Friday, October 28, 2011

CSPAN Video 21: Presidents, Presidential Candidates, and the Media

This C-SPAN video clip features Stephen Farnsworth, Assistant Professor of Political Communications at George Mason University and author of Spinner in Chief: How Presidents Sell Their Policies and Themselves, discussing how presidents use the media to sell image over substance.  Prof. Farnsworth talks about then President-elect Barack Obama and former President Ronald Reagan and how they both used the media.  Interesting insight and analysis.  The clip includes a portion of Reagan's speech at Normandy Beach in 1984. 

CSPAN Video 20: Conservatives and the Media

This C-SPAN video segment features Eric Telford, Executive Director of RightOnline, opining about right wing groups and the use of media.  Mr. Telford's analysis is worthy of some consideration.  He discusses how the mainstream media can select which stories to cover and which opinions to present.  The new media--specifically social networking--allow for the presentation of views (and opinion) not held by the so-called political mainstream.  It is interesting analysis that applies, not only to the conservative movement, but to movements typically condemned as extreme or fringy.

CSPAN Video 19: Values Voter Summit Panel, the Media's Coverage of Conservatives

This C-SPAN video segment, from the Values Voter Summit 2011, features a panel discussing the question, "Does the media get the values voter?"  The two panelists in this segment offer interesting responses to the question.  Ed Morrison, writer at Hot Air Blog, notes that the mainstream media--and, often, the new media--miss the value voters.  Kathryn Jean Lopez, writer at National Review Online, offers an interesting response, incorporating some modern television shows.  Part of the analysis involves discussing the dichotomy of the mainstream-new media.

Santorum to the Sanitarium ...

... mental sanitarium, that is.  I have not devoted much attention to Rick Santorum, the almost forgettable GOP candidate and former GOP Senator from Pennsylvania.  I write "almost" because just as Santorum is about to exit collective memory and consciousness, he manages to utter a pronouncement that places him on the short-list of politicians worthy of complete marginalization.  All one has to do is recall his pronouncements on Iran or any one of many issues of social concern (e.g., abortion).

Santorum had some interesting comments--and pointed attacks--during last week's GOP debate in Nevada, but he has been largely quiet during the campaign.  His poll numbers and campaign fundraising garner little attention because his campaign is barely a blip on the presidential primary radar.  Focus is given--some say rightly--to Romney, Perry, and now Cain; Santorum is referenced but usually when being presented as an after-thought.  I certainly support the media's treatment of Santorum.

This week, however, Santorum decided to utilize the power of campaign ads to strike at one (of many) of Godfather Cain's weaknesses: the issue of abortion.  The three minute long campaign ad is below:  

Cain has certainly revealed his inability to adopt consistent positions on a host of issues of primary concern to the Christian Conservatives.  Santorum, in stark contrast, maintains consistent positions against abortion and gay marriage and has decided to exploit Cain's pronounced vulnerability on these issues.  The above campaign ad is long and tiring to watch but it does have a clear focus: to put a dent into Cain's ascendancy.  OK.  But, really, Cain will do more damage to his own ascendancy than can any political opponent or campaign strategist.  This ad is an obvious effort by Santorum to continue courting the conservatives for whom abortion is a major concern.

The Iowa caucus is in the near future and conservative Republicans are likely to take issue with Cain's "flip flopping" on abortion, but I doubt that this ad will serve to propel Santorum to the top of the list.  Even if the ad succeeds in denting Cain's ascendancy, Santorum will still have to neutralize both Perry and Romney and possibly even the Texas Congressman, Ron Paul.  You remember Ron Paul, do you not?  

On Thursday, CBS News reported that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum criticized Perry for entertaining the possibility of skipping several of the upcoming GOP debates.  Their criticisms were solid and expected.  Perry has not been performing well in the recent debates, so his decision to possibly duck out is politically calculated but, also, politically foolish.  Perry's political handlers should dedicate more time to pre-debate preparation.  Perry should memorize sound-bite responses to his opponents' vulnerabilities and to construct retorts (both witty and substantive) to his opponents' allegations.  A strong Texas cowboy would never cowardly miss a debate.  Truly, at this rate, the candidates are granting Santorum easy, and abundant, access to exploitable political error.

All great primaries are, at the very least, part political sideshow; but it seems that this GOP presidential primary is all dramatic show--not even dramatic show masquerading as detailed political discussion.  I do not know what this says about the state of American democracy, but as a blogger, I can say: do not let the curtain come down.  And let Santorum continue to sidestep the sanitarium.

