Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican presidential candidate

Transformational All Right

If you are a Democrat, it’s painful to read the news these days. The latest survey of impending doom:

A vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive has failed to diminish the resurgent Republicans’ lead among likely voters, leaving the GOP poised for major gains in congressional elections two weeks away, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Among likely voters, Republicans hold a 50% to 43% edge, up from a three-percentage-point lead a month ago.

In the broader category of registered voters, 46% favor a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 44% who want Republican control. But in the 92 House districts considered most competitive, the GOP’s lead among registered voters is 14 points, underscoring the Democrats’ challenge in maintaining their hold on the House.

Actually, that would mean that the “vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive” made matters worse. The question is not whether the Democratic donors are lagging their Republican counterparts, but rather — why would anyone throw their money away in this fashion? I suppose hope springs eternal that suddenly the country will learn to love one-party liberal rule.

And as for the impact of the Tea Partiers:

Tea-party supporters now make up 35% of the voters likely to turn out Nov. 2. Among that group, Republicans lead 84% to 10%. Just 56% of voters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 say they are very interested in the midterm elections, compared with 77% of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In other words, the Tea Party has not divided the GOP but boosted support and enthusiasm.

There are individual races and specific candidates who will provide drama and a few surprises, especially on the Senate side. For every Christine O’Donnell, there will be a Marco Rubio for the GOP. When the dust settles, Congress will be transformed. Appropriate, isn’t it, as a response to a president who sought to transform America in ways the public plainly didn’t like.

If you are a Democrat, it’s painful to read the news these days. The latest survey of impending doom:

A vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive has failed to diminish the resurgent Republicans’ lead among likely voters, leaving the GOP poised for major gains in congressional elections two weeks away, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Among likely voters, Republicans hold a 50% to 43% edge, up from a three-percentage-point lead a month ago.

In the broader category of registered voters, 46% favor a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 44% who want Republican control. But in the 92 House districts considered most competitive, the GOP’s lead among registered voters is 14 points, underscoring the Democrats’ challenge in maintaining their hold on the House.

Actually, that would mean that the “vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive” made matters worse. The question is not whether the Democratic donors are lagging their Republican counterparts, but rather — why would anyone throw their money away in this fashion? I suppose hope springs eternal that suddenly the country will learn to love one-party liberal rule.

And as for the impact of the Tea Partiers:

Tea-party supporters now make up 35% of the voters likely to turn out Nov. 2. Among that group, Republicans lead 84% to 10%. Just 56% of voters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 say they are very interested in the midterm elections, compared with 77% of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In other words, the Tea Party has not divided the GOP but boosted support and enthusiasm.

There are individual races and specific candidates who will provide drama and a few surprises, especially on the Senate side. For every Christine O’Donnell, there will be a Marco Rubio for the GOP. When the dust settles, Congress will be transformed. Appropriate, isn’t it, as a response to a president who sought to transform America in ways the public plainly didn’t like.

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Reviving More than Faith

Glenn Beck’s rally, perhaps wisely in anticipation of liberal criticism, kept policy and partisanship out of it. The focus was on patriotism and a call for a spiritual revival. As the country pivots toward the homestretch of the midterm-election season and the warm-up to the 2012 campaign (Already? Unfortunately, yes), conservatives running for office or advising those who are may be wise to focus on a different sort of revival.

The Tea Party has come to be seen as merely a brake on liberal economic policy — don’t raise taxes, control spending, end bailouts. But it was, at its start, also a cry of opposition to what all of that foretold for America: the decline of self-reliance, risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and the creative destructiveness of capitalism that requires that we punish failure and reward success.

Conservative reformers are right to focus on limited government, entitlement reform, and spending control. There has never been a more receptive audience for that, thanks to Obama. But modern conservatism’s success, both in policy and electorally, did not come from being the green-eye-shade party. It stemmed from an enthusiasm and celebration of free markets and from policies that sought to unleash the potential of individuals, investors, and employers. And it was Reagan whose embrace of supply-side economics, free trade, and modest regulation unleashed an economic boom — and launched a conservative political vision that was inclusive and successful.

