Friday, March 30, 2007


Time Poll Paradox

Time Magazine released a new poll today with the "surprising" finding that the top Republican presidential candidates are still beating the top Democratic contenders, despite the clear unpopularity of the war in Iraq, President Bush's dismal approval ratings, and the growing air of doom and gloom on the right about 2008.

According to the Time poll, Hillary Clinton loses to John McCain, 42%-48%, and to Rudy Giuliani 41%-50%. Even though Clinton maintains a 7% edge over Obama among Democratic respondents, Obama fares better in the general election matchups. It's so close that it's a statistical dead heat, but Obama still loses: 43%-45% to McCain, 44%-45% to Giuliani.

When you dig below the surface, though, this seeming paradox is not all that puzzling.

First, other polls have shown that outside of the hard-core anti-war movement, voters tend to give the bulk of the blame for our failures in Iraq to Bush and not Republicans broadly. The same is true for Katrina and the big scandal du jour, the politically-motivated firings of eight federal prosecutors.

Second, McCain and Giuliani's broader appeal is due in large part because stand out as different kind of Republicans -- they are not known first as conservatives or party guys but as independent-minded reformers. So it stands to reason they would be more immune to the taint of Bush's incompetence and hard-partisanship or for the corruption scandals in the Republican Congress.

Third, Clinton and Obama both come with fundamental flaws that happen to match up directly against McCain and Giuliani's greatest strengths. Hillary is seen by many in the middle as too calculating, and McCain and Giuliani are in contrast seen as strong leaders with deep independent streaks. With Obama, the biggest question is on experience, particularly when it comes to national security, and McCain and Giuliani arguably have the best commander-in-chief credentials of anyone in the field.

Now, it goes without saying that it is way too early to read anything definitive into this poll or any other. But it does suggest that there is a real danger for Democrats in counting on Iraq alone to carry them to the White House and overestimating the drag Bush will have on whomever the Republican nominee is -- especially if it's one of the two straight talkers currently leading the field.

(Cross-posted on Political Insider. . . )

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Back in the Straddle

My apologies to friends and family and random political junkies who occasionally stop by here for the long gap between posts. I've been bogged down with work and then was on the road all last week, mostly on vacation.

I will resume my more regular musings soon. But for now, I thought I would recommend this brilliant piece of analysis by Ron Brownstein in Sunday's Los Angeles Times about the divide between "beer track" and "wine track" voters in the Democratic primary process -- and how Clinton and Obama are faring in navigating that critical cultural split. It provides a spot-on primer on the race behind the race that may challenge some assumptions about who is supporting whome and why.

(FYI: for some reason I am having trouble linking to the article using the Blogger software, so I'm including the full text below.)
Obama and blue collars: Do they fit?
History says he must reach working-class voters -- Hillary Clinton's stronghold.
Ronald Brownstein

March 25, 2007

IN THE EARLY returns among the young, computer-savvy social networkers on the MySpace website, Barack Obama is running laps around Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama's MySpace page has attracted more than twice as many friends as Clinton's unofficial page on the site.

But when the two leading contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination appeared earlier this month in Washington before a beefy, brush-cut audience at an International Assn. of Fire Fighters convention, the result was reversed. Obama received a tepid response while Clinton blew away the room when she followed him to the stage.

"If I was Barack Obama, I'd say that speech — that's the one I wanted to deliver to the firefighters," said Bob Markwood, an Orlando firefighter, a few minutes after Clinton concluded.

These contrasting responses signal the resurgence of a dynamic that has repeatedly shaped, and frequently decided, the contests for the Democratic presidential nomination over the last generation.

Obama's early support is following a pattern familiar from the campaigns of other brainy liberals with cool, detached personas and messages of political reform, from Eugene McCarthy in 1968 to Gary Hart in 1984 to Bill Bradley in 2000. Like those predecessors, Obama is running strong with well-educated voters but demonstrating much less support among those without college degrees.

