Saturday, January 29, 2005

Ickes Endorses Dean For DNC Chair

If there's one thing I love about the Clintons and their partisans, it's their ability to confound people and make them eat their words. Check out what Howard Fineman has to say about the Clintons feelings on Howard Dean as DNC chairman in the most recent issue of Newsweek:

The Clintons don't like Dean on substance or style, seeing him as too left and too loose-lipped. But they're being careful.... The Clintons are said to have encouraged a good friend, veteran organizer Harold Ickes, to enter the chairman's race, but he begged off, too.
Well, technically, Ickes didn't "beg off". He put his toe in the water and then declined to take the full plunge. Regardless, it's widely accepted that Harold Ickes gets a great deal of his marching orders from the Clintons. So Fineman probably has some back-pedalling to do...

Harold Ickes, a leading Democratic activist and former aide to President Clinton, said Friday he is backing Howard Dean to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee - giving a powerful boost to the front-runner.
While Ickes would not comment on the Clintons' preferences, he is a close ally and would not be endorsing Dean against their strong objections.
The Clintons v. Howard Dean narrative is largely a construction of a lame media desperate for intrigue. Shocking, right?

While I wouldn't necessarily say that the Ickes endorsement means that the Clintons are behind Dean for chair, it does indicate that they probably view him as the likely next head of the Democratic Party. In other words, this isn't so much about sending a strong message so much as it is about falling into line. (After all, the Clintons could just be hedging their bets here, with another close ally, Clinton administration Press Secretary Mike McCurry endorsing Simon Rosenberg.)

As for me (and Josh Marshall, Matt Yglesias, Rep. Ben Chandler, Chris Heinz, Gov. Tony Knowles, Joe Trippi, etc., etc.), I'm still backing Simon Rosenberg for DNC chair. Too bad I can't vote...

posted by Scott | 1/29/2005 | |

Friday, January 28, 2005

John Edwards Is Back In The Race

He's giving a speech in New Hampshire. Need I say more? E.J. Dionne's got the scoop:

Edwards is well positioned to offer Third Way 3.0. He's a young southerner, a working-class kid made good whose dad was a deacon in his church. He speaks admiringly of Clinton's skills, particularly the former president's ability to make others feel that he identifies with their struggles.

But Edwards's instincts tell him that tepid politics are exactly what the Democrats don't need now. "I don't think this is about moderate, conservative, liberal," he says. "Americans are looking for strength, an idealistic strength. They want to know what we'd do on Day One if we ran the country."

Moral issues matter, Edwards says, but Democrats won't look moral by getting into a bidding war over how often they can invoke the name of God. Instead, Democrats should speak with conviction about an issue that has always animated them: the alleviation of poverty. "I think it is a moral issue; it's something we should be willing to fight about and stand up for," he says.
If Edwards wants the nomination, I think he would be pretty hard to beat. He's got bigtime name recognition and extremely low negative ratings. Personally, I can name at least a dozen Republicans I know who told me this year that they would have voted for Edwards before voting for Kerry. And he has largely escaped blame for the loss this November.

In fact, the only negative I can think of in terms of another Edwards Presidential run is his lack of experience. This time out, he was a one-term Senator and a number of people questioned his experience. By 2008, Edwards will have been out of office for four years with only two campaigns under his belt -- one win (Senator) and one loss (Vice-President). He really needs to stay busy over the next four years doing something more than campaigning for President. It seems, however, that he's got that covered as well.

Edwards, who is planning to set up a center to study ways to alleviate poverty, is enough of a politician to insist that he wants to advocate not only on behalf of the destitute but also for those just finding their footing on mobility's ladder. But he offers the unexpected claim that the very voters who have strayed from the Democrats would respond forcefully to the moral imperative of aiding the poor.

