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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Tom Bevan

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Tom Bevan

Last Build Date: Mon, 08 Dec 2008 00:22:33 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

A Coming Shift on Cuba

Mon, 08 Dec 2008 00:22:33 -0600

The following May, Obama gave a speech in Little Havana saying that his policy toward Cuba would be "guided by one word: libertad." In the speech Obama again advocated easing restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba.

Obama lost the meaningless Florida primary to Clinton in January by 17 points, which included a 33-point thumping among the state's Hispanics.

But Obama won the Sunshine State 51-49 over McCain in November, including a majority of the Hispanic vote. Obama lost the Cuban vote to McCain by thirty points, 65-35, though there was a stark discrepancy among age group. The oldest demographic of Cuban-Americans (aged 65+) voted overwhelmingly for McCain, 84-16, but those Cuban-Americans under 30 backed Obama by a 55-45 margin.

As a result, the Associated Press declares that Obama will be the first president in 50 years to have "a relatively free hand" in forging a shift in America's policy toward Cuba:

Cuban-Americans have had a mixed reaction to Obama's campaign promises -- most voted against him, but Obama carried Florida and didn't even need the state's votes to win the presidency, confounding the notion that the support of anti-Castro Cuban exiles is essential in presidential elections.

"Obama already has a much freer hand than Bush did," said Daniel Erickson of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C. think tank. "He does not owe any of his political success to Cuban-Americans in South Florida."

Obama is therefore free to chart a new course. He can reverse some policies of President George W. Bush with a pen stroke, and while undoing the embargo would take a majority in Congress, that's easier than ever with Democrats holding sizable majorities.

No doubt leading the charge in Congress will be one of President-elect Obama's former rivals, Senator Chris Dodd, who's been pushing for taking a softer line against Cuba for years.

Should McCain Even Want to Win?

Fri, 31 Oct 2008 09:30:23 -0600

Start with the aftermath of the election. Roughly 40% of the country (aka Democrats) will be absolutely despondent if Barack Obama loses. There will be ugly cries of racism and - if the election is close, particularly in battleground states where Electoral College votes could have switched the outcome - legal challenges and a collective waving of the bloody shirt will again tear at the social fabric of America.

So unless McCain scored a clear cut victory, he would take the oath of office presiding over a deeply divided country, and one in which parts of the electorate will be nursing psychological wounds and harboring resentments.

Barring some miracle turn around by Republicans at the Congressional level, McCain would be facing sizable Democratic majorities in Congress that would be resistant to his agenda and eager to undercut him at every possible opportunity.

There's also the problem with conservatives. Despite the fact they've rallied to McCain's campaign after his pick of Sarah Palin, they still have fundamental doubts and disagreements with him. It's not hard to see how conservatives could become disillusioned with McCain rather quickly, depending on the agenda he sets and how he proceeds, leaving him in a weakened political position.

McCain will find no comfort from his other "base" (i.e. the mainstream media) either, which has generally favored Obama throughout the contest and with which the McCain campaign has more or less gone to war against in the latter stages of the campaign. President McCain could not expect, nor would he probably receive, any honeymoon or glowing coverage from the press.

Put these things together and it forms a bit of a perfect storm for McCain. In such an environment, what legislation could a McCain administration expect to move through a Democratically-controlled Congress? His options would seem exceedingly limited.

Only two things come to mind where McCain would appear to have the upper hand over Congress on issues that would satisfy Republicans: earmark reform and an "all of the above" energy plan.

Beyond that, however, McCain would be faced with trying to move legislation that would be a difficult sell to a Democratic Congress (i.e. tax cuts) or bills that would potentially alienate conservatives (i.e. comprehensive immigration reform).

Overseeing two wars as Commander in Chief would be among McCain's greatest charges as President, though in many respects his ability to act would be constrained by conditions on the ground.

Similarly, the other area where President McCain could have a significant lasting impact outside of the legislative efforts of his administration - the appointment of justices to the Supreme Court - would also be beyond his control, and should such an opportunity arise it will once again be tempered by a strong Democratic majority in the Senate.

