Friday, May 30, 2008

Bill Clinton now wants Hillary to be the Vice President

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on May 29th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As I predicted, the Clintons’ wins in the West Virginia and Kentucky primaries and Obama’s big win in Oregon last week surprised absolutely no one. Obama barely even campaigned in West Virginia and Kentucky and although the Clintons continue to argue they are more electable than Obama, they have ceased their negative attacks as they wind down their presidential campaign. It should all be over in two more weeks
During my discussion of the Clintons’ “end game” in last week’s column, my suggestion that the Clintons wanted Obama to pay off their campaign debts (as a way of gaining the Clintons’ support in this autumn’s general election) came as a rather unpleasant surprise to a few of my Republican friends who also happen to be supporters of Barack Obama. They thought it was totally unacceptable for our Obama campaign contributions to be used to help the Clintons..
First off I want to say that I do sympathize with the negative feelings about my suggestion that were expressed to me by many of my “Republicans for Obama” cohorts. The idea that our contributions might somehow be used to pay off the Clintons’ campaign debts is not a concept that I find easy to stomach either. Although such “pay offs” do happen with some frequency in US Presidential and congressional primaries, it is not the sort of thing either the winning or losing candidate are anxious to acknowledge publicly.
But however distasteful one might find this idea; it nonetheless serves an imminently practical and useful purpose for both the winning and losing candidates. The big benefit for the loser of course is they get relief from the burden of their accumulated campaign debts. In the case of the Clintons their financial liabilities are the largest that any candidate from either US political party have ever amassed and the Clintons’ $11.4 million in personal loans is less than half the total amount (which is close to $30 million).
As regards Obama shouldering a new $30 million burden in exchange for the Clintons withdrawal from the Democratic primary contest and their support in the November general election against John McCain, it should be noted that none of Obama’s current or future campaign donations will be used to pay off the Clintons’ campaign debts. Any and all money a person donates to Obama’s campaign can only be used by Obama to fund his Presidential campaign’s expenses, not the Clintons’ campaign debts. The way Obama helps pay off the Clintons’ campaign debts is by asking wealthy Obama supporters, who have already given him the $2,300 maximum allowed by law, to make a similar size contribution to the Clintons’ presidential campaign.
When the Clintons finally do call it quits at the beginning of June, what they will do is announce they are “suspending” their campaign, not ending it or withdrawing from the race. That allows them to legally continue to solicit and accept campaign donations even though their presidential campaign is actually over. If you think this sounds like some kind of shell game to avoid running afoul of US campaign finance laws then you would be right on the mark. Nonetheless, this is one of the realities of US political campaigning.
Given their numerous personal attacks on Obama and the divisive racial and gender separation tactics used by the Clintons over the past five months, many Obama campaign officials and supporters are none to pleased with the idea of helping the Clintons recoup the millions of dollars they had to loan their campaign this year to keep it going. Nonetheless it is in Obama’s long term general election interests to help them to do so as a way of unifying the Democratic Party and ensuring that Obama wins the election come November. “All’s Fair in Love and War” and in the US, politics is war!
The simple fact is Hillary Clinton has many older white, Hispanic and African American women supporters who had believed, hoped and prayed that a woman would finally be elected to serve in the most powerful job in the world. Many of them are extremely disappointed and maybe a little “bitter” that their dream will not be realized for at least another four or eight years, if not longer. But Obama needs them to get out and vote for him in the General Election instead of sitting at home nursing their wounded pride or expressing their anger by voting for McCain in November.
The Clintons have also appealed to the latent racial prejudice and fears of less educated, lower income white voters during their campaign. Obama needs the Clintons to tell voters that, despite what they said when they were campaigning against Obama, they should vote for Obama because he will still be a better President than McCain will. This will be a much harder sell for the Clintons than Hillary telling women to get out and vote for Obama, but their efforts to do so will be closely watched by both Obama’s supporters as well as Democratic Party leaders.
Should the Clintons fail to campaign vigorously for Obama leading up to the November election, both their standing and future influence in the Democratic Party will be seriously diminished. There are many Democrats who have never really liked the Clintons or the ethics related scandals surrounding them, but they tolerated them for the past 16 years because of Bill Clinton’s considerable political gifts.
If the Democrats lose this opportunity to reclaim the White House because of the racial and gender divides the Clintons have tried to take advantage of during their presidential campaign, the Clintons have to know that this will have a huge negative impact on any future political plans they might have. Even so, it remains to be seen whether the Clintons are truly willing to accept this loss of their best chance to return to the White House for the sake of their Democratic Party. But they do have one other chance which I will discuss next week

