Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is Obama Another Adlai?

Once I read an article whose premise is identical to something said by Karl Rove, I tend to be a bit skeptical. Nevertheless, this Slate piece is worth a look, and it makes a decent argument for this analogy.

I'm far from convinced, however. They're more dissimilar than similar, in my opinion. Stevenson and Obama are both from Illinois, they both have similar messages about civility and so on, but Stevenson was an intellectual and unapologetically elitist. Obama is neither. Stevenson was a cold and formal presence, which is also untrue of Obama. And Stevenson was fighting against one of America's greatest heroes the two times he ran for president (seriously, why did they pick him again after the first landslide defeat?). The article notes that Stevenson refused to go negative against Eisenhower (but did attack Richard Nixon, Ike's VP candidate), but this hardly seems conclusive. I don't think there's anything wrong with making a critique of an opponent's character, any more than that it's wrong to make a critique of an opponent's policy proposal. Nevertheless, throwing dirt at the man who beat Hitler on the Western Front would have been a disaster. In any event, Obama has been criticizing Sen. Clinton, albeit mostly in an overly cryptic fashion so far. I don't see this a tension between this and being against a "politics of personal destruction," which in my estimation means attacks based on innuendo and untruths (like the Swift Boat ads), not on completely fair but negative assessments of an opponent's character.

I suppose the reason this analogy bothers me so much is that it seems like an easy way of implying that Obama is just another liberal loser like Stevenson. But Adlai had the deck stacked against him in a way that Obama doesn't. Obama isn't facing an Eisenhower. Odds are he's either going to face Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney, both of whom aren't as universally admired as Ike and both of whom have some pretty obvious (and legitimate) avenues of attack, character-wise. And unlike Stevenson Obama has a very appealing image and is not a member of an unpopular incumbent party. Finally, Obama is offering the prospect of real change at a time when it is strongly desired, again unlike the moderate Stevenson.

I have always wondered what would have happened if Robert Taft had won the 1952 Republican Nomination. It shouldn't be too controversial to say that he wouldn't have had as easy a go of getting to the White House as Eisenhower. Let's forget this analogy for a while, okay?

[Photo from the Northwestern University Library site:]

Houston Would Be A Problem

I keep hearing the debate about whether or not Mitt Romney should give a speech about Mormonism like the speech given by John F. Kennedy in Houston in 1960 about his Catholicism. Evidently his advisors are against the notion, and I have to agree.

The reason why is simple: while there were many people who simply didn't like Catholics or Catholicism or just thought it was weird, the big worry about Kennedy in 1960 in respect to his Catholicism was that Kennedy would be, in effect, taking orders from the Pope. The speech he gave in Houston, in which he praised the concept of separation of church and state and promised that his Catholicism wouldn't dictate his policies, helped to defuse that powderkeg for many people. Many others still voted against him because they were just weirded out about a Catholic president, but Kennedy realized that he wasn't going to be able to convince those people to vote for him anyway.

Romney's situation is different. The people who don't want to vote for him aren't concerned about faction or divided loyalties so much as just weirded out by the Mittster's religion (or maybe him personally). Giving a speech about Mormonism will only draw attention to his religion, and it's difficult to believe that he can change the perception that Mormonism is a weird religion, in part because it is a weird religion. And I'm not just talking about some of its more extravagant claims, like good Mormons becoming gods of their own planets after death, or some of its more peculiar practices, like the special underwear. I don't mean to pick on Mormonism, as every religion has its mystical and surreal beliefs. Still, Mormonism also requires one to throw out virtually everything we know about history in the West to accommodate its story, and some people might not be quite so willing to do that.

In essence, Romney shouldn't make a speech about his religion, unless he wants to remind people how weird it is. Being as he's one of the less-crazy Republicans in the running right now, I do hope that he listens to his advisors.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

There's more than one John Kerry on the Republican side

Giuliani declares himself to be functionally pro-life here. This troubles me. Abortion is one of those issues where I can accept that people are just going to have different points of view, but it seems a little craven to claim the pro-choice mantle while essentially promising to restrict abortion through legal means. I doubt he'll be able to get away with being on both sides of the issue.

