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October 31, 2006

Zell Invades Pennsylvania

I found today's weirdest news on the National Review Corner site (via Kos):

Harrisburg - During a radio interview late yesterday in Harrisburg, former Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) formally kicked off Democrats for Santorum, a statewide coalition of Democrats dedicated to Senator Santorum's reelection effort. Over 7,000 members strong, Democrats for Santorum is a coalition of Pennsylvanians who share Senator Santorum's commitment to national security, lower taxes, and less government regulation.
You can just feel the excitement, eh?In case you haven't been following the Santorum-Casey race, the junior senator from PA, who had been mulling a presidential run, is tanking really badly. By all accounts, he's been left for dead by national GOPers. But to read this press release, you'd think he was boldly picking up vast Democratic support en route to a smashing victory. You have to wonder why the Santorum campaign thinks flying in Zell Miller, who is neither a Pennsylvanian nor a Democrat, to launch "Democrats for Santorum" is going to do any good. Maybe they've bought into the old jibe (often attributed to James Carville) that Pennsylvania is composed of two cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between (hence the sobriquet, "Pennsylbama" or "Pennsyltucky").Miller's decision to play this bizarre role in a losing effort is equally puzzling, but I've long given up trying to figure out my former boss' recent behavior. Maybe he's going through some sort of Robert E. Lee delusion, invading Pennsylvania only to suffer defeat at Gettysburg. His last high-profile political gig was his unsuccesful effort to get Georgia Republicans to nominate Ralph Reed for Lt. Governor. Ending the cycle by weighing in for another doomed Republican has the virtue of consistency, I suppose. While I cannot muster any sympathy for a nasty piece of work like Santorum, I do, however, appreciate the agonies of his staff, having been involved in a couple of campaigns over the years where the smell of death was everywhere during the home stretch. You know you're going to lose, but you go through the motions: planning events, putting out press releases, spreading rumors of The Greatest Upset in History, lying to donors about that Last Ad Buy that will turn everything around (Santorum has one up right now that appears to suggest that North Korea will immediately launch a nuclear attack on the Keystone State on the first news of a Casey victory). So probably what happened is that some lowly staffer had been beavering away for weeks on a plan to launch a Democrats for Santorum group; suggested a Zell Miller appearance would get news; and the campaign brass, spending most of their time working on their resumes, thought: "Why the hell not? Couldn't hurt."And thus, I suspect, the supply and demand curves met, and a politician with nothing to do came in to "help" a politician with nothing to lose. Lord knows the Santorum campaign wouldn't have done anything really crazy like invite George W. Bush to come in.

