by Bruce Belfield on December 16, 2010
by Casey Jones on August 27, 2010
The Bible of Little Known Facts in American Politics
by Rich Rubino.
To Preview or Buy Please Click Here
The Books Above: In March of 2013 I finished writing my second book "Make Every Vote Equal: What a Novel Idea." The book supports the National Popular Vote movement, whose focus is to modify how state Electors vote in the Electoral College so that the winner of the popular vote is also the winner in the Electoral College. My first book was published last year: "The Political Bible of Little Known Facts in American Politics." In April of 2013 I published a Second Edition of the book, which now includes a facts section on the 2012 elections. All of my publications can be found on Amazon.com.
Thank You, Rich Rubino, email@example.com
The Featured Video in the left column: is a sampling of some of my past television interviews.
----- Ponderings -----
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This Day in American Political History
January 18, 1919 – The Paris Peace Conference opens at the Château of Versailles, near Paris, France. Representatives from more than 30 countries meet to negotiate a treaty to end WW1.
Neurosurgeon May Perform Exploratory Operation on Presidential Candidacy
At the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, the keynote speaker was Dr. Ben Carson, a retired renowned neurosurgeon. In his address, Carson excoriated political correctness, supported health savings accounts, and advocated for the implementation of a federal flat tax. The oration occurred in an unorthodox non-partisan setting with President Barack Obama at the head table. The conservative intelligencia, including talk show host Rush Limbaugh, sang his accolades before millions of fellow conservatives. Carson precipitously became a folk hero to some on the right. An attendant draft movement was established to urge a Carson candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
Carson is a non-politician and only became a Republican in 2014. While in most fields someone with no experience would hardly be seen as a credible option for the top job, in politics being a non-politician can be an asset as Americans increasingly hold establishment politicians in low repute.
Should Carson seek the Republican nomination, he would not be the first non-politician to do so. In addition, Carson would not be the first recent convert to a political party to run for its nomination. However, as a former neurosurgeon, he would be entering uncharted waters. Most previous non-politicians who sought the presidency were either businessmen or military men.
Perhaps the candidate whose circumstances were most similar to Carson was Wendell Willkie. Willkie, a corporate lawyer and utilities executive, wowed Republicans with his 1938 debate performance against U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson on the issue of free enterprise. Willkie was a former Democrat who became a Republican in opposition to the domestic policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, particularly with respect to public utilities. A draft movement began for Willkie to run for the 1940 GOP presidential nomination. The party was split among four candidates. Willkie pocketed the nomination on the sixth ballot at the convention. While most rank-and-file Republicans supported him in the general election, many were wary of a nominee who was not a politician and who had just recently joined the party. U.S. Senator James E. Watson (R-IN) quipped: "I don't mind the Church converting a whore, but I don't like her to lead the choir the first night."
During the general election, Willkie often appeared to be uncomfortable with his new party affiliation. He would often refer to Republicans as: "You Republicans," and appeared uncomfortable in the Republican Party. Willkie ran a respectable presidential campaign, but could not overcome the popular Roosevelt who won an unprecedented third term as president.
In 1992, billionaire industrialist H. Ross Perot issued a challenge to his supporters on the CNN program Larry King Live to get him on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His supporters rose to the occasion. At a time when Americans were disaffected with the partisan paralysis, Perot's independent candidacy appealed to a widespread cross-section of constituencies. In addition to Independent voters, Perot's economic nationalism appealed to voters who had supported Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Pat Buchanan in the presidential primaries. Perot's focus on deficit reduction appealed to supporters of Democrat Paul Tsongas, who had made fiscal austerity his flagship issue during the primary. A June Gallup poll showed Perot actually leading in the popular vote at 39 percent. However, Perot soon abandoned his presidential candidacy, stating that he did not want to split the vote in the Electoral College, resulting in the election being thrown into the U.S. Congress. Perot later reentered the race, explaining that the real reason he had dropped out was that a Republican operative had threatened to sabotage his daughter's wedding. Despite this erratic episode, Perot performed well in the presidential debates and won 18.9 percent of the vote. Perot ran again in 1996, but did not muster enough support to be invited into the debates. He garnered just 8.4 percent of the vote in that election.
In 1996, Morry Taylor, the CEO of Titan Tire Corporation, spent about $6 million in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, only to pull out of the race after garnering less than 1 percent of the vote. He tried to piggyback on Perot's anti-politician message. Taylor ran a very candid and spirited campaign, maintaining that he would only serve one term. When asked if he would run for re-election, Taylor answered: "Why the Hell would I want to do that?"
The last non-politician to win the presidency was General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1952, Eisenhower, who like Carson had been a lifelong Independent, became a Republican to run for the nomination. Eisenhower ran as a non-ideological pragmatist. His main opponent for the nomination was conservative U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft (R-OH). The Republican Party had not held the presidency since 1933, and the party's rank-and-file voters were willing to hold their noses and support the more moderate but popular Eisenhower over the ideologically impeccable Taft. Eisenhower won the GOP nomination and easily defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the general election.
Similar to Eisenhower, two other military generals with no political experience were elected president: Whig Zachary Taylor in 1848 and Republican Ulysses S. Grant in 1868. Grant had only voted once prior to his own election. In 1856 he voted for Democratic presidential nominee James Buchanan over Republican nominee James C. Freemont, who Grant viewed as an egotist. Grant said: "I voted for Buchanan because I didn't know him and voted against Freemont because I did know him." In Taylor's case, he had not even registered to vote until he was 62 years old.
In contrast to Eisenhower, Taylor, and Grant, two other military men who were recent converts to a new political party saw their respective candidacies falter. In 1900, the Democrats recruited Admiral George Dewey to run for their party's presidential nomination. On paper, Dewey was a dream candidate to challenge the popular Republican William McKinley. Dewey had become a national icon for his role in defeating the Spanish during the Spanish-American War at the critical Battle of Manila Bay. When Dewey returned home, parades were held in his honor.
However, Dewey did not seem to fathom that the American people had come to expect an activist president who serves as a leader, not a figurehead who is subservient to the prerogatives of the U.S. Congress. Rather than laying out his own ambitious agenda, Dewey asserted that as president he would: "execute the laws of Congress as faithfully as I have always executed the orders of my superiors." In addition, Dewey came across as supercilious by suggesting that the presidency would not be a difficult job: "I am convinced that the office of the President is not such a very difficult one to fill." Dewey never recovered from these gaffes and consequently abandoned his candidacy. To add insult to injury, and proving that he was not really much of a Democrat, Dewey endorsed Republican McKinley over the eventual Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan.
Similarly, in 2003, the Democrats who opposed U.S. involvement in the Iraq War looked for a candidate who could neutralize the advantage that the Republican president had at the time on national security issues. General Wesley Clark fit the bill, leading to a draft movement for the former General. Clark had commanded allied forces during the successful NATO air campaign over Kosovo. In addition, General Clark had been the valedictorian of his graduating class at West Point, and looked like a president created from Central Casting.
However, like Dewey, Clark proved a better candidate on paper than in reality. His opponents questioned why Clark, a life-long Independent, had become a Democrat. A tape surfaced where Clark had praised Bush in a speech before the Pulaski County Republican Party in Arkansas in 2001. Moreover, Clark said of the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq: "On balance, I probably would have voted for it." Clark spent much of the campaign elucidating what he meant; confusingly saying that he "never would have voted for war." Clark lost the nomination, despite respectable showings in some primaries, including a victory in Oklahoma.
Dr. Ben Carson is a former neurosurgeon who has never served in political office. Should he seek the Republican presidential nomination, he would be entering a whole new political frontier. While he is charismatic and has cultivated support on the right, his lack of political experience as in the case of other non-politicians who sought the presidency, could result in political gaffes, which would take him off-message while trying to explain what he actually meant to say. In addition, being a recent convert to the Republican Party may not sit well with some party elders who may wonder if Carson is a true Republican or just a partisan opportunist. Dr. Carson is an unconventional candidate. In an era where conventional candidates who hold elective office are often scorned, for many Republicans, Carson might be just what the doctor ordered.
Rand Paul May Hedge His Electoral Bets in 2016
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently announced his candidacy for re-election in 2016. Paul is also seriously considering a bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. However, Kentucky law only allows a candidate's name to appear on the ballot once in an election. Ironically, Paul could in fact run for both offices in Kentucky without violating Kentucky election law by running for re-election to the Senate and at the same time running in the presidential primary in every state except Kentucky. Although he would never be able to have his name listed on the ballot more than once, this tactic would enable him time to assess his chances in the presidential derby. If it becomes evident that he will not win the presidential primary, he could drop out of the presidential sweepstakes before the May 17th Kentucky Republican presidential primary and seek only re-election to the U.S. Senate.
American political history is littered with examples of politicians who ran for their current office as well as another office in the same election. Politicians who do this usually hail from a state where his/her party is electorally hegemonic, and where the candidates get re-elected without personally campaigning.
Paul is not the first Kentuckian or even the first member of his family to seek re-election to his current post concomitantly seeking the presidency or vice presidency. In 1824, Whig Henry Clay was re-elected to his U.S. House seat while losing the presidential election. Rand Paul's father, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), sought re-election to both the House and the Republican Presidential nomination under the "LBJ law." Although he lost the presidential nomination, Ron Paul won re-election to the House.
The genesis of the LBJ law dates back to 1959. In 1960, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) was up for re-election to the Senate. With the possibility that Johnson might seek the presidency the following year, the sympathetic Democratic-controlled State Legislature passed legislation allowing a politician to run for two political offices simultaneously. This benefited Johnson in 1960 as he sought both re-election to the U.S. Senate and the presidency. After failing to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, Johnson secured the vice presidential nomination. He subsequently won both the vice presidency and re-election to the U.S. Senate. Johnson then resigned from the Senate. Democratic Governor Price Daniels subsequently appointed former U.S. Senator William Blakley to fill the seat before a Special Election was held.
Other Texas officials have used the LBJ law to run for two offices concomitantly. U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) actually used the law twice. In 1976, Bentsen ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, declaring his bid in February of 1975. While he proved a voracious and efficacious fundraiser, he garnered less than two percent of the popular vote and even lost the Lone Star State Primary. However, Bentsen won re-election to the Senate by defeating U.S. Representative Alan Steelman (R-TX). Steelman tried to use Bentsen's primary loss in the state to show that he was unpopular in Texas. To his credit, Steelman maintained that Texans' feelings for the Senator "run from ambivalent to negative." Steelman, with very little money, ran a formidable race, garnering a respectable 43 percent of the vote against Bentsen.
In 1988, Bentsen was in the midst of a re-election campaign against U.S. Representative Beau Butler when Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis asked Bentsen to serve as his vice presidential runningmate. Bentsen was faced with the task of running for re-election in Texas, a conservative state, while seeking the vice presidency with the more liberal Dukakis.
After, Bentsen accepted Dukakis' offer to become his runningmate, he spent much time in Texas campaigning for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket, while rarely mentioning his Senate re-election bid. However, his re-election campaign ran television advertisements highlighting Bentsen's local accomplishments. San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros "quipped at a rally, "We have a very special opportunity, as Texans we get to vote for Lloyd Bentsen twice. We win, and the country wins and Lloyd Bentsen wins in 1988.''
Beau Boulter tried to tether Bentsen to Dukakis, saying of the pairing with the Massachusetts Governor: "It saved us a lot of money. People in Texas now realize that Lloyd Bentsen stands for the things that Michael Dukakis stands for." In addition, Boulter tried to exploit the fact that Bentsen was running for two offices, remarking: "Bentsen is an old-timey, elitist politician from the past. I think this is a power grab." In the end, the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost Texas by over twelve percentage points, while Bentsen was re-elected to the Senate by almost twenty points.
In 1996, U.S. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) used the LBJ rule to run for the Republican presidential nomination and for re-election. Failing to meet expectations, Gramm dropped out of the presidential race. Gramm had suffered an embarrassing loss in the Louisiana Primary. When asked if there was any resentment from Texas voters that he had initially tried to run for two offices, Gramm responded, citing past precedent: "Naaaaw, they weren't angry with Lloyd Bentsen when he did it twice. They weren't angry with Lyndon Johnson. They still elected them.'' Gramm was securely re-elected to the Senate.
In 2000, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) took some grief from his Senate colleagues for his failure to halt his Senate candidacy after being selected by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore as his vice presidential runningmate. Had Lieberman dropped out of the Senate race, the party could have nominated someone else. However, had Lieberman won both the vice presidency and re-election to the Senate, his Senate successor would have been appointed by a Republican governor, John Rowland. Instead, Lieberman handily won re-election to the Senate. Interestingly, after the 2000 Senate election, the new Senate would be tied: 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Had the Gore-Lieberman team won the Presidential election, Lieberman would have had to resign his Senate seat and Rowland would have likely appointed a Republican, giving the Republicans one more seat, which would have granted them control of the Chamber.
More recently, in 2012, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) was selected by his party's presidential nominee Mitt Romney as his runningmate. Ryan ran for both re-election to the House and the vice presidency. Ryan did not actively campaign for re-election or debate his Congressional opponent, Democrat Ron Zerban. Zerban tried to get political mileage by appearing in Danville, Kentucky the day a vice presidential debate between Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden was scheduled to be held. Though Zerban could not shame Ryan into debating him, his Danville appearances resulted in Zerban accruing lots of free local and national media attention and effectuated a cash infusion to Zerban's coffers. In fact, Zerban raised $2.1 million. Zerban held Ryan to just 54.9 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage of any of Ryan's eight Congressional races.
There was one instance where a candidate's simultaneous presidential run likely cost him his seat. In 1995, U.S. Representative Bob Dornan (R-CA) launched a quixotic bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Dornan's district was rapidly becoming more Democratic because of the influx of Latino voters. Dornan lost the Congressional race by just 984 votes to Democrat Loretta Sanchez. Dornan alienated many of his Democratic constituents by his inflammatory polemics during the presidential campaign, calling Bill Clinton a "pathological liar" a "triple draft dodger" and a "criminal." In addition to losing the Congressional race, Dornan pocketed less than one percent of the vote in the presidential election.
Paul, like the aforementioned examples, does not want to launch an all-or-nothing presidential bid. Paul is likely calculating that voters in his conservative home state will not view it as supercilious to run for two offices concomitantly. Should he falter in the early presidential primaries, Paul can drop out of the presidential race and focus instead on his re-election bid. Should he win the vice presidential nomination and lose in the general election, Paul likely believes the Blue Grass State will return him to the Senate in the next election. Paul's move is certainly with precedent.
When Considering a Presidential Bid, When Does 'No' Mean 'Yes'?
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) insists that she "is not running for President" and maintains: "I pledge to serve out my term." Yet few political observers take her comments seriously. In fact, a grassroots movement "Ready for Warren" is forging full-steam ahead to encourage her to run for President.
In American politics, it is kosher for a candidate to repeatedly deny interest in the Presidency and to even issue categorical statements that he/she will not run for President, then subsequently reverse course. Ironically, some politicians even strategize about a potential presidential run after appearing at an event where they double down on their denial of interest.
When a potential presidential candidate answers the question in a non-declarative way, such as "I am not running for President" or "I have no plans to run," it is often interpreted as a "non-denial denial." The press and supporters of the potential candidate extrapolate from that statement that the candidate is leaving the door open. This is the case with Elizabeth Warren. She said she "is not running for President." She did not say that under no circumstance would she run. This is a very different statement.
The art of leaving the door open to a potential run is not a novelty. In 1884, there was an active effort by some Republican Party activists to draft former Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman to seek the Republican nomination for President. Sherman stated definitively: "I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected." This unequivocal language left no wiggle room for Sherman to explore a candidacy. This absolute language is today called a "Shermanesque statement." When an individual says he/she will not run for a certain office, reporters often ask if the candidate will make a "Shermanesque statement" that they will not run.
A great example of Shermanesque language was seen in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, after winning the New Hampshire Presidential Primary with an underwhelming 49.4% of the vote, and polls showing him behind U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) in the upcoming Wisconsin primary, announced to a stunned nation: "I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
Today, however, even a politician speaking in such absolutist language does not necessarily quell speculation of a potential candidacy. It is an odd game where politicians are willing to mislead about their intentions, yet rarely accrue any electoral repercussions. Even when the candidate actually means he/she is not running, they are often not believed. In 2010, speculation of a Presidential candidacy by New Jersey Governor Chris Christy did not cease even after he told a reporter: "Short of suicide, I don't really know what I'd have to do to convince you people that I'm not running."
There are a litany of examples of Presidential candidates who originally pledged not to run, then broke that promise. In 1968, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller was asked if he would run for the Republican Presidential nomination that year. His answer was "Absolutely not." Yet just months later, with polls showing he would do better against the Democratic Presidential candidates than the front-runner, former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, Rockefeller announced his candidacy stating: "By taking this course at this time I feel I can best serve my country." Rockefeller lost the nomination to Nixon but his statement that he would "absolutely not" seek the Presidency was a non-issue.
More recently, the day after being elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in November of 2004, Barack Obama said: "I can unequivocally say I will not be running for national office in four years, and my entire focus is making sure that I'm the best possible senator on behalf of the people of Illinois." Yet Obama supporters never took him at his word, and many of his Senate colleagues urged him to run. In February of 2007, he announced his candidacy for President. Obama's prior "unequivocal" statement did not hurt him.
When ambitious upper-level elected officials seek re-election to their current position prior to a Presidential election, they are often dogged with the question of whether they promise to serve out their full terms or seek the Presidency part way through their turn. In response, candidates often resort to rhetorical gymnastics to give the impression they will serve out their full term, without stating so unequivocally. In an October gubernatorial debate, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, running for re-election, was asked if he would serve out his full term. Walker, answered: "My plan is, if the people of the state of Wisconsin elect me on November 4th is to be here for four years." Five days after winning re-election, Walker, who was widely believed to have harbored Presidential ambitions, told Chuck Todd of NBC's Meet the Press: "I said my plan was for four years ... but certainly I care deeply about my state and country."
Two prominent governors with Presidential ambitions who were facing a tough re-election bid were forced to pledge to serve out their full terms and to do so in non-nebulous terms. The first was Bill Clinton. In 1990, Clinton was asked in a debate with Republican Sheffield Nelson if he pledged to serve out his full term as Arkansas Governor. Clinton responded: "You bet." However, after easily beating Nelson, Clinton met with Arkansas voters the next year and asked to be released from that pledge. He eventually defied the pledge and declared his Presidential candidacy.