That trend may be exaggerated at the moment by the fact that Obama, a relative newcomer, is better known among better-educated voters, and it could be mitigated in the future by his potential appeal to African Americans. But it is not a pattern Obama can allow to harden. All of the candidates whose support fit that profile ultimately lost the nomination to rivals whose support was rooted in the blue-collar and minority communities where Clinton is strongest in early surveys.

"Obama has got to expand his base in order to be consistently competitive," said Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic strategist not affiliated with any of the 2008 candidates.

Since the 1960s, Democratic nominating contests regularly have come down to a struggle between a candidate who draws support primarily from upscale, economically comfortable voters liberal on social and foreign policy issues, and a rival who relies mostly on downscale, financially strained voters drawn to populist economics and somewhat more conservative views on cultural and national security issues.

It's not much of an oversimplification to say that the blue-collar Democrats tend to see elections as an arena for defending their interests, and the upscale voters see them as an opportunity to affirm their values. Each group finds candidates who reflect those priorities.

Democratic professionals often describe this sorting as a competition between upscale "wine track" candidates and blue-collar "beer track" contenders. Another way to express the difference is to borrow from historian John Milton Cooper Jr.'s telling comparison of the pugnacious Theodore Roosevelt and the idealistic Woodrow Wilson. Cooper described the long rivalry between Republican Roosevelt and Democrat Wilson as a contest between a warrior and a priest. In modern times, the Democratic presidential race has usually pitted a warrior against a priest.

Warrior candidates stress their ability to deliver on kitchen table concerns and revel in political combat. They tout their experience and flout their scars. Their greatest strength is usually persistence, not eloquence; they don't so much inspire as reassure. Think of Harry Truman in 1948, Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and, in a somewhat more diluted fashion, Walter Mondale in 1984 and John Kerry in 2004.

The priests, whose lineage runs back through McCarthy to Adlai Stevenson, present a very different face. They write books and sometimes verse. They observe the campaign's hurly-burly through a filter of cool, witty detachment. Their campaigns become crusades, fueled as much by inchoate longing for a "new politics" as tangible demands for new policies. In the past quarter of a century, Hart, Bradley and the late neo-liberal Paul Tsongas in 1992 each embodied the priest in Democratic presidential politics.

Some candidates transcend these divisions. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was a warrior who quoted Aeschylus. Bill Clinton blended a warrior's resiliency with a priest's promise of transformative ("third way") politics. But most Democratic candidates fall clearly on one or the other side of this divide.

Hillary Clinton has firmly positioned herself as a warrior. She wowed the firefighters' convention not through eloquence but passionate declarations of shared commitments. "You were there when we needed you, and I want you to know I will be there when you need me," she insisted. Her campaign already views non-college voters, especially women, as the foundation of her coalition. Her stump speech, centered on a promise to represent "invisible" Americans, targets the economic anxieties of blue-collar families.

Obama's aides resist the collar, but in the early stages, he looks more like a priest. He's written two bestselling books. Like McCarthy, Hart and Howard Dean, he's ignited a brush fire on college campuses. His initial message revolves heavily around eloquent but somewhat amorphous promises of reform and civic renewal. He laments "the smallness of our politics … where power is always trumping principle."

Not only have priests — including Hart, Tsongas and Bradley — run better among voters with college degrees, they've tended to run well in the Northeast, the West Coast and portions of the upper Midwest where wine track voters congregate; the warriors usually thrive in interior states such as Ohio, Missouri or Tennessee, where college graduates constitute 40% or less of the Democratic electorate.

That picture is coming into focus again, with one twist. The priests typically have been flattened among black voters, but Obama's African American heritage is helping him, already, to split the black vote fairly closely with Clinton in most surveys.

Among whites, Clinton so far is showing broader reach. She's competitive upscale and dominating downscale, a combination that allows her to lead Obama in most early polls. In the latest nationwide Gallup survey, for instance, Obama led Clinton by 3 percentage points among white, college-educated Democrats, but she bested him by 23 points among whites without college degrees, and she led overall.

