Friday, September 29, 2006

Rep. Mark Foley (R-Florida) busted.

U.S. Representative Mark Foley, of Florida's 16th Congressional district, just tendered his resignation from Congress today. A teenaged boy, one of Foley's pages, reported that he'd been asked too many personal questions by Representative Foley for his own comfort. The questions were asked in instant messenger exchanges. Reams of pages of AOL IM exchanges with pages have been turned over to ABC News, and Charles Gibson's goign to be talking about it on the news tonight.

Representative Foley was a Co-Chairman of the House's Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus. Fox in the henhouse.

ABC News is reporting this right now.

Congress votes for torture.

It was no great surprise that the House passed Bush's pro-torture bill, infringing on our habeas corpus rights which have been part of our legal tradition since the year 1215. But the Senate, if anyone, would be the moderating influence, possibly stopping this infernal legislation. Senators John McCain (R-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) made a big deal about how they had concerns and were hoping to work with the Bush administration to preserve civil rights, but they eventually caved, giving their okay to a bill that permits waterboarding, hypothermia and sleep deprivation as American methods of... prisoner interrogation, or something. Or something. In case you need a visual, The Nation's David Corn has pictures.

If you want a picture of fecklessness in lawmakers, I can provide that right here. Of course all the Republicans voted for torture, but since the bill passed the Senate 64-35, some Democrats obviously joined the torture party. Here's the list of Democrats who voted for torture:

Tom Carper (D-Delaware)
Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota)
Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana)
Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey)
Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey)
Bill Nelson (D-Florida)
Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska)
Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas)
Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia)
Ken Salazar (D-Colorado)
Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan)

And a list of Connecticut for Liebermans who said yes to torture:
Joe Lieberman (CfL-Connecticut)

How does it feel to be on the wrong side of history? Ask these people. They know. They might not care, but they know.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Is there such a thing as a "Steele Democrat"?

The Baltimore Sun is reporting on a spate of blue signs that have been appearing in Maryland reading "Steele Democrat." [sic] Those who are carrying these signs around claim that they're designed to express the fact that they're Democrats who support Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele, but the signs are confusing, many others claim, saying that they seem to suggest that Steele is a Democrat.

Sure enough, they look like regular campaign signs that announce a candidate's name and party affiliation, so you could hardly blame someone for being confused. The root of the "Steele Democrat" [sic] signs' issue was the recent Democratic primary contest, where Democrat Ben Cardin closely but clearly beat Democrat Kweisi Mfume. Apparently some in the Mfume campaign feel they've been shafted by the Democratic establishment for not supporting their candidate, who is prominent in his own right—he's the president of the NAACP, no less. Mfume has said he'd support Cardin in the general election, but that hasn't stopped Mfume's own son from throwing his support behind Steele.

Why is Steele, an empty-suit Republican, getting this support? It might be race—the simple, outmoded formula that black people would prefer a black candidate to all others, positions be damned. But it could also be that this is the jilted Mfume supporters' way to express resentment over the Democratic Party's support for Cardin. If that's the case, then it's more of a matter of intraparty resentment. But why would the Steele campaign okay signs that obscure his political affiliation?

Try this on for size: this Maryland Senate seat has long been considered fairly safe for the Democrats, and it still might bear out as such, right? So maybe Steele and the Republican Party are just experimenting with tactics to see if they can drive more blacks to vote Republican.

It makes sense. Just having black skin probably isn't enough for a candidate to grab enough of the black vote in any given election. That may have been true at one time, but it probably isn't anymore. So it looks like the Steele campaign is throwing everything they've got at the wall to see what sticks. They were trotting out the old "the Democrats are the KKK party" distortion just a couple of days ago. Now they're suggesting that Steele is a Democrat, albeit indirectly. Steele's also running TV ads that don't hint at his party affiliation. (They also don't talk about any of his positions.)