The one recent Presidential candidate whose broken pledge to not run for President and to serve out his term as governor seriously damaged his Presidential candidacy was Pete Wilson, who sought the Republican Presidential nomination in 1996. In 1994, when California Governor Pete Wilson ran for re-election, he promised his constituents that he would not run for President in 1996, declaring definitively: "I'll rule it out." However, just a year later, Wilson broke that pledge. At a press conference announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, Wilson said of his pledge: "When I said it, I meant it."
In Wilson's case, the pledge became his Achilles heal. Two of his Republican opponents pounced on Wilson's broken pledge. Nelson Warfield, the spokesman for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS), compared Wilson's pledge to Clinton's pledge in 1990, chiding Wilson as "a politician who began his campaign for President the same way Bill Clinton did, breaking his pledge to serve out a full term as governor. Wilson responded: "I was not in any way expecting that I would be standing here talking to you about running for president. At that time, there were a number of people who have my admiration who have since taken themselves out of the presidential sweepstakes: Jack Kemp, Dick Cheney, Bill Bennett, and Dan Quayle.'' Former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander focused radio advertisements directly at Wilson. In the advertisement, an announcer exclaims: "If we can't trust Pete Wilson on that, we can't trust him on anything." Wilson's candidacy soon fizzled.
Potential Presidential candidates are rarely taken at their word when they disclaim interest in the Presidency. It becomes a game. News reporters try to goad them into making a definitive statement that they will not run for President. Presidential candidates who use non-declaratory language in disclaiming a potential Presidential candidacy send signals to supporters and potential benefactors that they are seriously weighing a presidential candidacy. Even after a potential candidate says with absolute certainty that he will not run, many do not believe him or her. With the exception of Pete Wilson, one would be hard pressed to find presidential candidates whose past denials actually had deleterious effects on their presidential candidacies.
The Art of Gamesmanship in Political Debates: A Few Interesting Examples
The recent incident where Florida Governor Rick Scott refused to make his way to the debate stage for seven minutes because his opponent, former Governor Charlie Crist, had an alleged illegal cooling fan below the debate lectern is emblematic of the political debate culture today. Rather than dissecting and analyzing the policy prescriptions put forth by the candidates during their debates, it is often the gaffes, one-liners and demeanor of the candidates that garner the most attention.
Fearful of losing their lead by making an inadvertent political gaffe or being outshined by their opponents, incumbents usually want as few debates as possible. In contrast, underdogs often call for multiple debates hoping that the incumbent in the race will falter.
When front-runners make a strategic decision not to debate, challengers often go to extreme lengths to shame their opponent into debating them. An oft-repeated tactic is for an underdog candidate to send a person in a chicken suit to events where his/her opponent appears. This almost always garners media attention.
In 1982, Republican Ray Shamie used a creative tactic which embarrassed Democrat Ted Kennedy into agreeing to debate him. Shamie hired a plane to fly around the country with a trialing banner which read: "$10,000 reward -- Get Ted Kennedy to debate Ray Shamie." The stunt mustered national media attention.
Sometimes a candidate is forced to make a pledge in a debate for political survival, which could hurt him/her in future races. In his 1990 bid for a fifth term as Arkansas Governor, Bill Clinton was neck-and-neck with his Republican opponent Sheffield Nelson. While Clinton enjoyed respectable job approval ratings, voters wondered if it was time for a change in the Governorship, and if Clinton would be a full-time Governor if re-elected. There was speculation that Clinton would seek the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1992, taking him away from the state. When Clinton was asked in a Gubernatorial debate if he promised to serve out his full term, he replied: "You bet." After easily beating Nelson, Clinton met with Arkansas voters the next year, and asked to be released from that pledge. He eventually defied the pledge and declared his Presidential candidacy.
Similarly, during a 1994 debate with Democratic U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Republican Mitt Romney tried to defend himself from charges that he was not a supporter of abortion rights. He said: "I have my own beliefs, and those beliefs are very dear to me. One of them is that I do not impose my beliefs on other people. Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that."
This quote has been used ad nosium by Republican opponents of Romney in his two Presidential runs and Romney has spent an inordinate amount of time explaining how he has since come to oppose abortion rights.
Sometimes a first-time candidate can be embarrassed when debating a seasoned political debater. Former President George W. Bush suffered this fate during a debate in his 1978 race for an open U.S. House Seat. His Democratic opponent, Kent Hance, sang from a populist song-sheet by branding Bush: "Not a real Texan." Hance suggested that Ivy League graduates like Bush and his family caused the economic malaise in the country. Hance embarrassed Bush, and lamented: "My daddy and granddad were farmers. They didn't have anything to do with the mess we're in right now, and Bush's father has been in politics his whole life."
At the 1988 Vice Presidential debate, Democrat Lloyd Bentsen stole the show with a pre-formulated one-liner. When his Republican opponent, Dan Quayle suggested that he had more experience than John F. Kennedy had in 1960 when he was elected President, Bentsen quipped: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." This line became one of the most remembered in American political debate history.
Bentsen was not the only candidate to pull off a memorable one-liner. At the time, Boston Harbor, located in the home state of Governor Dukakis, was one of the dirtiest harbor in the U.S. After Dukakis gave a byzantine answer to a question about the bulging federal budget deficit, Bush deadpanned: "Is this the time for one-liners? That answer is about as clear as Boston Harbor."
Memorable lines are often made off-the-cuff and do not appear scripted. In 1990, two Massachusetts Republicans, Bill Weld and Joe Malone, were elected statewide for the first time. Both brought down the house with inimitable lines, which appeared to be impromptu. During a 1990 Massachusetts Gubernatorial debate, Republican nominee Bill Weld exploited a claim by the Democratic nominee, John Silber, Ph.D., that beavers created so much wetland that preserving wetlands should not be of concern. Weld quipped: "Would you tell us doctor, what plans, if any, you have for the preservation of open spaces in Massachusetts, other than leave it to beavers?"
That same year, in the race for Treasurer and Receiver General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Democrat William Galvin, trying to show that his Republican opponent, Joe Malone, was ignorant of economic issues, asked Malone the question: "What's a junk bond?" Without hesitation, Malone responded: "That's what we'll have if you're elected."
During a debate in the 1988 race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) turned to U.S. Senator Al Gore (D-TN) and blasted him for moving to the right to secure Southern votes. Gephardt said: "When you started this race, you decided you needed a Southern political strategy. So you decided that you'd better move to the right on defense and [on] a lot of other issues. And lately you've been sounding more like Al Haig than Al Gore" (Al Haig was U.S. Secretary of State in the Reagan administration and was also a GOP Republican Presidential Candidate). Without missing a beat, Gore bested Gephardt, deadpanning: "That line sounds more like Richard Nixon than Richard Gephardt."
Similarly, in a 2012 Presidential debate in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) was asked by host Wolf Blitzer about a proposal by one of his opponents, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), to colonize the moon. Paul mustered uproarious laughter for his response: "Well, I don't think we should go to the moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there."
Candidates spend hours preparing for their participation in political debates. Much time is spent by candidates rehearsing responses to potential questions, testing one-liners, and engaging in mock debates with staffers. Although it can certainly be argued that a candidate's debating skills are probably not indicative of his/her ability to govern, how the candidates perform in the debates influences how undecided voters view the candidates and impacts upon their perceptions regarding their ability to govern. Again, for the American people and the media, it is often gamesmanship rather than substance that rules when determining the winner of a political debate.
Political Exaggerations: Stretching the Truth Is a Tradition in American Politics
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) said: "Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue." Politicians have apparently taken Galbraith's words to heart.
Through advertisements and meetings with voters, they are quick to trumpet a litany of accomplishments and virtues. Most recently, the Republican nominee for governor of Georgia, David Perdue, told Morehouse College students that his father, in his role as a superintendent of Schools, desegregated the Houston County schools. Perdue said his father "integrated I think the first -- if not the first or second -- county school system in Georgia, and he did it before they had to. He did it right after he got elected, and he did it because it was the right thing to do." Perdue failed to mention the fact that the desegregation plan was instituted after the NAACP successfully challenged the "Freedom of Choice" plan instituted by the Houston County School Board, which allowed but did not mandate integration.
Perhaps the most egregious exaggeration in U.S. political history of a candidate's background was the yarn spun by William Henry Harrison, who was elected President in 1840. Harrison was raised in a patrician family. His father was once Governor of Virginia. Yet Harrison brilliantly styled himself as "one of us." He dressed the part of a humble down-home candidate and boasted of the fact that he had lived in a log cabin. While it was true that Harrison once lived in a log cabin, it was only briefly after retiring from government service. Contrary to popular belief at the time, he was not born in a log cabin. Yet this tactic helped Harrison get elected. In fact, one of Harrison's supporter, Whisky distiller E.G. Booze, sold whisky in log-cabin-shaped bottles during the campaign to promote this master narrative (This is where the word booze came from.) Harrison's ploy worked and he was elected president. However, he was not able to do much as President, as he died of pneumonia just 31 days after his inauguration.
Lyndon B. Johnson had a fascination with the Alamo. His father, Samuel Johnson Jr., wrote legislation to give control of the Alamo to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. In 1966, while visiting troops in South Korea, Johnson accurately said that there is a picture of his father inside the Alamo. He then went a step too far by mendaciously claiming that his great-great-grandfather had died in the Alamo. In actuality, the great-great-grandfather that Johnson was referring to was a real-estate trader who died at home. When confronted with this inaccuracy, Johnson creatively told Press Secretary George Christian:"You all didn't let me finish. It was the Alamo Bar and Grill in Eagle Pass, Texas."
Perhaps the most famous political exaggeration has been grossly exaggerated in and of itself. When someone asks the question: "Who invented the Internet?" someone will invariably quip: "Al Gore." It is popular belief that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet. This belief however is false. In reality, Gore told Wolf Blitzer on CNN: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Gore was referring to his role as the lead sponsor of the 1991 High-performance Computing and Communications Act, which appropriated $600 million for high-performance computing and co-sponsored the Information Infrastructure and Technology Act of 1992. Critics chided Gore for his statement and falsely claimed that Gore had said he "invented the Internet." U.S. House Majority leader Dick Armey (R-TX) joked: "If the vice president created the Internet then I created the Interstate."
However, Gore has exaggerated other facts in his past. During his failed 1988 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Gore told the Des Moines Register that in his early days as a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, he got "a bunch of people indicted and sent to jail." However, it was later revealed that Gore's reporting resulted in just two municipal officials being indicted, and neither was jailed.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also has a history of exaggerating the facts. During his two Presidential campaigns, Romney continuously claimed that as governor of Massachusetts he made the "tough choices and balanced the budget without raising taxes." Romney was referring to the $3 billion budget shortfall he inherited when he assumed office in 2003. Romney did not mention that he raised over $500 million in "fees." Romney also raised corporate taxes under the guise of closing corporate loopholes and truncating local aid to the state's municipalities. This forced municipalities to cut services and/or raise property taxes on their residents.
Similarly, in 2007, Republican Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney told a voter: "I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I've been a hunter pretty much all my life." It was later revealed that Romney had only hunted twice in his life. Romney later said: "I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will."
Candidates with military experience often brandish this experience on the campaign trail, and occasionally get themselves into trouble. During his 2008 bid for an open U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, it was revealed that the Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal had on two occasions claimed he served as a Marine "in Vietnam." Blumenthal had in fact served in the Marines during the Vietnam era, but never served in Vietnam. He apologized for the remarks and despite this exaggeration was elected to the Senate by twelve points.
An amusing exaggeration came from Mark Roosevelt, the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts Governor in 1994. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he made the following comment about his tenure in the Massachusetts State Legislature: "A record of accomplishment probably unsurpassed by any legislator in the 20th century in Massachusetts." Roosevelt later retracted the comment, stating: "I can be sanctimonious." Roosevelt lost the Gubernatorial election, garnering less than 30 percent of the vote.
Politics is not the profession for the modest. To a great extent a politician has to be a salesperson. He/she must master the art of bragging about himself over and over again without overdoing it, appearing supercilious.
It takes a certain personality type to be ready, willing, and able to repeatedly tell voters of his/her stellar attributes. As the aforementioned cases reveal, politicians sometimes go a step too far and exaggerate what they have accomplished, sometimes losing all credibility. Robert Strauss, who served as chairman of the Democratic Party, captured this phenomenon of political exaggeration best when he said: "Every politician wants every voter to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself."
Contrary to "Progressive Belief," Obama Has Not Departed From his Campaign Rhetoric
There is disenchantment on the left with Barack Obama. Many progressives agree with sentiment recently expressed by Professor Cornell West, a professor at the Union Theological Seminary, who recently told Salon Magazine: "He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street Presidency, a drone Presidency."
Despite this claim by Professor West, Obama did not campaign for President in 2008 as a tribune of the left. Instead he campaigned as a candidate of bipartisanship. On some campaign issues Obama was even to the right of President George W. Bush. In fact, Obama was elected in part by winning 60% of moderate voters and 20% of conservative voters.
In political advertisements, Obama did not present himself as an unadulterated progressive. He held himself out as a post partisan figure that would work toward bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems. Obama featured Kirk Dillard, a Republican who worked with Obama when both served in the Illinois State Senate, in a campaign advertisement wherein Dillard explains: "Senator Obama worked on some of the deepest issues we had, and he was successful in a bipartisan way. Republican legislators respected Senator Obama. His negotiation skills and an ability to understand both sides would serve the country very well."
Obama entered the national stage in 2004. After garnering the Democratic nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry tapped him to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. While progressives were mesmerized by the delivery of his speech, it was hardly a clarion call to them. Obama did not call for a major expansion of the Social Safety net, or for a more nimble foreign policy, but delivered a mostly platitudinous speech centered on the commonalities of Americans of all ideological persuasions. His signature line was: "There is no red America or blue America. There is the United States of America."
Liberals saw what they wanted to see in Obama, while turning a blind eye to what the President was actually saying. Now some Progressives are indignant that the President is essentially governing on what he campaigned about.
Obama's main appeal to liberals in the 2008 campaign was that he was the only major Democratic Presidential candidate who opposed the authorization of the use of force in Iraq, which the U.S. Congress approved in 2002. Obama, no pacifist, told a Chicago crowd that year: "I am not opposed to all wars, I'm opposed to dumb wars." Progressives saw only Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq, failing to recognize his support for a more robust, interventionist foreign policy, which included using military force abroad.
Obama was a hawk on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. He was explicit in his view that the U.S. should expand its military involvement there. Obama told a Pennsylvania rally in 2008 that the war in Iraq "distracted us from the task at hand in Afghanistan." Obama made no effort to couch his bellicose policy on Afghanistan, writing in a New York Times op-ed column: "As President I would pursue a new strategy and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan."
In addition, while enmity proliferates on the left for Obama's ambitious use of predator drones, Obama was no critic of the use of predator drones during the campaign. In an address at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in 2007, Obama averred that as President he would order attacks inside Pakistan even absent permission of the Pakistani government: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President [Pervez] Musharraf (Pakistani President) won't act, we will."
On both the issue of Afghanistan and the potential use of predator drones in Pakistan, Obama was, in reality, to the right of the Bush administration. This was not a progressive position.
Progressives often excoriate Obama for his failure to condemn the military policies of the Israeli Government, and the fact that he is the only world leader who opposed the Palestinian Authority's bid to achieve statehood through the United Nations. Yet on this issue too, Obama performed as advertised. During the campaign, Obama presented himself as a supporter of the Israeli government. He said that for a peace agreement to be achieved, "The Palestinians would have to reinterpret the notion of 'right of return' in a way that would persevere Israel as a Jewish state." In 2006, when Israel invaded Lebanon, Obama co-sponsored a Senate resolution defending the attack. In fact, he delivered his first foreign policy speech of the campaign before the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee.
Furthermore, Obama was an exponent of increasing sanctions on Iran to prevent that country from constructing nuclear weapons, and Obama would not take the military option off the table. In addition, Obama supported adding the former Soviet satellites of Georgia and the Ukraine to NATO, a very bold move sure to antagonize Russia.
On domestic issues, then Senator Obama voted for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which allocated $700 billion to bailout the banking system. Opposition to the bailout became a battle cry for liberals. In fact, U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) publicly exclaimed: "Is this the United States Congress or the Board of Directors of Goldman Sachs?" Goldman Sachs employees were the largest donors to Obama's 2008 campaign, contributing nearly $1,000,000 collectively. The Financial Services industry donated a collective $43 million to the Obama campaign. Somehow, progressives seemed not to have noticed this not so subtle pattern of behavior on the part of Obama.
Moreover, in 2006, then Senator Obama voted for reauthorization of The USA Patriot Act, whose repeal became a cause célèbre with the progressive intelligencia. In 2008, Obama came off the campaign trail to vote for the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expanded the federal government's warrantless wiretapping program. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that President Obama signed a five-year extension of the statute.
Despite what many progressives seem to believe, Obama has not departed from his campaign ideals. The failure to comprehend what Obama actually campaigned on is now leading to righteous anger by Progressives. However, the facts show that Obama's presidency is no great departure from the way in which he presented himself while campaigning for the Presidency. He has been true to his campaign ideals. Progressives simply put their blinders on, heard what they wanted to hear, and did not stop to listen to what Obama was actually saying during the campaign.
Rand Paul's Potential 'Brian Schweitzer Problem'
In referring to the reasons for the September 11 hijackings, Republican U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) stated in a 2007 South Carolina Republican presidential debate "They attack us because we've been over there."
He was referring to the nation's interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. Paul later pointed out that by meddling in the Middle East, the nation had effectuated enmity in the region. Osama bin laden referred to such grievances as U.S. troops on Saudi soil, the U.S. supporting sanctions leveled against Iraq -- which likely contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, U.S. aid to Israel, and support for secular nationalist autocratic regimes. While establishment Republicans roundly booed Paul, he became a folk hero to the party's Libertarian bloodline, as well as to Independents, Democrats and the previously politically dispossessed.
While most Democrats had come to oppose U.S. war in Iraq, they opposed it on the grounds that it was simply the wrong war. They did not question the foundations of U.S. foreign policy. For example, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the Democratic party's 2004 Presidential nominee, simply proclaimed "It was the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time." The party's eventual 2008 nominee Barack Obama called Iraq "the Wrong War" while calling the War in Afghanistan: "The Right War." In fact, he called for sending three more brigades to Afghanistan.
In addition, Paul supported the federal government abdicating its role in interdicting illegal drugs, and letting the states decide their own drug policy. Paul was sympathetic to legalizing drugs, and suggested that the citizens do not need government to regulate them. He said at a Republican presidential debate: "How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would."
Paul's call for a complete retrenchment of commitments abroad, coupled with his calls to end the Drug War, and his opposition to NSA spying, along with his support for home schooling and opposition to gun control provided a motley coalition of supporters in his second run for President in 2012. Paul was perhaps the only candidate in American History who could attract supporters from Oz Fest attendees, ACLU members and Wickens on the left, as well as NRA members, fundamentalist Christians, and military personnel on the right.
His son, Rand Paul, was elected to an open U.S. Senate in Kentucky in 2010, largely through the help of the same coalition that so enthusiastically supported his father.
However, in trying to propitiate enough establishment Republicans to secure the GOP Presidential nomination in 2016, Rand Paul is displaying some independence from his father. Unlike the non-interventionist policies of Ron Paul, whose ideological antecedents included Presidents Grover Cleveland and Warren G. Harding, Rand Paul is more of a realist, skeptical toward making commitments overseas, but still recognizing a vital role for the U.S. in the international arena. His "realist" ideological antecedents are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald R. Ford.
Paul also voted to tighten economic sanctions on Iran. Furthermore, he does not favor liquidating all U.S. military bases outside of the U.S. and he says he would support "some drones." After Russia invaded Crimea, Paul called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be punished, and averred: "It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia's aggression."
While Paul is buttressing his bone fides with the Republican establishment for his prospective 2016 Presidential run, he may have competition from many supporters of his father including the charismatic former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Many states, including New Hampshire, which hosts the omni-critical, first-in-the-nation primary, hold open primaries, meaning that voter's can choose a ballot from any established party in their state.
Schweitzer mirrors many of Ron Paul's views on the fundamental foundation of American policy. Like Ron Paul, Schweitzer's excoriates the influence of "The Military Industrial Complex." He is a harsh critic of the U.S. war in Iraq, which he calls an "oil-well war to protect profits for multinational oil companies and petro-dictators." In addition, like Ron Paul, Schweitzer shows no trepidation in warning of the effects of "blowback" on Americans as the result of its interventionist foreign policy. He points out that the tension between the U.S. and Iran began "because of what we did in 1953, replacing an elected official [Prime Minster Mohammed Mossadegh] with a dictator [Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi]." Schweitzer also points out that the U.S. government supplied chemical weapons to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1980's, which were subsequently used against Iranians.
Rand Paul rarely mentions the concept of blowback. With a war-weary electorate, it is kosher in the Republican Party to call for what George W. Bush in 2000 called "a more humble foreign policy." However, once a Republican suggests that U.S. policies are a contributing factor to the enmity effectuated toward the U.S., he/she takes a step too far from the party establishment, which will invariably brand such a candidate as "a Blame America First Isolationist."
Furthermore, Schweitzer, like Ron Paul, is a populist critic of the high command of his own party, calling Barack Obama a "corporatist." Ron Paul was an incessant critic of George W. Bush. Like Paul, Schweitzer can appeal to Liberals and Libertarians with his criticisms of Barack Obama, particularly on Civil Liberties issues. Schweitzer calls revelations unearthed about the scope of the NSA Surveillance program "un-effen-believable."Like Ron Paul, Schweitzer declares the War on Drugs lost, saying that Colorado, which recently legalized marijuana, "might have it more right than the rest of us."
Not all Ron Paul supporters in 2008 and 2012 were Libertarians or Conservatives. In fact, many Progressive Independents and Democrats supported Paul. Political commentator Robin Koerner coined them "Blue Republicans." Paul drew support from across the political spectrum with voters and previous non-voters who believe the political system is corrupt. They supported Paul's populist insurrectionist campaign. Accordingly, the fact that Schweitzer, unlike Paul, supports a munificent social safety net, the establishment of a single-payer Health Care System might draw Paul's more liberal supporters to Schweitzer. In Schweitzer these "Blue Republicans" have a candidate who is more ideologically in tune with them than Ron Paul.
As Rand Paul assiduously cultivates support from within the Republican establishment, he becomes less desirable to the anti-establishment Libertarian, Independent, and Liberal voters who supported Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012.
As Rand Paul becomes more of a traditional Republican, an aperture will form for a candidate more like Ron Paul was in 2008 and 2012. Schweitzer is positioning himself as the anti-corporate political establishment candidate for 2016. His message can strike a resonant chord with the same voters who marked ballots for Ron Paul in 2012, particularly in Open Primary states. Many members of the motley Ron Paul coalition could support Schweitzer rather than Rand Paul. In states with a closed primary, some of these voters might become Democrats to vote for Schweitzer. Schweitzer would appeal to many disaffected voters with his characterization of the nation's capital as "A giant cesspool filled with special interests."
An opening is developing for Schweitzer. Crossover support could make him not merely a nuisance to the likely Democratic establishment candidates, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, but also an irritant to Rand Paul as he tries to keep his father's supporters in the Republican Primary. Bottom-line: for every rank-and-file Republican voter Rand Paul attracts, he could lose a voter from his father's coalition to Schweitzer.
In the Political Arena an Underdog Challenger Must Be Creative to Force an Incumbent to a Debate
In every election cycle, voters witness the spectacle of an underdog candidate challenging an incumbent elected official to participate in a series of debates. This is usually a starting bid, with the underdog hoping the incumbent will engage in at least one debate.
A debate is an opportunity for a challenger to share the same stage with an incumbent. For the incumbent, a debate can usually only have deleterious effects upon his/her respective candidacy. If the incumbent does not appear sharp and relevant, voters may start to question whether the incumbent has been in office too long. If the challenger impresses, donations could swarm into the challenger's campaign warchest. Of course, to effectuate a debate, a challenger with little name recognition who is trailing badly in the polls, must resort to creative tactics to force a debate.
In 1982, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) was a leading candidate for the Presidential nomination in 1984. His senatorial re-election campaign was believed to be pro forma. Republican Senatorial nominee Ray Shamie, a businessman and political neophyte, succeeded in getting Kennedy to agree to a debate. He pointed out that in 1980, when Kennedy had run for the Democratic Presidential nomination, he had called on President Jimmy Carter to debate him. Ingeniously, the Shamie campaign exploited Kennedy's past demand. The Shamie campaign spent much of its time garnering free media attention by offering a cash reward to anyone who could persuade Kennedy to debate Shamie. The campaign hired an airplane to pull a banner that read: ''$10,000 Reward - Get Ted Kennedy to Debate Ray Shamie." The airplane flew around the country over large populations. Shamie's antics in trying to get Kennedy to debate became a national story, and finally Kennedy agreed to a debate with Shamie. The $10,000 reward went to the Cardinal Cushing School and Training Center for Special Needs Students located in Hanover, Massachusetts. While Kennedy easily won re-election, Shamie mustered a respectable 38.26% of the vote in heavily Democratic Massachusetts.
In 1990, U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz (R-MN) appeared to be a shoe-in for re-election. His campaign had raised a redoubtable $6 million and it appeared he would face only token opposition and coast to re-election. The Democratic nominee was Paul Wellstone, an obscure Political Science Professor at Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Political consultant Bill Hillsman engineered a brilliant advertising campaign, wherein Wellstone tried to find Boschwitz by going to his campaign and state offices, asking staffers where Boschwitz was. When they told him he was not there, Wellstone asked the staffers to tell Boschwitz he would like to debate him. Wellstone also interviewed Minnesota residents, who told him how debates were healthy for the political process. Using the interviews, Wellstone developed an advertising campaign which garnered national attention, precipitously increasing Wellstone's name recognition and forcing Boschwitz to agree to multiple debates. That year, Wellstone scored one of the biggest upsets in the country, defeating the once near immutable Boschwitz. In fact, Wellstone was the only Democrat to defeat an incumbent Republican U.S. Senator that year.
In 1994, U.S. House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-GA), in his quest to become the first Republican House Speaker in forty years, spent little time in his Congressional District. Instead, Gingrich barnstormed the nation, campaigning for Republican Congressional candidates in 125 other districts. Gingrich refused to debate his Democratic opponent, Ben Jones, a former U.S. Representative. Jones traveled to Gingrich's campaign stops around the country, trying to get to meet Gingrich and demand that he come back home to Georgia to debate. At one stop, Jones brought bloodhounds. However, Jones could not get close enough to Gingrich to confront him about participating in a debate. Jones lost the race by over 25 percentage points.
In 2012, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) concomitantly sought re-election to his House seat and election to the Vice Presidency as Republican Mitt Romney's runningmate. Ryan did not actively campaign for re-election or debate his Congressional opponent, Democrat Ron Zerban. Zerban tried to get political mileage by appearing in Danville, Kentucky the day a Vice Presidential debate between Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden was scheduled to be held. Though Zerban could not shame Ryan into debating him, his Danville appearances resulted in Zerban accruing lots of free local and national media attention and effectuated a cash infusion to Zerban's coffers. In fact, Zerban raised $2.1 million. Zerban held Ryan to just 54.9% of the vote, the lowest percentage of any of Ryan's eight Congressional races.
In 2014, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, well ahead in the polls, did not debate his three opponents. While he was safely re-elected, supporters of his opponents had fun with Cornett's absence. At one debate, at the Fairview Missionary Baptist Church, a man seated in the front row sporting a chicken suit made local headlines by clucking: "Why won't Mick debate?"
During this election cycle, we will likely see more creative tactics employed by hapless challengers to force their incumbent opponents to debate. The incumbents will most likely agree to just one debate, try to say as little as possible, speak in platitudes and not even mention their opponents by name.
Of course, for a challenger to score a debate does not mean the debate will garner the requisite attention sought, and could in fact result in a debate with very few television viewers. Sometimes bad luck and bad timing can also play a role. For example, in 1986, popular Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis afforded his Republican challenger, George Kariotis, one debate. The debate was scheduled to be held on the day after the last game of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets. However, the Seventh game was rained out and re-scheduled for the next day. Consequently, while about 1.5 million households in the Boston media market turned their television sets to the game, only about 46,000 viewers watched the debate. In good humor, Kariotis said in his concession speech, after pocketing just 31.2% of the vote: "In fairness to Mike, I should clear up something. He was criticized, I think, for giving me only one televised debate during the seventh game of the World Series [Between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets]. I should point out that that was really his second choice; his first choice was tomorrow." (The day after the election)
It is a harrowing task for underdog challengers to force an entrenched incumbent to debate. The incumbent has little to gain and much to lose. However, sometimes the challenger can muster media attention by using creative, imaginative, outside-the-box tactics. Even if the incumbent does not agree to debate, the free media attention for the challenger can enhance his/her name recognition and create a narrative of a feisty underdog challenger who creatively pursues the entrenched incumbent.
When a Political Gaffe Torpedoes a Political Candidate
With another election season upon us, it is close to certainty that we will see political candidates make major gaffes, including answering a question honestly, when political correctness would be the prudent tactic. Candidates sometimes misspeak, like in 1968 when Democratic Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey told Playboy magazine: "No sane person in the country likes the War in Vietnam, and neither does President [Lyndon B.] Johnson."
Sometimes a gaffe occurs when a candidate makes an attempt at humor and falls flat, like in 2011, when Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney told unemployed Americans in Tampa, Florida, "I should tell my story. I too am unemployed."
Sometimes a candidate can appear insensitive, like in 1978, when Massachusetts Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Ed King was asked about the potential dangers of his plan to repeal environmental regulations, and his advocacy of nuclear power. King cavalierly stated: "I'm sure we'll find a cure for cancer."
However, in rare instances, a political gaffe has proven fatal and the candidate never recovered. For example, in 1900, the Democratic Party was looking for a candidate to take on the Republican incumbent, William McKinley. McKinley was riding a wave of popularity for his role in leading the nation to victory in the Spanish-American War. Democrats thought they could co-opt McKinley's foreign policy bone fides by nominating Admiral George Dewey. Dewey became a national icon for his role in defeating the Spanish during the war at the critical Battle of Manila Bay. When Dewey returned home, parades were held in his honor.
Dewey did not seem to understand however that the American people had come to expect an activist President who serves as a leader, not a figurehead who is subservient to the prerogatives of the U.S. Congress. Rather than laying out his own ambitious agenda, Dewey said that as President he would: "execute the laws of Congress as faithfully as I have always executed the orders of my superiors." In addition, Dewey came across as supercilious by suggesting that the Presidency would not be a hard job: "I am convinced that the office of the President is not such a very difficult one to fill."
Despite being apotheosized by the American people, Dewey had no experience in elective politics. He did not attempt to filter his words and spoke directly off the cuff, and in doing so, he made too many gaffes. These gaffes resulted in Dewey's campaign ending before it started. Adding insult to injury for the Democrats, Dewey endorsed McKinley over the eventual Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan.
Similarly, in 1967, the early frontrunner for the Republican Presidential nomination was the popular, charismatic, telegnenic Governor of Michigan, George Romney. This was an opportune time for a Romney candidacy. With conservative Barry Goldwater having lost in a landslide to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, the Party was in desperate need for a moderate nominee with crossover appeal in the General Election. Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson (who eventually announced he would not seek re-election) appeared electorally vulnerable, and the party was galvanized, having picked up 47 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and three U.S. Senate seats in the 1966 mid-term elections. A Gallup Poll conducted in 1967 showed Romney beating Johnson by eight points. However, in just one interview Governor Romney sabotaged his candidacy.
In 1965, Romney took a 31-day expedition to Vietnam, meeting with U.S. military and Defense officials. When he returned home, Romney announced his support for the continued escalation of U.S. troops in that nation's Civil War. Romney told Lou Gordon of WKB-TV in Detroit that he'd had "the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." Romney subsequently reversed himself, voicing opposition to the war. However, the notion that a would-be President could be "brainwashed" did not sit well with Republican voters. Because of this gaffe, his poll numbers dropped precipitously, and Romney egressed from the race before the New Hampshire Primary.
Usually candidates who are ahead in the polls tend to make their remarks as general and as innocuous a possible so as not to lose any voters they already have. However, in 1990, Democrat John Silber, who harbored a commanding lead over Republican Bill Weld in the Massachusetts Gubernatorial race, inexplicably went off script.
Silber was asked why he did not campaign in the inner-city Boston community of Roxbury. Astonishingly, Silber responded: "There's no point in my making a speech on crime control to a bunch of drug addicts." While Silber could have recovered from this gaffe, it was in a subsequent interview with Natalie Jacobson of WCVB-TV in Boston where Silber, still up by nine points, handed the election to Weld on a silver platter. Jacobson asked a seemingly pedestrian question: "What's your biggest weakness?" Silber snapped: "You find a weakness. I don't have to go around telling you what's wrong with me. The media have manufactured about 16,000 nonexistent qualities that are offensive and attributed them all to me. Let them have their field day. You can pick any one of them." With that unnecessary statement, Silber's poll numbers took a nosedive and he lost the election to Republican Bill Weld by four points.
Ed Koch, having been elected Mayor of New York City, presumably would have the political dexterity not to offend the state's many suburban voters, but he did. During his failed 1982 run for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York, Mayor Ed Koch asked Peter Manso of Playboy Magazine: "Have you ever lived in the suburbs? I haven't but I've talked to people who have, and it's sterile. It's nothing. It's wasting your life, and people do not wish to waste their lives once they've seen New York [City]." Then when Manso asked Koch why people would live in New York City, given "lousy city service and late subways," Koch again exploded on the suburbs, asserting, "As opposed to wasting time in a car? Or out in the country, wasting time in a pickup truck? When you have to drive 20 miles to buy a gingham dress or a Sears Roebuck suit. The rural American thing I'm telling you, it's a joke." Koch lost the nomination to Mario Cuomo.
While it is customary for a candidate to attack an opponent, sometimes demeaning attacks can actually backfire and help the opponent. For example, in 1994, Texas Governor Ann Richards heaped approbation on Debbie Colman, who won the Texarkana Teacher of the Year Award. She blasted Republican nominee George W. Bush for suggesting that she had manipulated student test scores in an election year. Richards, in praising Colman, exclaimed: "You just work like a dog, do well, the test scores are up, the kids are looking better, the dropout rate is down. And all of a sudden, you've got some jerk who's running for public office [George W. Bush] telling everybody it's all a sham." Texas voters viewed this rhetoric as below the belt. This gaffe contributed significantly to Richards loss to Bush.
A political candidate is almost always in the spotlight and often suffers from exhaustion. It is easy for even the most seasoned candidates to make a mistake. A political gaffe normally results in a few days of being taken off-message, defending or backtracking from one's comments. However, on rare occasions the gaffe is so major that a candidate cannot recover. Journalist Michael Kinsley gave perhaps the best definition of a political gaffe: "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth - some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."
Will the Carpetbagger Card be Effective Against Scott Brown in the New Hampshire U.S. Senate Race?
Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) has packed his truck and moved full-time to his former vacation home in Rye, New Hampshire. He is running for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in November. With Brown the putative favorite for the nomination, the general election will likely be a donnybrook. This race will likely be a marquee matchup and could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
The term "carpetbagger" will be a watchword leveled against Scott Brown. The term originally referred to a Northern resident who moved to the South following the Civil War. Many of these Northerners carried "carpet bags." The term has since entered the political lexicon referring to individuals who move from one state to another state to run for political office.
On paper, New Hampshire appears to be the opportune state for a candidate from another state to run for office. About 60 percent of Granite State residents were born out of state. Interestingly, the state's Governor, Maggie Hassan, is also a Massachusetts transplant. Even Shaheen is a transplant to New Hampshire, having grown up in Missouri. However, both Hassan and Shaheen established their professional lives and political careers in New Hampshire.
The state most associated with the term carpetbagger is New York. Two national figures, Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, moved to the state for the sole purpose of pursuing political office.
