Tuesday, January 30, 2007


The Hagel Hagiography

Mickey Kaus today slyly deconstructs the mainstream media's (and by extension the liberal blogosphere's) recent hero-worshipping of Republican Anti-Warrior Chuck Hagel, by asking this provocative question about the Nebraskan's much-hyped bravery:
Why, exactly, is Sen. Chuck Hagel showing "courage" in conspicuously denouncing the Iraq War now that virtually the entire American establishment has reached that same conclusion--now that Hagel is virtually assured of getting hero treatment from Brian Williams and Tim Russert and long favorable profiles in the newsweeklies?
To be fair to Hagel -- who I have long liked and admired for the atypically blunt, common-sense, and intellectually-honest way he does business -- it does take some guts to break this openly/vociferously from his party, no matter the timing, in such a tribally-driven culture. The fact is, playing footsy with Ted Kennedy and company on such a big issue is widely seen within Republican circles as a rank act of disloyalty, and that comes with practical consequences within the Senate, which is run on personal courtesies. Just ask my old boss, Joe Lieberman, who has often been in similar circumstances.

But that said, the new Hagel hagiography is a bit out of control -- and out of proportion. As Kaus, points out, the real act of courage would have been to been to actively oppose the war when it made a difference -- and before public opinion had swung so wildly against it.
[I]f Hagel really thought the war was a disaster, sending those real men and women into a pointless "meat grinder," there were many things he could have done, aside from giving snippy quotes on Meet the Press, to oppose it. He could have given speeches like the one he gave last week, for example. He could have challenged Bush in 2004. But that might have ended his career! Instead, it looks to me as if he sniped and quipped up to the point where it could do him fatal damage if the war went well. At the same time, given the sniping and quipping, the MSM's surprise that 'even Republican Senator Hagel' opposes Bush is entirely inauthentic.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Welcome, Politics 2.0

Read of the day: Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, the minds behind the Personal Democracy Forum and two of the country's top experts on how technology is changing our politics, debut their new column on Politico.com today called Politics 2.0.

To show that the Netroots is much more diverse (and effective) than the angry blogger caricature suggests, and lay the context for columns to come, Rasiej and Sifry present an impressive summary of the ways that online activists leveraged digital technologies in the 2006 election to steer money to high-impact races, mobilize volunteers, and persuade voters to go to the polls. Then they pose the 64 gigabyte question: Will politicians treat these exciting new platforms -- and the excited people using them -- as a threat to be controlled or a tool to be unleashed?
What's next? After a decade of political use of the Internet, two very distinct schools of thought are emerging. In one, traditional institutions -- including political parties, elected officials and organizations like think tanks and PACs -- use technology to hold on to power and maintain top-down control. This model has its place, and no one has done it better than the GOP, which uses its sophisticated voter files to provide thousands of volunteers with precise walk lists of people to contact in their own neighborhoods.

What's developing now, in contrast, is a more net-centric approach that values open collaboration, participation and decentralization -- and it's why the net-roots are so potent. We're seeing an explosion of voter-generated content alongside the old top-down stuff. If you go to Myspace.com's groups home page, you'll find 24,000-plus groups on "government and politics." More than 63,000 people belong to the Myspace Democrats group -- five times as many as a year ago.
My sense is that, to borrow the words of the great John Hiatt, it's going to be a slow turning. That's in large part because most politicians today are both risk-averse and digitally-illiterate, and the higher you go up the electoratal food-chain, the more cautious and uninformed they are. Some of them may swayed by younger staffers to follow Hillary's lead and use these shiny new toys to do more superstaged Web videos and chats and more sophisticated interactive feedback mechanisms. But for the foreseeable future, most will continue to be resistant to the kind of true open-source politics that Rasiej and Sifry are advocating, which contradicts everything today's politicos have learned about message discipline during the TV generation.

I also think many conventional-thinking pols will be reluctant to fully embrace the Netroots and the promise of these new technologies as long as the angry blogger is the public face of the online community. This caricature is unfair -- there is much more to online politics than blogging, and even the blogosphere is not nearly monolithic as it is thought to be. But I can tell you from experience, in the eyes of much of the Washington political elite, the Netroots are defined by the voices who shout the loudest and the ugliest. Until that perception measurably shifts, the political establishment will by and large keep their distance and limit their digital connections.