October 30, 2006

The Wahoo Yahoo Reaches For His Gun

It's been obvious for a while that a panicked Republican Party would get down and dirty in an effort to win a few close House and (especially) Senate races, and the GOP is definitely living down to that expectation. Aside from the tawdry crap they've been throwing at Harold Ford in Tennessee, we now have the ripe example of George Allen's efforts to lift a few shocking sex scenes from Jim Webb's war novels to paint him as some sort of mysoginistic pervert.I haven't read the books in question, not being a big fan of war novels (The Caine Mutiny being the one exception). But my colleague The Moose has not only read a number of Webb's novels, but is familiar with Webb's rationale in writing them, and with the original conservative reaction to them.I know some of my regular readers are Moose-o-phobic, but I encourage you to read his latest post on this subject. He reminds us that (a) Webb wrote his novels in no small part to provide a grunts-eye-view of the Vietnam War to a generation of peers who were in the habit of disparaging those who served; (b) conservative commentators generally gave these novels, "shocking" content and all, rave reviews when they actually appeared; and (c) Webb is an authentic war hero whose own service, and his searing accounts of what it entailed, should command great respect, particularly from an ostensibly pro-military GOP.Beyond that, there's something particularly disgusting about this sort of attack on Webb emanating from the campaign of George Allen.For one thing, Allen (like me) could have served in the Vietnam War, but didn't, getting past it on a student deferment. As an enthusiast for the war in Iraq, and contributor to the argument that Democrats generally and Webb in particular are "weak on national security," he has a special responsibility to steer clear of attacks on Webb for anything related to his rival's war service.More fundamentally, Allen's own background ought to make the implicit anti-intellectualism of his campaign's attacks on Webb's fiction truly objectionable.I know the conventional wisdom is that the revelations about Allen that have emerged during the current campaign turn on his alleged racism, dating from his peculiar obsession with the Confederacy during his high school years in Southern California. That's all true.But I personally think the most damning thing about the Allen Story is that he has been exposed as the ultimate Golden State Child of Privilege who has spent much of his life trying to impersonate a dirt-farm, dirt-track Yahoo, mainly by aggressively embracing the underside of Yahoo culture, without the mitigating circumstances of actually growing up that way, or any indication that he shares the positive features of that culture (e.g., a healthy disrespect for economic elites). To put it another way, most true southern white crackers may well have contempt for those well-heeled cultural elitists who look down on them, but they'd also kill to give their kids the kind of advantages that George Allen had, and, if confronted directly with the full Allen Story, would probably consider his efforts to remake himself as a 'bacca-chewing, thuggish redneck the ultimate insult.It's also illustrative that when Allen decided to relocate himself to his vicarious southern homeland, he chose to attend the University of Virginia. Having lived near Charlottesville off and on for a good while, I can personally verify what anyone familiar with The University would say: this is a place where anyone affecting a Yahoo world view--much less the Yankee son of a national celebrity with a French mother--would stand out like a sore thumb. UVa is arguably one of the two or three best public universities in America, but it's also arguably one of the two or three snootiest public universities in America. Whether or not George Allen routinely used the "n-word" while at UVa, or pulled Klan-style "pranks" on black residents of Louisa County, there's no question his whole pick-up-truck, Dixified persona in Charlottesville was weird on every level. And in many respects, Allen has remained, ever since college, the Wahoo Yahoo--the guy who perpetually combines inherited privilege with a willful determination to refute it by aping what he understands to be the culture of "real people."By now, I assume many of you are thinking that the Allen Story closely resembles the Story of the President of the United States, on a smaller scale of privilege and pretense. And you're right: George Allen is sort of a George Bush Mini-Me. No wonder he was the early favorite for '08 among many Bush loyalists who can't abide John McCain.And the parallels and ironies extend to the current campaign. Remember that moment in 2004 when the Bushies went after John Kerry for his goose-hunting photo op, supposedly exposing him as a uppercrust quiche-eater pretending to be a Real Guy? Well, George Allen has spent much of his adult life as an uppercrust quiche-eater longing to appear to be a Real Guy--and not a particularly admirable Real Guy at that--without Kerry's history as a war hero and genuine outdoorsman. He even shares Kerry's odd experience in learning on the campaign trail that he had a hitherto unknown Jewish ancestry. I don't recall that Kerry responded to this thunderbolt like Allen, who immediately started talking about his abiding affection for pork products.Have any of the Republicans encouraging Allen's smear campaign on Webb mocked the Wahoo Yahoo like they mocked Kerry? Of course not.Allen's bigger twin, George W. Bush, is probably capable of the sort of anti-intellectual assault that his Mini-Me has launched on Jim Webb. But at least W. has hired a few smart people over the years, most notably the brilliant wordsmith Mike Gerson, who have helped him pay lip service to the idea that national leaders ought to take ideas seriously. If George Allen has ever exhibited interest in a political discourse more advanced than the endless repetition of football metaphors, I've somehow missed it.That's why Allen's latest gambit, in the end, is so nauseating. I don't like to throw around Nazi analogies; they tend to devalue the unique nature of the Third Reich, and also ignore the abiding civilized values that unite both parties and most Americans, no matter how much and how vociferouly we disagree on this or that topic. But everything about George Allen's effort to beat Jim Webb by quoting stupidly from his novels is reminiscent of the quote often attributed to Herman Goering: "When I hear the word 'culture,' I reach for my gun."Allen's ad attack on Webb's novels represents the Wahoo Yahoo's willingness to look the cultural products of a war hero and genuine cultural conservative right in the face, and reach for his gun.I hope and pray Virginians vote for the real representative of their values, and not the cynical pretender whose abasement of those values is best illustrated by how he has chosen to save his political hide.

October 29, 2006

Fear the Turtle State

The gubernatorial and Senate campaigns in Maryland this year are presenting a nice example of one of the major subthemes of Election 2006: the overwhelming price that Blue State Republicans are finally paying for the sins of their national party. Maryland GOPers went into the home stretch of this general election feeling pretty good about their prospects. Incumbent Gov. Bob Erlich had relatively high approval ratings, huge sacks of cash with which to impugn the mayoral record of Democratic nominee Martin O'Malley, and a reputation for closing well, given his upset win over Kathleen Kennedy Townsend four years ago. Their Senate nominee, Michael Steele, was perfectly positioned to exploit African-American disappointment with Kweisi Mfume's Democratic primary loss to Ben Cardin. Steele was also running some of the best ads of the cycle, and doing everything imaginable to distance himself from George W. Bush. A new Washington Post poll of Maryland just out today indicates none of that much matters. Among likely voters, the poll has O'Malley up over Ehrlich 55-45, and Cardin up over Steele 54-43. Almost nobody appears to be undecided, though 15% of voters said they could change their minds. (This led Republicans to challenge the poll's methodology, though the Post has a track record of very conservative polling techniques, and a low undecided count is not unusual in nationalized midterm elections with well-known candidates). The internals of the Post poll show that a lot of Maryland Democratic moderate voters that Democrats lost in 2002 are returning to the Donkey Ticket, and that Steele is not making much headway at all among African-Americans. There are other polls out there showing both races as closer, but the Post's relatively large sample and good reputation makes me think this poll is probably spot-on. And given Erlich and Steele's strengths, this is yet another bad sign for the GOP heading towards November 7. The Republican wave of 1994 depended in no small part on the inability of southern and western Democrats, however well-tailored for their states and districts, to separate themselves from a national party that had lost credibility with local voters. The same thing seems to be happening to Republicans in the northeast and midwest this year.