The Clintons' end game

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on May 22nd in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my column three weeks ago, I predicted that the Democratic primary contests in North Carolina and Indiana would be the “last two contested Democratic primaries of the 2008 primary election season.” When I was questioned about the validity of this prediction following statements by Hillary Clinton that she would continue in the race following her lopsided loss in North Carolina and near loss of Indiana, I told the questioner that my prediction was just as valid today as it was three weeks ago.
I will now attempt to explain my rationale. To my way of thinking a “contested” primary is one in which two or more candidates are utilizing all of their personnel and financial resources in an effort to either win the primary or hold down their opponent’s margin of victory.
Two of the five remaining states, West Virginia on May 13th and Kentucky on May 20th, are virtual locks as primary wins for the Clintons because they both have a large base of lower income white voters and she leads in the polls there by 20 to 30 percentage points. In addition to these states, Puerto Rico which votes on June 1st, also has an overwhelmingly Hispanic population which also heavily favours the Clintons.
On the other hand, two of the other remaining states, Montana and South Dakota which both vote on June 3rd, have demographics which are very favourable to Barack Obama as does the state of Oregon, which like Kentucky also casts its votes on May 20th.
Both the Clintons and Obama realize there is virtually no chance that either of them will be able to hold down their opponent’s margin of victory, much less win outside of the areas they are already very strong in. As a result, neither candidate is pouring all or even a substantial portion of their available campaign resources into any of these six remaining primaries. To be sure, both the Clintons and Obama will still appear at campaign rallies, give a few speeches and even run some TV ads in all of these states.
But they will be doing so to “keep up appearances” so to speak, which is not the same thing as “contesting” the primaries in these states. No my friends, despite what you may be reading or seeing on the telly about the US Democratic Presidential nomination “contest”, it in fact ended on Tuesday, May 6th when Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination by trouncing the Clintons in North Carolina and by almost winning Indiana.
With the voting results that evening, Barack Obama demonstrated to both the uncommitted Democratic super delegates as well as the Republican Party that he could “take a licking and keep on ticking.” As a result, a new phase of the US Democratic presidential campaign got underway, the one I refer to as “the end game.” This is the part of the party’s nomination process where the victor and the vanquished begin to negotiate the terms of surrender for the loser.
Let me also emphasize that this is a very delicate but important process, especially for the winner, because it will go a long way towards determining the victor’s chances of success in the November general election presidential campaign. In this particular case, Obama will have to negotiate a face saving exit strategy for the Clintons if he wants to ensure that they will actively support him in his presidential bid against John McCain.
I will now describe for you how I believe this process will unfold over the next three months leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August. The first steps were taken by each side in their respective “victory” speeches after they were declared the winners of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries.
Both Clinton and Obama congratulated each other for their respective victories and then went on to stress the need as well as their desire for the Democratic Party to unite behind the party’s nominee in November. Flanked by a very glum looking Bill Clinton, Hillary’s victory speech in Indian sounded almost like a concession speech with an emphasis on Democratic Party unity in the fall election campaign. While Obama also stressed his desire for party unity after congratulating Hillary at the outset of his speech, the rest of it sounded very “presidential” and appeared to be aimed at general election voters rather than his supporters or the Democratic Party.
The negotiations on Hillary’s exit from the campaign began the next day when her campign first “leaked” and then confirmed that the Clintons had been forced to loan their presidential campaign an additional $6.4 million of their personal fortune during April and May. This was seen as an embarrassing admission because it was in addition to the Clintons’ previously announced $5 million loan back in late January.
But in fact this was actually a signal to the Obama campaign regarding one of the most important terms of the Clintons’ agreement to surrender. It was then followed by the Clintons’ pledge to keep the contest going all the way to the convention if necessary.
What the Clintons were really doing was telling Obama that if he would agree to pay off their campaign debts of the $11.4 million in personal loans as well as another $10 million plus they owed people like former campaign strategist Mark Penn, they would try to exit the race before the end of the May and start urging their supporters to back Obama. Otherwise they were prepared to loan their campaign more money and continue to fight on till the August convention.
I think it is likely that Obama will allow the Clintons to “suspend” their campaign sometime soon after May 21st following their likely victories in West Virginia and Kentucky and Obama’s win in Oregon May 20th. Then the Clintons can claim to be going out as winners and Obama can start to reunite the party well before the convention. Now we’ll wait and see if I’m correct.