"The people who love their guns and love their faith, they care about this," Edwards says. "There is a deep abiding feeling of moral responsibility people have about those who are doing everything right and are still having a hard time."
So I'd say this makes it official. Edwards is clearly back in the hunt.

posted by Scott | 1/28/2005 | |

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Republicans, Race, And Social Security

There has been much talk of late about the new face of the Republican Party being decidedly less white. To an important extent, it's true. George W. Bush has appointed and/or nominated an impressive number of minorities to leadership roles in his administration. Colin Powell was the first African-American Secretary of State. His likely successor, Condoleeza Rice, is also an African-American. Currently, she is serving as the President's National Security Adviser -- also the second African-American in that role, once again after Powell. Alberto Gonzales may or may not -- depending on some questions about how truthful he was in his Senate testimony -- become the nation's first Hispanic Attorney General. Rod Paige was the first African-American Secretary of Education. And Cuban-born Carlos Gutierrez was just confirmed by the Senate to become the Secretary of Commerce.

Minority voters have not flocked to the President's side, but the minority voter gap between the Democratic and Republican parties has tightened a bit, especially among Hispanic voters. The image of the Republican Party as chock full of ex-Dixiecrat racists is no longer very credible. This is due largely, in my opinion, to Bush's minority outreach efforts.

The question now is whether the policy matches the imagery. I would argue that it does not. The Faith-Based Initiatives program the President has implemented is one case cited by pundits as a huge political sop to the minority community. I'm not sure if I buy that completely -- I really believe that Bush would rather fund religious groups than secular non-profits. Besides, if it was supposed to win over largely church-going African-American voters, it didn't work out too well. Bush improved his electoral performance among African-Americans only by about two percent. That shift could easily be chalked up to an amalgam of terror voting, anti-gay marriage sentiment, and the aforementioned appointment of African-American officials to high ranking positions within the administration.

The fact of the matter is that the Bush administration has not put forward any major policies specifically designed to improve the lives of minorities in the United States. Policies are presented as helping minorities, but that is never their main goal. Faith-based initiatives are designed to help Bush's conservative religious base... and minority religious institutions can also take advantage of the program. School choice is designed to pull the rug out from under public schools by subsidizing private schools. Such a program would really help defray costs for parents who are already sending their children to private schools, but the administration also makes the pitch that it allows inner-city minorities to escape failing schools (even though it would not provide vouchers to completely cover the costs of tuition). This brings me to the '...and it helps minorities, too!' claim that bothers me the most.

At a White House-sponsored Social Security forum earlier this month, President Bush made the following case: "African American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed."

Now, the cornerstone of Bush's plan (which has not yet been released) to 'fix' Social Security is private accounts. To provide these private accounts, the federal government is going to need to borrow two-to-three trillion dollars.

If the Republicans want to privatize Social Security, that's one thing. It's an honest goal, if misguided and unlikely to be successful. But to claim that they're doing so to somehow help minorities is absolutely ridiculous to the point of being insulting. While it is true in a sense that African-American men have a lower average life-expectancy than white men, the factors that lead to such figures are largely not a function of undeniable, unavoidable science. For example, in 2002, homicide accounted for 82.65 per 100,000 deaths among black men, age 15 to 34. That same year, for the same age range, there were 9.75 homicides per 100,000 deaths among white men. The numbers are similarly skewed when it comes to HIV/AIDS -- a preventable disease.

So when I hear advocates of Social Security privatization use the low average life-expectancy of African-Americans to justify spending trillions of dollars on what amounts to be a sop to the securities industry, please excuse me if I find it a little crass. After all, just imagine what could be done if the Republican Party was as committed to inner-city revitalization, constructive responses to youth violence, and sensible HIV prevention programs as they are to Social Security privatization. Just imagine what could be done to deal with these issues with even a fraction of a percent of the money it would cost to carve private accounts out of Social Security. But that's something the privateers would never think about.

I suspect that, on race, Republicans will learn the same hard lesson Democrats have. Minorities are not just numeric votes. They're also human voters. And voters tend to care more about policies than they do platitudes. In other words, the race of the speaker is important, but it's far less important than the words being spoken.

posted by Scott | 1/25/2005 | |

Bayh Is Running For President, Possibly From His Own Rhetoric

Two quick bits of information on Indiana Senator, DLC Chairman, and probable 2008 Presidential candidate Evan Bayh...