It was not until August of 1964 that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy officially threw his hat into the ring to run in the Democratic Primary for the U.S. Senate. On Election Day, he was still a registered voter in Massachusetts and thus could not vote for himself. Nevertheless, this did not stop Kennedy from handily defeating the homegrown candidate, U.S. Representative Samuel S. Stratton (D-NY) in the Democratic Primary. Stratton later observed: "When Bobby Kennedy decided he was a New Yorker, that was the end of my campaign." In the General Election, Kennedy defeated U.S. Senator Kenneth Keating (R-NY) in part by challenging his self-depiction as a "liberal Republican." The Kennedy campaign distributed literature called "The myth of Keating's liberalism." Like Shaheen, Keating was a freshman Senator seeking a second term. Keating chided the state Democratic Party for not nominating a New Yorker. Making light of Kennedy's Massachusetts roots, Keating began a press conference by announcing:
Well, ladies and gentlemen, we all know what we're here for. And I want to announce at the outset that I will not be a candidate for the United States Senates from Massachusetts.
Ultimately, Kennedy won the race on the coattails of the popular Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson who outran Kennedy in New York. Johnson carried every county in the state and garnered a whopping 68.5 percent of the vote. Kennedy won the Senate seat with just 53.5 percent of the vote.
In 1998, the popularity of First Lady Hillary Clinton in New York evinced itself as she campaigned for the state's U.S. Senate nominee, Chuck Schumer. The High Command of the Democratic Party urged her to run for the State's open Senate seat in 2000. They wanted someone with political star-power to challenge likely Republican nominee Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani made light of Hillary moving into the state to run for the Senate. In fact, he traveled to Arkansas, where Hillary had previously lived, to raise money. Speaking at a fundraiser for his campaign in Arkansas, Giuliani joked: "I've never lived here, I've never worked here, I've never gone to school here, it's the first time I've been here. I guess it would be cool to run for the Senate." Ultimately, Giuliani did not run due to his messy divorce and diagnosis of prostate cancer. U.S. Representative Rick Lazio (R-NY) supplanted him. Lazio however could not make the carpetbagger label stick to Clinton. Clinton went on to win the election, pocketing 55.27 percent of the vote.
In 2002, Massachusetts Democrats legally challenged the residency of Republican Gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney. The Commonwealth's Constitution requires candidates for Governor to have lived in the state for seven consecutive years before running for office. Democrats claimed Romney was a resident of Utah where he was CEO of the Salt Lake City Olympics. Romney claimed he was a part-time resident of Massachusetts, had maintained his property there and is thus eligible to run for Governor. The State Ballot Law Commission agreed that Romney was eligible to run for Governor. Democrats never gained much traction with the strategy of claiming Romney was a carpetbagger.
Many politicians have dealt with the carpetbagger label early in their careers, including future presidents. In 1946, John F. Kennedy first ran for an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in a Congressional District he had not lived in since his youth. His opponents derided him as a son of privilege from outside the district. The East Boston Leader poked fun at Kennedy's entry into the race, exclaiming: "Congress Seat for sale - No experience necessary - Applicant must live in New York or Florida - Only millionaires need apply." Despite this attack, Kennedy used his sterling military credentials, Irish Catholic ethnicity, and prolific retail politicking skills to win the seat. In fact, Kennedy's campaign paid an unemployed plumber named Joseph Russo to run in the Democratic Primary, siphoning voters away from one of his opponents, a Boston City Councilor who was also named Joseph Russo, thus splitting the Joseph Russo vote.
The best answer to the charge of carpetbagging came in 1982 by John McCain, who had lived in Arizona for less than a year before he ran for an open U.S. House seat. He put the carpetbagging issue to bed after a voter called him a carpetbagger. McCain averred:
Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the first district of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.
McCain won the race.
One of the few times the carpetbagger label actually stuck to a candidate was in 1978 when George W. Bush pursued a U.S. House seat in West Texas. Bush had spent much of his time out of state, being educated in New England at Philips Andover Academy, Yale University, and The Harvard Business School. Bush's Democratic opponent, Kent Hance, taunted Bush as: "Not a real Texan," and asserted "Yale and Harvard don't prepare you as well for running for the 19th Congressional District as Texas Tech does [Hance's alma mater]." Hance won that race.
The most successful carpetbagger was James Shields. Shields is the only U.S. Senator to serve three separate states. At the time, the State Legislatures selected U.S. Senators, not the citizens of the respective states. Shields was selected by the Illinois Legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1848. After the Illinois State Legislature did not reappoint him in 1854, Shields moved to Minnesota, and in 1858 was selected by that Legislature as one of that state's first Senators. Later in life, when Shields was domiciled in Missouri, that State's legislature selected him to fill the remainder of the term of the late Lewis Boggs.
The charge of carpetbagging is nothing new in American politics. However, with few exceptions, like in the case of George W. Bush, it is rarely a winning strategy for the opposing candidate. Most of the time when candidates from out of state lose an election, it is not because of where they reside, but because they are out of the state's political mainstream.
For Scott Brown, his major hurdle may be defining a rationale for his candidacy. It is difficult for a candidate who moves to a state to run for office to construct a compelling master narrative as to why he is motivated by more than mere electoral opportunism. However, Brown will likely benefit from the crosspollination between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In fact, about 13 percent of New Hampshire residents cross the border every day to work in Massachusetts. Accordingly, Brown can legitimately claim that he has a vested interest in New Hampshire because he is a long-time property tax payer. Although history suggests that moving into a state to run for office may be an electoral hindrance that a candidate must deal with, it is an encumbrance that can be dealt with and overcome.
History has shown that playing the carpetbagger card is usually an ineffectual strategy. Voters seem to care more about the stature and political positions of the candidates than the length of their residency in the state.
Political Insults: Are They Merely Cheap Shots or Do They Play an Important Role in American Politics?
U.S. House Majority Leader Tip O’Neill (D-MA) had no problem publicly belittling Republican President and friend Gerald R. Ford. He said Ford was “worse than [Warren G.] Harding and [Herbert] Hoover put together.” Yet O’Neill and Ford had a friendly personal relationship. They often golfed together. Ford took O’Neill’s criticisms in stride, knowing that they were not personal, just politics.
Theodore Roosevelt was brilliant at leveling insults, not only directed at his political adversaries, but often directed at his political allies. In 1889, Roosevelt was appointed to serve on the Civil Service Commission by President Benjamin Harrison. However, Roosevelt was less than grateful when Harrison failed to support his ideas for Civil Service Reform. Roosevelt blasted the President, calling him “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician." Harrison retorted that the young Roosevelt “wanted to put an end to all the evil in the world between sunrise and sunset.” In 1898, while serving as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy, Roosevelt became convinced that President William McKinley was a vacillator. He said of the President: “McKinley had no more backbone than a chocolate eclair.” Ironically, in 1900 Roosevelt became McKinley’s Vice Presidential Running Mate.
Perhaps Roosevelt’s most profound insult was targeted at Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. He called Wilson ”A Byzantine logothete backed by flubdubs and mollycoddles.” (In Layman’s terms, a logothete is an administrator; a flubdud means nonsense; and a mollycoddle means pampered.) Needless to say, Roosevelt’s inimical insults are not often heard on the school playground.
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson endorsed Pat Harrison in the Democratic U.S. Senate Primary race against the incumbent Democrat James K. Vardaman (D-MS). Wilson was inflamed that Vardaman had voted against the Congressional Declaration of War with Germany. Vardaman did not take Wilson’s endorsement of Harrison lightly. He called Wilson “the coldest blooded, most selfish ruler beneath the stars today.” Hurling invective at Wilson proved a bipartisan affair. Just a year later (in 1919) U.S. Senate Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge Sr. (R-MA) called Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, who he had feuded with over the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, “the most sinister figure that ever crossed the country's path.” After the Treaty failed to garner the requisite two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate, Wilson referred to Lodge and other opponents of the Treaty as “Pygmy minds.”
Harry S. Truman minced few words. He once had great admiration for Dwight D. Eisenhower, and even offered not to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 1948 if Eisenhower registered in the Democratic Party and ran for President. Yet when Eisenhower decided to run for President as a Republican in 1952, Truman sang from a different hymnbook. In his down-home Missouri dialect, Truman exclaimed, “The General doesn’t know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday.” When Vice President Richard M. Nixon sought the Presidency in 1960, former President Truman called Nixon “A no good lying bastard,” and told an audience in Texas that anyone who votes for Nixon “Ought to go to Hell.” The Democratic nominee, John F. Kennedy, was asked about these comments and with great political dexterity quipped; “I’ve asked President Truman to please not bring up the religious issue in this campaign.” When Nixon became President, he made a courtesy call to Truman at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence Missouri. Truman and Nixon got along cordially before the cameras.
The campaign trail is a unique place especially during the Presidential primaries where candidates of the same political party barnstorm the nation excoriating each other and approving advertisements castigating their opponent(s). However, once the Primary is over, the loser ceases all criticism and hits the hustings, singing the praises of the winner.
For example, in 1992 Democrat Paul Tsongas called his Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton, “unprincipled” and “a pander bear.” He approved an advertisement which asserted: “Some people will say anything to be elected President.” Yet when Clinton secured the nomination, Tsongas heaped praise on Clinton, averring: “Bill Clinton is a healer by instinct and that skill will be critical as we come to understand the pulls and tugs of our multi-cultural society.” As for Tsongas’ earlier statement, he said: “It was a Campaign. Campaigns are tough. People make tough statements and I did and others did as well.”
In the U.S. House of Representatives, three insults are legendary in their creativeness. The first was in 1899. U.S. House Speaker Thomas Bracket Reed (R-ME) leveled an insult at his colleagues, observing: “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.”
The second was in 1942, after former Republican Presidential nominee Wendell Willkie compared the Neutrality Act to giving aid to German Chancellor Adolph Hitler. In response, U.S. Representative Dewey Short (R-MO) went to the House Floor to alliteratively brand his fellow Republican “a Bellowing--Blatant---Bellicose---Belligerent---Blowhard.”
The most recent grand insult occurred in 2005, when U.S. Representative Marian Berry (D-AR) referred to his redheaded 30-year-old Republican colleague, U.S. Representative Adam Putnam (R-FL), as a “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod" during a debate on the Federal budget. Berry was incensed that Putnam and some Republican colleagues attacked the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, claiming they were not true fiscal conservatives.
The Reverend Jerry Falwell was a vociferous opponent of Sandra Day O’Connor, Ronald Reagan’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Falwell thought her views on social issues were too liberal. He urged “All Good Christians to oppose the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court.” In response to Falwell’s statement, U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), a Libertarian-oriented conservative who virulently opposed the views of social conservatives like Falwell, quipped: "All Good Christians should kick Jerry Falwell’s ass.”
Even family connections do not shield insults in the political sphere. In 1994, Massachusetts State Representative Mark Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts. He ran against Republican Governor William F. Weld. Governor Weld was married to Susan Roosevelt Weld, a cousin of Mark Roosevelt. This family feud was a nasty slugfest. Despite Weld's commanding lead, Weld ran up the electoral score in part by approving advertisements attacking Roosevelt. Roosevelt in turn said of Weld: "He's indifferent, apathetic, feckless, aloof, passive and lazy. Did I say uncaring? He's uncaring." Weld won the race with a record 71 percent of the vote.
It should also be noted that there is a fine line to observe with political insults, and that once that line is crossed, there is often an attendant backlash. For example, political insults can be seen as overly insulting to the point where they can backfire on the insulter. In 1994, Texas Governor Ann Richards, on a campaign stop in Texarkana, Texas, heaped approbation on Debbie Coleman who was the recipient of the city’s Teacher of the Year Award. Richards was inflamed that her Republican opponent, George W. Bush, had argued that the achievement scores for students were manipulated because it is an election year. Richards then asserted: "You just work like a dog, do well, the test scores are up, the kids are looking better, the dropout rate is down. And all of a sudden you've got some jerk who's running for public office [George W. Bush] telling everybody it's all a sham and it isn't real and he doesn't give you credit for doing your job. So far as he is concerned, everything in Texas is terrible." Richard’s comments backfired and were seen by much of the Texas electorate as petty, malevolent, and unnecessary.
The winner of the most creative insult award must go to former U.S. Senator Chuck Robb (D-VA). In the 1994 Virginia U.S. Senate race, Republican Oliver North, who had been implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Presidential Administration of Ronald Reagan, challenged Robb. Senator Robb brought out the heavy rhetorical artillery, telling an audience in Alexander, VA that his opponent is a “Document-shredding, Constitution-trashing, Commander in Chief-bashing, Congress-thrashing, uniform-shaming, Ayatollah-loving, arms-dealing, criminal-protecting, résumé-enhancing, Noriega-coddling, Social Security-threatening, public school-denigrating, Swiss-banking-law-breaking, letter-faking, self-serving, election-losing, snake-oil salesman who can't tell the difference between the truth and a lie.” The next day Robb won the Senate election.
Politics is a funny business, and certainly not a good career choice for the thin-skinned. If you want to play in this game you’ve got to be prepared for highly insulting remarks not only about the positions you may hold, but about your personal life as well.
Perhaps how a political candidate handles and deals with sharp insults is an important part of the political vetting process.
The Establishment is Not Quite as Established as One Might Think
There is no greater term of derision in American politics than to be called an "establishmentarian." No one wants to be portrayed as a tribune of the status quo, especially at a time when politicians are held in such low esteem. There is no shortage of candidates who characterize themselves as populist insurgents with a phalanx of grassroots supporters challenging the political machinery, and sometimes an insurgent rises to great political heights and becomes the face of the establishment. Barack Obama is the quintessential example of this phenomenon.
In 2008, the preponderant frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nomination was U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). She had redoubtable early institutional support. Traditional Democratic benefactors contributed early to her campaign.
In sharp contrast to Hillary, Obama ran as an agent of change, actually using his lack of national political experience to his advantage. Obama asserted: "There are those who tout their experience working the system in Washington. But the problem is the system in Washington isn't working for us, and it hasn't been for a very long time." Obama consolidated a coalition of young professionals, disenchanted Independent voters and African-Americans, defeating Clinton and the Democratic establishment.
Turnabout is fair play in American politics, and ironically Obama is now the poster child for the Washington establishment. He now stands with the bipartisan Congressional leadership on a litany of issues, from the launching of predator drone strikes, to the defense of the NSA domestic surveillance program, to defending a $633 Billion defense budget. His opposition comes from progressive Democrats on the left and Libertarians on the right who are now challenging the bipartisan establishment.
Obama's 2008 General Election opponent, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), finds himself in a similar predicament. In 2000, McCain challenged Texas Governor Bush for the GOP Presidential nomination. Similar to the case of Hillary Clinton's backing by the Democratic establishment in 2008, Bush had the support of the Republican establishment and held an early commanding lead for the nomination. McCain ran as the insurgent. He put a scare into the GOP establishment by running on reforming the political process. Surprisingly, he scored a searing 18-point upset in the New Hampshire Primary with the support of Independents and some crossover Democrats.
The establishment eventually recovered and Bush won in the establishment firewall state of South Carolina. McCain's insurgent army was never able to repeat the magic of New Hampshire and Bush garnered the nomination. Today, McCain is seen as the embodiment of the GOP establishment. He is often the prime defender of established Republican orthodoxy against Libertarian insurgents intent on reorienting the GOP as a party against intervention in the economy and in foreign affairs. McCain was a supporter of the $700 billion bailout of the U.S. financial industry, and is the foremost advocate in the U.S. Senate for a continued robust U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
The quintessence of the paradigm of a rebel becoming the face card of the establishment is Gerald R. Ford. Today, many Americans think of Ford as the quintessential establishment Republican. He served 25 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming House Minority Leader before becoming Vice President and President. Ironically, Ford got to where he was by being an insurrectionist, challenging the GOP establishment.
Ford began his GOP career as chairman of the Kent County GOP. In that role, Ford challenged the supreme reign of the corrupt system within the Michigan GOP led by patronage dispenser and GOP benefactor Frank "Boss" McKay. In 1948, Ford won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by challenging 9-year incumbent Bartel J. Jonkman in the Republican Primary. Jonkman had been a product of the McKay machine.
In the House, Ford became active in the "young turks," a coterie of Republican rebels who became disenthralled with the GOP establishment in the House. Ford thought the GOP establishment had become too complacent in its role as the minority party, and felt that the party could regain its majority status by recruiting GOP candidates to challenge conservative Democrats in the South. He came to feel that the leadership was too willing to work with Conservative Democrats in the House, rather than working to defeat them. In 1963, Ford successfully challenged incumbent U.S. Representative Charles Hoeven for the Chairmanship of the House GOP Caucus. Two years later, Ford shocked the GOP establishment by defeating House Minority Leader Charles Halleck (R-IN) in his bid for re-election. Accordingly, Ford reinvented the GOP Establishment by supplanting it.
Alternatively, some products of the political establishment went rogue. Eugene McCarthy entered the U.S. Senate in 1959 as a rank-and-file establishment Democrat. In 1964, he was on Lyndon B. Johnson's shortlist for Vice Presidential nominees. However, McCarthy broke with the Democratic establishment over the volatile issue of Vietnam and challenged Johnson in his re-election bid in 1968, declaring: "No nation had a right to destroy a nation." McCarthy mustered an astounding 41.9% of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, helping to force Johnson from the race. McCarthy eventually lost the nomination at the Convention to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. McCarthy continued on the rogue trajectory, eventually waging a quixotic Independent Presidential campaign in 1976, advocating nuclear disarmament and a shortened workweek.
Ramsey Clark took a much more radical departure from the Democratic establishment. Clark was the son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark (1949-1967.) Clark followed in his father's footsteps, earning a law degree from the prestigious University of Chicago and becoming a partner in an esteemed law firm. He became U.S. Attorney General under the Johnson administration in 1967 at a time when the administration was combating domestic unrest caused chiefly by the Vietnam War.
Once the Johnson administration left office, Clark became a vociferous opponent of U.S. foreign policy. He traveled to North Vietnam in 1972, excoriating the U.S. for its bombing of Hanoi. He later became a vocal critic of the Gulf War and the attendant U.S. Sponsored Sanctions on Iraq, labeling them "the clearest form of genocide." Clark also branded the so-called Global War on Terror "A war on Islam" and provided counsel to dislodged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein at his 2006 execution hearing.
Political candidates revel in styling themselves as the populist insurgent. They try to brand a scarlet "E" for establishment on the forehead of their opponents. While an establishment candidate benefits from institutional support and an existing army of benefactors, they usually downplay this significant asset, trying to present themselves as independent-minded. However, once insurgents are elected, they become the face card of the establishment. As the late humorist Art Buchwald opined: "If you attack the establishment long enough, and hard enough, they will make you a member of it."