October 27, 2006

Old Wine In Old Bottles

Struggling to find some political purchase between now and November 7, Republicans from George Bush on down are rushing towards hysteria in response to a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that would require state recognition of legal benefits for same-sex couples. The decision pointedly did not mandate gay marriage rights; indeed, the majority opinion went out of its way to say that's a question for the state legislature. But nevermind. Campaigning in Iowa, Bush said: "“Yesterday in New Jersey, we had another activist court issue a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage."GOPers no doubt hope the renewed specter of gay marriage will bestir social conservatives to forget about their many grievances with the Bush adminisrtration and the Republican Congress--not to mention the negative feelings they share with Democrats and independents about the corrupto-ganza in Washington and the mess in Iraq--and dutifully troops to the polls to save the bacon of many an endangered incumbent. More specifically, Republicans think the issue could now help them in two of the three states on which control of the Senate likely hangs--Tennessee and Virginia--where gay marriage constitutional bans are on the ballot.I'm guessing that the fine folks at the RNC are particularly happy with themselves for anticipating the New Jersey decision by lying about Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford's position on gay marriage. Ford is now having to spend time and money in ads making it clear he opposes gay marriage--and in fact, has said he'd vote for the state ban.It will be interesting to see if social conservatives fish in one more time in the murky waters of the GOP's tired efforts to exploit cultural fears over the bogus issue of gay marriage. Aside from their well-earned skepticism of empty Republican promises to turn back the clock on gay and lesbian rights, Christian conservatives are no more enamored of the general Bush record than most other voters. The latest drive to make gay marriage a national political issue is a classic example of trying to pour old wine into old bottles. It's a very sour wine at this point, and I'm hoping it finds no buyers.

Country Fried Elephant

For all the talk over the last decade about the political importance of fast-growing suburbs and exurbs, there's been another story that has often been missed: steady Republican gains in rural and small-town (or micropolitan) America. While rural areas have often continued to lose population, and small towns, overall, have shown little growth, the percentage of the vote given to the GOP in non-metro America has steadily risen. As a new survey done for the Center for Rural Strategies by Anna Greenberg, David Walker and William Greener shows, that trend appears to be reversing itself this year. In 2000, George W. Bush carried rural America by 16 percentage points; his margin increased to 19 percent in 2004. In the new survey, Democrats are leading Republicans among rural voters by 13 points in 41 highly competitive House districts, and by four points in six states with close Senate races. Both findings show a significant trend towards Democrats over the last month. Democratic gains, moreover, are coming mainly from independent and moderate voters. Greener, a Republican pollster, said of this survey: "The numbers in this poll have to be disturbing to any Republican involved in the upcoming election." And Center for Rural Strategies president Dee Davis noted that the current trends among rural voters resembled those that immediately preceded the elections of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992.If countrified voters are abandoning the GOP this year, then Republicans may truly be country fried on election day.

October 26, 2006

Tennessee Mud

You'd think Republicans would be satisfied to stand on their merits in the Senate race in TN, where Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker is running even or ahead of Rep. Harold Ford in most polls.Instead, the Republican National Committee is running ads against Ford that range from despicable and quasi-racist smears to basic lies about his voting record.If you read a lot of blogs, you probably know about the so-called "bimbo" ad that the RNC ran and then was forced to take down. If you haven't seen it, follow the link; it's truly breathtaking. Nestled amidst several mischaracterizations of Harold Ford's voting record, you see a trashy-flashy white woman who leeringly says she met Harold at "the Playboy Party," presumably a heavy-handed allusion to Ford's meaningless drive-by appearance at a 2000 Democratic Convention event sponsored by the Bunny Empire. And at the very end of the ad, the self-same trashy-flashy woman re-appears to wink and say: "Call me, Harold."In case you didn't know this, Harold Ford is a good-looking young African-American man. Thus, this ad was about as subtle as a Klan cross-burning. As a southerner, I really hate this kind of crap, and thought it had been buried decades ago. Apparently not.After pulling down the "bimbo ad," the RNC immediately put up a new ad that avoids the overt racism, but that's full of lies and distortions about Ford's record, suggesting he is the champion of rampant pornography, state-sponsored teen abortions, and gay marriage.Anyone who has followed Ford's career or his campaign understands that his voting record and his campaign message diverge from the RNC smears by about 180 degrees. Hell, my colleague The Moose, the very scourge of Democratic cultural liberalism, has suggested Harold Ford could and perhaps should become the first African-American president.I hope and pray that these attacks on Harold Ford will backfire, not just because Ford is a bright young rising star in the national Democratic constellation, but because his national and Tennessee GOP opponents have gone so far over the line to try to defeat him. Tennessee voters have an unparalleled opportunity to let the whole world know that the worst political wedge tactics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries won't work, even in a culturally conservative red state. Personally, I'll renounce my own Georgia-based prejudices and sing a couple of choruses of Rocky Top on Election Night if the Volunteer State sends Harold Ford to the Senate.

