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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

Last Build Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 00:20:35 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Does Obama Know What He's Doing?

Mon, 16 Mar 2009 00:20:35 -0600

Indeed, they're so wide of the mark as to prompt questions not of Obama's ideology but of his basic competence.

The bank-bailout plan seems to be largely stillborn. Having wished that the private sector would flock to invest in toxic assets if offered the right incentives, the Treasury secretary is still hoping. Crossing his fingers seems to have replaced effective policy in his planning.

To date, no massive infusion of private-sector capital seems in view and Washington is doing little more than writing checks to prop up the failing banks. That doesn't take a genius. But the difficult task of relieving the banks of toxic assets so they can rekindle the flow of loans seems to be beyond the ability of the president and his administration.

Perhaps Obama privately isn't so concerned about the banks or the businesses that need the credit markets restored. Those are Republican interest groups, right? But he surely must want his mortgage-rescue plan to work - the homeowners facing foreclosure tend to be Democratic constituents.

But this plan, too, falls far short of the mark.

Incredibly, it excludes anyone who has lost their job and can't afford to make their payments even if they were to spend 31 percent of their income trying to do so. If you can't come close to affording your mortgage, even if only because of a (hopefully temporary) loss of employment, forget about it: Obama is not going to help you.

Nor will he help you if your mortgage exceeds your home's value. One out of five mortgages now falls into this category - and the continued fall in property values will put more and more homeowners in it. But they can expect no help from Obama's rescue plan.

Why would a liberal be so callous? Why would he leave so many out in the cold? Could it be that the administration simply can't figure out how to help these folks? That the president couldn't devise a counter to his financial advisers, who presumably wanted to exclude these folks?

It was Clinton-era Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros who urged Fannie Mae to spend 42 percent of its money buying mortgages for lower-income people and who suggested that they no longer require down payments. And it was his successor, Andrew Cuomo, who upped the ante to 50 percent of the Fannie Mae portfolio.

After Democrats inveigled people to buy homes they could not afford, how can they justify passing a plan that excludes them from assistance?

It appears that Obama is at sea when it comes to financial policy, economic-recovery planning and credit-rescue efforts. We're stuck not only with a socialist but seemingly an incompetent one.

Joe the Plumber Paves Way for Tax Offensive

Mon, 20 Oct 2008 00:30:00 -0600

If the Republican Party concentrates its fire on the tax issue and the redistributive impulse behind Obama's plans, it can close the Democratic lead point by point, day by day, until the election. McCain's campaign must resist the temptation to take random shots on a million other issues and zero in on the tax-and-spend issue, emphasizing how taxes penalize those who work hard and live right.

In fact, the rich are paying vastly more in taxes than they ever have. According to the excellent book "Reality Check" by Dennis Keegan and David West, the percentage of income tax revenues paid by the top 1 percent of the population has almost doubled in the past 20 years. Now they pay 40 percent of all income tax revenues. (The bottom half in income pays less than 3 percent.) Despite the lower rates, the rich are paying more and more in taxes because they are earning more and more. In the past eight years, real, after-inflation income growth for the top 10 percent of the population has been more than 45 percent.

Essentially, the tax debate comes down to economic populism vs. social populism. The Democratic economic populists rail against the rich and demand that they pay more in taxes. The Republican social populists decry the notion of income redistribution as rewarding failure and penalizing hard work. Until Joe, the economic populist polarity dominated the presidential race, to the detriment of the Republicans. But now Joe has brought the social populist argument back to life.

Because there always are, there will doubtless be those who see the social populist approach as a code word for racism, especially because it is directed against the proposals of an African-American candidate. But the dichotomy social populism exploits is one that separates the most productive members of our work force from the others, in the spirit of Joe the Plumber. Race is quite beside the point.

The question is whether McCain has the discipline to pursue the tax issue doggedly for the rest of the campaign. The other targets -- from Ayers to ACORN -- are so tempting but ultimately appeal to the Republican base and few others. But taxes hit us all.

The core difference between the American working class and its European equivalent is that Europeans are inclined to vote based on their current conditions, while Americans base their decisions more on their goals and objectives for the future. Americans assume upward mobility, while Europeans do not. Both groups are correct in their assessments. Despite the widening gap between the richest 20 percent and the poorest in the United States, the economic chart constantly is churning, and people are continuously moving out of the bottom fifth and upward on the scale, their places on the bottom of the ladder yielding to new arrivals, usually from abroad. So Americans are right to vote their dreams. And Obama's European socialist tendency to sabotage growth in the interest of "fairness" would serve merely to convert an American model that works into a European one that does not.

