Thursday, December 25, 2008

India: Cradle of the human race

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 18th - 25th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

Next month I will be heading back to the United States to attend the historic inauguration of Barak Obama as America’s 44th President and I plan to discuss my experiences in Washington DC in future columns. In the meantime I am going to depart from my usual discourse about US politics and instead try to describe what I experienced during the course of my three week trip to India during the month of October.
Unfortunately, India has been in the headlines of late due to the violent actions of a group of pseudo-religious Islamic terrorists in the city of Mumbai, aka Bombay, which resulted in the deaths of 171 innocent men, women and children. But as shocked as I was by this terrorist assault on Mumbai, I can only imagine how shocked the peace loving people of India were by these bloody attacks. India after all, is the home and birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, the world’s pioneer in the use of totally non-violent civil disobedience as a means of political protest and resistance to tyranny. I suspect Gandhi must have been turning over in his grave since it was only 80 years ago that India’s Hindus and Muslims had been united in support of Gandhi’s campaign of non-violent civil disobedience.
There are many people in this world who, like Gandhi, believe there is never a justification for the use of violence under any circumstances and I have nothing but admiration for them and their ideals. My own personal position regarding the use of violence is that there are absolutely no justifications for ever using violence against another human being unless it is in defense of ones own life or the lives of others. Thus my position about the violence perpetrated by so called religious Muslim, Hindu or Christian extremists is their use of violence is in fact an act of religious desecration.
While Catholics in Northern Ireland, Muslims in Palestine and other religious or ethnic minorities in many parts of the world very often have legitimate grievances about how they are treated, there are absolutely no religious grounds for their use of violence to address those grievances. These terrorists and their religious leaders are simply murderers using their religion to put a cloak of legitimacy around their decidedly unholy intentions.
But enough about my opinions on religious terrorists, I want to discuss something much more interesting and enervating, my recent trip to India. I have had the privilege of traveling to many different countries around the world during the course of my life, but nowhere I have ever been quite compares with India. A famous American author, Mark Twain visited India in the 19th century and described India as “the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.”
Then during the 20th century the famous American historian Will Durant, who authored the Pulitzer Prize winning eleven volume ‘biography’ of civilization, The Story of Civilization, wrote even more definitely that “India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”
I quote these famous American authors here because quite frankly, as a 21st century American visitor, I had great difficulty trying to come up with words that would adequately describe my impressions about this extraordinary country. But it isn’t just American’s who are mesmerized by India.
The Nobel Prize winning French novelist Romain Rolland wrote that “If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.” While China is also a nation with a rich history and a unique place among the world’s greatest civilizations, the former Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Hu Shih, has also acknowledged India’s special place in China’s own history by noting that; “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.”
The colors, the sights, the sounds, the smells and the tastes of India constantly assaulted my senses throughout the course of my stay, leaving me breathless and exhausted by the time I left to return home to Ireland. But now that I have had the benefit of several weeks to recover and put my thoughts in order, I can finally share with you that my overall impression of India is that it’s a country with an amazing history, possessing both incredible potential and equally daunting challenges.
The people of India represent a very diverse mix of ethnic and religious backgrounds all of whom are aware and proud of India’s rich heritage even though the people of India do not actually share a common language. Shortly after arriving in New Delhi I became friends with Arrun, an PhD student from Chennai in Southern India. Arrun is engaged to Shani, another Indian PhD student who is from Punjab, a region that borders Pakistan in northwestern India. Talk about two people from totally different backgrounds and cultures. Arrun is a meat eating Christian while Shani is a vegetarian Hindu and neither one can understand the other’s native language. But what these two wonderful people do share in common is English as their second language as well as a deep love and affection for each other and India.
Next week I will continue with this discussion of my trip to this amazing country.

The Future of the GOP

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 11th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

One of my best friends here in Ireland recently asked me how I could have been such a strong supporter of President-elect Obama from the very beginning of his campaign to be President and yet now still be advocating on behalf of strengthening the Republican Party as a force of opposition to Obama and the Democratic Party.
While I understand why these seemingly conflicting actions may strike others as being somewhat counter-intuitive, there is actually a method to my madness I will now attempt to explain. The Democratic Party and most of its constituents regard America as a center-left liberal democracy, while most Republicans view the United States as a center-right federal republic. Well as far as I am concerned both view points are to some extent accurate, which is precisely why I also believe neither Party has a true handle on how best to govern America’s divergent and often conflicting interests.
Unlike most other democratically elected governments in the world, the United States is a liberal democracy which has a strong federal republic government run by officials appointed by an elected President and approved by a democratically elected legislature. Either or both elected bodies of the legislature must also approve those executive branch appointments, fund all departments of government and decide how much authority those federal government agents will or should have.
The name United States of America is also a reflection of the considerable political governance power that individual states and their respective executive and legislative branches have relative to the nation’s federal government. Last but not least, the US also has a strong and fairly independent state and federal judicial system that arbitrates disputes between the elected state or federal officials and the elected state or federal legislatures. Most of the other governments around the world have either strong state and weak national governments or weak state and strong national governments coupled with either strong national presidents and weak legislative bodies or strong parliamentary legislatures which also control the executive branch of government.
While the federal government’s power in the US has grown over the years at the expense of state governments, the independent federal judicial system and the inherent suspicion with which many American voters regard the federal government have combined to limit both the scale and pace of growth of the US federal government. As a result, it is usually the states which take the lead in devising and implementing new or different ways of dealing with social issues or problems, while the federal government determines how the US will deal with global issues and relations with other countries.
The Republican Party has traditionally been the US political party that sought to keep the power of the federal government in check while it concentrated on defending and or extending America’s political influence and expanding its economic interests in the rest of the world. On the other hand the Democratic Party has traditionally been the political party which has sought to use the federal government to devise and implement changes in US domestic policies to address a wide variety of social ills.
Unfortunately history shows that both parties have a tendency to push their agendas too far to the left or right when they are in control of Congress and the Presidency. While I hope that the Democrats won’t act in a way that reinforces this view over the next few years, I also know that a stronger Republican Party is more likely to prevent this than any amount of wishful thinking on my part.
But the increasing power and influence of predominately white, older and or less educated socially conservative voters in the Republican Party has led it to stray from its traditional values of restraining the growth of the federal government and spending by that government. These socially conservative voters have also sought to enforce their religious views and moral values at a national level on issues like abortion and how to deal with social problems like violent crime, illegal immigration and teenage pregnancy.
Many of these Republican voters don’t like change because it scares them. This explains why they are so prone to follow the lead of demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Republican politicians who argue against teenage sex education or tout bigger fences and more prison cells as solutions to America’ social problems. They view the scientific evidence on global warming with the same suspicion as fundamentalist ministers who think creationism trumps all of the scientific evidence that supports evolution.
It’s no wonder they rushed to express their support for a former beauty pageant contestant who doesn’t believe global warming is caused by humans, thinks Africa is a country and chants “drill, baby, drill” as a solution to America’s energy woes. But make no mistake; Sarah Palin will be a force to be reckoned with nationally, either as a candidate for the US Senate in 2010 and or the US Presidency in 2012 or 2016. However I’m not losing any sleep over the possibility that Palin might win a higher political office than Governor of Alaska. I say this for two reasons.
First, while Palin may have taken some well deserved lumps from the media during her brief run for Vice President, she has yet to be bloodied by other conservative Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney in what’s likely to be a “steel cage” match for the 2012 presidential nomination. The second reason is because America may still be a center-right country on fiscal issues, but it has also become center-left on the environment and social issues.
Fortunately there are some younger Republican leaders who recognize what the social conservative base of the party still denies. I’m keeping an eye on Governor’s Charlie Crist, Jon Huntsman, Bobby Jindal and Senator John Thune. I expect a stronger Republican Party will emerge only after one or more of them has wrested control of the Party and its message from the social conservatives who currently hold the reins of power.

