Archive: June, 2008
Did Wesley Clark really say what I thought he said? Did the retired four-star general and ex-NATO commander, in his role as Barack Obama surrogate, actually dare to suggest yesterday, on national TV, that Americans should refrain from genuflecting at the feet of John McCain just because he had been a POW?
He did indeed. The Clark soundbite on CBS: "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."
It'll be interesting to see whether the Obama camp puts Clark back on the air in the future. It's clear, on the one hand, that the Obama camp is fully prepared to play hardball, that it does not intend to accept the conventional wisdom (as expressed in most national polls) that McCain's war hero status makes him more qualified to keep us safe. Indeed, the Obama camp seems prepared to question McCain's greatest perceived character asset, in the hopes of fatally undercutting his candidacy.
From dawn's early light to evening twilight, John McCain and his surrogates launched a series of rhetorical fusillades yesterday, celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's smackdown of the 32-year Washington D.C. handgun ban, while seeking (with limited success) to paint Barack Obama as a waffler who is soft on gun rights.
It was fascinating merely to behold the GOP message machine in overdrive. The first emails were fired off by the Republican National Committee at 8:32 a.m., several hours in advance of the court ruling, calling attention to some unnamed Obama flak who had stated last November that Obama considered the D.C. ban to be constitutional. The Republicans followed up at 10:44, in the wake of the ruling, with details about how a younger Obama had signaled support for a legislative ban on handgun possession while filling out an Illinois questionnaire in 1996.
Nine minutes after that email, John McCain himself weighed in, praising the high court for its ruling that the D.C. handgun ban violated the Second Amendment right-to-bear-arms provision. Thirteen minutes after McCain, Republican headquarters fired off more details about that 1996 questionnaire. Twenty-seven minutes after that GOP missive, a gun-rights group followed up at 11:33 a.m. with a celebratory email of its own. Thirty-seven minutes after that, Republican headquarters was back again. And while all this was going on, the McCain camp was conducting a conference call with reporters, reiterating its Obama-is-soft-on-guns theme - followed by an email transcript of the conference call at 1:33 p.m.
This is just a wild guess, but I'm betting that you haven't been paying much attention to what happened the other night in Utah. Probably because you rarely spend time thinking about Utah.
But there was a noteworthy Republican primary on Tuesday in Utah, an ostensibly local affair that provides us with yet more evidence that the GOP establishment is in serious trouble this year with its grassroots voters.
We've seen this pattern already in 2008. Witness the March special election in Illinois, where a Republican congressional candidate backed by the GOP establishment lost to a Democrat in a traditionally Republican district. Witness the May special election in Louisiana, where a Republican congressional candidate backed by the GOP establishment (even Dick Cheney showed up) suffered the same fate in a traditionally Republican district. Witness the May special election in a deeply-red district in deeply-red Mississippi, where the same thing happened again.
Karl Rove - the architect of George W. Bush's rise and fall, the uber-strategist who until recently was envisioning a permanent Republican majority - came up with a plan the other day to demonize Barack Obama in a whole new way.
In a meeting on Monday with Capitol Hill Republicans, Rove suggested broad-brushing Obama in this fashion: "Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette (who) stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."
Let us stipulate that it's impossible in June to prognosticate about an election in November. We can't know what is yet to happen, what unforeseen events may intrude, or what the candidates might do to help or hinder their prospects. In the immortal words of that stellar war planner Donald Rumsfeld, seemingly uttered as jazz poetry on Feb. 12, 2002, "There are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns. The ones we don't know we don't know."
One of those known unknowns is a humorless little guy with pursed lips and mustache who looks like a high school principal in a '30s movie. That would be Bob Barr, the ex-Georgia congressman, an erstwhile conservative Republican who is running this November as the Libertarian party's presidential candidate.
Barack Obama's decision to support a sweeping expansion of the government's surveillance capabilities - in defiance of his liberal Democratic base - reminds me of the true story about Bill Clinton and the brain-damaged death row convict.
Back in 1992, candidate Clinton, the new kid on the block, was anxious to demonstrate to centrist swing voters that he wasn't a soft-on-crime liberal. He had to show, for example, that he was willing to execute murderers; four years earlier, Michael Dukakis had been defeated in part because he opposed capital punishment. Clinton took care of his problem by terminating Ricky Ray Rector.
In early '92, Rector was living on death row in Arkansas. He had been convicted of killing a cop 11 years earlier. Liberal Democrats generally didn't like the idea of executing the mentally-impaired, but Clinton, who was still governor of Arkansas at the time, ensured that Rector kept his appointment with the executioner. (Rector, who wasn't quite sure what was happening to him, reportedly decided to save part of his last meal "for later.") Anyway, the liberal Democratic base assailed Clinton for his decision, but that was fine with him. He wanted swing voters to see that he had defied the liberals.
It's worth remembering that presidential polls conducted far in advance of the November election are generally meaningless. Two examples should suffice. In the summer of 1988, Michael Dukakis held a 17-point lead over Vice President George H. W. Bush; in the late spring of 1992, Bill Clinton was running third in the polls...and the guy at the top of the heap was the flavor of the season, Ross Perot.
But the fair-and-balanced pollsters at Fox News always manage to tweak my interest, regardless of the season. They have a gift for crafting ideological-loaded questions in a manner that is intended to provide them with the answers that they seek. Their current priority, it would appear, is to ask people whether they might be inclined to believe that Barack Obama is an unAmerican weirdo.
Yet sometimes even their most strenuous efforts come to naught. Sometimes the respondents just don’t seem to take the hint. Consider these examples from their latest national survey, which was released on Thursday.
I'm not quite sure which is more hilarious: the Dana Carvey standup comedy special currently on HBO, or the McCain campaign's resurrection of that renowned Republican loser, Rudy "$50 million, one delegate" Giuliani.
Just like the old days, circa December '07, the Rudy missives are again flooding the in-box. The target this time is Barack Obama. According to Rudy, the purported terrorism expert, Obama is just another softy who wants to fight the killers in accordance with "a Sept. 10 mentality." (That line worked for the GOP against John Kerry in 2004, and, since the GOP has so little to work with in 2008, the party has opted to try it again.)
But there's a bit of a problem with McCain trotting out Rudy as a spokesman on terrorism. Check out these remarks, delivered on Sept. 4, 2007: