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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Robert Novak

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Robert Novak

Last Build Date: Sat, 08 Nov 2008 00:30:06 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Gingrich 2012?

Sat, 08 Nov 2008 00:30:06 -0600

Even one of his strongest supporters for president in 2012 admits it is a "very risky choice." But Republicans are in a desperate mood after the fiasco of John McCain's seemingly safe candidacy. Republicans appear chastened by the failure of seeking moderate, independent and even Democratic votes. They are ready to try going back to the "old-time religion."

One Republican critic of Gingrich concedes that he has an "unlimited" energy flow and a constant stream of ideas, an important commodity in a party that appears to have run short of ideas during the Bush years. But there is widespread concern about what is described in the party as Gingrich's deep "character flaws" that would be difficult to overcome in a presidential campaign. Nobody in Republican ranks, however, matches Gingrich's dynamism.

The consternation among Republicans is concentrated on McCain's failure to capitalize on Democratic flaws.

It would be a rocky road for Gingrich to the nomination, much less the presidency, but there are no other serious candidates inside the party at the moment.

What's clear is that Republicans are unanimous in trying to avoid a repeat of what happened this year, and there is a surprising consensus that McCain was going in the wrong direction and was the wrong candidate.

What one GOP critic calls Gingrich's "unlimited energy supply" must be overcome by anyone opposing him. Several old Republican hands feel that Gingrich in 2012 is no more outrageous than Ronald Reagan was in 1980.

What is certain is that Gingrich has the desire and the will. He has a deep-seated ambition. He had not even settled into the House speaker's chair in 1995 when he confessed to me his presidential desires for 1996. That was not to be, but he never abandoned the personal dream and is ready to pursue it now.

An Illegitimate Baby: A Blessing or a Punishment?

Fri, 17 Oct 2008 00:35:33 -0600

This central Pennsylvania community is heavily Democratic, represented in the House by the powerful Rep. John Murtha, but tends to be socially conservative. Obama signaled that he was going to take a risk in trying to chart a course that would please both sides on abortion, something that no one has accomplished yet, and Obama certainly failed. He was cruising along in the question-and-answer format, when a woman asked his view on abortion, but what he said surely did not please his pro-life supporters:

"Look, I've got two daughters -- 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."

Obama's formulation raised the hackles of evangelical leaders across the country, including Richard Land, who said, "Pro-lifers don't see a child as punishment." Obama's approach to a hypothetical problem contrasted sharply with the way his Republican vice presidential opponent, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, subsequently handled a "real-life " situation. Shortly after Obama's town hall comments in Pennsylvania, Palin announced that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant, would give birth to the baby and would marry the father.

Outside the evangelical community, however, not many Republicans made much of that contrast, and Obama has not been challenged on whether he views an illegitimate baby as a treasure or a punishment.

In fact, abortion went unmentioned in the debates until scarcely 10 minutes remained in Wednesday night's debate, when moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News finally brought up the subject by asking McCain whether he could appoint a pro-choice Supreme Court justice. McCain replied he would have "no litmus test on judicial appointments." That did not please pro-life Republicans, as little did during the brief exchange on abortion.

While describing himself as a "proud pro-life Republican," McCain did not ask Obama whether he really considered the birth of a baby a punishment.

Neither McCain nor Schieffer asked for Obama's views on extreme pro-abortion legislation pending in Congress that would prohibit states from any limitations on abortion and would begin widespread federal funding of abortions. That failure, along with McCain not pressing Obama on whether he really considered the birth of a baby a "punishment," surely did not raise McCain's standing with suspicious socially conservative Republicans.

How Will Obama Pay for New Spending?

Thu, 02 Oct 2008 00:34:07 -0600

My office asked the Obama campaign for the details, and it responded with a 19-page single-spaced paper on the candidate's "tax plans."

In fact, there was precious little about tax policy in the paper, which amounted to a repeat of Democratic campaign oratory that can be heard in 30-second speeches before both houses of Congress daily on C-SPAN.

Obama has made clear that he would try to roll back President Bush's tax cuts, but that does not come under the definition of a "loophole." A loophole consists of a conniving tax attorney discovering a weakness in the Internal Revenue Code or such a weakness intentionally legislated by Congress under the instigation of crafty lobbyists. The only specific tax legislation contained in his paper would raise the capital gains rate for most shareholders, restore taxation on dividend income to pre-Bush standards and restore the full estate tax.

These were not loopholes but presidential proposals enacted by Congress. The Obama paper paints a picture of lobbyists running wild on Capitol Hill but neglects to assess the impact on the economy during the current financial crisis of taking a serious strike against the stockholding public.

Obama's dividends and capital gains proposals appear to be a major attempt at redistribution of income rather than a serious attempt to pay for the spending that he has proposed.

More on the Election: McCain, Obama Agree Healthcare Needs Fixing

How a Tumor Is Changing My Life

Sat, 06 Sep 2008 07:23:49 -0600

I did not realize I had hit anyone until a shirt-sleeved young man on a bicycle, whom I incorrectly thought to be a bicycle messenger, jumped in front of my car to block the way. In fact, he was David A. Bono, a partner in the high-end law firm Harkins Cunningham. The bicyclist was shouting at me that I could not just hit people and then drive away. That was the first I knew about the accident. Mr. Bono called the police, and a patrolman soon arrived. After I said I had no idea I had hit anyone until they flagged me down and informed me, Mr. Bono told The Washington Post, "I would not believe that." Fortunately, the investigating officer, P. Garcia, was a policeman who listened and apparently believed me. While Mr. Bono and other bystanders were taking on aspects of a mob, shouting "hit-and-run," Officer Garcia issued a right-of-way infraction against me, costing me $50, instead of a hit-and-run violation that would have been a felony. Following Officer Garcia's instructions, I promptly paid the $50 fine at Third District Police Headquarters in Northwest Washington, in cash and in person. Officer Garcia's justification in believing me was soon confirmed by the diagnosis of my brain cancer, in which I have lost not only left peripheral vision but nearly all my left vision, probably permanently. Several people have asked me whether the person I hit was crossing in front of me on my left. I answer, "I never saw him." The person I hit, identified by police as Don, with no fixed address, was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where police said, "There are no visible injuries." On the next day, Thursday, July 24, there were more clues that something was seriously wrong. I lost my way to my dentist's office in Montgomery County and never found it. I also had trouble finding my way back to my office. After returning from a speaking engagement in North Carolina on Friday, I found it difficult locating my office in the 13-story building where I have been a tenant since 1964. My wife Geraldine and I left Washington Saturday to spend the weekend with our daughter, Zelda, and her husband, Christopher Caldwell, and their children at their summer house at Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. When Geraldine noticed that I was having trouble following her in the Boston airport, she suggested I go to a hospital emergency room. I always resist such suggestions and did so this time, but fortunately Zelda prevailed. The CT scan at Salem Hospital showed a brain mass. I returned to the summerhouse and went into seizure the next day. When Zelda said to call 911, I again resisted, but she again prevailed. I promptly suffered another seizure in the ambulance, the second of three seizures that day. I gained admittance to the high-quality Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, which has an excellent oncology staff. A biopsy was performed, which showed a large, grade IV tumor. In answer to my question, the oncologist estimated that I had six months to a year to live. Being read your death sentence is like being a character in one of the old Bette Davis movies. I believe I was able to withstand this shock because of my Catholic faith, to which I converted in 1998. I then called Dr. Donald Morton of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., who removed a cancer from my lung in 1994 and has been a friend and close medical advisor. He told me that different people react to serious cancers in different ways and reminded me that I was a three-time cancer survivor. Dr. Morton recommended Dr. Allan H. Friedman, a master surgeon who is chief of neurosurgery at the Duke University Medical Center. After studying my CT scan and MRI, Dr. Friedman said a resection -- that is, a removal of the tumor -- was possible by surgery. Dr. Friedman had performed a similar operation this summer on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. In today's world, it is up to the "informed patient" to make many decisions affecting treatment. Dr. Morton recommended that I[...]

McCain Comes Through

Wed, 03 Sep 2008 00:55:53 -0600

That is not only because Palin appears to be an outstanding candidate but also because McCain in his first test as party leader came through with a unique and responsible decision.

The party faithful had feared the worst, in view of McCain's long record as a maverick who enjoyed violating Republican dogma.

As recently as two weeks before Palin's selection, McCain's closest aides feared, in the words of one of them, "McCain would be McCain," by choosing liberal independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman, which would have deflated the convention and indeed the party on the eve of an uphill battle for the presidency.

But on this occasion, McCain made a politically ingenious selection. Whether the presence on the Republican ticket of a woman for the first time actually will attract disaffected supporters of Hillary Clinton is doubtful.

Gender politics aside, she is an ideal running mate. On the one hand, she shares McCain's loathing for earmarks, which are ingrained in the corruption-tainted politics of Alaska. She also has a good record in fighting off big oil, which plays a major role in the politics of Alaska.

Her election as governor broke the hold of the Republican "Alaska gang," whose senior members have been under criminal investigation.

On the other hand, she meets conservative requirements as an opponent of abortion and member of the National Rifle Association. That is much more than most people in St. Paul were hoping for.

Ironically, Democrats have been using the inexperience claim repeatedly thrown against Barack Obama in welcoming her to national politics.

Democrats dream about her stumbling in a vice presidential debate with Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What cannot be measured is the impact on voters of a new, attractive and well-spoken woman.

Republican presidential nominees starting with Jerry Ford in 1976 have been thinking about a female running mate, but none has had the nerve to pull the trigger until McCain on Friday. He came through when his fellow Republicans feared the worst from him.

Avoiding a Lieberman Disaster

Wed, 27 Aug 2008 00:34:47 -0600

Actually, Lieberman is a heroic figure among Republicans for having risked his Senate seat to support President George W. Bush's war policy. But aside from the war, he votes the straight liberal line, including pro-choice on abortion. Lieberman's Republican friend told him that the Republicans would leave Minnesota in a state of disarray with a McCain-Lieberman ticket, alienating social conservatives who now make up the core of Republican voters.

At the heart of the desire for Lieberman as running mate is a basic strategic disagreement between the Bush and McCain high commands.

McCain's top strategists argue that the Bush coalition that won the last two presidential elections is dead and must be replaced by a new one that extends to the left, as Lieberman would. Bush strategists disagree, asserting that McCain is getting around 90 percent of the old Bush vote and can win the election with a few moderates added in.

The Republican operative who urged Lieberman to dissuade McCain from picking him believes that there is still a very useful role for the maverick Democrat in this campaign: as McCain's secretary of state. While an announcement in St. Paul of Lieberman as vice president would bring groans from the assembled Republicans, placing him at the State Department would evoke a standing ovation.

At this writing, nobody knows McCain's choice. He is keeping the selection process secret, and his closest aides are in the dark. Could he still name Lieberman after being told by Lieberman himself that it is not a good idea? Nobody absolutely rules it out.

Selecting a vice presidential nominee from the opposite party has not fared well, partly because the two most prominent such selections quickly succeeded to a vacant presidency.

In 1864, Republican President Abraham Lincoln picked a pro-Union Democrat, Andrew Johnson, as his running mate. Johnson clashed continuously with the Republican Congress and became the first president to be impeached. In 1840, Whig President William Henry Harrison selected Democrat John Tyler for vice president. Tyler became president upon Harrison's death in 1841. Tyler found himself surrounded by old political enemies in a Whig Cabinet.

Those problems might be less serious for Lieberman should he quickly succeed to the presidency, however. He is on intimate terms with the McCain inner circle, especially Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Still, Republicans assembling in St. Paul have their fingers crossed that McCain will not press his luck by naming Lieberman as his running mate.

Can McCain Back in Again?

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 00:45:00 -0600

Overnight surveys by Gallup and Rasmussen for the past two weeks have shown Obama hovering around 46 percent, while McCain has declined from 45 percent to 41 percent after the wild acclaim for Obama in Berlin, for a 6-point deficit that is by no means insurmountable. These numbers have prompted speculation among Republican political practitioners that McCain can back into the presidency, just as he backed into his party's nomination.

Not even Bob Dole's dismal candidacy in 1996 generated less enthusiasm in GOP ranks than McCain's current effort. However, in winning the nomination this year, when he had been counted out after the disintegration of his campaign structure, McCain showed more fortitude than skill. He was blessed by a weak field of Republican competitors, who eliminated each other and left McCain as the last man standing.

But Obama is no Huckabee, Giuliani or Romney. He is the most spectacular campaigner of his generation, with appeal well beyond Democratic ranks. That he lingers below the 50 percent mark is a mystery among politicians of both parties. It is particularly troubling to Democrats who recall past Democratic candidates taking a huge lead over the summer before being overtaken or nearly overtaken by a surging Republican opponent. In 1976, Jimmy Carter took a 33-point summer lead over President Gerald Ford and won in a photo finish. In 1988, Michael Dukakis led George H.W. Bush by 17 points after being nominated in Atlanta before he lost the election. Al Gore and John Kerry were ahead of George W. Bush in the summer.

One candid Republican consultant says that the massive Carter and Dukakis summer leads were illusory, based on large generic Democratic leads. But their generic lead is back at 15 points after 12 years of a Republican Congress and eight years of George W. Bush.

Clearly, Obama has not yet closed the deal with the people to accept a young, inexperienced African-American as their president. Obama had virtually clinched the nomination when white working men in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia poured out to vote and carried their states comfortably for Hillary Clinton. It was not because of unalterable affection for her.

Obama's difficulty in reaching the 50 percent mark reflects an overwhelmingly white undecided vote at 10 to 15 percent.

These were target voters for Obama when he ventured into the war zones to demonstrate his mettle as a future commander in chief. He looked good, sounded good and committed no serious gaffes. But sitting by the popular Gen. David Petraeus and disagreeing with his military judgment may not have been the way to win over undecided white working men.

The toughest interrogation of Obama was CBS anchor Katie Couric's in Jordan last Tuesday. She asked four different times whether the troop surge he had opposed was instrumental in reducing violence in Iraq. Each time, Obama answered straight from talking points by citing "the great effort of our young men and women in uniform." That sounded like the old politics. He would have sounded more like a new politician if he had simply said, "Yes, the strategy did work." That would have infuriated anti-war activists, but not enough for them to drop Obama.

Several Democrats I have talked to noted that recent Democratic presidents got elected with a minority of the vote and also that McCain is further below the 50 percent standard than Obama. But McCain, running a flawed campaign in a big Democratic year, is dangerously close. He still could back in unless Obama closes the deal.

Romney's Value

Sat, 26 Jul 2008 00:00:00 -0600

Jindal Survives
Reports of a decline in the popularity at home of Louisiana's first-year Gov. Bobby Jindal over his mishandling of more pay for state legislators have been greatly exaggerated. His long-shot chances for the Republican vice presidential nomination remain.

A private Louisiana survey of 800 registered voters taken July 6-8 by The Polling Company shows 60 percent favorable (with 39 percent strongly favorable) and 18 percent unfavorable for Jindal. Those numbers contradict Jindal's reported precipitous decline after the 37-year-old governor reversed himself twice on the legislative pay issue but ended up opposing it.

A footnote: A select audience of New Hampshire Republicans was startled Tuesday when McCain told them "you are really going to like" Minnesota's 47-year-old Tim Pawlenty -- what sounded like a possible tip-off of his vice presidential choice. But McCain's intimates are accustomed to hearing him praise Pawlenty.

Fundraiser Obama
Sen. Barack Obama is employing his fundraising prowess to raise money not only for his presidential campaign but also for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, seeking a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Recipients of Obama's summer mailing include many lobbyists who are called "switch hitters" in political parlance -- contributors to lawmakers of both parties who seek to open Capitol Hill doors to them on a bipartisan basis.

A footnote: While Democrats have a good shot at picking up four more Senate seats to put their majority at 55 to 45, collecting the 60 seats needed to break filibusters without Republican help seems out of reach. "We must have a deadlock-proof Democratic majority," Obama said in his letter.

Gramm Gone
Although former Sen. Phil Gramm's resignation as national co-chairman of McCain for President was considered to be essential by the campaign, he resigned on his own without being asked.

As this column reported a week ago, Gramm apologized to his old friend and political ally John McCain for embarrassing his candidacy, and McCain told him not to worry about it. Shortly thereafter, Gramm resigned rather than become an attack target for having called America "a nation of whiners" whose recession is "mental."

The same McCain strategists who felt Gramm had to go also consider his departure a major loss. McCain valued Gramm's economic and political advice.

Endangered Democrat
Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a 71-year-old, 12-term congressman from a solidly Democratic Wilkes-Barre, Pa., district, may be the only incumbent House Democrat to lose in what shapes up as a disastrous 2008 for the Republicans.

Kanjorski is running behind Lou Barletta, the Republican Mayor of Hazleton, Pa., who has made a national reputation as a foe of illegal immigration. Kanjorski has a big money advantage and is waging a substantial television campaign, while Barletta has not yet been on television. But Barletta has 89 percent identification in the district, four to one positive. Kanjorski, who voted against the Iraqi troop surge, has been under fire for saying he "forced" President Bush to make the move.

A footnote: Barletta did not show up for Sen. McCain's rally Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre. No more than 600 of the 2,500 theater seats were filled for the event.

The Soldier Voting Scandal

Thu, 24 Jul 2008 00:24:00 -0600

Nobody who has studied the question objectively sees any improvement since 2006, and that is a scandal. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Charles Henry wrote in the July issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings: "While virtually everyone involved ... seems to agree that military people deserve at least equal opportunity when it comes to having their votes counted, indications are that in November 2008, many thousands of service members who try to vote will do so in vain."

Henry, now an independent broadcast journalist, has personal experience with this enduring scandal. While serving as a Marine at sea off Iran, he received his 1980 presidential ballot too late to count. President Harry Truman said of troops fighting in Korea, "The least we at home can do is to make sure that they are able to enjoy the rights they are being asked to fight to preserve." But the U.S. military that has so perfected the art of war over the past half-century is at a loss to enable soldiers to vote.

A combat officer has enough to do without handling the votes of troopers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Defense Department Inspector General's report in March last year recommended "appointment of civilian personnel" as "voting assistance officers." The Pentagon brass rejected the idea.

I reported four years ago that the problems of 2000 overseas military voting had not been corrected for the 2004 presidential election. At that time, Under Secretary of Defense David Chu was put in charge of the problem. During massive turnover at the Pentagon, Chu remains in place -- best known among critics of the military vote problem for his chronic failure to return telephone calls.

Congressional attention to the problem has been scattered and limited mostly to Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn, who earlier this year decried "a lack of will" at the Pentagon to solve the voting problem. Democratic interest about tackling the problem might be tempered by apprehension that soldiers will cast too many Republican votes.

Nevertheless, at least one prominent Democrat -- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer -- described himself to me as eager to deal with this problem. (Hoyer's home state of Maryland is one of the worst offenders, with ballots of only 4.1 percent of overseas voters counted in 2006.) Hoyer and Blunt, who have become friendly adversaries in a bitterly partisan Congress, conferred several weeks ago and agreed in principle on co-sponsoring a resolution aimed at getting the Defense Department moving.

Hoyer wanted the resolution to cover expatriate Americans as well as the military, and Blunt did not object. They turned the issue over to their staffers and went about the business of major legislation. Blunt had instructed his staff to seek agreement with Democrats but, if not, to introduce a resolution applying only to the military, which was the outcome.

One presidential staffer who is familiar with the situation privately dismisses the Pentagon bureaucrats as "hopeless." In a lame-duck administration counting the days before a troubled eight years finally end, American fighting men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan deprived of their right to vote constitute the least of White House worries.

Obama's Iraq Spotlight

Mon, 21 Jul 2008 00:00:00 -0600

Obama is a far more interesting personality and an incomparably more appealing candidate than Kerry. But why then, in a year where the nation clearly has rejected the GOP as a party, does McCain have a real chance to be elected? Why does Obama have trouble breaking the 50 percent barrier, nationally and in battleground states? The answer, as seen by McCain's closest associates, is the issue they hope to ride to victory: leadership. They believe voters are hesitant to fully accept this charismatic newcomer because of doubt as to whether he can lead the nation. Now, in visiting Iraq for the first time in two and a half years, Obama tests that issue. In what on the surface looms as a public relations coup for Obama, the McCain camp will be scrutinizing -- and commenting on -- his every move in Iraq. Obama may have been goaded into visiting the war zone by taunts from Sen. Lindsey Graham, McCain's friend and adviser, that the Democratic candidate had not been to Iraq since January 2006. But once he decided on going to Europe, Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama had Republican loyalists worried sick. Predictably greeted as a conquering hero by Bush-hating Europeans, a champion by apprehensive Afghans and a liberator by war-weary Iraqis (with massive media coverage), Obama may get the big bounce in the polls that eluded him when he clinched the nomination against Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, Obama in Iraq spotlights the question that McCain wants asked: Who can best lead America in a dangerous world? The difficulty posed for Obama by the leadership issue was demonstrated last week, when he preceded his fact-finding mission with a speech pronouncing that he has not really modified the hard anti-war line he used to defeat Clinton for the nomination. (In private conversations, Clinton has expressed the view that Obama's emphasis on Iraq -- her Senate vote for it, his against it -- defeated her.) Since clinching the nomination, Obama has been cautiously executing a Nixonian post-primary pivot toward the center. He weathered outrage by his "net-roots" bloggers over his vote for the national security wiretapping bill. But hedging on Iraq was vastly more dangerous, particularly when it appeared he was modifying his famous pledge to remove U.S. troops within 16 months after becoming president. So, in his pre-trip speech last Tuesday, he reaffirmed the 16-month deadline (though in less robust style than on the primary election circuit): "We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months." But he added, cryptically, "We'll keep a residual force" for "targeting any remnants of al-Qaida," "protecting" remaining U.S. troops and officials, and training Iraqi security forces provided they "make political progress." How big would this more or less permanent "residual" force be? Obama did not say, but advisers leaked it could reach 50,000. That would be far too much for the candidate's net-roots to swallow, but a token force of around 2,000 would be ludicrous. Obama will face a test of how he handles this after he meets in Iraq with the esteemed Gen. David Petraeus. Obama's speech continued his campaign's theme of depicting a McCain administration as Bush's third term, in this instance continuing present Iraq policy. But the spotlight of scrutiny will be on Obama, not McCain, because of his decision to visit Iraq, and therein lies McCain's hope for victory. *** In the last column, I misidentified James Johnson as having been at ZymoGenetics Inc. That is a different James Johnson. It correctly identified Johnson as heading the compensation committee at Goldman Sachs, which was the point of the column.[...]

Obama's CEOs

Sat, 19 Jul 2008 00:00:00 -0600

McCain and Gramm
After Sen. John McCain publicly repudiated his close friend and adviser Phil Gramm's comments about a "nation of whiners" and a "mental recession," the two old political comrades patched up their relationship.

Gramm apologized to McCain for his remarks that gave Democrats an opening against the Republican presidential candidate and provided several days of ammunition for blogs, cable television and radio talk shows. McCain told Gramm not to worry about the expected pitfalls of a campaign surrogate. Gramm will continue as an adviser and surrogate.

