Showing posts with label general. Show all posts
Showing posts with label general. Show all posts


South Carolina Primary Coverage: Brave New Films Simulcast

Brave New Films is hosting primary night coverage of the South Carolina Democratic primary results tonight. This event is also being sponsored by the Young Turks and is hosted by Robert Greenwald and Cenk Uygur. I will be participating in the discussion via call-in starting at 7:20. Other guests will include prominent bloggers from Firedoglake, Alternet, the Huffington Post, Crooks and Liars, and other major sites. You can watch the simulcast in the window below, but if it doesn't work, you can also watch it here. A live blog is also available for anyone to participate in.


Iowa Caucus Live Chat

The good folks over at The Palmetto Scoop have informed me about a live chat taking place as the caucus results come in at 8:00 tonight. Anyone who is interested in participating in this live chat should click on the link below.

This chat is open to everyone and is live right now. Participants include political bloggers and political junkies all over America. I plan on joining the chat later tonight, so I encourage anyone interested to try it out.

Click here for live chat


Lame Political Discourse

I found this recent CNN news item about Hillary Clinton claiming Blacks are "invisible" to the Bush Administration and the GOP's response to it, courtesy of Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. Here is the main part of Dawson's response:

"[I]f you're a hardworking parent, you're invisible to Hillary Clinton because she voted for the largest tax increase in history. If you're a member of our armed forces, you're invisible to Hillary Clinton because she wants America to surrender to the terrorists in Iraq. If you believe all life is sacred and that marriage is between one man and one woman, you're invisible to Hillary Clinton because she joins with radical groups that support federal funding for abortion and forcing us to recognize same-sex marriages."
Remarks like this make it easy to understand why regular people have such a distaste for politics and such a high level of disapproval of Congress.

There's a difference between hardball politics, scare-mongering, and flat-out garbage, and this exchange involving Clinton and Dawson captures all three. To me, perhaps the most offensive of Dawson's remarks is the idea that Hillary Clinton "wants America to surrender to the terrorists in Iraq." What is the basis for accusing the former First Lady and a current senator of wanting to surrender to our nation's enemies? Should Clinton be charged with treason? That's a serious accusation, so if Clinton has indeed committed treason, she must be tried and summarily executed! Of course, when you put it that way, these people immediately backtrack and say they shouldn't be taken literally. So why bother making such an accusation at all?

To be sure, Hillary Clinton does not get a free pass with this kind of ridiculous rhetoric either. Neither should other Democrats who have made similar suggestions that the Bush Administration doesn't care about Black people. His appointees for Secretary of State (Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice) suggest otherwise. And regarding negligence, there are a lot of Whites along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and regions of Louisiana outside of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans who are still struggling even two years after Katrina. And Americans of all races are dying in Iraq with no clear leadership from the president and no clear statement of exactly what the mission is that we're trying to accomplish there. Children of all races are going to be impacted by his decision to veto the proposed expansion of the popular SCHIP program that provides health care coverage for lower income children. Bush is not a racist, as he seems to have no biases whatsoever when it comes to disadvantaging people.

The "surrender" charge commonly used by Republicans particularly bothers me though. How have they been able to survive as long as they have in politics by accusing Democrats, liberals, and Iraq War opponents of "wanting to surrender" to terrorists? Is this what qualifies as intelligent political discussion in this country? Do the people who say such garbage not realize that they are becoming the very people we're trying to defeat abroad? After all, Islamic radicals and terrorists use the same false choices to justify their misguided policies. Americans say "if you don't support the war and the president, you don't support America." Islamic radicals say "if you don't agree with us and our interpretation of the Koran, you are an infidel." Unfortunately, this line of thinking is a bit too cerebral to fit in with our current culture of soundbytes and 30-second ads. Of course, as soon as someone shows a similarity between an American (who is naturally the paragon of virtue by virtue of his nationality) and an outsider (who by definition must be inferior to us), that person is immediately pilloried as an America-hater, terrorist sympathizer, or even worse, French. Meanwhile, the substance of their argument goes unaddressed.

