Sunday, July 20, 2008

Republican Veep Stakes

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 17th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Having covered the Democratic field in several previous columns, today I want to discuss who John McCain might pick as his Vice President.
Its worth noting that even though John McCain was the Republican candidate I personally favoured and thought would be the best Republican nominee, in a marked contrast with Barack Obama, McCain didn’t win the nomination because he ran a better campaign than his opponents. McCain won in spite of his many presidential campaign mistakes simply because everything beyond his control fell into place. For John McCain this combination of fortuitous events resulted in a “perfect storm” that wrecked all of the other Republican presidential candidates’ ships, in some case before they ever got to sea.
So I will begin my review of the Republican field of possible Vice Presidential candidates by starting with the losers of the Republican Presidential nomination contest. The fourth place finisher and champion of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party, Ron Paul, might have actually had an outside chance at being the VP were it not for his vocal opposition to continuing the Iraq war, so there is absolutely no chance McCain picks this former opponent who is so diametrically opposed to his own position on Iraq.
Then we have former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose Presidential campaign ship ran aground on the Florida shoals at the end of January before Rudy ever had a chance to get his boat out into the open waters of the Super Tuesday primaries. Because Giuliani has a reputation as a crime buster as well as a moderate record on most social issues, he could actually help McCain win some votes among the independents and moderate Republicans who are currently leaning towards the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Furthermore, over the last 50 years almost all Presidential elections have been decided in the favour of the candidate who drew a majority of independent votes.
But a choice of Giuliani as VP appears unlikely in this year’s Presidential election because McCain himself is already suspect as a true conservative in the eyes of most Republican Party social conservatives. To pick Giuliani as his running mate would have the effect of “kicking sand in their faces” and would lead many of these Republican Party stalwarts to simply not bother voting in the General Election. Since there are so many social conservatives who don’t trust that McCain is really as conservative as he claims, this makes choosing someone like Giuliani as a running mate virtually impossible.
The elimination of Giuliani as a VP possibility also underscores the fact that the toughest issue for McCain to resolve prior to the General Election will be deciding how to run to the centre on issues in order to attract moderate and independent voters without further alienating the Republican base of social conservatives in the process. .
Unfortunately for Senator McCain his own weakness among Republican social conservative is a negative consequence stemming from his attractiveness to independent and moderate voters through the years. Thus I believe McCain will be forced to pick a VP who is perceived as a true conservative by social conservatives, rather than someone who could help him win the support of independent and moderate voters in November.
So what about Mitt Romney, the multi-millionaire former Massachusetts Governor who finished third in the Republican Presidential nomination contest? Even though Romney probably has a better reputation among social conservative voters than John McCain does, many evangelical Christians are nonetheless apprehensive of him as well. While some of their apprehensions are due to their questions about how Christian he is because of his Mormon faith, Romney’s positions on many social values issues were decidedly more liberal when he was Governor of Massachusetts, than the stances he took while running for President.
On the other hand Romney has both the prior business experience and support of the Republican Party’s economic conservatives, not to mention millions of dollars of his own money that he could pour into the Presidential race. Romney’s millions are an important consideration because for the first time in memory, the Republican Party looks to be at a financial disadvantage going into the General Election. This is largely due to Obama’s huge base of internet campaign donors that Obama has turned to repeatedly during the course of the Democratic nomination to raise more money than his opponents.
While Romney wouldn’t be a bad choice for VP because of his money and support among economic conservatives, I think his chances are slim because of the genuine animosity that exists between him and John McCain. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s hard to tab someone to be your second in command when you genuinely dislike that person. While Romney would jump at the chance to be VP I just don’t think McCain is the type to forget the things Romney said about him on the campaign trail.
That leads me to the guy who finished second to McCain, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Unlike Romney, Huckabee never said unkind things about McCain during the Presidential nomination contest and he is a darling of Republican social conservatives. But Huckabee doesn’t bring anything else to the ticket other than a penchant for stand up comedy which is why McCain probably won’t choose him either.
I could be wrong, but I’m betting McCain ends up picking someone like Minnesota Governor Tom Pawlenty or Florida Governor Charlie Crist as his running mate. Both men are safe choices that won’t antagonize the GOP’s economic or social conservatives and as Governors of important swing states, can help deliver their states’ electoral votes to McCain’s column come November.
If McCain does pick one of them it would also represent the kind of political calculations that lead to a VP choice that has always worked well in the past, but may not be what voters are hungry for in a “Change” election. In other words, I think the best choice isn’t always the safest choice.

