Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ready For Her Close Up, Or You Write the Caption

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 236

Some photos are too priceless to pass up. A case in point: this photo taken yesterday by AP photographer Elise Amendola.

Worth quite a bit more than a thousand words.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ed Fallon Versus The Empty Podium

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 237

Tonight at 7:00 at the State Historical Center in Des Moines, the Progressive Coalition of Central of Central Iowa (PCCI) and Central Iowa Operation Democracy (CIOD) are conducting a "Candidate Forum" Q&A for the IA-03 Democratic primary. Both six-term incumbent Congressman Leonard Boswell and challenger Ed Fallon, the former state legislator, have been invited. As of this writing, only Ed Fallon has committed to appear; Congressman Boswell has declined the invitation. However, according to the Forum's sponsors, the show will go on nonetheless, with Fallon on stage opposite an empty podium.

Debates in primary elections, at least at the congressional district level, are quite frequently commonplace. The topics are usually local, the arguments often familiar, the terms of reference reliably predicable: incumbents argue for a continuation of their tenure, and challengers argue that it is time for a change, with both making their case largely on the basis that one of them has been in Washington for awhile.

Incumbents, of course, dislike primary challenges from within their own party, viewing them as distractions from the real job of winning their biennial general election campaigns, and so feel little inclination to indulge in debating primary challengers. There is a certain amount of legitimate political wisdom to this. Allowing a challenger who is usually less than a household name to share the stage with an incumbent can automatically bestow a legitimacy and stature upon the challenger that they would otherwise be hard pressed to achieve on their own, so incumbents are often understandably reluctant to bequeath such a gift to their rivals. Most election cycles, it's a no-brainer.

But there are also times when, facing scandal or otherwise unpopular in their districts, incumbents are obliged to engage their primary challengers, or risk, even in victory, the prospect of greater vulnerability going into the general election campaign. The question in the Iowa 3rd this year is whether Leonard Boswell, perceived by many in the Democratic base as too closely aligned with President Bush on a number of issues, is therefore sufficiently compromised as to require him to confront Ed Fallon's candidacy, or whether the institutional advantages of incumbency will allow him to waive Fallon off and cruise to a seventh term in a district that has already been tagged as Safe Democratic.

Clearly, Leonard Boswell believes anti-incumbency to be a malady strictly confined to Republicans, with no contagion beyond the watershed 2006 midterm elections that saw Democratic majorities returned to both houses of Congress for the first time in twelve years. He may be right, at least with regard to the general political environment of 2008. Ed Fallon, on the other hand, sees Boswell's record on Iraq and other national security matters as an issue he can use against the congressman. Given that Democratic primary election results are mainly driven by the party's activist base, for whom Iraq remains the hottest of buttons, he may be right.

And so tonight's event at the Historical Society presents a view of the entire primary campaign in microcosm: an incumbent who sees no need to engage his challenger, and the challenger left with no one to debate but an empty podium, confronting thin air.

A week from today we'll know the result of the IA-03 primary, and whether Boswell or Fallon correctly judged the mood of the district. But it is often said, particularly with regard to politics and government, that history is made by those who show up.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

McCain and the New GI Bill

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 242

The U.S. Senate is currently debating legislation that would enhance veterans' educational benefits. Commonly referred to as the "New GI Bill," the legislation, authored by Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, would pay for books and tuition at a four-year public university for anyone who has served at least three years in uniform since September 11, 2001. The bill passed the Housed by a huge margin earlier this month, and currently has 58 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 11 Republicans. You might think that, as one of the higher-profile veterans in the Senate, John McCain would be among those supporting this legislation. You would be wrong.

McCain opposes this bill, as does - surprise! - President Bush, who is threatening a veto. Their argument: the bill is too generous to veterans, and provides an incentive for those currently in uniform to leave the military at the end of their current enlistment in order to cash in.

