Thursday, May 21, 2009

 

Schizoid Nation

Okay, so the "election" may have been decided mainly by text-messaging and phone calls, but "Red" America rose up and defeated "Blue" America Wednesday night.

Kris Allen, the wholesome, God-fearing rural Arkansan won "American Idol" upsetting Adam Lambert the androgynous urban goth with the big voice. It was the biggest vote tally in the show's history and ended with America choosing the traditionalist over the hipster.

America's split personality has been on display on the political front recently as well. An ascendant Democratic Party runs Washington and a popular liberal is president. Massive deficit spending is being deployed to stimulate the economy and a sweeping credit card reform was passed this week in the Senate and House. It might seem like the country is moving leftward, at least on economic matters.

But look what also got added to the credit card bill as completely unrelated measure -- the unambiguous right to bear arms in national parks. This isn't what blue state liberals thought they were getting when their party took control:

"We have a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, and we're passing more gun legislation than when there was a Republican in the White House," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), a gun-control advocate. "It's disappointing."

Oops! Democrats regained Congress in 2006 by running cultural conservatives against Republican incumbents. Those Democrats may have been against the Iraq war and against GOP economic policies, but many were pro-Second Amendment and pro-life. Be careful what you wish for, Democrats, you just might get it.

It isn't just the gun lobby that is improbably gathering steam in a liberal era. The anti-abortion crowd may be as well. The University of Notre Dame was blasted by traditional Catholics for granting pro-choice President Obama an honorary degree and a platform as commencement speaker in the same week that a Gallup poll showed the abortion question is moving in the pro-life direction. That shift may be what is forcing Obama to, in the words of New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, "engage" on the issue rather than simply denounce pro-lifers.

Meanwhile, poll numbers seem to be moving in the direction of the country becoming more accepting of gay marriage. Five states have some form of gay marriage and a mild plurality of respondents appears to approve it. Note, however, how Donald Trump -- in defending Miss California Carrie Prejean's "traditionalist" view on marriage -- reminded the media that she had the same view as President Obama (and Bill and Hillary Clinton for that matter).

No one can say whether "American Idol" voters are as conflicted as the rest of the electorate on political and cultural matters, but they seem to have picked the lesser singer. Was the choice made along the familiar lines of traditionalist vs. progressive? Maybe. Did the pictures of Lambert floating around the Internet kissing a guy create a tsunami from Allen's Southern base? Possibly.

Regardless, it may be another signal from America that on matters cultural and political, "not so fast" is the most tolerable pace of change. (Marc Ambinder points to a poll that also underscores the fact that Obama doesn't have quite the leeway on "change" that he might hope.)

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Leader Of The Opposition

Today, President Obama delivered his speech on Guantanamo Bay and the war on terror.

Today, former Vice President Dick Cheney delivered his speech on the war on terror.

Like him or not -- agree with him or not -- but Cheney give a much better "official response" to a presidential address than, um, Bobby Jindal.

Taking the two speeches together, this was a pretty amazing moment for the country. This isn't measly political jibing here. These are two professionals offering up a contrast of visions.

Democrats like to use Cheney's multiple appearances as a joke to undermine the GOP's lack of fresh faces, but there is a reality here that can't be ignored: Until the rest of the party gets its act together, on security matters, Dick Cheney is the leader of the Republican Party. It's up to the Democrats to actually engage him on the substance of his views, rather than just trying to dismiss him as relic to whom no one is listening. Cheney isn't Rush Limbaugh. He's not interested in "entertaining" people and merely saying things to play to an audience. He believes that he is right on these issues -- and he doesn't care what other people think.