Obama's main obstacles

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 10th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As a follow-up to last weeks column I want to discuss the three interconnected obstacles which Senator Obama must still overcome if he wants to become America’s 44th US president.
The first one is our fear of change involving someone or something which is either unknown or unfamiliar to us. The second obstacle is ignorance of the facts coupled with a predisposition to believe what we want to believe when we don’t know the facts. The last obstacle is the latent racial prejudice which still exists in the hearts and minds of many white Americans more than a hundred years after the United States first Republican President named Abraham Lincoln freed America’s slaves.
Sadly for me, as soon as Barack Obama claimed the Democratic nomination for President of the United States I began to receive emails from friends and acquaintances which underscored the unfortunate existence of all three of these obstacles to Barack Obama’s election as America’s next president in November. Now I want to offer you some quotes from the email that I have received most often in the last couple of months.
The first email came under the heading of FAMILY PICTURES OF THE 'POTENTIAL' NEW FIRST FAMILY?? How come we haven't seen or known about some of these....? These statements were then followed by a series of photos of black relatives of Barack Obama in Kenya and then a photo of Obama speaking with Odinga seated in front of him above the following caption description; Barack has stated his support for Luo Raila Odinga (Opposition Leader in Kenya who signed a 'Shariah pact' With Muslims and claims to be Obama's cousin) and is married to Ida Odinga. They have four children - two sons and two daughters. His oldest son, Fidel, is named after Fidel Castro. Below this is a photo of Barack Obama’s father above a caption which reads; Barack's father, Muslim, hard-drinker, Was married three times, attended Harvard and returned to Kenya. Obama claims he was an atheist, But he was raised Muslim and was Given a Muslim burial at Barack's
family's request.
Then there are the only two photos with white people in them. The first one is above a caption saying; Mother's 2nd husband Lolo Soetoro (Indonesian Muslim),Their daughter Maya, and Obama. Followed by another photo of Barack with his white grandparents above a caption reading; Abandoned by his father and shipped off by his mother to his white grandparents, Barry Sotero becomes Barack Hussein Obama. Obama would describe his grandparents as 'white folk.' (Yeah, 'white folk' that would NOT abandon you, their grandchild. Shame on you Obama)
Next we see a photo above a caption reading; Barack stands behind Kezia (stepmother) in a Kenyan family shot. (Including brother Abongo 'Roy' Obama who is a Luo activist and A 'Militant Muslim' who argues that the black man must 'liberate himself from the poisoning influences of European culture.' ) Followed by another photo of Barack speaking through a megaphone above a caption reading; Obama's visit to Africa '06 (Where are the transcripts of the speeches he gave here? Campaigning for Odinga? Wouldn't it be great to be able to read these? Do the people of the State of Illinois know about Obama's radical background?)
Then we get the closing line of the email which reads; SINCE CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, AND THE NEW YORK TIMES, WILL NOT SHOW THESE PICTURES, AND WE WONDER WHY NOT, WILL YOU FORWARD THESE TO THE (APPROXIMATE NUMBER) 200 MILLION AMERICANS THAT HAVE INTERNET ACCESS? THANK YOU. THE ABOVE CAPTIONS HAD SOME MENTION OF 'MILITANT MUSLIMS' AND 'SHARIA LAW'. HERE IS A WEBSITE THAT TELLS YOU ALL ABOUT THEM (ALSO CALLED ISLAMIC TERRORISTS), AND THE END RESULTS OF THEM. But neither this one nor any of the other smear emails contain any such links, nor do any of them cite the references or sources that support the numerous false and misleading statements made in the captions.
The intent of the photos and captions in this and other similar emails is as ominous as it is clear. This particular email and others like it are designed to strike fear in the hearts and minds of white American voters by erroneously leading them to believe that Obama is not only a Muslim but is also one who is sympathetic to Communism and that the truth about Obama’s true beliefs is not being disclosed by the US news media.
Because Barack Obama has only been in the US Senate for two years, he is still not very well known outside of Democratic Party circles and his home state of Illinois. Many older and or less educated white Americans are afraid of change involving politicians they don’t know or are unfamiliar with. Then you have to factor in the ignorance of many of these voters as well as other Americans as regards their understanding about the true beliefs of the Muslim faith. All they know is that it was Muslim extremists who carried out the 9/11 attacks on American soil, so they are predisposed to believe that Islam and all of its Muslim adherents must be evil.
Finally these emails play on the fears and to the latent racial prejudice of many older and or less educated white Americans by repeatedly projecting images in their photos of Africans and blacks in unfamiliar native African garb, coupled with false assertions linking these blacks to people many white Americans perceive to be our new enemy, Islam and or Muslims as well as an old familiar enemy, Communism.
Maybe now you can now understand why I believe Barack Obama’s number one obstacle in November isn’t John McCain and the Republican Party. His main barrier to being elected President is fear of the unknown plus ignorance of the facts coupled with decades of racial prejudice which still lurks just below the surface in the hearts and minds of older and or less educated white Americans. It remains to be seen if Obama can overcome this obstacle.