In a Detroit News survey released last week, Obama led Clinton by an impressive 14 percentage points among Michigan whites with college degrees, but she led him by more than twice as much among whites without advanced education and held a double-digit lead in the state overall.

Recent Quinnipiac University surveys in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania similarly showed Clinton leading Obama by at least 2 to 1 among non-college whites, enough to put her comfortably ahead even though the two ran more closely among college-educated white voters. The latest University of New Hampshire poll shows a similar trend.

David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, dismisses these numbers as artifacts of his candidate's lower name recognition with non-college voters, who aren't yet as tuned in to the race. Axelrod said that Obama, through his campaigns for the Illinois state Senate and the U.S. Senate and his experience as a Saul Alinsky-style community organizer on Chicago's South Side, has demonstrated that he can bond with white working-class voters.

"This is a guy who began as a community organizer banging on the doors of government to … get some attention for people who were living in the shadow of a closed steel mill," Axelrod said. "So his profile is not the typical effete reformer profile."

But familiarity alone may not solve Obama's blue-collar challenge. Rick Gale, the president of the firefighters' Wisconsin affiliate, was shaking his head after Obama's reform-heavy message to the union convention. "In my view, that's really not a message for our guys," Gale said. "They're really not afraid of politics."

Besides his inroads among blacks and his pedigree in community organizing, Obama has other potential advantages over earlier reform candidates. The share of college graduates in the Democratic coalition is rising. And Obama would benefit if John Edwards, who is running as a blue-collar warrior and reaffirmed his commitment to the campaign Thursday, cuts into Clinton's downscale support (just as Edwards will benefit if Obama draws more upscale voters from Clinton).

But, with all those caveats, no candidate in decades has won the Democratic nomination relying primarily on upscale voters. Obama isn't likely to break that pattern, especially because Clinton appears to be an acceptable, if not always riveting, choice for so much of the party.

Since Obama entered the campaign, the question he's faced most often is whether he is "black enough" to win votes from African Americans. But the more relevant issue may be whether Obama is "blue enough" to increase his support among blue-collar whites.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Fox Debate Fallout

The Politico published another commentary of mine on Tuesday, this one looking at the Democratic family fight over the proposed Fox-sponsored presidential debate in Nevada and the folly of the Netroots' campaign to kill it.

To offer a different perspective, The Politico editors paired my piece with a counterpoint from Matt Stoller of MyDD. Stoller makes a strong case for the Netroots' vendetta against Fox, probably the most thorough I have seen yet. In the end, though, Stoller's piece suffers from the same fundamentally-flawed logic and as a result is utterly unpersuasive

To see why, let's take a look at his two primary arguments:

. . . Fox News is not a news channel, but a propaganda outlet that regularly distorts, spins, and falsifies information. Second, Fox News is heavily influenced or even controlled by the Republican Party itself. As such, we believe that Fox News on the whole functions as a surrogate operation for the GOP. Treating Fox as a legitimate news channel extends the Republican Party’s ability to swift-boat and discredit our candidates. In other words, Fox News is a direct pipeline of misinformation from the GOP leadership into the traditional press.

Right away, you can see that Stoller's case rests on a shaky foundation of questionable premises. Look at the bill of particulars that Stoller uses to indict Fox's standing as a "legitimate news channel," and they don't come close to supporting the contention that Fox is "controlled" by the Republican Party and functions as a "surrogate operation" for the GOP.

In fact, most of Stoller's outrages do not flow from Fox's news reporting at all, but from the primetime talk shows that everyone knows are opinion forums. By that twisted logic, the New York Times should be judged to be an "illegitimate newspaper" because its editorial page and most of its columnists skew just as far to the left. I'm not saying Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly are the equivalent of Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert, but they effectively serve the same function. And please don't tell me that the Democrats and liberal support groups don't peddle their talking points to the Times opinion shapers the same way that the conservatives do to Fox's.

