenger. I've written before on this site that if resumes were everything in American politics, Bill Richardson would have it made. But there's quite a bit more to being elected President of the United States than simply pointing to one's resumes, and, as today shows, Bill Richardson still faces considerable hurdles in getting out of his own way in this regard.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Belated Thoughts, Old News

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 552

I realized this morning that I left a couple of posts from last week dangling with a promise of concluding thoughts, and hadn't followed through. D-oH! So here are wrap up thoughts from last week's doings at iPol.

Chris Dodd
On July 8, I made the drive from Des Moines out to Council Bluffs to catch the final stop on Dodd's "River to River" tour of Iowa. This was also to be the last of Dodd's joint appearances with legendary singer/songwriter Paul Simon.

I loved going to this event. It was like something out of a Capra film: picnic in a park by the river on a blazing summer's day, when in rolls a presidential candidate for a short speech, followed by an unplugged set from a famous singer. The crowd responded well to Dodd, and boogied (the average age at this event was waaaay north of 40, so, sadly, "boogied" is the appropriate term to use in this instance...not a pretty sight!) like mad to Paul Simon classics like "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard." But I couldn't help thinking of another Paul Simon chestnut, "When Numbers Get Serious;" if Dodd doesn't come up with a very, very big play on his own or catch a major break at another candidate's expense, he may not have the wherewithal, financially or electorally, to stay in the race much past Iowa.

And that would be a shame, if for no other reason than it's the underdog, small campaigns like Dodd's that make events like the one in Council Bluffs possible.

Barack Obama
Ever since Obama declared his candidacy earlier this year, he's had a problem, albeit one that most other campaigns would love to have: meeting expectations. Every Obama event is attended with the question of when, or whether, Barack Obama will emerge as a true heavyweight destined to make his mark on history. I'm sure many would say that he's already done that; but if Obama's candidacy ended today, how many would still believe that? Since the first day of his candidacy, It's been all about potential for Obama, with the question being when will he make the leap from political phenom to presidential sure thing.

So I thought it a shrewd move, as well as a hopeful sign, when Obama built his July 10 Des Moines town hall event around a combination of Iraq, his signature issue in this campaign, and the economy, which heretofore hadn't come much onto his campaign radar. Obama pulled it off, but it wasn't his most stellar moment in the campaign; when it came time to go into detail about the direct cost of the Iraq war to the IA03 congressional district which includes Des Moines, Obama had to resort to reading the stats from a crib sheet. Not the image you want to project when trying to convey gravitas.

None of this made the appearance a failure for Obama, necessarily. But Obama's graduation to heavyweight will have to wait a bit longer, it seems.

Throwing all this into sharp relief, of course, was the simultaneous appearance of Hillary Clinton, only a few blocks away, at an event also themed around Iraq. As with all things in this race involving the Clinton-Obama rivalry, the two events generated lots of pundit chatter, but to no conclusion.

Bill Richardson
The transcript speaks for itself, so I will only add that an exclusive, one-on-one interview with a major presidential candidate, let alone one with four Nobel Prize nominations under his belt, has got to rank as the highlight in any blogger's week.

Joe Biden
I must admit, I found Joe Biden to be extremely impressive during his appearance at the Iowa Historical Society on July 13. A big part of the rap on Joe Biden is that he is said to be long winded when speaking, never passing up a chance to deliver a thousand word answer when one of a hundred words would suffice. I actually found the opposite to be true at this event: Biden brings out so many policy points and supporting facts so quickly and in such detail that any attempt to live blog his remarks is bound to amount to a summary, at best; there's no long "get to the point" lag time to allow you to compose your post at leisure.

Another point that gets made against Biden is that while he comes across as professorial (understandable, since he does, in fact, teach constitutional law), he doesn't come across as presidential. I've been inclined to agree on this point, up until this event. But walking out of the building afterwards, it occurred to me that there may be one president from the last century who provides at least a plausible correspondence with Biden in terms of temperament and presence: Harry S. Truman.

But before Biden should let his thoughts wander anywhere near such comparisons, he'll need to continue to work on smoothing his campaign technique, particularly when it comes to physically crowding voters he is addressing - he really gets right on top of them, in many cases uncomfortably so for the voter. And it remains to be seen whether the strategic political mistakes Biden admitted and discussed at the event can be reversed to an extent that gets him out of single digits in Iowa, or anywhere else. But here's wishing him luck, all the same; Joe Biden has got too much policy acumen to remain confined in the Senate.

OK, so much for old business. There's 181 days to go between now and the caucuses on January 14, and lots of twists and turns to come.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Richardson To Give "Major Speech" July 19 in Des Moines

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 554

New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate will Richardson will be back in Des Moines this coming Thursday, July 19 to deliver what his campaign is billing as a "major speech on Iraq and U.S. foreign policy."

Richardson will deliver the speech at a luncheon sponsored by the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy, a Des Moines-based policy study group. According to the group's web site, the speech is titled, "The Future Role of the United States in World Affairs."

