March 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

According to a new Gallup poll, just over a quarter (28%) of Clinton supporters say they will vote for McCain rather than Obama if she doesn’t win. By contrast, just 19% of Obama supporters say they will support McCain. As with any poll, especially one taken so far ahead of the event it relates to, this must be taken with a large dose of salt, but it’s educational nonetheless.

Allahpundit over on Hot Air suggests that this is a measure of “sore-loserness” but I think that misses the point. The point is that there are at least two reasons why someone willing to vote for Clinton would be more likely to switch to McCain than someone who wanted Obama. The first is that, for those few people who can accurately place all three candidates on a traditional left-right spectrum, Hillary is closer to McCain than the comparably more left-wing Obama.

The second, though, and one more likely to be at play here, is that those favoring a serious candidate will prefer both Clinton and McCain over the less substantive Obama. While Clinton has of late taken to embellishing her own credentials she has overall focused far more on specifics and has a greater record on which to draw than does Obama. It’s likely that voters favoring experience and substance shy away from Obama and prefer Clinton to McCain by a greater or lesser margin.

Allahpundit goes on from his initial premise that this is about Hillary supporters being sorer losers to suggest that they key to keeping these numbers high is to make those supporters as sore as possible. But I think the correct strategy would actually be to continue to highlight Obama’s lack of substance, which is behind at least some Democrats’ distrust of him.

March 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Perhaps he wrote these paragraphs himself, but whether he did or someone wrote them for him, this is some fantastic writing, from the speech he is due to give today:

When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window, and shouted at my father that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. My father immediately left for the submarine base where he was stationed. I rarely saw him again for four years.

My grandfather, who commanded the fast carrier task force under Admiral Halsey, came home from the war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home to the country they loved so well. I detest war. It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description.

When nations seek to resolve their differences by force of arms, a million tragedies ensue. The lives of a nation’s finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer and die. Commerce is disrupted; economies are damaged; strategic interests shielded by years of patient statecraft are endangered as the exigencies of war and diplomacy conflict. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly.

Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war. However heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us.

These words open the major speech on foreign policy he is giving. They do a wonderful job of introducing his personal and family history of service in the military while making forcefully clear that this history makes him less, not more, prone to wage war. The rest of the speech is worth reading too – let’s hope it gets the coverage it deserves in the news this evening and tomorrow.

March 25th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The recent Obama’s pastor furore has reminded everyone again how disingenuous candidates can be when they set their minds to it. It’s particularly ironic when it involves Obama because he claims to be so much above the fray, but the fact is that they all do it. They mock their competitors and seek to discredit them when they make mountains out of molehills, but then turn around and do exactly the same thing back.

Obama’s pastor problem is a problem, because he chose this man, sought his advice and blessing, and maintained a close personal asssociation with him over the years. But it was easily fixed, and by all accounts his race speech was impressive in the way it dealt with the issue (some voters have apparently not responded so well). But whether it’s this issue, or Hillary’s Geraldine Ferraro problem or now her Bosnia problem, or McCain’s Iran gaffe, everyone gleefully makes much of the shortcomings of other candidates but wails with false pain when the same dirty tricks are played on them.

These issues only really matter if they tell us something fundamental about the candidate that we didn’t already know, or only suspected. The Jeremiah Wright problem had legs because it belied Obama’s contentions that he is not running on race or on a racial platform or as the candidate or representative of a particular race, and yet there is a suspicion that he is more militant than he lets on. This is also the reason why his wife’s remarks have been so well covered – they reinforce this perception too.

The Clinton Ferraro issue didn’t matter because no-one really associated the views expressed by Ferraro with Clinton. But the Bosnia scam did because it played to a suspicion people have about Clinton: that she will say and do anything to get elected, and that she is desperate to build a false foreign policy resume by reference to the times she accompanied her husband on overseas trips. Almost entirely lacking in her own experience, she must rely on his, but can only do so by exaggerating her role in past events. The Bosnia comments – so easily disproved in this age of online video – were unwise precisely because they revealed more to us about her character than she wanted to.