The few examples of actual news reporting bias that Stoller cites -- "the Obama Madrassa smear, Carl Cameron's false claims that John Kerry referred to himself as a 'metrosexual' and 'news anchor' Brit Hume repeating the false canard that the public does not trust the Democratic Party on national defense -- hardly constitute clear and convincing evidence that Fox is a propaganda outlet or controlled by the Republicans.

In fact, if you scrub other major news outlets, you can find plenty of evidence to support conspiracy theories on either side. CNN ran a giant X over Dick Cheney's picture on the air (sending conservatives into paroxysms of bias claims) and featured Christine Amannpour's slanted reporting on the Israel-Palestinian conflict (which Likudniks complained about for years). Does that make CNN illegitimate? The Washington Post famously referred to evangelicals as "poor, uneducated, and easy to command." Does that make the Post a propaganda outlet for the secular left?

I raise these points not to defend Fox or to suggest that Fox's programming isn't tilted -- the network is clearly catering to an audience, particularly with its talk shows, and I often find the primetime hosts crossing lots of lines. I am simply pointing out the double standard inherent in Stoller's argument. He doesn't even acknowledge any of the questions that conservatives have raised about liberal bias in other major outlets -- NPR as a prime example -- because these organizations report the news in a way that comports with Stoller's worldview. Fox occasionally challenges that worldview, so it must automatically be suspect.

Again, I am not suggesting that Fox's news reporting is totally objective, just that its transgressions differ from other news organizations in degree, not in kind. The proof of that can be found across the liberal blogosphere, which is constantly holding up examples of the prejudices they perceive from prominent reporters and news outlets. Just in the last two days the Netroots were atwitter about a Media Matters report showing the big Sunday morning chat shows favor conservatives (I guess even Stephanopolous has gone over to the dark side).

So once you separate fact from impressions and insinuations, and differentiate Fox's news reporting from its opinion-based programming, you see that the core of Stoller's argument loses most of its credibility. What's left is a perfectly transparent, albeit perfectly valid, political agenda. Stoller and friends believe Fox's talk shows and their anti-NPR style of news reporting is hurtful to their cause, and they want to discredit it, just as the right did for much of the past two decades in trying to counteract what it saw as the liberal media.

So let's set aside Stoller's vigorous efforts to cloak his true intentions, stipulate for the sake of argument that Fox has a point of view, and accept his basic pitch at face value. He and his allies believe that by killing the Fox-sponsored debate in Nevada and spurring a mass Democratic boycott of Fox, they will unmask Fox for the fraud they contend it to be, stop it from hurting Democrats, and ultimately force it to play fair.

That raises two obvious questions. First, what evidence does he have to support his theory that a boycott will effect change? And second, does the supposed benefits of this boycott outweigh the demonstrable cost -- sacrificing the platform Fox provides to reach a different audience. The fact that Stoller totally glosses over these questions is quite telling. It indicates he is not making an argument to persuade anyone, but merely stating his convictions and aspirations. It also shows why the Netroots have largely failed to extend their influence beyond the choir to which they typically preach.

Among other things, Stoller simply presumes the boycott will work, when there is plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. As I noted in my piece, Democrats have been largely avoiding Fox like the plague for most of the Bush era, with some notable exceptions after the 2004 election debacle, and Fox remains the most watched cable news network by far, beating CNN and MSNBC combined. What about the death of the Nevada debate is going to suddenly force Fox to change its ways? Stoller doesn't come close to saying what will be different going forward.

And nowhere does Stoller even address the primary counterargument that Dean and other progressive leaders made in arguing for the debate partnership, which centers around the size and composition of Fox's audience. If Stoller were serious about convincing skeptics in our party to see his way, he presumably would at least try to explain why reaching the biggest audience of any cable news network by far is of minimal value to Democrats' electoral prospects and certainly not worth the cost (i.e., legitimizing Fox).