In a speech delivered at Hillsdale College in 1977, Reagan explained:

In spite of all the evidence that points to the free market as the most efficient system, we continue down a road that is bearing out the prophecy of Tocqueville, a Frenchman who came here 130 years ago. He was attracted by the miracle that was America. Think of it: Our country was only 70 years old and already we had achieved such a miraculous living standard, such productivity and prosperity, that the rest of the world was amazed. So he came here and he looked at everything he could see in our country, trying to find the secret of our success, and then went back and wrote a book about it. Even then, 130 years ago, he saw signs prompting him to warn us that if we weren’t constantly on the guard, we would find ourselves covered by a network of regulations controlling every activity. He said if that came to pass we would one day find ourselves a nation of timid animals with government the shepherd.

It all comes down to this basic premise: If you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom and, in fact, all freedom. Freedom is something that cannot be passed on genetically. It is never more than one generation away from extinction. Every generation has to learn how to protect and defend it. Once freedom is gone, it is gone for a long, long time. Already, too many of us, particularly those in business and industry, have chosen to switch rather than fight.

This is both smart policy and the political formula for melding multiple strands that have been swirling around the conservative movement — American exceptionalism, defense of capitalism, and personal accountability. It is, at bottom, a platform for restoration — not necessarily a spiritual one, as Beck suggested, nor one based on defense of country in war, as Sarah Palin suggested. It is nevertheless a call to restore the economic vitality and the creative spirit of capitalism that made America a superpower and the envy of the world. The Republican presidential candidate who can put all that together, I would  suggest, will be a formidable contender and a well-prepared combatant to face off against Obama.

Glenn Beck’s rally, perhaps wisely in anticipation of liberal criticism, kept policy and partisanship out of it. The focus was on patriotism and a call for a spiritual revival. As the country pivots toward the homestretch of the midterm-election season and the warm-up to the 2012 campaign (Already? Unfortunately, yes), conservatives running for office or advising those who are may be wise to focus on a different sort of revival.

The Tea Party has come to be seen as merely a brake on liberal economic policy — don’t raise taxes, control spending, end bailouts. But it was, at its start, also a cry of opposition to what all of that foretold for America: the decline of self-reliance, risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and the creative destructiveness of capitalism that requires that we punish failure and reward success.

Conservative reformers are right to focus on limited government, entitlement reform, and spending control. There has never been a more receptive audience for that, thanks to Obama. But modern conservatism’s success, both in policy and electorally, did not come from being the green-eye-shade party. It stemmed from an enthusiasm and celebration of free markets and from policies that sought to unleash the potential of individuals, investors, and employers. And it was Reagan whose embrace of supply-side economics, free trade, and modest regulation unleashed an economic boom — and launched a conservative political vision that was inclusive and successful.

In a speech delivered at Hillsdale College in 1977, Reagan explained:

In spite of all the evidence that points to the free market as the most efficient system, we continue down a road that is bearing out the prophecy of Tocqueville, a Frenchman who came here 130 years ago. He was attracted by the miracle that was America. Think of it: Our country was only 70 years old and already we had achieved such a miraculous living standard, such productivity and prosperity, that the rest of the world was amazed. So he came here and he looked at everything he could see in our country, trying to find the secret of our success, and then went back and wrote a book about it. Even then, 130 years ago, he saw signs prompting him to warn us that if we weren’t constantly on the guard, we would find ourselves covered by a network of regulations controlling every activity. He said if that came to pass we would one day find ourselves a nation of timid animals with government the shepherd.

It all comes down to this basic premise: If you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom and, in fact, all freedom. Freedom is something that cannot be passed on genetically. It is never more than one generation away from extinction. Every generation has to learn how to protect and defend it. Once freedom is gone, it is gone for a long, long time. Already, too many of us, particularly those in business and industry, have chosen to switch rather than fight.

This is both smart policy and the political formula for melding multiple strands that have been swirling around the conservative movement — American exceptionalism, defense of capitalism, and personal accountability. It is, at bottom, a platform for restoration — not necessarily a spiritual one, as Beck suggested, nor one based on defense of country in war, as Sarah Palin suggested. It is nevertheless a call to restore the economic vitality and the creative spirit of capitalism that made America a superpower and the envy of the world. The Republican presidential candidate who can put all that together, I would  suggest, will be a formidable contender and a well-prepared combatant to face off against Obama.