For the same reason, McCain’s Iran comments didn’t matter, because no-one doubts that this man knows foreign policy. He is returning from his eighth visit to Iraq and famously served in the armed forces himself many years ago. This was an anomaly and not a revelation, and that’s the difference. But all candidates always act as if every indiscretion or revelation were an anomaly, which discredits their claims even when they’re reasonable. But there’s no real hope of any change in that department soon, unfortunately.

March 14th, 2008 by Rightsideup

One assumption about Romney has been that if he (or anyone else) were selected as McCain’s VP, he would be in pole position for a run at the presidency next time around (whether 2012 or 2016). Most people trumpet this as if it’s received wisdom, but how much sense does that really make?

Incumbent VPs from the last 70 years fall into one of several categories:

  • Succeed sitting president through death or resignation (Truman, Johnson, Ford)
  • Seek and win nomination, win election (Nixon, Bush)
  • Seek and win nomination, lose election (Humphrey, Nixon, Mondale, Gore)
  • Seek and fail to win nomination (Quayle)
  • No running for presidential office (Cheney, Rockefeller, Barkley)
  • Resign while in office (Agnew)

Eight of these 13 men have therefore gone on either to be the nominee of their party or president, which seems good odds. But of those, four lost at least their first attempts to be elected to the presidency, and three became president through no fault or merit of their own. Just two of them – Bush and Nixon – actually won election in their own rights.

The records in office of those that did become president are not stellar:

  • Truman may be the exception, at least in some eyes, although he failed to win re-election for a second term
  • Johnson (who failed to be elected to a second term in his own right and presided over several miserable failures)
  • Nixon disgraced the office and his party
  • Ford replaced him and unsurprisingly failed to be elected in his own right even once
  • Bush won on Reagan’s coattails, but again failed to win a second term.

Taken together, none of this suggests either that VPs are more likely to be elected than anyone else (for example former Governors, who have been elected four of the last five times), or that they make particularly good presidents when they are elected. Romney, Huckabee and others (especially John McCain) should all bear this in mind.

Now, part of the problem is the kind of men chosen as VPs, often more for the states they can bring in, their unlikeliness to challenge the candidate in the personal dynamism stakes, and the balance they bring to the ticket rather than any admirable qualities they possess in their own rights. Romney might prove the exception to that rule, although Huckabee arguably fits the mold better in some ways. But anyone assuming that the Vice Presidency is the best path to the presidency is making a shaky assumption at best. I’m glad to see that Romney is also setting up a PAC to elect Republican candidates as a way of shoring up his other main option for setting himself up for 2012.

March 12th, 2008 by Rightsideup

There has been a growing stream of articles over the past couple of weeks talking about Romney as a possible VP candidate. My own view has always been that he wouldn’t accept it – he’s been running the show wherever he was (Bain Capital, the Olympics, Massachusetts, his Presidential campaign) for 20 years or so, and playing second fiddle to a guy with whom he shared so much animosity during the campaign just seemed unlikely.

But, it appears that he may be willing after all. The reason must be that he wants to position himself as the leading contender for the presidency in four or eight years’ time, and thinks this is the better approach. Regardless of whether he and McCain won or not, he’d get lots of time in the public eye, be seen as someone willing to do what’s best for the party (that’s the tone of his remarks in this interview). This is certainly a cheaper and in some ways easier option than the alternative of spending four years in the wilderness burnishing his conservative credentials by starting a foundation of some kind. But he’ll be miserable being the VP unless he’s given some sort of substantive role after all his executive experience over the last several years.

And all this also begs the question of whether McCain would even ask him. But with Rove and others pulling for it, it’s not such a long shot at this point.

March 5th, 2008 by Rightsideup

So Mike Huckabee’s finally out of the race, now that McCain appears to have crossed the 1191 delegate line. There’s a nice bit of revisionist history in the CNN piece covering this piece of news:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee bowed to “the inevitable” and dropped out of the Republican presidential race Tuesday night after an improbable run for a politician little known beyond his home state a year ago.