Running or Rallying to Romney ...

Mitt Romney is a rather fascinating GOP candidate.  He ran for the party nomination in '07 and lost to the Vietnam vet.  Now he's trying desperately to secure enough support, establishment backing, and money to obtain the party's nomination and then to mount a defense against Obama.  To be sure, he has been dealt some blows: Perry's entrance and initial ascendancy, Christie's contemplation, and Herr Herman's recent bizarre and unsettling surge.  After a stellar performance (read: attack) at last week's GOP debate in Nevada, the former governor seems to be settling into some comfortable territory.

The WSJ on Friday reported that Gov. Romney had secured the backing of several prominent George W. Bush campaign contributors.  The article noted that Romney has managed to obtain "twice as many" backers as Perry.  The article is telling for two reasons: 1. It indicates that major donors have become of the opinion that Romney is the man most qualified to launch a significant challenge to President Obama in a general election; doubtless, these donors (while ideologically committed to a certain extent) are concerned about broad-spectrum appeal.  Romney, as it happens, has a record--especially as the Governor of Massachusetts--that is comprised of certain liberal (or non-conservative) "elements."  2. A certain line of agreement has been reached between major donors and various segments within the so-called party faithful.  The latter has, at best, offered mild endorsement or exhibited subdued enthusiasm for Romney; but perhaps these same segments are realizing that Romney is, in fact, the best bet for the GOP.  To be sure, many Evangelical Christians are unlikely to agree.  

This coalescing of support has irritated Romney's opponents, especially Texas Governor Rick Perry.  Last week's GOP debate revealed the intense dislike that Romney and Perry hold for each other.  The hostile commentary and snarky retorts functioned to display that drama to the American people.  This week, Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Perry's camp, decided to take aim at Romney: "Mitt Romney's positions change, often dramatically, depending on the audience or location" (  The politically calculated soundbite was in response to Romney's apparent flip-flopping on the issue of global warming.        

Romney's speeches, referencing global warming, and Sullivan's press statement are all part of the political show; no new information is revealed and maximum political return is the aim.  It is clear that the Perry camp desires to discredit Romney's candidacy by presenting him as not merely insufficiently conservative but, worse, too liberally oriented.  It is a standard strategy but one that the Perry camp cannot seem to master.    Perry is desperately attempting to regain lost territory but, in the process, manages to cede further ground.  It is something to behold.  In a way, Romney is a (or, rather, the) beneficiary of Perry's crumbling campaign.

On Thursday, reported that a recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that, in the race for the New Hampshire Republican Presidential Primary, Romney was leading with 41%; Cain had 27%, Paul 11%, and Perry at ... 4%.  Romney's lead is major and Perry's ranking is, well, pathetic.  Too sound to turn Perry to the count, but one thing is for certain: Romney is not going anywhere, especially if the major GOP donors continue to view him as their "chosen one."  Perhaps Perry will be returned to the  Texan ranch, cowboy boots and all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

CSPAN Video 18: Ms. Nossel at Dem. Party Platform Drafting Hearing

This CSPAN video clip features Ms. Suzanne Nossel, Chief Operating Officer of Human Rights Watch, the vaunted international human rights organization.  Ms. Nossel is giving testimony before a hearing of the Platform Committee of the Democratic National Committee, 2008.  In her testimony, Ms. Nossel is trying to persuade the Committee to include within their platform a section on the importance of human rights.  She also encourages the Committee to adopt strong language repudiating much of the Bush administration's human rights policies (e.g., water boarding).  Some interesting testimony.

CSPAN Video 17: Democratic Party Platform, 2008, Discussed

This CSPAN video clip features Patricia Madrid, the Co-Chair of the 2008 Democratic National Committee Platform Committee.  Ms. Madrid discusses the process by which the platform is created.  She notes that the committee is a standing committee, consisting of 186 members.  Ms. Madrid states that the 2008 platform was put together quickly.  Senator Obama was involved in the process, too.  This video clip provides some insight into the platform creation process: who is involved, how are issues selected and emphasized, etc.

CSPAN Video 16: Republican Party Platform, 2008, Discussed

This CSPAN video clip is from September 1, 2008.  Representative Kevin McCarthy, R-California, 22nd District, and Senator Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, discuss the 2008 Republican Party platform. Rep. McCarthy calls it the most "open and transparent" platform yet; Sen. Burr discusses consensus building.  The ratification of the platform is also discussed.  This video gives interesting insight into the platform creation process.  Noteworthy: Immigration was a key issue in the '08 Republican Party platform.  