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It Is Certainly an Emergency

Politico has the scoop:

Leading conservatives will launch a new pro-Israel group this week with a scathing attack on Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, the first shot in what they say will be a confrontational campaign against the Obama administration’s Mideast policy and the Democrats who support it.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s leadership unites two major strands of support for the Jewish state: The hawkish, neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of whom are Jewish; and conservative Evangelical Christians who have become increasingly outspoken in their support for Israel. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist. Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb is an adviser to the group.

“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” said Kristol.

This group is not affiliated with COMMENTARY but in the interests of full disclosure, we note that Noah Pollak, who has contributed to this blog as well as to COMMENTARY, will be the ECI’s executive director. Pollak explained that the ECI will be entering the fray in this year’s races:

“We want to be hard-hitting — we want to get into the debate and shake things up and make some points in a firm way,” he said. The group will target races for the House and the Senate, but there’s little doubt the larger target is the Obama administration, which Bauer told Politico is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

To say that the ECI fills a niche would be a gross understatement. There is a gaping hole in the Jewish community’s response to the Obama administration and in its defense of Israel. In the past, these groups’ close relationship with incumbent administrations has served them well. But as I have written for nearly a year, that tactic is not suited to the current challenges and has proven counterproductive in the Obama era. The need is great to expose, confront, and challenge the administration when it, for example, eggs on an international flotilla investigation or excepts Russia and China from sanctions on Iran or mindlessly pursues engagement with Syria.

The establishment groups’ reaction was predictable, if restrained:

One official at an American Jewish organization welcomed the group to the degree that it would make “mainstream” criticism of Democrats, but also expressed concern that a group with such Republican origins would contribute to a deepening partisan cast to the debate over Israel, with Republicans lining up behind the Israeli government while some Democrats align themselves with Netanyahu’s American critics.

But the partisanship is a function not of the GOP’s rabble-rousing but rather of the stark decline in support for Israel on the left. The decades-old bipartisan coalition in support of Israel has become lopsided because one political party’s support has eroded. This was evident in polling on the Lebanon war, long before Obama got to the White House. But this administration, of course has exacerbated the problem. Many Democrats have placed party loyalty above support for the Jewish state, biting their tongues in the face of enormous provocation by the most anti-Israel administration in history. That may change as Obama’s political fortunes decline, but it has been at the root of mainly Jewish organizations’ dilemma in responding to the Obama administration.

Actually, the ECI has the potential to repair that bipartisan coalition by calling it straight on Israel and not letting ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers avoid the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel:

I encourage our Democratic friends to have a competition with us on who can be more pro-Israel, because I think it’s in the interests of the United States and not a political party,” [Gary Bauer] said. “I’m really hoping that people like Senator [Chuck] Schumer and others will aggressively speak out for Israel at a time like this.”

And there is also the task of keeping neo-isolationists from gaining a foothold at the very time that Obama seems eager to withdrawal from our historic role as guarantor of the West’s security.

There is much to be done — take on the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to Iran, expose those who style themselves as pro-Israel but plainly aren’t, confront the administration’s refusal to stand up to Israel’s delegitimizors in international bodies, and keep the mainstream Jewish groups honest. That’s a tall order. In fact, it’s an emergency.

Politico has the scoop:

Leading conservatives will launch a new pro-Israel group this week with a scathing attack on Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, the first shot in what they say will be a confrontational campaign against the Obama administration’s Mideast policy and the Democrats who support it.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s leadership unites two major strands of support for the Jewish state: The hawkish, neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of whom are Jewish; and conservative Evangelical Christians who have become increasingly outspoken in their support for Israel. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist. Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb is an adviser to the group.

“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” said Kristol.

This group is not affiliated with COMMENTARY but in the interests of full disclosure, we note that Noah Pollak, who has contributed to this blog as well as to COMMENTARY, will be the ECI’s executive director. Pollak explained that the ECI will be entering the fray in this year’s races:

“We want to be hard-hitting — we want to get into the debate and shake things up and make some points in a firm way,” he said. The group will target races for the House and the Senate, but there’s little doubt the larger target is the Obama administration, which Bauer told Politico is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

To say that the ECI fills a niche would be a gross understatement. There is a gaping hole in the Jewish community’s response to the Obama administration and in its defense of Israel. In the past, these groups’ close relationship with incumbent administrations has served them well. But as I have written for nearly a year, that tactic is not suited to the current challenges and has proven counterproductive in the Obama era. The need is great to expose, confront, and challenge the administration when it, for example, eggs on an international flotilla investigation or excepts Russia and China from sanctions on Iran or mindlessly pursues engagement with Syria.