Expect the Race to Tighten

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:34:29 -0600

But October may see the end of Obama's surge: He's peaking too soon.

Once the Democrat is seen as the clear leader and likely winner, the spotlight will inevitably shift to him. And he may not benefit from the increased attention.

Obama didn't do well when he last emerged on top, in later Democratic primaries. The more it appeared that Hillary Clintonwould lose, the more voter concerns over Obama's relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright cost him state after state in the later primaries.

Obama still beat Clinton because he'd already amassed a sufficient delegate lead earlier on. That dynamic doesn't apply in the general election.

The Democrat gained by standing back during the rescue-bill drama. But now voters (with a strong push from the McCain campaign) will be giving him a closer look - and some won't like what they see.

They will examine his tax proposals and spending plans, and question his economic credentials. Facing one of the gravest crises in our nation's history, they'll wonder: Is it wise to trust an ingénue with little experience with the power of the White House?

All the cash Obama wanted to spend on health care, education and infrastructure just walked out the door en route to Wall Street. He must either abandon his program, hike taxes on almost everyone or run a huge deficit.

His ties to unrepentent terrorist William Ayers will also draw new attention. The record clearly shows that Obama was lying when he called Ayers just a guy "who lives in my neighborhood."

Ayers got a $50 million grant for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Obama was put in charge of giving out the money and funded left-wing groups like ACORN for a program that's now billed as "school reform" but amounted to political indoctrination.

As Stanley Kurtz wrote in The Wall Street Journal, Obama and Ayers "worked as a team to advance the CAC agenda," namely "Ayers' educational philosophy, which called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and which downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism."

So Obama will be in the spotlight on how he'd handle the economy and on whether he is part of the political mainstream.

Voters will still be in the mood for throwing the Republicans out of office, so Obama may not fall all the way down - but October will be no cakewalk for the Democrat.

Democrats in Trouble

Fri, 05 Sep 2008 00:46:57 -0600

The speeches, and the very fact of the Palin designation, repudiated Washington and focused on how McCain is an agent of change - this ticket is populist, reformist, anti-establishment, grass-roots and anti-corruption.

And McCain last night made the point plain: "Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming."

If Bush were the nominee, this campaign wouldn't suffice to push voters away from Obama. But now that McCain has moved decisively away from the administration, Obama's lost much (at least) of his advantage on the issue of reform. Now other doubts about Obama could elect McCain.

The turning point was the designation of Palin and the personal attacks on her. By stirring up a storm, Democrats assured that Palin would speak to 37 million Americans - just a million fewer than watched Obama's acceptance speech.

Anecdotal evidence already suggests that women may have a gut reaction to the establishment's sexist assault on a woman candidate - and flock to McCain. They've seen him stake everything on this one big move of turning toward a woman - in direct contrast to Obama's deliberate decision not to name a woman.

They've seen the media and Democrats gang up on her and do their worst. And they've seen Palin stand up and stuff the challenge right back down the establishment's throat. All this may have created an entirely new dynamic in the race.

Now the Republicans must battle to underscore the threats this country faces, economically and internationally, and that we can't let an ingenue take over. They must capitalize on McCain's aggressive determination to bring reform to Washington and to emphasize Obama's inexperience and failure to grasp how to change Washington.

But it was McCain's gutsy selection of Palin that opened the door to victory.

