Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Minnesota Vampyre candidate arrested.

A vampire seeking to become Minnesota's next governor was arrested recently in Indiana. Jonathon Sharkey, arrested on outstanding warrants for jailbreak and stalking—two activities which might not win over voters, necessarily, but which certainly do establish his vampire credentials, if that's what he's going for.

Since Minnesota gubernatorial candidates don't actually file until July, there's a chance that Sharkey will be able to get all this sorted out before the campaign starts.

Sharkey also has pro-wrestling credentials to boost his profile, which is known to be a bonus in Minnesota politics.

Sharkey is looking to unseat Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is a Republican seeking reëlection. If elected, Sharkey would be the first vampire governor in Minnesota history.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Trent Lott loses interest in tort reform.

Remember how tort reform was a cause célèbre among Republicans? And remember how Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) was a big proponent of it? Well, you can forget about that. Apparently, Senator Lott has changed his mind on tort reform.

What has caused Senator Lott to flip-flop on this core Republican issue? Like it did so many other things, Hurricane Katrina apparently turned Lott's position upside-down. According to the January 30 issue of The New Republic, Lott has hired his brother-in-law, the trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, to sue the State Farm insurance company for refusing to cover his home in Pascagoula, which Katrina destroyed. Lott complains, "How can insurance companies say we didn't have any wind damage from this storm?" Good question. Really. And while I wouldn't say that Senator Lott's suit is frivolous, well, um... it's just a darn good thing for him that that tort reform didn't happen before Katrina, isn't it?

Democrats and Republicans are both adept at ignoring facts, says report.

Here's an interesting piece on viceral reactions to political candidates. I've always felt that it was Republicans (well, conservatives, anyway,) who were more disposed to making irrational, emotional decisions when voting, but this article says we're all guilty. I detect no bias in that article, though I think this most recent presidential election was full of more irrationally emotional Republicans than irrationally emotional Democrats. This sort of thing isn't the rule during any given election cycle, but it sure was lopsided in 2004. And 2002. It makes sense that people will react this way. I've read studies on the way people identify with commercial brands, and they'll unreasonably light up when they see, say, the Coca-Cola logo, if they happen to have fond associations with the Coke brand. Never mind the fact that Pepsi consistently beats Coke in blind taste tests; many people stay loyal to Coke, and their brain waves prove it.

Small wonder that political campaigns in the United States make such use of the basic strategies of marketing soft drinks and fabric softeners. The United States is probably the greatest marketer in the world; we're the kind of society that puts a value on the ability to sell anything to anyone. Political campaigns aren't always this way, but the last two presidential campaigns certainly have been. I fault the Atwater/Rove school of thought for this: peddle your candidate as someone warm and loveable, touching the emotions of your target market, and they'll forget about issues, which is what political campaigns are, in theory, supposed to be about. That's how Bush almost won the 2000 election, and it's how Bush won the media dogfight that followed that election, and it's how he won the 2004 election. Kerry wasn't such a good candidate when it came to marketing. Had the 2004 election been run on issues and not on image, it would have been very different, and Kerry would have been a cinch to win.

I don't mean to suggest that Democrats, during 2004 or during other cycles, haven't resorted to this viceral Madison Avenue-style campaigning. Sure, the Kerry campaign did it, too. I don't suspect that candidate Kerry would have resorted to such tactics if the Bush administration hadn't been using them continuously from 1999 to, well, the present, but the fact is that no matter whom the Democrats would have nominated would have had to fight Bush's kind of fight, like it or not. The 2004 election was a referendum on the incumbent's campaign's marketing style; no matter what you think of Bush's politics, you have to agree that his campaign's marketing style is sheer genius.

Bill Clinton was a great marketer, too—either that or he had great marketers working for him. Either way, he sold himself to America without a whole lot in the way of policy proposals. Sure, there was some policy debate during his elections—there always is—but I wouldn't say that was the upshot of what got him into office. Just because the way Bush did it was worse, however, doesn't mean it was okay for Clinton to have done it.