I think it’s been “inevitable” for some time at this point. Now it’s moved from being inevitable to being a cold hard fact. If he stayed in it at this point it would have been evidence of insanity, nothing more.

Huckabee went on to best former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, by then the GOP front-runner, in the Iowa caucuses January 3, placing him among the top tier of Republican hopefuls.

I don’t recall anyone from CNN (or any of the other main news organisations) calling Mitt Romney the GOP front-runner at the time. Helpful for them to concede this fact now.

He lagged behind Romney and McCain in the next round of contests, in New Hampshire and Michigan, and trailed McCain in South Carolina. However, his victories in West Virginia and the Deep South states of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and his native Arkansas in the February 5 Super Tuesday contests helped force Romney out of the race.

It’s those last few words that grate here. Romney wasn’t forced out of the race: he pulled out when it was clear that staying in was likely to be unproductive, but at the time he had more votes and significantly more delegates than Huckabee. Huckabee has now been forced out of the race by the sheer fact that McCain has won, but to suggest that Huckabee forced Romney out of the race is a gross overstatement. Huckabee did siphon away enough votes from Romney to make it hard for him to beat McCain, of course, but Romney wasn’t forced out any more than Huckabee was.

It then goes on in the next paragraph with this:

“Over the past few days, a lot of people have been trying to say that this is a two-man race,” Huckabee told supporters that night. “Well, you know what? It is, and we’re in it.”

Which suggests that Huckabee said this after Romney pulled out, and it therefore made logical sense at the time. Of course, he said this on a night when Romney was still way ahead of him and it was bravado at best and downright dishonesty at worst.

And the article finishes off with this:

“To have gone this far and outlasted so many others, I think is a remarkable story. Wish it would have ended differently, but it is what it is,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee’s exit leaves anti-war Texas congressman Ron Paul, a former Libertarian presidential candidate, as McCain’s sole active opponent.

If by “outlasted” Huckabee means “had the temerity to stay in even when he had no chance of winning despite urging from most of the party to pull out already” I guess that statement is accurate… The last paragraph is a doozy too – in what sense is Ron Paul an “active” opponent of McCain? Hasn’t he completely stopped campaigning? And isn’t the fact that he hasn’t officially conceded more about the fact that he’s stopped paying attention to the presidential race than about the fact that he’s still in it?

At any rate, glad Huckabee can add to 1191 and that he’s finally out of it and backing McCain. Wonder what’s next for him. He doesn’t seem to be considered by most of the commentators as a VP candidate, but a lot of Huckabee followers seem to think that’s the logical next step.

February 27th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Nice mature response here from Barack Obama to a legitimate criticism from John McCain. (From Jim Geraghty at The Campaign Spot on National Review Online.)

Obama apparently said the following in the Democratic debate Tuesday night:

As commander in chief, I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are looking out for American interests. And if al-Qaida is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.

John McCain rightly pointed out when asked about the comment later:

I have some news. Al-Qaida is in Iraq. It’s called ‘al-Qaida in Iraq,’ [unless of course, you’re the New York Times, in which case Al-Qaida (or Al-Qaeda) is not in Iraq but in Mesopotamia, wherever that is…]

When presented with this snippet, Obama responded as follows:

I’ve got some news for John McCain, that is there was no such thing Al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade.

“I’ve got some news for John McCain. I’ve got some news for John McCain. He took us into a war, along with George Bush that should have never been authorized, never been waged. They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11 and that would be Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, that is stronger now than at any time since 2001. I’ve been paying attention John McCain!

“John McCain may like to say that he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell. But so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that’s cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars and that I intend to bring to an end so that we can actually start going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan, like we should have been doing in the first place. That’s the news John McCain!

“I respect John McCain, but he’s tied to the politics of the past; we’re about the policies of the future. He’s the party of yesterday. We want to be the party of tomorrow. That’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.”