My predictions about Obama’s cabinet picks

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 27th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

Today I will discuss the Republicans and Democrats who I believe are most likely to be chosen by President-elect Obama to serve either in his Cabinet or in other important positions within the new Presidential administration.
However I will begin by first sharing my insights regarding the role Hillary Clinton will play in the new Obama administration. Ever since the end of the Democratic primary contests there has repeatedly been speculation that Clinton might be asked to join Obama’s Cabinet with a healthcare portfolio if she wasn’t picked as Obama’s running mate. Such talk was based more on the hopes of some of Hillary’s erstwhile Democratic primary supporters than on any realistic assessment of the situation. But if Obama does indeed decide to follow Abraham Lincoln’s example he will most likely offer her a more important and high profile Cabinet position such as Secretary of State.
I don’t know that Bill Clinton would be interested in Hillary taking the position; but I’m sure she would find a high profile job as Secretary of State very tempting. However, in a sign that she knows Obama isn’t going to offer her a Cabinet job overseeing America’s healthcare, Clinton has already attempted to stage a takeover of future healthcare legislation in the US Senate.
But healthcare is the domain of Senator Ted Kennedy and is an issue that he has championed for many years as the head of the Senate’s health committee. Ignoring the fact that Kennedy has already been working on new healthcare legislation in line with Obama’s own healthcare plans, Clinton rather boldly attempted to hijack healthcare legislation in the Senate by asking Senator Kennedy to appoint her as the head of a new Senate sub-committee on healthcare. Clinton and her supporters viewed this as a consolation prize for losing the Presidential nomination to President-elect Obama.
But they don’t give losing Presidential candidates such prizes in the US Senate because the Senate already has sixteen current Senators who have unsuccessfully run for President including six who currently serve on Kennedy’s Health Committee. Giving Clinton the chair of a new sub-committee would have also meant ignoring the fact that two other former Democratic Presidential candidates on Senator Kennedy’s Health committee have more seniority than Clinton and in the US Senate, seniority rules.
This leads me to speculate about my second Cabinet position, that of Secretary for Health and Human Services. Given how important the healthcare issue was for Obama and other Democrats during the Presidential primary campaign, I am betting that President-elect Obama opts for a trusted confidant like former Senator Tom Daschle to fill this sensitive Cabinet post and work with Ted Kennedy on healthcare legislation.
The most likely nominees to replace Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, if Obama doesn’t pick Hillary Clinton, include two Republicans, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and soon to be retired Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska. Since Senator John Kerry is in line to take over Vice President Biden’s chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that leaves former Presidential candidate Bill Richardson as the other Democratic contender for this very visible and important Cabinet position.
I would be surprised if the current Republican Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates doesn’t agree to stick around for at least the next year or two as Obama’s Secretary of Defense. Gates is a Republican foreign policy realist who has tried repeatedly to shut down Guantanamo Bay over the objections of Vice President Cheney and is well respected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. But whether he stays on for a while or leaves, Gates will likely to be replaced eventually by another trusted Obama military advisor, former Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig. While Retired Generals Colin Powell and James Jones would also be good choices that are popular with both Republicans and Democrats, history tells me this job always goes to a civilian.
The CIA Directors job will probably be offered to Anthony Lake, who has been functioning as Obama’s top national security advisor for the past two years. If Lake was to accept such an appointment it would prove to be an ironic twist of fate given the fact President Bill Clinton had nominated him for the same position back in the nineties only to see his confirmation scuttled by Republicans who were then in control of the Senate.
One of the two top contenders for National Security Advisor would also represent a bit of déjà vu since she happens to be a black female with a Doctorate and the last name of Rice. But that would be Dr. Susan Rice, not former Bush National Security Advisor and current Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice. But I’m betting Dr. Rice is more likely to end up as United Nations Ambassador than as the second black female named Rice to hold America’s top National Security post. The other contender is Bill Clinton’s former Deputy National Security Advisor, James Steinberg, who has become a master of issues related to national security but also has a reputation for having a nasty temper.
Most intriguing of all will be Obama’s choice to replace Hank Paulson as US Treasury Secretary. The US Treasury Secretary job is not usually considered to be as important or visible a Cabinet position as the Secretary of State and Defense Secretary jobs, but this appointment will be the most avidly awaited of all of Obama’s Cabinet posts given the current state of economic affairs in the US and the rest of the world.
Former Federal Reserve Chief Paul Volker has name recognition but is probably too old to be installed in the Treasury job for more than a couple of years. A better long term choice is the current head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Tim Geithner, who has been squarely in the middle of government efforts to deal with the current crisis, or former Bill Clinton era Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
I wonder just how close I’ll come with these predictions.

Challenges await

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 20th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

