Jack and John

That Jack Abramoff was sentenced to prison the same day U.S. Sen. John McCain spoke to the Republican Convention warrants some sustained reflection.  For what it reminds us of is that try as he might, John McCain simply cannot shake and distance himself from the recent disapointing era of Republican rule. 

One of the most important things the Obama camp will have to do in the days ahead is to do a better job at evoking what went wrong when the GOP was in charge, and reminding everyone that for a generation, John McCain has been, yes, a Republican leader. "Voted with Bush 90 percent of the time."  Does that do it?  Is it potent enough?  Why not indict the whole Republican era, not just Bush? For while Bush is going away, those Republicans and their politics remain - unprecedented corruption (images of Abramoff, Don Young, Cunningham, etc), an economics for the wealthy by the wealthy and not for us, a foreign policy that has left our enemies emboldened, Bin Laden on the loose, and our military less capable of defending America?  That by electing McCain and Palin, we will be electing a political party and a governing strategy that has done so much to weaken America and its people? That this is the very opposite of patriotism? 

As John McCain himself admitted in his speech to the Republican Convention, his Party left America worse than he found it......

We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption....We lost their trust, when we valued our power over our principles.

And that in order to win the nomination, and seize power, John McCain had to embrace the failed politics and strategies of this era?  Its economics? Its foreign policy? Its slash and burn and lying politics? Its approach to torture? Toward immigrants and immigration?  That in the process of winning the nomination that he became one of those Republicans?

In April I wrote

Not a big fan of McSame - Some of the early arguments coming from the Democratic/progressive side attempt to make McCain into Bush. But I think this approach is bound to fail. McCain is his own man. He isn't George Bush. They may have worked together to bring about this disasterous conservative era. They have similar beliefs. But McCain isn't Bush. He has a powerful and compelling personal narrative. His take on Iraq is different. His economic plan is different. His position on immigration is different. It is time for those who have opposed Bush to let go of him as a man, and begin making the indictment against his beliefs, his government and the mess he and his team - with McCain's help - have left us. The country has written Bush off, and is turning the page. It is time for the progressive movement to do the same.

To that end, I think the new DNC Ad is a good one. It takes McCain's own words and ties them to the performance of the conservative economic strategy now embraced by the Arizona Senator. An editorial in the Washington Post today further disembles the inanity of McCain's emerging economic arguments, providing much more new material for those of us who have opposed the bankrupt and failed economic approach of the modern conservatives.

With McCain-Palin surging, the Obama campaign now has two jobs. To make its case for why an Obama Presidency will make America great, good and prosperous again, and why McCain-Palin won't, the Obama camp needs to take a page from the GOP Convention and offer a sustained narrative, over time, that makes their case.  This is not about rapid response now.  It is about recasting the race, taking it up a level, telling a compelling and powerful story, and coming to terms with that a sustained fight betwen Country First and Change We Can Believe In will put Old Man McCain in the White House next year.

More Evidence of a McCain-Palin surge

USA-Gallup has the GOP ticket up 50-46 among registered voters, and found movement consistent with the Gallup and Rasmussen tracks from over the weekend.

The Sarah Effect - Sunday's Rasmussen Track Has the Race Tied

Showing continued momentum for the GOP, the Sunday am Rasmussen track has the race now tied.  This post from yesterday has a more detailed look at how the race is changing - among the most interesting findings is the GOP surge with women post-Palin. 

The SF Chronicle has an interesting piece today on the resurgent GOP.  It includes this passage: 

"Sarah Palin is driving the presidential election right now," said Simon Rosenberg, who heads NDN, a Washington-based moderate Democratic advocacy group. "The McCain campaign is no longer in charge of their own campaign. They've hitched their ticket to a media superstar, and she could be the key to their victory - or the thing that takes them down. She could be a rocket ship or a train wreck."

Earlier this week I offered up this initial take on the arrival of Sarah Palin on the national stage, and these thoughts on what her inadequate vetting says about John McCain.

There can be no doubt now that the Republicans had a very good week, and emerged from Minnesota a very different Party than they went in.  How Palin fares will be critical to the fall election, and given how litttle we know about her expect the media to spend the month before the VP debate trying to help fill in the blanks.  It is something the Democrats will need to do as well. 

Update, 1pm - Gallup now has McCain ahead, 48-45.  I think this is the strongest showing for McCain in this poll all year.

McCain, The Fallen Hero

As I wrote earlier this week, the central drama of the Republican Convention was not the emergence of Governor Sarah Palin, but could Senator John McCain adequately distance himself from this terribly disapointing era of GOP governance to give himself a shot at winning this thing?