A New Bipartisanship
It has become conventional thinking that bipartisanship is moribund in American politics. Recent elections of Tea Party Republicans have cemented this mindset. Ironically, the increasing partisan polarity may actually have the unintended result of effectuating a new bipartisanship. Politics is not a continuum but a circle. We are now witnessing a new era of bipartisanship which pits the center-left and center-right establishment against a coalition of forces on the Progressive left and on the Libertarian right.
Progressives tend to favor government spending on domestic programs rather than on overseas expeditions. While they support government intervention in the economy, they are wary of the U.S. asserting its power internationally. In contrast, Libertarian-Republicans want to curtail government actions both at home and abroad. They fear a leviathan state.
This new political dynamic has been in the works since at least the end of the Cold War. Conservatives viewed the fight against Communism as an existential threat to the Republic. With the dissolution of the Soviet empire, neoconservative Republicans pushed for a continued interventionist role in the world. Neoconservative thinkers William Kristol and Robert A. Kagan called for the U.S. to be a "benevolent hegemony." Other conservatives advised the party to return to the non-interventionist proclivities that dominated the party prior to the Gulf War. During the 1990's, the Clinton administration relied on center-right Republicans to support its interventions in the Balkans, the expansion of NATO, and the bailout of the Mexican economy after the peso crises. Meanwhile, some former Cold War conservatives, like Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, found themselves simpatico with traditional anti-war Liberals like U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) in denouncing foreign interventionism.
During the 1990s, the Clinton administration and the Republican Congressional leadership supported the continuation of economic sanctions leveled on Iraq. A bipartisan coalition of Libertarian Republicans and Progressive Democrats opposed the sanctions regime. U.S. Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Tom Campbell (R-CA) authored a bipartisan letter to the Clinton administration which read, in part: "Reports from UNICEF (the United Nation's Children's Fund) and other United Nations agencies operating in Iraq estimate that over one million civilians, mostly children, have died from malnutrition and disease as a result of the embargo ... Morally, it is wrong to hold the Iraqi people responsible for the actions of a brutal and reckless government."
In 2002, George W. Bush won the authorization to use force in Iraq. The leadership of both parties supported this measure. U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton D-NY), Joe Biden, (D-DE) and John Kerry (D-MA) locked arms with John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Bill Frist (R-TN) in approving the authorization. Meanwhile, U.S. House Libertarian-Republicans Ron Paul (R-TX), John Duncan (R-TN), and John Hostettler (R-IN) joined liberal Democrats John Conyers (D-MI), Barbara Lee (R-CA), and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) in voting against the authorization.
In 2008, Mr. Bush signed a $700 Billion bailout of the nation's financial industry. He did this with the support of both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees (Barack Obama and John McCain), as well as the establishments of both political parties. The opposition came from a ragtag coalition of Progressive Democrats and Libertarian Republicans in Congress who called themselves "the skeptics caucus." The progressives lampooned the concentrated power of the big banks, while Libertarian Republicans opposed government intervention in the free market.
The best illustration of this new bipartisanship is the unique alliance between former U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). On paper, they are the political odd couple. Paul is a Libertarian-Republican. He advocates abolishing the federal income tax. He earned the moniker "Dr. No" for his consistent opposition to government spending. Sanders is a self-avowed Democratic-Socialist who champions a single-payer health care system. The two developed a close working relationship as they found themselves on the same side of a litany of issues. They both vociferously oppose the War on Drugs, favor defunding the Iraq War, and advocate truncating military expenditures. The center-left and center-right establishment opposed this political odd couple on each of these issues.
President Barack Obama has been a focal point in this new bipartisan alignment. Ironically, on a multiplicity of issues, Mr. Obama and the Republican leadership have been in agreement, while the Libertarian right and the progressive left have joined forces in opposition. Obama campaigned for president in 2008 on the premise that the Bush administration had taken its eye off the ball in Afghanistan to execute the war in Iraq. Obama pledged to send three additional brigades into Afghanistan. As president, Mr. Obama ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. This move was met with hackles from traditional anti-war liberals. U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), one of the House's most liberal members, warned that the continuation of the war was "bleeding our ability to provide for our own people and construct economic recovery and security at home." One of the body's most conservative members, Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), criticized the war from the right, telling Politico, "I am opposed to nation building, and I quite frankly don't see or understand what victory looks like."
Similarly, the Obama administration has escalated the use of predator drones to kill suspected terrorists. Obama garners the support of the leadership of both parties in this endeavor. Yet Progressive Democrats are indignant at the civilian casualties the drone strikes actuate and the enmity they effectuate against the United States in the Muslim World. Libertarian Republicans fear the prospect of future drone attacks against Americans. A "who's who" of the liberal Progressive Caucus signed a letter which exclaimed: "The executive branch's claim of authority to deprive citizens of life, and to do so without explaining the legal bases for doing so, sets a dangerous precedent and is a model of behavior that the United States would not want other nations to emulate." It was U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a tribune for the Libertarian-Republican bloodline, who filibustered the nomination of John O' Brennan for CIA Director, remonstrating the administration's use of drones. Paul feared the possibility that the drones could be used in the U.S. He was joined by two of his most conservative Republican colleagues, Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (UT). Paul's actions were chastised by center-right U.S Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who defended Obama. Graham asserted: "People are astonished that President Obama is doing many of the same things that President Bush did. I'm not astonished. I congratulate him for having the good judgment to understand we're at war."
This brings us to Obama and his steadfast defense of the National Security Agency surveillance program. The program, which began under George W. Bush, has the support of much of the leadership within both parties. Again, the Libertarian Republicans and Progressive Democrats have joined forces to oppose the program. Libertarian-Republican Justin Amash (R-MI) and Progressive Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) are leading the opposition to the program and have offered an amendment to greatly retrench the scope of government surveillance activities.
This is the new paradigm in American politics: Libertarian-Republicans and progressive Democrats holding positions against the center-right Republicans and center-left Democrats. Contrary to popular belief, Bipartisanship is not moribund; it is just evincing itself in a new fashion. Ironically, the political circle has now been joined at both ends.
A presidential campaign is a tedious and protracted process where strategies are developed, employed, and usually changed, and where operational tactics are formulated and brainstormed for every possible situation the campaign finds itself in. However, sometimes a president assumes office by mere serendipity. One odd or unusual event can lead to a chain of events, leading to an unexpected presidency.
A good example of this is the 1880 presidential election. One of the Republican candidates vying for the presidential nomination was U.S. Treasury Secretary John Sherman. The nomination at the time was decided at each party's National conventions. U.S. Representative James Garfield (R-OH) was a member of the Ohio delegation to the Republican National Convention. His role was to deliver an address on behalf of the Ohio delegation nominating Sherman, a native son of Ohio. Garfield was not a candidate for president. In fact, he had just been elected by the Ohio State Legislature to the U.S. Senate (At that time, the legislatures, not citizens, elected their U.S. Senators). Earlier that year, Garfield and Sherman had agreed to a deal whereby Garfield would support Sherman's presidential bid if Sherman endorsed Garfield for the U.S. Senate. The Republican Convention was deadlocked between Sherman, former President Ulysses S. Grant, and James G. Blaine. Garfield, unlike the person he was nominating (Sherman was nicknamed the Ohio Icicle), electrified the crowd and a chorus of "We Want Garfield" ensued. Stunned by the chant, Garfield insisted that his name not be placed for nomination. However, by the second day, with no end in sight to the stalemate, Blaine and Sherman both agreed to support the rising star, James Garfield. The nation was astounded by this set of unlikely events as was Garfield himself. Garfield mustered the nomination on the 36th ballot.
Garfield was a supporter of Civil Service Reform. In fact, there was a schism in the GOP over this issue. The leading supporter of the current system was the omnipowerful U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling (R-NY). To unify the party, Garfield offered the Vice Presidency to U.S. Representative Levi Morton (R-NY), who strongly desired becoming president. However, Conkling persuaded Morton, his protégée, that Garfield was destined to lose the election, and that Morton would share the blame for the loss and would never win the Republican presidential nomination. Morton reluctantly heeded that advice and declined the offer. Garfield's second choice was Chester A. Arthur, also a supporter of Conkling. As with Morton, Conkling beseeched Arthur not to accept the nomination. Arthur refused Conkling's request and was nominated as Vice president. The ticket scraped out a victory and Garfield assumed the Presidency. Garfield was subsequently assassinated in just his first year in office. Arthur, not Morton, assumed the Presidency.
Four years later, James G. Blaine, now the GOP presidential nominee, made a strategic blunder by not dissociating himself from a supporter. This faux pas likely cost Blaine the election. A few days before the 1884 presidential election, Republican presidential nominee James G. Blaine made a campaign appearance in New York, where Presbyterian Minister Samuel Burchard, a Blaine supporter, excoriated the Democrats as the Party of "Rum, Romanticism, and Rebellion." Blaine sat silent during this tirade, making no effort to disassociate himself from these volatile remarks. Unfortunately for the unsuspecting Blaine, many Irish voters took umbrage by the use of the word "rum," believing that the Minister was perpetuating a stereotype that Irish-Americans, who were mostly Democrats, were alcoholics. This galvanized the Irish vote against Blaine in the swing state of New York, where Democrat Grover Cleveland eked out a razor-thin victory, defeating Blaine by just 1,047 votes. New York proved to be the state that made the electoral difference in this razor-close presidential election.
Under the category of "be careful what you wish for," comes a story of a political boss who made history by elevating a foe to the nation's highest office. Vice President Garret Hobart had died in office of heart disease, and the Republican Party needed a new vice presidential running mate for President William McKinley in 1900. New York Republican Party boss and U.S. Senator Thomas C. Platt, a rival of New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt, successfully urged the Republican Party to select Roosevelt as the running mate to President William McKinley in 1900. Platt did this to get Roosevelt out of the Governorship because Roosevelt was challenging the Platt political machine in New York. Platt thought with Roosevelt gone that Lieutenant Governor Benjamin Barker Odell Jr. would become the Governor and would be more compliant to Platt's political machine. The thinking was that Roosevelt would be rendered inconsequential in that the Vice Presidency has little power. As circumstances would have it, President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, during the first year of his second term in office, and Roosevelt became president. Upon hearing the news, a shocked Platt exclaimed: "Oh God, now that dammed cowboy is president of the United States." To add insult to injury, Governor Odell, similar to Theodore Roosevelt, became a crusader for reform, shunning the Thomas C. Platt political machine.
The name Irvine Lenroot is not exactly a household word, but had the Republican Party high command and the GOP presidential nominee had their way, he may have become president. U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding garnered the Republican presidential nomination in 1920. Harding came from the conservative bloodline of the GOP. The Republican Party establishment wanted to balance the ticket with Lenroot, a U.S. Representative from Wisconsin and a tribune of the party's liberal bloodline. However, conservative delegates to the Republican National Convention rebelled against the high command and nominated Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was a rising star in conservative circles for his role in standing up to organized labor during the Boston Police Strike. Ironically, Harding died in 1923, allowing Coolidge to ascend to the Presidency, winning a term in his own right a year later. Irvine Lenroot faded back into obscurity. The capstone of his career was not the Presidency, but a judgeship on the United States Court of Customs and Appeals.
Enveloped in the Watergate scandal, President Richard M. Nixon resigned his office in 1974 and was succeeded by Gerald R. Ford, the only man to succeed to the Presidency without ever being elected vice president or president. But, if Nixon had his way, Ford would not have succeeded him as president. When Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign his office nolo contender (no contest) to charges of failure to report income, President Richard M. Nixon's first choice to succeed Agnew was Treasury Secretary John Connally. However, Democratic Congressional leaders told Nixon that they would not confirm Connally. They viewed Connally as a turncoat for his recent departure from the Democratic Party. Nixon resigned his office just eight months later. Ford, not Connally, assumed the Presidency.
This brings us to the meteoric rise of our current president. In 2004, State Senator Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee for an open seat in the U.S. Senate. The party's presidential nominee, John Kerry, was impressed with the coalition of upscale independents and African-Americans that Barack Obama had stitched together to win U.S. Senate nomination. Kerry also like Obama's oratorical prowess and took a gamble when he asked Obama to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Obama delivered an electrifying address and became a national figure overnight. Democratic Party activists immediately floated his name as a future president. Once elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama became a rock star with the party faithful as he campaigned for Congressional Democrats running for re-election in 2006. Obama saw his opportunity and announced his presidential candidacy in 2007. He was elected president in 2008, just four years into his only term in the U.S. Senate.
Becoming president isn't always the result of years of strategic maneuvering and winning over a widespread section of constituencies and benefactors. As odd it may seem, sometimes becoming president can simply be the result of being in the right place at the right time.
If Hillary Were a Republican She Would Have a Better Chance at Winning Her Party's Presidential Nomination
If Hillary Clinton chooses to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, she will be in the catbird seat, at least on paper. Hillary presently holds a commanding lead over all other prospective Democratic presidential candidates. Although it might appear likely that she will be coroneted by the Democratic Party and that her nomination will be a mere proforma exercise, this may be an illusion.
The problem Hillary has is that she is running as a Democrat. Although it is almost standard operating procedure for the Republican Party to nominate the early frontrunner (usually the one who came in second place in the prior nomination sweepstakes), the Democrats are more likely to nominate an insurgent candidate who catches fire in his or her maiden political race.
On the GOP side, George W. Bush is the only president since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 to win the nation's highest office in his first attempt. In Bush's case, he garnered high name recognition as the son of a former president. In addition, the preponderance of the GOP establishment supported him.
With few exceptions, the GOP nomination process is remarkable consistent. A candidate runs, finishes in second place, and then musters his party's nomination the next time it is open.
In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford won the Republican presidential nomination. Former California Governor Ronald Reagan came in second. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the nomination with former CIA Director George H.W. Bush finishing in second place. In 1988, George H.W. Bush garnered the party's nomination with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-KS) coming in second. In 1996, Robert J. Dole mustered the party's nomination. Breaking the pattern, former Republican presidential advisor Patrick J. Buchanan finished in second place in 1996 and did not win the nomination in 2000.
The nomination instead went to Texas Governor George W. Bush, with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) coming in second place. The pattern continued in 2000, with John McCain winning the GOP nomination in 2008. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney came in second to McCain then won the GOP nomination in 2012.
Unfortunately for Hillary, Democrats do not fall in line in this relatively predictable manner. The early front runner is far from assured of the Democratic Party's nomination, and candidates who finished second in the prior election are not assured of the nomination the next time around.
In 1972, the early frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination was U.S. Senator Edmond Muskie (D-ME). Muskie had afforded himself well in 1968 as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. Polls as late as August of 1971 showed Muskie defeating Republican President Richard M. Nixon. Yet the campaign of U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD) struck a resonant chord with the vociferous activist wing of the Democratic Party. They were adamant in their opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam and McGovern was bold in stating without reservation that as President he would "announce a definite early date for the withdrawal of every American soldier." Muskie had been a supporter of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and his subsequent opposition was too late for these activists. McGovern, an early opponent of the war, ran under the slogan "Right from the start" and secured his party's nomination. Muskie was never again a presidential candidate.
Four years later, the Democratic Party once again turned to an insurgent. The early frontrunner for the 1976 Democratic Party nomination was U.S. Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. He had the support of many party regulars and wealthy benefactors. Jackson enjoyed great name recognition among Democratic voters. However, Jackson, a career politician, was running in the wake of Watergate. The Democratic Party wanted a voice from outside the beltway. By running as a Washington outsider, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was able to capitalize on this discontent with the political establishment. In 1974, Harris Interactive released a poll of potential Democratic Presidential candidates in 1976. Thirty-five potential Democratic candidates were identified in the poll. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter's name did not even show up on the list. Carter went on to win the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination and was elected president.
After the Democratic Party nominated the establishment candidate, former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984, the party twice nominated first-time candidates with little national name recognition: Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and 1992. In fact, Bill Clinton scored just 3 percent in a Gallup poll taken in July of 1991.
Of course no one knows more about the potential for an insurgent to rise from the ashes than Hillary herself. She was the preponderant frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination throughout 2006 and 2007. The Democratic establishment came out in droves to endorse her candidacy. Yet she had one underlying vulnerability, her 2002 vote for the authorization of the use of force in Iraq. While Hillary castigated George W. Bush for his handling of the war and opposed the president's plan to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq, she never disavowed her 2002 vote. A young charismatic U.S. senator representing Illinois named Barack Obama (D-IL) exploited this vulnerability, appealing to the activist bloodline of the Democratic Party on that issue. Obama was an opponent of the war and excoriated Hillary for giving Bush "the open-ended authority to wage war that he uses to this day." Hillary could not recover from that vote and Obama defeated her for the Democratic nomination.
Ironically, Hillary's main point of vulnerability, should she run in 2016, could be the former U.S. Secretary of State's association with the Obama administration. She is now associated with the policies of the administration. There is a developing fissure in the Democratic Party between the center-left Democratic establishment (who would likely be Hillary's base of support), and the activist wing of the party.
As in 2008, Hillary will likely garner the support of party regulars, yet may have a problem propitiating support from activists who have become disenchanted with the administration for policies supported by Hillary. These include the troop surge and the protracted U.S. presence in Afghanistan, use of drone warfare, debilitating sanctions leveled on Iran, and support for the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program.
In addition, many on the left are dismayed at the administration for its pragmatic approach in the legislative arena, including abandoning the public option to get the requisite votes needed to pass Health Care Reform and accepting an extension of the Bush era tax cuts. In addition, the administration continues to support the drug war, widely unpopular with activist Democrats.
Adding to the uncertainty of the prospect Hillary pocketing the nomination is the fact that there could be an opening for a charismatic candidate new to the national political stage. This candidate might advocate a non-interventionist foreign policy, a respect for civil liberties, and a more progressive domestic agenda. Like Obama in 2008, this candidate would style himself or herself as a new voice, with a new progressive agenda which takes into account the contemporary concerns of the activist Democrats. Running against Hillary for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination is not an enviable position, but she is not immutable and has vulnerabilities to be exploited. The Democrats, unlike the Republicans, do not simply nominate the candidate whose turn it is. If Hillary decides to run, she will not have a cakewalk. She will have to work assiduously to garner the Democratic nomination.