Idea-driven campaigns seldom do that well. George McGovern's 1972 campaign was based on social issues, for the most part, which was a bad enough miscalculation, but he really messed up by ignoring the bread-and-butter issues that have worked so well for liberals in the past. Result? A disastrous loss, followed by exactly zero liberal presidents afterward. Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign was a disaster that focused intensely on ideology, but just didn't play well on TV. He, too, had a disastrous loss, but gave rise to the neo-conservative school of thought that was followed by such conservative luminaries as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Tom DeLay. It was an ideological jackpot that didn't pay off until well after his crushing loss where he carried only his home state plus five Southern states that were mad at the Democratic Party for having pushed through the Civil Rights Act.

My ideologies are above political parties, on one hand, but considering that political parties aren't above my ideologies, I find myself sticking with the Democrats, more and more, not having voted for a Republican since 1994 and not having been willing even to consider it since 2000. But I'm not beyond a candidate's viceral appeal, I'll admit. Consider John Kerry, whose voting record was out of step with my ideology, but who had some things going for him that I don't consider important in a candidate, but appealed to me nonetheless, because they're also true of me:

·Blue eyes
·Slavic ancestry
·Once played in a rock band (well, I never did, but I always sort of wanted to)
·Fluent in French
·Raised Catholic, but seems less than enthusiastic about it these days
·Connection to the Pittsburgh area
·Gorgeous Latin woman at his side
·Cool hair (well, this isn't true of me anymore, and is getting less and less true of me all the time!)

None of the above are the kinds items you should consider when you're choosing which candidate to vote for (unless you're voting in France, where the fluency in French is worth considering.) However, they did appeal to me. I would have voted for whomever the Democrats put up, though, and looked past viceral appeal right to what they stood for. I first backed Howard Dean and then leaned toward Bob Graham, though I do remember being content with John Kerry and feeling that John Edwards was an asset to Kerry's ticket (and have since eaten those words.)

I won't say that all of Bush's supporters did so on a viceral level, but I will say that the thrust of his campaign was to sell a personality more than policies. I don't know what would have happened if Kerry had tried to emphasize policy more than personality; as it was, Kerry was well out of his league. I accept that a good chunk of voters finds Bush personable, for whatever reason. I accept it because it's a verifiable fact (at least, it was at election time,) but it's always been true that people like Bush make my flesh crawl. I find him pandering, cynical and mean, and I always have. Despite that, I maintain that I would have voted for him if he had run on any decent policy proposals, but reckless tax giveaways, Christian favoritism, isolationism (2000) and international bullyism (2004) just don't sit well with me. If you put those ideas in a candidate who has viceral appeal to me, I'd like to think I'd still vote against that person, but I have to say I wouldn't enjoy it as much as my not voting for Bush.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jack Abramoff: Sometimes the good guys wear black hats

I’m getting a little tired of all the attacks I’ve been hearing on Jack Abramoff. He’s really a good guy, a generous person, and a victim of what? Success, that’s what. We keep hearing about how he bought congressmen out and sold Indians down the river, but for those of you who don’t understand the way America works: we’re a capitalist society, and we all have the right to acquire whatever the market will bear.

All Jack did was a little influence peddling. So what? That’s the way things have been done in Washington. The Democrats do it, too, so that must mean it’s okay. Sure, the Democrats haven’t done it as much as the Republicans, not even remotely, but now that we’re caught, those bastards have to go down, too.

It’s like this: suppose you were starving, and you stole a loaf of bread. Would it be right to send you to jail for that? Of course not. Now suppose you were starving and you coaxed a lot of money away from some Indian tribes and bought a skybox that you set up for the congressmen that you bought to use. Would it be right to send you to jail for that? Obviously not. Which begs the question: why is the liberal media able to get away with this?

Tom DeLay’s K Street Project was an innocent enough venture. Mr. DeLay just wanted to move his causes around a little. The fact that it was designed to dry up all the money and influence on the part of any party but his own is irrelevant, because the Democrats did that, too. Or they would have. If they’d thought of it first. I bet. So they’re just as guilty. Look in your hearts, America. You know it’s true.