October 24, 2006

The Price of Polarization and Failure

Sorry for the absence of posting, but I'll make up for it between now and election day.I rarely if ever use the overworked Note-ish term "must-read," but you really should check out two bookend pieces in today's Washington Post. The first is Dan Balz and Jon Cohen's write-up of the latest Post-ABC national poll. Here are the nut graphs:

Independents are poised to play a pivotal role in next month's elections because Democrats and Republicans are basically united behind candidates of their own parties. Ninety-five percent of Democrats said they will support Democratic candidates for the House, while slightly fewer Republicans, 88 percent, said they plan to vote for their party's candidates.The independent voters surveyed said they plan to support Democratic candidates over Republicans by roughly 2 to 1 -- 59 percent to 31 percent -- the largest margin in any Post-ABC News poll this year. Forty-five percent said it would be good if Democrats recaptured the House majority, while 10 percent said it would not be. The rest said it would not matter.
You will hear a lot before and after election day about relative turnout patterns of the Democratic and Republican "bases," and they definitely matter, but let's not forget that in many of the Republican-leaning districts and states, Democrats cannot win without sizable margins among independents. And it looks like they are getting them.The second must-read, by E.J. Dionne, explains the larger meaning of this collapse of GOP support among independents:
President Bush's six-year effort to create an enduring Republican majority based on a right-leaning coalition is on the verge of collapse. The way he tried to create it could have the unintended consequence of opening the way for an alternative majority.This incipient Democratic alliance, while tilting slightly leftward, would plant its foundations firmly in the middle of the road, because its success depends on overwhelming support from moderate voters. That's why a Democratic victory in November -- defined as taking one or both houses of Congress -- would have effects far beyond a single election year.The strategy pursued by Bush and Karl Rove has frightened most of the political center into the arms of Democrats. Bush and Rove sought victory by building large turnouts among conservatives and cajoling just enough moderates the Republicans' way. But this approach created what may prove to be a fatal political disconnect: Adventurous policies designed to create enthusiasm on the right turned off a large number of less ideological voters.
In other words, the Rovian politics of polarization, along with the failed policies it produced, are in ruins. And the long-term choice facing Democrats after this and (if we win) the next election is whether we pivot to a governing agenda that restores the confidence in progressive government that was becoming evident during the Clinton years, or go down the same road to perdition the GOP has followed, with disastrous results for their party and the country.

October 18, 2006

More Glad Tidings

Today's news brings glad tidings for Democrats at both the micro and macro levels. The New York Times released a poll of Ohio that paints of picture of utter misery for Republicans. Bush's approval ratings have tanked in the Buckeye State; he cannot even muster majority approval from white Christian evangelicals (76% of whom voted for him in 2004). Sherrod Brown leads incumbent Senator Mike DeWine by a margin of 48-34 among registered voters; this was a race considered dead even in September. In the gubernatorial race, Ted Strickland leads Kenneth Blackwell 52-39. And Ohioans favor Democrats in a generic congressional ballot test by 50-32, important because there are four competitive House races in the state. On a broader front, you should check out pollster Stan Greenberg's post today at TPMCafe. Based on his own surveys for Democracy Corps and NPR, Stan suggests the only real mystery left in the campaign for the House is whether Democrats control it by a small or large (say, 25 seats) margin. He thinks the pro-Democratic wave is steadily growing, and that a 1994-style result is probable if national Dems spread some money around to newly-capturable districts. Who would have thunk it a year ago?

October 17, 2006

Sunnis, Shi'a, Whatever

Today's New York Times included an op-ed by Congressional Quarterly editor Jeff Stein that ought to be read by anyone who believes Republicans are the adult party when it comes to national security. Stein reports on his campaign to ask people in the administration and the Republican Congress who have critical responsibilities for the War on Terror if they know the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. The answer is: they don't.I won't bother to quote from this piece, because the whole thing should be read. The bottom line is that a whole lot of Republicans who have championed, and even helped manage, the post-9/11 fight against jihadist terrorism, and the horriby botched sideshow in Iraq, don't know a damn thing about Islam. Since even the dimmest Republican has probably on occasion echoed talking points suggesting that we are fighting to vindicate the true and pacific Islamic tradition as opposed to jihadist extremism, this ignorance about the basic divides in the Islamic world is, well, terrifying. It's all the more alarming given the decisive importance of Sunni and Shi'a factions in Iraq.You don't have to be a Democrat to be shocked by Stein's disclosures. Over at National Review's in-house blog The Corner, hyper-conservative Jonah Goldberg said this:

