Friday, December 21, 2007

Lieberman Speaks Up

I had a lot to say on these pages last year about the ludicrous attempt of far left Democrats and the radical blogosphere to scuttle Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic Party and remove him from office.

That crusade against Mr. Lieberman failed, although he is no longer a Democrat, but an "independent" in the U.S. Senate where he wields more power than ever before. Mr. Lieberman is today the personification of the political center, and retains a working relationship with numerous significant centrists in both parties, including Democrats Tom Carper, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Diane Feinstein, Ken Salazar, Evan Bayh, Robert Casey, Amy Klobuchar and Ben Nelson; and Republicans Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, Norm Coleman, Arlen Spector, Olympia Snowe, John Warner and
Richard Lugar.

Now Mr. Lieberman, in 2000 the then popular Democratic nominee for vice president of the United States, has injected himself into the 2008 contest for president by endorsing a candidate in the New Hampshire primary.

He did not endorse one of his U.S. senate colleagues such as Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden or fellow Connecticut senator Chris Dodd. Nor did he endorse Governor Bill Richardson who, during the height of his difficult re-election race in 2006, called on him to to withdraw as a candidate. He did not even endorse Hillary Clinton, his colleague from New York, whose husband, later the president of the United States, had come to Connecticut as a student to campaign for Lieberman in one of his
earliest races.

Nor did he endorse the Republican frontrunner, the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. He did not endorse the Republican candidate who is leading in New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Nor did he endorse the man who has apparently taken the lead in Iowa, former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Finally, he did not endorse his former colleague in the senate, Fred Thompson.

So whom did he endorse?

Senator Lieberman said he preferred Repulbican John McCain, a man who is down but not quite out of the race for president in 2008.

How can we explain this, remembering that John McCain came very close to defeating George W. Bush for his party's nomination in 2000, and if he had, would have been running against the Democratic ticket of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman?

The answer is that John McCain, a true Republican conservative, is also the only candidate running for president this year who consistently acknowledges that the person who wins the highest office in the nation must win it in the political center.

How else to explain Mr. McCain's stubborn advocacy of his campaign reform legislation, banning torture, the environment and a plan for dealing with illegal immigration that does not include mass deportation, each an issue that is controversial in the Republican grass roots?

In the unlikely outcome that Mr. McCain wins the Republican nomination next year, he is the one candidate for president who won't have to revise himself to compete against his November opponent.

That reminds us of Joe Lieberman's difficult race for re-election in 2006 when, after being defeated in the Democratic primary by a leftist parvenu, he defended his seat to the voters of Connecticut by running on his record, including his support of the war in Iraq. He won that race because he won not only many Democratic votes, but the votes of independents and Republicans as well.

Since I do not think that most endorsements, by politicians or newspapers, matter that much, I do not suggest that Mr. Lieberman's endorsement of John McCain will sway many voters in New Hampshire. (Some endorsements do matter, and one of those may be Oprah's indefatigable support of Barack Obama.)

But I do suggest that Joe Lieberman's support for John McCain is an important statement of principle and reality in an already protracted campaign season filled with slogans and rhetoric mostly about the peripheral issues facing the nation.

When Newt Gingrich appeared to be running for president earlier this year, he expressed many views that seemed politically "risky" or inappropriate. That is, he proposed serious and tough strategies and solutions for solving the nation's most critical problems of foreign policy, health care, education, and immigration. (In his "shadow" campaign called American Solutions, he continues to do so although he is not running for president.)

With Mr.Huckabee's and Mr. Obama's apparent upsetting of conventional wisdom this year with their own unconventional campaigns,it is becoming clear that the American people do not want "more of the same" from either party or any of their presidential candidates.

One more time, Joe Lieberman reminds the country that the solutions to our problems can only be found in common purpose with the consent of the majority.


-This article first appeared in The Washington Times on December 21, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

What Will We Know, and When Will We Know It

There are two distinct themes in the Democratic and Republican contests for the presidential nomination next year.

The Democrats theme is " big change." Their challenge is not only to find a nominee who can change their losing 2000-2004 losing streak, but to decide how to change the way Democrats do public policy business.