Despite his track record of bipartisanship - or perhaps because of it - President McCain would find himself trying to deal with immense challenges while walking a narrow political tightrope. It's therefore quite possible that McCain's first term as president could be difficult, contentious, and potentially very ineffective.

A surprise win by McCain on Tuesday may make for a miserable first term for him as president, but for those who prefer divided government it may be far better than the alternative: President Obama with a gung ho Democratic majority in Congress.

What McCain Must Do Tonight

Wed, 15 Oct 2008 13:30:27 -0600

Tonight's debate offers McCain his last chance to break through the hazy clutter of the campaign and speak directly to large number of Americans who will be heading to the polls on Election Day. Here are three things McCain must do to walk away from tonight's debate a winner:

1) Be genial but aggressive. The Obama campaign has been effective at portraying McCain as angry and erratic - often with help from McCain himself. McCain has to be on the offensive at all times tonight, but he has to do so with a demeanor that won't turn voters off. According to recent polls, McCain is already seen as the "more negative" of the two candidates, so his task is to present himself as the "Happy Warrior" while hitting Obama with solid shots on his record.

2) Draw stark contrasts. McCain has failed thus far to draw the kind of ideological contrasts that typically resonate with voters. With the financial crisis dominating so much of the discussion, McCain has less freedom to make the traditional liberal vs. conservative critique on other issues like abortion or gun rights without appearing to go off topic. But Obama handed McCain a golden opportunity this week by being caught on tape telling a plumber in Ohio that his economic plan seeks to "spread the wealth around." That phrase that neatly captures for McCain the attack that Obama is a liberal income redistributionist who wants to take from the haves and give to the have nots.

3) Make his case. McCain needs to do more than pepper his responses with reasons people should vote against Obama. He needs to offer people - specifically those in the large swath of Middle America - reasons to vote for him. Voters see McCain as vastly more experienced than Obama, and more qualified to handle issue of national security. But Obama has surpassed McCain on the crucial question of who voters trust to deal with the economy and who voters think understands their needs and problems. McCain is the one who needs to answer voters' doubts tonight that he is up to the job of looking after their economic interests as well.

Presidential races are all about momentum. Obama has it. To win, McCain needs to get it back. With three weeks to go, tonight's debate is the only event left on the schedule that is under McCain's control. If he fails to capitalize on the opportunity, McCain will have to spend the next twenty-one days hoping for an outside event or an Obama stumble to avoid defeat on November 4.

The First and Last Word On Lipstick

Thu, 11 Sep 2008 15:30:47 -0600

Obama probably thought it was a clever play on words to take Palin's signature line and turn it on its head. Irrespective of what he might have been trying to do, however, the words he said are the words he said.

Did the McCain camp go over the top with its cries of indignant outrage? Sure. To say Obama "smeared" Palin is an obvious stretch. But that is what campaigns do - and Obama is the one who gave them the opportunity to do it. If nothing else, the episode was a stark reminder that for all his intelligence, eloquence, and self assuredness, Obama is still a rookie. It was a stupid mistake.

Aside from that, I'm a bit slack jawed by the response from Obama supporters in the media and elsewhere who've vented their own righteous indignation at the McCain campaign. How DARE McCain's team try and make this an issue? It's the GOP practicing its dastardly Rovian politics of division and diversion. And on and on.

Imagine for a moment if John McCain had used a similar shopworn phrase in reference to Barack Obama's policies. Suppose he said, "Obama says he's going to cut your taxes but he's really going to raise them. My friends, it's time for some straight talk about taxes, it's time to call a spade a spade."

Do you think for a second the Joe Kleins, Andrew Sullivans, and Josh Marshalls of the world wouldn't scream from the rooftops that McCain had used a racial slur against Obama? Of course they would - and they'd scoff at the notion that McCain was somehow unaware of how that phrase would be interpreted. Anyone who tried to argue that McCain was simply using a well known phrase that predated the current presidential race would be tagged as an apologist for racism. Even if McCain hadn't meant it that way, it wouldn't matter.