History in the making and deja vu

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 3rd in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Thoroughly exhausted from my trip to the states and the effects of 18 months of US Presidential political campaign activism, I am hoping to unwind this weekend by camping and enjoying some music at this weekend’s Oxegen festival in County Kildare. But before I turn off the noise from the traffic in the city and tune in to the music at Oxegen, I want to offer my readers a bit of commentary regarding Barack Obama’s Democratic Presidential nomination.
Who among you believed you would ever live to see the day that an African American would be nominated by a major American political party to become President of the United States? I hoped that I might, but rather doubted that I actually would.
Would you have believed it four years ago if someone had told you that American voters would do precisely that on a late spring evening in June of 2008? I can assure you I wouldn’t have believed it and probably would have suggested that the person telling me this needed to see a doctor and have a serious discussion about their delusional thinking.
June 3rd of 2008 will be remembered by current and future generations of Americans as one of the most historic and momentous occasions in US history. As a result of Barack Obama’s victory following the last Democratic primary of 2008, Senator Obama will now have the opportunity to deliver an acceptance speech on the evening of the last day of the Democratic Party’s National convention in Denver, Colorado
Is it just a coincidence that the final day of the convention on August 28th just so happens to come 45 years to the day after another famous speech was delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC? Maybe it is just a coincidence. But maybe…..just maybe…. there is something else at work here.
Because you see that other famous speech which was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th 1963, was one that inspired a generation of Americans to put an end to racial discrimination. The man who delivered that speech was none other than Dr. Marin Luther King, who evoked the name of President Lincoln in his “I Have a Dream” speech, which is credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights Act which put an end to legal segregation in the US.
Allow me to offer you a few excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech;
“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
The next year, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But in my heart and soul I believe that were Dr. King alive today, he would gladly trade his Nobel Prize and every honor he had ever been given, to see the son of a black man and a white woman accept the Democratic nomination to become President of the United States of America.
Make no mistake, racial prejudice still exists in the United States and there will be many Americans who will not vote for Barack Obama on November 4th because he is an African American. After all, it took a hundred years after slavery ended to outlaw discrimination against the descendants of slaves. But I also believe there are many more Americans who will not allow racial prejudice to dictate their voting decision today than there were back in 1963.
Dr. King would be very gratified by the racial progress we’ve made during the 45 years between his “I Have a Dream” speech and Barack Obama’s Presidential nomination acceptance speech. In fact, I happen to believe Dr. King will actually be in the convention hall on August 28th ……standing beside me……and wearing a smile from ear to ear.

