Thursday, January 31, 2008

And then there were four...

With the withdrawals of Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards yesterday, the American presidential primary of 2008 enters its most dramatic phase. There has literally never been one like this, with its accelerated schedule leading up to Super Tuesday and its four candidate, any one of whom could take his or her respective party's nomination.
Living in New Jersey, one of the Super Tuesday states, I am now watching campaign commercials. In the first I've seen (from the Obama and Hillary camps), Obama wins hands down--it's a powerful series of shots featuring clips from his impassioned speeches, focusing on the economy, whereas Hillary's shows rather uninspired shots of the candidate with superimposed quotes from the NY Times' endorsement of her, as if she need not speak for herself. Fairly boring stuff, although I hear there is a forthcoming spot which shows a skydiver in free fall (our poor economy) to be halted at the last moment by a parachute.
What can you say about our lost brethren, Rudy and John? Rudy, as far as I was concerned, was far more interesting to watch. His kids hated him, too many wives, really bad campaign strategy, that weird habit of biting his lips--there has never been a New York mayor as president (although Teddy Roosevelt was a former New York police commissioner) and I guess people weren't going to start now with Rudy. As for John Edwards? While he had his loyal supporters, Obama really stole any populist thunder he might have been able to unleash. I am sorry we will now not hear the end of the Edwards Love Child saga, but on the other hand, with Hillary and Obama, Mitt and John, the dirty tricks are sure to be flying fast and furious.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sunshine for McCain

Florida went John McCain's way yesterday, as he nailed Mitt Romney 35% to 30%. Poor Rudy Giuliani was a distant third, just ahead of Mike Huckabee, and is expected to endorse his pal McCain today. Rudy's campaign never did get off the ground, despite national poll numbers in the stratosphere when he began. But a combination of poor strategic thinking and the negatives that began churning against him--his kids don't like him, his ex-wives were legion, Bernie Kerik was indicated, and providing "9/11" as the answer to almost any question-- proved to be too much.
I think that in less than a week we'll know who the Republican nominee will be--when the dust settles on Feb 5. Super Tuesday, it will be John McCain.
The Democrats are a different matter. Hillary won the state by a lopsided margin, 50 to 33% but of course these delegates supposedly won't count, like those in Michigan, because they held their primaries earlier against party rules. However, if she manages to be able to seat them down the line, they will be quite useful, and it does provide her with a boost after her hard loss in South Carolina. However, it's a tight race that very well may be undecided past Tuesday.
The good news for everyone is that voter turnout was high, with one out of every 3 registered voters casting a ballot, in some counties much higher than that. In a primary, that's a good number.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama in a Saunter

In the last week the Clinton campaign felt they were closing in on Barack Obama in South Carolina by using Bill Clinton to go after the Illinois Senator tooth and nail, but they were obviously way wrong. Barack kicked Hillary's pantsuit, winning with 55% of the vote to her 27% and Edwards' 18%. It wasn't just the black vote, as Obama garnered at least 25% of the white voters in South Carolina, as well.
This does not spell the death knell for Hillary, but the momentum Obama will have coming off such a resounding victory is going to be hard to contend with, especially in the next week, as candidates compete feverishly before the Feb. 5 Super Primary. Each has picked states that he or she needs to win in. Each will be going at it full force. We'll see if Hillary and Bill soften their tone about Obama a bit. Nothing succeeds like aggressive attack politics -- if they work. If they don't, they spatter back in the face of the attackers. Not that Obama hasn't used them himself, as I've been pointing out, only that he has so far been able to position himself as the victim of a Democratic establishment out to erase him.
Anything for a Vote note: On Friday Feb 1, you'll be able to hear me on radio stations across the country as I take to the airwaves prior to Super Tuesday for a Satellite Media Tour, talking about the book and primary goings-on. And for those of you blessed enough to reside in northeastern New Jersey, put Saturday afternoon Feb. 2 down on your calendars--I'll do a talk and book signing at 2 pm at the Barnes & Noble, 240 Rte 22 West, Springfield NJ.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Well. he might have told them to go to hell!