I could be wrong about this, but I suspect the reason for that is that deep down that Stoller and many other Netrooters not only have contempt for Fox, but for its viewers, for anyone who would willingly listen to those ogres Hannity and O'Reilly and actually vote for George Bush. They would rather lose elections than try to make room for these voters in the Democratic Party.

This to me is the overriding problem with the Netroots' approach to politics. It is driven by emotion, not logic, and that primary emotion is a hatred of all things Republican and conservative, whom they view not as the competition but the enemy. That shows a fundamental misunderstanding of politics itself, but also a misreading of the electorate's mood right now. We can inflamme our base all we want, but unless we engage a broader audience and increase our market share, it will all be an exercise in furious futility.

Friday, March 09, 2007


National Journal Shows the Other Side of Lieberman

Today I am going to invoke a point of personal privilege, put on my Lieberman partisan hat, and share with you an excellent National Journal story on my former boss and current client. [NOTE: for you full-disclosure purists, I worked for Lieberman for 10 years in the Senate, on his 2006 general election campaign, and continue today as a paid advisor.]

This piece provides some much-needed outside perspective on Senator Lieberman's productive bridge-building efforts since become an Independent Democrat. It also provides a healthy reality-check -- particularly about Lieberman's ongoing good Democrat-ness on domestic issues -- for the liberal blogosphere's myth-making. Not least of all, it shows why Harry Reid and his inclusive leadership style commands the respect of the entire Democratic caucus.

(FYI: Since non-subscribers can't get access to the article on the National Journal website, I am including the full text of the piece below instead of linking to it.)
Lieberman at the Water's Edge
By Brian Friel
National Journal

On February 28, President Bush and his top national security advisers met at the White House with congressional leaders of both parties to talk about the war in Afghanistan. The lawmakers later pronounced the meeting "very good" and "constructive" -- although they had no news to announce, given the parties' general agreement about U.S. policy in Afghanistan. "It was a meeting that reflected the unity of purpose between the administration and, obviously, Republicans who were there, but also Democrats that were there, that we want to be successful in defeating terrorism," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters as he left.

The meeting was the first gathering of a high-level working group on national security issues. The idea for administration and congressional leaders -- including Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- to regularly discuss matters related to the war on terrorism came from Sen. Joe Lieberman.

"We'll never get to a point where everybody agrees on everything," the self-styled "independent Democrat" from Connecticut and Bush's main Democratic ally for the Iraq war told National Journal. "And we shouldn't. That's not the American way. But we sure ought to get to a point where we can sit in a room and talk to each other about our disagreements and our agreements, recognizing that we are all -- regardless of party affiliation -- on the same side."

The meeting of the most powerful people in Washington at his behest is just one of the events in the last few weeks that demonstrate Lieberman's unique position in the new Congress. He is, on the Iraq war, firmly against the Democratic Party line, opposing his party on two key votes on Bush's plan to send additional troops to Iraq. But Lieberman remains a leading spokesman for other Democratic initiatives. Despite a Bush veto threat, he promoted union rights for airport security screeners in the 9/11 bill that he shepherded on the Senate floor during the past two weeks. And he spoke on behalf of Democrats in the party's March 3 radio address, demanding better medical treatment for wounded veterans.

Lieberman's tenuous loyalty to the Democratic Party keeps it in control of the 51-49 Senate. If he caucused with Republicans instead, the GOP would take over, with Vice President Cheney serving as the tiebreaking vote. Lieberman has said there is only a remote possibility that he would switch sides, but he hasn't ruled it out. He could, and may, use his position in the catbird seat as previous senators have -- to demand concessions and favors from party leaders in return for his support on key legislation. But so far, Lieberman is styling himself as a bridge builder who will use his position at the center of the Senate to generate bipartisan agreement on overarching foreign-policy issues.