To oppose the bill for those reasons is not only ludicrous, but deeply insulting to those serving our country in uniform. Do McCain and Bush really think that service men and woman, who have volunteered during wartime to wear the uniform, are re-enlisting only because they have nowhere better to go? The suggestion that those who daily risk their lives for this country and endure grave hardship for themselves and their families in the course of their multiple deployments overseas could possibly be so feckless that they would walk away from the military en masse solely to cash in on the educational benefits of one piece of legislation, that their dedication would be overthrown by the promise of a little more money for college, is the deepest affront toward our military men and women that could be conceived. In my book, anyone who puts his or her life on the line to serve our country deserves every benefit we can bestow, and far more than we currently offer. Nothing we can offer them is adequate when compared to the risks and sacrifices they shoulder, and the notion that we're being too generous in sending them through college after sending them into combat is patently absurd.

Speaking from the floor of the Senate today, Barack Obama took aim at Senator McCain over his opposition to this bill:

"I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country. He is one of those heroes of which I speak. But I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI bill. I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing, but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them."

(video of Obama's remarks can be found here.)

Senator McCain was quick to issue an angry reply to Obama's remarks. But McCain's rejoinder didn't come from the Senate floor: it came via press release from California, where John McCain is too busy raising campaign cash to even be bothered to return to the Senate to participate in the debate over this bill and have the courtesy, to say no more, of going on the record as voting against it. Such is the judgment and conduct of the man who is telling America that he can be trusted to do a better job than Barack Obama as Commander in Chief of the armed forces.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kentucky and Oregon: Virtual Spin Room

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 243

The morning after the Kentucky and Oregon primaries, here's what the candidates want you to think:

Hillary Clinton

Once again tonight, you and I stood together and showed America what we're made of.

Every time we win another state, we prove something about ourselves and about our country. And did we ever prove something tonight in Kentucky.

We showed America that the voters know what the "experts" will never understand -- that in our great democracy, elections are about more than candidates running, pundits commenting, or ads blaring.

They're about every one of us having his or her say about the path we choose as a nation. The people of Kentucky have declared that this race isn't over yet, and I'm listening to them -- and to you.

Your unshakeable commitment to that principle and your willingness to keep forging ahead inspire me every day. Let's keep supporting one another in these crucial days ahead.

All the best,

Barack Obama

The polls are closed in Kentucky and votes are being counted in Oregon, and it's clear that tonight we have reached a major milestone on this journey.

We have won an absolute majority of all the delegates chosen by the people in this Democratic primary process.

From the beginning, this journey wasn't about me or the other candidates. It was about a simple choice -- will we continue down the same road with the same leadership that has failed us for so long, or will we take a different path?

Too many of us have been disappointed by politics and politicians more times than you can count. We've seen promises broken and good ideas drowned in a sea of influence, point-scoring, and petty bickering that has consumed Washington.

Yet, in spite of all the doubt and disappointment -- or perhaps because of it -- people have stood for change.

Unfortunately, our opponents in the other party continue to embrace yesterday's policies and they will continue to employ yesterday's tactics -- they will try to change the subject, and they will play on fears and divisions to distract us from what matters to you and your future.

But those tactics will not work in this election.

They won't work because you won't let them.

Not this time. Not this year.

We still have work to do to in the remaining states, where we will compete for every delegate available.

But tonight, I want to thank you for everything you have done to take us this far -- farther than anyone predicted, expected, or even believed possible.

And I want to remind you that you will make all the difference in the epic challenge ahead.

Thank you,

Barack Obama

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Leonard Boswell's Change of Heart on Iraq

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 244

Leonard Boswell had a sit-down with reporters and editors at the Des Moines Register last week. Not surprisingly, the topic of Iraq and the war came up, and here's what the Register reported as Boswell's thoughts on the matter:

The Des Moines Democrat, who is facing a challenge in the June primary, said in a meeting with Des Moines Register editors and reporters that he met with President Bush and Bush's war council in 2005.

During that meeting, which included other lawmakers, Vice President Dick Cheney, and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Boswell said, he for the first time believed the administration had no plan for withdrawal.

"It's been that way ever since. That's when I started saying this is not right. This is wrong. This is doubly wrong," Boswell said. "So, I rethought the whole situation and I think it's time for us to come out of there."

Boswell, of course, voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, so his change of heart is a good thing. But questions remain, and to my mind one of the main points left unaddressed by the congressman is why it took him 33 months to reverse course on a war that had clearly been a disaster almost from the first days of Shock and Awe.

Further thoughts on this at Huffington Post.