It's fun to watch the criticism being leveled at former President Bill Clinton for taking such an active role in stumping for his wife and especially for going after Obama with both barrels firing. Today's NY Times has Obama snapping at reporters who ask him if Bill is "rattling" him and quotes David Axelrod, Obama's "chief strategist" as saying "We’re not interested in a rolling debate with a retired politician."
Dear, dear me--it's always quite funny when politicians sneeringly call other politicians "politicians." And retired, to boot! The implication of course is that Bill is not being "presidential." In fact, Obama supporter Tom Daschle comes right out and says that Clinton is "not keeping with the image of a former president." Let's see--what image would that be? Perhaps the one Harry Truman projected when he told voters in 1960: "If you vote for Richard Nixon you might go to hell!" Or Andrew Jackson ruminating after he left the White House that he should have shot Henry Clay and that it would have been nice if he had had a chance to hang John C. Calhoun. Or Teddy Roosevelt calling William Howard Taft "a fathead with the brains of a guinea pig." That kind of former President image? No, I guess Daschle means building houses or going on goodwill tours or playing golf, like a good little former President.
Obama seems likely to win in South Carolina on Saturday, but he needs to beware of acting as if he is unassailable simply because he is a black man running for president, just as Hillary cannot play the "woman" card too often. As for Bill? Well, at least, unlike his wife's opponents, he's keeping it real....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gu-reeat Stuff!

Is it not a wonderful thing to see Hillary and Obama sniping at each other, as they did in yesterday's debate? Ouch, it was nasty! Race was set aside (well, there was some discussion of Toni Morrison's comment that Bill Clinton was our "first black President," with Obama wondering about Bill's dancing style) but the two candidates accused each other of corruption, lying, and otherwise being ill-fashioned human beings. Hillary said Obama associated with slumlords; Obama repeated the Republican mantra that Hillary is really only a cut-out for Bill. And Poor John Edwards, like Jack Horner darting for a plumb, barely got a word in edgewise.
Reminds me of some of the great nasty exchanges in candidate history--most not contained in the tame debates of contemporary times, which began in 1960 and are creatures of television. Reagan telling Carter: "There you go again, Mr. President" barely measures up to some of the highly personal nastiness in American history (although in one of the 2004 vice-presidential debates I was pleased to see Edwards digging at Cheney because of the latter's lesbian daughter).
No, I'm talking about the likes of the Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates in 1858. This was during their senate race, but they presaged their presidential competition two years later. Honest Able could be quite droll; he had the habit of mocking Douglas’s rolling stentorian tones, sounding like Tony the Tiger as he satirizing the Little Giant’s “gu-reat pur-rinciple” of popular sovereignty. What popular sovereignty really meant, Lincoln would point out, was: “If one man chooses to make a slave of another, neither that other man nor anybody else has a right to object.”
Or Theodore Roosevelt calling President William Howard Taft a "rat in a corner," or Thomas Dewey, certain of a victory which never came, telling President Harry Truman in 1948 to "keep his hands off" foreign policy. No incumbent president running here, so the candidates are taking it out on each other. We'll see who it backfires on. My guess is Hillary.....but it's great fun for a dirtytricksologist to watch.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Forty Years Ago, And Counting....

Forty years ago at around this time, I was a senior at a Detroit high school avidly following a presidential race which bears more than a few similarities to the one going on right now. There was a divisive war and a charismatic Democratic candidate--Senator Eugene McCarthy, whose powerful second-place showing in the New Hampshire primary on March 12 was what helped convince the weary incumbent president Lyndon Baines Johnson to drop out of the running. Then, a few days later, Robert F. Kennedy jumped into the contest and the Democrats became a party divided against themselves.
And, as now, race was an issue. The previous summer, I had stood on my quiet block in northwestern Detroit listening to machine-gun fire and seeing smoke coming from downtown during riots which cost the lives of over 40 people, most of them black. The same thing had happened all over the country--in Newark, Watts, Harlem, Cleveland. House after house in Detroit went up for sale and white people headed for the suburbs.
Then, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis and it seemed that the world was truly spinning out of control (and by the time RFK was killed two months later, most of us were numb). Afraid of more racial violence, my high school simply let all of its (mostly white) student body out and told them to go home. I remember wandering the streets, trying to catch a bus, seeing the fear on people's faces (black and white) as they hurried down the streets.
A lot has changed since then. MLK Day is a national holiday and the fact that we have a serious black candidate for president is heartening. Unpleasant as the fighting between Hillary and Obama is as to who is the strongest supporter of civil rights (and believe me, even as they march together in an MLK Day parade today, their battle goes on, underground), there is hope of racial equality in America today, much more so than when machine-guns chattered in our cities and fires gutted the home of civilians, black and white....