I closed last week’s column by stating my belief that given Obama’s less than advantageous upbringing by a single mother who had little in the way of monetary resources, his subsequent election as President of the United States represents the true fulfillment of the American Dream. Now any child born or raised in the United States can legitimately hope and dream that, regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion or economic circumstances, they too can achieve the same measure of success that Barack Obama has.
But I also said that I thought President Obama’s election would mark a turning point in American political history akin to those seen during the administrations of earlier US Presidents like Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan.
It remains to be seen whether or not I am correct on this point given the huge challenges that confront President Obama at this point in America’s history. In no particular order these challenges include; the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, two wars in the most politically unstable region of the world, a gaping budget deficit with interest payments equal to 40% of US tax revenues, underfunded Social Security and Medicare entitlement systems, a broken healthcare system and a looming global environmental disaster caused by unfettered greenhouse gas emissions.
But the biggest immediate crisis that President Obama must confront is a psychological one, a crisis of confidence which afflicts both Wall Street and the general public in the United States. Unlike previous US Presidents, this crisis of confidence is such that President-elect Obama doesn’t have the luxury of waiting until after he takes office on 20 January to begin addressing this issue. But in the process of doing so Obama must be careful not to appear to be usurping the power of the lame duck President he will be replacing because, as Obama himself acknowledged twice during his first press conference as President-elect, “We (the United States) only have one President at time.”
Thus far I have been encouraged by the way both President-elect Obama and President Bush have handled this delicate transition of power. For his part President Bush has gone the extra mile in terms of bringing his successor and his advisors up to speed regarding national security issues and the steps he is contemplating taking to deal with the world’s financial crisis. While President Bush is consulting with Obama and his economic advisors about what steps are being taken by the Bush administration to deal with America’s economic recession, Obama has been careful not to make any specific foreign or domestic policy proposals that would put him at odds with President Bush.
The language President-elect Obama uses when he addresses the American people has also changed from his Presidential campaign’s often lofty and inspiring “poetry” to a much more sober and businesslike “prose”. This change in tone and substance was initiated during the latter stages of the Presidential campaign when Obama was discussing the recent financial crisis. While Obama didn’t want to diminish American hopes for a better future, it was nonetheless important for him to lower expectations that there is a quick fix for the problems facing Americans as well as citizens of other countries around the world. The painful reality is there are no easy or quick solutions.
Thus far, Obama’s choices of advisors to serve with him in his new administration reflect a thoughtfulness and pragmatism that bode well for his ability to both govern and develop workable solutions for the issues he will be confronting as America’s 44th President. His selection of Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his all important White House Chief of Staff demonstrated Obama’s intention to be tough but not ideological in his future dealings with legislators from both political parties.
Rahm Emanuel is no “yes man” and has a reputation for salty language, bare knuckled political tactics and working 25 (hours a day) / 8 (days a week). Emanuel will never win any popularity contests, but he also has a reputation for making pragmatic policy decisions and getting the job done. As such Rahm Emanuel is also a reflection of the kind of team Obama has begun to assemble to take back to Washington DC. The players on Obama’s team are all realists who are very diversified in terms of their perspectives and viewpoints, but unified regarding their commitment to Obama’s non-ideological approach to solving problems and showing demonstrable results.
This new kind of approach to policy making in Washington DC will be a welcome change from the governance style we have become accustomed to over the past eight years. The Bush administration placed a premium on loyalty, had no tolerance for dissenting points of view and always put ideology ahead of realism and practicality. The results or lack thereof from this kind of governance philosophy speak for themselves.
I will discuss the Republicans and Democrats selected or under consideration for Cabinet positions in Obama’s administration in next week’s column. For now I will close with a few more tid bits of information from the just concluded Presidential campaign.
During the summer the Obama campaign found out that someone had hacked into their computer system and off loaded a large number of files. Obama’s security people initially thought it might be the work of their political opponents, until they found out that the McCain campaign’s computer system had also been compromised in the same manner. Although no one will discuss it officially, it’s now believed that the hackers were members of either Russian or Chinese intelligence looking for information on both candidates’ policy positions that they could use in future negotiations with the US.
Following their election defeat the McCain campaign has also admitted “Sarah the fashion diva” Palin spent “tens of thousands” more than the reported $150,000 on new duds for her and her husband. Since Palin claims the only difference between a “hockey mom” and a pit-bull is lipstick, one can’t help but wonder how expensive owning a pit-bull must really be.

The Dream is realized

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 13th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

In the next few columns I’ll be “scatter shooting” as I attempt to share my reflections on America’s historic election of its first person of colour as President and other bits of information related to the just concluded US Presidential Election campaign.
To begin with, on 26 October, the Republicans for Obama group here in Ireland (all three of us) gathered at Bewley’s Café Theatre to celebrate Obama’s election. Some up and coming Irish musicians were playing in Bewley’s Café Theatre that evening, so I chose Bewley’s as the spot to celebrate the fact that one of America’s most prominent Republicans (and President Bush’s first Secretary of State), Colin Powell, had endorsed President-elect Barack Obama on national TV a few hours earlier.
Sarah Anne Bennett opened the show by playing a collection of original song compositions and covers by other artists on acoustic guitar accompanied by a violinist and another guitar player. Sarah Anne Bennett proved to be a great warm-up for the featured artist, Liz Seaver, who I had first heard a couple of months earlier when she played at the Sugar Club. Both of these Irish musicians were in great form that evening so my selection of Bewley’s Café Theatre as the place to celebrate Powell’s endorsement and Obama’s impending election as our next President proved to be a hit with both my American mates as well as all of the other people who were in attendance that night.
While most American’s here in Ireland and in the US would regard such a celebration as premature, we Republicans viewed the Powell endorsement of Obama as the coup de gras of this seeming endless 2008 US Presidential campaign. While other prominent Republicans like Susan Eisenhower and former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClelland had also endorsed Obama for President, none of these carried the gravitas of the endorsement from a person with General Powell’s record of service to his country. As such, Powell’s endorsement also served to validate our decision to cross party lines and support the person we thought would be the best leader for America in the coming years.
As we now know, my predictions regarding the breadth and depth of President Obama and the Democratic Party’s Election Day triumph were basically accurate although I erred on the aggressive side regarding how big some of the final margins of victory would be. More specifically, I thought the Democrats would also win the Senate races in Mississippi as well as Georgia and Alaska, where Republican incumbents currently hold narrow leads, in addition to the other six states that I forecast Democrats would take away from the Republicans’ column. I also thought the Democrats would do a little better in the US House of Representatives by picking up at least 25 Republican seats instead of the nonetheless significant 20 seats they actually ended up winning.
On the other hand I had also predicted Barack Obama would win the popular and electoral votes by much wider margins than any recent non-incumbent Presidents. In fact, President-elect Obama did roll up a modern-day electoral and popular vote landslide victory on 4 November by more than doubling up McCain and Palin in the Electoral College tally and trouncing them by more than 8 million votes in the popular vote.
What I find even more gratifying is the fact that President-elect Obama won a higher percentage of white voters than either of his two white Democratic predecessors, Al Gore and John Kerry. What that tells me is that while race is still an issue for many older and less educated white Americans, it is no longer a deciding issue in national elections. In fact white Americans, who represented 90% of voters when Jimmy Carter was elected President in 1976, made up only 74% of the electorate in this last election.
Alas, my Republican Party, the “Grand Old Party” aka the GOP, today finds itself being much less the “Grand” and more the “Old” and outdated “Party” in American politics. As such, the General Election results were also a reflection of the contrasts I saw when I attended the Democratic and Republican conventions a few months ago. As noted in previous columns, the Republican Party has become overwhelmingly white, male, rural and aged, while the Democratic Party has evolved to become a more accurate reflection of America’s rapidly changing, racially and ethnically mixed demographics.
But the social conservatives who now control the GOP don’t appear to be able to do the math regarding America’s changing demographics. They want to turn their backs on the more moderate elements of the Republican Party and insist that future Republican candidates must not only be opposed to abortion, but must also insist on tougher border security and the neo-conservative vision of a strong national defense. I am amazed that so many of them actually believe they can still win national elections by being anti-abortion, anti-Black, anti-government, anti-Hispanic, anti-taxes and anti-young people to name just a few of the many things these social conservatives are opposed to.
Fortunately for America, President Obama’s election represents another major turning point in American politics. Abraham Lincoln’s election led to the end of legalized slavery and Franklin Roosevelt’s to a revival of the world’s economy and an end to tyrannical regimes in Germany and Japan. Kennedy’s election led to an end to legalized segregation and racial discrimination in the US and Ronald Reagan’s led to fundamental changes in economic policies and the collapse of Communism around the world.
But the election of a person of colour to America’s highest office is much more than a realization of Martin Luther King’s dream, which he so eloquently expressed in his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 45 years ago. Given his humble upbringing, Obama’s election also represents the ultimate fulfillment of that timeless American Dream; that anyone, from any family, no matter how economically poor, can still overcome such disadvantages and become the leader of the world’s only remaining superpower.