The establishment groups’ reaction was predictable, if restrained:

One official at an American Jewish organization welcomed the group to the degree that it would make “mainstream” criticism of Democrats, but also expressed concern that a group with such Republican origins would contribute to a deepening partisan cast to the debate over Israel, with Republicans lining up behind the Israeli government while some Democrats align themselves with Netanyahu’s American critics.

But the partisanship is a function not of the GOP’s rabble-rousing but rather of the stark decline in support for Israel on the left. The decades-old bipartisan coalition in support of Israel has become lopsided because one political party’s support has eroded. This was evident in polling on the Lebanon war, long before Obama got to the White House. But this administration, of course has exacerbated the problem. Many Democrats have placed party loyalty above support for the Jewish state, biting their tongues in the face of enormous provocation by the most anti-Israel administration in history. That may change as Obama’s political fortunes decline, but it has been at the root of mainly Jewish organizations’ dilemma in responding to the Obama administration.

Actually, the ECI has the potential to repair that bipartisan coalition by calling it straight on Israel and not letting ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers avoid the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel:

I encourage our Democratic friends to have a competition with us on who can be more pro-Israel, because I think it’s in the interests of the United States and not a political party,” [Gary Bauer] said. “I’m really hoping that people like Senator [Chuck] Schumer and others will aggressively speak out for Israel at a time like this.”

And there is also the task of keeping neo-isolationists from gaining a foothold at the very time that Obama seems eager to withdrawal from our historic role as guarantor of the West’s security.

There is much to be done — take on the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to Iran, expose those who style themselves as pro-Israel but plainly aren’t, confront the administration’s refusal to stand up to Israel’s delegitimizors in international bodies, and keep the mainstream Jewish groups honest. That’s a tall order. In fact, it’s an emergency.

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Mitch Daniels Profile

One of America’s best political reporters, Fred Barnes, has a short piece on one of America’s best governors, Mitch Daniels. Barnes reports that Daniels has “dropped his Shermanesque stance of refusing to consider a presidential bid.” And he calls attention to Mitch’s two basic ideas for the next Republican presidential candidate:

One, the candidate should have a plan for solving the spending, deficit and debt crisis that has “intellectual credibility” and “holds water.” This mean the candidate would “campaign to govern, not merely to win” on what Daniels calls a “survival” issue for the country. The second idea: The candidate should “speak to Americans in a tone a voice that is unifying and friendly and therefore gives you a chance of unifying around some action.” In his campaigns for governor, Daniels never ran a single negative TV commercial attacking an opponent.

Obviously, running for president differs from running for governor. But I very much agree with Barnes’s two core points. (Michael Gerson and I touch on them in this COMMENTARY essay, “The Path to Republican Revival“). He has an impressive record and is one model for Republicans to look up to in the months and years ahead.

Having served with Mitch, I can testify as to what an impressive person he is. I hope he continues to keep the door ajar — and then, if he’s so inclined, I hope he walks through it. He would add a lot to a presidential campaign; and I imagine he’d do well. Maybe very well.

One of America’s best political reporters, Fred Barnes, has a short piece on one of America’s best governors, Mitch Daniels. Barnes reports that Daniels has “dropped his Shermanesque stance of refusing to consider a presidential bid.” And he calls attention to Mitch’s two basic ideas for the next Republican presidential candidate:

One, the candidate should have a plan for solving the spending, deficit and debt crisis that has “intellectual credibility” and “holds water.” This mean the candidate would “campaign to govern, not merely to win” on what Daniels calls a “survival” issue for the country. The second idea: The candidate should “speak to Americans in a tone a voice that is unifying and friendly and therefore gives you a chance of unifying around some action.” In his campaigns for governor, Daniels never ran a single negative TV commercial attacking an opponent.

Obviously, running for president differs from running for governor. But I very much agree with Barnes’s two core points. (Michael Gerson and I touch on them in this COMMENTARY essay, “The Path to Republican Revival“). He has an impressive record and is one model for Republicans to look up to in the months and years ahead.

Having served with Mitch, I can testify as to what an impressive person he is. I hope he continues to keep the door ajar — and then, if he’s so inclined, I hope he walks through it. He would add a lot to a presidential campaign; and I imagine he’d do well. Maybe very well.

