Saturday, October 18, 2003

Pardon my absence for the past few days. I was lucky enough to get tickets to see my beloved Yankees take on the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS the other night and I've been MIA ever since. My mind has been focused on Boone, Posada, and Matsui rather than Kerry, Gephardt, and Dean.

Just to play catch-up, here's what I missed:

1. Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt Spent More Than They Raised
It's bad news no matter how you look at it, but it puts increased emphasis on solid performances in the early primaries. Each candidate is polling relatively well in three of the earliest primary states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Iowa, respectively). Should they lose (Kerry to Dean in NH, Edwards to Clark in SC, and Gephardt to Dean in IA), they will most certainly be pushed out of the race altogether. The bad news even extended to Joe Lieberman, who barely spent less than he raised by about $40,000.

The only good news was for Howard Dean (you've certainly read that story already) and Wesley Clark, who raised $3.5 million and only spent $100,000. That last part leads me to wonder -- did Clark announce too late or did the other candidates announce too early?

2. Surprise! The Democrats Want to Pick a Winner
For Democratic primary voters -- at least in 2004 -- it turns out that winning really is everything. According to a poll conducted by Stan Greenberg for Democracy Corps, the voters are looking positively to candidates who A) supported the war against Iraq, B) criticized the President for not seeking a broad international coalition in said war, C) have strong national security credentials, and D) stands up for traditional Democratic Party values. Now, that sounds like good news for a candidate like John Kerry, but he only comes up in third place in Iowa and second place in New Hampshire. Not bad, but according to their stated preferences, isn't Kerry supposed to be the Democrats dream candidate?

My read? This poll doesn't really mean anything. There are too many variables in the primary voters' equations in order for a few questions about specific preferences to shine any sort of meaningful light on the race. Like the Yankees-Red Sox Game 7 the other night, this thing very well could come down to one candidate hitting an unexpected home run in the bottom of the 11th to win it.

3. Highlights From The AARP Forum
The Democratic candidates' favorite parlor game -- Get Dean! -- continued last Wednesday night in Iowa with Gephardt, Edwards, and Kerry trying to knock Howard Dean down a few notches for allegedly standing with Newt Gingrich against Medicare (Gephardt, of course) and wanting to raise taxes on the middle class (Kerry and Edwards). Lieberman, Clark, and Sharpton did not make the forum for various reasons, but one has to think that Wes Clark would have been the candidates' main target had he been in attendance. Or maybe now that the Clark bubble has begun to deflate a bit, everyone is going to refocus their attention back on Dean.

4. The McCain Primary
It may seem odd to some that one of the media's go-to guys on the Democratic primary is a Republican. Then again, when that Republican is hugely popular with Democrats and has been a thorn in the side of the President the Democrats want to throw out of office, it makes sense. In effect, an (implied) endorsement from John McCain is what every Democrat running for the White House is looking for.

McCain is known to be close with his Senate colleagues Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, and John Edwards. Recently, he's been appearing in commercials for DC tourism with Dick Gephardt. Wesley Clark and Howard Dean have been openly emulating McCain's outsider candidacy in 2000.

New Hampshire's Union Leader caught up to McCain the other day and got him to give some strong commentary on the Democrats. Clark and Dean received the brunt of McCain's ire. On Dean: "I've lost confidence that he has any understanding of the national security responsibilities of a President." On Clark's lack of comment on the $87 billion for Iraqi reconstruction: "I'm disappointed... anyone who wants to be considered a serious candidate is obliged to express an opinion." He also went after Edwards and Kerry for not supporting the money, claiming that they were pandering to Howard Dean and the Democratic base instead of doing what was right.

I would caution Democrats from reading too much into McCain's critiques. After all, though John McCain may be a maverick pain in Dubya's ass, he's still a partisan Republican whose criticisms seem to be aimed more at twisting the arms of his Democratic Senate colleagues than positively influencing the primary's outcome.

posted by Scott | 10/18/2003 | |

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Is Clark the New Establishment Choice?

... and if so, is that necessarily a bad thing?

My recently departed (and sorely missed) Uncle Warren liked to talk about "the establishment." It's probably a function of the era he came up in, but it was endlessly funny either way. After all, he referred to my Aunt Pat as "the establishment" because she didn't agree with his glowing approval of Michael Moore's Oscar speech.

But he was certainly on to something. Look at the way the media uniformly blasted Moore for the speech. Or the way Clinton was uniformly blasted for the Lewinsky scandal. Or the way Gore was constantly referred to as a liar. Or the way Schwarzenegger pretty much got a free pass for his past sexual dalliances. Or... you get the point. When "the establishment" makes up their minds about something, there's no stopping them.

So has "the establishment" made up their minds about Wesley Clark? Let's check out the evidence.