I've attended previous events sponsored by the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy, featuring Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, and have been impressed both times. Given Bill Richardson's foreign policy stature, this speech will be a "must see" on my calendar.

Richardson's speech will be delivered at 11:30 AM on July 19 at the Des Moines Club, 34th Floor, Ruan Center, 666 Grand Avenue, Des Moines. Doors open at 11:00. The event is open to the public, but costs $25.00 at the door and an RSVP is required.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Live Blogging Joe Biden in Des Moines

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 556

I'm at the State Historical Building in downtown Des Moines for what's being billed as a "Cookies and Conversation" event with U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden.

This looks like it will be quite the civilized event. We're in the building's main auditorium, and the speakers will be seated side-by-side on the stage, so "conversation" looks like it will be the operative word.

11:26 - we're scheduled for an 11:30 kickoff.

11:35 - stage hands are making the final tweaks, I think...

11:38 - I should mention that this event is being sponsored by Drake University.

11:40 - Biden takes the stage.

11:42 - question on last night's House vote on troop withdrawal - will the Senate follow suit? Biden says he hopes so; says the House measure mirrored the Biden-Levin amendment Bush vetoed d earlier. Says we need 67 votes to override the veto Bush will undoubtedly exercise, and paraphrases Oliver Wendell Holmes by saying that reality is like the pupil of the eye for Bush: the more light you shine upon it, the more tightly it closes. War won't end "until we embarrass 17 Republicans" into going against the administration.

11:46 - Biden says he doesn't believe there are more than a dozen Senators who actually believe the administration line on Iraq; the question is when the others will break. The purpose of keeping the pressure on with repeated votes on withdrawal is not to change the President's mind - impossible to do, Biden says - but to continue to squeeze Republicans to vote for redeployment or to override a veto sooner, rather than later. The longer this takes, the harder it will be to get out of Iraq without leaving chaos behind.

11:50 - Biden says it is impossible for the Iraq government to govern from the center, each of the three main groups should be given semi-autonomy, and participate in a limited central government. Says that unless this happens the Iraq civil war will spread across the region. Says he won't support keeping a single American soldier in Iraq to keep a civil war from spreading.

11:55 - will Iraqis buy into partition, as proposed by Biden? He says absolutely, because all groups understand that they cannot run the entire country. Must give Shunis a fair share of oil revenue, and the Shia must have autonomy like the Kurds have in the North. Says that he could have ended the war three years ago, if he were President.

11:57 - "We're creating more terrorists than we're destroying." Cites national intelligence estimate corroborating this point. Al Qaeda is as strong or stronger than before 9/11, and "this isn't Joe Biden saying this: this is the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community." Says we have fundamentally mishandled the primary threat to our security: bin Laden alive and well, Pakistan in jeopardy, no recommendations of the 9/11 Commission fully implemented. The idea that the Republican party has a credible argument to make on national security is "laughable."

12:04 - Administration has no coherent policy on Iraq, says "when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Says he's truly anxious to debate Republicans on these issues. Proposes a two-hour Democratic debate devoted exclusively to Iraq.

12:05 - how do you win the Democratic nomination. Biden: "Here in Iowa." Says the idea that he can't compete because he doesn't have as much money as other candidates is wrong, calls the amounts being raised and spent "obscene." Counting on Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina seeing that ideas are more important than money.

12:07 - who would be the first foreign leader he would invite to the White House? Biden says, "I would go to them," would consult our traditional allies on fundamental changes in American foreign policy. Says this would make it clear that he's ready to listen, not try to dictate American will across the world.

12:12 - what would be Biden's criteria for selecting Supreme Court justices? Says he has presided over more Supreme Court confirmations than any Senator in history. Says he goes over every thing ever written by the nominee. Says he would make sure their writings reflect a modern view of individual liberties and individual rights. Says the next president will have two main responsibilities: war and peace, and appointing two, possibly three Supreme Court justices. "And I'm the best guy to do both of these things right out of the box."

12:16 - Q&A begins. Loopy guy starts polemic on religion. No question for the candidate, so moderator moves on.

12:17 - first act as president on Israel-Palestine? Send Secretary of State to talk directly with Israel to urge negotiations with Syria over the Golan; for the first time the Israelis and Sunni Arab states have a common enemy in fundamentalist Shia turmoil from Iran, and this creates an opportunity for progress in Mideast peace.

12:22 - says we're in "hysteria" about Iran's nuclear capability, but ignoring unsecured fissile material stocks in Russia. "We have done virtually nothing" on this. We're focusing on the wrong threats here.

12:27 - cites Star Wars as another example of how we're focused on improbable threats and ignoring much more urgent threats like terrorist improvised nuclear devices.

12:29 - question on senior citizen economic security. Four points: don't privatize Social Security, secure existing pension plans, create 401K programs that automatically enroll new workers unless they actively opt out, establish universal health care.

12:34 - quotes Tom Friedman of the NY Times, and says in so doing, "I'm always really careful now to give attribution to my sources when I quote people."