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The Engine of Spending

As Jennifer referred to this morning, Andy Stern, the head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is not happy with the idea of scaling back health-care “reform.” It is not exactly hard to see why Stern is upset. He represents over one million health-care workers. He also represents over a million government workers and a government takeover of health care is very much in his interest.

Andy Stern and the SEIU are the exemplars of the modern union movement, as the old union movement, personified by Walter Reuther and John L. Lewis, that was so influential in the mid-20th century is a shadow of its former self. Union membership peaked in the early 1950’s at about 35 percent of the nation’s workforce, virtually all of them in the private sector. It’s been declining ever since and is now at 7.2 percent of the workforce in the private sector, about where it was in 1900. What has been growing is union membership among government workers and non-profits such as hospitals: 37.4 percent of the public sector workforce is now unionized and these public-sector workers now constitute more than 50 percent of all union members.

As Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal made clear on Thursday, this is a very dangerous situation. The public service unions have acquired disproportionate political influence, pouring millions in dues money (more than $100 million in 2008) into political campaigns to elect Democrats, the party of government. They pour millions more into ads opposing any reform in government spending, even in states on the brink of bankruptcy, and pushing for higher taxes instead. In Massachusetts public safety spending is up by 139 percent in the last twenty years, education up by 44 percent, Medicaid up by 163 percent.

A big part of the problem is that the laws in place that cover collective bargaining were devised in the 1930’s when public-sector unions didn’t exist. A corporation is a wealth-creation machine and collective bargaining is a negotiation over how to divide the profits between stockholders and labor. Each side knows that if they drive too hard a bargain, they will injure the goose that lays the profit eggs. If labor is paid too much, the company will be less competitive. If it is paid too little, good workers will leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere. But in the public sector, unions and the bureaucrats who negotiate with them are playing with someone else’s money (yours, to be precise), and have overlapping interests in spending more of it. Bureaucrats, after all, measure their prestige by the size of the budget they control and the number of people who report to them.

The result has been an explosion in public-sector compensation. Federal workers now earn, in wages and benefits, about twice what their private-sector equivalents get paid. State workers often have Cadillac health plans and retirement benefits far above the private sector average: 80 percent of public-sector workers have pension benefits, only 50 percent in the private sector. Many can retire at age 50.

The public-sector unions have become the engine behind ballooning state and federal budgets. There will be no cure for excess government spending until their power is decisively curbed. It would be a winning issue for a Republican presidential candidate in 2012. The Democratic candidate, deeply beholden to Andy Stern, who has visited the White House more than anyone else not in government since Obama has been in office, will be very hard pressed to defend against such an attack but will have no option but to try.

As Jennifer referred to this morning, Andy Stern, the head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is not happy with the idea of scaling back health-care “reform.” It is not exactly hard to see why Stern is upset. He represents over one million health-care workers. He also represents over a million government workers and a government takeover of health care is very much in his interest.

Andy Stern and the SEIU are the exemplars of the modern union movement, as the old union movement, personified by Walter Reuther and John L. Lewis, that was so influential in the mid-20th century is a shadow of its former self. Union membership peaked in the early 1950’s at about 35 percent of the nation’s workforce, virtually all of them in the private sector. It’s been declining ever since and is now at 7.2 percent of the workforce in the private sector, about where it was in 1900. What has been growing is union membership among government workers and non-profits such as hospitals: 37.4 percent of the public sector workforce is now unionized and these public-sector workers now constitute more than 50 percent of all union members.

As Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal made clear on Thursday, this is a very dangerous situation. The public service unions have acquired disproportionate political influence, pouring millions in dues money (more than $100 million in 2008) into political campaigns to elect Democrats, the party of government. They pour millions more into ads opposing any reform in government spending, even in states on the brink of bankruptcy, and pushing for higher taxes instead. In Massachusetts public safety spending is up by 139 percent in the last twenty years, education up by 44 percent, Medicaid up by 163 percent.

A big part of the problem is that the laws in place that cover collective bargaining were devised in the 1930’s when public-sector unions didn’t exist. A corporation is a wealth-creation machine and collective bargaining is a negotiation over how to divide the profits between stockholders and labor. Each side knows that if they drive too hard a bargain, they will injure the goose that lays the profit eggs. If labor is paid too much, the company will be less competitive. If it is paid too little, good workers will leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere. But in the public sector, unions and the bureaucrats who negotiate with them are playing with someone else’s money (yours, to be precise), and have overlapping interests in spending more of it. Bureaucrats, after all, measure their prestige by the size of the budget they control and the number of people who report to them.