What really hurts me about what they’re doing to Tom DeLay and his friends is what a success story Tom is. He went from the lowest form of life there is—a vermin-killing exterminator—to a great statesman working tirelessly on behalf of vermin everywhere. What a redemption! Tragically, Tom’s and Jack’s and many others’ greatest talents and attributes have been turned against them, in an ironic use of Karl Rove’s grand tactic of attacking one’s strengths instead of their weaknesses. All that talent, wasted and ruined by partisan interests, and why can they get away with it? Just because using that talent is illegal. And that, my friends, is the real crime around here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Candidates for the next national Democratic pageant

Last week I gave a rundown of the possible Republican presidential candidates for 2008, as well as the unlikely ones whose names are getting tossed around anyway. Some of the candidates on this list I see zero chance of their running, much less getting the nomination, but if I leave them off I’ll inevitably get someone saying something like, “How come Hubert Blint isn’t on that list? He’s definitely gonna run!” so I’ll list ‘em all—though I’m sure I won’t manage to list all of the ridiculously unlikely candidates. That’s your job!

I do feel the Democrats have a better bench than the Republicans do, and with Bush’s ratings in the toilet and with Cheney not being their unstoppable juggernaut of a standard bearer for 2008, things only look better for them. The Democrats have had better benches in the past, though. Like 1968, for example. And 1992. Regardless, they’ll have an easier time of it than the Republicans will.

Sen. John Kerry (MA)—I think he’s interested in running again, and while he’s doing well in certain polls, he’ll certainly slip back once the race really gets underway. Kerry had his shot, and he did well, but not well enough. The American people have given a candidate a second chance before, but I don’t think they’ll do it for Senator Kerry. I just hope he realizes this before the primaries start.

Gov. Howard Dean (VT)—When he took the DNC chief job, Dean promised that he wouldn’t seek the presidency in 2008. While Dean probably does want the presidency, I can’t see him running, simply because he’d infuriate too many people he’s made promises to. There’d be too much bad will for him to make a successful run, and anyway, the Democratic Party is happy enough to have him where he is.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY)—Everybody’s talking about Senator Clinton, who’s been taking great pains never to set foot in either Iowa or New Hampshire, lest she draw unwanted attention. Of course it’s a given that she’ll win reëlection to the Senate this year, and a lot of people expect her to kick her presidential campaign in gear after that. Me, I expect her to, too—but I don’t expect her to get the nomination. East of the Appalachians, south of Fairfax County and west of the Sierra Nevadas, there’s a frothing, irrational hatred of all things Clinton, which won’t let her survive Super Tuesday.

Rev. Al Sharpton (NY)—This blowhard got the national recognition he wanted in 2004. I don’t see him running again. If he does, he’ll do just as well as before, if not worse.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT)—Connecticut is only a few hours away from New Hampshire by car, but Mr. Lieberman hasn’t bothered to drive up there for a while. Connect the dots.

Sen. Chris Dodd (CT)—Senator Dodd was a tertiary contender in 2004. Occasionally you hear his name mentioned, but you diehard Doddheads had better not get your hopes up. He’s an asset in the Senate, anyway.

Sen. Bill Bradley (NJ)—Remember the dreams of 2000? I voted for this guy in the New Jersey primary that year, months after he’d dropped out. Now he seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. Senator Bradley is a very private person, so I don’t know why he wanted to run for president, but I would have liked to have seen him win. If Bradley reënters the public eye, it won’t be as a presidential candidate.

Gov. Ed Rendell (PA)—You hear his name come up more as a vice presidential candidate, though frankly, I don’t even see that. Rendell is popular enough to win another term as governor this year, but to make it to the White House? I don’t think so, not even as vice president. However, Rendell is an expert fund raiser, so who knows? That’s the qualification that got Joe Lieberman on the ballot in 2000.

Sen. Joe Biden (DE)—Biden was the first candidate to officially announce that he’s running in 2008. Biden fell apart during the 1984 campaign, and I just don’t see him pulling it off. He’ll have particular trouble squaring his vote for Bush’s Iraq War with the criticism he made of that war later, I suspect. (On the other hand, there are plenty of one-time war supporters on both sides of the aisle who are now criticizing it, but that’s a tenable position only if you’re a Republican. The attitudes on the part of Democrats is more likely to be, “You finally came around, Joe. What took you so long?”)

Gov. Mark Warner (VA)—Warner won the Virginia gubernatorial race in 2001, working from his base in Richmond, where he was mayor, and the natural Democratic base in northern Virginia. He appealed to western Virginia, making inroads into Appalachia, which Democrats haven’t managed to do for some time. Warner also helped his lieutenant governor, Tim Kaine, win the state over last year, by being a very visible asset to the Kaine campaign. Warner is a moderate, a good speaker, and a proven fundraiser—well positioned to make a run, and there’s been a lot of talk about him doing so. A Virginia Democrat would be poaching on Republican turf—Dixie—making for an uphill battle for the Republican nominee. Warner could well have what it takes. My hunch is that he’s the Democrats’ frontrunner right now.