1. He may have a spine of steel.

From the New York Times, by way of Blogging for Bayh:

Senator Bayh said that it was not often that he opposed his friend and fellow Hoosier, Senator Lugar, but that he felt he would have to vote against Ms. Rice. Mr. Bayh said she was partly responsible for failures in Iraq, some of them caused by inadequate troop strength. "Those in charge must be held accountable," Mr. Bayh said."
2. He may not have a spine at all.

Josh Marshall juxtaposes Bayh telling voters at small forums that he opposes using existing Social Security funds for private accounts with his official, on paper stance:

As a member of the Special Committee on Aging, I have been carefully evaluating the various proposals for long term Social Security reform. I believe that all aspects of reform must be reviewed to ensure that the long-term viability of the Social Security system is restored. Please be assured that I will keep your views in mind as I continue to work with both sides of the aisle to formulate a long term solution to ensure that Social Security is able to meet its long term commitments to retirees and future generations.
"All aspects of reform" would seem to me, at least, to include the privatization he claims (to potential primary voters) to be against. No?

So which is it, Evan? I'm not passing judgment just yet, but I am eagerly awaiting clarification from Bayh on the Social Security privatization question.

posted by Scott | 1/25/2005 | |

Hillary Clinton Seeks New Angle On Abortion

I've been out there for quite some time, saying that I didn't buy that Hillary Clinton would really be running for President, or even if she was, that she'd have as much support as is assumed. I could very well be wrong.

While speaking to Family Planning Advocates of New York State's annual conference yesterday, Clinton extended a surprising olive branch to the anti-choice movement and expressed a desire to reach what she referred to as "common ground" in the debate.

Ms. Clinton has been a visible and very public defender of abortion rights, appearing at a huge rally in Washington last spring and denouncing what she called Republican efforts to demonize the abortion rights movement.

While she acknowledged in her address today that Americans have "deeply held differences" over abortion rights, Mrs. Clinton told the annual conference of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State, "I for one respect those who believe with all their heart and conscience that there are no circumstances under which abortion should be available."

In addition to her description of abortion as a "tragic choice" for many," Mrs. Clinton said that faith and organized religion were the "primary" reasons that teenagers abstain from sexual relations, and reminded the audience that during the 1990's, she promoted "teen celibacy" as a way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

"The fact is, the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place," Mrs. Clinton said.

Mrs. Clinton also called today for the Bush administration, religious groups, supporters and opponents of abortion rights and others to look beyond the abortion rights divide and form a broad alliance on other issues that she suggested as less incendiary: sex-education programs for teenagers that included abstinence education, emergency contraception for women who have recently had unprotected intercourse, and family planning.

The speech was also notable for a stream of statistics and data that, Mrs. Clinton's aides said afterward, were included to underscore her view that the reduction of "unwanted pregnancies" could be a unifying issue for supporters and opponents of abortion rights.

At one point, for instance, she drew gasps from some in the audience by mentioning that 7 percent of American women who do not use contraception account for 53 percent of all unintended pregnancies.
Honestly, this is a great outline for the Democratic position on abortion, if not entirely original. It's been far too easy for far too long for Republicans to demonize us on the choice question by painting us as baby killers. The fact of the matter is that no one likes abortion. The only question is whether or not it should be criminalized.

By pointing out some of the actual facts and figures about abortion in America, Clinton is attempting to turn the debate away from emotion and incendiary language and back towards reason. I'd argue that there's absolutely no reason for her to do such a thing as a Senator from solidly Blue, solidly pro-choice New York. This only makes sense if she's got her eyes on higher office.

posted by Scott | 1/25/2005 | |

GOP: Screwing The Poor Is Hilarious... Or Maybe Not

Comedian and impressionist Rich Little (I'm stunned he's still alive, much less working) emceed last week's Constitution Ball, where he was a big hit, especially with his Ronald Reagan impression.

Little said he missed and adored the late President Ronald Reagan and "I wish he was here tonight, but as a matter of fact he is," and he proceeded to impersonate Reagan, saying, "You know, somebody asked me, 'Do you think the war on poverty is over?' I said, 'Yes, the poor lost.' " The crowd went wild.
Gee... that's hilarious.