I think the fat lady is singing

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on May 15th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As I write this column American voters have just finished going to the polls in North Carolina and Indiana as part of our never-ending Democratic presidential primary to vote for their choice as a successor to President Bush. Today also marks the last day of Bertie Ahern’s 11 years of service to Ireland as Taoiseach. I know the media have grown weary of Bertie and some Irish citizens have become disillusioned because of Bertie’s allegedly questionable personal financial dealings while he served as Finance Minister, but I think history will judge him much more kindly than many of his critics currently do.
In my opinion Bertie Ahern did a fairly good job as Taoiseach over the course of his three terms as Ireland’s political leader and this fact will eventually lead most Irish citizens to look back and recall his successive terms as Taoiseach fondly. I wish I could say the same for one of Bertie’s political contemporaries who will also be stepping down in about eight more months, US President George Bush. In a marked contrast with the US President, Bertie Ahern saw that the media spotlight on the controversy surrounding his personal finances going back some fifteen years was making it very difficult for both him and the Fianna Fáil Party to continue to govern Ireland in an effective manner.
Across the Atlantic, it was five years ago that President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq by telling the American people and the rest of the world “Mission Accomplished.” Well today the President still lives in a dream world of what might have been instead of the real world of what is. Thus while all US Presidents have some difficulty getting their agendas addressed in their last year in office (because public attention shifts to the contest to succeed them), Bush is earning the singular distinction of becoming the most irrelevant and unsuccessful president during his final year in office in US history.
The recent debate about waiving federal gas taxes for the summer months was entirely focused on what Bush’s three would-be successors thought should be done rather than what President Bush thought about this issue. But this is only one small snapshot of how Bush has become totally irrelevant as US President. Among other things, Bush’s plan for housing reform has gone nowhere, his push for a free trade pact with Colombia was dead on arrival, his recent so called climate-warming initiative has been totally ignored and the 71% disapproval rating of how Bush is doing his job is the highest figure for any US President since the question was first asked in the 1930s. Even more amazing to me is the fact that 29% of Americans still approve of the how Bush is doing his job.
In an effort to rationalize his current legislative ineffectiveness, Bush’s political aides continue to characterize him as being intent on pursuing matters of principle. This is their response to those who accuse Bush of being unreasonably stubborn and refusing to face up to the realities of a reeling US economy and a gaping budget deficit that are both due in no small measure to an Iraq war which occupies more US combat troops today than it did when Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq five years ago. Thus President Bush continues to demonstrate that he is much more concerned about how his legacy will be viewed some years from now than he is in proposing viable solutions or bipartisan legislation to address the current problems bedevilling the United States.
President Bush argues that his ineffectual legislative proposals are based on his principles (albeit questionable ones) that are set in stone. The end result is that he further marginalizes himself by ignoring the complaints of Democratic and Republican congressional leaders rather than trying to compromise with them. The magnitude of President Bush’s delusions about himself and his accomplishments as President is both an amazing and very disheartening sight to behold. Is it any wonder then that the American people have turned their focus to who the next President will be? Why should Americans even bother concerning themselves with the views of a man who doesn’t have any grasp of reality?
So based on the results from the Indiana and North Carolina Democratic primaries tonight what conclusions can we draw about who is likely to succeed George W. Bush?
While I may be wrong, based on my experiences in Arkansas politics I believe the Clintons’ purpose in playing up racial and gender divisions is two-fold. Either they will win the Democratic nomination and then the Presidency in November (they’re assuming of course that African-Americans will forgive the Clintons for their racially divisive campaign tactics and will still turn out to vote for them over McCain), or they will so damage Obama in the process of losing the Democratic nomination that Obama will end up losing to McCain in November. This scenario validates their claim that “he can’t win” without them publicly admitting that they’re also privately saying “because he is black”.
A loss by Obama in November would then position the Clintons to run for the Democratic nomination again in 2012 and tell Democrats “Hey we told you Hillary (and Bill) was the stronger candidate so now its time for you to let us prove it.” The Clinton’s greatest fear is that Obama will win in 2008 and then they won’t get another opportunity to run again until 2016, when Hillary will be 69 years old.
But the combination of Obama’s overwhelming triumph in North Carolina and the Clintons’ razor thin win of Indiana will probably be enough to swing most of the remaining Democratic super delegates to Obama’s side of the ledger. Whatever ground Clinton gained in the popular vote coming out of Pennsylvania was washed away tonight by the almost 15 percentage point loss Clinton sustained in North Carolina. I could be wrong, but I do believe I heard the “Fat Lady” singing tonight.