Mes-'o-potamia No More: Obama Decides, Romney Replies

On Friday, President Barack Obama shocked the U.S.--and the world--by announcing that at year's end, U.S. combat forces will depart Iraq, caping an eight year long war.  His decision was heralded by some and attacked by others. 

The Iraq War, launched in March 2003, has been one of the most divisive policy decisions in recent memory.  Hundreds of billions have been spent.  Some say wasted; well, I say wasted--and others, surely, agree.  No need to recount the Iraqi episodes of political contention; all of the events are in the historical record and easily searchable, either in your individual memory or Google.  If you are bored, do a Google search for "Iraq War.", in their reporting of Obama's announcement, noted that the war "divided the country, transformed the military and left an enduring mark on American history."  All of this is true.  And many books will be published discussing the Iraq War's placement in American history.   Fine.  But where does this decision leave the political landscape--the presidential political landscape, that is?

President Obama, perhaps preemptively responding to the charge that his decision was "politically motivated,"stated in his press conference that a goal of his 2008 presidential campaign had been to remove U.S. troops stationed in Iraq by the end of 2011 and that he was able to report that the goal can, and will, be kept.  It is important to remember, too, that President Bush had desired troop removal by the end of 2011.  Bush's "Status of Forces Agreement" is worthy of some reference.  The contentious war, started by a Repub, that cost some $700 billion and took the lives of 4,400 troops, is being completed by a Dem.  History will judge the war and its participants.  But will it be exacting in its judgment?

For all of those hawkish Americans, concerned about foreign policy, President Obama has been a Titan: he initiated drone attacks in Pakistan, beefed up our presence in Afghanistan, assassinated bin-Laden (and seized his body), supported the protestors in Egypt, supported the rebels in Libya, assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki (a U.S. citizen, btw), and "presided" over the slow and arduous process of troop withdrawal in Iraq.  It is an impressive listing for those war, violence, and bloodshed loving Americans.  

Obama's decision helps to secure, for his campaign, additional support from those hardline Dems for whom the Iraq War was a chief concern; this group has been largely critical of Obama's foreign policy and its military interludes.  I am sure that some moderates, also, will be attracted to Obama's decision; no doubt they will view it as Obama possessing the ability to conclude a bloody and divisive military endeavor.  A sort of badge of honor, I'm guessing.  But, for others, Obama's decision reveals weakness and a fundamental inability to govern.  

One particular GOP presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, was a shark that sensed blood in the water and went for maximum political return.  Shortly after Obama's press conference, Romney issued an indignant  press release stating, "President Obama's astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women."  Wow.  The gloves come off and caustic political rhetoric rears its head.  Nice!  It is a wonderful response because it aims at political capitalization.  Romney is positioning himself to inherit the mantle of "National Security Conservative."  Gov. Romney is utilizing this opportunity to not only beef up his "conservative credentials" against the other candidates but, also, to set himself apart from Obama and the latter's "astonishing failure."  

Romney can go in several directions.  He could claim that Iraq is not ready for the withdrawal (i.e., it is a premature withdrawal); he could also claim that Obama's inability to negotiate a U.S. military presence there beyond January 1 (as some DOD officials wanted) reveals his weakness and inability to negotiate.  And, of course, Romney--or any other GOP candidate, for that matter--could say that a withdrawal by the end of 2011 is politically motivated, pure and simple--regardless of what Obama says.  The truth can be lost amidst the political rhetoric and critical campaign ads.  

Let the excitement continue, and let the lies fly!    

Turn the Other Cheek Takes the Backseat: the GOP Debate

The Repub primary season this week received a much needed jolt of energy, with the Nevada GOP debate from Tuesday night.  The remaining Repub presidential contenders became more combative, as talk of tax reform policy took center stage.

The recent surge in popularity of Herman Cain has focused attention on the sine qua non of his campaign platform: the "9-9-9 Plan," which I discussed in a blog post from last week.  Cain's plan, while certainly imperfect and highly contentious, has placed discussions of Federal taxation at the front of this campaign season.  Each of the remaining candidates has been compelled to respond to Cain's plan and, in some cases, offer solutions of their own.