(Via David Corn, by way of dKos.)

UPDATE: Just because I like being fair, I searched "the poor lost" on Google news just to see if anyone else had covered this and what they said about it. Canada's Globe and Mail was the only other news outlet who reported the quote, but their writers seemed to have a different take on the audience reaction.

Earlier, master of ceremonies Rich Little, the Canadian-born impersonator, got off to a rocky start with his impersonation of President Ronald Reagan.

Sounding a lot like the old president, he recalled being asked whether the war on poverty was over. "Yes, and the poor lost," the Reagan voice said.

"They should have quit when they were ahead."

There were few laughs from the well-heeled, overwhelmingly Republican crowd.
Hmmm... I honestly don't know who to believe on this, because neither article seems to have much of an agenda. They could both be right, depending on where in the room they were standing, and how the joke went over with different parts of the audience.

Coming from a comedian like Dave Chappell or Eddie Izzard at regular stand-up performance, the joke would be a pretty funny bit of biting social commentary. But Rich Little is not known for biting social commentary, making the joke pretty tasteless. And if he decided to get bold and bite the hand that was feeding him for the night (something I doubt very much), it was a pretty stupid move.

posted by Scott | 1/25/2005 | |

Monday, January 24, 2005

Marjorie Williams On Howard Dean

Let me just warn you that this is not another obituary. I didn't know Marjorie Williams. I don't know her husband, Tim Noah. When I learned of her passing recently, I only had a vague recollection of the fact that she was ill. I don't write that to be a jerk, but to point out that, for me, Washington writers are Washington writers -- no more, no less.

The news that Williams had ultimately lost her bout with cancer -- well into overtime, with her in the challenger role, putting up one hell of a fight -- has brought me back to her work though, in her archives at The Washington Post.

In sifting through some of her old columns, it's become clear to me that the woman was incredibly prescient. I cite as my evidence her column about sucking it up and backing Kerry and her column analyzing the downfall of Howard Dean.

In the Kerry piece, Williams tried to psyche herself up to back John Kerry. She wasn't keen on Kerry by a long shot, but declared herself "a charter member of the ABB Society -- Anybody But Bush". Since Kerry was the nominee, Kerry was her guy. However, her critique of Kerry is stunning in retrospect; not so much in that it tells us anything we don't know, but in that it so perfectly summed up Kerry's weaknesses in the election season that was to come. Check out the second to last paragraph:

Eight months is a long time for Bush to pile up a home-field advantage while Kerry's campaign decides how to fill in, complete and polish the invention that won the primaries. It's going to be hard to sustain, for so many months, the party's fond illusion that there is such a beast as "electability."
That is exactly what happened. Or didn't happen, as it were. There was ultimately a failure to turn the image of electability into actually getting elected.

And her analysis of the Dean implosion, titled "Dean's Loss Of Nerve", really sums up for me the reasons I lost faith in him as a candidate and why I don't support him now for DNC chair.

Political history will probably say, in its determined shorthand, that Howard Dean lost his last chance at the Democratic nomination when he delivered his primal scream on the night of the Iowa caucuses. Footnotes will also record a series of impolitic remarks, little blunders, during his final weeks in the sun. But the truth is that Dean's campaign was doomed from the day in December when he won the endorsement of former vice president Al Gore.
She explained that in seeking, accepting, and promoting the Gore endorsement, Dean ultimately capitulated to the Washington insiders. But it wasn't just the Gore endorsement. It was bringing his wife out on the campaign trail after promising he wouldn't user her as a prop. It was his affirmation of his belief in Jesus Christ when his faith was questioned. And most importantly, it was his firing of Joe Trippi and hiring of ultimate DC insider Roy Neel that really undercut his image as a solid outsider.

Williams referred to Dean's bows to the Washington establishment -- pretty accurately, I'd say -- as "a fatal loss of nerve." And now that Dean is seeking the DNC chairmanship, it is important to ask yourself just how committed to reforming the Democratic Party establishment you want your new chairman to be. Ask yourself, can we really afford another fatal loss of nerve?

posted by Scott | 1/24/2005 | |
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