Meawhile, as much as the broader mainstream media is supposedly "in the tank for Obama," it also likes likes a real good story. Good stories require a narrative with an antagonist and a protagonist (yeah, you can say "hero and villain" if you wish). Cheney is a beguiling antagonist -- as opposite Obama as you can imagine. That means that he will get the airtime to make his point -- and not just from Fox. If Democrats try to just dismiss him as a cartoon character is foolish -- and wrong to boot. And, oddly, Cheney's visibility has actually improved his poll numbers recently. And, whether because of -- or in spite of -- Cheney's criticisms, several of Obama actual national security decisions have notably "adjusted" in contrast to his campaign promises.

Today's speeches raised the stakes on Guantanamo Bay and moving forward on the war on terror in the post-Bush era. But while Democrats might do well to actually engage Cheney on the merits of his critique, Republicans could also just deal with the fact that Cheney is about the best thing they have going for them as a person of substance -- and act accordingly.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

 

CAFE Insanity

So I am reading this editorial at the Wall Street Journal website about the new CAFE standards proposed by Obama, "Car Crazy:
Bankrupt companies making 39 mpg autos. Are we nuts?"
. My first thought is: Is the Wall Street Journal nuts?

If they want to argue that the 39 mpg target is too high, I can buy that. But their argument seems to be centered around "the big three aren't capable of reaching that goal". I don't buy it.

Exhibit A:
The Honda Fit. When I bought one for my wife, I was surprised how much fun that little car was, and is. Add in the fact it gets 27 city/33 highway mpg, and it is a tremendous buy. It is proof that a small car can be fun, affordable, and get great gas mileage.

Exhibit B:
The Ford Fiesta. It has received rave reviews, and sold 170,000 units in Europe, with over 52,000 sold in March of this year. When released in the U.S. (late this year or early next year), it is expected to get close to 39 mpg. If this car is as fun as the Honda Fit, expect Ford to make a huge comeback.

Ford will already be close to hitting the target CAFE standard next year. Next time, the Wall Street Journal needs to do a little more research on what the car companies have in their pipelines before predicting something can't be done.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

 

Steele-ing For A Fight

The latest step in RNC Chairman Michael Steele's ongoing do-si-do to keep his job occurs today as he gives a major speech urging the party to remain unified on core principles: 

"We've got to coalesce around some core ideas and a core vision for this party, which is what I'm laying out this week, and we're going to move forward," he said. "And so, you know, I'll either win you over or I won't. I don't have time to stop and really figure that out for you." 

Unfortunately, Steele's own Committee members seem as hell-bent on upsetting the party applecart – as Steele himself does in making unwise rhetorical or managerial mistakes.

For example, on Wednesday, party leaders want to pass a bylaw officially declaring that their political opposition should be called the “Democrat Socialist Party.” Steele doesn't like the idea, calling it (rightly), name-calling, finger-pointing and blaming," 

Another word: Stupid

Exactly what does calling the other guys the “Democrat Socialist Party” gain? For years, Republicans have made reference to “the Democrat Party” (as opposed to its official name, “the Democratic Party”), to coyly insinuate they are a European-style big government party (a la “Christian Democrats” or “Social Democrats”). Of course, that did nothing (except get Democrats annoyed). Does the RNC really think that now calling Democrats, “Democratic Socialists” will do anything – other than look the party (the Republican Party) look ridiculous?

During the Bush years, how would it have looked if the DNC decided to pass a resolution calling the GOP, the “Republican Fascist Party”? The party – and any who used the phrase – would have looked like out-of-step, extremists – the very image of what Michelle Malkin refers to as “moonbats.” Sometimes, what one says about one's political foes says as much about you as it does them.

On the other hand, Steele himself continues to make what can only be considered head-scratching decisions:

Mr. Steele hired another family friend, Angela Sailor, to be the party's outreach director at a salary of $180,000, more than double her predecessor's compensation, though new responsibilities have been added to the job, according to a high-ranking RNC official and Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.

Mr. Steele's early record and personnel decisions figure to be hot topics at a special meeting of Republican state party chairmen Tuesday and Wednesday at National Harbor in Washington's Maryland suburbs. His hiring of friends and the salaries he is paying them already helped to instigate a struggle over who controls the party's purse strings, one that forced the new party chairman to relinquish some control to elected RNC members.