Breaking down my election predictions

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on November 6th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In last weeks column I made some rather bold predictions regarding what I believe will be a modern day landslide election victory for both Barack Obama and the Democratic Party on 4 November. More specifically I said Obama would end up with 393-396 or maybe even 401-404 electoral (and that) the Democrats will also pick up 34-36 seats in the House of Representatives and 8-10 seats in the US Senate.
Since the actual US election results will already be in by the time this column is published, in today’s column I will break down my projections so readers can ascertain just how close or how far off the mark I was with my post-election results forecast. Before I begin, I also want to note that it has been 20 years since a US Presidential candidate; President George Bush in 1988, won more than 380 electoral votes on Election Day. Thus the recent history of closer contests is the reason why I would characterize Barack Obama winning roughly 400 electoral votes as a modern-day landslide election.
In 2000, Al Gore won the overall US popular vote by a half a million votes but narrowly lost the electoral vote and the US Presidency by a margin of 271-266 when the disputed electoral votes of the state of Florida were awarded to his opponent. Given the closeness of past US Presidential contests, most media pundits have focused on which candidate will emerge as the winner in key battleground states like Ohio and Florida in their attempts to predict the likely winner of this year’s election.
But my belief that Democrats will gain more than 45 House and Senate seats in Congress and that Obama will win the US Electoral College vote (based on the candidate who wins the most votes in each state and thus the electoral votes of that state) by a much wider margin than any recent President is based largely on two key assumptions.
The first is that Senator Obama will win the 266 electoral votes of the same states previously won by losing Democratic candidates, Al Gore and John Kerry, even though Gore and Kerry won many of those states by very narrow margins. However, since Senator Obama had double digit leads in the polls of every single one of those states just days ahead of 4 November, this was also a fairly safe assumption on my part.
With this rock solid base of 266 electoral votes already in his back pocket, all Barack Obama really needed to do was swing one of the small states Bush had won by only a few thousand votes in 2004, like New Mexico or Iowa, into the Democratic column in order to win this year’s election. But Presidential candidates that win office by narrow margins usually begin their terms with the psychological handicap of being perceived by members of Congress as politically “weaker” and thus less able to make significant policy changes than Presidents who win big electoral victories at the polls.
Obama and his advisors correctly sensed that they had an opportunity to broaden the playing field and win this year’s election by a wide margin, thus giving Obama’s new Presidential administration a “mandate” from America’s voters to make whatever changes Obama believes are necessary. Members of Congress from both political parties are also much more likely to pass legislation in support of controversial initiatives put forth by President’s who have demonstrated broad national support with their election.
So the Obama campaign decided to pursue a strategy of not only taking the fight to John McCain and the Republican Party in traditional battleground states like Missouri, Ohio and Florida, but to aggressively pursue disaffected voters in states like Virginia and Indiana that had not voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate in decades. This strategy also forced McCain to spend time and money defending states previous Democratic candidates had ceded to their Republican opponents, instead of allowing him to focus Republican resources on winning the traditional battleground states.
With only one week left before the election the results of the Obama General Election campaign strategy looked impressive. By September, Obama had either caught up with John McCain or begun slowly building a lead over Senator McCain among voters in traditional Republican states like North Carolina that had provided President Bush with double digit margins of victory in previous elections. The efforts of Obama in these states were also having a positive impact on the election of Democratic candidates for Congress against Republican incumbents like Republican Senator Libby Dole in these same states.
So my second assumption is that Obama will not only sweep to victory in the electoral vote rich swing states of Missouri, Florida and Ohio, but that he will pad his vote totals by adding Southern states like North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia as well as the Western states of Colorado, Nevada, Montana and New Mexico to base of 266 votes.
I also believe Obama’s voters in many traditional Republican states will also choose Democrats to replace retiring Republican Senators in Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia and will elect Democratic challengers instead of Republican incumbents in Georgia, Alaska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon and Minnesota. If they have a really good night, the Democrats might just send Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell back home to Kentucky as well.
In the US House of Representatives I foresee a thumping of Republican candidates the likes of which is rarely seen in these biennial Congressional elections. Usually the party in power (Democrats this year) loses seats or at best gains only a handful of seats when the US economy is in the throes of a recession. But 25 long time Republican legislators opted to retire rather than run for reelection in 2008 thus opening the door for Democrats to snag all of these open seats as well as those of incumbent Republicans who suffer from “foot in mouth disease” like North Carolina’s Robin Hayes and Minnesota’s Michelle Bachmann.
Were these predictions accurate?

My Election Day Predictions

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 30th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

While you were sleeping last night, Barack Obama broadcast a half hour political infomercial simultaneously on all four US national TV as well as all three US cable/satellite TV news networks, in an attempt to “close the deal” and win the votes of the last of America’s “undecided” voters. Now do I think Senator Obama really needed to spend in excess of $6,000,000 to beam a single TV political advertisement into every home in America with just 6 days left in the US Presidential campaign? No, I don’t!
But even though I don’t believe Barack Obama needed to run this TV ad in order to ensure that he will win the US presidency next Tuesday, I think it might serve a more useful purpose in the weeks and months that follow Election Day. That’s because this particular political commercial wasn’t just designed to win over “undecided” voters. Rather, this commercial was actually Obama’s first, and probably his only, opportunity to address all Americans, including those who already have or will vote for McCain on 4 November, without interference from debate moderators or rebuttals from his opponents.
As President, Obama will have many other opportunities to address the American people on national TV, but because the US TV networks provide this time for “free”, they are also obligated to provide “equal time” for representatives of the opposing political party to comment or respond to whatever the President says on these broadcasts. Since Senator McCain and the Republican Party elected not to buy the same kind of nationwide TV commercial time, they forfeited the opportunity to immediately attack or attempt to counter Obama’s final message to America’s voters before Election Day.
I will comment further on last night’s political commercial after the election is over. For now let it suffice to say that I think it will assist President Obama in gaining the support of most Americans, including those who won’t vote for him, for the foreign and domestic policy prescriptions President Obama will be proposing in the coming months.
Last week I mentioned that the winner of the last of the three US Presidential debates was a character called “Joe the plumber”. Well even though “Joe the plumber” subsequently received a lot of publicity on the campaign trail, thanks to McCain turning him into a symbol for small business owners worried about Obama’s future tax plans, poor old “Joe the plumber” still ended up getting upstaged a few days later by a “hockey mom”, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah “the fashion diva” Palin.
Having “Sarah the fashion diva” replace “Joe the plumber” as the center of the news media’s and potential voter’s attention on the Republican presidential campaign was definitely not what John McCain had in mind with only twelve days left till the election. I should also note that for the previous six weeks, McCain and Palin’s campaign appearances and stump speeches had all been aimed at winning over lower income “blue collar” white voters who are seldom mistaken for Saks or Neiman Marcus customers.
So what were McCain’s advisors thinking when they decided they needed to spend over $150,000 in scarce campaign funds at stores like Saks and Neiman Marcus to properly clothe their new Vice Presidential candidate for the two month General Election contest? Hmmmm. Maybe they weren’t thinking. On the other hand when one considers the fact that the highest paid member of McCain’s presidential campaign staff is Palin’s make-up artist, who is making over $22,000 a month, and that Palin’s hair stylist earns another $10,000 a month, then $150,000 for designer clothes doesn’t seem so out of line.
At any rate, now that I have shared this latest bit of Presidential campaign background information with you, its once again time for me to stick my neck out a bit and make some predictions about what I believe will happen this coming Tuesday.
As many of you are aware, I have been promoting the Presidential candidacy of Senator Barack Obama in this column for the better part of two years now. As recently as nine months ago when Obama still trailed Hillary Clinton by 30 points in US national opinion polls, I continued to stand by my prediction that Obama would eventually win the Democratic Presidential nomination. It should therefore come as no surprise that I continue to believe and predict that Senator Barack Obama will also win the US Presidential contest over Senator John McCain on 4 November.
But forecasting a win for Barack Obama next Tuesday is the easy part. What is more problematic for me is predicting how close the final voting results will be in both the Presidential and Congressional races. When I was interviewed by the producers of RTÉ’s Primetime while I was in Denver two months ago, I told them that even though Obama and McCain were running even in the national polls, I thought Obama would end up winning the US popular vote by a margin of 2-3 million votes. But I also said that I thought Obama would win the all important electoral vote by a much larger margin than any of his recent Democratic and Republican predecessors.
Today I am going to stand by that prediction and even go so far as to predict a modern day electoral landslide for Barack Obama as well as his fellow Democratic Congressional candidates. I believe that Senator Obama will capture the electoral votes of states in Republican Midwest bastions like Indiana, Ohio and Missouri in addition to GOP Southern strongholds in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia as well as in the reliable Republican Rocky Mountain zone including Montana, Colorado and Nevada. In fact, I am betting Obama ends up with a modern-day electoral landslide of 393-396 or maybe even 401-404 electoral votes versus fewer than 150 for John McCain.
As for Congress, I think the Democrats will also pick up 34-36 seats in the House of Representatives and 8-10 seats in the US Senate. I’ll discuss the details next week.