All of which is to say that penetration in this case is and will be a direct function of generation. Once the Boomers fade from power, and the debate on the Net matures, the comfort level with Politics 2.0 -- and voter-empowering technologies -- is going to rise substantially. In that sense, John Edwards, one of the few high-level politicians who seems to get what this new movement is all about and is smartly acting to capitalize on it, is a harbinger of things to come.

What will be fascinating to watch, and impossible to predict, is just how much authority Generation X and Y's leaders will yield to supporters and voters they cannot control. The times and media may change, but human nature does not, and people typically go into politics to seek power, not cede it. Will my peers really be able to say in Kos we trust?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Five Questions Hillary Won't Get in Her Last Webchat (But Should)

Tonight brings the last of Hillary Clinton's much-hyped trio of post-announcement webchats. So far the questions have been far more fluff than tough. Democratic viewers would be much better served -- and so would Candidate Clinton -- if she got confronted with more substantive and challenging questions like these:

1) How will you persuade the anti-war base of the party to support the use of military force if it proves necessary to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons?

2) Assuming you are not prepared to make substantial cuts in entitlement and discretionary spending, which specific taxes would you raise to pay for all of your proposals to come and by how much?

3) How do you square your vote against CAFTA with your prior support of similar free trade agreements? And going forward, what specific tests will you apply in negotiating and approving trade deals, especially on labor and environmental standards?

4) In the past you have been willing to embrace controversial education reforms that the teachers unions have opposed. Can you name two or three policies today that would fall into that category? Will you make the same commitment your husband did to support the growth of high-performing public charter schools as one tool to help close the achievement gap, no matter how strongly the unions oppose them?

5) How do you respond to your critics in the party who contend that your positions seem based much more on calculation than on conviction? For example, can you explain how and when you came to your stance on flag burning and how you reconcile your support for a criminal statute to ban this form of speech with your progressive values?

(Cross-posted on Political Insider......)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


More Crack for Political Junkies

The latest fix-provider to America's political junkies, The Politico, launched today. Positioned as a competitor to both the Capitol Hill newspapers (Roll Call, the Hill) as well other Beltway fixtures like the Washington Post, the Politico has a lot of top-flight talent and an innovative (at least on the surface) multi-media model going for it. Should be interesting to watch whether it survives/thrives in such a crowded market.

In the meantime, I would encourgage you to check out some of the good stuff up on the site on opening day. In particular, take a look at the typically well-sourced lead story by Ben Smith on the budding competition between Hillary and Obama for key African-American support, as well as Ben's blog on the 2008 race. Also, speaking of well-sourced, don't miss Anne Schroeder's Shenanigans gossip blog -- a former Washington Postie, Anne is about as plugged in as they come and is always good for a juicy nuggett or two.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Will Web Video Kill the Television Star?

Per my post yesterday on the state of online politics, the Washington Post has an interesting piece today looking at the high-profile use of Web video in the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and others. Post reporter Dan Balz declares:
[I]f last year was the year of the rogue videographers, the already-underway 2008 presidential campaign is likely to be remembered as the point where Web video became central to the communications strategy of every serious presidential candidate. . .

Call it the YouTube effect, and it is only growing. The video-sharing site, which less than a year after its founding was bought by Google for $1.65 billion, has revolutionized the transfer of information via video, spawned a number of imitators and forced candidates to recalibrate choices, from their announcement strategies to their staffing decisions.

There's no doubt this trend has reached a tipping point in terms of campaign strategy and that Web video has become the shiny new toy of politics. "The ubiquity of it is so amazing," says Hillary Clinton's Internet strategist, Peter Daou, "the sky's the limit." The allure is indeed powerful -- Web video enables campaigns to reach politically-engaged citizens without the filter of the critical media and without the expense of paying for TV ads.

But what struck me most about the article was the relatively small numbers of peoples of the year (as Time magazine called you/us) who were actually watching these videos. For example, the video John Edwards released prefacing his campaign launch announcement event in New Orleans has been seen by 100,000 viewers. That's a healthy hunk of change, and a far greater audience than Edwards or other candidates would have reached four years ago at this time. But it is a pittance compared to the number of people who watched the ads on the Saints-Bears playoff game on Fox yesterday in New Orleans.