12:35 - what would he do on global warming? Pass a resolution thanking Al Gore for raising awareness of this issue. Cap emissions, then improve mileage standards, then return to multilateral negotiations, invest $50 billion in new energy technologies and become a net exporter of these technologies; cites the example of clean coal, which he says he doesn't want to use here, but to export to places like China, where they're building one new coal fired power plan every month. This will help reestablish American leadership in this area.

12:39 - how will he put himself into the top tier of candidates? Says he has spent perhaps too much time thinking about what he would do as president than how he would get there. Has no national fundraising network, and that's "probably a mistake" he should rectify. Proud of record as Senator, better than any Senator from John Kennedy on, says Violence Against Women Act was his proudest achievement. Did all these things with a lot of help. Doesn't want to run for president again; wants to do more, and that means being president. Could be happy never living in the White House, but if you want to make decisions, that's where you have to be. Is well on the way to correcting campaign efforts, will do better at fundraising, doesn't need more than $25 million to win the nomination. Apologizes to supporters for not paying more attention to how to win, but will not compromise on certain fundamental things in order to win: WMD, Iraq, Russia, China, Supreme Court nominees, education (says first two years of college should be free). These will determine the fates of our grandchildren more than anything else.

12:45 - asks for a show of hands of those who have firmly committed to a candidate for the caucuses here in Iowa; very few hands raised, which Biden says validates his point that he'll be able to win people over. "I'm willing to lose over the things I care about. I can live the rest of my life without ever hearing 'Hail to the Chief' played for me. But I think I'm going to hear it alot."

And that's it. On to pressing the flesh. I'll be back later with some wrap up thoughts.



Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The iPol Interview: Bill Richardson

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 558

Earlier today, I conducted an exclusive one-on-one telephone interview with New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson as he traveled on his latest Iowa campaign swing.

iPol: Governor, welcome back to Iowa. Where are you calling from - travelling from where to where this afternoon?

Governor Richardson: “I’m going right now to Cedar Rapids from Waterloo. I’ve got my final event in Cedar Rapids. Then I go to Cincinnati, and then to the debate in Detroit tomorrow.”

iPol: So, you’re back in Iowa again after visiting just 2 or 3 weeks ago. What’s the purpose of this trip, and what do you hope to accomplish?

Governor Richardson: “The purpose of the trip is to connect with Iowa. I’m a grassroots candidate. I don’t have the glitz and the money the other candidates have, so I’m going to outwork them. I’m going to go to house parties, and I’m going to try to visit as many counties as I can, visit businesses, shake hands. What I’m trying to do is visit the little towns; I’ve gone to several little towns that haven’t had too much attention. I was in Independence, I was in Manchester, I was in – well, Dubuque – I was in Maquoketa. And now we’re off back to Cedar Rapids.
“I’m talking about issues. I’m basically saying that I’m the best prepared candidate with the most experience and I bring the best of both worlds: change and experience. My message is one of change: change in approach to foreign policy, energy, the economy, health care. And I’ve got the experience to get it done and the ability to bring people together and get legislation passed that is needed for this country. “

iPol: What do you say to voters here and around the country who may be thinking, “Sure, Bill Richardson – nice guy, funny TV commercials, impressive resume and credentials, but he’s only at 10% in the polls and I don’t want to throw away my vote on a long shot. Can he win?” What do you say to them?

Governor Richardson: “I say to them that we ought to start thinking about electability in the general election, that I can win in regions where other Democrats have not been able to win, like the Southwest, Ohio, some southern states. Secondly, that Bill Richardson can win, because he’s going to outwork everybody. We’ve got seven months to go, and there are a bunch of debates coming, and he’s going to outwork everybody.
“I’m just saying to Iowans that you have the formidable decision to make the first shot at who the president is, and it should be done on substance and on merit, rather than on glitz and money and political legacies, and that message will get across. There’s plenty of time.”

iPol: People familiar with you and your candidacy of course know about your extensive record in public service: congressman, Energy Secretary and United States Ambassador to the United Nations during the Bill Clinton administration, Governor of New Mexico, nominated for the Nobel Prize 4 times. In all of that, what has been your biggest success in public life? What one thing has brought you the most satisfaction, looking back?

Governor Richardson: “Improving New Mexico’s schools; raising teacher’s salaries, moving from 49th to 27th in teacher salary increases; increasing academic standards in the state. That would be followed by my being able to insure kids under five. Those, I think, would be, policy-wise, would be the most satisfying of what I’ve been able to do throughout my career. It’s been helping people, and that’s what I like to do as a public servant.”

iPol: Flip side of that same question: if there was one thing you wish you could do over or do differently, what would it have been?

Governor Richardson: “I wish I had been less aggressive and less bombastic with the New Mexico legislature when I wanted them to pass an increase in the minimum wage. Instead of negotiating and instead of working with them, I got a little irritated that it wasn’t happening. And we had a wait a year for that to happen, probably because of my impatience. But we finally got it done in this last session, and increased the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour, so I’m satisfied. But that always will be a regret, that maybe because of my aggressiveness, and that I didn’t follow my diplomacy, which I always do, that I delayed people getting an increase in the wage for a full year.”

iPol: Let’s talk about immigration for a moment. Specifically, immigration reform measures directed primarily against Latino immigrants to this country are shaping the race on the Republican side, and will undoubtedly be an issue in the general election. As the only Latino candidate in the race, how to you see this issue impacting your campaign, and how do you plan to respond?