Iowa Democratic Chairman Brennan to Endorse Obama

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 244

The Iowa Democratic Party has issued a press release announcing that state party chairman Scott Brennan will endorse Barack Obama for president later today.

The timing of the announcement, scheduled for 10:00 AM at party headquarters in Des Moines, makes sense, particularly for Brennan. With Obama's rally in the East Village tonight, an endorsement this morning guarantees Brennan a spot on the rostrum and probably an intro slot before Obama takes the stage. If CNN and MSNBC don't cut away for a few more commercials while Brennan is speaking, it could turn out well for him.

Add one more super delegate in Obama's column.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Iowa Legislative Recap

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 248

A tip 'o the hat to the crew over at Progressive States Network, who have been keeping track of bills that pass, and don't, in state legislatures around the country. They've put together a terrific summary and analysis of the achievements and disappointments of the Iowa legislature this session.

PSN's recap looks at bills concerning Iowa's health care, education, clean energy, worker's rights, home foreclosures, veteran's affairs, students and voter protection.

Check it out here. Required and essential reading for Iowans!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

John McCain's Iraq 2013 Fantasy Land

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 249

John McCain gave a speech today describing the policy he would pursue as president towards our military involvement in Iraq.

The speech, at least as it regards Iraq, is nothing short of fantasy. Of the commentary out on the web following the speech, none hits the mark nearly as well as the analysis published on the Huffington Post by none other than my original presidential candidate of choice, Joe Biden.

I found the following excerpt to be particularly on target:

John McCain revealed today that he has no plan -- none -- to get us out of the mess the president has created. Senator McCain said that it is important for presidential candidates to "define their objectives and what they plan to achieve not with vague language but with clarity." But especially when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, the picture he painted today of where he hopes to be by 2013 is totally divorced from reality and there is zero clarity about how he would get there. It's beyond being vague: John McCain is totally silent about how he would realize his rosy vision for 2013.

It's like saying by 2013, every American will be a millionaire and there will be peace on earth. Wishing will not make it so. The last things Americans need now are empty promises. They need, and our security demands, a concrete plan of action that brings the war in Iraq to an end without leaving chaos behind.

The entire piece can be read here.

It's good to see Joe Biden is starting to reengage in the broader political debate as we near the close of the primary calendar. His experience from years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as his devastating instinct for the Republicans' political jugular, make Biden a uniquely powerful voice in the upcoming campaign against John McCain.

Since dropping his own presidential campaign in January, Biden has remained publicly uncommitted in the nomination fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but I think that all Democrats, regardless whom they support for the nomination, can be glad that we've got Joe Biden on our side.

Talking to Iran: Bush Administration's Divided Voice

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 249

Addressing Israel's national legislative body, the Knesset, today, President Bush spoke these words:

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.

"We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

Rhetorically, of course, this is known as a straw man argument, in which the speaker posits an opinion held by unnamed persons, and then uses that as an occasion to discredit the argument and cast aspersion upon anyone who might disagree with them. Logically, the straw man argument is categorized as fallacious.

President Bush is an old hand at this practice, so his use of the straw man fallacy comes as no surprise. What ought to cause some astonishment, however, is that the president should engage in this tactic just one day after his own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, had this to say about Iran, one of the nations the president includes in his "Axis of Evil":

"We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage . . . and then sit down and talk with them. If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us."

Setting aside, for the moment, the central question of whether Bush or Gates is espousing the better policy approach to Iran, let me ask this: is it too much to expect, even from this administration, that the president and his principal adviser on national defense to be on the same page about how to address a critical international challenge?

It is small wonder, in the circumstances, that other nations - both friendly and unfriendly - regard the prospect of diplomacy with this administration with uncertainty, and have lost confidence in the United States as a negotiating partner. Whether by design, or, as is far more likely, by inattention and incompetence, this administration shows, time and again with this as but the latest example, that it cannot be relied upon to speak with a unified voice to the international community. Let me emphasize: this is not an example of the president being contradicted by an opposition member of the House or Senate, but rather the president and his secretary of defense contradicting one another in statements made on successive days.