Which is to say, we are hardly at killer app stage yet, and my sense is we are a fairly long way away from realizing the transformative potential that Hillary's Internet strategist touted. The penetration of broadband and the use of Youtube and its competitors are indeed rapidly growing, but not at the pace that can change actuarial tables -- or the fact that the people most likely to vote (senior citizens) are least likely to watch video on the web. Nor can it magically erase voter apathy -- or the fact that watching television (and the ads on it) is a passive exercise, while it still takes an affirmative act to watch a web video, no matter how easy it has become.

I have no idea how long it will take to overcome these generational and situational hurdles -- I will be curious to hear the thoughts of the real experts on that question. But my sense is that a big key to it will be how quickly Baby Boomers adapt to this new technology and how many of them will take three minutes out of their day to watch the latest moving message from whatever politician that comes knocking at their virtual door.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The Blogosphere Uncovered

Ever wonder who in tarnation is actually reading the growing legion of political blogs (other than our family members)?

Here is some fascinating data on the subject, courtesy of my friend and fellow politico Donnie Fowler, culled from a blogads.com survey.
2006 Political Blog Readers May Not Be Who You Think They Are...

Not Young: 62% are 40-years old and older (16% under 30, 11% over 60)
Heavily Male: 72% of political bloggers are male
Upper Middle Class: 40% earn $60,000-$120,000, only a third earn less than $60,000
Childless: 62% are in households with only one or two people
Highly Educated: 39% college degree, 39% post-graduate degree
White Collar: 25% are either in computer or education industry
Heavily Democratic: 49% Democratic, 20% Republican, 19% Independent
Like Being Active Without Getting Up: 75% wrote or called a politician, 76% signed a petition, 38% attended a rally, 36% attended a public meeting
Top Two Reasons for Blogging: to keep track of my thoughts (53%), to let off steam (50%)
Top Two Reasons for Reading Blogs: news I can't find elsewhere (84%), better perspective (80%)

Less than 16% of all blog readers are under 30
Only 5.7% of blog readers call themselves "students"
80% of college students use the online social network Facebook
Sources of Political Information for Young Voters in 2006:
  • Local TV & cable news 39%
  • Internet 35%
  • newspapers 30%
  • other 19%
  • text messages 3%
Not Young: 60% are 40 years old and older, 17% under 30
Heavily Male: 66% of Democratic political bloggers are male
Upper Middle Class: 40% earn $60,000-$120,000, only a third earn less than $60,000
Childless: 64% are in households with only one or two people
Highly Educated: 39% college degree, 41% post-graduate degree
Like Being Active Without Getting Up: 80% wrote or called a politician, 83% signed a petition, 46% attended a rally, 37% attended a public meeting
Top Two Reasons for Blogging: to keep track of my thoughts (53%), to let off steam (51%)
Top Two Reasons for Reading Blogs: news can't find elsewhere (84%), better perspective (78%)

http://www.blogads.com/survey/blog_reader_surveys_overview.html [Blogads Survey]
http://www.blogads.com/survey/2006_political_blogs_reader_survey.html [Blogads Survey]
http://www.youngvoterstrategies.org [Young Voter Strategies of George Washington University]
Also, the Pew Internet & American Life Project just released another batch of informative findings about Internet usage and online political activity. Micah Sifry, the editor of the Personal Democracy Forum, highlights the major findings here. By far the most interesting discovery, according to Sifry:
23% of campaign internet users has either posted their own political commentary to the web via a blog, site or newsgroup (8%); forwarded or posted someone else's commentary (13%); created political audio or video (1%); forwarded someone else's audio or video (8%). "That translates into about 14 million people who were using the 'read-write Web' to contribute to political discussion and activity," the study's authors Lee Rainie and John Horrigan write.
This kind of penetration suggests that online politics is starting to break through the stereotype as a trekkie convention for C-Span junkies, and is poised to take off as a mainstream medium for communication and connection. But Sifry, who is one of the nation's leading experts on politics and technology, is not so sure.
. . . [T]his is just speculation, but this report suggests to me that the online political universe, and blogging in particular, may be reaching a plateau. While it's true that far more people went to the net for political news and participation in 2006 than in the previous midterm election cycle of 2002, that is both a reflection of the expansion of broadband penetration and of the fact that the prospect of political change made this election pretty engaging. What the survey doesn't show is a concomitant expansion in blog usage over 2004, if I'm not mistaken. So perhaps there are limits to the number of people who are attracted to political blogs? Or maybe the form needs some refreshing?
That last question, which I have been thinking about a lot since the end of the Lieberman campaign, is a subject for a much longer conversation, which I plan to return to soon.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Would you like fries with that cultural revolution?