This is kind of the 46-year-old politician’s version of the schoolchild’s “oh yeah? well, you suck!” It doesn’t address the question itself, but instead tries to change the subject and counter-attack with something completely different. But, thankfully, Obama “respects” John McCain – phew. That’s alright then.

Now, I think it’s inevitable that during a campaign as long and arduous as all these guys have to go through, they’re going to goof every once in a while, and when it’s a Republican who goofs, it gets blanket coverage (see Romney saying Osama instead of Obama compared with this Obama goof and Hillary’s “Medvedev – whatever” comment from the debate last night). But it sure would be nice if the candidates would just say, “you know what? I misspoke. I apologize. What I meant was….” I guess we can dream on with that one…

February 26th, 2008 by Rightsideup

USA Today has done an analysis of the likely impact on deficits and spending under the Democratic candidates. It draws on analysis released by the National Taxpayers Union, which suggests that Obama’s plans, to the extent they can be nailed down, would lead to increases in spending of $287 billion annually compared with an increase of $218 billion for Hillary Clinton’s plans.

The findings are pretty predictable, although the exact amounts are rather meaningless (see the NTU’s detailed analysis for the kind of methods they used to come up with the numbers). We get the gist, though: either candidate would require a lot more spending. And the main strategies for funding the spending are repealing the Bush tax cuts (i.e. a big tax increase) and withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. So they would fund their big spending plans by taxing us more and giving up on the efforts to stabilise those two countries.

Even these two things taken together, leaving aside the fact that the campaign’s estimates of how much they would contribute, would leave a shortfall, meaning more taxes, of course. And none of this takes account of the fact that spending is increasing anyway, especially as regards social security. But of course reducing spending or reforming social security doesn’t come into the equation at all.

Ultimately, these tax increases, the reduced freedoms enjoyed by individuals under a Democratic admininstration, and the appointment of judges to the higher courts are the biggest reasons to vote Republican (McCain) this year, even if he’s not the candidate a lot of Republicans had hoped for. Certainly, McCain may cause other problems, but on these three big issues there is clear blue sky between his positions and those of Obama and Clinton.

February 23rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

If I were to ask who the Lady Macbeth of the 2008 election is, most people would quickly say “Hillary Clinton.” But this past week, Michelle Obama has been demonstrating that she has at least a small claim on that label. She’s also proving to be a possible heir to the mantle of Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Several times this week Mrs. Obama has made remarks which have landed her in hot water with at least some segments of the electorate and the blogosphere. What kicked it off was her remark that:

For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country.

As others have pointed out, Michelle Obama has been an adult for around 26 years. That’s a lot of time to have passed without even one event making her proud. Now, of course, the campaign has issued clarifications on what she really meant, as has the prospective First Lady too. But this feeds the idea that both she and her husband are far more militant than they have been carefully stage managed to appear. This is the reason why Obama’s speeches are so short on substance – because the substance that’s there would be shocking to many who have found him appealing.

The second event was this comment:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Some of the least charitable interpretations of this particular statement have found in it overtones of the Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei”, which I find to be quite a stretch and ultimately unhelpful. However, there is a nasty sense of authoritarianism here, and the fact that she – and not he – is expressing it also lends the Lady Macbeth overtones. In some ways, she seems to be more open and honest about his real ambitions / their shared ambitions / her ambitions on his behalf than he is himself. And so, far from being able to write these remarks off as the off-the-cuff comments from the candidate’s spouse, it’s possible to read deeper meaning into them.

Lastly was this one, which in some ways is the most innocuous of the bunch, unless you’re a real conspiracy theorist:

Every woman that I know, regardless of race, education, income, background, political affiliation, is struggling to keep her head above water.