A star is born Joe the Plumnber

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 23rd in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

After nineteen months and some 35 televised presidential candidate debates, at long last the longest running Presidential campaign in American history is finally (and mercifully) drawing to a close. While the last of the three debates between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama wasn’t a game changer for either candidate, it did exemplify the importance of the symbolism attached to the “average” person in American politics.
That’s because the star of this final debate wasn’t either one of the two Presidential candidates, rather it was a guy from Toledo Ohio they called “Joe the plumber”. During the course of the debate John McCain repeatedly referred to “Joe the plumber” while he was attacking Barack Obama’s proposal to raise the taxes of the top 5% of Americans who earn more than $250,000 per year. Not only did you hear the name “Joe the plumber” mentioned some twenty times during this final debate, but on several occasions both candidates directed some of their comments and responses directly at him. In fact, McCain claims the real winner in this debate was “Joe the plumber”.
So why were both candidates paying so much attention to “Joe the plumber”? Well “Joe the plumber” is a 34 year old man who had recently confronted Senator Obama while Obama was campaigning door to door in the battleground state of Ohio. Joe told Senator Obama that he was getting ready to buy a plumbing business which took in between $250,000 and $280,000 per year. He wanted to know why Obama was proposing to increase his taxes saying “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?”
In response to this and another question about a “flat” tax (i.e. where you pay the same % of income tax regardless of how much money you make), Obama responded that while it was great Joe could afford to buy this plumbing business, he was also sure that their had been years in the past when he could have also used a tax break like the one Obama is proposing. Senator Obama went on to say that other middle class Americans who were nurses, teachers and the like needed a tax break now so that they could cope with America’s current financial stress. Obama then added that under these circumstances “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,”
The entire exchange between Obama and “Joe the plumber” was recorded and subsequently posted on You-Tube where it caught the attention of conservative bloggers and the McCain campaign, who seized on it as an example of how Obama’s tax plans will hurt small business owners. John McCain then attempted to use “Joe the plumber” as part of his campaign’s attacks on Obama and to symbolize the “American Dream” of attaining wealth and independence saying; “America didn’t become the greatest nation on earth by spreading the wealth. We became the greatest nation by creating new wealth.”
Republicans also responded the next day with signs at a McCain political rally touting “Joe the plumber” as a future Vice Presidential running mate for Sarah Palin. The American news media responded to the publicity “Joe the plumber” got during the last of this year’s final Presidential debate by clamoring to interview the real “Joe the plumber” on nationally televised politics and news shows thus making “Joe the plumber” an instant overnight TV celebrity. So who exactly is this person known as “Joe the plumber”?
Well to begin with his real name is Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher and the truth is he isn’t actually a licensed plumber. Wurzelbacher is actually one of the two employees of Newell Plumbing & Heating, in Toledo Ohio and the other employee is the business owner, a licensed plumber named Al Newell. But it is illegal to do plumbing work in Toledo and surrounding communities unless you are either a licensed plumber or you are in an apprenticeship/journeyman program. Since Joe is not, his boss, Al Newell, will soon be getting a letter from the city reminding him of these requirements.
It also turns out Joe’s plan to buy the plumbing business he works for is actually just a “pipe” dream, since he actually has no money to do so and has merely discussed the possibility of some day buying it when the current owner decides to retire. Nor does it appear that Newell Plumbing & Heating grosses the $250,000 to $280,000 a year he told Senator Obama, much less that it has a taxable income of anywhere close to this amount.
In fact, if the net income of Newell Plumbing & Heating after deductions for business expenses was shared by Joe and his boss Al Newell, both they and their company’s incomes would fall well below the top tax brackets on which Mr. Obama wants to raise rates and they would all qualify for a tax cut instead. Maybe “Joe the plumber” doesn’t care about this tax cut and is more worried about paying higher taxes in the future should he someday be able to buy this business, but I can’t help but wonder what his current boss Al Newell thinks about Obama’s tax plan.
Since one can question both the truthfulness of his statements to Senator Obama and the logic “Joe the plumber” used in concluding that Obama’s tax proposals would hurt him as a “potential” small business owner, I question the wisdom of Senator McCain using a guy like “Joe the plumber” to symbolize the embodiment of the American Dream.
But maybe it makes sense when you consider some other factors. You see “Joe the plumber” also owes the state of Ohio almost $1200 in back taxes, so I think he is really more concerned about not paying any taxes at all, than he is about a rise in his tax rate. Since Joe also admits he is a registered Republican and no fan of Obama, maybe McCain’s use of “Joe the plumber” as a symbol does make a certain amount of sense.