I can't tell whether this news about McDonalds in China represents a triumph of freedom or today's latest sign of the apocalypse. Could quite possibly be both.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Times Trend Trouble

You are not going to find a better deconstruction of the media elite's cultural bias than this analysis by the Columbia Journalism Review, looking at the New York Times trend story on unmarried women that I did a post on earlier this week.

As you may recall, the Times reported that, according to new census data, unmarried women now outnumber married women for the first time in American history. In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Gal Beckerman of CJR dug deep below the numbers to scrutinize how the Times interpreted and framed the data, and came away distubed by what she found, noting that the piece "had a tone of exuberance that spun the numbers as an unambiguously positive piece of progress for women." Beckerman went on to write:
A quote from William H. Frey of the Brookings Institute captured the mood of it. The shift away from marriage, Frey said, represents "a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women."

But America is not a monolith. As much as we would like to persist in thinking that we are a classless and race-blind society, the Times, of all papers -- having run groundbreaking series on both race and class -- should realize that a phenomenon that might bode well for middle-class white women might be absolutely disastrous for poor black women.

Apparently, though, we are the only ones to see it like this. Because apart from a tossed-off paragraph that reminds us that, buried within these statistics, seventy percent of African-American women are single, there is nothing to indicate how the epidemic of single parentage in the black community contributes to this statistic. We imagine -- though aren't told -- that many of these women are raising children alone and being dragged deeper into poverty because of their unmarried status.

Instead the rest of the article is completely about those middle class white women who insist they have chosen to be without ball and chain. We meet Emily Zuzik, a 32-year-old musician and model who lives in the East Village of Manhattan, and Linda Barth, a 56-year-old magazine editor in Houston. We hear about how happy Sheila Jamison, who also lives in the East Village and works for a media company, is and about how Shelley Fidler, a public policy adviser at a law firm, has "sworn off marriage."

The rest of the CJR piece raises several similarly thought-provoking questions and is well worth the read.


Today's News of Note

Some clips this morning that caught my eye:

1) The Wall Street Journal editorial page surveys the bustling Democratic presidential field and concludes that it is still Hillary versus the world. It's always interesting and often instructive to see things from the other side -- something many liberal party purists don't seem to get. One graph in the Journal editorial in particular stood out to me:
If we were betting on a wild card challenger, we'd look instead to Al Gore. The former Vice President has been coy about his intentions. But he might be getting a ton of free publicity for his global warming "documentary" come Oscar time, and there's little doubt he could raise money if he got in. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, there are a lot of Democrats who feel passionately about him and his near-win in 2000.
I have been saying something similar for some time, and will elaborate on my reasons why in the near future. For now, though, it's significant that even the Gore-mockers at the Journal are keeping their eyes on the former Veep.

2) The New York Post plays up New York Mayor Bloomberg's call to end teacher tenure as we know it in the city's public schools.
Bloomberg, in his State of the City Address, outlined a plan to work with the United Federation of Teachers to tighten standards for granting tenure - which he suggested is too often awarded by default, not on merit.

"We must do a better job of keeping new teachers who are effective instructors . . . but we must also make sure that ineffective teachers are not awarded the privilege of tenure and the near-lifetime job security that comes with it," Bloomberg said.
This is yet another example of why Bloomberg could be an intriguing wild-card should he choose to run for president as an independent. Time and again, he has shown remarkable courage in taking on big fights, particularly when it comes to turning around the city's dysfunctional public school system, without handwringing over the potential political fallout. It's enough to make you forget, to borrow the Mayor's own words, that he is a short Jewish billionaire with a bad voice.


DT in The New York Post

The New York Post asked me yesterday to write a short column advising Hillary Clinton how to respond to Barack Obama's entry into the 2008 presidential race. Below is the piece as it ran in today's paper. Some additional thoughts that got squeezed out in the editing process for space reasons follow.

January 18, 2007 -- BARACK OBAMA may prove in time to be the gravest threat to Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions, as many are predicting.

But right now, her biggest hurdle is not Obama, but Hillary herself - or, to be more specific, the public's perception of her.

One of the few things that unites Democrats is the common view of Hillary as cold and calculating.