The patent dishonesty and intellectual laziness so many of us illustrate are only digging our nation deeper into a hole that weakens us collectively. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University is only the most recent example of this. It's much easier to beat up on a dictator without thinking twice about it than it is to calmly let him self-destruct. Obviously Ahmadinejad had a big scarlet X on his back when he went to the university, but the way the university president condescendingly introduced him only served to make the Iranian president look good. What's the point of inviting a guest to speak at your university if you're only going to call him a "petty dictator?" While Ahmadinejad would never win a public relations battle in the United States, he looked far more victorious in the eyes of Muslims and Iranians around the world for standing up to his so-called American "hosts." And that's only going to make him more popular there and less likely to cooperate with us here. I wrote about the dangers of resorting to the easiest way of thinking ("us good, them bad") in a previous post and look how everything turned out.

Something very dangerous has happened in this nation since September 11. I'm not talking about subsequent terror attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or Iraq. I'm talking about the way fear has transformed our nation's political discourse. Gone are the days of expressing legitimate political differences like adults. Meaningful discussion about the great issues of the day has been replaced by buzzwords, soundbytes, and slogans that impugn the character and patriotism of our political adversaries, usually to our collective detriment. So while politicians on both sides criticize, posture, filibuster, and hyperbolize, people continue to die in Iraq. People continue to struggle with a lack of health care. People continue to send their children to failing schools. People continue to wonder if North Korea really will launch a nuclear weapon. People continue to worry about illegal aliens sneaking across the border. People continue to worry about the safety of their pension.

And it has to stop.

The current crop of presidential candidates just doesn't get it. John McCain is using the word "surrender" again. John Edwards is talking about getting 50,000 troops out of Iraq instantly without saying exactly how that is logistically possible. Rudy Giuliani says electing Democrats would put America on "defense" against the terrorists. Hillary Clinton doesn't do "hypotheticals." Fred Thompson doesn't seem to have a clue about anything going on in the world today. And Barack Obama speaks as if electing him will almost magically put an end to all the nonsense in Washington.

It's really hard to take any of these candidates seriously. Nothing is ever that simple.

A part of me can't help but wonder if there are voters out there who will support someone they philosophically disagree with simply because they are cerebral candidates who don't oversimplify the issues or insult voters' intelligence by making childish accusations against their political opponents. There seem to be two Republicans who fall into this category: Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. I've listened to them defend themselves in all the presidential debates so far and notice that they have shied away from the groupthink mantra of "stay the course" and "fight them over there so they won't follow us here" and other silly slogans. Their arguments tend to be much more cogent and much more difficult to encapsulate in a 15 second radio ad. The only cerebral Democrats I see in the field are Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, with the latter making straight-shooting his calling card in the debates, especially when it comes to Iraq. Speaking of Biden, it appears that pundits are slowly picking up on his unique role in the field as well.

Governance is serious business. Managing billions and billions of dollars is serious business. War and peace are serious business. Having said that, why are so many of our leaders saying so much nonsense (in the form of ridiculous attacks or overly simplistic rhetoric) that makes us take them so much less seriously?

This nation really can't take too much more of this.


Primarily Stupid: Part 2

The presidential primary process is officially out of control.

One of the very first posts I wrote in The 7-10 was about how the presidential primary process was in need of major overhaul. In that post, I could not wrap my brain around why Iowa and New Hampshire had the privilege of getting first crack at selecting the presidential nominees cycle after cycle. After all, what makes the people of Des Moines and Concord so uniquely qualified to be accurate judges of a candidate's viability?

I also discussed some of the proposals that have been floated about, such as the Delaware Plan, which basically divides the states according to their populations and has the primaries of the less populated states take place before those of the more populated states.

While I do not fully agree with the Delaware Plan, I do believe that is a marked improvement over the system we have now. The national parties tried to improve the process by allowing Nevada and South Carolina to move their primaries up to introduce more diversity into the process, but that has only created a bigger mess.