As of this morning while I think McCain and his team tried very hard and had a strong last 2 days of the Convention I'm not sure they pulled it off. Hurricane Gustav did its part, knocking Bush and Cheney off the stage without disrupting the rest of the Convention. And Sarah Palin did her part, and has now arrived on the national stage as a powerful new part of the GOP's future. We also saw all sorts of GOP moderates, not normally associated with hard right conservative politics. We were bombarded with iconic American images, mostly from a time gone by. We heard about the virtues of small town life and the dangers of cosmopolitianism. We saw large and attractive families, strong and articulate women, and a never ending stream of American flags. What we almost never heard about was George Bush.

While Palin was a glimpse of the GOP's future, most of what we saw was an evocation of the GOP's and America's past. After all John McCain was born a long time ago. He is the oldest man to be the nominee of either Party. He is very much a man of the 20th century, of its battles, struggles and culture. The problem for him is that past includes the GOP's recent Washington ascendency a period which has without doubt been among the worst periods of goverance America has ever seen.

In his speech last night John McCain acknowledges his disapointment with his Party in recent years, and while he does his best to spread the blame the thrust of his remarks are clear:

I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Senator Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. We lost their trust, when we valued our power over our principles.

And in watching him last night, this aging warrior, I got the sense that he knew that it was unlikely that he was going to win this election and lead this fight in restoring his Party. That he could craft a road map, and promote the leaders - like Palin and Ridge and Whitman - whom he hoped would carry on this important fight. But that the damage done by the recent conservative rise was too great, too fresh and that too many of its leaders were still in positions of power; that he, by adopting so many of the core arguments of this era to win the nomination was no longer the man of virtue he once was; and that he at the end of the day simply does not have a big enough vision, enough energy, enough understanding of the moment to be the one who can lead this post Bush-DeLay-Abramoff Party forward.

Which is perhaps why this Convention spent so much time talking about him and his past - it was in essence a validictory event rather than the beginning of a winning campaign. And that it did achieve something very important to McCain - the beginning of the liberation of the Party he loves from the grips of corrupt, weak and ineffective leaders. That my friends is no small accomplishment, and one that McCain seems to be in the process of pulling off. Whether however he can do the next thing - make a more compelling argument about the future than his opponents - remains to be seen. The task of doing so became almost impossible when McCain sacrified his own beliefs and principles to win the GOP primary, and in my gut I think he knows this.

More than anyone else John McCain knows that the mythical character he has become is not the successful aging warrior, but the fallen hero, overwhelmed by events much greater than him. And that his year he will do his part and fight the good fight all the while knowing that it will be others who end up carrying on and winning the battle that he began waging in St. Paul.


Last Night in St. Paul: Déjà Vu

Déjà vu. In 1992, while managing economic policy for Bill Clinton's campaign, I recall watching the Republican Convention in happy disbelief. For days, the gabfest had veered sharply and angrily to the right; and then, when George H.W. Bush accepted his renomination, it took him 26 minutes to get to the economy, the central issue of that campaign, which he talked about for perhaps five minutes. He didn't get it, and neither did John McCain last night. It took him even longer to get to the deep, economic concerns of a majority of Americans, and then devoted about three minutes to jobs, wages, the housing bust, globalization, trade, debt, and the rest. He doesn't get it either.

Another aging, career politician out of touch is hardly news. But another president who doesn't understand or much care about what's happening to most people in our economy would have serious long-term consequences for the real prospects of tens of millions of American families. And deteriorating conditions for most could well undermine public support for the measures that a responsible president will have to take over the next generation - including broad based IT training for all workers; universal access to post-secondary education; a major national commitment to 21st century infrastructure, including universal broadband and climate-friendly light rail system in most major metropolitan areas; a national commitment to aggressively support and promote R&D in climate friendly technologies and fuels, and support to broadly deploy the new technologies and alternative fuels; new cost-control provisions to slow rising health care costs as we provide universal access to health care insurance; and more.

Somehow, none of this made its way into John McCain's acceptance speech, which is only the most recent evidence that he doesn't have what we need in our next president.

RNC Convention - Straight Stalk, or Straight Up Lies?

Always fact-check - I appreciate the AP's efforts in correcting the "errors" in several RNC speeches:

Attacks, praise stretch truth at GOP convention

By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press WriterWed Sep 3, 11:48 PM ET

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Republican supporters held back little Wednesday as they issued dismissive attacks on Barack Obama and flattering praise on her credentials to be vice president. In some cases, the reproach and the praise stretched the truth.

Some examples:

PALIN: "I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending ... and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere."

THE FACTS: As mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million. In her two years as governor, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. While Palin notes she rejected plans to build a $398 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport, that opposition came only after the plan was ridiculed nationally as a "bridge to nowhere."

PALIN: "There is much to like and admire about our opponent. But listening to him speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform — not even in the state senate."