Gramm remained a steadfast supporter last year when it appeared that McCain's campaign had collapsed. McCain was a loyal backer of Gramm's failed 1988 campaign for president and did not leave until the candidate dropped out of the race.

Dumping Grassley
Evangelicals and their allies, dominating last weekend's Iowa Republican state convention, dumped their critic, Sen. Chuck Grassley, from the state's delegation to the national convention in St. Paul, Minn. The five-term senator is Iowa's senior Republican elected official.

Grassley has aroused the ire of Christian conservatives by launching a Senate Finance Committee investigation of six televangelists for alleged lavish spending. Leading conservatives, headed by Paul Weyrich and Ken Blackwell, have charged Grassley with violating the First Amendment religious freedom guarantee.

The 74-year-old Grassley once was considered the leader of the Iowa Republican Party's conservative wing but has been at odds with increasingly influential evangelical elements in the party.

Carrying Georgia
Republican strategists now are privately conceding that the GOP could lose Georgia's 15 presidential electors for the first time since 1992 because of Bob Barr's ballot position as the Libertarian Party presidential candidate.

The most recent Georgia survey by the polling firm InsiderAdvantage, conducted July 2, shows 46 percent for Sen. John McCain, 44 percent for Sen. Barack Obama and 4 percent for Barr. George W. Bush, who carried all 11 states of the old Confederacy in both 2000 and 2004, had 58 percent of Georgia's vote in the last election.

Third party presidential candidates almost always run more poorly in the actual election than their showing in the polls, but Barr as a former Republican congressman from Georgia might sustain support in his home state. He already has slipped a little in Georgia, based on his 5.6 percent standing in the June 19 InsiderAdvantage poll, when McCain had a lead of 1.6 percentage points.

Reid vs. Coburn
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to hold the Senate in session over the weekend of July 25 to consider spending bills held up by the objection of Republican Sen. Tom Coburn instead of being set loose early for the election campaign, as Reid has promised.

Reid would bundle together anywhere from 40 to 80 bills objected to by Coburn. Such a "Coburn omnibus bill" on the floor might provoke an extended debate for several days.

A footnote: Although Reid has told reporters that there is no use trying to talk to Coburn, they have been negotiating with each other in an effort to reach a unanimous consent agreement.

Cost of Cronyism

Thu, 17 Jul 2008 00:30:00 -0600

That connection clearly was not enough for Paulson to consider recusing himself from dealing with the crisis threatening Fannie, Freddie and the whole American economy. He structured the bailout and was on the phone last weekend encouraging leading investment bankers to buy Freddie Mac bonds. Financial consultant Lawrence Lindsey, President George W. Bush's former national economic director, told clients Sunday, "Surely things are somewhat amiss when a country's finance minister plays bond salesman for a supposedly privately owned company." Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday, Paulson stressed there would be a federal purchase of assets only if necessary. But relying on investment bankers could be awkward for Paulson because of indiscreet jubilation from his old company. "This is our bailout," a senior Goldman Sachs official told a Wall Street colleague this week, suggesting the firm will be cherry-picking for mortgage bargains. Paulson's tardy attention to the mortgage companies is not unique. The only senior executive branch officials who expressed alarm about overextended Fannie and Freddie were Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and their warnings were shrugged off. It was worse on Capitol Hill. Former Rep. Richard Baker could not find a single House co-sponsor for his reform bill. He lost his bid to become ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee though he had seniority, and then retired from Congress to become a lobbyist. Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel had trouble finding other Senate supporters of Baker's bill. Baker, Hagel and Sen. Richard Shelby, ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, were rare members of committees with jurisdiction who took the issue seriously. The powerhouse Democratic overseers of the banking committees -- Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Christopher Dodd and Sen. Chuck Schumer -- protected Fannie and Freddie. Tuesday's hearing was more than an hour old when Hagel became the first senator to ask whether the well-paid officials and directors of the mortgage companies should be held accountable for the crisis. "I'm not looking for scapegoats," Paulson replied. The overriding mood recalled the question repeatedly posed, in a different context, by Bob Dole during his losing 1996 campaign for president: "Where's the outrage?" Many of Paulson's non-scapegoats have traveled a familiar path from modest net worth to sudden wealth at the mortgage companies, especially Fannie Mae. Most have been Democrats, but token Republicans also have enjoyed the profitable ride. It is an old story, well described in "Crony Capitalism: American Style" by financial affairs reporter Owen Ullman in the July-August 1999 issue of The International Economy magazine. He portrayed rich "rewards" for fortunate insiders, including a $9.5 million income for Jim Johnson in 1998. In that article, former Treasury official Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute saw Fannie and Freddie posing a "prescription for financial disaster," similar to the savings-and-loan debacle a decade earlier. Wallison on Monday said, "Allowing the continued operation of the companies as private, shareholder-owned institutions, while the taxpayers are ultimately responsible for their losses, recapitulates our experience with the savings and loans less than 20 years ago." Will Paulson follow Wallison's advice and put the mortgage companies in federal receivership at the expense of shareholders? Wall Street tycoon Hank Paulson was the secretary of the treasury that Bush long had sought and finally found on his third try. Now, grumbling has begun insid[...]