Lieberman cites Sen. Arthur Vandenberg as his inspiration. The Republican senator represented Michigan from 1928 until his death in 1951. For most of that time, he was a leading isolationist, opposing the internationalist policies of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But on January 10, 1945, Vandenberg gave what has become known as "the speech heard 'round the world," in which he denounced isolationism, promoted the formation of the United Nations, and announced support for an activist American role in world affairs. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1947 to '49, Vandenberg helped Democratic President Truman develop the nation's postwar and Cold War foreign policies. A phrase from a 1947 Vandenberg speech, "Politics stops at the water's edge," has become a mantra for patriotic unity, and he is one of only nine senators honored with a portrait in the Senate Reception Room.

"Vandenberg came a distance to agree with Truman on the great policies of the postwar period, not only the international institutions critical to the Cold War but the basic policy of containment of the Soviet Union," Lieberman told NJ. "I hope we can get to that point."

Lieberman quoted Vandenberg for a year and a half while he promoted his idea for a high-level national security working group. Lieberman said that Bush asked him in December -- soon after Democrats won control of Congress -- for ideas to build bipartisan consensus to fight terrorism. "I said, 'Why don't you just try to get people together around other subjects?' " Lieberman recounted. " 'You can talk about Iraq sometimes, or on other subjects where there may be more agreement, to create dialogue and trust.' "

Bush embraced the idea in his January 10 speech to the nation in which he also announced a "surge" of troops for the Iraq war. Bush repeated it in his January 23 State of the Union address.

Lieberman in December had proposed a standing membership for the group, including party leaders as well as the chairmen and ranking members of various committees. Pelosi and Reid said instead that they wanted to decide who from the Democratic side would attend each meeting, depending on the subject. Bush ultimately agreed. Lieberman said he didn't attend the first meeting because he hasn't been as involved in Afghanistan policy as he has been on other issues. "I'm very pleased with how it's gone so far," he said.

But on the major foreign-policy issue confronting the nation -- Iraq -- Lieberman has had more trouble developing bipartisan good feelings. In fact, he's managed to annoy several of his colleagues in the process of supporting the president's war policies. In a Meet the Press appearance on January 14, Lieberman angered Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., an opponent of Bush's war plans, by saying: "The consequences [of withdrawal] for us, for -- I want to be personal -- for my children and grandchildren, I fear will be disastrous." Hagel retorted: "Senator Lieberman talks about his children and grandchildren. We all have children and grandchildren. He doesn't have a market on that, nor do any of my colleagues."

Similarly, at a January 23 Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as Iraq commander, Lieberman asked Petraeus if he agreed that resolutions opposing Bush's plans would encourage America's enemies. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who drafted one such resolution, took exception to Lieberman's question. "We're not a division here today of patriots who support the troops and those who are making statements and working on resolutions that could be translated as aiding and abetting the enemy," Warner said.

Senate Democrats have mostly avoided such tussles with Lieberman, directing their fire at the GOP instead. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., for example, has said that Lieberman is voting his conscience and that Democrats respect him for it. When Lieberman stopped attending the Democrats' Tuesday caucus luncheons because he felt like the odd man out on Iraq, Reid personally asked him to come to the meetings and said they would cover other topics. Lieberman accepted.

Although Lieberman is again meeting with the Democrats for lunch on Tuesdays, he has different plans for breakfast. He and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on January 9 convened the first Bipartisan Members Group breakfast, at which lawmakers from both parties get together for informal discussions of issues. "The whole reason for the group is that now almost every spare minute is taken up in partisan team meetings, leaving little time for opportunities to know one another across party lines so that we can work better together," the two wrote in a December 20 letter to their colleagues. Forty senators showed up for the first breakfast.

It remains to be seen whether Lieberman's efforts will bear bipartisan legislative fruit. Members have found themselves frequently aligning with their parties for votes on both foreign and domestic policies, from Iraq to amendments on minimum wage to the security screeners' union rights. But one glimmer of hope came on March 5, when Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flanked by Lieberman and other senators of both parties, announced a bipartisan legislative package of education and research initiatives aimed at keeping America competitive in a global economy.