Maybe some of this will work. Maybe none of it will work. But succeed or fail, this will help conservative Republicans get a better idea of what tactics work to snap up more of the black vote. In an election they're not likely to win, going unorthodox is a really good idea: they'll be able to take the lessons learned here and apply them to other races. I think it's a brilliant idea. I also don't think it's solely the work of the Steele campaign—this seems to be more likely political laboratory work on the part of the national Republican Party.

I can see this backfiring in a major way. But it might not. Regardless, the Cardin campaign needs to start punching back at this aggressively. The circus-like air of the Steele campaign could get to be a real problem, if it continues to be ignored.

Could George W. Bush pull an FDR?

One good thing about 2008 is that after that year, no matter what happens, Bush is out of the White House. He can't win a third term because he can't run for one. But what would happen if he could?

Even with the able assistance of Karl Rove, he'd lose if he ran again. Presidents' popularity usually benefits from the incumbent's advantage after the first term, then takes a dive during the second. The only president who ever got nominated for a third consecutive term, Franklin Roosevelt, did win, but with a significantly diminished popularity following his 1932 blowout and his 1936 superblowout. (And when he ran for a fourth term in 1944, his popularity was diminished even moreso.)

Bush barely squeaked in in 2004 and didn't even win in 2000; he'd be kicked to the curb if he were the nominee in 2008. Hell, I doubt his own party would allow him to seek a third term. (Grover Cleveland got the same denial in 1896, but I'm sure Bill Clinton wouldn't have been denied the nomination in 2000, if he'd been allowed to run. And he would have won—also with a diminished popularity, of course.)

As things stand, Bush has hurt the Republicans' chances in 2008. Sure, that has something to do with his poor performance, but it also has to do with the fact that he's a Republican, and voters will probably view the 2008 Republican nominee as an incumbent, whether he's ever run for president before or not. That's the way voters tend to look at these things, fair or not.

A Republican candidate like Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), if he survives the primaries, could follow Bush into the White House. McCain has name recognition and many Democrats still perceive him as a moderate who works across the aisle—though his performance has never borne that out. He's just more moderate than Bush, but that doesn't mean much of anything. I mean, who isn't more moderate than Bush? (Okay, there's Agosto Pinochet—maybe.) A Republican candidate like Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) really is a touch more moderate in some ways, and might have a decent shot at becoming president if the current president were a Democrat. But Hagel, who has far less name recognition than McCain, probably wouldn't win this year, even if he did get the nomination.

Of all the possible Republican candidates, John McCain is the Democrats' strongest possible opponent; he'd eat into their natural advantage better than any other candidate. The Democrats do have a deeper bench for 2008, and I'd say John Edwards is probably the most likely nominee. Edwards, like McCain, has wide name recognition, and has cross-party appeal, too. He's got that populist tinge, he's a good speaker, he's from the South and the new primary schedule favors him. Iowa and New Hampshire are toward the front, as usual, but Nevada has been inserted between those two states, which is expected to give Edwards a boost. Then it's on to Edwards' native South Carolina, and then depressed Michigan. With Edwards talking so much about poverty, more than any other presidential candidate in years, he's likely to resonate in Michigan and in other states where things aren't as good as they've been in the past.

If the Republicans nominate John McCain (whom they'd choose over Bush, even if Bush could legally run for a third term,) this would be a close election. Will they? That's hard to say. Some predict that if the Republicans lose the House this year, they could be facing a civil war—and that if they lose both the House and the Senate, chances of that civil war would be greater. I'm not convinced that a civil war would ensue, but on the other hand, a presidential nomination is where the direction of the party is often decided, so that may well come to pass. If the Republicans stay unified, there's a good chance they'll rally around the more "electable" John McCain. But if they start with the infighting, all bets are off.

I'd say a McCain vs. Edwards contest is the most likely for 2008, as of right now. But it's too early to say how that contest would turn out. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The GOP is the party of Lincoln.

...in that they persist in providing 19th-century-style ideas and leadership.