The Presidential Race That Hasn't Yet Started

Fri, 22 Aug 2008 00:00:00 -0600

Oddly for a race that has been going on for two years and holds the nation rapt in attention, the contest is still in a very, very primitive phase. Voters' level of awareness of the issues or of the candidates is quite limited. Neither campaign has done much to project its issues or its message and the attacks on one another, which increasingly dominate the dialogue, show little resonance among most voters. Overwhelmingly, the thing voters like the most about Obama is that he is new, a fresh face, for change, intelligent, inspiring, a good speaker, outspoken, and charismatic. 57% of all voters use one of these phrases to describe him, including 48% of Republicans and 55% of Independents. But only 13% of all voters cite any specific position of Obama's including his signature opposition to the war in Iraq. Only 2% mentioned the war in citing what they liked about Obama and only 1% cited the economy and jobs. So Obama is still a personality running for office and the voters have yet to identify him with any policy or proposal. And the one identification he used to have -- opposition to the war -- has faded. But Obama has vast potential appeal. Even though the Fox News poll gave him only a three point lead over McCain, four voters in five cite something they like about Obama in open ended questions (including 66% of Republicans and 78% of Independents). Opposition to Obama is also centered on fears of his youth, inexperience, and lack of qualifications. 31% of all voters, 33% of Independents, and 29% of Democrats cited this concern in open ended questions. But just as Obama's positive ratings do not include much in the way of specific mentions of his issue positions, so his negatives don't either. Only 19% of all voters said they disliked his liberalism, connection with Rev Wright, radicalism, religious views, elitism or even said they disagreed with him about anything. Another 8% disliked his flip flops on issues. =2 0But the potential for Obama to fall apart is also enormous. 78% of all voters, including two-thirds of all Democrats and four-fifths of all independents cited something about Obama that they did not like. So everybody basically agrees that Obama is a new fresh face who advocates change but is too inexperienced and lacks some or all of the qualifications needed for the job. The question of which part of this statement outweighs the other is the issue on which the election hinges. But just as Obama has not succeeded in identifying himself with any specific issue, idea, or proposal (and voters might be asking, as they did of Gary Hart, "where's the beef?) so McCain and the Republicans have failed to link him to extreme liberalism, radicalism, Rev Wright or any of the identifications they have been trying to pin on the Democrat. Both campaigns have almost totally failed to move past square one on Obama. For McCain, it's pretty much the same story. 33% of all voters see him as experienced and qualified (including 26% of Democrats and 34% of Independents). 10% like his military record. 7% praise his honesty. And 9% say they approve of how he would handle foreign policy. But McCain's negatives are the flip side of his positives. 24% of all voters and 26% of Republicans and 20% of independents say he is too old. And another 23% feel he is too conservative, too close to Bush, or too supportive of the war. 4% criticize his flip flops. So Americans of all parties have reached a consensus that Obama is young, charismatic, intelligent, articulate, and in favor of change but also that he is too inexperienced, possibly too liberal, and less qualified than they would like And they also have come to a common agreement, also cutting across party lines, that McCain is experienced, able, an heroic veteran, and honest but also that he is too old, possibly too conservative, and perhaps too pro-war. Just as 80% of all voters find something to praise in Obama and 78% find something to critici[...]

Mark Penn & Hillary: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Thu, 14 Aug 2008 00:40:00 -0600

"I was born into a middle class family in the middle of the country in the middle of the last century."

After Penn's memos were released to the media this week, Hillary's people spread the word that she did not take Penn's advice. But it is evident that she did.

The strategy Penn recommended was ridiculous. He somehow thought that by stressing Hillary's normalcy, Obama's unusual name, race, origin, parents, and skin color would redound to his detriment. In fact, the exact opposite proved to be the case. It has been his very novelty that has underscored his appeal. Penn missed the point.

But the larger point in his memos is that Hillary sought, from the beginning of the 2008 campaign, to use race as an issue against Obama. Her early willingness to wrap herself in the flag and marginalize Obama as an outsider bespeaks her efforts to inject race into the campaign. As soon as Obama emerged as her chief opponent, Hillary and Bill Clinton tried to make the election about race and to contrast her American roots with Obama's otherness.

It would be a mistake to think that Hillary's campaign against Obama is over. She and Bill both realize that if McCain wins, she would be the likely Democratic nominee against him in 2012. At the age of 76, McCain might make easy pickings. Hillary's argument to win the nomination would be simple: I told you so. Her warnings that Obama was unelectable would have proven to have been prescient and Democrats are likely to feel chagrined that they rejected her in 2008.

How will the Clintons undermine Obama? Not by any overt statement. In public, they will appear to be his biggest fans. Hillary does not dare incurring the wrath of Democratic voters if they feel that she abandoned her party's nominee in the general election. But the Clintons will do what they do best: they will hog the spotlight. By speaking on Tuesday and Wednesday, this former first couple will spread themselves over the convention, usurping media, taking face time, and making the convention appear, for its first three days, as a Hillary Clinton gathering.

Remember how in 2004, Bill Clinton timed the release of his memoir My Life to coincide with the start of the John Kerry campaign. His swings through the nation, attracting lines and crowds at bookstores drew attention away from Kerry. His strategy of distraction culminated when he scheduled a book signing in Boston during the Democratic Convention, drawing mobs and pulling the spotlight away from Kerry.