Many women, especially those who stay home or working mothers, would doubtless agree that they at least sometimes feel this way. And read at that level, it’s not problematic. But two other connotations present themselves:

  • Who is her husband running against, at present? The original Lady Macbeth, of course: a woman, who presumably is struggling to keep her head above water too.
  • This feeds into the victimhood mentality of the liberal left, and really doesn’t apply to large numbers of people, precisely because you can’t simply disregard “education, income, background” and other factors. The Obamas themselves, as others have pointed out, are wealthy by any description, and although the kids may occasionally puke at inopportune moments I suspect they have it pretty good when they’re not running for president. So what are they really saying here except reinforcing the perception that woe is everyone and only the Democrats – specifically, Mr Obama – can help – classic liberal philosophy. The two combined nicely undermine the American Dream which, while perhaps questioned by some, is still a centerpiece of American self-identity.

All of the above taken together presents a certain picture which the Obama campaign is likely uncomfortable with. Despite the worthy attempts on all sides to avoid race or gender being an issue here, there’s a sense that these people are more militant about past injustices than their (his) rhetoric suggests. And there’s also a sense that beneath the smiling exterior lies something far more sinister – a hatred for country, and an authoritarian streak that ought to have everyone worried. The original Lady Macbeth, Hillary herself, is scary too, but these folks may be as competitive in this area as they have become in the primaries themselves.

February 23rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

Jonathan Martin of Politico has a piece up about Huckabee and what his real reasons are for staying in the race. While everyone else has been suggesting (in my opinion rightly) that Huckabee is staying in the race to keep pressure on McCain for favors down the road, or possibly just for vanity’s sake, Martin appears to have swallowed large mouthfuls of what the Huckabee campaign has fed him, to whit: he believes it’s really about 2012.

I have a draft post that’s not ready for publication yet on the 2012 field on the Republican side, and my comment about Huckabee was this:

Of this year’s candidates, few are likely to run again apart from Romney…

Of the rest, Huckabee appears to be burning his bridges by staying in the race this long – many party leaders are annoyed that he isn’t stepping aside when it’s clear he has no chance of winning. He appears to concede this fact himself too.

That link in the second paragraph is to a CNN article quoting Huckabee as saying he’s probably doing himself more harm than good, and I agree.

If you take apart Martin’s article, the comments suggesting Huckabee will be a force in 2012 come from the following people:

  • “Huckabee strategist Ed Rollins”
  • “Former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), a top Huckabee ally and frequent surrogate”
  • “Joe Carter, an aide at the Family Research Council who briefly worked for Huckabee last year”

Note, three Huckabee supporters. “Republican strategist Craig Shirley, a McCain backer and author of a book on the 1976 presidential race” is also cited, but only describing the Huckabee strategy, not subscribing to it. So all the people on whose opinions the article is based are Huckabee supporters. No independent voices, no-one from outside the Huckabee circle. And yet Martin reports it as if it’s gospel. There are one or two contrary comments, but it would at least have made sense to contrast this with the wide swathe of people who have suggested that Mitt Romney is now well positioned in 2012.

There are those who want to see silver linings on every cloud, and others who are conspiracy theorists, who believe Huckabee staying in the race is good. The only good argument for this point of view is that McCain is getting more coverage because there’s still a nominal race on the Republican side. But how does this benefit McCain? Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard of him at this point who somehow will between now and when the general election starts?

And on the negative side, finite resources are being spent on McCain’s primary campaign instead of being saved up or put in the bank for the general election campaign. Huckabee is the largest remaining barrier to the conservative wing of the party swinging behind McCain, and only gives them false hope that McCain’s nomination is not inevitable. Huckabee won’t be the nominee, McCain will, and Huckabee staying in the race smacks of egotism and vanity more than anything else, no matter how much he dresses it up in the language of giving voice to would-be primary voters. No previous candidate in recent memory has dragged out a primary campaign this far once it was clear who the front-runner was, and even Ron Paul has had to face reality and essentially drop out at this point. Why should Huckabee be any different?

One rather senses that Martin just regurgitated what he was told by Huckabee’s campaign rather than challenging it more thoroughly, in the hopes of having an interesting story to tell about what is becoming a tedious campaign. It rather falls flat in that aim.