Oil Paranoia

Mon, 14 Jul 2008 00:20:00 -0600

After consulting a wide variety of experts on both energy and markets, I could find nobody who sees speculation as a major contributor to the oil spike. The problem is massive global demand overpowering a finite supply, aggravated by uncertainty about oil supplies in the Middle East, Nigeria and Venezuela. But the image of evil men on Wall Street manipulating oil prices fits, to borrow the trenchant phrase of the late historian Richard Hofstadter, "the paranoid style" in dealing with the current crisis. In a fortuitous coincidence, Hofstadter's 1965 book, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," was reissued as a paperback last month. He described the paranoid politician viewing his adversary as "sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, and luxury-loving." As a liberal, Hofstadter was writing about Barry Goldwater's 1964 takeover of the Republican Party but acknowledged that the syndrome "is not necessarily right-wing." A current embodiment can be found in Rep. Bart Stupak, a former Michigan state trooper, in his 16th year of representing his state's Upper Peninsula. A centrist Democrat, he is what Speaker Sam Rayburn once referred to as a "workhorse" rather than a "showhorse." As chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, he has made "excessive speculation in the energy markets" his signature issue the last three years. Stupak has introduced bills tilting at the speculative windmill with all manner of tight federal regulation over commodities markets. Testifying before the House Agriculture Committee last Wednesday about this need, he rejected supply and demand as pushing up oil prices. The star witness before Stupak's committee two weeks earlier was Michael W. Masters, a hedge fund operator headquartered in Christiansted, Virgin Islands. Hardly anybody had heard of him before he appeared before Congress beginning May 20 to sing songs Democrats wanted to hear. He told Stupak's subcommittee's June 23 hearing that federal regulation would drop the price of oil from $65 to $70 a barrel in a month -- a claim viewed as preposterous by economists I consulted. While Masters swore his firm does not deal in oil futures, BusinessWeek reported June 27 that he "has a keen financial interest in lower oil prices" because of his portfolio's heavy stakes in airlines and autos. The dominant figure of Stupak's hearing, however, was his mentor and model in paranoid politics: the full Energy and Commerce chairman, Rep. John Dingell, senior member of Congress in his 27th term from the Detroit area. Just shy of his 82nd birthday, he showed he had lost none of the legendary use of sarcasm and invective in questioning Republican government officials. Dingell told his cross-examination target, Walter Lukken, a former Republican Senate aide who is acting chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), that he was "twiddling your thumbs" in not regulating "those good-hearted folks up there in New York who are running this wonderful, speculated enterprise." He concluded: "Now we find that these good-hearted folks in the futures market have figured how ... to screw the farmers and the consumers in the city ... on a whole new product: oil." Why did Lukken, who surely knows better, not rebut that? For the reason that the kid kicked around in the schoolyard by a bully does not hit back: for fear of inviting more abuse. But Harry Reid has not yet achieved Democratic agreement on a bill, and Bart Stupak's legislative panacea for cutting oil prices by $30 a barrel remains stalled in committee. The paranoid style is hard to turn into action.[...]