My grades for 2nd Presidential debate

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 16th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Its 7:30 in the morning here in New Delhi, India and I am sitting in my room watching the US Presidential debates live on satellite TV. This town hall style debate will soon be over and all I can tell you is that nothing that was said here tonight has come as a surprise to me or probably any other American voter watching this second of three Presidential debates. So why am I or any other voter bothering to watch these debates?
I’m interested in seeing how each candidate performs and how they respond to the questions posed to them. Some undecided voters may be hoping to hear or see something from one of the candidates that will either resonate with them or turn them off so they can make a decision about who to vote for or against four weeks from now. Everyone else is cheering the candidate they support and hoping his opponent makes a serious mistake. That is why the style of the candidates in these debates matters so much more than the substance of their responses. This isn’t necessarily the way we should judge a debate, given the sharp differences of opinion between the candidates on many major domestic and foreign policy issues, but it has become the reality of American politics today.
So now I will begin to discuss my impressions about both candidates beginning with the Republican Presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. To begin with, Senator McCain’s disdain for his opponent, Barack Obama, was very palpable throughout the course of the debate, at one point referring to his opponent as “that one”. Stylistically speaking, I don’t acting contemptuous helps someone win over undecided voters, so I viewed his scornful attitude as a negative for McCain’s overall performance.
On the other hand, McCain was the only candidate who actually proposed something new in the way of policies he would pursue if he was elected so I saw that as a plus for him. McCain said that the US Treasury should buy up the United States’ bad sub-prime mortgages, renegotiate the interest rates those homeowners are paying and bring some stability to the US housing market in the process. This is not a new idea since it was proposed in an article published a week earlier in the Wall Street Journal and was also suggested by Barack Obama in a speech he delivered more than a month ago. But John McCain failed to provide any details about his proposal which, as I understand it, is already well within the power of the US Treasury Secretary to implement thanks to recently passed legislation to deal with the home mortgage loan problem.
Still it was the first and thus far only original economic suggestion Senator McCain has offered American voters, who are understandably very concerned about the current state and direction of the US economy. But as for any other real substance in his responses, McCain had little to offer beyond his campaign slogans and equally vague suggestions that he would cut pork barrel spending to deal with the deficit and that we should cut taxes for everyone, including those who are making millions of dollars a year.
For this reason I gave John McCain a grade of B- for the substance of his remarks, a combination of a B+ for his only new suggestion and a C for him continuing to espouse ways to deal with the ballooning budget deficit that simply don’t add up.
While it was obvious that John McCain is very much at home with the town hall question and answer debate format, he largely negated the stylistic advantage he brought to this debate my continuing to refuse to look at his opponent just as he had done in the first debate. He was very comfortable approaching audience members who had questions to ask him and calling them by name, often touching them on the arm or shaking their hands. But once the debate concluded he didn’t bother to shake Obama’s hand or stick around to talk with those same audience members, leaving Barack Obama alone on the stage after the debate, to chat with the audience and try to get them to vote for him.
So the grade of A I was initially going to give John for the style he displayed, deteriorated to a C by the time the debate was over thanks to his scornful manner and quick exit, thus leaving John McCain with a C+ as his overall mark for the evening.
Senator Barack Obama did not appear real comfortable with the town hall debate format at first as he stood in the center of the stage while listening to his initial questions from the audience. But Senator Obama seemed to warm up as the evening progressed and began walking over to those asking questions and addressing them more directly as John McCain had been doing throughout the debate and then hanging around afterwards to talk with the audience some more. In fact I noticed that Obama made a beeline to a likely McCain supporter, a retired Navy Petty Officer whose hand McCain had shaken before answering his question, and engaged him in a discussion. For this reason I upped my final style grade for Obama from a C+ to a B.
There was nothing new as regards the substance of Senator Obama’s responses to questions. He gave reasonably concise and substantive responses to roughly half of the questions but became a bit long winded whenever he was trying to avoid answering others. While Obama continued to make a stronger case than McCain regarding why he would do a better job as President addressing America’s foreign and domestic problems, I had to give him a B for substance and a B for his overall debate performance.
Overall, this was not the game changing debate performance McCain needed to close the slowly widening gap between him and Obama in public opinion polls with only four weeks left before Election Day.

The Sarah Palin Show (aka The Veep Debate)

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 9th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As I did last week for the first of the three Presidential debates, in this weeks column I will share my impressions regarding the performance of the Republican and Democratic Vice Presidential candidates in their one and only joint appearance at the Vice Presidents debate in St. Louis Missouri. I should also note that unlike the site of the first Presidential debate in Oxford Mississippi, the state of Missouri is considered a key battleground state in the upcoming election with Senator John McCain clinging to a narrow lead over our next President, Barack Obama, in the most recent polls taken there.
Having said that, I will now turn my attention to the two parties respective Vice Presidential nominee’s performances in the debates, beginning with the Republican candidate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. For her overall performance I gave Sarah Palin a higher passing grade of B than I gave her running mate John McCain (C+) based on style rather than substance. In fact it was Mrs. Palin lack of substance which brought her overall debate mark down because I gave her an A for the style she displayed during the course of her 90 minute tete a tete with Senator Joe Biden.
Unlike her prospective new boss, Senator John McCain, Sarah Palin displayed the camera savvy and delivery style Senator McCain lacks, which makes her come across as a more appealing and attractive candidate to watch and listen to on the TV tube than John McCain. Throughout the debate Governor Palin spoke to the audience watching on TV rather than those in attendance in the auditorium, rarely acknowledging them or looking at her opponent, Joe Biden, or the moderator, Gwen Ifill. It was obvious that Palin hasn’t lost the stage skills she first developed competing in beauty pageants. I actually would have given her an A+ for her performance had it not been for her annoying tendency to avoid answering questions by veering off in another direction with her responses.
As for the substance of Mrs. Palin’s remarks and her responses to the questions, I gave her a barely passing grade of C- largely because she only made a couple of minor mistakes when she made reference to the names of other people, such as referring to the US Commander in Afghanistan as General “McClellan” instead of saying his real name, General David McKiernan. She also explained to the TV audience why she wasn’t answering the questions posed to her by the moderator saying at one point “I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record.”
But the fact that Sarah Palin couldn’t muster substantive answers to many of the questions posed to her was not really surprising given her rather dismal performances in prior one on one interviews with TV news reporters like Katie Couric of CBS. It was already obvious from those interviews that Governor Palin didn’t have command of any national issues that went beyond those of oil and gas drilling that she had dealt with as a Governor, so the expectations for her performance in this debate were already quite low.
As a result, I am sure most of my Republican cohorts were very pleased with Mrs. Palin’s debate performance on national television given their dismay at her previous performance in unscripted television interviews. Unlike Sarah Palin’s most recent TV interviews, her responses to the questions posed to her in the debate were steady even though she avoided answering many of the questions. Instead of stumbling pauses while trying to answer tough questions which went beyond her limited knowledge of national and international issues, Sarah reverted to McCain’s Presidential campaign talking points.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times she referred to herself and Senator McCain as “mavericks” or as a “team of mavericks” but suffice to say it was a “heck of a lot” (another phrase Palin repeatedly used). But while Governor Palin didn’t make a fool of herself on the debate stage, she also did little to dispel the concerns of many voters about her lack of experience and knowledge about national issues. But I think the main objective here was for Palin to at least do no further harm to the McCain presidential campaign and I think she accomplished that.
As for Senator Joe Biden’s debate performance I gave him a grade of B+, which is the same grade I gave his boss, Barack Obama, in the previous week’s first presidential debate. But Senator Biden earned this mark based more on the substance of his responses to the questions, which got him an A grade, than the style he displayed on this nationally televised debate stage, which earned him a still positive grade of B.
I actually though Senator Biden improved on some of his past presidential debate performances because he didn’t revert to the long winded answers to questions or attacks by his opponent that he has been known for. In fact he rarely lost patience with Mrs. Palin’s repeated forays away from the questions being asked of her by remaining forceful and poised in responding to an opponent who was difficult to attack because she was a woman and he was a man.
While this is not fair, it is the reality of how much of the viewing public would have interpreted any attacks on Sarah Palin and her spotty record as a small town mayor and Governor in Alaska that Biden might have attempted. Trust me, Biden had many opportunities to attack Sarah Palin, but he instead stuck to his game plan and focused his attacks on McCain’s record of supporting George Bush saying “The issue is how different is John McCain’s policy going to be than George Bush’s.”
I seriously doubt Palin’s performance will help the McCain campaign in the final month, but at least she didn’t do any further damage to his campaign.