Who is fanning the flames of gender and racial divisions?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on May 8th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In a column two weeks ago I began to discuss the politics of race and gender in America and ended by pointing to differences between the candidates positions on healthcare as well as Clinton’s propensity for fudging the truth. I also said that her lack of judgement on many issues had nothing to do with her being a woman, but instead were indicative of the kind of tactics used by many politicians; most of them males, in terms of telling people what they want to hear without substantive actions to back it up.
There is one more distinction I want to make between Obama and Clinton before I move on and that involves the issue of money. The Clintons have made over $100 million over the last seven years with Bill Clinton earning $52 million from speeches and consulting fees, which is more than all of the other former US Presidents have made combined.
Much of this money was paid to Bill Clinton by the same large corporations which have been Hillary’s most generous campaign supporters, hoping the Clintons would return to their positions of power in the White House. Anyone who believes Bill Clinton would have made anything approaching this kind of money from consulting fees and speeches if Hillary didn’t have any intention of running for President, is quite naïve in my opinion.
Yet Hillary claims she is fighting for the interests of working class families and small businesses. If this is true then why do the Clintons still owe many small businesses and working class union members many thousands of dollars in month’s old unpaid campaign bills, while Obama owes them nothing in unpaid bills for his campaign?
Among the Clintons’ hundreds of unpaid campaign bills is $7,700 owed to Ohio and Massachusetts theatrical stage employee union locals and $4,400 to New Hampshire’s Winnacunnet Cooperative School District. Furthermore, the campaign has stopped returning phone calls or e-mails and didn’t respond to a certified letter from Forty Two, an Ohio event production company which employs union workers, regarding over $30,000 in unpaid stage and equipment bills.
A union employee of Forty Two has this to say about Clinton; “We worked very hard to put together these events on a moment’s notice and do absolutely everything to a ‘t’ to make it look perfect on television for her and for her campaign. Sen. Clinton talks about helping working families, people in unions and small businesses. But when it comes down to actually doing something that shows that she can back up her words with action, she fails.” Sounds like a bit of buyers remorse from a Clinton supporter to me.
Clinton supporters like Geraldine Ferraro, who claim that Clinton is being ganged up on by the old “boys club” political establishment and that Obama is in the frontrunners position now because he is a “black man”, conveniently ignore the Clinton shortcomings that I have cited in my columns. These shortcomings have nothing to do with Clinton’s gender, but everything to do with the poor judgement and weak values she possesses. This also explains why Clinton and her supporters regard women (or former members of the Bill Clinton administration like Bill Richardson) who won’t vote for her as “traitors”.
Clinton is much more subtle, but no less effective, in her appeal to women to vote for her because she is a woman too, by repeatedly making comments about women approaching her with stories about how important her running for president is to them.
Clinton has also begun to play the race card by telling Democratic super-delegates that they must support her because “Obama can’t win” and leaving off the rest of the line “because he is black”. Clinton’s supporters are much more direct however, telling super-delegates that the reason Obama can’t win is because many white voters won’t vote for Obama in November because of the recent publicity surrounding some of the racist comments his former church pastor has made during some of his sermons over the years.
Obama has disavowed those statements by his former pastor and in a historic speech about race relations in America sought to explain to Americans why whites and blacks are still divided on racial issues forty years after the death of Martin Luther King. Obama’s speech was the most honest and forthright speech about US race relations that I have ever heard and, should he become president, it will go down in history as one of the best speeches he has ever delivered. Obama was raised by a single white mother and his white grandmother. I believe this speech came from his heart since he wrote it and then delivered it for 38 minutes without ever once referring to notes or using a teleprompter.
Obama addressed white voters by describing the effects of generations of discrimination on African Americans who grew up in a more segregated America, like Rev. Wright. Obama said “That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends, but it does find voice in the barbershop or the beauty shop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by (black) politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.”
Obama also addressed black voters telling them that “a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town, when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed, resentment builds over time. ”
So you decide; which Democratic candidate is trying to persuade Americans to move beyond racial and gender divisions and which one is still trying to fan the flames of these simmering old resentments to get elected?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