Sen. John Edwards (NC)—I get the feeling that he’s going to have another go at the presidency, but I really wish he’d return to the Senate. With his name recognition and national prominence, he’d do better there this time. Regardless, it looks like he’s gearing up to run again. He’s got definite crossover appeal, too, though I personally find him a tad too conservative. His recanting his 2002 vote for the war, calling it a mistake, is a refreshing position, and that makes me a bit warmer to him. Considering that by next year there’s a good chance that many of the one-time war supporters will be regretting their former support, this could help him out, especially among the more conservative Democrats. Edwards’ position is quite different from that of Joe Biden, who doesn’t seem interested in admitting that he made a mistake. I’m not sure if Biden could successfully sell the notion that his war vote was a mistake and that he regrets it. I suspect that Edwards could.

Gov. Phil Bredesen (TN)—Bredesen is another guy who’s running for vice president, I think, but we’ll have to see if the voters send him back to Nashville this year first. I suspect they will, but I don’t know if Bredesen has the panache to appeal nationwide. He’s got a decent track record in Tennessee, though, and his regional popularity could land him on some northern nominee’s ticket—or possibly another double-Dixie ticket, like Clinton/Gore. Warner/Bredesen? Edwards/Bredesen? Clark/Bredesen? I could see it. I just don’t see him as a headliner, but I do expect us to hear him musing about running in early 2007.

Vice President Al Gore (TN)—Here’s a progressive wonk who would have been a real macher in the White House, had the Supreme Court simply voted with the will of the people. While these past five years have demonstrated just what a tragedy it is that we never saw a President Gore in the Oval Office, I don’t think he’s interested in running again. I really don’t think enough Democrats would be interested in giving him a second chance, really. That’s moot, though, if he’s not running. Gore has his hands full with his media company, and while his following remains loyal, I don’t even think his fans could coax him into taking a third crack at the presidency.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH)—I don’t think Rep. Kucinich will run again in 2008. If he does, he’ll stay as marginal a candidate as he was in 2004. Kucinich is the kind of liberal that right wingers like to claim that all Democrats are. If the 2004 campaign didn’t make that clear to the right wingers, nothing will. So… nothing will. At any rate, no one’s going to knock Kucinich out of his House seat.

Sen. Evan Bayh (IN)—Son of popular Senator Birch Bayh, also of Indiana, Evan Bayh is attractive and personable and conservative, so he’s got a definite appeal. A presidential run would most likely throw his Senate seat to the Republicans if he gets the nomination, but since his term doesn’t end until 2010, he has nothing to lose. I expect him to run, but I don’t expect him to win the nomination.

Sen. Barack Obama (IL)—I’m only mentioning Senator Obama because so many people do. Obama does seem to have been cut from presidential cloth, but the fact is that he was just elected to the Senate in 2004. That’s awfully early to be quitting your job to run for president (just as John Edwards.) I’m sure Obama is going to season himself in the Senate for a while, and will probably run for president one day, but not so soon. I hope he does run, but running in 2008 would just be too early. I think he knows that, too. I’m sure Senator Obama will spend his time helping out whoever the nominee is, but that’ll be it. Mark my words, though: his time will come.

Sen. Russ Feingold (WI)—Feingold is a good progressive from a swing state. He’s got good ideas on universal health care, reduction of the deficit, curbing military spending, aid for the poor, education spending, protecting the environment and supporting abortion rights. He was opposed to this Iraq War nonsense from the getgo, and he appeals to pretty much every fiber of my being. Conservative America probably isn’t ready to vote for a Jew for president, though; they’re not even ready to vote for a Mormon for president. (Well, 17% of them aren’t, anyway.) Here I mean the social conservatives, mind: the purely fiscal conservative Republicans would be willing to vote for a Jew or a Mormon, I’m sure, no problem. However, with Feingold’s legislative priorities, he’d never win over any conservative Republicans anyway. Feingold is already running for president, and I think he’d make a good one, but sadly, I think he’s too progressive to win over enough American voters. He’ll probably have better luck raising issues during the primaries, but there’s just something about the guy that… well, that a country that saw fit to vote for George W. Bush probably couldn’t embrace. I can’t put my finger on it, but I have my doubts. Still, I’d be very happy to see a President Feingold, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. I do like this guy, though.