As each senator went to the podium to speak, Lieberman chatted in the background with colleagues from both parties -- including Reid, who whispered behind his hand into Lieberman's ear for a few moments. When it was Lieberman's turn to speak, he began with a biblical quote: "How good and wonderful it is for brethren to dwell together in harmony."

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Correcting My Own Record

Last night was my first appearance on Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes Show," and I had one of those TV moments commentators often dread. I got bulled into saying something dumb and, even worse, that I don't believe. The damage is done, but one of the beauties of a blog is it at least gives you a chance to clean up your own messes, and this one warrants some sanitizing.

My segment was supposed to be about Wednesday's New York Times story about Barack Obama's investments, but even Sean Hannity and the conservative guest I was on with had trouble making hay over that non-scandal. So to fill the time, Hannity raised the issue of Obama's church and its precepts, which often used the word "black" in them, and challenged me to explain why those statements were not racist. (This happens to be a Hannity hobbyhorse, as you can see here.)

I started making the point I wanted to -- that there is nothing racist about black churches calling for empowerment for and accountability from its members, for talking about, as Obama himself has said, "the African-American community strengthening families or adhering to the black work ethic or being committed to self-discipline and self-respect and not forgetting where you came from." In fact, as I tried to tell Hannity, those sound a lot like the conservative values that the right often preaches about and sometimes criticizes the black community for lacking.

But Hannity cut me off and pressed me to say that if you substituted the word "white" in those precepts, wouldn't that be considered racist? I pushed back by asking if he would have a problem if you substituted the word "Italian" for "black," because (as I would have liked to gotten a chance to say) this was an expression of community pride and responsibility, and not anything discriminatory. Then when Hannity pressed me again, I just stumbled, and left the impression that there would be nothing wrong with a white church talking about white pride and the like.

Let me be clear: I don't think that would be appropriate, and I know it would come off as racist. What I should have said, as Hannity's co-host Alan Colmes eventually did, is that this is a bogus comparison because whites as the majority have no need for empowerment or fighting for their freedom. And then I should have pointed out Hannity's hypocrisy in attacking a church that espouses many of the same values he does.

But I didn't. So my apologies to anyone who was put off by my fumbled comments and to Senator Obama for not giving him the defense he deserved.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007



It's time to stop the silly speculation over whether Hillary Clinton will ever apologize for her vote to start the war in Iraq -- that's just not happening (much to Hillary's credit). A far more relevant and unsettled question is what would Al Gore do to end it?

I know, Gore is not currently a candidate, but the fact is he is hovering over the race, the demand for his entry is growing, and as the USA Today/Gallup Poll that came out this week showed, he has a strong base of support to justify the speculation.

Moreover, as Eli Lake pointed out in a column in Tuesday's New York Sun, Gore has been curiously mum on the subject of withdrawal to date, in stark contrast to his full-throated opposition to the war. In a December interview with Matt Lauer, Lake notes by way of example, Gore punted on articulating his exit strategy, saying, "Well if I were president I would have the full flow of information and have and test each of these options."

The conventional wisdom, of course, assumes the anti-war Gore would at a minimum favor some kind of timeline or deadline for pulling out troops, if not going so far as to cut off funding as the hard-core base wants. But as Lake says, Gore's ongoing silence and past hawkish history suggest otherwise.
So why is it that Hollywood's favorite Democrat would need more information to make a choice everyone in his party seems to have already accepted? Look no further than Mr. Gore's September 23, 2002, address to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. . . In it he said that one of the reasons he opposed the intervention, was because he did not trust President Bush to stay in Iraq once the Baathist state was dismantled.

"If we go in there and dismantle them - and they deserve to be dismantled - but then we wash our hands of it and walk away and leave it in a situation of chaos, and say, ‘That's for y'all to decide how to put things back together now,' that hurts us," Mr. Gore said.