[I]t seems to me a no-brainer that anybody with serious strategic responsibilities in the war on terror should know the difference between Shiites and Sunnis. One needn't be an expert on the theological distinctions. But one should know that the distinctions exist and are important. These people could have answered Stein's question easily if they'd read any one of literally thousands of op-eds or popular magazine articles on the Middle East in the last five years.
No kidding. Jonah does not go the next step to wonder if there's a connection between Republican policymakers who ignorantly think of all Muslims as essentially the same, and a Republican national security message based on the assumption that Americans in general can't distinguish Iraqis from Palestinians from Saudis from Iranians.But if you take that next step, it does perversely rebut the notion that Republicans are cynically exploiting popular misapprehensions about Islam and the Middle East. Maybe the GOP, from George W. Bush on down, is essentially no better informed about such nuances as the difference between Sunnis and Shi'a than regular folks who are not charged with responsibility for our country's security.'That theory would certainly help explain the Bush administration's disastrous mistakes in Iraq and elsewhere. And just as certainly, it should refute GOP claims that its control of Congress is essential to national security.

October 15, 2006

Bad News, Good News

On Saturday, my weekend took a turn for the worse when my Georgia Bulldogs managed to lose, at homecoming no less, to the Vanderbilt Commodores (it was their first loss to the 'Dores since 1994, which also occurred on Homecoming Day). A missed FG, a TD pass dropped in the end zone, and a questionable decision to settle for a FG near the end of the first half, all contributed to the upset, along with an impressive final drive by Vandy. The brightest spot for Georgia was an interception returned for a touchdown by linebacker Tony Taylor, who is busily building All-America credentials. (A loss by the hated Florida Gators at Auburn Saturday night was small consolation).As has often been the case this fall, the political news this weekend was better than the Sports Report. Today a new Washington Post poll showed Jim Webb in a statistical dead heat with George Allen in a VA Senate race that could pave the way to a Democratic Senate. Oddly enough, the Post's analysis seemed to spin this as relatively good news for Allen, on the basis of a finding that his supporters like him more than Webb's supporters like his challenger. Well, so what? People vote for a variety of positive and negative reasons, and the national revulsion towards the GOP, which appears to be shared by many Virginians, is a good a motivator on Webb's behalf as the (to me, at least) inscrutable affection of nearly half of them for George Allen. The CW had it that Allen had finally turned the corner on a campaign previously dominated by coverage of his mean-spirited ethnocentrism or worse. Doesn't look that way right now.Moreover, DKos reported new media polls in four gubernatorial races showing a significant Democratic trend. Two races polled as ties in September now appear to be breaking towards the Dem: IA, where Chet Culver leads Jim Nussle 46-39, and MN, where Mike Hatch leads incumbent Tim Pawlenty 46-37. In MI, two new polls have Jennifer Granholm, often considered the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent governor, up 8 over Dick DeVos. And another vulnerable Dem, Rod Blagojevich, now seems to be expanding his lead (to 14, in the latest poll) over Judy Baar Topinka.The evidence continues to mount that this could be a historic year for Dems, but there's too much time left in the electoral season--or even the football season--to make any firm predictions. Go Dems. Go Dogs.

October 12, 2006

On Not Running For President

The big political news in Washington today was Mark Warner's surprise announcement that he was not running for president in 2008, citing concerns about the impact of a campaign on his family. Naturally, hundreds of political operatives and would-be pundits got on the phone with each other to see if anyone knew the "real reason" for Warner's decision. But best I can tell at this point, we should all take Warner's word for it that he and his wife had agreed on this fall as a failsafe point, and after taking a long look at what a presidential run--or for that matter, a victory--would do to their lives, took a pass. This happens pretty often, actually. Sure, there are always some Big Dogs in Washington (e.g., Wilbur Mills, John Connally, Phil Gramm, Orrin Hatch) who delude themselves into thinking they are presidential timber, until they crash and burn on the campaign trail. But almost every cycle, there are potentially strong candidates who just don't run. Until (and for that matter, after) he finally ran in 1980, Ted Kennedy was perenially regarded as a proto-candidate. Mario Cuomo and Sam Nunn famously didn't run in 1988 and 1992. Bob Kerrey surprised a lot of people when he announced he wouldn't run in 2000. And sometimes candidates go back and forth. Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan both foreswore a run in 1968, before jumping in late. And in 1992, Ross Perot set a new standard for irresolution by running full-tilt for president, withdrawing, and then re-entering the race. The most renowned statement of non-candidacy was, of course, William Tecumsah Sherman's terse announcement prior to the 1884 presidential election that "if drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve." Indeed, my former boss Sam Nunn often avoided a definitive statement of non-candidacy by remarking: "As a Georgian, I would never make a Sherman Statement."But my personal favorite in this genre was Fritz Mondale's comment, after abandoning a 1972 run, that he "didn't want to spend the next year living in Holiday Inns" (this was back in the day, before the willingness to become a quasi-resident of Iowa, and consume vast quantities of that state's fine pork products, became the threshold issue for potential candidates). Reminded of this disclaimer when he accepted the vice-presidential nomination in1976, Mondale allowed as how the Holiday Inn chain had made a lot of improvements in the intervening four years. Warner's announcement of non-candidacy will not be the last of this cycle, but no one really knows who may drop out or drop in exactly when. I know very smart people who are convinced Hillary Clinton won't run, and/or that Al Gore will, against all the current evidence. Among Republicans, you hear that Rudy Guiliani is definitely in, or definitely out. The only sure drop-out among the frequently named is George Allen, whether or not he survives his rolling disaster of a Senate re-election campaign. But I think it's both wise and decent when a potential candidate drops out to give him or her the benefit of the doubt and accept that mere personal reasons are always sufficient to justify a statement of non-candidacy. For all the allure of the power and influence associated with becoming the Leader of the Free World, getting there is a brutal business indeed, and as President Al Gore and President John Kerry can tell you, in our system there ain't no consolation prizes for valiant near-misses.