And after choosing two dislikeable nominees to run against George W. Bush, Democrats seem to have little interest in rallying around another wrong-rubbing candidate.

This likeability gap could be fatal for Hillary, and there will be pressure on her to muddy "Ocharma" up before he can take off.

But if I were advising Clinton, I would tell her team to resist that temptation, and instead take these steps:

* Focus on reducing negative perceptions of you. Open up more personally. Let voters see the warm and engaging woman your friends and colleagues know you to be.

* Schedule town meetings in the early voting states with no pre-screened questions. Show your command of the issues and be the leader President Bush has not been - and many voters doubt Obama can be.

* Hold house parties at the homes of friendly female supporters. This would give you a chance to address women in an intimate setting about your run, and how this will be a test not of your political power but of theirs.

* Be candid - talk about how 15 years of vilification have taken their toll. The worst thing to do is stage a carefully scripted fake-over.

* Build on your biggest advantage - experience. Instead of attacking Obama frontally, give a series of foreign-policy speeches across the country that show you're the Democrat best qualified to keep America safe.

That's the matchup Hillary ultimately wants. And her best hope of getting there, and getting Obama on the defensive, is to first neutralize her likeability liability.
A few other points worth noting:

1) As I have been careful to say, the perception of Hillary Clinton as cold and calculating is grossly unfair, a crass caricature largely created by the Republicans' concerted effort to demonize her. The truth is, as I learned from watching her up close on Capitol Hill, Senator Clinton gets more likeable the more you know her. But there is just no getting around the fact that the cold and calculating caricature has sunk in wide and deep, and her team and her supporters ignore or gloss over it at their peril.

2) Hillary's most dangerous likeability liability is with women, which should be her strongest base. As I wrote in the New York Sun last year, some of this appears to be residue from the Lewinsky scandal. I have heard many women criticize her for enabling her husband’s repeated infidelities and staying with him after he dealt her a horrific public humiliation; their sneaking suspicion is that she tolerated Bill’s sneaking around to further her political ambitions. Some of it just seems to be purely stylistic reaction. Many women say they find it hard to connect with her because she rarely lets her emotions show in public and thus seems like she’s hiding something. That is why I think it is so important for her to concentrate in the early part on the campaign on reaching out to this constituency -- looking at how the numbers add up, she simply can't win if big blocks of women remain ambivalent or hostile.

3) Hillary would be wise to hold some of the town hall meetings and women-focused house parties that I proposed in red states. I know this seems counterintuitive, since so much focus will be on courting Democrats in the early voting states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina). But one of Hillary's biggest challenges is convinving primary voters -- liberals and moderates alike -- that she is electable in the general. By showing in 2007 that she can play in Peoria -- and even better in Louisville and Baton Rouge, states her husband won in 1996 -- she can help dash those doubts and in turn enhance her chances in the primaries.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Culture Watch

The cultural development of the day: MySpace announces it will be offering free monitoring software to parents. The Wall Street Journal has a detailed take on the teen-tottering news.

One has to ask, is this new feature designed to actually make kids safer -- or just make parents feel better? We shall see.

The more immediate and politically salient question is, will this step be enough to stave off government-mandated restrictions? As the Journal reports:
The stakes are high for News Corp., which bought MySpace in 2005 for $650 million, back when it had 17 million monthly unique visitors and very little revenue. Since then MySpace has rocketed to 60 million monthly users in the U.S., surpassed Yahoo as the No. 1 U.S. Web site in terms of page views, and is expected to generate nearly $500 million in revenues this year.

But a group of 33 state attorneys general led by Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal are investigating taking legal action against MySpace if it doesn't raise the age limit to join the site to 16 (from 14 currently) and begin verifying MySpace members' ages against public databases.

A lawsuit by the attorneys general could cost MySpace tens of millions of dollars in fees and generate reams of negative publicity, at a time when major advertisers are just overcoming their concerns about the site.

This informational/generational tussle bears watching for many reasons -- the rising level of parental unease about the dangers to kids lurking online, the reach of MySpace and its status as a bellwhether Internet brand, the involvement of a corporate giant like News Corp in the negotiations, and the political and technological implications for the rest of the Net.

Having been involved in a few of these fights, I suspect that MySpace's opening bid will be rejected by the AGs, and that News Corp. will be coming back with another, tougher offer of self-regulation in the not too distant future. So stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Barack and Roll

I'll have more to say on the Obama news later, but for the time being, here is the video on the Obama website announcing his decision to form an exploratory committee for the 2008 presidential race.