So, this is how Giuliani stands up for his convictions? How limp is this Republican field? I knew that Giuliani, despite his rep, is a man of surpassingly weak character, but this is a flip-flop whatever way you slice it. Why even bother to do it, as it doesn't even seem like abortion is an important issue at this point? I just hope that Clinton hammers it home, as someone who can be induced to change their mind on such a fundamental issue for political gain doesn't really deserve to be in the White House. That's why I like Huckabee--Lord knows I don't agree with him on most things, but at least he's not a shifty bastard like Giuliani.

I suppose he could be lying, but that hardly makes things better.

My opinion is that Rudy is simply not going to be a very good candidate for the GOP. His temper and unprofessionalism are going to supply an endless series of gaffes and overreactions. The Biden remark is a prime example. If I had been Giuliani after Biden said that a sentence to me is a noun, a verb and 9/11, I probably would have ignored it or laughed it off or joked that a sentence for Biden is a noun, a verb, and a thousand other nouns and verbs. I wouldn't have had my press secretary release an attack that made me look like a prick. But Giuliani is a prick, isn't he? I think that's sort of why he's doing so well, since the GOP base is very combative. Being so predictably bellicose is not necessarily a good thing, if it means he's easy to provoke. If the Dem nominee can get his anger up and get him to keep overreacting to minor slights, it would be possible to paint him as a loose cannon unfit for the presidency. Add to that his hard right views on pretty much every issue right now (and the flip-flops) and I can imagine a pretty good case being made against the guy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I've noticed this for a while now, but Mike Huckabee is now #2 in virtually every Iowa poll, such as this one. I like the guy--there are plenty of places where I disagree with him, and I doubt I would vote for the guy. Still, he does seem like someone who has the public interest at heart instead of his own designs on power or advancing ideology at all costs. He'd make an okay consolation prize, I suppose.

The War

I find the current situation viz. the Iraq funding bill to be quite interesting. It's promising, in any event. The Democrats are finally picking a fight on Iraq funding, and I think it's the right time. I find it interesting that even as Iraq has gotten objectively better (i.e. fewer deaths), it's become even less popular. Not an original sentiment, but I think it underscores the fact that people have limited patience for conflicts that aren't really necessary or correct. Had Iraq turned out to be an oasis of freedom and secularism in exchange for a few months of war, I suspect most Americans would have been willing to make that tradeoff. When we talk about Iraq and Vietnam, though, not so much. It seems to me that if we can't clearly say why we're there at any given time, then we're sunk. I agree with what Matt Yglesias says about this--that we're basically there to provide cover to certain politicians who don't want to admit they're wrong. That is insufficient...

Everyone expected a GOP opposition to the war to materialize, but it largely hasn't. One wonders if this will come to pass after the possibility of Republicans being challenged in primaries passes. Since Republicans, by and large, still love the war, dissenters (like Wayne Gilchrest) could find themselves punished by organizations like Freedom's Watch and the Victory Caucus with a pro-war primary challenger. Staying steadfastly pro-war is quite a liability, and I find it hard to imagine a situation which will make the public want to rededicate themselves to the conflict. The path is simple, at least it would be if I were a GOP rep--wait until the primary deadlines pass, then challenge the war. It might dampen some Republican turnout, but probably not if Hillary's the nominee.

In any event, that the Democrats seem to be taking a stand on this issue is important. We got ourselves elected by promising to bring the Iraq War to an end. This was somewhat unrealistic, but people did (and do) still expect this to happen. So, since nothing else worked, going after the money really is the only way to end it. This episode will surely become a part of the Republicans' stab-in-the-back theory, but it doesn't seem to me like most people give a damn about such things anymore and just want to get out. And at least the Democrats will be able to say they stood tall against Bush on something.

The Debate and The Media

Some random thoughts:

  • I didn't watch it, but it seems like the media was eager to bury Hillary in order to resurrect her shortly afterward.
  • All I want to know is when the media stopped being in the business of reporting news and started to get into the business of manufacturing it (e.g. Meet The Press, et al.).
  • The media seems to overcompensate for being called "liberal" by trying to bash Democrats as much as possible, so as to prove their "independence". This is silly. The Guardian is a liberal publication out of the UK, but it has a sterling reputation. Were the media to actually present the facts and ask informative questions, might the bias accusations might diminish?

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.