Candidate Michelle Bachmann, joined Santorum, Perry, Paul, and Romney, in directly criticizing Cain's proposal; the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, offered a rather tepid criticism that really focused on his desire to reduce, or extirpate, specific taxes: a zero percent capital gains tax, for example.  Cain was afforded the opportunity to respond to each one of the criticisms (which he did), largely referencing a study of "9-9-9", completed by Fiscal Associates, that's on his site.  Gingrich made the rather sobering point that "9-9-9" is not as simple as it sounds--there are myriad complexities worthy of prolonged assessment.  Among Cain's interesting responses was "apples and oranges," an attempt to dismiss Perry's criticisms of "9-9-9."  Surely the God Father of Godfather's Pizza could've devised a more creative, and politically beneficial, retort.  Or ... maybe not.

BTW: How about focusing on Paul's proposal?  His criticism of "9-9-9" is sound: it's a regressive tax.  Dangerous and sinister.  Enough said.  

On a related note: I love how both Cain and Romney utilized the intro time allotted to emphasize how they spent long (and distinguished) careers in the business sector.  Smart and politically useful.

Considerable attention was also given to Mitt Romney, who has been cruising in a comfortable spot on the media's designated "top tier."  Specifically, Santorum--whose campaign is trying desperately to avoid the abyss--hurled a specific, albeit common, charge at Romney, challenging the latter's purported willingness to dismantle Obamacare: "your plan was the basis for Obamacare."  This led to a memorable, and quite humorous (well, humorous for political pundits), exchange.  Moderator Anderson Cooper tried intervening without much success.  Romney's response did manage to elicit positive (and powerful) feedback from the audience.

Gingrich, to his credit, honed in on a fundamental distinction: top-down solutions vs. bottom-up solutions.  Romney's health care reform in Massachusetts (call it what you will) was, rhetoric aside, a top-down, government imposed measure.  We should not be quick to say that societal/economic problems are only solvable through the heavy hand of government.  Top-down solutions impose unnecessary costs and have odious unintended consequences.  Let us avoid them.  And, to be expected, Romney responded to Gingrich's commentary on Romney's health care reform, which resulted in another memorable exchange.

Hostility abounded.  

Ron Paul opportunity: There are seven candidates in the GOP field and only one of them is a doctor; on health care reform, let us hear from Dr. Paul.  Now there is a novel idea.

The debate was memorable, as the Biblical maxim of "turn the other cheek" yielded to "an eye for an eye."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

CSPAN Video 15: Barack Obama's Famed 2004 Democratic Convention Speech

This video features a portion of then Senator Barack Obama's famed 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention, emanating from Boston, Massachusetts.  Obama speaks about how most Americans would admit that government alone cannot solve our problems.  An intriguing speech from a man who would, a mere four years later, be elected President of the United States.  A rhetorical gem. Worthy of a view.

CSPAN Video 14: Barack Obama, 2008 Democratic Convention

This video features most of the DNC Video of Barack Obama that was shown before Obama's speech, accepting his party's nomination for President, from the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, CO.  The video helped to energize an already enthusiastic crowd.  The interplay of pictures, video imagery, music, and narration is truly superb.  The video surely serves as both biographical introduction (of Obama) and political advertising.  Great creative work.  Definitely worth a view ... or two.  

CSPAN Video 13: John McCain, 2008 Republican National Convention

This video features John McCain, as he accepts the Republican nomination for President, at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.  This segment of his acceptance speech shows McCain giving almost obligatory thanks to President Bush and his eight year service to America.  Senator McCain also praises his wife, Cindy, and his mother, Roberta.  Note the crowd enthusiastically chanting "USA.  USA!"  at the start of this clip.  This clip does a nice job of capturing the spirit that permeates most conventions.  

Obama, Romney, Occupy Wall Street, and Election 2012

I will resist the temptation to provide commentary and analysis that equates "Occupy Wall Street" with the "Tea Part Movement"; such analysis has been provided by other pundits, so further analysis would be overkill.  But the movement that started September 17--not too far from my apartment, btw--could morph into a key component of Obama's reelection strategy and, therefore, become a key element of the "Race for the White House, 2012."

On Friday, the WaPo carried an article discussing how Obama is poised to use the anger of those "99%"--a ridiculous and grotesquely inaccurate "Occupy Wall Street" slogan--to court critics of Romney and Repub policies. It should be noted, though, that protestors have an interesting way of selecting history to suit their ideological agenda; the policies that the protestors are criticizing were supported not just by the business interests and the Repubs but also by the Democrats and Obama, particularly the team of economic advisors that Obama assembled shortly after taking office.  So, these protestors should be quick to acknowledge the undeniable facts of history and resist being co-opted by Obama.