The result has been an explosion in public-sector compensation. Federal workers now earn, in wages and benefits, about twice what their private-sector equivalents get paid. State workers often have Cadillac health plans and retirement benefits far above the private sector average: 80 percent of public-sector workers have pension benefits, only 50 percent in the private sector. Many can retire at age 50.

The public-sector unions have become the engine behind ballooning state and federal budgets. There will be no cure for excess government spending until their power is decisively curbed. It would be a winning issue for a Republican presidential candidate in 2012. The Democratic candidate, deeply beholden to Andy Stern, who has visited the White House more than anyone else not in government since Obama has been in office, will be very hard pressed to defend against such an attack but will have no option but to try.

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Fighting Back

The White House and the McCain campaign are both turning up the heat on mainstream media outlets, challenging their inaccuracies and going public with their complaints. In theory this sounds like a fine idea, a much needed correction to the obvious biases and just flat-out inaccuracies that any serious observer of news coverage can spot. And there is no easier way to “bond” with the conservative base than to rail against the liberal media, as John McCain did effectively with the New York Times’ lobbyist story.

But, at least with regard to the McCain campaign, dangers lurk. Their opponent, of course, is Barack Obama–not the media. The “story of the day” is ideally not “McCain attacks CNN for bias,” but “Obama gets trapped in foreign policy misstatement.” For better or worse, the public doesn’t care much about media bias. Nor does the “everyone is out to get Republicans” meme appeal to most voters (many of whom would like to “get” those same Republicans).

It was, it seems, many conservatives and the McCain camp itself which ripped Obama for objecting to press scrutiny on Rezko and Wright. The contrast between McCain–who plunges into media scrums–and Obama–who shrinks from pressers–is an effective one, if the McCain message is transparency, openness and determination under fire. But it doesn’t help to turn around and bellyache that the coverage is insufficiently supportive.

This is a tightrope for the McCain camp: to walk the line between exposing media unfairness and keeping their eye on the ball. Frankly, there is a great deal in mainstream media coverage– whether of Obama’s latest conflict-of-interest problem or of his fumble on Iran–which has been exceedingly fair to the McCain camp. And in our current media universe, the McCain people may have an easier time than any other Republican presidential candidate in political history in getting their message out. After all, Ronald Reagan managed to get elected twice in a media environment utterly dominated by three networks and a handful of openly oppositional newspapers.

The White House and the McCain campaign are both turning up the heat on mainstream media outlets, challenging their inaccuracies and going public with their complaints. In theory this sounds like a fine idea, a much needed correction to the obvious biases and just flat-out inaccuracies that any serious observer of news coverage can spot. And there is no easier way to “bond” with the conservative base than to rail against the liberal media, as John McCain did effectively with the New York Times’ lobbyist story.

But, at least with regard to the McCain campaign, dangers lurk. Their opponent, of course, is Barack Obama–not the media. The “story of the day” is ideally not “McCain attacks CNN for bias,” but “Obama gets trapped in foreign policy misstatement.” For better or worse, the public doesn’t care much about media bias. Nor does the “everyone is out to get Republicans” meme appeal to most voters (many of whom would like to “get” those same Republicans).

It was, it seems, many conservatives and the McCain camp itself which ripped Obama for objecting to press scrutiny on Rezko and Wright. The contrast between McCain–who plunges into media scrums–and Obama–who shrinks from pressers–is an effective one, if the McCain message is transparency, openness and determination under fire. But it doesn’t help to turn around and bellyache that the coverage is insufficiently supportive.

This is a tightrope for the McCain camp: to walk the line between exposing media unfairness and keeping their eye on the ball. Frankly, there is a great deal in mainstream media coverage– whether of Obama’s latest conflict-of-interest problem or of his fumble on Iran–which has been exceedingly fair to the McCain camp. And in our current media universe, the McCain people may have an easier time than any other Republican presidential candidate in political history in getting their message out. After all, Ronald Reagan managed to get elected twice in a media environment utterly dominated by three networks and a handful of openly oppositional newspapers.