Democratic and Republican Ideologies Undergo Dramatic Role Reversal
The Democratic and Republican Parties have undergone a long transition from their founding ideological principles. The Democrats started out as the conservative party but are now the liberal party, and the Republicans were once the liberal party but are now the conservative party.
The Democratic Party we know today evolved from the conservative Democratic-Republican Party of the 1790's. The first contested Presidential election was in 1796. The Democratic-Republican Party nominated the conservative Thomas Jefferson as their first presidential nominee. Party members were anti-federalists who favored state sovereignty, free markets, a decentralized federal government, and an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the attendant Bill of Rights. The Democratic-Republican Party also supported the institution of slavery.
Democratic President Martin Van Buren presided over the panic of 1837, and during that time he was steadfastly opposed to using the government as a means of employing workers on public works projects. In fact, during this economic depression Van Buren literally sold the federal government's tool supply so that the government could not use the tools for public works projects. This ideological mindset is diametrically opposite of the economic stimulus proposals that contemporary Democrats now support and advocate for, especially during periods of economic morass.
Similarly, the Republican Party has also experienced significant ideological alterations. Founded in 1856, it was the liberal counterweight to the conservative Democratic Party, opposing the expansion of slavery, supporting more money for public education, and advocating a more liberal immigration policy.
The original liberal bent of the Republican Party is especially evidenced by the 1888 Presidential election where Republican Benjamin Harrison was elected President by advocating a liberal platform. He favored expanding the money supply, expanding the protective tariff, and allocating munificent funding for social services. Harrison lost his re-election bid in 1892 to Democrat Grover Cleveland, who advocated a conservative platform, including maintaining the gold standard, reducing the protective tariff, and supporting a lassie faire approach to government intervention in the economy.
Then in 1896 as the country was mired in another depression, there was a move afoot in the Democratic Party to abandon the conservative orthodoxy of Van Buren and Cleveland, and to undertake a radically different ideological approach. To the chagrin of the Democratic high command, the party took a leap of faith when it nominated the 36-year-old firebrand populist William Jennings Bryan. Nicknamed "The Great Commoner," Bryan advocated a liberal platform. He opposed the gold standard, advocated an interventionist role for the government in the economy, and supported an expansion of the money supply. He was the first liberal to win the Democratic Party Presidential nomination. This represented a radical departure from the conservative roots of the Democratic Party.
In response to the nomination of Bryan by the Democrats, the Republican Party countered by straying away from its liberal beginnings and nominating the moderate-conservative Ohio Governor William McKinley, who, like Harrison, was a proponent of a strong protective tariff, but who, unlike Harrison, favored the Gold Standard. This incensed many old-line progressive Republicans. Some even defected to the Democratic Party to support Bryan. McKinley won handily and was re-elected in a rematch with Bryan in 1900.
The paradigm of the Democrats being the center-right party and the Republicans being the center-left party remained for much of the nineteenth century. However, this all changed when the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan, ushering in a transitional era where both parties had a significant liberal and a significant conservative bloodline.
Nomination battles within both parties were usually battles between conservative and progressive wings of each party. In 1912, the Progressive former President Theodore Roosevelt challenged the more conservative incumbent President William Howard Taft for the Republican Party nomination. Though Taft won just one primary, Massachusetts, he garnered the Party's nomination by winning enough delegates at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. Roosevelt, who won nine Republican primaries, bolted the party and formed the Progressive Party, a.k.a. the Bull Moose Party, and won 86 electoral votes in the General Election. Taft won just eight Electoral Votes. The Democratic nominee, New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, mustered 435 Electoral votes and won the Presidential Election in a landslide victory.
Similarly, in 1924 there was opposition from the progressive wing of the GOP when conservative Calvin Coolidge pocketed the Republican Presidential nomination. Coolidge, who assumed the Presidency on the death of Warren G. Harding in 1923, was challenged for the Republican nomination by U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson (R-CA). Johnson defeated Coolidge in the South Dakota primary, but failed to garner much electoral traction. With the Democrats also nominating a conservative, John W. Davis, disgruntled Progressives in both major parties deserted their nominees and supported the newly formed Progressive Party, which nominated Republican Robert M. La Follette Sr. for President and Democrat Burton Wheeler for Vice President. The ticket won a formidable 16.6% of the popular vote. Twelve liberal Republican U.S. House members supported the La Follette Candidacy and were expelled from the Republican caucus by conservative U.S. House Speaker Nicholas Longworth (R-OH).
Liberals and conservatives had an uneasy cohabitation in both parties. In the South, opposition to Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society emanated from what came to be known as "the conservative coalition," consisting of conservative (mostly Southern) Democrats and Western Republicans.
In their 1976 bid for their respective party's nomination, Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat George C. Wallace fought for the same conservative voters. After Wallace lost the Democratic Primary in Florida and his chances at securing his party's nomination were dim, the Reagan campaign ran an advertisement urging Wallace supporters to cross over and vote for Reagan in the Republican Primary. A voter appearing in the advertisement intones: "I've been a Democrat my whole life, a conservative Democrat. As much as I hate to admit it, Wallace can't be nominated, Ronald Reagan can."
Since that time, there has been a gradual ideological homogeneity within both parties. Conservative Democrats and Liberal Republican were either defeated for re-election, retired from office, or became Republicans.
Over the last decade we have witnessed the near end of progressive Republicans. This is evidenced by the defeat of U.S. Representatives Connie Morella of Maryland and Christopher Shays of Connecticut, and by the egressing from the GOP of former U.S. Senators James Jeffords of Vermont and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, both liberal Republicans.
The final nail in the coffin for conservative Democrats occurred in 2010 when the three most conservative Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives (Bobby Bright (AL), Walt Minnick (ID), and Gene Taylor (MS)) lost their re-election bids. All three representatives voted against President Barack Obama's Stimulus Plan, the Cap-and-Trade legislation, and the Health Care Reform package.
With the stock of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats nearly depleted, the Republican Party is now the conservative party and the Democratic Party is now the liberal party. This is an ideological reversal. The U.S. now mirrors many parliamentary systems in that the ideological outliers are de-minimis. Outliers who get elected are also usually the most electorally vulnerable in that they invariably represent states and Congressional districts inhospitable to their party's ideology. The Republican Party, once the liberal party is now the conservative Party. The Democratic Party, once the conservative party is now the liberal Party. The ideological role reversal is now complete
Barack Obama: A Socialist He Is Definitely Not
Critics of Barack Obama often label him as a socialist, a term of derision in American politics. Socialism is viewed by many Americans as an extreme brand of liberalism. Accordingly, as a political tactic, Republicans try to tether Democrats to this label, just as Democrats try their best, equally unfairly, to tether Republicans to the most extreme forms of conservatism.
In the case of Barack Obama, not only is he not a socialist, but in many ways he is the antithesis of a socialist. In fact, self-avowed socialists are less than enchanted with Barack Obama and often protest his policies.
Contrary to popular belief, few economic systems are truly capitalist or socialist. Most are mixed economies with elements of both private enterprise and public ownership. Socialism is a system wherein the population of a nation controls the means of production, not private individuals. There are many socialist elements in the U.S. including public beaches, public transportation, and public parks. Concomitantly, there are numerous capitalist elements, as evidenced by the millions of active businesses operating in the U.S.
An example of a leader who came to office and swung the ideological pendulum toward Socialism was French President Francois Mitterrand who assumed office in 1981. He called his domestic legislative program "the rupture with capitalism." The altarpiece of the Mitterrand agenda was the nationalization of 38 French banks.
Barack Obama has done nothing to move the ideological pendulum in the direction of socialism. In fact, he has been a tribune of private industry, often saving private businesses from bankruptcy. By contrast, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, by establishing Social Security in 1933, and Lyndon B. Johnson, by making Medicare the law of the land in 1965, swung the ideological pendulum in the direction of Socialism.
In his first year in office, Barack Obama authorized $80 billion from the Troubled Relief Assets Funds to loan to General Motors and Chrysler to keep them out of bankruptcy. The result is that two Fortune 500 companies benefited directly from Obama's actions. A socialist would have submitted legislation to the U.S. Congress, proposing to nationalize the nation's automobile industry, putting its ownership into public hands.
One could argue that the bailout was "crony capitalism" in that the two automobile companies, endowed with highly compensated lobbyists, received the loan while many other companies went bankrupt. Shoring up private companies is not socialism. In fact, it is the antithesis of socialism.
One year later, Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordability Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. The act requires every American to have health insurance. This act does not nationalize the healthcare industry, but instead provides government subsidies to private insurance companies. In effect, the nation's health care industry received about 31 million new customers courtesy of Uncle Sam. Furthermore, the legislation does not eliminate the partial anti-trust exemption that the industry benefits from. In effect, it allows healthcare organizations to operate similar to monopolies in the area of consolidation.
A socialist would have introduced legislation to nationalize the American healthcare industry, effectively eliminating the nation's private health insurance market. Americans would lose the option of purchasing health insurance on the private market, and Medicare would be extended to every American. All Americans would have full dental and medical insurance provided to them by the federal government.
Ironically, Obama's plan is very similar to the one offered by Republican President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. Nixon's plan, like Obama's plan, was a comprehensive Health Insurance Reform Program which would mandate that all Americans have health insurance, with the federal government subsidizing those who could not afford it. Nixon said in his 1974 State of the Union Address: "The time is at hand to bring comprehensive, high quality health care within the reach of every American." Ironically again, the Democratically controlled U.S. Congress did not move on Nixon's plan, arguing that it would be a boon to the insurance industry.
If Obama were truly a Socialist, one would think that actual Socialists would be singing his praises. In fact, the opposite is true. Brian Patrick Moore was the presidential nominee of the Socialist Party USA in 2008. He proudly wears the Socialist label and gets offended when he hears Obama being called a socialist. For Moore, Obama is "an insult to socialism." Moore is one of Obama's most vociferous critics. Moore calls Obama "a corporate lackey owned by interest groups" and says that Obama "supports programs that benefit the status quo and protects the powerful capitalist system."
It is quite evident that private corporations have benefited from the Obama presidency. Alternatively, under a socialist system, these corporations would be nationalized. In reality, Obama's policies are the antithesis of socialism. If one is insistent on labeling Barack Obama, perhaps former U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) comes the closest in terms of accuracy. He declares that Obama is not a socialist but a "corporatist." Paul maintains that Obama takes "care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country." That may be rhetorical hyperbole, but the larger point is that rather than working to nationalize the American economy, Obama has ministered to the needs of private corporations, providing them with support and capital.
Not only is Barack Obama not a socialist, he is, in many respects, the antithesis of the ideology of socialism.
RINOS AND DINOS: ALTHOUGH FAITHFUL TO THEIR PARTIES’ ORIGINAL POLITICAL IDEOLOGY, THEY GET NO RESPECT
The terms RINO (Republican in Name Only) and DINO (Democrat in Name Only) are used pejoratively by adherents of contemporary partisan orthodoxy to describe ideological outliers. Partisans often question why moderate and liberal Republicans and moderate and conservative Democrats identify with their respective parties. It is quite ironic that these political positions have come to be ideological outliers. Based on the founding of both parties, the original ideological outliers were Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats.
The Democratic Party we know today evolved from the Democratic-Republican Party of the 1790’s. The first contested Presidential election was in 1796. The Democratic-Republican Party nominated the conservative Thomas Jefferson as their first presidential nominee. Party members were anti-federalists who favored state sovereignty, free markets, a decentralized federal government, and an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the attendant Bill of Rights. The Democratic-Republican Party also supported the institution of slavery. Although difficult to fathom today, what we now know as the Democratic Party was the nation’s major conservative party throughout the nineteenth century.
Democrat Martin Van Buren presided over the panic of 1837, and during that time he was steadfastly opposed to using the government as a means of employing workers on public works projects. In fact, during this economic depression Van Buren literally sold the federal government’s tool supply so that the government could not use the tools for public works projects. This ideological mindset is diametrically opposite to the economic stimulus that contemporary Democrats now support and advocate for, especially during periods of economic morass.
The Republican Party has also been through significant ideological alterations. The GOP was founded in opposition to the expansion of slavery, supported railroad construction, supported more money for public education, a more liberal immigration policy, and agreed with the sale of unoccupied land to Homesteaders. At the time, the Republican Party was seen as the progressive alternative to the conservative Democratic Party of Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. For much of the latter-half of the nineteenth century the GOP continued to be the liberal party.
This is especially evidenced by the 1888 Presidential election where Republican Benjamin Harrison was elected President by advocating a liberal platform. He favored expanding the money supply, expanding the protective tariff, and munificent funding for social services. Harrison lost his re-election bid in 1892 to Democrat Grover Cleveland, who advocated a conservative platform, including maintaining the gold standard, reducing the protective tariff, and supporting a lassie faire approach to government intervention in the economy.
In 1896, the country was mired in another depression, and there was a move afoot in the Democratic Party to abandon conservative orthodoxy of Van Buren and Cleveland, and to undertake a new ideological approach. To the chagrin of the Democratic high-command, the party took a leap of faith when it nominated the 36-year-old firebrand populist William Jennings Bryan. Nicknamed “The Great Commoner,” Bryan advocated a liberal platform. He opposed the gold standard, advocated an interventionist role for the government in the economy, and supported an expansion of the money supply. He was the first liberal to win the Democratic Party Presidential nomination since the party began. This represented a radical departure from the conservative roots of the Democratic Party.
The nomination of the Liberal Bryan inflamed the conservative establishment of the Democratic Party. In fact, Democrat President Cleveland refused to support Bryan, choosing instead to support the quixotic Third Party Candidate, John M. Palmer of the Pro-Gold Standard National Democratic Party.
In response, the Republican Party countered by straying away from its liberal beginnings and nominating the moderate-conservative Ohio Governor William McKinley, who, like Harrison, was a proponent of a strong protective tariff, but who, unlike Harrison, favored the Gold Standard. This incensed many old-line progressive Republicans. Some even defected to the Democratic Party to support Bryan. McKinley won handily and was re-elected in a rematch with Bryan in 1900.
The paradigm of the Democrats being the center-right party and the Republicans being the center-left party remained for much of the nineteenth century. The Bryan nomination ushered in a period of ideological bifurcation within the two major parties, resulting in an era where both parties had a liberal and a conservative bloodline.
Liberals and conservatives had a long cohabitation in both parties. In the South, for much of the twentieth century, the Republican Party was near dormant. Winning the Democratic nomination in the South was tantamount to winning the election. Yet most Democrats who were elected to office in the South were conservatives. Much of the opposition to the New Deal and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson derived from what came to be known as “the conservative coalition” consisting of conservative (mostly southern) Democrats and Western Republicans.
Two of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate were Democrats James Eastland and John Stennis of Mississippi. In 1972, Democratic Alabama Governor George Wallace, who railed against “pointy headed intellectuals,” welfare, and big Government, won six Democratic Presidential primaries including Florida where he won all 67 of the sunshine state’s counties before being shot at a political rally.
Liberal Republicans were once a respected part of the Republican establishment. For example, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller increased welfare spending and raised taxes to pay for it. He was the party establishment’s favorite for the GOP Presidential nomination in 1964. However, he lost to conservative insurgent Barry Goldwater. As recently as 1976, Ronald Reagan announced that if he garnered the Presidential nomination, he would select U.S. Senator Richard Schweiker (R-PA), a moderate, as his running mate. Schweiker scored a 90% positive rating from Americans For Democratic Action. Reagan lost that race to the moderate Gerald R. Ford. On the state level, Massachusetts elected liberal Republican Governors Christian Herter, John A. Volpe, and Frank Sergeant, and elected liberal Republicans Leveret Saltonstall and Edwin Brook to the U.S. Senate.
Today, there is a perceived ideological homogeneity regarding the two major parties. Democrats must be liberals and Republican must be conservatives. But this is a recent phenomenon. The few remaining Conservative Democrats and Liberal Republicans are ostracized. And giving the demeaning monikers of “RINO’s” and “DINOs.” This is not based on history but on a contemporaneous view of the two parties. The founders of both parties would not recognize the modern incarnations of their two parties. In both cases the opposite ideology now commandeers the political platform of their party. RINO’s and DINO’s have evolved into the ideological outliers, fully supplanting the Conservative Democrats and the Liberal Republicans of the past two centuries.
The Miracle of Political Resurrections
Easter is upon us, a time when Christians celebrate their belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In the political sphere, there are also resurrections. Politicians sometimes peak early in their career and then fall into the political abyss. Some then miraculously rise again.
In 1824, at age 29, Democrat James K. Polk was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1835 he was elected Speaker of the House. In 1839 Polk was elected governor of his native Tennessee. However, with the proliferation of the Whig Party in the state, Polk lost his bid for re-election in 1841. In 1843 Polk sought the governorship once again but lost. Having been summarily rejected twice by voters in his own state, it appeared that Polk was a middle-aged politician with a great career behind him.
Undeterred by these past defeats, Polk attended the Democratic National Convention in 1844 hoping that his party would remember his many contributions as Speaker of the House and award him with the vice presidential nomination. As luck would have it, the Convention became deadlocked, and on the eighth ballot the Convention chose Polk as a compromise candidate. Miraculously, Polk went on to win the general election. Oddly, the man who could not maintain the governorship of his home state of Tennessee rose from defeat to win the presidency.
Richard M. Nixon was once a rising star in California politics. In 1946, the 33-year-old former Navy Lieutenant Commander defeated a 10-year House incumbent Jerry Voorhees. As a freshman House member, Nixon rose to national prominence for his role as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee as the committee investigated whether Alger Hiss, a State Department official, was a Communist. In 1948, Nixon won both the Democratic and Republican Parties' nomination for re-election. Ironically, he was running against himself.
In 1950, Nixon was elected to the U.S. Senate, and just two years later he was elected vice president. Nixon served eight years as vice president. In 1960, Nixon won the Republican Party nomination, but failed to secure the presidency in a close election that some still believe he won. Two years later, Nixon made the politically dicey decision to run for governor of California against the popular incumbent Pat Brown. Nixon lost the race by over 300,000 votes. This loss caused many political observers to conclude that Nixon's political carrier was behind him. The defeated Nixon told the members of the press: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."