By hogging the publicity at the Democratic Convention and by keeping the spotlight away from Obama, the Clintons are going to do all they can to stop the Democrat from getting a bounce from his Convention appearance. How will they hurt Obama down the road -- Bill will make off-handed comments, seemingly mistakes. A loose cannon, he will appear to be undisciplined as he follows a game plan to undermine the candidate. Hillary will do her best to avoid campaigning for Obama and will undercut him in any way she can without getting caught.

Obama: Watch your back!

McCain and Lieberman: Perfect Together

Wed, 13 Aug 2008 09:30:39 -0600

The easiest way to do so is to name a woman. Two seem available. But Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, an attractive candidate for the future, is too inexperienced and Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is, perhaps, too experienced. Both would have difficulty navigating a presidential campaign. Hutchison might just seem like an old woman running with an old man and Palin with McCain might seem like a father-daughter team, the younger partner just learning the ropes. Instead, McCain should choose Senator Joe Lieberman. By choosing a Democrat - the party's nominee for vice president only eight years ago -- McCain would dramatically demonstrate that his candidacy transcends the normal, vitriolic partisanship that grips Washington. It would be the first bi-partisan ticket since Abraham Lincoln sought to transcend party and picked Andrew Johnson, the Democratic pro-union governor of Tennessee, to be his 1864 running mate. Then, as now, the system was broken and there was an evident need to overcome the narrow constraints of partisanship and act in the national interest. Obama scares the daylights out of a lot of Democrats and Independents. With a Democratic running mate, McCain would become a viable alternative. Sure McCain and Lieberman disagree on a lot of issues. But their very disagreements would be sources of strength - a statement that no one person has all the answers and that solutions forged in consensus and dialogue are the key to a functioning democracy. Would Lieberman alienate the Party base? Most top McCain advisors don't think so. With anti-Obama sentiment rising with each new proposed tax increase he offers, the likelihood is that they will turn out with total enthusiasm whoever McCain picks. While neither McCain nor Lieberman are exactly charismatic. Between them, watching paint dry is more exciting. But by running together, the ticket epitomizes an end to gridlock, partisan bickering and privilege, and dogmatic adherence to narrow ideology. Mitt Romney, the current VP front runner has a hard time getting people to vote for him. Despite outspending his combined opponents 3:1, he lost Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and California. Why take on the baggage that kept voters from Romney in the primaries? Obama too, would want to name a woman since he is now losing the votes of women over forty, a natural Democratic constituency. But he can't choose Hillary. If he did, he would inherit all their scandals, past and present and would be linked to a candidate awash in special interest money who is married to a former president knee deep in tainted associations with rulers from Dubai to Kazakhstan. But if Obama doesn't choose Hillary, he can't choose another woman. That would elevate another woman to be competition with Hillary, a declaration of war on the Clintons. So Obama will go with a safe choice: Virginia's Governor Tim Kaine, Indiana's Senator Evan Bayh, or Delaware's Senator Joe Biden. Biden is the best choice. He is well versed in national security issues and offers reassurance that Obama will have someone to turn to. Excellent in debate, he can be counted on to bring the war to the Republicans. He would add reassurance and gravitas to the ticket just as Cheney did for Bush and Johnson did for Kennedy. (The only problem is that anyone objectively looking at an Obama-Biden ticket wonders if it shouldn't be upside down). Kaine lacks the very experience that Obama misses and adds nothing. Neither one can find the men's room in the White House without a GPS. Bayh lacks any killer instinct. He refused to attack the Republicans when tapped to give the keynote speech at the 1996 Democratic Convention and is allergic to negative campaigning. That's OK in a presidential candidate, but what's a vice president for if not to sock it to the other side? So the race may boil down to Obama-Bayh vs. McCain-Romney. But it should be Obama-Biden v[...]