Back to the article.  Obama has intensified his rhetoric in recent weeks, targeting Bank of America, by name, for imposing a new $5 monthly fee on their debit cards.  Obama is walking a thin line: he is targeting a company, the largest US bank by assets, that continues to be destabilized by mounting losses from collateralized debt obligations--and other so-called "exotic financial instruments."  By targeting BofA, Obama is both dealing a public relations blow to the financial firm and also trying to court ideologically committed leftists.  While the critical line was fairly mild ("exactly the sort of stuff that folks are frustrated by") it is still the type of shallow political rhetoric that does more economic harm than good.

An Obama senior advisor, David Plouffe, was quoted in the article as saying that "One of the main elements of contrast will be that the president passed Wall Street reform and our opponent and the other party want to repeal it."  It is a wise contrast and one that, depending on the level of anti-bank hysteria, could be profound enough to challenge the Repub nominee.

It is a fairly old dichotomy that has worked well, at least rhetorically speaking: Wall Street is represented by the Repubs and Main Street and labor are supported by the Dems.  Obama is pulling on the coalescing anti-Wall Street hysteria by presenting himself, even before the Repubs have their nominee, as the candidate best suited to challenge the excesses of the financial firms, as embodied by Wall Street.  The Obama campaign will be layered with floury rhetoric about the Repub nominee and the policies he (or she) supports.

Romney brilliantly responded to the anti-Wall Street movement by honing in on the anger of middle-income Americans.  If Obama will present himself as labor's savior, then no doubt Romney will position himself as the savior of middle-income America.  Romney's point--politically motivated, of course--is a somber truth: for most Americans, wages have either declined or stagnated since the early 70s and the collapse of Bretton Woods.  Middle-income America is slowly eroding under the heavy burden of rising prices (slowly rising, to be sure) and mounting debt.  It is a near universal message that holds particularly true for America.

Conservative Repubs, at least in rhetoric and message, have supported reducing the size of government and its regulatory reach.  Romney--or any other candidate--could make "streamlining the regulatory state" a flank of their campaign.

Romney's focus should remain on middle -income America and their frustrations.

BTW: what about Ron Paul's proposal?  Increase focus on the FED and end corporate welfare ... seems profound to me.        

Cain Enjoys A 9-9-9 Surge and Perry Endeavors to Jumpstart His Campaign

Among the news items making the headlines this week was the story that Herman Cain, the former pizza guru and Kansas City FED head, had once again surged in the polls, mounting a significant challenge (at least by polling indicators) to the media's anointed frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.  An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that 27% of likely Republican voters would vote for Cain, compared to 23% for Romney and 16% for Governor Perry.

The Christian Science Monitor, the always intriguing source of news and opinion, reported on Oct. 15 that, according to a recent regulatory filing, Cain raised a meager $2.8 million last quarter, as compared to Perry's staggering $17 million and Romney's impressive $14 million.  Despite this noticeable (and profound) discrepancy in money raised, Cain still managed to experience a jolt in the polls.  But why?

The CSMonitor credits Cain's "9-9-9 Plan" for the jolt.  His plan received some attention during one of the recent Republican debates and, as of late, Cain has focused an increasing amount of attention to his plan and his desire to reform the U.S. tax system.  The American people, at least since 1913 and the ratification of the 16th amendment, have maintained an interesting relationship to the tax system.  During every major presidential election since, tax and, more to the point, tax reform has been among the debated topics.  Cain joins the ranks of Steve Forbes and Ron Paul, Repub candidates--either current or past--who have desired to overhaul our unjust tax system.

As I noted in a previous blog post, I am compelled to affix some responsibility for his surge on his plan, but I am reluctant to affix complete responsibility.  With that said, the CSMonitor does have a point: there is an appeal to the relative simplicity of Cain's "9-9-9 plan": 9% tax on business income, 9% tax on personal income, and 9% federal sales tax.  Out goes the nearly incomprehensible IRS tax code and in comes Cain's plan.  I welcome reform efforts aimed at dismantling our current tax system, but I do not feel Cain's plan goes far enough.

BTW: Paul's proposal for addressing the income tax and IRS should be receiving more attention.  But, to afford it more attention would mean to acknowledge Paul and, golly gee, the media cannot do that.

On Friday, the CSMonitor also published an article on Perry's proposal for drastically improving the U.S. economy: three words, "domestic energy production."  It is an interesting approach on two-fronts.  One, if successful, it may just revitalize his campaign (just as he hopes it will improve the economy); and two, reintroduce the idea of utilizing our domestic resources for energy purposes.

The article framed his approach as "Drill, baby, drill"--a three word slogan that brings a smile to my face.        The approach--whether employing the slogan or not--deals a one-two punch: it challenges the Obama administration and their EPA regulatory measures; and helps Perry court both business and fiscal conservatives and many Americans who are worried about the state of the economy.