Governor Richardson: “Being Latino should not effect me, because I need to do what’s best for the country as president, or as governor, what works best for my constituents. Three years ago I angered many Latino leaders nationally by declaring a border emergency on my border with Mexico because my constituents in New Mexico, especially southern New Mexico, were asking me to do something. There was a flow of people and drugs, and killings, and the federal government wasn’t doing anything. So I ordered a border emergency so that we could hire, the state could hire, law enforcement officers; the federal government, the Border Patrol, weren’t doing anything.
“But, yeah, I have personally felt the sting of being a Latino, looking a little different, especially when I was growing up. So you can empathize a little bit; my mother’s Mexican. But it’s important not to get your personal prejudices and biases…although I am sometimes upset at the media for depicted those film images of illegal immigrant climbing across the fence, but they don’t seem to focus or picture immigrants working hard in the corn fields of Iowa, back-breaking jobs, or an immigrant being in Iraq as a soldier who gave his life for this country. So sometimes I get angry, but what I think is needed is a bi-partisan solution to the immigration problem.
“You never get any votes out of this issue, I have found over the years. But what is important to do is to do the right thing.”

iPol: Let’s talk about energy policy and climate change. This past weekend, of course, there have been the Live Earth events taking place here and around the world. In conjunction with that, MoveOn.org was holding what they called a Virtual Town Hall on energy policy and asking people to rate the energy proposals of the various Democratic candidates, yourself included. They sent out the results of that earlier today, and it shows that your proposal came in 5th, with 12.6 percent of the votes from the participants; you came in behind John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Does that result surprise you, and do you have any comment?

Governor Richardson: “Well, my program on greenhouse gas emissions, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, they rated it the most aggressive. So I think a lot of these are popularity polls; they’re not based on substance. I certainly have the most aggressive [plan] on greenhouse gas emissions. I have an Apollo program that is very decisive. I don’t worry about those polls. I believe, by far, not only do I have the most aggressive plan, but I’ve been Energy Secretary, and New Mexico is probably a cleaner energy state than in any of the states where these candidates represent. So I believe my record is the strongest, and also I have direct experience getting clean energy done at the state level, at the federal level; I increased efficiency standards of air conditioning by 30% when I was Energy Secretary. So I believe my plan is the strongest.

iPol: Let's talk about Iraq for a moment. Every candidate on the Democratic side has their plan for bringing troops home and ending the war. What do you say to voters evaluating your plan, and why should they support it over the other candidates’ plans?

Governor Richardson: “Because my plan is the clearest and most decisive. I say get out by the end of this calendar year, and unlike other candidates, I say no residual forces. Every other candidate has residual forces. I believe they’ve become targets, our troops, and that diplomacy can’t begin until they’re out. If our troops stay, they’ll be attacked, and it will prolong the war.
“But what I also offer is a diplomatic plan; a diplomatic plan to partition the country, not into three states, but possibly three entities; a reconciliation process of the three groups in Iraq, and an all-Muslim peacekeeping force, inviting Iran and Syria to participate. So, I know how to get it done. I’ve been to the region. I’ve been in Iraq. I negotiated with Saddam Hussein, I know the leaders of the other countries. I believe my plan is the most viable.
“I also believe that Congress is abdicating. Instead of passing appropriations measures to reduce funding and to deal with benchmarks, they ought to pass [a measure] deauthorizing the war; a clear, Article I initiative that the President can’t veto, that would be decisive. That would be much more effective than these measly appropriations bills, where we have not stopped the President one iota; he’s basically got a blank check.

iPol: On a related note: how many New Mexico National Guard troops are currently serving in Iraq? How many fatalities have they suffered?

Governor Richardson: “I believe we’ve had 45 fatalities in the state, total. How many Guardsmen we have in Iraq, probably about 200 right now; they come in and out, they’re deployed in and out. We have a total Guard force of about 4700, and most of them have been there, have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

iPol: Finally, a question that has been kind of floating out there for a while now, but never directly answered. Unfortunately, it’s a question that’s been raised by your own campaign, and I hope you’ll be able to provide a definitive answer here and now. And the question is: If you were a tree, what kind of a tree would you be?

Governor Richardson: “I would be an oak tree!”

iPol: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, thanks very much for taking time to speak with me today – it’s been fun. Let’s do this again, only next time face-to-face, and in the Oval Office.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Live Blogging Obama in Des Moines

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 559

Here at DMACC's auto shop building for an Obama event on the topic of the economic impact of the Iraq war. I've managed to weasel press credentials for the event, so instead of being with the Great Unwashed Masses today, I'll be hanging with the Mega Unwashed Masses instead.

Speaking of which, I see AP, Radio Iowa, and, of course, the ubiquitous Majors so far.