This is not a Pretty Sight

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on May 1st in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

The results are in from Pennsylvania and the Clintons as expected, won the popular vote by just over nine percentage points against Senator Barack Obama. Looking ahead, next Tuesday voters in North Carolina and Indian will go to the polls to cast their ballots in what I believe will likely be the last two contested Democratic primaries of the 2008 primary election season. Yes there will be still be five states plus Puerto Rico that will be voting for a Democratic nominee in the remaining four weeks of this season which ends on June 3rd , but I don’t think Billary Clinton will still be in the race anymore following the their losses to Senator Obama in these two upcoming May 6th primaries.
So what lessons about the nature of US politics can be drawn from the results of last week’s Democratic presidential primary in Pennsylvania? Well, thirteen percent of the white voters in Pennsylvania said that the race of the candidate was an important factor for them and 75 percent of these voted for Clinton. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, had predicted race would be a factor back in February when he told political journalists that “You’ve got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate.” While they may represent a slowly diminishing segment of the total US population, the number of voters who cast their ballots for Mrs. Clinton because she was white arguably represent most if not all of the margin of difference between the two candidates.
Another thing we saw was that despite the distaste most Americans express for negative and or personal political attacks by candidates on their opponents, the fact remains that such tactics continue to work in favour of those who use them as the Clintons are now demonstrating. Until such time as these tactics have been shown to yield unfavourable results for those who choose to use them, we can expect them to continue regardless of what the opinion polls say about voters growing tired of them.
The Clintons have a lot of experience on both the giving and receiving end of negative personal attacks and have shown themselves to once again be very adept at fighting this kind of trench warfare. But the fact that they have increasingly resorted to such tactics ever since their initial defeat by Obama in Iowa isn’t really surprising all things considered. After running their Presidential campaign into the ditch and then finding themselves drowning in a sea of unpaid campaign debts, mud slinging was their only desperate resort to wrest the Democratic Presidential nomination away from Obama.
Watching the Clintons go down and out in this desperate grasping manner is not a pretty sight for me and many other Americans to watch however. In fact it actually saddens me because unlike many of my fellow Republicans, Independents and a sizeable number of Democratic supporters of Senator Obama, I do not see the Clintons as an evil or diabolical political duo.
I believe Hillary Clinton is one of, if not the most intelligent and astute women to have ever resided in the White House. Her daughter Chelsea is a reflection of what a good job she did as a parent under often trying circumstances. Hillary has also done a fairly good job as a US Senator for the state of New York over the last eight years, notwithstanding some of the very questionable politically motivated votes she has cast during her time as a US Senator.
For his part, I believe Bill Clinton is one of the most gifted and personable politicians that I have ever had the pleasure of campaigning against and or voting for. (Yes I voted for him when he ran for re-election in 1996) Bill Clinton also did fairly good job during his tenure as US President given the fact that he was dealing with a Republican majority in Congress during most of his two terms in office. Until he got involved in the current Presidential contest, Bill Clinton had also requited himself fairly well as a former President by acting as an Ambassador of good will for the United States.
Unfortunately however, the Clintons are now hard at work tarnishing their notable legacies of public service to the American people. Hillary Clinton sees the Democratic nomination as her just reward for all that she has endured through the years as the spouse of gifted but morally flawed former Arkansas Governor and US President. She believes that she has paid her dues as a political figure subjected to ridicule and years of public attacks by muckraking conservative pundits and Republican politicians. But she has also refused to acknowledge that some of her own actions have played a role in these attacks.
Bill Clinton erroneously views his wife Hillary’s bitter fight for the Democratic Presidential nomination as a referendum on his own Presidential legacy rather than as a gauge of the Hillary Clinton’s abilities as a Commander in Chief and Chief Executive Officer of the most powerful country in the world. Granted, Hillary never could have gotten to where she is today as a Senator and as the first woman to run for US President had she not been married to Bill Clinton, but this election is not about Bill Clinton or his legacy as US President.
The Clinton’s have refused to acknowledge the painful reality that their campaign is based on the politics of the last century. They continue to live in denial which is why they truly believe that it is their duty to save the Democratic Party from nominating a man who will not win the General Election because he is an African-American. Their denial is so strong that it allows them to ignore the damage that their scorched earth political tactics are doing to their political legacies and the Democratic Party. I truly hate to see them ending their political careers this way.