Married Women Become the Minority

Also from today's Times, this census-driven story about women and marrigage highlights a fascinating trend with all kinds of political implications. It will be interesting to track the analysis and intepretation by sociologists and family policy experts in the days and weeks ahead.

Labels: , ,


The Times They Are a Changing

I can't wait to see what the Kossacks have to say about this front-page article in today's Times detailing how the new Democratic leadership intends to govern from the center, particularly on divisive social issues.

My two cents: This is a triumph of common sense and an encouraging sign that Democratic leaders are on the path to building a more inclusive party and a sustainable majority. I was particularly impressed by these comments from South Carolina's James Clyburn and my home-state congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro, whom no one would accuse of being DLC-ers.

Over the past two years, Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, formerly the caucus chairman, now the majority whip, has led a “faith working group” in the House in an effort, Mr. Clyburn said, to get members “more comfortable with these issues and more connected with values voters.”

Part of this effort involved broadening the definition of values-related issues, he said, to include economic issues like raising the minimum wage, assisting low-income children with health insurance and shoring up Social Security.

“That’s Old Testament Bible, taking care of widows and orphans,” Mr. Clyburn said.

Some House Democrats said they had also learned to be more open about their own religious life.

“We, for a very long time, left the definition of ourselves as Democrats to others,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, an abortion-rights supporter and one of 55 Catholic Democrats in the House who signed a Catholic Statement of Principles last year, essentially saying that their faith involved more than their position on abortion. “But I think people finally felt enough. Enough. It’s about who we are, where we come from, what our culture and environment has been.”


Friday, January 12, 2007


Democrats Changing Their Tuna?

For those of us hoping that the discipline the Democrats showed in the fall campaign would carry over to their governing in Congress, and that there would be fewer botched jokes and less precision self-foot-shooting in the majority, today was not an encouraging news day.

First, there was this story in the Washington Times suggesting that the Nancy Pelosi carved out a special exemption from the minimum wage bill for San Francisco-based Starkist Tuna.

There may be a legitimate explanation for this fishy provision, but it's certainly not articulated in the Washington Times article, which indicates at a minimum that the Speaker's team is not yet ready for primetime pushback.

Pelosi has to know that the Republicans will be jumping on any hint of Democratic hypocrisy after her team so effectively savaged the Republican culture of corruption in the run-up to the election -- and that a "Sorry Charlie" defense is just not going to cut it. We need to be cleaner than Caesar's wife -- and smarter than Carville's.

Second, there was this cover story in the New York Post whacking Senator Barbara Boxer for implying during yesterday's Foreign Relations Committee hearing that Condi Rice could not understand the sacrifice's the families of American troops are making because she is not married and has no children.

I appreciate Senator Boxer's passion and anger about the Administration's botched handling of the war, and Rice deserves to be held to account for her role in it. But it just undermines our credibility as substantive critics -- and the larger goal of accountability -- when it seems like we are crossing the line into personal cheap shots. We look petty and political, and, moreover, it distracts attention away from the policy questions that should be rightly pushed, while building sympathy for the target of our scrutiny.

It's this kind of overreaching that saved Bill Clinton's presidency, and, more recently and relevant to Democrats, weakened the case against Sam Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. For those who don't recall, whatever substantive questions/criticisms the Democrats raised about Alito's jurisprudence and ideology in the confirmation hearings were largely obscured by their baseless insinuations that the nominee held racist views. That left casual viewers to believe the Democrats on the Judiciary committee were more interested in conducting a political inquisition instead of a policy inquiry -- and turned Alito into the victim.

Now, Alito probably was going to get confirmed anyway. But Democrats certainly didn't help themselves -- or the public interest -- by veering into vendetta territory. That lesson seems lost on Barbara Boxer. Let's hope it's not lost on Harry Reid and Speaker Pelosi, who would be well-served to send a signal that they don't condone the implication of Boxer's remarks, whether they were intended or not.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Surge Protectors

After chewing over the reactions to and analyses of President Bush's Iraq speech throughout the day, I was struck by how much was said about the Democrats and the Iraqis as potential stumbling blocks for the President's new strategy -- and how little was said about the Republicans.