9:51 - no air condition in this building! Yeech! Event is scheduled to kick off at 10:30.

9:57 - Campaign staff is doing an Obama trivia quiz from the podium.

9:58 - looks like about 250 people in the building.

10:07 - correction: Obama's campaign estimates 500 people in the building.

10:14 - Barack is in the building.

10:17 - Obama takes the podium.

10:18 - Acknowledgements: Tom Miller, the Polk Country Democratic party officials and elected officials. Says this is designed to be a Town Hall meeting, so won't be giving a long speech; emphasis will be on Q&A.

10:19 - Wall Street is doing great, Main Street is struggling. How will ordinary worker meet expenses for health care, education, etc.? Stats touted by the administration don't tell this story.

10:21 - This process has been going on for some time, Obama says. Recalls moving to Chicago in the early 1980's, the steel mill closures and layoffs of that time. As globalization goes forward, the experience of the steel industry is being repeated across many other sectors of the economy. We need to figure out to make globalization work not just for Wall Street and Corporate America, but for ordinary Americans.

10:25 - Globalization cannot be stopped in its tracks; some lost jobs will not come back from overseas. What to do?
1) close tax incentives for companies to move jobs overseas - calls this a "no brainer."
2) give workers a "solid safety net." Workers today won't hold the same job for decades. Workers should not lose health insurance when they change jobs; we need universal healthcare, and he touts his plans. Huge applause.

Loud noise in the building! They're firing up the air conditioning. Biggest applause so far!

10:29 - need to improve pension savings incentives, pension security and Social Security.
3) create incentives for investment in new industries here in the U.S. Cites alternatives fuels as an example, touts his energy plan.

10:31 - invest in broadband internet access, and life-long learning opportunities; touts education plan.

We can do all this, Obama says. If we can find $275 million for the war, we can find that same kind of money to strengthen the domestic economy. Sustained applause. Quotes stats about what the IA03 Congressional district could have bought with the money sent from here to Iraq for the war. Long list!

10:35 - these things cannot be done with the war still waging. Again says war is wrong, recalls his opposition to the war back in 2002. Says surge "clearly has not worked;" not a single benchmark laid out by the President will be met. Time to "bring our combat troops home and stop having them in the midst of a civil war."

10:37 - last word on Iraq policy does not rest with the White House. Congress will take up redeployment legislation soon, and cracks are starting to show in the GOP, so its important to contact congressional reps to urge support for redeployment.

10:38 - end of formal remarks, on to Q&A. First questions is on No Child Left Behind. Obama says you can't leave the money behind for No Child Left Behind. Nice line!

10:41 - question from doctor about diabetes. I remember this guy from the Hillary Clinton GMA health care town hall. Asks about prevention funding. Obama says only about 4% of every healthcare dollar goes to prevention, which makes ours a disease care system, not a health care system. Cites obesity rate increases over the last 25 years, stresses need for people to exercise. Would also include chronic care management aspect of his health care plan.

10:45 - Would sign stem cell research authorization as president. White House should be driven by science and fact, not ideology.

10:46 - Question from audience about Obama's work as a community organizer. Obama says he learned that certain common values extend across community lines, and this helps him work with people to find common ground. Also says he learned that regular people need to be involved in the political process to achieve change.

10:50 - question from a senior citizen who says "I've been studying health care since you were a pup." Questioner says insurance companies take all the money and produce nothing. Urges Obama to consider Medicare for All. Obama replies that this proposal is part of his overall health care plan. Says he will prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

10:53 - another health care question, this time focused on veterans health care. Obama says the GI Bill's benefits should never expire, and will introduce legislation to do this next week. Also says improved PTSD treatment will be needed for vets returning from Iraq. VA care system is good, Obama says, but takes too long for vets to get accepted, and when they do, VA facilities can be too far away; these vets should be allowed to access private health care facilities at VA rates.

10:58 - how will Obama work with the International Community to stabilize Iraq? Obama says we need to be as "careful getting out as we were careless getting in" to Iraq; says he would bring troops out of combat positions, bring some of them home, and leave a "residual force" to support logistics and go after terrorists. Some might be in other mid-east countries besides Iraq. Start with regional allies like Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to stabilize Iraq. But would go further and work with our enemies; cites Ronald Reagan working with the USSR during the Cold War as an example. Also says we need to strengthen the military effort in Afghanistan. Adds we need to make troop rotations more fair.

11:03 - question on nuclear weapons. Richardson will cut arsenals by half, Biden will reduce arsenal to 10,000 weapons; what would Obama do? Obama says he's been working on arms control for years. Says unsecured nukes are most dangerous threat to American safety. Would work to restart talks with Russia; hasn't settled on a number of weapons yet. Says Bush administration has rejected agreements already in place from his own father.