One of my favorite papers to bash, The Wall Street Journal, gave Harold Bloom space on its editorial page today to extol the virtues of a Clark Presidency. To make a long story short, whether we like it or not, the United States is an empire. Even worse, we're an empire locked in a long-term war against an ambiguous, ideologically driven enemy. Historically, that's a sure sign that the empire is about to fall apart. As such, the American empire would do well to elect General Clark its next President. He's uniquely positioned to both wage the war as needed and--due to his history protecting Islamic interests in Europe--reach out to moderate Muslims who might otherwise be pushed to support groups like al Qaeda by the Bush administration's belligerent Middle Eastern policies. Bloom also notes that in terms of realpolitik, Clark's electable whereas guys like Dean and Kerry are not.

Meanwhile, over on the front page of USA Today, Jill Lawrence reports on a campaign that has "hit its stride." The candidate Clark seems to be a natural, from connecting with voters to kissing babies. Literally.

Wesley Clark seems to be stepping into the spotlight in the midst of a political perfect storm. Kerry's losing ground to Dean, Dean seems to have peaked too early, Lieberman's not popular with early primary state voters, Edwards can't seem to get his head above water, Gephardt's got support from labor and congressmen but not many others, and the others are MIA in the polls. He's the archetypal Man In White, riding in to save the town from the nefarious Dubya.

And now "the establishment" seems to be picking up the story. Clark will do well to nurture the story and try to keep it out there as long as possible. Because as Howard Dean has showed us, nothing is permanent in this primary race.


Oh yeah, amidst all of this talk of Clark the racehorse, it would be unfair of me to miss covering some (gasp!) actual policy. Today in New York City, General Clark laid out his plans for a military-style (albeit non-military) national service program. Volunteers would sign up for the program according to their areas of expertise and skills. They would be committed to the civilian reserve for five years and would be called up by the Department of Homeland Security if they were needed at home or abroad (according to their stated preference). In cases of national emergency, international crisis, or natural disaster, reservists would be called to duty for a period not to exceed six months in five years. The cost estimate is $100 million per year, paid for by his partial repeal of the Bush tax cuts.

He's not the first candidate to propose a national service program (see also: John Kerry), but the Clark plan is certainly the most ambitious... and possibly the most realistic. Kerry's plan is more akin to a civilian version of ROTC, whereas Clark's plan seems to be modeled after the National Guard. Dick Gephardt has a plan similar to Kerry's, though it's limited to just teachers. Still, anything is better than Team W tearing apart AmeriCorps.

posted by Scott | 10/14/2003 | |

Kucinich Makes It Official

Cue the crickets. Actually, that's not fair. There were around 300 people in attendance the announcement that he is officially running for President. I'm sure some of them made some noise.

I just can't figure out why. As I've pointed out--and given him some credit for--he's a true-believer liberal. But perhaps maybe too much so. He sticks to his guns to a fault. I just hope this time out he isn't planning on sticking to his guns too long. With his endorsements from the Natural Law Party and his joint appearances with Ralph Nader (not to mention his massive lack of a chance in the primary) one wonders if Kucinich wouldn't consider a third-party run in the 2004 general election.

As President, Kucinich would "enable the goddess of peace to encircle within her arms all the children of this country and all the children of the world." This is because, "[w]hen peace becomes innermost, it then becomes outermost in our communities and our nation."

I wish I was making any of that up.

posted by Scott | 10/14/2003 | |

Monday, October 13, 2003

Joe Goes For Broke

While it's not exactly a Long-ian "soak the rich" plan, it does show promise. Joe Lieberman, whose campaign I've been kicking while it's down for some time now, is attempting to kick-start his candidacy by proposing a reconfiguration of the tax code to benefit the middle-class while raising taxes on the rich.

Before being lowered by Team W, the tax on the two highest income brackets was 39.4%. Lieberman would return those brackets to that rate. He would also lower taxes on the middle-class from 25% and 15% to 22.5% and 12.5%, respectively. To counter the effects of high-income wage earners taking benefits meant for the middle-class, Lieberman would enact a 5% surtax. In addition, a Lieberman administration would close corporate loopholes, reinstate the dividend tax, and restore parts--but not all--of the estate tax.

The GOP has already begun to paint this is a tax increase, but that will probably be a hard sell to the millions of Americans who would benefit from the middle-class tax cuts.

This isn't to say that Lieberman's poised for a comeback. It's very possible that it's just too late for his campaign. However, two of Lieberman's ideas are sure to be folded into the eventual general election campaign. First and most obviously is the idea of "tax reform." In 2005, a Democratic President will need to raise taxes in order to stop the rising deficits. In order to do so successfully, the issue will need to be reframed. "Tax reform" should certainly be an easier sell than "tax hike."

Secondly, the Democrats may win the party's nomination on selling Bush=Satan, but the general election will be a different story. Lieberman admits that Dubya is "a good guy. What I'm saying here he's been a bad president." So the "good guy, bad president" meme is one that needs to enter the popular subconscious for the Democrats to take back the White House in 2004. And I'd say that right now, Lieberman's at the fore in putting this idea out there.

posted by Scott | 10/13/2003 | |
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