October 9, 2006

Free Fall

The evidence that the Republican Party is in a public opinion freefall is getting so thick you can't stir it with a stick. The USA Today/Gallup poll, which had the two parties tied in the generic ballot as recently as September 17, now shows Dems with a staggering 23 point advantage (59-36). According to the poll analysis:

Government corruption, Iraq and terrorism were the three most important issues to poll respondents. They said Democrats would do a better job on all three. The party had a 21-point advantage on handling corruption and a 17-point advantage on Iraq. A longstanding GOP advantage on terrorism vanished; Democrats had a 5-point edge.
A new WaPo/ABC poll didn't have quite that dramatic a gap in the generic ballot (Dems lead 54-41), but showed the same sort of broad trends:
When asked which party they trust to handle various issues, Democrats lead on every subject, with margins ranging from 33 percentage points on health care, 19 points for ethics, 17 points for the economy, 13 points each for Iraq and immigration.Even on terrorism, which Republicans hoped to turn into a powerful issue this fall, Democrats are trusted by six percentage points, reversing an seven-point deficit in the September poll.
Obviously, national polls can't be translated into a partisan advantage in midterm elections fought in specific states and districts, but there, too, there's big movement. As TPMCafe's Election Central site has reported, the two most respected nonpartisan analysts, Cook Political Report and CQPolitics, have both published new ratings over the last few days showing a major shift of House and/or Senate races in the direction of Democrats.The most exciting news for Democrats is that control of the Senate is no longer a long shot, though it is still a reach. Of the eight toss-up races (according to Cook's Jennifer Duffy), seven are in Republican-held seats. If Bob Menendez can hold onto New Jersey, Dems would need five of the seven to retake the Senate, and they've held consistent recent leads in four of them (RI, PA, OH and MT). Put some national wind behind the Donkey's back, and it starts looking very doable.While the Foley scandal has obviously contributed to the GOP free fall, the broad-based antipathy to the governing party evident in every poll indicates that this is just a clincher for many voters; I doubt the GOP is going to spring back absent some positive development in its favor. In fact, as Bush's sagging approval ratings (dropping back into the 30s in all the big national polls) indicate, it's the September numbers, fed by the GOP Terror Offensive, that look like outliers today.It ain't over til it's over, but given the GOP's record, it's a bit hard to see where they're going to find a net, much less a trampoline, between now and election day. Expect some serious nastiness as Republicans begin to panic.UPDATE: Two other national polls just out, showing the same trends as those noted above. CNN's poll has Bush's approval rating at 39, and Dems lead the generic balloting by 54-38 among registered voters. And the NYTimes/CBS poll has Bush at 34, and Dems leading in the generic ballot 49-35. The latter poll has one question that's particularly interesting given GOP efforts to "remind" voters that a Democratic Congress will allegedly tax and spend them into oblivion: "Which party will make the right decisions on how to spend taxpayers' money?" The answer: Dems 52, Republicans 29.