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Obama, Hillary--and Martin

In this most exciting--and dirtiest--primary season in years, both races remain neck and neck, which is making the Feb. 5 Super-Mega-Primary Apocalypse Tuesday.
In Nevada, Hillary pulled out a win in the previously-obscure Nevada caucus--but Obama gets the most delegates--and Mitt Romney's victory there makes it two in a row for him. In South Carolina, McCain expunges the ghosts of 2000 and triumphs over Mike Huckabee, but Huckabee still looks very strong in the South.
But charges of dirty tricks are flying fast and furious. Bill Clinton claimed that Hispanic voters (who ultimately voted for Hillary) who were members of the Culinary Union (whose leadership supported Obama) had been told they could not get time off to vote unless they voted for Obama. Of course, this was denied by both the union leadership and the Obama campaign. In return, Obama aides accused the Clinton campaign of making polling phone calls which markedly used Obama's full name--Barack Hussein Osama--whenever referring to the candidate.
Most dirty tricks in America's past presidential elections focus on sexual scandal, religion or race, and race appears to be at the center of this close Democratic struggle going forward. Interesting, of course, on the eve of Martin Luther King day.....

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Going South in the South

The South Carolina primary, coming up this Saturday, is getting dirtier and dirtier, as an article in the NY Times attests today. It is not only the racial stuff we spoke about the other day, but the emails about Romney's Mormon religion and Obama attending a radical Jihadist school in Jakarta. Old news, but some people can't resist. The stories about the John Edwards love child seem to have died down a bit--as he has--but now come television commercials aimed directly at Mike Huckabee's supposedly lenient record on crime while Governor of Arkansas. In the fine old tradition of the Republican Willie Horton attacks on Michael Dukakis in 1988, the spots (from a group calling itself Victims Voice) feature an appeal from a mother whose daughter was raped and killed by a convict Huckabee agreed to release on parole.
Some of us may find this ridiculous--turning a candidate's record around one event in which so many others have a hand is highly simplistic--but make no mistake about it, this is very powerful stuff to many voters, even if they might not admit it. No one talking to a pollster of journalist says, yeah, bring on the dirty tricks, I love 'em. But spots like those produced by Victims Voice burrow in like ticks. It's like the Swift Boat for Truth attacks against Kerry in 2004. Hard to forget them, even if you felt they were scurrilous. These attacks have (and are intended to have) a kind of populist air to them, as if it's just folks talking over the back fence, passing on the real scoop. You see it all over American history, from the first attacks leveled at John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 to newspapers whispering that Abraham Lincoln was a secret "nutmeg dealer" (a seller of aphrodisiacs). This is why current-day candidates like Obama and John McCain, whose crucifixion in South Carolina in 2000 is legendary, are fighting back hard, McCain even posting a "Truth Squad" section on his web site to fight the attacks against him.
Should be interesting. By the way, anyone who wants to hear me discussing dirty tricks history can listen in to the Dennis Praeger Show today on KRLA in Los Angeles at 10 PST, or catch me with Jerry Doyle on his show Friday 1:15 PST on the Talk Radio network.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

When in Michigan.....