My grades for 1st Presidential debate

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on October 2nd in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Today I want to discuss my impressions about the performances of both candidates in last Friday’s first US Presidential debate. While there will be two more Presidential debates following tonight’s only debate between Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden and McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin, historically the tone and substance for the entire series of Presidential debates is set during the course of the first of the three debates thus making it the most important one of the three to watch.
Even though my sentiments favoring Senator Obama in this year’s election are well known to most if not all of the readers of this column, my impressions of the candidate’s performances are based on both the style and the substance of their responses to the questions that have been posed to them by the moderator. In fact in past Presidential debates I have quite often given higher marks to the Presidential candidate I oppose (i.e. President Bush in 2004, Bill Clinton in 1992) than to the candidate I support.
Having said that, I want to begin my analysis by first giving my readers an overall mark for each candidate’s performance, followed by my reasons for giving each of them their respective grade. I will then use this same format in next week’s column about the Vice Presidential debates and any subsequent columns I might write about the remaining US Presidential debates. Practically speaking, baring a major gaffe or extremely poor performance by either candidate, these debates don’t sway many votes to or from either party’s presidential nominee. The real audience is the 10-15% of the electorate which still remains undecided about who to vote for with only a few weeks left before Election Day.
To begin with, I must first note that this initial Presidential debate almost didn’t happen. On Wednesday afternoon, just over 48 hours before the first debate was scheduled to begin, John McCain announced he was suspending his Presidential campaign so that he could devote his time and energy to resolving the financial crisis which has enveloped America’s investment banks and financial institutions on Wall Street. McCain then challenged Obama to also suspend campaigning for President and to agree to postpone the first Presidential debate.
But Obama, as well as many independent political observers, viewed McCain’s move as a political ploy and refused to take the bait. Senator Obama questioned why John McCain couldn’t seem to deal with two problems, preparing for a debate about US foreign policy and dealing with a US economic crisis, at the same time. Obama then challenged McCain saying that the financial crisis underscored the need to have just such a debate between both candidates about the future direction America would be taking.
In the end it was McCain who blinked and decided he had better show up at the debate in Oxford Mississippi even though he had previously said he wouldn’t if the US Congress had been unable to settle on a resolution to the problems on Wall Street before the debate. So Obama won the debate about the debates before the initial debate ever got underway. Not a very auspicious start for John McCain if you ask me.
As for the actual debate Friday evening, since I am still a Republican I will begin with the Republican candidate, John McCain, to whom I gave a passing grade of C+ mainly for the substance rather than the style of his initial debate performance.
Last week I closed my column saying that “I believe America will vote for change. Barack Obama embodies change. McCain doesn’t!” Well in last Friday’s debate John McCain apparently decided to cede this issue to Senator Obama, since McCain barely used the term “change” in any of his responses or remarks. I must confess I found this surprising since John McCain has been hammering away at the “change” message in his TV advertising and stump speeches for the last four weeks.
Ever since McCain’s announcement that Sarah Palin would be his Vice President, John has been trying to emphasize the fact that he is the “change” candidate who will change the way government works in Washington DC. But during the debate he focused on burnishing his image as a “maverick”, twice using the line that he has never won a “Miss Congeniality” award from his Republican colleagues or the Bush administration.
McCain had difficulty finding his footing during the first half hour of the debate when both candidates were answering questions about America’s current financial crisis. But he was folksy, used his campaign slogans about the economy effectively and avoided Obama’s taunts about McCain’s support of Bush’s tax and economic policies. On Iraq McCain repeatedly avoided his support for the war and instead emphasized his support for the US troop surge. He became more comfortable in the last hour and was also more aggressive in taking the attack to Obama in his responses to foreign policy questions.
On the other hand I gave Senator Obama a grade of B+ largely based on the stylistic improvements I noted in the way Obama responded to questions as compared to Obama’s previous debate performances during the Democratic primaries.
Obama’s answers to all of the questions were more concise and less professorial than those he often gave in previous Democratic debates. In contrast to McCain’s poking fun at himself and repeated attempts to make humorous quips, Obama avoided humor and came across as the more calm and businesslike of the two. Obama was confident and prepared with imminently reasonable answers for every question from the moderator as well as every accusation hurled at him by an oft times scolding and cranky sounding John McCain.
Obama did a better job of speaking directly to his opponent and engaging with the moderator and the audience while McCain ignored them and directed his responses to those watching on TV. While this was by far the best debate appearance I have seen from John McCain, it was likewise Obama’s best debate performance this year.