McCain Should Hit Obama Where It Hurts - on Policy

Sat, 02 Aug 2008 00:40:00 -0600

Are the McCain people waiting for September to get serious? If so, they are making a big mistake and missing an important opportunity. History indicates that the best time to beat a new candidate is in the summer. August to be precise. Dukakis, Mondale, and Kerry all were destroyed in the summer, long before the fall campaign began. In 1984, the offensive against Geraldine Ferraro crippled Mondale well before Labor Day. In 1988, the pledge of allegiance, revolving door, and Willie Horton ads all ran in the summer. Dukakis was dead by September. And the swift boat attack on Kerry defeated him well before the summer was over. McCain needs to make voters afraid of Obama. Not, as he suggests self-servingly, by emphasizing that he "doesn't look like all the other presidents on dollar bills," but by hitting him on the two fronts where it would really hurt -- the economy and national security. Obama's inexperience and the wildly liberal proposals he has made in his primary campaigning, both set him up for a crippling blow this month. Oil drilling is an issue, but it does not provoke the fear that the McCain campaign needs to elicit to win. It's just an issue disagreement with bad consequences for the nation. Obama's position on the issue is not a recipe for national disaster. But his tax plans and their likely economic consequence are very much a plan for catastrophe. Doubling the tax in invested capital, and ratcheting up the top tax bracket to an effective 60%, will plunge the nation into a real depression. Not a recession or a downturn or a correction or a slowdown. A depression. McCain needs to hammer this point home again and again and again in his advertising. He has to put top level economists on television talking about what the Obama tax program will mean to America. Obama is suspect as an ideological liberal, anyway. And nobody thinks he has the experience to be a good president. So the potential to scare voters by accurately elaborating what his tax plans will mean to the entire country -- not just the rich on whom the burden will directly fall -- is enormous. When Obama says he will only tax the rich, it's like saying he won't shut down the entire ship, just the engine room. If McCain just talks about Obama's tax program in the abstract, most voters will shrug and note that the tax hikes won't really apply to them. Only 2% of Americans earn more than $200,000 a year and only 6% make more than $100,000. But if McCain explains the economic impact of Obama's tax proposals on all Americans, he will score points and could score a knockout. The national security offensive should have two parts. First, McCain's ads should portray Obama as naive. By taking off on his comment that Iran is a "tiny country" that couldn't hurt the US much, he can show how the Democrat is not prepared to cope with the serious national security problems which will face the next president. The more the crisis with Iran ratchets up, the more dividends this approach will reap for McCain. But, as with the argument of an impending depression if Obama wins, McCain needs to begin the argument now and let it pile up by the fall. Secondly, McCain should take Obama's proposed changes in the Patriot Act and show how they would weaken us in the face of domestic terror threats. Don't let the liberal media fool you. Bush's domestic security initiatives are very popular. How will Obama explain his legislation to notify suspected terrorist groups seven days after Homeland Security begins an investigation of them? Or how will he explain his opposition to the wiretapping that saved the Brooklyn Bridge from destruction. McCain needs to paint Obama as weak on homeland security. This race is there for the winning, but McCain is using his paid media ads as mere press releases, touching on the events of the day without really using them as a strategic tool to destroy Obam[...]

Obama Strikes First

Sun, 06 Jul 2008 00:46:17 -0600

With Obama running the ad in all the swing states (Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia), this gross usurpation of credit affords the McCain campaign an incredible opportunity for rebuttal.

For the past two weeks, Obama has moved quickly toward the center. He has reversed his previous positions for gun control, against using faith based institutions to deliver public services, against immunity for tele-communications companies that turn records over to the government in terror investigations, for raising Social Security taxes, for imposing the fairness doctrine on talk radio, and a host of other issues.

McCain has watched passively as his rival repositions himself for November. Indeed, he has watched from afar as he took the time out to travel to Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil, even though they have no electoral votes.

But now, there is a heaven-sent opportunity for McCain to strike. In his effort to move to the center, Obama has distorted his own record, meager though it may be, and is taking credit for a program he strongly opposed. McCain should immediately run an ad in all of the states in which his opponent is advertising setting forth the facts and explaining Obama's distortion.

A good tag line for the ad would be: "John McCain: when you have real experience, you don't need to exaggerate."

But, if McCain doesn't answer, or just replies with his own positive ad, he will let Obama move to the center, a key mistake from which he may never recover. If Obama can hold his 5-10 point lead until the conventions, he will have set in place a pattern that will be very hard to change. With his new ad, Obama could even elevate his lead to double digits.

On the other hand, if McCain calls him on his distortion, he can do grave damage to Obama on three fronts: credibility, centrism, and experience. By catching Obama in a lie, he can undermine the effectiveness of any subsequent ads the Democrat runs. By showing that he opposed welfare reform, McCain can do much to force Obama back to the left and cast doubt on his efforts to move to the middle. And by emphasizing Obama's limited experience, he can strike at a soft spot --- made softer by Hillary's attacks in the primary.

The move is right there for McCain. Now lets see how good his campaign really is.