11:06 - question on WTO and NAFTA. Obama says global trade isn't all bad, can produce greater international stability through expanded economic prosperity. Says problem comes when the process is tilted in favor of corporate interests and against the interests of ordinary workers. Says every trade agreement we enter into must contain strong labor and environmental safeguards to prevent child labor, prison labor and unsafe working conditions. Also says he wants fast track trade agreement authority as president. Says we need to be better negotiators of trade agreements so we derive more benefit from the agreements. Cites agreements with China and South Korea as those which could be improved. Says "as President of the United States, I'm not just representing Wall Street and Goldman Sachs," but workers as well.

11:14 - Last Question: what criteria would Obama use in choosing a Vice President and cabinet?
1) integrity. Cites ethics legislation he's introducing to prevent revolving door lobbying.
2) competence: "no more Brownies."
3 ) independence: "I want someone who will say no to me, who tells me when I'm wrong...other than my wife." Would listen to everybody, including Republicans, and then exercise good judgment in making decisions.

11:18 - and we're done! Press is packing up, and my laptop is running on battery fumes, so I'll conclude live blogging now. But I'll be back with some wrap up thoughts and analysis later on.

11:19 - Wait! Obama is back on the stage. Says he forgot to appeal to voters for support, does so now!

11:20 - OK, now we're done. Really. Please check back later for the wrap up.



Sunday, July 8, 2007

Dodd Wraps Up "River to River" Tour of Iowa

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 562

Senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd brought his "River to River" tour of Iowa to a close yesterday with a rally on the banks of the Missouri River in Council Bluffs.

After pulling in to the rally in a huge blue bus specially painted to promote his latest Iowa campaign swing, Dodd took the stage to enthusiastic applause under a blistering sun while Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" played over the P.A. system. After an introduction by Iowa Senate Majority Leader and Council Bluffs native Mike Gronstal, Dodd addressed the crowd of 500 from Iowa and neighboring Nebraska for about 10 minutes.

In a hoarse voice worn by a week of stumping from one side of the state to the other, Dodd repeated a refrain now familiar from all the Democratic candidates about the important role Iowans have in determining the next president and the seriousness with which they approach this responsibility, and went on to stress the importance of the issues at stake in next year's elections.

Regarding Iraq, Dodd said, "I believe we ought to begin redeploying tonight. There is no military solution in Iraq. We ought to be looking for a diplomatic solution. We ought to get our troops back home, and I'm going to be fighting for that, not only in the Senate, but also as a candidate for president." Noting the link between America's dependence on foreign oil and the U.S. military commitments required to assure access to that oil, Dodd added, "If they were growing turnips in Iraq, we wouldn't be there."

Dodd also made a nod to the Live Earth events taking place that day, saying "there is no more important issue than getting rid of global warming." Dodd also made brief mention of the importance of health care and education.

"I ask for your help and support in all of this," Dodd continued. "I'm not as well known and maybe as well financed as some of the others. But I believe that Iowans take their time and listen to each one of us who seek your support. You've got a wonderful habit over the years of deciding for yourselves who'll be the Democratic nominee, not based on money, not based on celebrity, but our passion, our commitment to putting this country on the right track again. And I offer myself as a candidate who will put America back on track both at home and abroad, and will make a difference. And I think you're going to give me a chance to make that case."

Summing up, Dodd asserted that there are no one-party solutions to the challenges confronting the country, and that he believes he has the leadership to bring people together. "I think we want to be one country again. I think we want to be asked to do big things for the world.

"I don't believe in mincing words, half-measures and platitudes," Dodd concluded. "I'm 63 years of age; I'm not going to do this twice. I know who I am, I know what I care about, and I know how to get the job done."

Having made his pitch, Dodd went on to introduce legendary singer/songwriter Paul Simon, who played a four song acoustic set of "Sounds of Silence," "Loves Me Like a Rock," "The Boxer," and "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard."

"It's been such a pleasure to me to be traveling around the state of Iowa for the last two days - an absolute gift. Thank you so much," Simon said after concluding his set. Chris Dodd having taken the stage once more, Simon went on, "I'm so proud to stand next to a friend of mine who is running for the President of the United States, and deserves to be elected. It's incredible."

The Dodd campaign has posted video of the event on its web site.


Friday, July 6, 2007

Richardson Returning to Iowa Next Week

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 564

From the inbox today:

Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson to Campaign in Eastern Iowa

Richardson Will Hold Events in Bettendorf, Clinton, Maquoketa, Dubuque, Manchester, Independence, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids and Visit “Field of Dreams”

DES MOINES ---- New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will return to Iowa on July 10 and 11 for a swing through Eastern Iowa. During his visit, the third in three weeks, he will visit nine Eastern Iowa communities: Bettendorf, Clinton, Maquoketa, Dubuque, Dyersville, Manchester, Independence, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids. He will hold his signature “Presidential Job Interview” events in six of the communities, in addition to a house party in Dubuque and a Meet & Greet event in Cedar Rapids. He will also visit Dyersville’s famed “Field of Dreams.”