Democrats Wave Goodbye to Lieberman

Sat, 12 Jul 2008 00:30:00 -0600

Obama Outside Old Democratic hands believe Sen. Barack Obama's decision to deliver his presidential nomination acceptance speech at the 75,000-seat Denver Broncos football stadium Aug. 28 ignores a lesson from 48 years ago. The last presidential nominee to deliver an outdoor acceptance speech was John F. Kennedy in 1960 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That diminished the impact of one of his best campaign speeches, in which he unveiled the "New Frontier." The then-100,000-seat Coliseum was only half filled, and the sound was imperfect. Technical advances in sound projection have been made in the last half-century, and Obama has been particularly effective in large outdoor venues. Nevertheless, Democratic pros feel the safer course for Obama would have been to give the speech in the 19,000-seat Pepsi Center, where the convention is being held. Saving McCain The nine Republican senators who switched positions Wednesday to pass the Medicare bill were taking their presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, off the hook to avoid the wrath of senior citizens and doctors. McCain, who was on the campaign trail, was absent June 26 when the Senate fell one vote short of the 60 needed to pass a bill stopping a cut in Medicare payments to physicians. With his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, present when the bill came up again Wednesday, Republicans feared that McCain would be blamed for blocking the measure. The absent McCain was still opposed, but the nine Republicans switchers made his position moot. Three of the GOP converts are up for re-election this year and were under heavy pressure from the American Medical Association. McCain Without Murphy The possible return of political consultant Mike Murphy to help Sen. John McCain's campaign is definitely off, with the Republican presidential candidate's aides putting out word that Murphy will not be back. He has signed with NBC as a campaign commentator. McCain was interested in returning Murphy, a key strategist in his 2000 presidential campaign. But it was determined that Murphy would cause too much friction within McCain's staff. Murphy was not involved in the battle for this year's Republican presidential campaign. He had been close to both McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and did not want to choose between them. Barney's Retreat The House Republican minority scored a rare victory over the usually masterful Rep. Barney Frank, when he pulled from the House floor Wednesday a bill to protect as a "scenic wilderness" site the Taunton River at urban Fall River, Mass., in his district. Such measures are routinely approved when sponsored by a powerful committee chairman such as Frank. However, Republicans launched a campaign contending that the bill was intended to block a liquefied natural gas terminal opposed by Frank. A surprised Frank indicated he was not prepared for a floor fight. "It'll come back," Frank was quoted by Congress Daily. Congressional sources later said Frank might try again this coming week, with a possibility that the LNP terminal would be carved out and not included in the protected scenic area. Football and Politics Robert Wood Johnson IV, chairman and CEO of the New York Jets football team, this week will be named national finance chairman of the host committee for the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Head of a personal investment company based in New York City, Johnson has been a fundraiser for Sen. John McCain. He ran one McCain event in Manhattan that yielded $7 million. He has f[...]

Clintonites at Arm's Length

Thu, 10 Jul 2008 00:35:00 -0600

The Clintonites do not feel alienated, as supporters of Edward M. Kennedy did in 1980, when they never resigned themselves to Jimmy Carter's renomination. None of these loyal Democrats talked about sitting out the 2008 presidential election against John McCain or locking up their bank accounts. Since a donation does not indicate the benefactor's degree of enthusiasm, what difference does it make? Only that it signals a lack of confidence by important Democrats for a candidate whose charisma is supposed to cancel out his inexperience.

Only one person of the Mayflower group whom I contacted (the one least critical of Obama) was willing to let his name be used. Gus is a multimillionaire trial lawyer whose name would be widely recognized as a Democratic money man. He is no "Friend of Bill" who automatically signed on with the former president's wife. With his support sought by several presidential candidates, Gus at one point considered backing Obama but ended up with Clinton because she seemed the best-qualified, most electable Democrat. Contrary to the media consensus, Gus found the Clinton campaign one of the best managed in his wide experience.

Just what Gus and his friends were seeking in the encounter is unclear, but they left dissatisfied. As has been reported, Obama said he and his wife Michelle each were writing the maximum $2,300 check to help erase Clinton's massive campaign debt. Obama added he would ask his supporters to do the same.

But, in the opinion of the Clintonites, he did not open the door to his campaign because he asked nothing of them. Big-money Democrats who would have expected to be named a U.S. ambassador by President Hillary Clinton realized they would get nothing from President Obama. The train had left the station, and they were not aboard.

Terry McAuliffe, long the Clintons' faithful political servitor and Hillary's presidential campaign chairman, played the cheerleader after the meeting. "This is unity!" he declared to reporters assembled in the Mayflower's long lobby. Vernon Jordan, another longtime Clintonite, was similarly upbeat.

But the tone of what really happened inside the locked ballroom was quite different once Obama and Hillary Clinton had their cordial say and the floor was open for questions. The first "questioner," an angry woman from New York, demanded a roll call of presidential preference at the Denver convention. Next came another distraught woman, declaring that Clinton's candidacy was the victim of "misogyny." One participant told me, "This is as tough a crowd as Obama is going to face the whole campaign."

It was so tough that Lanny Davis, the one participant to whom I talked who permitted his name to be used, tried to change the mood. Davis, who had been a Clinton White House aide and remains a fervent supporter of both Clintons, rose to say the presidential contest had been painful in dividing Democratic families -- alienating him from his Obama-supporting son, Seth Davis, the prominent college basketball reporter. Now, he said, they are together again.

But Davis admitted to me there is "a lot that needs to be done" for all wounds to be healed. "It's going to take a long time," Lawyer Gus said of achieving unity. The minds of the Clintonites are with Obama, but not their hearts. That helps explain why the presidential race appears close in what otherwise shapes up as a horrible year for Republicans, and that is why the nominee's "underwhelming" performance at the Mayflower is important.