And you can bet if McCain made that sort of mistake he would immediately turn around and apologize publicly for using a phrase that could in any way have been construed as racist. Further, it's inconceivable that McCain would begin a speech the following day, as Obama did, by not only failing to issue an apology but instead blaming his opponent for ginning up a phony controversy.

So count me among those who are underwhelmed by the entire episode. Obama played cute and got caught. The McCain campaign did what any campaign would do - and probably a lot less than the Obama camp would have done if the shoe were on the other foot.

It's Not Going to Be About the Issues

Tue, 09 Sep 2008 07:30:09 -0600

Barack Obama presents himself as a Washington outsider and post-partisan, post-racial unifier who offers to change politics and the culture of government as we know it.

John McCain presents himself as an experienced public servant who has consistently put country above all else, and with his choice of Sarah Palin for Vice-President McCain has pivoted to his credentials as a fighter and a political maverick who will bring his own brand of change to Washington.

While issues do matter, at its most fundamental level the race is a battle between the narratives of these two men and which campaign can do a more effective job of framing the choice in November as a referendum.

The Obama campaign wants to cast November 4th as a referendum on the last eight years under George W. Bush. Eighty percent of Americans feel the country is on the wrong track and McCain offers "more of the same," they argue.

The McCain campaign, on the other hand, wants November 4th to be a referendum on Barack Obama. He's a political celebrity with little experience, few accomplishments, questionable associations and no record of leadership, they say.

Whichever of these frames proves more powerful with the public will win the election. Two months from Election Day, McCain's narrative appears to be the stronger of the two and is resonating more with the public - at least for the moment.

Consider the following data from the most recent USA Today/Gallup survey taken after the conclusion of the Republican National Convention. President Bush's approval rating in the poll stands at a dismal 33%, and 63% of those surveyed are concerned that John McCain would "pursue policies too similar to those of the current president." That is clear cut evidence the public recognizes and is receptive to the central premise of Obama's framing of the choice in November.

Yet the same poll shows that in the last two weeks McCain almost completely erased a 19-point deficit to Obama on the question of who would do a better job handling the economy. These gains come despite the fact - as the Obama camp was quick to point out - McCain spent little to no time during that period talking about specific economic issues other than to point out a few broad contrasts (McCain says he will lower taxes while Obama will raise them, McCain will drill in pursuit of energy independence while Obama refuses).

As we head into the final 60 days of the campaign, the next crucial phase of the race will be the debates. These well scripted pieces of political theater are also ostensibly "about the issues" - even though they really aren't. Instead, they're about performances and aesthetics, and are almost always defined by a signature moment or sound byte: the sigh and the roll of the eye, the glance at a watch, the pithy joke, or the killer retort ("there you go again!").

So while the candidates will sit down to discuss a broad range of issues, rest assured the post-debate discussion will focus on everything but policy differences. Who "won" and who "lost?" Which candidate looked "more presidential?" Who got off the best line of the night? Who committed the biggest "gaffe?"

All of this will be processed by the public into - to use Rick Davis' words - "a composite view" of Obama and McCain, which is another way of saying that the public will take what they see, hear, and feel and reconcile it with the professed narrative of each candidate.

Every four years the political intelligentsia laments the fact that the presidential race inevitably boils down to "who you'd rather have a beer with." Guess what? The public is bellying up to the bar to take the measure of these two candidates over the next eight weeks.

Palin's Challenge Tonight

Wed, 03 Sep 2008 14:55:19 -0600

The McCain campaign has pushed back hard against criticisms of Palin and what they consider to be unfair scrutiny she's been receiving by the press. Tonight, however, Palin has the chance to bypass the press and to answer those questions directly and potentially win over those who are anxious or unsure whether she belongs a heartbeat away from the presidency.

To do this, Palin needs to do the following tonight:

- First and foremost, she must deliver a performance that conveys more strength, seriousness and gravitas than her initial speech in Dayton on Friday.

- Drive home her executive experience as Governor of a state with 24,000 employees and a $10 billion annual budget.

- Play up her credentials as a reformer who took on corruption and special interests in Alaska.