However, reports of Nixon's political demise were premature. Nixon spent much of 1964 and 1966 barnstorming the nation, collecting chits by campaigning for Republican candidates. By 1968, Nixon had re-secured his political standing and won the GOP nomination. Nixon went on to win the presidency, capping an implausible political comeback that many characterized as nothing short of a miraculous political resurrection.
In 1974, a young state legislator named Michael Dukakis defeated Republican Governor Frank Sargent of Massachusetts. Dukakis ran a brilliant campaign by running to the right of liberal Republican Sargent.
However, Governor Dukakis tried to balance the state's budget through "root-canal" economics. He cut social services, alienating his party's liberal base. He then broke his promise not to raise taxes, disenchanting moderates who had voted for him thinking he was more conservative than the Republican Frank Sargent. These actions led to Dukakis losing his own party's nomination for re-election. Massachusetts Democrats selected conservative Democrat Ed King as their nominee instead of Dukakis.
Dukakis did not go quietly into the night. While in exile, he taught at the Kennedy School of Government. Dukakis came back to defeat King in 1982 by exploiting King's conservative record by highlighting the praise King had received from the Reagan administration. Dukakis then went on to defeat a formidable Republican opponent (former Boston City Councilor John W. Sears) in the General Election. Dukakis was re-elected in 1986 with 69 percent of the vote, and quite miraculously just two years later rose to become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.
In 1978, a 32-year-old political dynamo named Bill Clinton was elected Governor of Arkansas. Clinton was a political wonderkid, a superlative retail politician with seemingly boundless oratorical prowess. However, Governor Clinton lost political support when he signed into law an unpopular increase in license plate fees. In addition, President Jimmy Carter, a close ally of Clinton, had federalized Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, sending Cuban refugees there for processing. As a result, the "boy governor" became the youngest "ex-governor" in American history.
Like Dukakis, Clinton did not exit the political stage. Instead, he learned from his defeat and rose again. Clinton barnstormed the state, asking voters why they rejected him. Clinton won his old job back by taking the unusual step of appearing in a television advertisement in which he apologized for raising the license plate fees. He said: "You can't learn without listening." Miraculously, the voters accepted Clinton's apology, and he went on to be re-elected governor three more times, and was elected president in 1992.
This brings us to the current president. Barack Obama was elected to the State Senate in 1996. Obama then managed to forge a close relationship with the powerful State Senator Emil Jones Jr. His political star was now on the rise. He became a prominent voice on issues involving campaign finance reform, social justice, and welfare reform. In 2000, Obama gambled his political fortune by challenging U.S. Representative Bobby Rush in his bid for re-election. However, Obama's message of bipartisanship and unity did not resonate in the heavily Democratic South Chicago-based Congressional district. Rush succeeded in casting Obama as a resident of the elite Hyde Park section of the district, and as such, out of touch with the needs of the district. Rush mocked Obama's "Eastern elite degrees." The result was an electoral shellacking. Rush trounced Obama by 31 percentage points.
Obama remained in the State Senate, until 2004. His political resurrection began in 2004 when he ran for the U.S. Senate and won. Somewhat miraculously Obama then won the Democratic nomination for president and subsequently won the presidency, completing a phenomenal political resurrection.
In the world of politics, resurrections and miracles apparently never cease.
The Counterproductive Effect of Leveling Sanctions on Iran
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Barack Obama boasted that the U.S.-sponsored economic sanctions against Iran were "crippling the economy." He also stated, "their economy is in shambles." Ironically, Mitt Romney shares this view about the efficacy of sanctions. This is why the subject of sanctions was a virtual non-issue during the recent presidential campaign.
There appears to be an inherent bipartisan belief in the U.S. that sanctions should be employed to destabilize the Iranian regime, forcing the Iranians to acquiesce to the demands of the U.S and its allies, and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its investigation of its alleged nuclear program. There is a corresponding bipartisan belief on the part of U.S. government officials that Iranian citizens will become so inflamed by the effects of the sanctions that they will rise up and topple their government.
The regime in power rarely feels the effects of sanctions. Instead, it is the average citizen who bears the burden of sanctions. Ironically, the Iranian regime uses the sanctions as a scapegoat, blaming the United States Government for their country's economic woes.
U.S.-supported sanctions are a major factor contributing to the hyperinflation plaguing Iran. In fact, the Iranian currency, called the rial, is becoming increasingly worthless. It has dropped 80 percent in just the past year. This is not an abstraction. It has real-world implications for the Iranian people.
This debasing of their currency is making it hard for Iranians to procure medicine from overseas. The Associated Press recently reported that the price of an imported wheelchair has increased ten-fold in just a one year period. The price for a cancer patient to receive chemotherapy has nearly tripled, and filters for kidney dialysis are up by 325 percent.
The failure of economic sanctions is clearly illustrated by the tragic failure of the U.S.-sponsored sanctions leveled on Iraq between the Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003. The intent of the sanctions was to enfeeble the regime and its leader, President Saddam Hussein. However, throughout the 12-year period when sanctions were in effect, Hussein enjoyed life to the fullest in his extravagant palaces and aboard his 269-foot yacht. Sadly, the only major ill effect caused by the sanctions was a precipitous drop in the standard of living for the Iraqi people.
The U.S.-sponsored sanctions dramatically debilitated Iraq's economy. UNICEF, for example, contends that the sanctions led to the deaths of over a million Iraqis, including more than a half million children due to malnutrition, lack of medical supplies and diseases caused by the lack of clean water. In 1998, Denis Halliday, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Baghdad, resigned in protest, complaining: "I don't want to administer a program that satisfies the definition of genocide." Former House Democratic Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI) called the sanctions on Iraq: "infanticide masquerading as policy."
Osama bin Laden opportunistically used the suffering of the Iraqi people in his FATWA to justify the indiscriminate killing of Americans: "What is the evidence against the people of Iraq to warrant their blockade and being killed in a way that is unprecedented in history?"
Both Hussein and bin Laden used the effects of the sanctions to advance their own political agendas. Hussein used them as a foil to stay in power, blaming the sanctions for the country's economic predicament. Bin Laden used the sanctions as a recruiting magnet for al Qaeda.
We face the same risk today in Iran as we faced in Iraq. The Iranian regime has a convenient scapegoat. They can point to the effects of the sanctions as the reason for their nation's economic morass. The sanctions also play into the master narrative of al Qaeda and their coefficients that the U.S. is at war with Muslims.
In spite of the sanctions, the Iranian people are not intrinsically hostile toward the American people, but to the foreign policy of the U.S. government. In fact, after the September 11th hijackings, many Iranians participated in vigils in support of the victims.
U.S. intervention in Iran's affairs reached their high-watermark in 1953 when the U.S. and Great Brittan sponsored a coup d'état to oust Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq because he nationalized the oil fields. The coup restored Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, the "Shah of Iran," to supremacy. Unfortunately, under the Shah's iron-fisted rule, secret police tortured and killed political opponents, causing many Iranians to become hostile toward their own government.
During the Iran-Iraq War, the Reagan administration delisted Saddam Hussein as a state sponsor of terror so that the U.S. could send military and economic aid to Iraq. In taking this position, the U.S. turned a blind eye toward the chemical weapons Iraq was using against the Iranians.
Amazingly, the Iranian people do not hold a collective grudge against the American people for its government's support of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. Why, then, alienate the Iranian citizenry by inflating their economy and making it difficult for the Iranian people to subsist?
The direct effect of sanctions on populations often flies under the radar screen, perhaps because it is less graphic than the immediate deaths caused by war. The result, however, is the same. This is why President Woodrow Wilson branded sanctions: "The Silent, Deadly remedy."
By using economic sanctions to attempt to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, the U.S. might actually be playing into the hands of both Iran and al Qaeda. By exacting collective punishment on the people of Iran, we fortify the argument made by the demagogues in the Islamic World that the U.S. is at war with Islam.
The Odd Position of Vice President
President Barack Obama was recently elected to a second term, joining the elite club of two-term Presidents, which includes the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. In sharp contrast to this, Joe Biden joined a club of two-term Vice Presidents that weren’t quite as prestigious. This club includes the likes of Daniel Tomkins, Thomas Riley Marshall, John Nance Gardner, and Spiro Agnew.
The Vice Presidency is a very peculiar office. John Adams, the nation’s first Vice President, called the office “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived of his imagination conceived.” The only official duties of the Vice President is to assume the Office of the President in the event the President becomes incapacitated or dies, and to serve as President of the U.S. Senate. In that capacity, the Vice President can preside over the U.S. Senate. However, the Vice President rarely presides over the Senate, delegating that duty to the Senate President Pro Tempore. He does however attend sessions wherein his vote would break a tie.
Over the past two centuries, the nation has had some very colorful Vice Presidents. One such Vice President was Daniel D. Tomkins (1817-1825). Tomkins suffered from alcoholism which was thought to be the result of a decade-long struggle to get the U.S. Congress to reimburse him for money he used from his personal account to fund his state’s militia. At the time that Tompkins made the loan, he was Governor of New York. Tompkins would often preside drunk over the U.S. Senate. Then there was Richard M. Johnson (1837-1841). Faced with financial turmoil, Johnson took a leave of absence from the Vice Presidency to open a tavern and spa.
In 2008 Barack Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate to appeal to middle-class and blue-collar voters. Biden is the product of a middle-class upbringing and his orations often strike a resonant chord with middle and working class voters. Biden was also selected for his foreign policy prowess, having chaired the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As Vice President, Biden has been a loyal foot-soldier for Obama. He has been an ideological compatriot, fully supporting the administration’s agenda.
While it is considered commonplace today for the President and Vice President to have a harmonious relationship, and see eye-to-eye on most major issues, this was not always the case. Charles Fairbanks for example was nominated as Vice President in 1904 to complement Theodore Roosevelt. Fairbanks was an old guard conservative while Roosevelt hailed from the progressive bloodline of the Republican Party. Fairbanks opposed much of Roosevelt’s domestic agenda, which was known as “The Square Deal.” When Fairbanks sought the Republican Presidential nomination to succeed Roosevelt in 1908, Roosevelt gave his coveted endorsement to his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, who eventual won the Republican nomination.
President Calvin Coolidge and Vice President Charles G. Dawes also had an antagonistic relationship. It began in 1925 when both Coolidge and Dawes were inaugurated. At that time in history both the President and Vice President gave Inauguration Addresses on the same day. Dawes’ Inauguration Address took the form of a fiery and controversial lecture about the fecklessness of the U.S. Senate rules. The press gave Dawes’ Inaugural diatribe almost as much coverage as Coolidge’s Inaugural Address. Dawes added to the tension by sending the President a letter stating that he would not be attending Cabinet meetings.
Vice President John Nance Gardner (1933-1941), who served with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a business-oriented Democrat from rural Texas. Gardner came to think that Roosevelt had veered too far to the left ideologically. He even called his domestic programs “foolishness.” Vice President Gardner sought the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1940, only to be resoundingly defeated by Roosevelt, and in turn, Roosevelt selected a new Vice Presidential running mate, U.S. Agricultural Secretary Henry A. Wallace.
Newly re-elected Vice President Joe Biden has hinted that he is likely to seek the Democratic Party nomination for the Presidency in 2016. However, unlike recent Vice Presidents George H.W. Bush and Al Gore, Biden is not the favorite of rank-and-file Democrats, nor is he the favorite of the party’s high command to succeed Obama. While it is true that most Democrats view Biden favorably, polls show U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be the overwhelming frontrunner, despite the fact that Biden has formidable favorability numbers (over 70%).
It is of particular interest to note that there is a striking similitude between Joe Biden and Alben Barkley, the Vice President under Harry S. Truman. Like Biden, Barkley was a long-time U.S. Senator and loyal polemicist for the Democratic Party’s ideology. Barkley, like Biden, came from a humble background, and Like Biden, was known for his oratorical prowess. Barkley had represented Kentucky in the U.S. Senate for 22 years, rising to the position of Senate Majority Leader. Like Biden, Democrats viewed Barkley favorably. In fact, he delivered the keynote address at the Party’s national convention on three separate occasions. In 1952, at age 75, Barkley sought his Party’s nomination to succeed President Truman, but was unable to translate his loyal service to the Democratic Party into frontrunner status. Barkley ran a redoubtable campaign, securing endorsements from prominent members of the Democratic establishment, but suffered an immutable blow when prominent labor leaders claimed that he was too old to be President. Barkley was not able to salvage his candidacy and came in fourth place at the Democratic Convention.
Biden will likely barnstorm the nation campaigning for Democratic candidates in the 2014 mid-term elections, collecting chits and showing the Democratic Party that he has the vigor and stamina to be their nominee. He will not be alone, as a cavalcade of prospective Democratic Presidential candidates will likely join him on the hustings.
VOTING: In a Time When Politicians are Held in Such Low Esteem, A Case can Still be Made for Voting
Robo calls, negative attack advertisements, and political propaganda are enough to make us all sick of the election process. Many Americans have come to the conclusion that all candidates for public office are crooks, liars, and opportunists. As the old saying goes: “Why vote, it only encourages them.” Yet the best way to express your frustration with the process is to actually participate in the process and vote.
Unfortunately, at the Presidential level, at least 35 states are not “battleground states”, meaning that, barring a cataclysm, we can predict with near certainty who will win these states’ electoral votes. Voters in Idaho, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island for example may interpret this to mean their vote does not matter. However, this is a false supposition. Your vote can matter in two ways. First, while the popular vote is irrelevant to the actual winner of the Presidential election (the winner of the electoral vote is declared the President), it can determine how much of a mandate the winner has. That mandate can determine the extent to which the U.S. Congress will be pressured into passing the President’s agenda. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson, on the heals of a 60.6% electoral landslide, was able to get Congress to pass 84 of his 87 proposals into law, including the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and a significant reform of the immigration system.
Many Americans have become disaffected with both major party candidates and decry having to vote for “the lesser of two evils.” There are actually other choices that should be considered. The high commands of the two major political parties use the hypnotic technique of repeating the line that “a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote.” In reality however, a vote for a third party candidate sends a message. It highlights a discontent with the choices of the two major parties, and if enough disaffected voters shed this Wasted Vote Mentality, there could be a potential electoral revolution. We saw this in Minnesota in 1998 when Jesse “The Body” Ventura shocked the system by defeating the two major party candidates to be elected Governor of Minnesota.
Besides the Presidential race, there are “down ballot” races, which also have real consequence. Your vote for congressional candidates will determine if the new President will assume office with a friendly legislative majority, or if the nation will have a divided government.
State legislative races may seem trivial, but they too can have a huge impact on the future of your state. For example, at the end of 2010, Louisiana State Representative-elect Noble Ellington announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican. His defection handed the Louisiana House of Representatives to the Republican Party for the first time since Reconstruction, making it easier for the state’s Republican Governor, Bobby Jindal, to enact his legislative agenda.
With politicians registering astronomically low job approval ratings, we must remind ourselves that we are the ones who put them into office, and we can in fact vote them out. Elected officials are just that: WE elect them. They are not inserted into our political system by extraterrestrials, nor do they take power by coup d’état. Rather, they are a reflection of the citizenry. The only way to supplant a politician we do not like is to vote them out of office. As former U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster prudently asserted: the American Government is “ . . . the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.”
Unlike many other countries, if we do not like the trajectory our government is taking, WE have the power to change it, all by the simple process of voting.
Libertarian Presidential Nominee Gary Johnson is Trapped in the Wasted Vote Conundrum
In past years, the Libertarian Party has nominated Presidential candidates with little political experience. This year the situation is different. The Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, is a former businessman who turned a one-man handyman operation into a business with over 1,000 employees. A Republican, Johnson served two terms as Governor of New Mexico, a state where Democrats hold a considerable plurality in voter registration. He left state with a $1 Billion surplus. He even climbed Mount Everest.
Johnson’s credentials would be formidable had he been the nominee of a major party. Yet, his campaign is rarely taken seriously. When he is able to secure media interviews, the first question is often not about his policy prescriptions, but who he thinks he will take away votes from.
This is a shame. Johnson, with his formable resume, offers an alternative vision to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. He is the only candidate who advocates a non-interventionist foreign policy. He favors a 43% truncation of the military budget. Johnson favors an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, and is the only candidate who opposes the war and drugs, and pledges to balance the federal budget his first year in office.
Johnson’s problem is that Americans are increasingly told that he can’t win and that a vote for Johnson is a wasted vote. To maintain hegemony, the bipartisan political industrial complex will keep repeating the fiction that a third party candidate cannot win. By employing the “Wasted Vote Syndrome” strategy, the two major parties are telling voters to eschew their conscience and vote for the candidate they find least objectionable. They are, in effect, telling voters that they should look at the roster of candidates and immediately eliminate the one who they tell us cannot win. Johnson has earned ballot status in all fifty states. Accordingly, just like Obama and Romney, if Johnson garners enough votes, he can win.
At a time when many Americans are disillusioned with the current crop of Presidential candidates, and disenchanted with the entire political system, there is another voice with an alternative vision. Johnson represents that alternative. However, Johnson has a daunting task of making the case that voters should mark their ballot for him despite the long odds that he will be competitive in the election. Unfortunately, Johnson is trapped in the “wasted vote conundrum.”
Challenging the Myth that Only Big Cities will Benefit from the National Popular Vote Initiative
Opponents of the National Popular Vote Initiative (NPVI) (a interstate compact, where states agree to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote) fear that it will result in Presidential candidates allocating their time and resources to densely populated urban areas, while ignoring voters across the rest of the nation. This fear is unfounded. The nation’s large urban areas comprise only a smidgen of the total electorate. In fact, the nation’s top 25 cities comprise only 12% of the electorate. The nation’s five largest populated cities constitute just 6% of the electorate. Accordingly, to win the national popular vote, a candidate must appeal to the large majority of Americans who do not live in these urban centers.
We see the ineffectiveness of this argument at the state level. In 2010, Texas Governor Rick Perry was re-elected by 13 percentage points, despite being overwhelmingly defeated in the state’s two largest cities, Houston and Dallas. In fact, these two cities are two of the highest populated U.S. cities. George Pataki served three terms as Governor of New York, despite being wiped out in the nation’s largest city, New York. Finally, California has elected four Governors in the last 46y ears who did not come close to carrying the state’s largest city, Los Angeles.