Tuesday, July 10

Scott County Presidential Job Interview
WHEN: 11:30 AM
WHERE: United Steelworkers Local 105 Hall, 880 Devils Glen Rd., Bettendorf, IA 52722

Clinton County Presidential Job Interview
WHEN: 3:15 PM
WHERE: Riverside Restaurant, 517 N. 2nd St., Ground Floor, Clinton, IA 52732

Jackson County Presidential Job Interview
WHEN: 5:15 PM
WHERE: Costello’s Old Mill, 22095 Highway 64, Maquoketa, IA 52060

Dubuque County House Party
WHEN: 7:00 PM
WHERE: Residence of Christine and Tom Sinsky, 1390 Valentine Dr., Dubuque, IA 52003

Wednesday, July 11

“Field of Dreams” Visit
WHEN: 9:00 AM
WHERE: “Field of Dreams,” 28963 Lansing Rd., Dyersville, IA 52040

Delaware County Presidential Job Interview
WHEN: 10:00 AM
WHERE: Cedar Lodge Steak House, 205 S. 12th St. Development, Manchester, IA 52057

Buchanan County Presidential Job Interview
WHEN: 11:15 AM
WHERE: Pizza Ranch, 1900 1st St. West, Independence, IA 50644

Black Hawk County Presidential Job Interview
WHEN: 12:45 PM
WHERE: La Chiquita Restaurant, 301 E. 4th St., Waterloo, IA 50703

Linn County Meet & Greet
WHEN: 3:00 PM
WHERE: Richardson for President Cedar Rapids Office, Cypress Plaza, 4350 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Again with the Haircut?

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 564

For those of you who haven’t taken a look at 2008 Central yet, you should definitely click through and pay them a visit. It is a site run by a couple of very sharp guys who do a consistently good job analyzing the 2008 race right across the political spectrum. Even when I disagree with what they write, I respect their ability to present their analysis and coherently state their case.

I was looking over their site a little earlier this evening, and came across a recent post titled, “Update: I Still Do Not Care About John Edwards’ Haircuts.” The post had a couple of points to which I wanted to respond, and I duly began typing out a comment on their site. However, the length began to run way past what anyone could reasonably consider a “comment,” and went on to become more of a full length rant in its own right. So, rather than clog up their site with it, I decided it made more sense to just post it here.

[Note: I urge you to read the 2008 Central post linked to above before proceeding; the rest of this likely won’t make much sense, otherwise.]

As one who has made some of the very points referred to in the article (see this post), allow me to respectfully differ with its author, and to take a moment to make my position clear.

I agree that Edwards’ money makes him no different from most other Democratic candidates (see this post for some thoughts on this). But the problem I find with John Edwards is not that he has money and still espouses concern for the poor and middle class, because, again to the author’s point, all candidates do this. The problem I have with John Edwards in this regard is not that he wants people to believe he is concerned for the lot of the ordinary American, but that he still claims to be one of them.

Contrast this with Franklin Roosevelt. He came to the White House as possibly the richest president, in comparative terms, that we have ever had. Yet he also did more to better the economic and social condition of the great mass of the American people than any other president in our history. The distinction here is that FDR never attempted to persuade people that he was economically and socially “one of us;” rather, he offered hope to a country sunk in misery and was elected on the strength of his record as governor of New York, and of his policies and ideas, which contrasted so greatly with those offered by Hoover and the Republicans of the time.

What FDR got that John Edwards doesn’t get is that the American people don’t necessarily need to see their mirror image when they look at who they will make their president. Rather, the American people, I believe, are more interested in where a candidate stands than in where a candidate comes from. That John Edwards expresses concern for the underprivileged is commendable, and I find no fault with him for doing so; I do not think him insincere, nor discount his own personal experience in rising from poverty himself. Rather, the problem arises when, on top of these things, John Edwards lays claim to being a common man. He isn’t. He doesn’t have to be. But he still insists on asking voters to make the not inconsiderable leap of believing he is. It is, simply put, laying it on just a little too thick for his own good.

And that’s what the haircut stuff is all about : it goes to the heart of this problem. When you’re blogging about the haircut, you’re blogging about this. With respect, it is not trivia, precisely because John Edwards appeals for support in no small part based upon personal qualities.

So yes, absolutely let us talk about substance, let us debate policy and records in office. But let us not put on blinders to other things that matter – because there are, and they do – when considering the claims of those who seek to lead us.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Hillary & Bill Clinton at the Fairgrounds

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 566

Hype, defined as "extravagant or excessive publicity," is an integral part of any political event worth the name. And there was no shortage of hype leading up to last night's public debut of Bill Clinton campaigning at his wife's side.

But it is no small thing to be present at history in the making, and that is what this was, hype or no hype. A former president campaigning on behalf of his wife's presidential bid? Nothing like it ever before in American history.

The event was held in front of the Agriculture building at the State Fairgrounds, and was attended by an estimated 7,000 people. Show time was listed as 7:30; I got there a little before 6:30, and found at least 1,000 people there ahead of me. Still, after some scouting around, I found a spot about 10 feet from the flatbed trailer that served as the stage and settled in to wait. I always enjoy listening to the conversations taking place around me at these things, and I heard a lot more uncommitted talk around me than I expected.