Okay, Angela Sailor's a smart, competent, woman; she worked in the Bush White House for some time. But having done a bit of “outreach” myself at the RNC, back in the '90s, I was never paid anything quite like $180,000 (or even $90K, for that matter). In fact, $180,000 is pretty high even for a top RNC official like a political director. And, especially for a party out of power.

With items like that, it's no wonder that the RNC members are trying to put clamps down on what Steele should spend.

The chairman's speech today had better be a good one -- and the committee tomorrow had better make wise choices of its own.   

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Monday, May 18, 2009

 

Big Game Huntsman

Damn, this guy is good.

What's that old nugget about the truest things being said in jest?

Maybe closer attention should have been made to President Obama's supposedly "comic" appearance at the White House Correspondents Association dinner one weekend ago. One of the president's jokes:

In the last hundred days, we've also grown the Democratic Party by infusing it with new energy and bringing in fresh, young faces like Arlen Specter. (Laughter.) Now, Joe Biden rightly deserves a lot of credit for convincing Arlen to make the switch, but Secretary Clinton actually had a lot to do with it too. One day she just pulled him aside and she said, Arlen, you know what I always say -- "if you can't beat them, join them." (Laughter.)

The corollary to the "beat them" line might be: "If they all join you, you don't have to worry about them coming to beat you."

Need proof?

On Saturday, Obama pulled one more surprise out of his presidential bag of magic tricks: He appointed Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as his ambassador to China. It's a master stroke on several levels. For one thing, the guy's remarkably qualified for the job: He's an expert on the country and the region and speaks fluent Mandarin from his years as a Mormon missionary. Selecting him shows that the president is serious about forging strong ties with the unarguably the U.S.'s most significant economic and strategic rival. But, this selection is also one more example to which Obama can point as fulfillment of his pledge to have a bipartisan administration. The Republican governor thus helps fill the embarrassing void left when New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg first accepted, then rescinded Obama's invitation to be secretary of commerce.

Finally though, the true genius in selecting Huntsman is that -- like selecting Hillary Clinton as secretary of state -- he removes a potential 2012 rival from the political sphere. Huntsman -- though a conservative (he's a Republican from Utah -- what else would he be?) -- he's shown a strong willingness to work with Democrats in his home state and has been rather critical of the congressional Republicans for their near universal opposition to Obama proposals. Indeed, back in February, he called them "inconsequential." Last month, he also got into a scrap with Michigan conservatives for backing civil unions for gays.

But that very pragmatism could have made him a potentially formidable candidate for the GOP come 2012 -- even if he had to go through a major scrap with the conservative base to get the nomination. Now, for all intents and purposes, he's removed from the field.

Of course, Huntsman may recognize that, at 48, he has more opportunities than just 2012 to consider running for president (unlike, say Hillary). This is the time, as he said Saturday, to accept a president's "call to service." (And perhaps, a cold calculation that Michael Steele's recent suggestion that the current GOP base is going to be problematic for a Mormon candidate in the foreseeable future is fairly accurate).

However, as good a pick as Huntsman is for the country -- and for Obama's near-term future -- his removal from within day-to-day Republican politics could be awful for the party's near future. Whether Huntsman was able to get the 2012 GOP nomination or not, just his presence as a governor distancing himself from the congressional party -- and provoking debates with various aspects of the party base -- would have been healthy.

He would have been a new, younger, voice for a party in desperate need for same. Instead, House Republican leader John Boehner was once again stuck Sunday explaining why it wasn't a big deal that Cheney, Gingrich and Limbaugh were the current face of the party.

And so, the Obama machine absorbs one more Republican piece off the chess board, leaving the party weaker as it loses an internal critic and possible future leader.

Good policy, great politics.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

 

Open Thread

A better-belated-than-never thread. 

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