The Republicans theme is "some difference." Their challenge is to determine not only how different their nominee will be from incumbent president George W. Bush, but also to decide if the difference they want will enable them to remain viable as a party which appeals to the majority of American voters..

It should be noted that the "big" change sought by Democrats and the "some" change by Republicans indicates a greater intensity for the out-of-White House Democrats. This gives them a natural emotional advantage in 2008, although it does not insure their victory.

A subtheme of the Democrats' theme of big change is that they want to win very badly. We will be finding out, beginning with Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, how the Democratic voters assess who it is who can get this job done. In the Democratic field, only Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards appear to be in the finals. Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd do not appear to have made it through the long preliminaries, although the sudden rise of Mike Huckabee on the Republican side indicates that nothing this political season is impossible. Of those three in the top "tier," only Mr. Obama qualifies as a "new" face. Mrs. Clinton is universally known, and John Edwards came in second in 2004 against John Kerry, and was Mr. Kerry's vice presidential running mate that year.

Of those who seem to have made it to the finals in the Republican contest, Mitt Romney, Mr. Huckabee and Fred Thompson qualify as "new" faces. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are well-known national figures.

Armed with the news of Mr. Obama's and Mr. Huckabee's "surges" in recent days, there is once again a rash of predictions and analyses about the outcome. I continue to believe, as I have stated continually in recent months, that we do not know who the party nominees will be.

But we are getting very close to knowing a great deal more. Iowans will caucus in two weeks. Five days later, New Hampshire voters will hold their primary. This cycle, a Nevada caucus and a South Carolina primary will take place shortly afterwards. After the questionable Michigan primary (only one Democrat is competing) and an "illegal" Florida primary (where everyone is competing), there will be the mother of all primary days on February 5 (where almost half the delegates will be chosen on one day).

The winning Democratic and Republican candidate in Iowa has no assurance of winning the nomination, but this year, as in some others in the past, Iowa is turning out to be more important than anticipated. In the long, and many say tedious, preliminary campaign for 2008, voter attitudes and preferences were only speculated about. The frontrunners in the opinion polls, always Mrs. Clinton on the Democratic side; first, Mr. McCain and then Mr. Giuliani on the Republican side; seemed to defy certain laws of political gravity. In Mrs. Clinton's case, it was her chronic and extraordinarily high poll negatives. In Mr. McCain's case, it was his stubborn advocacy of issues unpopular to the GOP base (which eventually did take him out of first place). In Mr. Giuliani's case, it was history of social liberalism equally unpopular to GOP base voters.

Only the polls conducted in the week before the Iowa caucus are usually reliable, so the outcome there is not really known, but it would appear that Mr. Obama has a reasonable chance of winning there. Should he do so, it is unclear whether Mr. Edwards or Mrs. Clinton would come in second. It is even possible, with his organization and his good 2004 Iowa result, that Mr. Edwards could win. And it is also possible, despite the Obama surge, that Mrs. Clinton could win. If Obama and Edwards finish first and second,in either order, and Mrs. Clinton finishes third, her current lead in New Hampshire could melt away. If her "inevitability" thus evaporates, it could become a long contest that goes past February 5. This would be even more likely if some of the "second tier" candidates remain in the race, particularly Mr. Biden. On the other hand, if Mrs. Clinton wins or comes in a close second in Iowa and wins New Hampshire big, her nomination would seem to be assured.

Of particular importance this year are the so-called "super-delegates" made up of elected Democrats and party officials. This is a very large group, and considered the Democratic "establishment." It was widely thought that these delegates would go overwhelmingly to Mrs.Clinton, and they may, but even more than grass roots delegates, this bloc has a powerful stake in choosing a nominee who is likely to win in November. If the early primaries, and February 5, indicate that Mrs. Clinton is perceived by Democratic voters as weak or unlikeable, the super-delegates will likely switch to Mr. Obama, or to Mr. Edwards if he closes very strong and wins a lot of primaries.

On the Republican side, it is even foggier. Mr. Romney was supposed to win Iowa by a big margin. He is currently well ahead in New Hampshire. A defeat in Iowa and New Hampshire would almost certainly be mortal blows. Mr. Giuliani, a frontrunner for so long, has reverted to his original strategy of largely ignoring Iowa and New Hampshire, and devoting himself to big wins in Florida and then in the large northeastern and midwestern states and California. But not only Mr. Huckabee is surging. Mr. McCain seems much back in the news with prominent newspaper and political endorsements, and some have suggested that Mr. Thompson is at last showing some life in Iowa.

In fact, a reasonable scenario could be made at this point in the campaign for any of the five top tier GOP candidates to win. Since each of them has potential strengths in the February 5 primary states where so many delegates are chosen, it would seem that the Republican delegate count after February 5 could be far from decisive, even possibly leading to a contested convention in St.Paul in September.

If Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Romney or Mr. Giuliani fail to capture their party's nomination in the next six weeks or so, and even fade from contention, I think it will be because they did not really address their voters deepest concerns. All Democrats want change, i.e., change in who is running the country, but Democratic voters might also deeply crave a new kind of liberal politics. Mrs. Clinton's strategy of "overwhelming force" (of name recognition, money, organization and her husband) may itself be overwhelmed by a greater force of generational change. Mr. Giuliani's strategy of performing an end-run on social conservatives in his party by emphasizing his fiscal conservatism and his war on terror bona fides may be overwhelmed by a need for more conservative likability and charm. We don't know yet how badly Republicans want to win in 2008.

Whoever the nominees of each party will be, they will have to face each other in a bruising November campaign that will be decided, as virtually all U.S. presidential campaigns are decided, in the political center. Perhaps that is why John McCain's candidacy, long ago pronounced deceased, remains alive and still kicking, and perhaps that is why we do not yet understand the full consequences of Barack Obama's sudden appearance on the American political landscape.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The King of Democracy

It seems like a contradiction in terms to be called "The King of Democracy," but this epithet fits the role of King Juan Carlos of Spain uniquely and aptly.

Descended from the various royal families of Europe and imperial Spain, Juan Carlos has, in a single generation, created a new kind of monarchy, a modern institution which acts as the protector of the contemporary democratic republic, in direct contrast to the autocratic ways of his forbears.

Juan Carlos would have been recorded positively in the history books just for his extraordinary and courageous defense of Spanish democracy in 1981 when he almost singlehandedly stood in the way of a right-wing coup d'etat in Madrid that would have returned Spain to the falangist totalitarian state which existed under caudillo (dictator) Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975. A constitutional monarch, Juan Carlos has not ever had any specific political power in his country, but because of his leadership in 1981 and his subsequent dignified and mature presence overlooking the Spanish political environment, he has not only acquired moral power in Spain the old fashioned way, he has become a leading figure throughout the Spanish-speaking world (more than 400 million persons).

As I say, this would have been enough, but Juan Carlos apparently is not one to rest on his throne. Recently, in Chile for a conference of Spanish-speaking countries, the king confronted the latest version of caudillo, socialist President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. After Chavez continually and rudely haranged Spain and the United States, Juan Carlos told him in perhaps the most memorable riposte of the new century so far, "Por que no te callas" ("Why don¹t you shut up?").

Although most of the credit for the defeat of Mr. Chavez' constitutional power-grab this past Sunday should go to the Venezuelan people themselves, it was a close vote, and I think that Juan Carlos's remarks were a vital turning point in the referendum campaign.

So now the king of Spain has twice thwarted enemies of democracy, and he has done it against totalitiarian forces of the extreme right and the extreme left. Jose Ortega y Gasset, Spain¹s great philosopher of the 20th century (whose most famous book, The Revolt of the Masses, diagnosed and predicted the early Fascist and communist totalitarian regimes under Hitler and Stalin), would be very proud of the Spanish king today.

Coming from a nation which threw off a king and his colonial rule in 1776, I have not ever been particularly sympathetic to royal families and monarchs. I think it is fortunate that we have fewer and fewer of them today. The British heir to the throne, Prince Charles, has used his protracted waiting period to become king to take up the causes of organic farming and architecture, two positive matters, but not ones which create significant moral authority. (Fortunately, a Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. and a Labor prime minister, Tony Blair, were recent heads of the British government who, following the great Winston Churchill, have kept Great Britain as a leading moral force in the world today even as its military and political power has receded.)

