Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rejecting and denouncing . . . or is it denouncing and rejecting?

Jonah Goldberg, my generation's William F. Buckley, raises an interesting point. How important is it for presidential candidates to "reject and denounce" past associations with controversial figures?

Personally, I think that Trent Lott was probably treated unfairly . . . . But why is Obama being given a pass?

Collins on Clinton

Gail Collins offers up another bizarre NYT op-ed. Is she endorsing Clinton or writing her concession speech?

Still, this is a key point:

"Back around Debate 10 — lo those many debates ago — Hillary routinely wiped the floor with Barack. He was reluctant and stumbling. She was confident and presidential. Then, as Adam Nagourney pointed out in The Times this week, he suddenly evolved. Now, he’s better than she is — calm and witty at crucial junctures, always to the point, never obsessing on the small stuff. After this week’s Debate 20, Hillary’s people gloated over the fact that Barack had said he agreed with her entirely on several key points, as if this was an admission of weakness rather than the key to his campaign — the promise to find whatever consensus there is and build on it."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Did anyone catch the debate last night?

I didn't get a chance to watch the whole thing, but I did record it--which is, I'll admit, pretty nerdy--and I read part of the transcript.

From what I've seen, though, this must have been pretty embarrassing for both Clinton and Obama. If someone like me knows who Dmitri Medvedev is, anyone who wants to be president should at least be able to pronounce his name.

Anyway, more later . . .

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Brooks on McCain

David Brooks offers some perspective on McCain's history with special interests.

"Over the course of his career, McCain has tried to do the impossible. He has challenged the winds of the money gale. He has sometimes failed and fallen short . . . . But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lapel pin patriotism

I tend to agree with Lou Dobbs that we shouldn't scoff at those who choose to wear American flag lapel pins, but it's a bit much for Bill Kristol, in his most recent NYT op-ed, to essentially question Barack Obama's patriotism for not wearing one.

More importantly, though, Kristol seems to be suggesting that we should simply elect the most patriotic candidate, regardless of his or her positions:

"It’s fitting that the alternative to Obama will be John McCain. He makes no grand claim to fix our souls. He doesn’t think he’s the one everyone has been waiting for. He’s more proud of his country than of himself. And his patriotism has consisted of deeds more challenging than 'speaking out on issues.'"

That's a pretty ridiculous argument to make when you're talking about a presidential election. But, frankly, Bill Kristol has never been one of the most intelligent or insightful conservative thinkers out there . . .

Speechless . . .

This is a new low for the Clinton campaign:

"In a statement, the Clinton campaign called the charge “an obvious and transparent attempt to distract” voters from serious issues – but did not issue a denial."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Health care mailer madness

There's no question that the recent mailers criticizing Clinton's positions on NAFTA and health care mandates lack context, but Clinton's apparent outrage is pretty absurd, considering her campaign has put out a number equally misleading ads over the past few months.

Of course, all of this back-and-forth is irrelevant to the main point. The fact is that Clinton has never explained how she would enforce health care mandates, though she is clearly open to the notion of garnishing wages.

Obama is right to call attention to the Massachusetts Commonwealth Care plan, which includes both mandates and penalties. While there has certainly been a dramatic rise in the number of Massachusetts residents with health coverage, the plan has also cost far more than was originally projected. And while employers (with the exception of small businesses) are only fined $295 per person per year for failing to provide health insurance, individuals can be fined up to one half of the projected cost of their coverage plan if they're deemed capable of affording it by the state's regulatory authority. So, needless to say, much of the burden is placed on the individual.

Would Clinton take a similar approach? Knowing what kind of enforcement mechanism she would adopt is key to understanding her plan, especially when she's put such a strong emphasis on mandates.

It's silly to argue that your opponent is misrepresenting your position on mandates when you're essentially refusing to take a position . . .

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Violence in Belgrade

So, the Serbian government blames the United States for provoking the recent voilence in Belgrade. And I'm sure that, without KFOR in Kosovo, ethnic tensions would dissipate on their own . . .

Fact-checking the debate posted its analysis of Thursday night's CNN-Univision debate. All in all, it was a pretty clean debate, but there were a few factual missteps from both candidates.

There were some general points that surprised me, though. While I knew that Obama was a heavy lifter during his eight years in the Illinois Senate, I didn't realize that he had sponsored over 800 bills. That's pretty impressive.

Of course, he hasn't exactly been a slouch in the U.S. Senate either . . .

Friday, February 22, 2008

And the Oscar goes to . . .

I generally don't care about the Oscars--and I especially don't care about obscure categories like "Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song. " But I'm actually really excited about one of the nominees this year.

If you haven't seen the film Once, you totally should. The story is great, and the music is even better. It stars Glen Hansard, the lead singer of The Frames, as an Irish street performer who embarks on an unlikely friendship with a young Czech pianist.

The song that was nominated, "Falling Slowly," is really excellent. Check it out.

Obama wins? Let's hope

For the first time, I managed to sit through the entire CNN debate (a pretty impressive feat, considering it was, by all accounts, the most boring debate so far). At this point, I can't possibly be considered an objective observer, but I thought that Obama trounced Clinton. He parried every thrust and, in the end, I think managed to land a killing blow. That's not to suggest that Clinton didn't perform well. Like many other political junkies, I am consistently impressed with her grasp of the issues, even when I disagree with her. But I tend to think that Clinton's detail-oriented approach is actually driving voters away from her campaign.

Nevertheless, I keep reading comments like this:

"Obama had some good moments, but her [Clinton's] ability to rattle off policy details on the fly really comes through whereas Obama needs to pause to think."

I couldn't disagree more. By allowing herself to be portrayed as a no-nonsense policy wonk, Clinton has damaged her chances at the nomination.

Obama's responses during the debates have always seemed far more meditative--as if he actually considers the questions being posed. Clinton sounds rehearsed. Her pithy one-liners ("change you can Xerox") are clearly not off-the-cuff improvisations, and her most memorable moments involve mawkish and overtly phony displays. But, more importantly, her choice to focus on policy details rather than policy themes makes her sound more like a bureaucrat than a president.

It's especially distressing for those of us who think that she's dead wrong on many of these seemingly minor policy battles--from health insurance mandates for ALL Americans to a mortgage rate freeze for home owner-occupiers. How can we expect any reasonable degree of compromise (and, thus, any hope of genuine reform) on these specific details when they have become so central to her campaign narrative? And how can we expect Clinton to have the flexibility that a president needs--and that George Bush woefully lacks--to pass any meaningful legislation through Congress?