The Michigan primary is today, and with only the Republican votes counting--since the Democrats took away the state's delegates for moving up its primary--it looks like a tight one between Romney and John McCain. Romney may have a bit of an edge because his father, George, was a popular Michigan governor and former head of American Motors (who gave us the Rambler, thank you very much). He is not so much embracing his roots as giving them a bear hug. While I am not a big Romney fan, I am pleased, having been born and raised in Michigan, to see him extolling Vernors ginger ale, the woody elixir of the gods native to that state. Even though Vernors is now owned by a huge conglomerate--a fact Romney no doubt approves of--it is, as he said yesterday, "the best ginger ale in the world."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Race in the Race

The upcoming South Carolina primary has traditionally been the place where dirty politics really come to the fore in America's presidential contest and '08 is turning out to be no exception, with the classic cat fight going on between Hillary and Obama over the black vote there. Obama alleges that Hillary gave more credit to Lyndon Baines Johnson than Martin Luther King Jr. for the 1964 Civil Rights Act--what he called "an unfortunate...ill-advised remark" was merely Hillary saying last week that "it took a president" to get the Act passed, despite King's efforts. Even John Edwards jumped in on the LBJ/Martin Luther King controversy, saying: “As someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel an enormous amount of pride when I see the success that Senator Barack Obama is having in this campaign. I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change came not through the Rev. Martin Luther King, but through a Washington politician. I fundamentally disagree with that.”
Calling Lyndon Baines Johnson "a Washington politician" is like referring to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as "the former New York governor"--there is tons and tons of information that description leaves out. Edwards is not prone normally-speaking to such ludicrous misstatements--one wonders just how hard he is pushing to become Obama's running mate.
In the meantime, a prominent Hillary supporter, Robert L. Johnson, founder of the Black Entertainment Network, made a veiled allusion to Obama's youthful cokehead status, saying that while Hillary and Bill were working away for civil rights, Obama was "doing something in the neighborhood — and I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in the book." Johnson then had the temerity to issue a further statement claiming that he was only referring to Obama's work as a labor organizer in Chicago.
All of this biting and snapping, undignified though it is, is racial politics as usual in the South, albeit with the new twist of the race being between a woman and a black man. In the presidential contest of 1844 between Jimmy Polk and Henry Clay, Polk's Whig opponents tried to brand Polk as a man who owned slaves in order to elicit votes from abolitionists, but this was a little tricky, since both Polk and Clay were slave-owners. The Whigs got around this by claiming it was all a matter of degree—that Polk was really “an ultra slaveholder,” in slavery “up to his ears.” For their side, Democrats accused Clay of being a white slaver (“If we cannot have black slaves we must have white ones,” he is most improbably quoted as saying).
As I found constantly in the writing of Anything for a Vote--anytime we think something really disagreeable is going on in current presidential politics, it pays to take a look back a century or so for a bit of perspective.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Few Movie "Choices"

Well, we have Hillary's tears yesterday, so how about a few Hillary laughs this morning? A conservative group called Citizens United has produced a 90 minute movie about Hillary (naturally entitled "Hillary: The Movie"--take a look at the trailer) which they would like to show in selected movie theaters across the nation. All well and good, but Democrats claim television trailers for the movie constitute political advertising and need, by law, to be labeled as such. A three judge panel of Federal appeal judges yesterday nearly laughed a Citizens United lawyer out of court when he tried to claim that calling Hillary a "European Socialist" is not an attempt to prejudice people into voting against her.
A ruling is still to come, but it doesn't look good for "Hillary: The Movie" trailers to run unless they are labeled as political advertising. The whole brouhaha reminds me of the trouble stirred up back in 1964, when the Barry Goldwater campaign was on the receiving end of a very dirty campaign waged by Lyndon Johnson's forces. So, naturally, it fought back. A group calling itself Mothers for a Moral America (in the later words of a Goldwater aide, a “front group” for the Goldwater campaign) made an extremely controversial pro-Goldwater film called "Choices," which showed Americans that they had a “choice” between good and evil.” On the good side, the film portrayed conservative young people having good clean fun, the American flag flying high, the Statue of Liberty gleaming in the sun, and Barry Goldwater giving impassioned speeches.
The "bad" side shown included pornographic books with names like Jazz Me Baby and Men for Sale, dances like the Twist, women in topless bathing suits, black kids dancing throwing rocks during rioting, and a speeding Lincoln Continental from which beer cans were being thrown (this latter was a knock at LBJ, who loved to drive at high speeds on his Texas ranch while tossing down a few cold ones).
The film was sold privately to local Republican groups and scheduled to air on television late in the campaign, but Democrats found out about it and raised such a fuss about its racist content that Goldwater was forced to pull it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Trail of Tears