This may sound hard to believe in light of Mr. Gore's subsequent speeches, in which he played to the passions of his camp's national security Sistah Souljahs, but Mr. Gore has long had some of the feathers of a hawk. That's right, Mr. Gore is a tag 'em and bag 'em tough guy, a former vice president who endorsed the rendition of terrorists for interrogation, not to mention the bombing of Serbia and Iraq.

. . . More often than not, at least throughout Mr. Gore's career, he has been closer than most modern Democrats to the Scoop Jackson and Harry Truman tradition. Mr. Gore has been an idealist, a defender of Israel, and unafraid to deploy American force in the interest of noble American values. He voted for the first Gulf War, when there were far more leaders in his party who opposed it.
If Gore does edge closer to getting in, or gets thrust into the presidential debate as he likely will be, it will be fascinating to see which Al Gore will emerge on this critical question.

Will it be the peace-ified MoveOn version, which really is a figment of the far left's fertile, futile imagination? Or will be it muscular internationalist the record clearly shows Gore to have long been, who opposed attacking Iraq in large part because he believed it would undermine our prosecution of the war on terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere, not because he was categorically against the use of force?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Leftover Coulter Questions

The Ann Coulter f-word flap has come and mostly gone, but it has left some interesting questions to ponder/pundit. Among them:

Why did the mainstream media covering the CPAC conference mostly ignore Coulter's inflammatory comments about John Edward in their initial coverage? Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has a revealing piece today exploring that issue, and there seems to be no good explanation, at least coming from the reporters Kurtz quoted.

That leads to another question being asked by some liberal bloggers: does the MSM have a double standard when it comes to covering "conservative flamethrowers" like Coulter? Kos makes that case to Kurtz, comparing the coverage of Coulter's bigoted comment to that of the Edwards bloggers' offensive anti-religious diatribes.

I can't help but think that this is another case of the liberal blogosphere's shoulder-chipped paranoid tendencies clouding their judgment. I agree that the MSM badly underplayed this story, especially given the prominence of the gathering and blase response from the conservative bigwigs there. But there's just no hard evidence that it was due to ideological or partisan favoritism.

Ironically enough, Kos offered probably the most rational explanation for why the story was underplayed and discounted his own conspiracy theory in the process when he pointed out to Kurtz that "there's the notion that this is her shtick and this is how she sells millions of books." Which is to say that Coulter is a professional food-fighter and the political press as such doesn't take her over-the-top comments seriously.

But that leaves the question of whether the two Edwards-related controversies were really comparable. I just don't see how you can credibly equate the two. Coulter is a made-for-cable free agent gadfly who has made similarly ugly comments in the past (i.e., she really didn't break new ground). The Edwards bloggers were employees of a major presidential campaign whose plight was made into a major test of the blogosphere's potency (i.e., very new and very different).

That's not an excuse for underplaying the Coulter story. It's just recognizing that Kos and company are on shaky ground in using the equal treatment argument to hold the MSM accountable for missing the boat at the CPAC conference. The case against the Coulter coverage stands on its own.

The real disparity of note here is how differently the partisans on each side responded to these different controversies. While the far left aggressively defended the Edwards bloggers up until they resigned and most establishment Democrats kept silent for fear of offending the Netroots, as soon as the Republican candidates and the conservative blogosphere saw the Coulter story threatening to get legs and inflict real damage, they did not hesitate to denounce Coulter's comments and put a cap on the flap.

(FYI: For a good example of the conservative critique of Coulter, check out Cliff Kincaid's column over at Accuracy in Media. I was particularly struck by his take on the moral equivalency issue.)

What does that say about the relative pragmatism of the two parties and their leading opiners? Are the Republicans/conservatives better at neutralizing their libelous liabilities? Or are they just less scared of the bloggers on their side? My guess is that the Kossacks will give us plenty of opportunities over the course of this campaign to test those propositions.

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