Maryland Republican senate candidate Michael Steele has been running ads calling the Democrats "the KKK party" in an effort to convince NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume to throw his support behind Steele. (Mfume came in second place in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat last week.) While this was true, once upon a time, calling this a half-truth today would be assigning too much truth to what Mr. Steele is staying. Considering that Steele's campaign is running on nothing, it's not too surprising that he's saying this. Disappointing, sure. Will it work? I hope not. But that's what he's saying, and it seems that that's all he's got. This is a carefully crafted lie that Steele, a black man, is trying to use to orchestrate a victory in Maryland against Ben Cardin, his white opponent. Maryland's population is 30% black, which is apparently why Steele's campaign is playing the race card so early. In fact, that seems to be the only card in the Steele campaign's entire deck. Distorting history is not a new strategy, though it's always galling when you see it.

The Democrats actually delivered for blacks when the Republicans finally lost interest in doing so. Harry Truman pushed for the Civil Rights Act during the 1948 election, which is exactly why Strom Thurmond and many other racist Democrats bolted the Democratic Party. Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson further alienated racists, which drove those racists to the Republican Party. Is it any wonder that in 1964, Barry Goldwater won the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina during a landslide year for Democratic President Lyndon Johnson? If not for the racists flocking to the polls that year, Goldwater might have lost those five states, too.

Reagan's coziness with Southern white bigots, Jesse Helms' overt racism, Republican race-baiting about "welfare queens" throughout the 1980s... Steele is obviously telling only part of the story. While both parties have sinned where blacks are concerned, the Republican Party has sinned more recently, while the Democratic Party has been carrying the mantle of civil rights since the middle of the last century. Republicans have long damned treatment of all races equally with their crypto-racist catch phrase "political correctness." It's the height of gall that they're trying to claim otherwise.

Consider that Barak Obama won in Illinois without screeching, "I am the black candidate!" (even before Alan Keyes entered the race. Consider that Deval Patrick is likely to win the Massachusetts gubernatorial without even bringing the color of his skin up. (Indeed, it's the media that's more likely to say, "Deval Patrick could be Massachusetts' first African-American governor." Patrick won't.) In Tennessee, Harold Ford seems only to talk about ideas, not melanin. But when you've got a black Republican running, all they can talk about is their race. In Pennsylvania, Lynn Swann claims Democrats are the real racists because they won't vote for him. In Maryland, it's the same thing with Steele. In Ohio Blackwell, to his credit, seems to be less focused on his race, and while I think Blackwell is an awful candidate, I have to admit he's the exception that proves the rule, where race is concerned.

I seem to remember something someone once said about judging people based on the content of their character. Mr. Steele and his Republican friends seem to be forgetting that advice. And while I don't wish to belittle the accomplishments of Mr. Lincoln, I feel it's worth noting that although Mr. Lincoln's party did quite a bit to bring down slavery following Lincoln's 1860 election, the 1868 Republican Party platform promised "The guaranty by Congress of equal suffrage to all loyal men at the South was demanded by every consideration of public safety, of gratitude, and of justice, and must be maintained; while the question of suffrage in all the loyal States properly belongs to the people of those States." In other words, Southern states had to let blacks vote, but all the states that remained in the Union during the Civil War could continue to block them from voting—including the state of Maryland, which permitted slavery until President Lincoln barred it in 1863. Despite its favoring slavery, Maryland stayed in the Union, and this was its reward. I wonder how Mr. Steele would feel about his party if he were turning out to vote in 1860?

That's how it goes, though, when you try to live in modern times, selectively recalling historical resentments: things get sloppy. Ask the Kosovars, who kept up a centuries-old ethnic rivalry in the Balkans. Ask the Tutsis and Houtous, who persisted with an ancient ethnic rivalry that was invented by their former Belgian colonial masters. But if you ask me—whose great-aunt contracted severe and fatal diabetes in Auschwitz, dying in 1946—why I have German friends sixty years later, I'll have to wonder just what kind of a person you are even to ask such a question. Hatchets, once used, are made to be buried.