"Earlier in the day, after hearing from a voter who recalled his father, Mr. Romney choked up momentarily, according to a pool reporter who was present. “He was a great man, and I miss him dearly,” Mr. Romney said."
The above from this AM's New York Times. Mitt is such a copy-cat. First he adopts his "Washington is broken" theme in response to Barack Obama's call for change. And now that Hillary is opening the floodgates of tears, Mitt cries in Michigan, thinking of his father, the late Michigan governor George Romney.
Mitt reminds me a great deal of one of the justifiably forgotten candidates in American presidential history, Winfield Scott. Scott, a Whig, ran against Franklin Pierce in the election of 1852. He was a Mexican War hero who, like Romney, was tall, good-looking, and possessed of an unusually large head. But he was to put it mildly, a bit of a pompous ass. His Democratic opponents called him “Old Fuss and Feathers" for his love of ceremony (he was a man with a Napoleonic affection for a good, fancy uniform) and laughed at the way he would adapt his political stance to almost every need. Scott spoke to his audiences with the all unctuousness of the most politically correct twentieth-first century Presidential candidate: “Fellow citizens. When I say fellow citizens I mean native and adopted as well as those who intend to become citizens.” When Scott heard an Irish accent he would exclaim: “I hear that rich brogue. It makes me remember the noble deeds of Irishmen, many of whom I have led to battle and victory.” He liked to remind his Irish-Catholic listeners that his daughter, now dead, had been a nun. This was actually true, but was so blatantly pandering that most people thought it was a lie.
Scott lost to Franklin Pierce by a good margin. There is no record of him shedding a tear, but one wonders....

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Well, now it's a horse race. The last time somebody cried in New Hampshire--Ed Muskie in 1972--it destroyed his political future. This time, when Hillary teared up in the coffee shop on Monday, it appears to have convinced some voters that she was actually human after all.
Of course, that wasn't the whole deal. Women voted for Hillary in much larger numbers than they did in Iowa, as did traditional Democrats. The Clintons have a strong history in New Hampshire. Another thing--the underdog factor. Never, ever underestimate it in American politics.
Also, Obama did something that frontrunners (including Hillary) almost always do, to their peril--play it safe. Although he pulled in big crowds in New Hampshire when speaking, he failed to add to his message or build on his momentum. Thomas Dewey did the same thing in the general election in 1948 and, although everyone remembers Harry Truman as the comeback kid of that campaign, Dewey really lost the election by being afraid to jeopardize his frontrunner status. And the polls in that campaign were as wrong as they were in New Hampshire. In 1948, Elmo Roper, a pollster as famous in his day as Gallup is in ours, had Dewey 44 to 31 per cent and announced that he was going to stop polling: “My whole inclination is to predict the election of Thomas E. Dewey by a heavy margin and devote my time and energy to other things.” Newsweek published its own poll of fifty respected political reporters. Who would win the election? Dewey, said the pundits, 50-0.
On to Michigan (for Hillary--other Democrats are boycotting that state for moving its primaries up), Nevada, South Carolina and finally Super Tuesday on Feb 5. This race, on both sides, is one of the most exciting in memory. John McCain's victory--this one I did predict--puts him in a very strong position, but the dirty tricks are going to be coming fast and furious. Tomorrow I'll provide a sampling of the subcurrent of nastiness already attending this political season.
PS--If you get a chance, read the particularly vile and misogynistic New York Times column of Maureen Dowd's this AM. Hillary's tears, according to her, were "Nixonian" and her comeback last night a "Lifetime" channel movie.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Voter ID Laws