The conventional wisdom that emerged Thursday, perhaps best summed up by the Wall Street Journal's lead story, posits that the biggest threat to the potential success of the President's surge proposal is from the the Pelosi-Reid Congress and the Maliki government in Baghdad.

The problem with that assessment is that it ignores the political realities of the past four years. The only way the Bush Administration was able survive its own disastrous policies as long as it did, and stave off a public revolt, was by holding the near unanimous support of the Republicans in Congress. Without that bulwark, which enabled the President and his team to marginalize much of the legitimate Democratic criticism as partisan sniping or political jockeying, this war presidency would have turned into a White House of cards long ago.

For my money, then, the most pressing danger to the new Bush strategy comes from his own allies in Congress. And the untold (or at least undertold) story of today is that Bush's base bulwark, which has been slowly eroding over the last six months, is now on the verge of disintegrating.

Indeed, there were abundant post-speech signs today that the President was losing (if not had lost) the sensible center-right that has kept his administration afloat. Probably the best bellwhether was David Brooks' dour column in today's New York Times.

Up until recently Brooks had been one of the strongest remaining advocates within the sane wing of the conservative movement for not giving up in Iraq -- and by extension not giving up on Bush. But his response to last night's primetime address was to upbraid the President for misleading the American people about what his plan really is and who the enemy in Iraq really is.

"The enemy in Iraq," Brooks concludes, "is not some discrete group of killers. It’s the maelstrom of violence and hatred that infects every institution, including the government and the military. Instead of facing up to this core reality, the Bush administration has papered it over with salesmanship and spin."

If that's what the President's best friends are saying, in a certain sense it almost doesn't matter what his political enemies plan to do in challenging his new strategy. Without a strong core of surge protectors in Congress, it's just a matter of time before the bottom completely falls out, the President squanders all of his political capital, and his entire Administration falls until political paralysis until it extracts itself from Iraq.


The Early Odds on Dodd

My other home state Senator, Chris Dodd, officially announced he was running for president this morning on the Imus in the Morning show. Here is the Hartford Courant's initial take on the news and Dodd's prospects.

As the Courant story makes clear, Dodd has many challenges to surmount before he can become a credible candidate, let alone seriously contend for the nomination. To me, the biggest and most immediate question is, what is Dodd's rationale? Which is to say, why him now?

Dodd is widely regarded to be an accomplished Senator, an excellent politician, exceedingly likeable, and eminently qualified (especially given his extensive foreign policy experience) -- all of which makes him appealing.

But what does he offer that is different enough and compelling enough that will make him captivating? What can he say that will persuade donors and voters to choose him (pigeon-holed as another New England liberal) over the other better-known, better-financed, and politically-sexier candidates (Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and likely Barack Obama)?

That's a high bar to clear, and Dodd won't have much time to make his case. Even though it's a full year before the first primary/caucus voting starts, the race is already moving at warp speed, and two other highly-regarded candidates (Mark Warner and Evan Bayh) have already bowed out before even getting formally in after concluding they could not compete against the Hillary juggernaut and the Obama magic.

Dodd could ostensibly point to the Dean campaign, which showed it is possible for an unknown and underfunded dark horse to catch fire over time, as a counter example and a cause for hope. But the 32-year Washington veteran can't run as an outsider and won't run as a rabble rouser. So the Dean model is not really relevant to a Dodd candidacy.

My sense right now is that Dodd will have a short window -- probably three to six months -- to show some traction-gaining edge and grow some early money. Otherwise, I suspect Dodd's likeability and experience and many other assets won't save him from becoming another early casualty and primary footnote. Either way, it will be interesting to watch this pol's pol take on such a formidable test.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I'm Back

Now that I have fully recovered from the Lieberman campaign -- not to mention six months worth of bookkeeping -- I am ready to jump back into the shallow end of the blogging pool.

Over the next few weeks I intend to sprinkle in some reflections/observations on my time in Connecticut along with my usual political and cultural commentary. It's tempting to just move on, given what a bruising experience this was for most everyone involved. But I believe there are still a few things left to be said and, more importantly, something to be gained from a little last healthy re-examination.

To start with, I’d like to share an essay I wrote about the Lieberman-Lamont race for the current issue of the Democratic Leadership Council’s Blueprint magazine, which delves into the larger lessons for Democrats to take away from this much-ballyhooed (and often much-misunderstood) party proxy fight.

In the meantime, happy new year to everyone.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?