There are a few remaining kings today, but the only other descended "head of state" who has earned worldwide respect is the Dalai Lama. He also descends from a line of autocratic rulers of Tibet, but since his exile 50 years ago, he has become a champion of Tibetan democracy, something which now does not exist. The Dalai Lama is not only a courageous political figure as he travels over the planet, but as the reigning philosopher of Tibetan Buddhism, he has brought a welcome message of compassion and tolerance to a world which is in great need of both.

The totalitarian threats to democracy do not ever seem to go away. Like viruses, they adapt to the medicines and vaccines we have made to defeat them in the past, and they reappear in new forms and with new "caudillos." Affluent and successful republics such as the United States tend to let down their guard, and permit these threats sometimes to grow and thrive.

There are hopeful sign, such as the recent victory of President Sarkozy in France, but there are many more worrisome ones. I wish that the American presidential campaign would address these threats more directly, and perhaps as the winnowing process of candidates continues, it will.

We have no king here, constitutional or otherwise. It is the president of the United States who stands at the "bully pulpit," and who must be the one to explain to the country and to the world why political and economic freedom is the only inoculation against encroaching tyranny.


-This article was first published in The Washington Times on December 7th, 2007.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A View From the "I" of the 2008 Storm

DES MOINES - Here in the "I" of the 2008 presidential nominating storm, first-in-the-nation Iowa, it's quite calm at theannual state GOP Reagan Dinner. I made the 4-hour drive from Minneapolis not only to attend the dinner, but to visit the Democratic candidates' headquarters, and to get a "sense" of where Iowa is going for its January 3 caucuses.

Fred Thompson spoke, and Mike Huckabee, buoyed by recent polls and media attention, came, too. Mitt Romney, the Iowa frontrunner is not here, but his wife Ann is, and the candidate made a personal videotaped speech to these Iowa GOP bigwigs, most of whom are already committed to one candidate or another. John McCain is not here, but has a hospitality suite to which virtually no one came in spite of a big cake with lots of frosting on it. Rudy Giuliani is also not here, and trails in the local polls in spite of a big lead in much of the rest of the nation.

Another reason I'm here is for the keynote speech by Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and unsuccessful U.S. senate candidate there last year. Steele is now the head of GOPAC, the organization Newt Gingrich and others founded years ago to foster new ideas and new blood into the Republican Party. Steele's selection is meant to revive the organization. He is also the latest high-profile, black Republican figure (a list that has included Collin Powell, Clarence Thomas, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Ken Blackwell, Condolezza Rice, J.C.Watts, Shelby Steele, James McWhorter, Alphonso Jackson and others) to step forward as a GOP conservative from a community that hitherto sent up only liberal Democrats as their public faces.

Michael Steele has "it," that is to say, the quality we sometimes describe as "charisma." It is not only his tall and commandingphysical presence, but even more the way he speaks and thinks. Republicans nationwide were disappointed at his narrow loss in 2006 to Democrat Ben Cardin, in Maryland, but as is well-known, it was the one of the worst years in decades to run as a Republican, regardless of race or ethnicity, for an open seat in the Congress. Maryland is also considered a very liberal state, and Steele is a strong economic conservative who thinks inbig and challenging perspectives.

His remarks, although not headlined this way, were really about a revised and new Republican Party, one that follows the 2006 electoral debacle, and succeeds the George W. Bush era. Steele makes no excuses or rationalizations for 2006. He says categorically that the Republican Party lost its way. But what is original about Steele in the current intraparty discussion is that he neither suggests as solutions that the party abandon its economic conservative principles nor simultaneously embrace an unthinking return to the radical social notions that once isolated the party and made it a perennial minority party.

From both a pragmatic and idealistic view, Steele is arguing that the "party of Lincoln" must not only re-establish itself as the party of economic prosperity and freedom, it must also continue to reach out to its former historical electoral base among black voters (as Jack Kemp has long urged) and welcome into its ranks, the large and growing Hispanic-American voter community, something which former Texas Governor George W. Bush so ably began to do in his two presidential campaigns. (Still another growing community, Southeast Asians, I think could be added to that list, as its numbers have swelled in several states, and in a short time, had considerable economic and political impact.)