This appalling spectacle is yet another sad reflection upon the United States, and a further indication, as if one were needed, of the scale of the task looming before the next president of extricating the country from the mire into which George W. Bush and his administration has driven us.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The GOP's Nightmare in Mississippi

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 250

As if warning sirens weren't already blaring at every level in the Republican party this year, last night's Democratic victory in a special election in Mississippi's first congressional district has sent the GOP into full-fledged Tsunami disaster mode.

I've been combing through a thesaurus this morning, searching for a single word that might do justice to the scale and impact of this defeat for the GOP. I'm coming up with some contenders, so far, but nothing that quite nails it:


After special elections earlier this year that saw Republicans go down to defeat in long-held districts in Illinois and Louisiana, last night's loss by Republican Greg Davis to Democrat Travis Childers was everything the GOP feared. The MS-01 is reckoned to favor Republicans by 10 points more than the country as a whole; that is, if a Republican would garner 60 percent of the vote nationally (and, yes, you can bet that is a big, fat hypothetical this year), then s/he would likely garner 70% in the MS-01. The seat had been in the Republican column since 1995. George W. Bush took the district with 62% of the vote in 2004. By every definition, the MS-01 should have been a safe Republican seat, this year, or any other.


Notwithstanding, Democrat Childers beat Republican Davis by an eight point margin, 54% to 46%. This in spite of the fact that both the state and national Republican party poured everything they had into this race: Vice President Cheney emerged from his undisclosed location to campaign for Davis the day before the vote; Republican governor and former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour stumped for Davis; so did conservative darling and former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee; the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee John McCain recorded robocall messages for Davis, as did President Bush himself.


Not even an ad campaign seeking to identify Democrat Childers as Barack Obama in disguise - the supposed Republican trump card for the fall campaign - had an impact. Indeed, there is speculation that the ads may have spurred African-American Democrats to a larger than normal turnout.


The result is that the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives has further shifted in the favor of the Democratic party, which now holds 236 seats to the Republicans' 199. Of those 199 GOP seats, 25 will be open due to retirement of Republican incumbents, as opposed to just 7 open Democratic seats. And the Democrats' Congressional campaign organization has plenty of money to spend on House races in the fall, with more than $44 million cash on hand as of this past March 31. Their GOP counterparts, on the other hand, have about $7 million in the bank.


Republicans aren't even trying to spin this one:

"'Some people in the conference, to some extent, have been complacent to waking up to how badly the brand was damaged in 2006,' Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), a leader of a conservative coalition, said in a recent interview." (Washington Post)

"'The results in Miss.-01 should serve as a wake-up call to Republican candidates nationwide,' said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. 'As I’ve said before, this is a change election, and if we want Americans to vote for us, we have to convince them that we can fix Washington.'" (National Journal)

Republicans can fix Washington? With John "100 Years in Iraq Would be Fine with Me" McCain carrying the GOP standard in November? Good luck with that pitch, Congressman Boehner.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Footnote Primaries Begin

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 251

West Virginia votes today in the first of what may reasonably be called the Footnote Primaries of the Democratic nomination process.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that the voters of West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico don't matter, or that the outcomes in these primaries will not be important; far from it. But the importance of these primaries now lies not in their potential to determine the party's nominee - that question was (finally) settled in Barack Obama's favor last week by North Carolina and Indiana - but rather in shaping the end of the campaign and taking a big role in determining the conditions under which the Democratic Party begins its general election campaign. And the impact of these primaries could be crucial in whether the party and its nominee comes out of the gate against John McCain and the GOP roaring, or whimpering.

West Virginia, for its part, is expected to go overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton over presumptive nominee Barack Obama today. Not much suspense there, but the question is how the two candidates will spin the result. For example, if Clinton gains a 25 point victory and in her remarks tonight proclaims it as another victory of the little guy against the elitists, and does the same again after Kentucky next Tuesday, where she is also favored to win, and if Obama uses expected victories in Oregon and South Dakota to continue blasting Clinton for representing what he calls the Old Politics of Washington, then the Democratic Party is likely in for a miserable summer.

On the other hand, these final six contests can function as the opening of a strong general election campaign. No matter what the outcomes in the individual primaries, if the candidates opt for civility in their rhetoric and salute a Democratic electorate engaged as rarely before, then the process of unifying the party begins in earnest, and woe betide John McCain's Freeride Express.