THE FACTS: Compared to McCain and his two decades in the Senate, Obama does have a more meager record. But he has worked with Republicans to pass legislation that expanded efforts to intercept illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction and to help destroy conventional weapons stockpiles. The legislation became law last year. To demean that accomplishment would be to also demean the work of Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a respected foreign policy voice in the Senate. In Illinois, he was the leader on two big, contentious measures in Illinois: studying racial profiling by police and requiring recordings of interrogations in potential death penalty cases. He also successfully co-sponsored major ethics reform legislation.

PALIN: "The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes, raise payroll taxes, raise investment income taxes, raise the death tax, raise business taxes, and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars."

THE FACTS: The Tax Policy Center, a think tank run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, concluded that Obama's plan would increase after-tax income for middle-income taxpayers by about 5 percent by 2012, or nearly $2,200 annually. McCain's plan, which cuts taxes across all income levels, would raise after tax-income for middle-income taxpayers by 3 percent, the center concluded.

Obama would provide $80 billion in tax breaks, mainly for poor workers and the elderly, including tripling the Earned Income Tax Credit for minimum-wage workers and higher credits for larger families. He also would raise income taxes, capital gains and dividend taxes on the wealthiest. He would raise payroll taxes on taxpayers with incomes above $250,000, and he would raise corporate taxes. Small businesses that make more than $250,000 a year would see taxes rise.

MCCAIN: "She's been governor of our largest state, in charge of 20 percent of America's energy supply ... She's responsible for 20 percent of the nation's energy supply. I'm entertained by the comparison and I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America," he said in an interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson.

THE FACTS: McCain's phrasing exaggerates both claims. Palin is governor of a state that ranks second nationally in crude oil production, but she's no more "responsible" for that resource than President Bush was when he was governor of Texas, another oil-producing state. In fact, her primary power is the ability to tax oil, which she did in concert with the Alaska Legislature. And where Alaska is the largest state in America, McCain could as easily have called it the 47th largest state — by population.

MCCAIN: "She's the commander of the Alaska National Guard. ... She has been in charge, and she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities," he said on ABC.

THE FACTS: While governors are in charge of their state guard units, that authority ends whenever those units are called to actual military service. When guard units are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, they assume those duties under "federal status," which means they report to the Defense Department, not their governors. Alaska's national guard units have a total of about 4,200 personnel, among the smallest of state guard organizations.

FORMER ARKANSAS GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Palin "got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States."

THE FACTS: A whopper. Palin got 616 votes in the 1996 mayor's election, and got 909 in her 1999 re-election race, for a total of 1,525. Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, but he still got 76,165 votes in 23 states and the District of Columbia where he was on the ballot during the 2008 Presidential primaries.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOV. MITT ROMNEY: "We need change, all right — change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington — throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin."

THE FACTS: A Back-to-the-Future moment. George W. Bush, a conservative Republican, has been president for nearly eight years. And until last year, Republicans controlled Congress. Only since January 2007 have Democrats have been in charge of the House and Senate.

Following on Simon's post, it's clear that the RNC not only has a flare for drama, but will straight up lie if necessary. Throughout the RNC Convention we have heard eloquent stories, partisan attacks, but no real solutions. The RNC is doing exactly what they criticized Barack Obama for doing: giving nice speeches with no substance. While during the DNC Convention, not a single speaker focused on the RNC - they might have made differences known on issues, but at no time were speakers condescending or snide about Senator McCain.  Instead, they focused on presenting their candidate and on Barack Obama's specific proposals in the areas of Energy Reform, Immigration, the Economy, and Health Care. Stories can be entertaining for awhile, but in the end, voters will ask for substance. As Gov. Sebelius stated in the Huffington Post, hockey moms may be moved by speeches, but in the end they want to know exactly how the next President will make health care affordable, increase their wages, or improve schools. As Barack Obama pointed out at Mile-High Stadium, "it's not about me" - this election should be about the American people, but the GOP strategy is precisely to make it about stories and characters. Rep. Wasserman-Shultz put it best: "Where is the beef? Where is the evidence? Sarah Palin is not a reformer...If her best example of being a reformer was trying to sell a plane on E-Bay, that is not my definition of reform." Reform is not found in the usual stretching of the truth in politics. To be successful tonight, John McCain will have to shift from this strategy of making it about Barack Obama and instead focus on how he proposes to pay for the pipelines, nuclear power, solar, and expensive alternative energy sources that Gov. Palin spoke about. He will have to explain the incentives to businesses to conserve energy, to have acessible health care for employees, and how he will make the U.S. competitive in a global, 21st century, marketplace.

What World Does The Republican Party Live In?