Perry's proposal would enable firms to drill for oil in ANWR in Alaska, as well as "open the eastern Gulf of Mexico and US Atlantic to both exploration and drilling.  The plan, Perry contended, would create some 1.2 million new US jobs.  At a time when the national unemployment rate hovers around 9%, 1.2 million new US jobs would be a welcomed addition.  Perry noted that the "best part" is that most of this could be accomplished through executive order, free of traditional congressional gridlock.  

Will Perry's plan jumpstart his floundering campaign and curb Cain's surge?  The answer is unclear but one this is for sure: the economy remains front and center in public consciousness.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

CSPAN Video 12: Nick Gillespie on Politicians from the Two Parties and "Tribal Loyalties"

Nick Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief of and and author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, takes aim at several prominent politicians and the two party system.  He notes that most American have "tribal loyalties" to the Dems and Repubs and that this system grants a narrow range of politicians and candidates.  An entertaining segment, to be sure.  Enjoy! 

CSPAN Video 11: Nader and Running for President, Outside of the Two-Parties

The always articulate and entertaining Ralph Nader speaks here from a dinner in 2004.  The then Independent candidate for U.S. President criticizes Bush by emphasizing the severity of Bush's unilateral decision to invade Iraq in 2003.  Interesting to see how an honest man--one non-aligned to the two party state--"can speak truth to power."

CSPAN Video 10: FRC, "Value" Voters, and the Two Party System

Tom McClusky, Government Affairs VP at the Family Research Council (FRC), talks about the role of "value" voters in the presidential campaign and their "importance" to the Republican Party, specifically during the campaign season.  He also mentions the FRC and some of their work.  As expected, he criticizes Obama's policies and the attention they're getting.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A No from Christie, Cain Surges, Romney in the Lead?

Last week, your wonderful (not to mention humble) blogger, while ruminating on the prospects of a Christie entrance into the Repub primary season, made the NJ governor the focus of a blog post.  Earlier this week, as we inched closer and closer to the filing deadline, we received an answer: a definitive "no."  The rotund governor had decided against entering the race.

I will not rehash some of the obstacles that Christie would have faced if he had decided to enter the race; but feel free to read my blog post on the subject!

The media's attention had been fixed on Christie and his impending announcement.  Certain outlets mentioned how both Perry and Romney (the so-called "front runners") had disappointed the Repub base and that the base was looking for a redeemer--I selected that word for an obvious and sarcastic reason.  Christie had the credentials to mount a significant challenge but decided against launching a campaigning crusade.

With Christie as a non-issue, where does that leave the Repub field?  The Christian Science Monitor, earlier this week, asked this question in a different way: "Who Wins Chris Christie's Campaign Donors: Mitt Romney or Rick Perry?"  It's a fascinating question and one that is, perhaps, the most worthy of investigation.

Rick Perry reported $17 million in donations during quarter three, as compared to Romney's $13 million.    In quarter two, however, Romney registered an impressive $18 million.  Translated, Perry and Romney have war chests roughly equal.  The major Repub donors uncommitted remain prime audiences for the two media recognized "front runners."

This week, Romney secured a not-so-small victory; Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, has announced that he is now backing Mitt Romney.  To be sure, Langone brings deep pockets and some friends who have significant net worth themselves.

Meanwhile, ran an article on Friday discussing Cain's apparent surge in popularity.  The former pizza guy and head of the Kansas City FED has proposed overhauling the entire tax system and replacing it with his so-called "9-9-9 plan."  According to the authors of this FT article, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and James Politi, it is Cain's "9-9-9 plan" that is "attracting voters' attention."  I am confident that his plan has sparked an interest, but I am reluctant to affix complete credit to the plan.  But, then again, who cannot find interest in the statement "Our tax code is the 21st century version of slavery."?  This gem was included in a Cain campaign ad from last month.

While we are on the topic of tax and tax reform, why not talk about Ron Paul's proposal?  Abolish the IRS and repeal the tax code!  While we are at it, we might also want to repeal the 16th amendment!  A little revolutionary sentiment is good from time to time.

The FT article observes that Romney remains in the lead and that the Cain surge may be temporary.  After all, Cain does lack "a serious fundraising base" (to quote the article's authors).  And how much money has Romney raised?  And Perry?

Cain is a maverick of sorts and what is a maverick to do?