There's been lots of mainstream media coverage of this event, of course, and much of it has been centered on how Bill Clinton appears to react to campaigning for Hillary. But what I haven't seen mentioned that struck me quite forcibly last night, is the impact on Hillary of having Bill campaigning with her. Yes, having him introducing her and appearing with her on stage is meant to illuminate her middle-class background, her commitment to public service, and all the rest. But more than any of those things, and in ways that I think cannot be mere affectation, being on stage with her husband softens Hillary Clinton and humanizes her in exactly the way the media has been saying she needs. Whether this is as a result of drawing charm from Bill Clinton by osmosis, or the halo effect of campaigning with a former president, or being buoyed by the energy imparted to a crowd anywhere Bill Clinton appears is a question that lots of people will be discussing as the campaign goes on. For myself, however, having been there and seen it first hand, I believe this softening is simply the by-product of Hillary campaigning with the one person who, for all their well-publicized marital travails, knows her to her soul, and in whose judgment and opinion she has absolute confidence.

I'll refer you to the mainstream media links below for details about Hillary's speech and the other aspects of the event. But I did shoot some video of the goings-on, so have a look and form your own opinion.

Des Moines Register

New York Times

Washington Post

Los Angeles Times

British Broadcasting Corporation


Monday, July 2, 2007

Candidate Reactions to the Libby Commutation

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 567

The following are statements issued by the Democratic candidates in reaction to President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's jail term.

Joe Biden:

"Hours after a federal appeals court ruled that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby would have to begin serving his prison sentence while appealing his conviction for crimes of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, President Bush commuted his sentence.

Last week Vice President Cheney asserted that he was beyond the reach of the law. Today, President Bush demonstrated the lengths he would go to, ensuring that even aides to Dick Cheney are beyond the judgment of the law.

It is time for the American people to be heard.

I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.

Remind George Bush what he told staffers during a swearing in ceremony for White House staff back in January 2001:

"[We] must remember the high standards that come with high office. This begins with careful adherence to the rules. I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct. This means avoiding even the appearance of problems. This means checking and, if need be, double- checking that the rules have been obeyed. This means never compromising those rules. No one in the White House should be afraid to confront the people they work for, for ethical concerns, and no one should hesitate to confront me as well. We are all accountable to one another. And above all, we are all accountable to the law and to the American people."

Click here to watch the video of George Bush addressing staff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjwLlfFKerU"

Hillary Clinton:
"Today's decision is yet another example that this Administration simply considers itself above the law. This case arose from the Administration's politicization of national security intelligence and its efforts to punish those who spoke out against its policies. Four years into the Iraq war, Americans are still living with the consequences of this White House's efforts to quell dissent. This commutation sends the clear signal that in this Administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice."

Chris Dodd:
"By commuting Scooter Libby's sentence, the President continues to abdicate responsibility for the actions of his Administration. The only ones paying the price for this Administration's actions are the American people."

John Edwards:
"Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today. President Bush has just sent exactly the wrong signal to the country and the world. In George Bush's America, it is apparently okay to misuse intelligence for political gain, mislead prosecutors and lie to the FBI. George Bush and his cronies think they are above the law and the rest of us live with the consequences. The cause of equal justice in America took a serious blow today."

Barack Obama:
"This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security cements the legacy of an Administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law. This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people's faith in a government that puts the country's progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years."

Bill Richardson:
"It's a sad day when the President commutes the sentence of a public official who deliberately and blatantly betrayed the public trust and obstructed an important federal investigation," said Governor Richardson. "This administration clearly believes its officials are above the law, from ignoring FISA laws when eavesdropping on US citizens, to the abuse of classified material, to ignoring the Geneva Conventions and international law with secret prisons and torturing prisoners.

There is a reason we have laws and why we expect our Presidents to obey them. Institutions have a collective wisdom greater than that of any one individual. The arrogance of this administration's disdain for the law and its belief it operates with impunity are breathtaking.

Will the President also commute the sentences of others who obstructed justice and lied to grand juries, or only those who act to protect President Bush and Vice President Cheney?"


First Casualty of Poor Q2 Fund Raising: McCain's Staff

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 567

In considering how best to approach the money race for the 2nd quarter, I decided pretty early on to leave the bean-counting to others, and wait instead until all the checks had been written and then focus on the impact of fund raising success (or failure) to the various campaigns.

Not hard to do, at least today.

The first casualty: John McCain's campaign organization and staff. According to the Associated Press, McCain did so poorly in raising money during the quarter ending June 30 that he will be getting rid of at least 50 staff members, and slashing pay for those who remain, even at the most senior levels.

There's no indication at this point that McCain is considering dropping out of the race, nor, the AP article notes, is a major reshuffle planned for the campaign's senior staff. However, with poll numbers going through the floor not just in Iowa, but nationally, the McCain camp must undertake some type of action to get a little momentum back on their side. And if McCain's upcoming return to Iraq to trumpet the success of military escalation there is part of that plan, his campaign is in deep, deep trouble.

All this is astonishing, really, for the candidate who just a few months ago was considered the frontrunner for his party's nomination.


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