In state elections, smaller populated areas of the state are not ignored. For example, on the last day of campaigning in the hotly contested 2010 Massachusetts Governors race, incumbent Deval Patrick and his Republican challenger Charlie Baker barnstormed both urban and rural areas. Patrick appeared in Boston and Marlborough, a city with a population of under 40,000. Baker made stops in the state’s largest urban centers, Boston and Worcester, as well as Wakefield, and his hometown of Swampscott, both with a population of less than 25,000. Clearly their campaign consultants have done the electoral calculations and realized that elections are not settled in urban areas alone.
In each of the aforementioned elections, candidates cultivated support across their state’s geopolitical landscape. Small towns, rural areas, and exurban enclaves all received electoral attention. There is a cap on votes a candidate can muster from urban areas. To be victorious, he/she must appeal to voters throughout the state. Under a national popular vote, we would see the same scenario. It would be politically foolhardy, if not politically suicidal for any candidate to focus solely on urban areas.
Does Your Vote Count? Maybe Not!
Under the current winner-take-all electoral scheme, millions of votes across the nation are not being counted in the official national tally. In the 2008 Presidential election, Republican nominee John McCain received more than five million votes in the state of California. Despite this achievement, all 55 electors in California cast their vote for Democrat Barack Obama. This inequity occurred solely because California uses the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, meaning that despite how close the popular vote may be, the winning candidate takes home “all” the electoral votes of that particular state. Similarly, more than 3.5 million Texans marked ballots for Barack Obama, yet because John McCain won the state, those 3.5 million votes were disregarded. Again, because Texas also uses the winner-take-all system of electoral voting, the winning candidate, John McCain, was able to take home “all” of Texas’ 33 electoral votes. This all-to-common outcome disenfranchises voters from “safe states” (non-battlefield states) and discourages them from going to the polls. They know that their votes are not likely to even be figured in the final national tally.
In addition, non-major party candidates who appeal mainly to just one region of the country can take full advantage of the winner-take-all system. Their vote totals are magnified in the Electoral College. In 1948, Strom Thurmond, the nominee of the States Rights Democratic Party, captured just 2.4% of the national vote, yet he received 39 electoral votes from four southern states. This scenario repeated itself in 1968 when American Independence Party nominee George Wallace, who won just 13.5% of the national vote, won 46 electoral votes because he managed to win five southern states.
Alternatively, those who vote for centrist Independent candidates who appeal to a more widespread cross-section of constituencies and garner votes from all regions of the nation, have seen their votes completely nullified by the Electoral College. In 1980, Independent Presidential candidate John B. Anderson garnered 6.6% of the national vote, yet the over 5.7 million people who voted for him were not counted in the final tally because he failed to win a single state.
This scenario was experienced on a larger scale in 1992, when Independent Presidential candidate H. Ross Perot mustered a very respectable 18.9% of the vote. Despite the fact that nearly one in five American voters cast their vote for Perot, Perot received “0” votes in the Electoral College. In this situation, the votes of nearly twenty million Americans were totally disregarded at the conclusion of the electoral process.
Under the National Popular Vote Initiative, the vote of the diary farmer from Cambridge, Wisconsin would be equal to the vote of the College Professor from Cambridge, Massachusetts. The vote of the steel worker from East Chicago, Indiana would be no more important than the vote of the locomotive engineer from Chicago, Illinois. The vote of the Fire Fighter from Columbus, Mississippi would be commensurate with the vote of the Systems Analyst from Columbus, Ohio. Strom Thurmond in 1948, 2.4%
Mitt Romney: The Republican’s Jimmy Carter
The conservative base is panicking at the prospect that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney might garner the GOP Presidential nomination. They view Romney’s conversion to conservatism as insincere. In the past, Romney questioned the Republican Contract With America, supported Abortion rights, said he would be better on Gay rights than Ted Kennedy, supported a regional initiative to mitigate greenhouse gases, supported gun control, and signed a law mandating Massachusetts residents to have health insurance.
There is a similitude with Democratic Jimmy Carter in 1976. Like Romney, Carter was a former Governor of a state (Georgia) less ideologically kindred with the National Party. Like Romney, Carter used much of his second two years in office barnstorming the nation campaigning for Democrats, and building a national profile.
As Carter scored victories in the primaries, liberal U.S. Senator Frank Church (D-ID) and newly elected California Governor Jerry Brown threw their hats into the ring. Both won five states, but their late entries were not able to stop the Carter juggernaut.
Carter opposed federal funding for abortion. He favored fiscal austerity over Great Society liberalism. In 1972, Carter backed Vietnam War supporter U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson over liberal stalwart and eventual Democratic nominee U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD).
Carter went on the muster the Democratic nomination, and win the Presidency. However, liberals were lukewarm toward Carter throughout his presidency and many supported his primary opponents, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Jerry Brown, when Carter sought re-election in 1980.
The liberals and Carter never reconciled. The question now is: Will Romney ever establish a rapprochement with the conservatives?
What Rick Santorum Fails to See (or Acknowledge) in Ron Paul’s Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy
I have heard some news commentators suggest that U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) justified the 9/11 hijacking in the September 12 CNN/Tea Party Debate. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) demagogued the issue by arguing that Paul is “parroting on his campaign website what Osama bin Laden said on 9/11.” With nothing to substantiate his allegation, Santorum suggested that the U.S. was attacked on 9/11 because: “We have a civilization that is antithetical to the Jihadists.”
To suggest that Paul is a tribune for Osama bin Laden and his coefficients is absurd at best, and malicious at worst. Paul suggests nothing that justifies the attacks. The article Santorum sights explicitly says: “This action demanded retribution and retaliation.”
Paul has been impavid in pointing out that the U.S. was attacked on 9/11 because of its interventionist foreign policy. Unfortunately, some jump to the fallacy that this is tantamount to justifying the attacks. Paul is simply pointing to facts. Osama bin Laden used U.S. foreign policy as a recruiting magnet for al-quada and as casus belli for ordering the attacks.
The blowback U.S. foreign policy can cause is not a novel concept. In 1953, the U.S. and the British sponsored a coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq after he nationalized oil fields. The coup restored Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, the "Shah of Iran," to supremacy. Under the Shah’s iron-fisted rule, secret police tortured and killed political opponents. Fed-up with his oppressive rule, the supporters of fundamentalist Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in 1979. Still inflamed at the U.S. for its role in the coup, Iranian students took 52 American diplomats hostage and held them for 444 days. Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, continues to excoriate the U.S. for its role in the coup, and the country celebrates "Death To America Day" on February 6 to mark the day the U.S. embassy was seized.
Michael Scheuer, the chief of the Osama bin Laden tracking unit at the Counterterrorist Center from 1996-1999, maintains that: “bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world.”
In justifying the attacks, bin Laden bemoaned the presence of the U.S. troops on Saudi Arabian soil during and after the Gulf War. To bin Laden and many Muslims, the presence of secular troops defiled Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. Profit Muhammad warned, “Two Religions may not dwell together in Arabia.” During the Gulf War, 550,000 mostly Christian U.S. Troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, which is home to the Two Muslim Holy places, Mecca and Medina. After the Gulf War, 5,000 U.S. troops remained garrisoned in the nation enforcing a no-fly zone and defending the Saudi Kingdom.
Furthermore, bin Laden exploited the enmity that many Muslims felt toward the debilitating effects of U.N. sanctions on Iraq's economy. Former U.S. House Minority Whip David Bonier (D-MI) branded these U.N. sanctions "infanticide masquerading as policy.” UNICEF contends that the sanctions led to the deaths of over a million Iraqis, including over half a million children due to malnutrition, lack of medical supplies, and diseases caused by a lack of clean water and chlorine. Dennis Halliday, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Baghdad, resigned in protest, saying: “I don’t want to administer a program that satisfies the definition of genocide.”
Moreover, bin Laden cites U.S. financial support for the Israeli government ($3 Billion annually) even though the Israelis to occupy West Bank and Gaza Strip, violating UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465 which call for Israel to withdraw from settlements on occupied Arab lands.
Finally, bin Laden manipulated animosity that many Arabs feel toward U.S. support of what they view as apostate and despotic regimes in the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.
Paul did not invent these grievances. He is simply repeating statements bin-Laden used to recruit new members and to galvanize existing ones. By no means is he saying the attacks were justified. He is saying that we must be honest with ourselves in recognizing the deleterious effects of an activist-interventionist foreign policy. Bin Laden promulgates in his fatwa (Declaration of War) "For God's sake, what are the documents that incriminate the Palestinian people that warrant massacres against them, which have been going on for more than five decades at the hands of the Crusaders and the Jews. What is the evidence against the people of Iraq to warrant their blockade and being killed in a way that is unprecedented in history?" This is bin Laden's propaganda.
Again, Ron Paul is in no manner justifying the 9/11 hijackings. He is merely explaining the motivations behind the attacks. There is a direct causal relationship between the U.S. intervening abroad and the resulting blowback. The U.S. sponsored 1953 Iranian coup d’etat epitomizes this causal relationship.
Jon Huntsman Jr
Jon Huntsman Jr: I wonder if Jon Huntsman Jr. has a “Plan B” should he fail to accomplish the political miracle of garnering the GOP Presidential nomination. Might he run for President as an Independent? His message of unity and competence, coupled with his experience in both Democratic and Republican Presidential administrations, is not exactly hospitable to a GOP primary audience, unless of course he relies almost exclusively on moderate Republicans, crossover voters, and Independents. Is Huntsman using this Republican Presidential Primary to garner name recognition to help him re-formulate himself for a run as an Independent Candidate, and then argue that his defeat was at the hands of right-wing extremists? John Anderson took this road in the 1980 Presidential Election.
The Left’s Misconception of Obama
Some on the left have become disenchanted with President Barack Obama for his interventionist foreign policy, and willingness to use military force. I can understand their anger, but not their surprise. Many on the anti-war left, who supported his 2008 Presidential campaign erroneously believed he shared their aversion to military action abroad. They saw him through a jade prism, and did little research as to his past record and his campaign rhetoric. As a Presidential aspirant, Mr. Obama ran for President to the right of George W. Bush on Afghanistan. In fact, he pledged to send three more brigades into the country. In addition, Obama pledged to expand the size of the military, at a time when even some conservatives were calling for truncating military expenditures. The only hint Obama gave of being a dove was a speech in 2002, when then State Senator Obama said he did “not oppose all wars, only dumb wars,” referring to the Iraq War. This was far from a quasi-pacifist position. It was probably more conservative than his predominately Democratic State Senate District in the South Side of Chicago.
While Obama opposed our entry into Iraq, as a U.S. Senator, he voted to fund it. In addition, he was a steadfast advocate of NATO expansion, meaning that if a NATO counterpart like Poland, Iceland, or The Czech Republic were invaded by a non-NATO member, then he would use U.S. military might to defend them.
Obama did not run as a dove, but the intellectual wing of the Democratic Party came to a mendacious conclusion that he was an electable Dennis Kucinich. Obama was translucent on this; his supporters effectuated a romantic mental picture in their minds of a different person than the one they were supporting.
Mitt Romney’s Health Care Conundrum
Today, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney defended the Health Insurance Reform legislation he signed in 2006 as Governor of Massachusetts. The legislation has been derisively labelled as “Romneycare" by many conservatives. The statute requires residents to have health insurance, and if they don't purchase it, they are subject to a fine. Interestingly, in 2008, this was a virtual non-issue, perhaps because Barack Obama had yet to sign the national legislation which included individual mandates. The idea of individual mandates was originally a Republican idea proposed by Richard M. Nixon in his 1974 State of the Union Address, and later proposed by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-KS). Conservatives argued that forcing citizens to purchase Health Insurance promoted personal responsibility.
Interestingly, when Nixon proposed a federal mandate, liberal Democrats, including U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), opposed it, arguing that the proposal was a boon to the insurance companies. Kennedy argued for a Medicare-for-all, Canadian-style, single-payer type system. The ideological debate transmogrified when the Conservative movement became more Libertarian-oriented, allowing Americans to chose weather to purchase Heath Insurance. Now support for an individual mandate is considered the center-left position. One can only speculate whether Romney, at the time laying the political spadework for a Presidential campaign, would have signed the legislation if he had known that Republican orthodoxy would materially change on this issue.
Is There Categorical Proof of My Existence?
Here is a question I have been pondering a lot lately. Is there any way to prove that the world beyond me does indeed exist? Let me first preface this by saying that I am taking it on faith that there are indeed people reading this. They are not just figments of my imagination and there is a life beyond me. I am not a solipsist who maintains that they are the only person in existence, and that the world was designed only for that person. Still, I have no way to prove it. I would be curious if anyone has confronted this existential issue. I think that Seventeenth Century French Philosopher Rene Descartes had the best possible argument for his own existence, asserting: "I think therefore I am." But I have never heard a compelling intellectual case that everyone else exists, or that there is a physical world that continues when I walk away. Taking it on faith that there is in fact a physical world, and that the people reading this article are actual beings, I am curious if there is any way to prove that there really is a world beyond me.
RINOS And DINOS: Losing Relevancy
It is time to retire the terms “RINO” and “DINO.” Both have become derogatory abbreviations: RINO meaning Republican-in-Name-Only and “DINO” standing for Democrat-in-Name-Only. The two terms refer to ideological outliers who deviate from their respective party’s contemporary orthodoxy. The founders of both political parties would not recognize the modern incantations. The Democratic Party grew out of the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson, which favored a strict constructionist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, opposed a central banking system, and favored decentralized power. The Democratic Party was the counterpart of the Federalist Party, which favored the more energetic government synomomous today with the Democratic Party.
In contrast, the ideological architects of the GOP never envisioned the Republican Party to be conservative. In fact, the Republican Party was founded in 1854 as a liberal alternative to the conservative Democratic Party of Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. While most know the GOP was founded in opposition to the expansion to slavery, the Party's platform also included support for railroad construction, Public Education, and a more liberal immigration policy.
For much of the latter-half of the Nineteenth Century, the GOP was viewed as the liberal party. In 1888, Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison won the Presidency by advocating an expanded money supply, a protective tariff, and more funding for social services. This was in sharp contrast to the Conservative Policies of Democratic President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland’s platform would be anathema to today’s conservatives. Even as recently as 1940, the party’s Presidential nominee, Wendell Willkee, said: “The opposition have attempted to picture me as an opponent of liberalism. But I was a liberal before many of them heard the word.”
Perhaps it makes more sense in today’s world to apply the label RINO to conservative Republicans and the label DINO to liberal Democrats.
Would Iraq have been Part of the Democratic Revolution?
I wonder what would have happened in Iraq had the U.S. lifted the economic sanctions instead of invading the country? Would the Iraqis have taken to the streets and revolted like their fellow freedom-seekers in Tunesia and in Egypt, and ousted or forced President Saddam Hussein's despotic regime from power? His government was similar to the two aformentioned, in that it was a secular autocratic regime which oppressed its own people and subjugated the Islamists. Maybe there would have been an internecine revolution instead of what actually happened, which caused 100,000 dead Iraqis, resulted in half a million widows and orphans, 4 million refugees, and 4,400 dead American military personnel and 35,000 Americans wounded.
The Narrowing Political Appeal of Sarah Palin
My overall assessment of Sarah Palin is that she was a reasonably successful Governor of Alaska who challenged the Republican establishment by defeating an incumbent Republican Governor in the 2006 GOP primaries. As Governor, she forged an alliance with reform-minded Democrats and Republicans on ethics reform, and cut capital projects. She was far from the ideologue she became when she entered the national stage. Instead, Palin was an anti-establishmentarian maverick with Transpartisan appeal. She garnered a stratospheric 93% job-approval rating. I have never seen a poll rating for any other politician that high.
John McCain was running for President as a Republican at a time when there was an enormous tailwind against the Republican Party. The Iraq War, which McCain had been an enthusiastic exponent of, was unpopular, and George W. Bush and his sub-30% job approval ratings were an almost insurmountable incubus on John McCain. He needed to do something drastic, so instead of choosing a safe, establishment, predictable pick, like Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, McCain threw a Hail Mary pass and selected Sarah Palin.
However, Palin was well out of her league on the national stage. Rather than projecting the image of a non-ideological pragmatist, she became a doctrinaire conservative, appealing to the conservative base that was lukewarm toward John McCain and his recreance toward contemporary Conservative orthodoxy on a litany of issues from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Campaign Finance Reform to the Bush Tax cuts.
Palin became a doctrinaire conservative and never looked back. Today she speaks only to the conservative base, with little deviation. She challenges the intellectual establishment in a way reminiscent of 1968 Presidential candidate George C. Wallace, mocking “pointy-headed intellectuals who couldn’t park their bicycle straight.”
Today, the right apostatizes her. To her supporters, there is no God but Sarah Palin. She challenges the favorite whipping boy on the right, the “Lame-stream Media” and claims that her ideological brethren represent “The real America.” Her comments accusing the media of “blood libel” will stir up her devoted followers, while further alienating her from the American mainstream.
I fail to envisage a scenario where, if she were to muster the Republican Presidential nomination, Palin would win more than negligible support from voters outside of her conservative comfort zone.
The Left Needs a Reality Check
The liberal intelligencia are voicing disenchantment with Barack Obama. They are arguing that he is betraying progressivism; most recently by his signing a budget with includes an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for upper income earners. Liberals have also voiced disenchantment by the President’s troop surge strategy in Afghanistan, and his signing of Health Insurance Reform Legislation that does not include a public option.
Liberals were deluding themselves if they thought they were electing the incarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson. Since Obama was launched on the national political stage at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, he has branded himself not as a liberal firebrand, but as a moderate conciliator. He was elected not only by consolidating the liberal base, but also by appealing to Independent voters. Obama garnered 52% of the Independent vote in 2008. That was seven points better than John Kerry did in 2004.
To win re-election, Obama will need once again to win a formidable chunk of the Independent vote. He is not likely to face a serious primary challenge, and in the general election, liberals will likely hold their noses and vote for him. However, I cannot see how he can win by being a tribune of only liberal voters.
Obama's Political Pragmatism
The White House is already touting the recently signed budget deal with the Republican Congressional leadership as a political victory. I think this could be to Obama and the Republican establishment what the Balanced Budget deal of 1997 was to Bill Clinton and the Congressional Republicans. Both touted it as a victory and took respective credit for it, while the activist movement wing of their parties excoriated it. For the Democrats, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, at the time a potential candidate for President in 2000, opposed it, while prospective Republican Presidential candidate Steve Forbes attacked it from the political right as being "pathetic."
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