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More on Rapid Response 101

McCain’s team put out a detailed document on the allegations in the New York Times involving his relationship with a female lobbyist in 2000. On the morning shows the team followed it up with a fairly convincing case that McCain repeatedly took actions that were adverse to the interests of the lobbyist. Of course, the “doing favors” part of the story isn’t what makes it really problematic for him. And so, at a press conference he staged early this morning, the sure-to-be Republican presidential candidate was calm and emphatic in his denials. He might even have responded more angrily, but then the new storyline would have been “Temper Resurfaces.” With Cindy McCain at his side, the full court media counteroffensive by the McCain team and the New York Times apparently unwilling engage on the record about its reporting, this may ultimately turn out to be at worst a wash, and maybe a net plus (on multiple levels), for McCain, who needed to juice up the base a bit.

UPDATE: Perhaps the definitive (at least the funniest) analysis of the New York Times story is here (as is sometimes the case with real Cliff Notes, it is better than the original tale) and examination of the conservative backlash is here.

McCain’s team put out a detailed document on the allegations in the New York Times involving his relationship with a female lobbyist in 2000. On the morning shows the team followed it up with a fairly convincing case that McCain repeatedly took actions that were adverse to the interests of the lobbyist. Of course, the “doing favors” part of the story isn’t what makes it really problematic for him. And so, at a press conference he staged early this morning, the sure-to-be Republican presidential candidate was calm and emphatic in his denials. He might even have responded more angrily, but then the new storyline would have been “Temper Resurfaces.” With Cindy McCain at his side, the full court media counteroffensive by the McCain team and the New York Times apparently unwilling engage on the record about its reporting, this may ultimately turn out to be at worst a wash, and maybe a net plus (on multiple levels), for McCain, who needed to juice up the base a bit.

UPDATE: Perhaps the definitive (at least the funniest) analysis of the New York Times story is here (as is sometimes the case with real Cliff Notes, it is better than the original tale) and examination of the conservative backlash is here.

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Huckabee’s Further Flip-Flopping

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

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Ron Paul’s Past

James Kirchick–contentions blogger and assistant editor at The New Republic –has a lengthy exposé of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul up at TNR. It delves into Paul’s history as a publisher of newsletters–anti-black, anti-gay, anti-Israel newsletters, to be precise. The picture it paints of Paul is not a pretty one: he comes off either as a hate-filled demagogue or as an “absentee overseer” (in Kirchick’s phrase) who allowed his staff and associates to publish their work under his name. One especially hilarious disavowal by Paul campaign spokesman Jesse Benton:

After I read Benton some of the more offensive passages, he said, “A lot of [the newsletters] he did not see. Most of the incendiary stuff, no.”

And there’s one passage that’s weirdly prescient. It calls to mind much of today’s fringe ranting and conspiracy-theorizing:

The rhetoric when it came to Jews was little better. The newsletters display an obsession with Israel; no other country is mentioned more often in the editions I saw, or with more vitriol. A 1987 issue of Paul’s Investment Letter called Israel “an aggressive, national socialist state,” and a 1990 newsletter discussed the “tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok [sic] for the Mossad in their area of expertise.” Of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a newsletter said, “Whether it was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little.”

Plus ça change, I guess.

James Kirchick–contentions blogger and assistant editor at The New Republic –has a lengthy exposé of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul up at TNR. It delves into Paul’s history as a publisher of newsletters–anti-black, anti-gay, anti-Israel newsletters, to be precise. The picture it paints of Paul is not a pretty one: he comes off either as a hate-filled demagogue or as an “absentee overseer” (in Kirchick’s phrase) who allowed his staff and associates to publish their work under his name. One especially hilarious disavowal by Paul campaign spokesman Jesse Benton:

After I read Benton some of the more offensive passages, he said, “A lot of [the newsletters] he did not see. Most of the incendiary stuff, no.”

And there’s one passage that’s weirdly prescient. It calls to mind much of today’s fringe ranting and conspiracy-theorizing:

The rhetoric when it came to Jews was little better. The newsletters display an obsession with Israel; no other country is mentioned more often in the editions I saw, or with more vitriol. A 1987 issue of Paul’s Investment Letter called Israel “an aggressive, national socialist state,” and a 1990 newsletter discussed the “tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok [sic] for the Mossad in their area of expertise.” Of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a newsletter said, “Whether it was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little.”

Plus ça change, I guess.

Read Less




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