Dawg Gone

Before I get to posting about the political news this week, I have to report that I attended the Georgia-Tennessee football game on Saturday. Until just before the half, Georgia led 24-7, and I sorta wish I had left at that point and gotten ahead of the insane traffic back to Atlanta. Instead, I watched Tennessee outscore the Dawgs 44-9 the rest of the way, as Georgia made a variety of offensive miscues (most notably two deep-in-own-territory INTs and a blocked punt in the end zone) while its vaunted defense looked helpless against Eric Ainge's relentless short passing game. Maybe it's a coincidence, but I didn't see Uga VI leave his doghouse after halftime. I'm guessing he didn't want to hear Rocky Top played forty times. The season's only half over, and Georgia can still put itself into the SEC title game by beating Florida and Auburn later in the year and hoping someone else (e.g., LSU or Arkansas) beats the Vols. But it's a bit unsettling to look at the AP poll today and see Georgia ranked behind the Dirt Daubers of Georgia Tech. Makes you wonder all over again what the Dawgs would be like right now if Calvin Johnson had decided to matriculate in Athens, as he nearly did.

October 5, 2006

Foley's Demons

In the wake of the bandwagon of blame-shifting among House Republicans about the Mark Foley scandal, I guess you can't blame Foley himself from joining the parade. Since his resignation from the House the other day, Foley has let it be known through his attorneys that he (1) is getting treatment for alcoholism, and (2) was sexually abused as a teenager by a "clergyman."You don't have to be terribly cynical to suspect that Foley is trying to drown his sorrows in a vast sea of popular media stereotypes and storylines. After all, if Mel Gibson could get away with claiming he drank himself into anti-semitism, why not say that seventh scotch-and-soda drove you to the computer to engage in cybersex with teenage boys? And what better way to make yourself a small part of a big group of victims than to imply you're one of the thousands of those preyed upon by libidinous priests? (Actually, Foley hasn't so far identified the denominational affiliation of his alleged abuser, but Foley is Catholic).If the disgraced Floridian wanted to kick it up a notch in his search for victim-status while currying favor with his erstwhile GOP colleagues, he'd let it be known that he got the idea of playing slap-and-tickle with youthful subordinates after obsessively reading and re-reading the Starr Report. Or maybe he could say he was convinced by a therapist to treat his booze-o-holia and teenage traumas by getting in touch with his Inner Liberal. At this point, the only real surprise would be a frank acceptance of responsibility by Foley or the House Republican leadership.

October 4, 2006

Don't Blame Us!

As the Mark Foley scandal continues to wreak havoc in Republican Washington, the primary evasions pursued in GOP/conservative circles have begun to congeal. As Mark Schmitt nicely runs it down over at TPMCafe, the first (which I wrote about yesterday), is the ol' liberal-culture-of-permissiveness chesnut, according to which the kind of behavior Mark Foley exhibited has been championed by Democrats generally and gay rights activists in particular. The second, which is gaining steam, is that Democrats and/or the liberal media sat on the Foley IMs until this very moment, risking further damage to pages in order to time the scandal for maximum pre-election havoc. According to this masterpiece of fact-free innuendo, the GOP's enemies knew vastly more than poor old Denny Hastert about Foley's misdeeds, and are therefore the real culprits here. (Schmitt explodes one variant of this theory very effectively).There's also a sort of hybrid conspiracy theory in the works, centering on Kirk Fordham, former chief of staff to Foley and (until he was fired today) chief of staff to NRCC chair Tom Reynolds, who's drawing as much fire as Hastert. Fordham, it transpires, is openly gay. As Michael Crowley explains at TNR's The Plank, House GOP sources are bruiting it about that Fordham was part of a "gay cabal" of Republican Hill staffers who protected Foley and suppressed information about his behavior towards pages. David Corn reports there is even a list of cabal members circulating around Washington.Fordham certainly raised the stakes on this particular gambit by announcing today that far from protecting Foley, he told Hastert's staff about Foley's friskiness towards pages in 2004, long before Hastert was given copies of the "over-friendly" emails that he proceeded to ignore. If Fordham's allegation can be corroborated, Hastert will probably be forced to resign. But either way, the GOP leadership and their chattering-class enablers will go to almost any lengths to point fingers anywhere other than at themselves. And these are the guys who cheered back in 2000 when George W. Bush kept promising to usher in a "responsibility era."

October 3, 2006

GOP Meltdown?