Palin should also point out that she rose to the top elected office by sheer determination and skill, beating an incumbent Republican and a popular Democrat - both men - along the way.

She has to do all this while still offering up the softer side that makes her such a fresh and compelling figure: the hockey mom who is raising five kids, leading the PTA and shooting moose and running marathons on her spare time.

Governor Palin is already a favorite of conservatives, so she should not waste time trying to prove her bona fides. Rather, this speech should speak to moderate and undecided voters - especially women - all around the country who will be tuning in tonight to meet her for the first time.

They will want to know who she is, where she comes from, what she believes, and what experience and value she will bring to the ticket to help John McCain deliver on his vision for America.

If she can answer these questions with a speech that demonstrates she is a serious person with serious qualifications yet also reveals a personal side that connects emotionally with the public, Palin could be a huge benefit to McCain.

With his pick of Sarah Palin, John McCain did indeed get a game changer. After tonight, we'll be a lot closer to knowing whether she changes the game positively or negatively for McCain.

Interview with Governor Phil Bredesen

Thu, 03 Jul 2008 14:30:43 -0600

Most of the great presidents have grown in many ways from what they brought to the door of the office. I think that office is almost unique in its demand for people to set things behind them and to continue to grow. And I think he's someone, from what I can tell, who has the personality and has the intellect to do that. So I don't know enough to label him. And I would hate to do so because I think what the presidency needs is an agile, intelligent mind, looking at some of these problems from a basis of deep patriotism not of some particular solidly constructed view of the world. RCP: Right, but, he has tacked to the middle. He has changed position on public financing, on FISA he said he would filibuster a bill and now he's saying he's perfectly with the compromise on immunity for telecommunication companies. Does that damage his brand as a transformational figure of new politics? BREDESEN: I think that's just one where it's a - when you start changing your mind you enter a gray area. You certainly get to do it once or twice. If you do it forty times it shows some lack of (inaudible) RCP: But is it especially dangerous for him given that he is so new to the country, that the country doesn't necessarily know him? BREDESEN: I think he certainly has to be careful about that. But I would far rather see someone who adjusts, rather than simply persists forward in some point of view which he may not hold for the sake of a false consistency. I guess what I would say is: I'm aware he's changed his position on some issues. So has John McCain. It certainly has not risen to the level, with me, of any questions about whether he shifts with the way the wind is blowing as opposed to having deep-seated views. I think he's a very intelligent man who probably will change his views on some issues as time goes on. RCP: You said before, and you said again at the press conference, you made a bit of news by saying he wasn't going to be competitive in Tennessee, or it didn't look that way. Is that still your read on the situation? BREDESEN: Yeah. I don't think that's any news, every time I see a list of Southern states - there was one in the New York Times this morning - that are in play, Tennessee is not on the list. I think I'm just reflecting what other people have recognized. I think today, it's not competitive. I think it could be. Bill Clinton won Tennessee twice. One of the reasons I'm here [at the DLC] is that Tennessee is a bellwether state. There's no question about it. We have missed the presidency once since the 1920's, and that was in 1960 - a long time ago. So while I think sometimes people see it as a regional outlier of some sort, I think in fact it's not. It's right in the middle. Nobody's gotten in perfect. And if he's not competitive today in Tennessee, that to me is a sign of saying well, look, things change and you may well - I believe he's going to win and he may be able well win without Tennessee - but I think he'd be much more likely to carry the Ohios and Missouris and Virginias and North Carolinas, and those states conceivably are in play, if he's got something to say to mainstream Tennesseans. Certainly in any conversation I've ever had with him I've urged that notion on, that when you move beyond on the primary you're talking to a different group of people. Yeah, you have to turn out the vote of the true believers, but I don't think you can win the presidency - or a governorship - without talking to that 20% in the middle who sometimes vote one way and sometimes vote another. And I think he has the great ability to do that. When I came to Tennessee and first ran for office I was from the north, and I was a big city mayor - no big city mayor had ever been elected governor of Tennessee before - there's a little chasm you gotta cross. They're kind of looking across a little chasm at you as somebody from maybe a different world. But peo[...]