To take a brief break from New Hampshire for the moment, the Indiana Voter ID law is before the Supreme Court this week for oral arguments, with a decision expected to be handed down by June. I have written on this issue before and am today joined by articles in both the New York Times and the New Yorker. The law states that voters must have some form of state-issued ID in order to vote, something which is seen, at least by Democrats, as an attempt to keep minority voters without passports or driver's licenses from exercising their franchises. In a stunning example of arrogance, a lower court judge had written in his opinion upholding the Indiana law: “It is exceedingly difficult to maneuver in today’s America without a photo ID (try flying, or even entering a tall building such as the courthouse in which we sit, without one)."
Yes, you can't fly without a photo id, but many poor people can't afford to do a great deal of flying. And, as for entering tall buildings without photo ID---interesting phrasing, not short buildings?--was he talking about employee ID cards? These won't get you into the voting booth in Indiana.
As I have said before, this is an extremely bogus issue which is a blatant attempt to keep Democratic voters from the polls, and it will become extremely important if Barack Obama receives the Democratic nomination. Supposedly, such ID laws help stop voter fraud, but there is absolutely no studies that have shown that voter fraud where someone uses false ID to vote is at all prevalent today. According to Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker piece: "The latest and most extensive examination of electoral irregularities, released in November by the nonpartisan research institute Demos, determined that voter fraud was “very rare,” and every other respectable study has reached the same conclusion. This is certainly true in Indiana, where legislators said they were aiming to stop “voter impersonation,” which was already a crime in the state; in the entire history of Indiana, the number of prosecutions for this offense has been zero. Nationwide, despite an attempt by the Bush Justice Department to crack down on voter fraud, there were only a hundred and twenty federal prosecutions and eighty-six convictions between 2002 and 2006—a period in which close to four hundred million votes were cast."
The largest amount of voter fraud that has occurred recently in a presidential election took place in Ohio in 2004, as I have blogged about in the past, where Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell went to extraordinary lengths to keep minority Democratic voters from the polls, using such techniques as cadging, forcing city voters to wait in long lines, and striking voters from the rolls on archaic technicalities.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Indiana ID Laws, voters beware.

Monday, January 7, 2008

An Historic New Hampshire

The New Hampshire primary has been deciding presidential futures for quite over thirty years in America, but we haven't seen a race which so perfectly captures the tensions found in America today since 1968 when Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey vied for the Democratic nod. On both sides, front-runners are poised to tumble like nine-pins. Iowa could be a fluke, and probably will be for Mike Huckabee. But if Obama continues to pull ahead in polls (a 10-13 point advantage as of yesterday) he is going to find himself in a very powerful position going into Nevada Michigan, South Carolina, and then all the primaries of Super Duper Tuesday. In fact, the New York Times claims that Hillary's campaign is already writing off New Hampshire.
A shocking turn-around, leaving the Democratic candidates so winded they can barely attack each other--Hillary merely claims that Obama talks the talk but can't walk the walk, and Edwards, feisty though he is, is swinging at shadows.
Republicans too are seeing front-runners crumble, with McCain--as I, ah-hem, have been predicting--pulling to the fore. Mitt is loosing it--at one point during the Saturday night debates he basically told Mike Huckabee that the man made up facts as fast as he talked, to which Huckabee replied with a genial chuckle and head shake. There you go again.
The saddest sight may be the Clintons wandering New Hampshire--a state that made their political fortunes back in 1992, despite Gennifer Flowers--in the position of old fogeys battling off a fresh newcomer. Bill came in second in New Hampshire in '92 and called himself "the Comeback Kid." For his wife to do the same, however, she'll have to take a first.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Winning Big