When the Mark Foley scandal broke, like a lot of people, I thought it would definitely reinforce negative perceptions of the GOP House, maybe upset social conservatives, and probably cost the Republicans Foley's own Florida seat. But it's now rolling through the landscape like a tornado, with incredible velocity and early indications of serious political damage. And there's no better indication of the potential implications than the immediate infighting the scandal has produced among Republicans themselves.House Majority Leader John Boehner is explicitly laying responsibility for the failure to investigate Foley on his putative chieftain, House Speaker Denny Hastert. The head of the House Republican campaign committee, Tom Reynolds of New York, has been implicated as an early recipient of info on Foley's indiscretions, and you better believe all those hungry GOP recipients of NRCC cash will be distancing themselves from the money man pronto (Reynolds himself is now probably in trouble in his own district, which could be a mite distracting).But the really big sign of GOP chaos came in today's Washington Times, which editorially called for Hastert's immediate resignation as Speaker.Those of you who have never lived in the Washington area may not be familiar with the WaTimes. Its publisher is none other than the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. But its basic function in Washington is to serve up the reddest of partisan red meat for the Emerald City's Republicans. In many ways, it's a throwback to the political press of the nineteenth century, with blatant editorializing of news content and relentlessly partisan headlines. A whole generation of Democratic political operatives in DC (myself included) have learned through painful experience to ignore phone calls from WaTimes "reporters" like Don Lambro, whose special talent is to turn even the most careful and benign comment into a "Dems in Disarray" piece. Compared to these birds, the talking heads on Fox News are indeed relatively "fair and balanced."So when the WaTimes calls for Hastert's head, it really is news. And though I may be wrong about this, it's hard to imagine that this thunderbolt was not telegraphed in advance to the White House and other GOP poohbahs (either way, it's not how the Right-Wing Machine usually works, is it?)Sure, serious movement conservative types have never much liked the ol' wrestling coach. He was fine as the bumbling, avuncular front-man for Tom DeLay, but ever since the Hammer went down, there's been barely submerged grumbling on the Right that House Republicans can and should do better. A lot of observers figured that the House GOP would probably dump Hastert after the elections, blaming him for Republican losses, even if they held on to control. This is not something you want to do in the homestretch of a midterm campaign, particularly when your national message is that Republicans are sober and resolved and united, as compared to those crazy and fractious Democrats.No matter what happens to Hastert, the Foley scandal has clearly scrambled the legendary talking-points unity of the GOP. My personal favorite comment was Newt Gingrich's suggestion on Fox News Sunday that his successors sat on the Foley scandal because they were afraid they'd be accused of "gay-bashing" if they dimed out the frisky Floridian.This is certainly an interesting take on the situation, since (a) who knew that the eager gay-bashers of the House GOP leadership were worried about being suspected of gay-bashing? (b) this line of reasoning implies that Hastert and company should have known there was a gay sexual subtext to Foley's emails, which is precisely what they are all denying, and (c) the Newtster also seems to assume that people who support gay rights approve of a 52-year-old Member of Congress propositioning minors who also happen to be the lowest and most vulnerable of congressional employees.But maybe I'm selling Newt short here, since implication (c) was explicitly advanced by none other than the Wall Street Journal editorial board today.

[I]n today's politically correct culture, it's easy to understand how senior Republicans might well have decided they had no grounds to doubt Mr. Foley merely because he was gay and a little too friendly in emails. Some of those liberals now shouting the loudest for Mr. Hastert's head are the same voices who tell us that the larger society must be tolerant of private lifestyle choices, and certainly must never leap to conclusions about gay men and young boys.
So perhaps the current disarray is temporary, and this is where the conservative zeitgeist is going next: Foley was a fifth-column Liberal and Sodomite in the GOP ranks, a crypto-Democrat in fact; Hastert's big mistake was in tolerating such deviants; and the real fault lies in the godless, relativistic culture that would openly rule Washington if Democrats regain Congress.If this story-line seems exceptionally perverse (and it is), it's no more perverse than the argument of some conservative Catholics that the clerical sexual abuse scandal is attributable entirely to a gay cabal in Catholic seminaries.It will be very interesting to see over the next few days if Republicans continue to fall out like thieves, or fall into a line of attack that sacrifices a few colleagues to the broader effort of demonizing Democrats and absolving the GOP of any sins other than insufficient fidelity to the right-wing cause.UPDATE: Over at TAPPED, Adele Stan comes down decisively in favor of the blame-it-on-the-moral-relativists theory of the emerging Republican take on Foley.

October 2, 2006

Putting the Exclamation Point on Failure

Well, a congressional session rightly adjudged as one of the most futile in memory finally limped to the finish line over the weekend. And its record was so bad that even the non-judgmental Reuters news service could barely suppress a sneer of contempt:

Leaving behind a pile of unfinished work, members of the scandal-rocked U.S. Congress adjourned and went home on Saturday to ask voters to re-elect them in five weeks.With polls showing President George W. Bush's fellow Republicans could lose control of Congress in the November 7 contests, their leaders even decided to depart a week early to give members more time to campaign."It's been a ghastly congressional session, particularly the last year," said Stephen Hess, a congressional scholar the Brookings Institution. "They figure the best thing to do is get out of town. They aren't doing anything here."
No kidding. The eruption of yet another Republican ethics scandal, and yet another Republican ethics scandal coverup, seemed to put an appropriate exclamation point on the session, and on what the country can now demonstrably expect from single-party GOP rule in Washington. And Republicans know it. That's why they continue to signal that their campaign to hold onto power will not focus on their accomplishments, such as they are, but on smearing Democrats. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the sleazemeister who is about to become Republican leader in the Senate, put it succintly: "A lot of Americans have forgotten what Democrats do when they are in the majority. We are going to remind them."If this tactic works, it will require a national short-term memory lapse of historic dimensions.