I have watched the coverage of the Republican Convention for three days now and I have two main observations: 1) they have not presented a single proposal, just snide remarks (clever ones, but merely snide remarks all the same) and 2) the crowd is older and all white. Such a homogenous crowd is simply not reflective of the reality of the United States of America - watching and listening to the Convention makes one thing abundantly clear: the Republican Party is so very, very out of touch with the country they claim to put first.

The Washington Post's Eli Saslow and Robert Barnes note in a piece published today:

Only 36 of the 2,380 delegates seated on the convention floor are black [which is 1.5 percent of those present, while blacks make up over 12% of the U.S. population], the lowest number since the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies began tracking diversity at political conventions 40 years ago. Each night, the overwhelmingly white audience watches a series of white politicians step to the lectern -- a visual reminder that no black Republican has served as a governor, U.S. senator or U.S. House member in the past six years.

The lack of diversity is out of sync with the demographic changes in the United States. Twenty-four state delegations at the Xcel Energy Center have no black members at all. A few weeks ago Simon wrote about the Census Bureau reporting that racial and ethnic minorities will make up a majority of the country's population by 2042 -- almost a decade earlier than what the bureau predicted just four years ago. Two-thirds of Americans are non-Hispanic whites, 12.4 percent are black and 14.8 percent are Hispanic,according to 2006 census numbers. Not only is the party out of sync - it appears Republicans are making a concerted effort to ignore the multiplicity of nationalities and races in the United States, as they propose to eliminate all non-citizens from being counted in the next Census.

Only a few years ago, Republicans talked publicly about the party's aspirations to diversify -- So what happened? As in so many other areas, the Republican Party has no record and no proposals to offer any particular demographic. The party made a concerted effort to court Hispanics in 2004, but NDN has tracked how the GOP's electoral gains under George W. Bush have been diminished by the hard-line stance many Republicans have taken on immigration.

A black Republican delegate from Texas, Tony Leatherman agreed, "You see what Obama has done, and it's a reminder of what's possible." But the Republicans have proven that they are too cynical to consider what's possible, they're too busy trying to glorify the past in order to avoid dealing with the reality of today and the very real challenges of tomorrow. They demonstrate this by focusing on putting down their opponent - a product of the bi-racial, multi-cultural society in which most of America lives - instead of developing solutions that can appeal to the wide array of Americans. As Sally Quinn wrote, describing how the two parties are worlds apart: some people might want to live in McCain's or Sarah Palin's world, "but I believe that we live in Obama's world."

The Palin Speech, Part 1 - On TV, narrative and the GOP

Two weeks ago, I wrote:

While a great deal has been written about the lessening impact of TV, I think the McCain campaign is demonstrating its lingering power and influence. What is the McCain campaign other than a series of TV ads and videos (that then get played again and again on TV)? Their candidate has receded. They have been speaking through a much more reliable set of messages - edited video, which unlike their candidate, doesn't have that nasty habit of getting way off message. And it has worked - the race has tightened now, and we appear headed into the two Conventions pretty close to tied.

As we look forward to the VP picks of both parties I get the sense that given the way the McCain campaign is being run now, they will attempt to pick a new spokesman for their campaign - someone good looking, telegenic, articulate. Their current spokesman, McCain, has, let us say, lots of limitations. So let him be that vague presence at the end of the ads, show up for the debates and Convention heavily scripted, and let the new guy do a great deal of the heavy lifting.

As television, last night's speech was pretty powerful, and Sarah Palin established herself as a potent political weapon in the GOP's aging arsenal. There was great art in that speech - the small town girl up from the bootstraps narrative, the crisp text, strong lines, her confident delivery, and her overall just plain good looks and likeable personality. It was just an awfully good show, and reminded all of us just how good the Republicans can be at this game of politics.

It also reminded me of how differently modern conservatives view political candidates than those on the left. Starting with Reagan, there has been this consciousness on the right that a candidate can be a vehicle, a spokesperson, a figurehead for a set of ideological arguments; that there is artifice, theater, story-telling at the core of politics; that because of this, the modern GOP has excelled at the marketing, television side of the business; but as we found out this decade, all this rhetoric, ideology, powerful TV and well-rehearsed speeches by good looking people have not left American better off than these conservatives found it. They have been long on marketing and advertising and short on governing. And it is this inability for the conservative movement to mature into a powerful governing force, moving beyond its immature rhetorical stage, that in many ways is the story of the election. Those who argue each day that government is the problem have turned out not to be very good at the governing part.

So Sarah Palin arrived last night on the national scene, the latest and most modern character from conservative central casting. But like so many other elements of today's conservative movement, her story, however compelling, is more fiction than fact - she raised taxes, has had very little responsibility for governing, supported the Bridge to Nowhere, lied repeatedly about Obama's record. So even that self-proclaimed straight talker, John McCain, has been unable to liberate his Party from the very worst of its traditions - the deep and profound belief that they should never let facts get in the way of a good story.



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