The Poor Job Market: Obama's Challenge ran an interesting article on Friday, discussing the current unemployment rate and the poor state of the job market; the website requires a membership login but, as per usual, the article includes a nice teaser summarizing the key points.

Last month (September), employers in the U.S. added some 103,000 jobs.  (This news was surely embraced by those economists and commentators who eagerly watch for signs of economic improvement.) And, while 103,000 jobs is surely an improvement over the previous months' figures, it is still a somber (and sobering) indication that the U.S. economy remains on unstable footing.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the total number of unemployed Americans sits uncomfortably at some fourteen (14) million--a terrifically terrible number. In August, hiring in the private (which is to say, productive) economy stalled, leading some commentators to opine that we were beginning to enter another pronounced, and potentially, prolonged economic slump.  Recently, however, the Labor Department modified its estimate of the number of jobs created in August 2011: they had previously estimated the number at zero--yes, zilch--and now they are claiming the real number is 57,000.  While I certainly welcome that number of 57,000, I am forever dubious of the government's official numbers, excluding those from the GAO.

But, I return to the government's statistics--I mean, can I really ignore them?  Of course not!

The "National" unemployment rate hovers around 9%.  This statistic--a macro number--doesn't always afford the observer with a real indication of the true nature of the employment market.  To be sure, 9% remain without work, but the state of the job market remains more paralyzed and uncertain than any individual stat could reveal.

On the inflation front: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' always informative website, the Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent in August (as reported on September 15, 2011); unfortunately, numbers for September have yet to be released, although I am confident that they have been tabulated.  Interestingly, the food index itself rose 0.5 percent, after rising 0.4 percent in July.  The energy index rose 1.2 percent, after rising an uncomfortable 2.8 percent in July.  I will resist the temptation to provide analysis on these numbers, but I will say that it is important to keep a focus on the economic data, especially in the campaign season.

Not long ago, President Obama unveiled his "American Jobs Act," aimed at addressing at least a solid portion of the economic mess.  Two key tax measures included in this Act are: 1.) cutting the payroll tax cut in half for 98 percent of businesses and; 2.) a complete payroll tax holiday for added workers or increased wages.  Two non-tax reform measures are: 1.) modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country and; 2.) making immediate investments in infrastructure.  Expectedly, the Repubs responded in uniform opposition.

For many, the Obama presidency has been a failure on the domestic policy (i.e., economic policy) front.  While the stock market enjoys its roller coaster ride, overall data remain unimpressive, bordering on worrisome.  FED Chairman Ben Bernanke has emphasized the FED's willingness to intervene should the situation deteriorate, but he also has simultaneously encouraged Congress "to do more." Does he mean more fiscal stimulus or fiscal restraint?

The Repubs have capitalized on the economic situation and have exploited it for political benefit.  Obama's challenge remains the economy more broadly and the job market more specifically.  At 9.1% unemployment and not much indication that the number will be substantively reduced, the Repubs can claim that American needs a new policy path--a new trajectory.  Within Obama's challenge may exist the Repubs ultimate political tool.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

CSPAN Video 9: John Tanner's Witness Testimony

John Tanner, then head of the Voting Rights section of the Justice Department, provides his witness testimony to Congress.  He talks about the progress that both he and his section have made in eliminating voting discrimination and other injustices.  At the start of this segment, he again apologized for a comment he had made regarding minorities; at the National Latino Congreso in LA, he absurdly proclaimed, "Minorities don't become elderly like white people do.  They die first."  Tanner's testimony gives an interesting insight into the continuing role the Justice Department plays in combating voting discrimination.

CSPAN Video 8: Brian Lee, Round 2

From the same interview: Brian Lee responds to a couple of interesting CSPAN call-in questions.  The first caller asks Lee how we could go about permanently implementing some of the Voting Rights Act provisions (e.g., use of Federal voting monitors); the second caller asks about political corruption in the voting process.  Lee's answers are interesting and timely, even in 2011.  A notable Lee quote from this segment: "People need to feel that they have a stake in the government."

CSPAN Video 7: Brian Lee Chats

Brian Lee, Chairman of the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act, talks about voting discrimination and the continued relevance and importance of the Voting Rights Act.  Lee emphasizes the significance of Section 5 of the Act.  Lee's interview gives the viewer a new perspective on the role of the Justice Department in preventing voting discrimination.  According to Lee, voting discrimination is still a serious concern.

