Friday, November 30, 2007

Republicans Went to Florida and All We Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

For me, watching a Republican debate is almost an anthropological quest, observing a strange culture, similar to ours, yet with a set of values all its own. It is a culture which has child-like faith in the markets, knows its enemies (and wants to kill them), and cares more about unborn babies than small children. They like guns and Jesus, and feel they are misunderstood by minority groups. They hate taxes but, for the most part, have no problem spending money. Although they did promise to veto any bill containing “pork” – defined, I assume, as any project or program advanced by a Democrat.
Assessing these exotics isn’t easy for me, but since I figure it is important for our future to try and understand what motivates those who do not agree with us, I shall try. I do feel optimistic about my ability to grade them because I seem to have done a pretty good job of predicting the current state of affairs in my debate wrap-up of two months ago.
It was an interesting debate, reminding me more of the 20 minute fight scene at the end of John Ford’s “The Quiet Man”, than of Lincoln-Douglas. Romney attacked Rudy, Rudy attacked Romney, Thompson attacked Romney and Huckabee, McCain attacked Romney and Paul, Paul attacked pretty much everyone, and everyone ignored Tancredo and Hunter. Huckabee didn’t directly attack anyone, unless it was employees of the IRS, although his YouTube ad sort of attacked Rudy and Romney.
The YouTube ads varied between dreary and scary, with two exceptions. Rudy’s actually was funny, talking up the great job he did as Mayor, including fighting NYC’s great enemy, King Kong, and reducing snowfall. Fred Thomson used his 30 seconds to run a blatant attack ad against Romney and Huckabee, using old speeches to show how they weren’t conservative. It shocked the house and resulted in CNN allowing them to respond. This was good for Romney, as he got to assert his anti-abortion position and describe the moment of his conversion to that.
McCain was strong, forceful, authoritative, and really ripped Romney on his refusal to come out against waterboarding. He pointed out his first-hand knowledge of the world, and how, unlike the current President when he took office (and by extension, most of the others on stage), he is already prepared to deal with the tough foreign policy issues. He kept dropping the phrase “my friends” into his answers. I think his use of the phrase was less a statement of kinship than the desperate hope that those listening really were friendly toward him. Unfortunately, they aren’t – they just don’t trust him, and unlike Democrats, they aren’t nominating someone they don’t trust.
Rudy got off to a shaky start in his battle with Romney over “sanctuary cities”, but looked good the rest of the way. Oddly, I think his greatest strength is that Republicans do trust him. Even though they don’t always agree with him, they know what he’s about. Which is something they really aren’t sure of with Romney, who seems panicked over Huckabee – and rightly so. Rasmussen actually has Huckabee edging ahead of Mitt in Iowa and should he manage to upset Romney there, there is an excellent chance Mitt’s campaign falls apart.
Thompson had some moments, seems better than he was earlier in the campaign, yet his video attack on Huckabee reveals his problem – he hasn’t won the hearts of conservatives. Every position he took was very conservative and his answer to “how many guns do you own and what kind?” (seriously, this is the kind of questions Republicans consider important) was “I’m not telling you what guns I have or where I keep them”, which got a big laugh from the crowd. He hasn’t caught fire and probably is running out of time.
So what do we make of the fast-charging Huckabee? As my loyal readers might remember, I predicted this rise two months ago, when Huck was at about 7%. Now that he is poised to do something big, what do we have here? He is an odd mix – a social conservative with a man who believes government can do things to help the poor. He is a Christian in the best sense of the word, with a belief in helping those who cannot help themselves. Still, he is very pro-war, very anti-choice, very pro-gun, and wants to abolish the income tax. His charm and wit are endearing, yet he is a little scary. Folks, he is a Southern Baptist minister. Haven’t we had enough of religious fundamentalists in power? Do we really need to go this far?
I think Rudy is the favorite for the nomination, as much because there isn’t a strong enough challenger as through any strength of his own. I expect Huckabee to seriously wound Romney in Iowa, with Romney eking out a small win in NH, and Rudy winning in Florida. Someone wins an indecisive victory in SC, then Rudy rolls on February 5th, as much because there is no one opponent strong enough to go head-to-head with him as through his own popularity. Barring some scandalous revelation about him (and boy, is that a real possibility), Rudy gets the nomination by taking Huckabee as his running-mate. Now...if Hillary’s campaign nose-dives early, all bets are off.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Nevada Debate -- The Empire Strikes Back