Steele is a strongly pro-life Republican who was popular in pro-choice Maryland. He is not a social liberal, but he does understand that there are issues, which if taken to their extreme, satisfy only their zealots. As someone from an Eastern Seaboard urban state with a complex population, he argues for a Republican Party that can not only survive but once again flourish in our new electoral culture.

I will be returning to Iowa to examine the Democratic presidential race more closely. On this trip, I was able to observe Democratic candidates setting up for a donnybrook in January. The sense of how close Senator Hillary Clinton might be to locking up her party's nomination early is felt no greater than here where, if a change in momentum is to occur, it will probably have to begin to happen in Iowa. Of course, Howard Dean came into Iowa at this point in the 2004 campaign the prohibitive favorite, and left Iowa hopelessly behind Senators Kerry and Edwards.

The "Iowa" of the 2008 storm will not be so calm very much longer.


-This article was first published in The Washington Times on Nov. 2nd, 2007.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Coins of the Realm: Looking at the 2008 List

Presidential candidates have two sides just as coins do. This has almost always been true, but it is now more so than ever. Their obverse side wants to please voters. Its face says what they and their campaign advisors think voters want to hear. Their reverse side seldom speaks. It is the side, which should they win, will have to make decisions in the world beyond campaigns, that is, in the opaque, ferociously demanding, and complicated real world of the presidency itself.

In fact, the obverse side of a presidential candidate, the only side we usually see, often tells us very little about what kind of president he or she would be. In the case of those who have not had high executive office before, no matter what their verbiage and campaign position papers, we are can only guess how they might perform when given ultimate responsibilities.

In 2008, with its large number of choices in both major national parties, and no one among them previously holding the presidency or the vice presidency, the American people are really left in the dark in spite of the plethora of debates, appearances, political analyses and microscopic media examination of candidates and their personal histories.

We lump together what we think as most important as the notion of "character." This, we say, will instruct us best. But how do we accurately determine character? Many voters, and many in the media, want to examine personal lives. Obviously, this tells us something. But does it it tell us the vital information we need to know? A candidate has been divorced, for example, but what does that tell us about how they will act as president? A candidate attended, or did not attend, an Ivy League or other top university for his or her education, but does that predict competence in the Oval Office? A candidate served for many years in legislative office, even high legislative office, but does that prepare one sufficiently for the conduct and decision-making in the ultimate public executive office?

Looking at the 2008 list with this in mind, we have so far a very cloudy view, a view obscured by slogans, short sound bites and long position papers, measures of fundraising, ethnic and religious labels, contrived advertising, and attempts at political one-upmanship. Nor are the candidates and their campaigns helping us see through all the political camouflage.

After all we have seen and heard so far, and after this cycle's excruciatingly premature contest, we are still left guessing if we are going to get a "pig in a poke" such as Jimmy Carter, a bright man who turned out often to be incompetent as president, or a Harry Truman, a man with no college education who turned out to be exactly what the country needed and a man of true presidential character. Will we get a Richard Nixon whose character was so flawed that it overshadowed his presidency or a Ronald Reagan who has become the modern icon of his party?

We see the obverse sides of this year's candidates, but we have been left to guess their much more important reverse sides.

There once, and only once, was an American coin which had the same obverse and reverse. During the brief period between the American revolution in 1776 and the adoption of the Constitution in 1788, there was a semi-official coinage. Among the most popular of these coins, were the coins which portrayed the hero of the Revolution and the man who would become the nation's first president, George Washington. One of those coins had the head of Washington on both sides (known today, not surprisingly, as the "double head cent") and was minted in 1783. George Washington was the only American president perhaps who truly did not seek the office. He definitely was the only president to be offered a royal crown (reportedly, he turned it down three times), and notwithstanding the cherry tree myth, was known for speaking his mind and pandering to no one.

But he was a slaveholder who wore a wig, He would not have had a chance if he ran in 2008.


-This article was first published in The Washington Times on October 25th, 2007.