Jockeying for the Title

On Friday, Texas Governor and Repub presidential hopeful Rick Perry assured a New Hampshire Town Hall Meeting that he--and he ALONE--was best positioned to challenge Barack Obama in a general election.  Even more important to this particular audience was Perry's claim to be the most genuine and conservative--genuine conservative?--of the Repub candidates.  This speech was only the most recent in a long series of speeches that Perry and the other GOP presidential contenders have made over the last few weeks.  In each speech, each candidate--from Perry to Romney to Bachmann--has jockeyed for the title of most conservative.  "Contests of Conservatism" have been waged, with each candidate fighting for that ever coveted title.

In the speech, Perry continued a line of association that was started by his campaign: trying to highlight similarities between Romney and Obama.  As Perry said, "We need a nominee for the Republican Party who is a clear contrast with Barack Obama."  This strategy is potentially both beneficial and wise.  If the Perry camp can paint Romney as a left of center candidate who desires to increase government and the GOP base (i.e., the hardliner camp) accepts the painting as provided by Perry, then Perry could defeat Romney in some of the "important" states.  Perry's strategy to equate Romney with Obama could serve him well going forward.  Romney has been encountering many of the same challenges as he did in 2008: he is having some difficulty with appearing genuinely conservative.  As Governor of Massachusetts, he pursued a less-than-conservative agenda, implementing policies that conservatives have a habit of criticizing.  Perry knows this and is maximizing his political return on it.

Interestingly, according to Yahoo, Perry's message has not been well received in New Hampshire, especially among that state's more moderate Republicans.  Suffolk University published results from a recent poll that "put Perry's support at 8 percent against Romney's 41 percent."  Not only is New Hampshire not responding to Perry's message, but NH is also showing that Romney offers the GOP something that the other candidates do not.  What that something is probably differs from voter to voter, but the poll results are telling ... and staggering.  Romney's pronounced lead over Perry indicates the GOP in NH is unwilling to afford any title or victory to Perry, even as he continues to jockey for the title.  

During and after the speech, "a pair of Romney supporters handed out a book titled 'Rick Perry's Plan to Get America Working Again.'"  Perry was featured on the cover waving a gun and most of the pages of the book were blank.  I'm glad to see that humor--specifically, politically calculated humor--has not been lost.  These little anecdotes make campaigns, and blogging about campaigns, enjoyable.  Kudos to those Romney supporters.  An "A" for humor.  A job well done.

Room for One More? Will Christie Enter???

The WaPo has published an AP article quoting several AP sources who are maintaining that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has decided to reexamine his initial refusal to enter the GOP race.  The result of this reexamination will be revealed in the coming few days, we are told.  This news is interesting and, depending on the result, may alter the Republican playing field.  So let's examine it in greater detail.

Chris Christie has some scars from warring with New Jersey's resident liberal power players.  He has some strong Conservative policy credentials, and his rhetoric appeals to both the Tea Party and the Republican base.  Gov. Christie supports less regulation, more fiscal restraint, and less taxation.  An ideal Repub?  Difficult to say, but surely a qualified candidate.

If Christie decides to enter into the presidential race, political pundits will be sure to have a field day.  But a late entry raises an interesting question: how will Christie's late announcement (candidacy) appear?  From my vantage point, he risks appearing indecisive--reluctant to declare his desire for the White House.  His "candidacy speech" would have to be framed in such a way as to dispel any thought of Christie as being a late player or, more to the point, indecisive.    

The article also notes that Christie will have to make an announcement in the not too distant future, since the filing deadlines in the primary states are a mere few weeks away.  Christie does not possess the luxury of having ample time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a Christie campaign for the White House.

The GOP has yet to yield a clear front-runner.  Perry and Romney have traded both leads and victories, but both men have been challenged by non-front runners, like Cain, who have been able to secure pronounced victories over these purported "front-runners."  The GOP's field appears convoluted--lacking a clear and concise vision and direction.  Some prominent GOP donors have requested for Christie to enter the race; their hope is that a Christie candidacy would give the Repubs the focus and leadership that they so desperately need.

Christie plays to the cameras; in this way, he is very much like Ronald Reagan.  He provides eccentric one-liners in response to questions.  This trait would assist him in challenging the current GOP candidates and, possibly, Barack Obama in the general election.  As the article notes, Christie has previously declined willingness to enter the race because "he wasn’t ready, because his wife wouldn’t let him and because 'I’m not crazy, that’s why.'” All three responses reveal his high level of comfort with the media and with his own ability to respond to the media's inquiries.    

While many questions still remain surrounding Christie and his forth-coming announcement, one thing is clear: a Christie candidacy would make for some interesting political reporting and, for my purposes, blogging.  Stay tuned!