Democratic Veep Stakes predictions

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on June 26th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As you read this I am back in the states taking care of some personal business as well as taking the pulse of my fellow American voters about the upcoming General Election. I have also discussed the 3 candidates I think would be best as Vice President with many of my friends and its safe to say the vast majority of them also think I m crazy.
I am going to dispense with the horse racing terminology in my descriptions of them except for telling you they are all considered 30:1 long shots to win a place on the ticket with Senator Obama. Part of the problem with these candidates is that many Americans are just like many of my friends in Texas and Arkansas in that they either didn’t even know who these people were or the few who did knew very little about them. So I will begin by first discussing the only female Vice Presidential candidate not named Clinton before moving on to discuss the two men.
Kathleen Sebelius is currently serving in her second and last term (due to term limits) as the Democratic Governor of the historically Republican state of Kansas after winning her 2006 re-election race by a landslide 18 percentage points over her Republican opponent. Sebelius has proven to be a very popular and capable executive during her two terms as Governor and has dealt effectively with a state legislature dominated by the Republican Party.
But Sebelius is also the daughter of former Ohio governor John J. Gilligan and is half of the first father/daughter governor pair in United States history. As a result, she has strong ties to the state of Ohio as well as the state of Michigan where she grew up and currently maintains a vacation home in Traverse City. Michigan and Ohio are key swing states in US Presidential elections so by picking her as his running mate Obama would increase his chances of winning both states in the General Election. It also goes without saying that selecting Sebelius would also help Obama win over many of Hillary Clinton’s very disappointed women supporters throughout the entire United States.
While not well known to many Americans outside of the US Midwest, Sebelius is held in high regard by National Democratic Party figures and was actually touted as a possible running mate for John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential race and was also one of the first Democratic super delegates to come out in support of Barack Obama.
However, while I am a strong supporter of Kathleen Sebelius as a VP candidate, I don’t see becoming US Vice President in her future. I think it is much more likely she will run for and win the US Senate seat of Republican Senator and former Presidential candidate Sam Brownback, when her second term as Governor is up in 2010.
An even less well know Vice Presidential running mate possibility for Obama is one of my other two favourites for the position on an Obama ticket. That would be a retired four star US Marine Corps General, Anthony Zinni. As a veteran of the Vietnam War and former Commander in Chief of US military forces in the Middle East, Zinni brings the military experience and credibility that Republican nominee John McCain wields to Obama’s ticket as his Vice President.
But in addition to his military commander credentials, Zinni also brings with him foreign policy gravitas because he was also appointed to serve as a special envoy for the United States to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2002. Furthermore, Zinni was also an early and vocal public critic of the Bush administration and much like Senator Obama, did not support Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, which is also why he left his post as Bush’s special envoy for Israel and Palestine in 2003.
Zinni’s 2004 memoir, Battle Ready, co-authored with Tom Clancy, is stinging rebuke of the Bush administration and the man he voted for as President in 2000 as well as a must read for anyone interested in knowing the real story behind pre and post-battle planning for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But as much as I like him as a VP choice, I don’t think Zinni really wants to become that involved in politics and think it more likely he would serve as Obama’s National Security Advisor than run as his Vice President.
So that brings me to the last of my three favorite picks as Obama’s running mate, a Republican Senator from the state of Nebraska. While I may well be wrong about this, I believe that in a bid to demonstrate his commitment to a new era of bi-partisan politics, Obama will actually select US Senator Chuck Hagel from the opposition Republican Party to be his Vice President. So how did I come to such an outrageous conclusion?
For starters, Hagel is a Vietnam War veteran, a lifelong Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee who previously worked as political organizer for Ronald Reagan and then as his #2 political appointee at the Veterans Administration. So his selection would not only be an unprecedented bi-partisan gesture but would also bring the military and foreign policy credentials Obama lacks to the ticket.
Furthermore, Hagel left government service in 1982 and became a multi-millionaire business entrepreneur and CEO before he returned to government as a US Senator in 1996. Thus he also possesses the business experience and economic credentials that both Obama and his opponent John McCain lack. But unlike McCain, Hagel was an also an early critic and vocal opponent of the Iraq War and his wife, Lilibet, is a major financial supporter of Obama.
While Chuck Hagel wouldn’t be a popular choice for some Democrats, Obama would find huge support for this among independent and Republican voters, particularily in Midwestern states that usually vote Republican. So next week I will discuss who McCain might choose to counter with as his VP.