The most notable part of last night’s Democratic debate was how slanted it was toward Hillary Clinton. Wolf Blitzer started out by asking her questions that helped her, then he asked negative questions of Obama and Edwards. He had no control and randomly chose who got to answer what, always making sure she got a shot. On driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, Hillary simply said she was against it – now a real moderator might have pointed out that this is a different position than she had last time, but not Wolf. The Clinton campaign leaked to the Drudge Report (Matt Drudge apparently is thrilled to carry Hillary’s water these days) how much they loved Blitzer. Then there was the audience – packed with Clinton supporters, they cheered her lines on cue and booed anyone who said anything bad about her or even disagreed with her by name. One Clinton thug actually yelled out something while Obama was speaking, as if trying to shout him down. Blitzer’s reaction? Nothing. No admonition to the audience at any point at all. Then, to wrap up a Presidential debate, Campbell Brown, having been pretty decent throughout the evening, earned her CNN cash by asking Hillary the fluffiest question possible, designed to mock those who question her waffling: “pearls or diamonds?” It was a pathetic exhibition by the former news giant.
In the debate itself, Hillary did well, I guess, if you like whining. You see, whenever anyone had the temerity to attack her, she immediately accused them of doing the Republicans job by “slinging mud” -- then she attacked back. The Wicked Witch of the East was in peak form, using every technique from the Karl Rove text. She didn’t plant any questions, although with Blitzer there, she didn’t have to.
I’m getting tired of these debates. The one last week had some merit, in that Matthews and Russert made some effort to pin people down and not coddle Hillary. But it’s getting harder and harder to watch them without wishing it was time to vote.
My ratings after this one:
1. Edwards: Fighting hard but the mainstream media has no desire to have him in the race, since two people are all they have time to cover
2. Dodd: Didn’t get to say much, still solid, but ultimately irrelevant.
3. Biden: Still knows his stuff, but still has no traction at all. He and Dodd are the guys who would be solid Presidents and have little to no chance.
4. Obama: Weak performance, bungled the driver’s license question. Seems to be seeking a middle ground politically which may end up hurting him because he seems to be taking the unpopular route on many issues. Personal story and charisma will have to overcome his unsteadiness.
5. Richardson: Not exciting, can’t see anyone voting for him in the long run.
6. Kucinich: Right on many things, wrong on others, at least he’s honest.
7. Clinton: The stench is rising and the question is whether it fills enough noses to defeat her before it’s too late. My guess is that it won’t, which will be a disaster for the party and the country.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hillary As Victim

Hillary Clinton’s reaction to her embarrassing performance at the Philadelphia debate was to go on the offensive and rally her base. Her campaign put out a commercial with each of the other candidates saying her name during the debate, using the slug line “The Politics of Piling On”. No substance is contained in it, no response to the arguments, no arguments at all, just a bunch of men picking on a poor woman. Today she spoke at Wellesley College, her alma mater, where she proudly proclaimed that an all-women’s college taught her to campaign in “the all-boys club of Presidential politics”. Later she said to them “we need to shatter the highest glass ceiling.”
It is clear that Clinton has decided on a clear strategy in recent weeks. If she gets the women, she gets the nomination. Now she is circling the wagons, making sure the women know it’s all about her and her gender. Once again, men are ganging up on a poor, helpless woman and together we can beat those evil men, so let’s stick together. She isn’t dumb – just as Bush and Rove know the religious right could be the core of a victorious campaign, with a passionate “Christians are under attack” argument, so does Hillary focus on women who feel men are picking on her because she’s a smart woman. The problem is obvious – it is divisive as hell. Hillary’s assumption is that men in the Democratic Party (at least those who aren’t soft-headed enough to vote for her in the first place), will fall into line after the primaries are done. Maybe she’s right, since the choice will probably be between her and some right-wing extremist. But I’m old-fashioned enough to think that a Presidential candidate should at least pretend to unite the country, old-fashioned enough to think a campaign shouldn’t focus on a candidate’s race, or religion, or gender. I understand that there are those who would never vote for a woman, as well as those whose primary reason for voting for Hillary is the fact that she is a woman. But when you make your gender the core of your campaign, you are telling men they don’t belong in Hillary’s campaign. Fine – I won’t be in your campaign...and don’t count on my vote next November either.