Is John McCain still calling the shots?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on September 25th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As you read this I am probably either getting ready to catch a plane or flying over the Atlantic on my return home to Ireland from the states. But before I leave I want to finish my discussion of John McCain’s sudden change in campaign strategy as well as his decision to embrace the same negative political attack advertising tactics President Bush and his chief advisor Karl Rove used so effectively against John McCain back in 2000.
A few months ago John McCain’s campaign events were free-wheeling and fairly entertaining affairs characterized by McCain answering questions from voters and making humorous wise-cracking remarks to audiences of interested and or undecided voters in the “town hall” format he is most comfortable with. McCain would also answer any and all questions from the TV and newspaper journalists covering his campaign from his couch at the back of his bus or the front of his plane while traveling between events.
But during the last three months it has become very evident that former Bush campaign advisor Steve Schmidt is now the man calling the shots for the McCain campaign, not McCain the Presidential candidate. Now there are two drawn curtains separating McCain from the news media on his plane and the couch is used as a repository for newspapers instead of being a seat for McCain to use when he chats with reporters. That’s because the chats reporters used to have with McCain aboard McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” bus and his jet “Straight Talk Air” are now a thing of the past.
This is the same Senator John McCain who has repeatedly promised that, unlike President Bush, if he was the President he would have press conferences every week. Hmmm. One has to wonder then why Presidential candidate McCain has not seen fit to hold a press conference since early August. The town hall meetings McCain favors have also changed from campaign events open to all interested voters into “invitation only” affairs with an audience consisting of friendly supporters rather than undecided voters.
The same John McCain, who used to roll his eyes when he was asked about the sound bite advertising and attack ads used by President Bush and other politicians, now delivers sound bite attacks on Senator Obama every time he is given the opportunity to speak into a microphone. Furthermore, McCain’s TV ads have already been criticized by non-partisan watchdog groups for their mischaracterizations of Senator Obama’s positions and lack of truthfulness. One example of this was a McCain ad accusing Obama of voting for legislation that would have led to teaching sex education to five year old children while he was serving as an Illinois state legislator.
The John McCain who once opposed opening up more of the United States’ territorial waters to off shore drilling for oil and gas now leads his supporters in chants of “Drill, Baby. Drill” at his campaign events. As for the John McCain who has sponsored legislation on campaign finance reforms, he has apparently been replaced by a team of Bush advisors who are exploiting legal loopholes to raise money in ways that circumvent the intent of John McCain’s own campaign finance reform laws.
The John McCain of September 2008, who for years was reticent to discuss his time in captivity as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war (POW), now finds a way to weave his experiences as a POW into his responses to virtually all questions. McCain’s nationally televised interview with Reverend Rick Warren last month was a prime example of this new campaign tactic in action as were the speeches given by McCain’s cohorts at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota two weeks later.
But it seems to me that the real reason John McCain and his minions want to remind voters that he suffered for more than five years in the Hanoi Hilton, is that they think doing so might make people feel guilty if they are contemplating voting for his opponent. Indeed, McCain doesn’t want voters to consider where he stands on the issues which divide our nation because he is on the wrong side of them. McCain wants people to vote for him because they “owe it to him” since he once suffered for them as a POW.
Will McCain’s new campaign strategy and tactics work? Will they be enough to get him elected President on 4 November? While I could be wrong, I believe they will not be enough to win the election for McCain on 4 November. Granted these are tried and true strategies and tactics that Republicans have successfully used in past elections and they have already allowed McCain to close the gap between him and Barack Obama which had once existed in most national polls.
Indeed, McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate has energized the social conservatives who had previously been lukewarm to McCain’s presidential aspirations. Cutting off media access to McCain and not allowing journalists to question Sarah Palin has also made it difficult for the news media to make either one of them accountable for their scurrilous attacks on Senator Obama’s record or distortions of their own positions on any number of issues. I just don’t think these tactics will hold up over the long term because I think the American voter is smart enough to figure this out before they cast their presidential ballots less than forty five days from now.
You see despite McCain’s attempts to recast himself as a “change” candidate by selecting a white working mother as his Vice President, I think American voters will eventually see the pick of Palin for what it is; the act of a politician who will do or say anything to get himself elected. Once they do, these voters will then stop and ask themselves if this is really what America needs. With an economic future growing more uncertain with each passing day, I believe America will vote for change. Barack Obama embodies change. McCain doesn’t!

Why pick sarah Palin?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on September 18th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my column last week I noted some of the most glaring contrasts that I saw between the Democratic and Republican National Conventions so this week I want to continue along this same track and offer a bit of my own analysis of what underlies them.
I overheard Peggy Noonan, a respected Republican columnist who writes for the Wall Street Journal, characterizing McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential running mate as a “gimmick”. While she isn’t the only Republican who views McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a desperate political ploy, I think there was a lot more strategic thinking that went into this decision than meets the eye.
To begin with, McCain and his advisors had already spent several months pushing McCain’s “experience” theme against Barack Obama’s presidential campaign theme of “change”, but they had never been able to close the 3 to 9 percentage point lead in national polls that Obama had held since clinching the Democratic nomination last May.
Thus with only 2 months remaining till Election Day, McCain and his campaign manager, lobbyist Rick Davis, knew that the maintaining the status quo was becoming an increasingly risky strategy. So regardless of what others might call it, Mccain correctly (in my opinion) sensed that they needed to do something to change the dynamics of the 2008 Presidential race or they were most likely going to lose the election on 4 November, and McCain’s choice for Vice President was their last realistic chance to shake things up.
McCain’s first choice was Joe Lieberman, and given the fact that Lieberman had been the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 2000, this would have definitely created the kind of stir McCain and his campaign advisors were looking for. But while the selection of Lieberman would have stirred up some positive reactions from independents and some of the more conservative older Democratic voters, it would have also alienated many Republican social conservatives. McCain and his campaign staff thus concluded that any gains they might realize among independents and disaffected Democrats would likely be off set by their loss of support from social conservatives.
On the other hand the news media had not already spent several weeks discussing Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney as possible running mates social conservatives would find acceptable, so selecting one of them would not shake up the race nor would it arouse much interest from undecided independent and older voters. Furthermore, while all three of these men may have been acceptable to socially conservative Republicans, it was unlikely that their presence on the ticket would encourage a larger than expected number of social conservative to turn out and vote for McCain on Election Day.
Thus having calculated that none of the prospective Vice Presidential candidates they had vetted and considered during the summer would deliver the boost in the polls that McCain needed, his advisors turned their attention to the prospect of something that would; picking a woman to be McCain’s running mate.
A woman would not only be both a historic and a surprise choice as McCain’s Vice President, she would also offer McCain the opportunity to appeal to some of those disaffected white women who had been Hillary Clinton supporters. The right woman wouldn’t have to result in the loss of the support of social conservatives but could instead lead to an increase in support from independent and older Democratic voters.
But with only a few days left until the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, McCain and his advisors also knew they would have to move quickly, even though they knew that making such a decision too hastily might later come back to haunt them.
Four women who McCain and his staff believed social conservatives would support were considered; Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, North Carolina Senator Libby Dole, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. So how did McCain end up picking the woman with the least experience of the four?
Well, Dole had the experience and name recognition McCain wanted, but was eliminated because she was the same age as McCain and his advisors believed McCain needed someone younger on the ticket.
While Rice was much younger and had the same qualifications as Dole, she was also black and thus not likely to increase the turnout of the older racially prejudiced white voters McCain is counting on to vote for him on 4 November.
Even though Hutchison also had good qualifications, she was also 65. Because she was only 7 years younger than McCain, her age was not deemed to be an attractive quality for a Vice President running with the oldest Presidential candidate in US history.
So through this process of elimination, John McCain was left with only one candidate who could address his need for a younger woman as a vice presidential running mate; Governor Sarah Palin. The only real risk McCain was running in selecting Palin as his Vice President was the fact that she had very little political experience and was a relative unknown to most American voters outside of the state of Alaska. It also meant that McCain would have to abandon his “experience” trumps “change” argument and try to recast himself as a “change” candidate just like Obama had done.
While most political media pundits in the states think McCain made a very risky move by plucking Palin from her perch as a first term Governor of a sparsely populated state to be his Vice President, I disagree. In fact I believe selecting Palin was actually the best choice McCain could have made if he wanted to have any realistic chance to close the consistent lead in national polls that Barack Obama had held throughout the summer. In other words, the potential rewards to be gained by picking Sarah Palin outweighed the risks associated with abandoning his attacks on Obama’s lack of experience.
Will McCain’s sudden change in campaign strategy work? That’s our discussion for next week.