Democratic Veep stakes

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on June 19th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As I promised you last week, this column will be my first attempt to handicap the thoroughbreds who are running in the Democratic Vice Presidential Stakes race. The winner of this race has historically run the gamut from heavy favourites to “dark horses” and often ends with a surprise long shot that no knowledgeable bettor would ever pick
But as most handicappers do, I will begin by discussing the media “odds makers’” favourites and work my way down the tote board to the long shots that I am placing my own personal bets on. Needless to say, no one will be more interested than I am in seeing how well I have called this particular race come July or August when the winner is announced. So without further adieu, let’s discuss the favourites in this stakes race.
At 3:2 odds we have the heavy betting favourite thus far, which is the distaff that finished second in the Donkey-Ass Stakes known as Billary. I have already discussed this hard running mare at length but I don’t think she can win this race so I will avoid dwelling on her and or her chances of winning and focus on the rest of the field instead. As for Billary’s future career in this sport, while Billary is too junior a Senator to acquire a leadership role or Committee Chairmanship when she returns to the Senate, if she works hard for Obama’s election this autumn she could be appointed to succeed fellow New York Senator Chuck Schumer in a high profile position chairing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. It’s probably the best consolation job available for her.
The second choice is a strong running steed bred in Virginia named Senator Jim Webb and the odds of him winning are around 2:1. Webb is both a military (Navy) veteran and a former Republican who served as President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy so he would bolster Obama’s credentials in the ready to be a Commander in Chief area since Obama has no such military related experience. But neither Abraham Lincoln nor Franklin Roosevelt had such experience when they were elected President and they both proved to be very able Commander in Chiefs. While Webb has been a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, he is also an advocate of economic protectionism which Obama is not and he has a reputation for being volatile and difficult to control. I just don’t think his temperament would be a good fit in terms of serving as Obama’s Vice President.
Another heavy betting favourite at 3:1 odds is a Spanish gelding bred in New Mexico named Governor Bill Richardson that finished fourth in the Donkey-Ass Stakes. Richardson would help Obama attract more Hispanic voters and would also bolster Obama’s perceived lack of foreign policy experience given his previous service in this area for former President Bill Clinton. New Mexico is also a crucial swing state in Presidential elections that was also the most closely contested state contest in the last two presidential elections. But I believe Richardson would be a much better fit in a cabinet position such as Secretary of State in Obama’s presidential administration so I am not going to bet on him in the Vice Presidential Stakes.
The other heavy favourite at 3:1 odds is the popular pony from North Carolina called John Edwards. Edwards is an experienced contender who finished a distant third in the 2008 Presidential Stakes race and also won this race the last time it was run in 2004. He is also very popular with the type of working class white voters that bet heavily on Billary in a string of races from coast to coast throughout this spring’s presidential campaign. But much like Richardson I see Edwards as a much better fit as the US Attorney General in Obama’s cabinet and it appears that Edwards himself views that position more favourably than running in the Vice Presidential Stakes again.
Among the nine middle odds thoroughbreds, at 10:1 there is another former Vice Presidential Stakes winner from the 1992 and 1996 races that was bred in Tennessee named Al Gore. His experience in the 2000 Presidential Stakes race, which he actually won before being disqualified by the Florida stewards, would no doubt help Obama immensely, but this pony seems to be quite content continuing to graze in Green pastures around the world and is unlikely to ever race again. A better place for him might be as an Obama administration Cabinet officer in charge of US Environmental policy.
At 9:1 there is another Virginia thoroughbred named Mark Warner but he is planning to run in the Virginia Senatorial race which he is also likely to win. It’s doubtful this horse will forgo this winning opportunity in order to run in the Vice presidential race.
Among the other hopefuls at 15:1 odds are the fifth and sixth place finishers in the Donkey-Ass Stakes, Senator’s Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden from Delaware. While either would help Obama burnish his foreign policy credentials I think it is much more likely they would be offered a foreign policy job in Obama’s Cabinet.
At 17:1 odds there is an older Georgia bred horse with lots of military and foreign policy experience named Sam Nunn along with Obama’s South Dakota stable mate Tom Daschle, but I don’t see them running any better than the trio of Clinton supporters, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Governor Ted Strickland from Ohio or former General Wesley Clark from Arkansas, which the odds makers have put in a group at 13:1 odds.
Next week I will discuss the three long-shots in the field from which I believe the winner of the Vice Presidential Stakes race will emerge and why I like their chances even though most of the political odds makers don’t. Of course those same odds makers didn’t think much of Obama’s chances either until he broke out of the gate quickly at the start of the race in Iowa.