The people--of Iowa, at least--have spoken and Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are, for the moment, the front-runners. If history is any indicator (see Pat Robertson in 1988) Mike is the least likely of the two to remain in that position, but Obama may have real staying power.Far too early to tell who's going to win these horse-racers; in fact, the picture may not be clear until after Feb 5, when the Mega-Super-Duper twenty state bout hits. But it is extremely heartening for Democrats to see that they were able to pull off twice the turnout that the Republican did--usually Republican organizers have trumped Democrats in this regard--and that many of their workers and caucus-goers were young people. As I have been saying all along, when the general election roles around, watch out for attempts by Republicans to keep Democrat minorities, especially, from the polls by various methods such as the Voter ID laws currently awaiting a decision in the Supreme Court. Tons of Democrats voting for a minority candidate is a Republican nightmare come true.
On to New Hampshire next Tuesday. Watch for Hillary to script a comeback and John McCain to be pushed to the fore. Mitt is Mutt meat, as is John Edwards. Rudy? Well.....he is beginning to sound like a broken record. He was asked last night about the horrible 3% of the vote he received in Iowa (even though he didn't campaign much there, that's pretty bad) and he replied, "None of this worries me. 9/11, there were times I was worried."
Yeah, you weren't the only one, Rudy. Now give it a rest.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


According to the New York Times today. Mitt Romney says he's as excited as kid at Christmas. Barack Obama promises only one more day of campaign commercials. Hillary Clinton is providing drivers and babysitters. John Edwards is busing all over the state. Fred Thompson says he'll quit if he doesn't come in a very strong third. And Rudy G. is paying no attention at all and is campaigning in New Hampshire for next week's primary there.
Freezing cold, pot luck dinners, town hall meetings. People gathering, casting their votes, being American. And it's all, if you'll excuse me, bullshit. The Daily Kos has a hilarious and pointed bit today on how "absurd" the Iowa caucus is. I mean, really, a nonbinding non-primary where millions of dollars have been spent over the last year just goes to show you how crazy American presidential politics continues to be.
The Iowa caucus really came to national attention in 1976 when the unknown Georgia politician Jimmy Carter won a victory there. Reforming laws had been passed in the wake of the Watergate scandals. One of them was the Federal Elections Campaign Act (which went by the unlovely acronym FECA) in which individual campaign contributions were severely capped, and candidates were limited in what they themselves could spend personally in their campaign. But any candidate who could raise $100,000 in 15 states could qualify for federal matching funds. (In 1976, the Supreme Court declared one part of FECA unconstitutional, claiming that contributions were really a form of free speech and thus protected by the First Amendment. Candidates were free to spend as much money as they wanted to on their own campaigns, unless they took part in Federal matching funds. But the Court did continue limits on individual contributions of Federal candidates and upheld the part of FECA that called for public disclosure of campaign financing.)
Because more money-strapped candidates could now qualify for Federal matching funds, the primary season got longer and longer, helped in part by the fact that more states, under pressure to make their delegate selection process more transparent, held primaries. While the Iowa caucus is not a primary, it is the earliest referendum on the presidential campaign held every four years. Along with his brilliant chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter understood that early victories in the extended primary process received a disproportionate share of attention from the press. Therefore, Carter went all out to win the obscure Iowa caucus—and the next day, the New York Times anointed him Democratic frontrunner, a position he was to keep. His running mate would be Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale.
Ever since, candidates have been freezing their butts of in Iowa this time of year, praying to be so anointed. And who will be anointed tomorrow?My guess is that Hillary and Huckabee will, but that the race will continue close and undecided through February 5, Mega Super Tuesday, when twenty states weigh in.
Anyway, it all begins this evening at 7 pm Central time.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Stuck Inside of Margaretville with the Iowa Blues Again