Gov. Tom Vilsack (IA)—Governor Vilsack could seek a third term in Des Moines, but he isn’t. It looks like he’s running for president, and he’s got definite geographical appeal. Vilsack is a middle-of-the-roader and more known to political junkies than to the voters. I don’t see him making himself known for any issues, either, but that will inevitably change. Still, I don’t know why Vilsack might be running for president, and he’d better start making his case, and soon. Chances are better for him to wind up as a running mate rather than a running man.

Gen. Wesley Clark (AR)—The General has kept himself well known in the public eye, campaigning for candidates and speaking on TV. Still, I don’t know if he’s really thinking about running again. He’s not letting us forget about him, at any rate. I just asked my Magic 8-Ball™ “Will Wesley Clark run for president in 2008?” and it said, “Can’t say now.” Me, neither. If he’s going to run, he’s going to need to define himself a little better. Military credentials just aren’t enough to win a campaign on. Just ask John Kerry…

Gov. Bill Richardson (NM)—Clinton’s former Energy Secretary would be our first Hispanic president, if elected. And he’s probably running. The man is no-nonsense and speaks his mind. He’s not the most telegenic, to say the least, but if he keeps it up with the straight talk, he could pull it off. I’d be quite glad to see Richardson become president. His name has been floating around for long enough—but he hasn’t been picked over too much—so I’d say he’s one of the strongest Democratic candidates. He’ll have no trouble winning another term as governor this year, and then we’ll see what his intentions are. He’ll at least run, and who knows? He could surprise us in the primaries. Richardson is a serious enough person, which is something that America will probably agree it needs after eight years of George W. Bush. Heck, enough of us already feel that way…

Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA)—Her name comes up as a candidate, but I’m not sure why. I don’t think she’s interested in the job, and I’ve seen nothing coming from her to indicate otherwise. Probably just more conservative reactionaries trying to scare their base into thinking that the Democrats have a serious female candidate in the wings. They don’t, so they need to make up as many as possible. (The Democrats’ best potential female president is, I’d say, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, but she doesn’t seem to be running. I think she’d make a fine chief executive, though. Not that Boxer wouldn’t, but I don’t think she’s doing it.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The new Republican corruption paradigm

Looks like Republican lobbyist Jack “Stoolie” Abramoff is singing. This will, as the article says, open things up for a government investigation into massive corruption.

Now I’ve never been the kind to complain about my Christmas presents. Getting anything at all is something to be grateful for, since you really shouldn’t expect anything in the first place. That’s selfish. However, I’m not sure how much of a gift this is. I mean, Abramoff is well overdue to be investigated. So are Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and many others whose names should be more familiar to us than they already are. That the investigation is beginning is something to be happy about. They need to be brought to justice or let off, in case the appearance of impropriety is indeed nothing more than an appearance of impropriety.

That said, the problem I have is that this is going to be a government investigation into corruption. Considering that the Republicans have most of the control over the government right now, and considering that most of the likely suspects (if not all) are Republicans, well… this is much like letting the fox investigate the henhouse.

I’m hoping something good comes of this, but I know better than to expect too much. It’s pleasant to see Abramoff getting nailed, anyway. I’d much prefer an independent investigation, though you can bet the party in power would work to short circuit that, too. Consider how Bush has been screaming blue murder lately about how someone ratted him out about his wiretapping. He’s not up there working hard to justify his brazen violation of the Fourth Amendment (which would be bad enough) so much as he’s out there attacking the leakers for having sold him out. Since in the Bush administration loyalty trumps ethics, the absolute worst thing that Bush could call anyone is disloyal.

What it comes down to is a paradigm clash: the Democrats are screaming about ethics violations, while the current incarnation of the Republican Party is screaming about loyalty violations. We’re arguing at cross purposes right now. What the Democrats need to do is make the connection: call them on this loyalty and make it clear that such loyalty is unethical. I don’t know if that would bring any traction, but it’s worth a shot. Today’s Republican-style corruption needs to be brought in, and desperately so. Pretending that they’re playing by the rules is dangerously naïve and will prove ultimately harmful to any efforts to bring the guilty to justice and to keep their corruption in check.