It all comes down to whether the candidates are able to keep their eye on the ball over the next three weeks, something they have not always been very good at doing.

So these final six contests, while footnotes in determining the answer to the ultimate question of who will be the Democratic nominee, can still punch above their weight in raising, or lowering, the hurdles the nominee must jump to bring the party together under their banner. Call them footnotes in large print.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Prelude to the End of the Game

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 257

Last night's primary results from North Carolina and Indiana provide one of the campaign's more resonant moments. Hillary Clinton's whisker-thin win in Indiana, coupled with Barack Obama's decisive win in North Carolina, looks as if it may have the potential to recast the Democratic race to a degree not seen since the first contests in January. And, yes, if I could make that statement any more qualified, I would.

The problem with making unqualified, sweeping statements is, of course, that the race itself has tended so little toward the definitive. Even so, some factors are beginning to jell that portend the shape of the campaign at its final conclusion.

There's the math, to begin with. According to AP, Barack Obama took 94 delegates last night, compared with Hillary Clinton's 75, which leaves him about 185 delegates short of the 2,025 needed to nominate (the delegate score now is Obama 1,840 - Clinton 1,688). There are six contest remaining, with a total of 217 pledged delegates up for grabs. The Obama campaign circulated a memo earlier today claiming that Clinton would need to win 65% of the remaining pledged delegates in order to draw even with Obama; thanks to the proportional award rules of the Democratic party, such overwhelming victories would only be likely in the event that Obama's name disappeared from the ballot altogether.

And then there are the remaining uncommitted super delegates, about 270 of them. One of the most damaging aspects of last night's results for Hillary Clinton is the weakening of her case to this audience. Consider that in the run up to the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Clinton had the wind at her back coming out of Pennsylvania, and Obama had been enduring the most miserable four weeks of his political career. And the result? Obama crushed Clinton in North Carolina, where her campaign, and her husband the former president, had been working frantically to engineer an upset victory, and Clinton came out the winner in Indiana by a mere 18,440 votes out of 1,265,028 total votes cast. That is a margin of 1.4%, and that was the good news for Clinton last night. Given the the favorable political environment for Clinton, a question being asked today is if Hillary couldn't land a body blow on Obama in these circumstances, when could she be expected to do so? That doesn't lend itself to the electability argument Clinton has been pressing on the super delegates.

Finally, there's the money, or, in Clinton's case, the lack of it. It emerged earlier today that Clinton has made loans of a further $6.4 million to her campaign, on top of the $5 million she had already loaned back in January. Following last night's results, and in light of the fact that many of her biggest donors have already contributed the maximum possible amount toward the primary campaign, where will the money come from to fund Hillary Clinton's campaign?

To sum up: in order to turn things around and deny Barack Obama the nomination, Hillary Clinton needs primary votes that aren't there, super delegates that aren't being persuaded by her electoral performance, money that can't be found and time which has all but run out.

But, this campaign being what it is, those factors are unlikely spell the immediate conclusion one might think. Lurking in the calendar is a May 31 meeting of the Democratic Party rules committee, where the issue of what to do about leapfrogging Michigan and Florida will be, to put it mildly, debated. And then there's the party's Credentialing Committee meeting later in the summer. And then there's the convention in August.

It ain't over 'til it's over. And over. And over...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Polls: Clinton Erases Obama's National Lead

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 262

Two polls released today show Hillary Clinton has made progress over the last month in narrowing rival Barack Obama's lead in national preference polls.

The polls show Obama leading Clinton by very narrow margins nationally, with results well within the margins of error. In one poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, Obama leads Clinton 47% - 45%, while in the other, conducted by CNN - Opinion Research Corp., Obama leads Clinton 46% - 45%. These numbers are in line with Real Clear Politics' national averages, showing Obama currently leading Clinton by about 1.6%.

The numbers in these polls do not come as a surprise after what has been a bruising month for the Obama campaign, following a significant loss to Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary and renewed media attention on the Jeremiah Wright non-story. If anything, these numbers re-emphasize the importance of next Tuesday's voting in Indiana and North Carolina in either altering or reinforcing the current narrative of the campaign for both Clinton and Obama.

A Gallup poll taken early last month showed Obama with a 9% lead over Clinton nationally.

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