Just back from a lovely winter stay at a friend's place in Margaretville, New York, up in the Catskills. Good food, good people, good sledding, lots of snow. Too much snow, as a matter of fact--we got socked in a few days longer than I had expected, and without television, Internet and, for a while, phones. So I am only now returning to the relative civilization of northeastern New Jersey to find that, yes, they are holding the Iowa caucuses without me.
What a wonderful race so far. God, I love primaries. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee seems to be pulling away Mitt Romney, thankfully. Not that I am a huge Huckabee fan--does he remind anyone else of Richard Nixon?--but Mitt really is such a Mutt. The two are now arguing about whether Huckabee has "gone negative" on Mitt one times too many, but, come on-- Huckabee is just using the time-honored "I'm-an-underdog-even-when-I'm-no-longer-an-underdog" tactic beloved of JFK and Bill Clinton and many others. The Nixonian part--aside from Mike's physical resemblance to the man while wearing a hunting cap--came when Mike decided not to campaign negatively then decided he wanted to, then decided he wouldn't, then showed reporters an attack ad targeting Romney. Just for the heck of it.
Nice, but no cigar. For some real primary dirty tricks, we need to look back at the 1972 primaries, which have been overshadowed by Richard Nixon's lopsided win over George McGovern and the Watergate shenanigans of the campaign itself. But, right around now in 1972, President Nixon felt that he was vulnerable to a challenge from a strong Democratic candidate. So it became the goal of his dirty tricks managers like Special Assistant to the President Dwight Chapin to “foster a split between Democratic hopefuls” in the primaries. Teddy Kennedy was not a problem—the last surviving Kennedy brother had pretty much blown his presidential chances by driving a car off a bridge in 1969 and drowning the young girl with him.
Going into the New Hampshire primary in February, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 running mate, was predicted to be the big winner—in fact, most journalists had already anointed him the Democratic presidential nominee. And Richard Nixon viewed Muskie as a formidable candidate.
But then strange things began happening. Suddenly, New Hampshire voters began receiving phone calls from rude black people—phone calls that came in late at night or very early in the morning—saying that they had been bused in from Harlem to work for Muskie. And then conservative editor of the Manchester Union Leader, William Loeb, published a letter purportedly written by an ordinary citizen which accused Muskie of using the word “Canuck” to refer to French-Canadians. In defending himself against this and other slurs on his wife, Muskie, standing outdoors before microphones and cameras, began to cry. Or, since it was snowing, perhaps a snowflake had landed in his eye—it’s impossible to tell from tapes of the incident.
But Muskie did lose his cool, and the rap on him now was that he was unable to handle pressure. He won New Hampshire, but by a much smaller margin than predicted. Only later was it discovered that the “Canuck” letter was written by White House aide Kenneth Clawson.
Things just got worse when Muskie headed for the Florida primary. There, many voters received a letter written on Muskie campaign stationary, which said (falsely) that Hubert Humphrey had been arrested for drunk driving in 1967. Other letters under the Muskie letterhead claimed that prominent Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Henry “Scoop” Jackson had fathered a child with a 17-year-old girl.
No detail was too small. Posters appeared on Florida highways which read “Help Muskie in Busing More Children Now.” Ads were placed in tiny free shopper’s newsletters saying: “Muskie: Would you accept a black running mate?” And, at a Muskie press conference in Miami, someone let go a handful of white mice with tags attached to them which read: “Muskie is a rat fink.”
The person behind all this Florida mayhem was Donald Segretti, prince of dirty tricks. Segretti, whose name means “secret” in Italian, was a California lawyer who had been law school pals with several students who later became Nixon staffers—in particular, Dwight Chapin, the man who hired him and paid him $16,000, plus expenses, to wreak havoc in the primaries.
Muskie came in fourth in Florida and was finished as a candidate. Segretti’s role was discovered in the investigations after the Watergate break-in and he served four and a half months in prison for misdemeanors associated with illegal campaign activities.
After Florida, Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern were the main Democratic candidates, and Nixon’s men rose to combat this. Setting up a phony “Democrats for Nixon” group (shades of Tricky Dick’s California gubernatorial run) they produced leaflets describing Humphrey as a man who, as Johnson’s Vice-President, had helped escalate the war in Vietnam. Some of the leaflets had a picture of a fish over Humphrey’s face, with the caption: “There’s Something Fishy About Hubert Humphrey.”
Partly as a result of the ill feelings caused by these fake ads, Humphrey and McGovern were unable to present a united front when McGovern became the nominee and the time came to go after Richard Nixon.
As the man said, primaries are a bitch--and then you die.