As Nevada and South Carolina moved up to the front of the line, other states began to feel left out and wanted in on the action. This is entirely understandable because there is so much interest among voters in selecting the next presidential nominees, especially because of Iraq. So they moved their primary dates up in an attempt to have more influence over the process.

As a result, February 5, normally known as Super Tuesday has become known as Tsunami Tuesday or Super Duper Tuesday. Some states have even decided to encroach on the early states' turf by scheduling their contests before this date despite the risk of losing their delegates at next year's conventions when the primaries' victors are formally nominated. This has led to the Democratic Party trying to restore a bit of sanity to the process by asking its candidates to sign a pledge stating that they would not campaign in any state that was not authorized to have its contest before February 5.

Whatever. This is all stupid.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The system is broken. It doesn't matter what the national parties mandate. It doesn't matter how many delegates a state stands to lose. It doesn't matter when a state holds its contest. Until the primary season is conducted in a manner that does not reward certain states just because of "tradition," this process will remain a national embarrassment.

I happen to live in South Carolina, which is an early voting state. Lots of candidates crisscross the state stumping for votes and it's hard to open the local paper without reading about how Candidate X attended a luncheon at a local restaurant or how Candidate Y gave a speech at a local church. Needless to say, I've had the opportunity to meet several of the candidates. If I think about it selfishly, I guess I have it pretty good living in South Carolina. But when I dissociate myself from where I live and think about this pragmatically, I can't help but feel that people in North Carolina or South Dakota have a right to be upset. Voters in those states have real issues that they want to discuss with the presidential candidates, but they will never get a chance to do so simply because of "tradition."

Again, I already ranted about why I don't understand what makes New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada so special when it comes to getting first crack at the presidential candidates, so I don't need to do that here. I'm more interested in talking about why this bothers the other states so much and how it can best be fixed.

Politicos commonly say that there are three tickets out of Iowa and two tickets out of New Hampshire. Wonderful. So this means that a field of 9 Republicans and 8 Democrats will be whittled down by 75% before 96% of the states even have a chance to let their voices be heard. And if the so-called frontrunners win these first two contests, the rest of the primary season simply doesn't matter. Primaries from then on would be mere formalities. So 48 states would have to be content with the candidates that voters in 2 (very small) states settled on. If a candidate places 3rd in Iowa and 2nd in New Hampshire, both of which are respectable showings, that candidate is finished even if voters in the other states like him because nobody wants to vote for someone who isn't perceived to be a winner. Case in point, despite John Edwards' strong showing in Iowa in 2004, he was never able to get over the hump and wrest the nomination from John Kerry, a virtual nobody in most of those later states' polls right before the Iowa caucuses.

On top of this, and on the flip side, if there is a surprise result in Iowa or New Hampshire by a less well funded or longshot candidate, then that candidate has to contend with the fact that voters in the later states don't know who he is and there's not enough time for him to build up his name recognition and develop a campaign apparatus. Meanwhile, the candidate with all the money and name recognition will have a head start. If John Edwards wins Iowa, Joe Biden places second, and Hillary Clinton places third, do you honestly think Joe Biden will be better equipped to handle South Carolina than Clinton would despite his superior showing in the first contest?

Either way, nominations these days are all sewn up before most of the states even get a chance to participate. And that is unfair. So the question then becomes how to fix it.

In Primarily Stupid, I floated the idea of basing primary order on voter participation in the previous presidential election. I'm going to call this the Palmer Plan. The 50 state parties and state election officials would work with each other to provide statistics about how many eligible voters actually voted in the previous presidential election. These voter turnout statistics would then be used to determine when each state could hold its primary. The four states with the highest voter turnout would then earn the right to have their primaries first and on individual days. States ranked 5-10 would then have their primaries in pairs (#5 and #6 on the same day, #7 and #8 together, etc.). States ranked 11-25 would have their primaries in groups of 4. And states ranked 26-50 would have their primaries in groups of 6.

This model would reward the states that get their voters to the polls and penalize states whose voters are more apathetic. It also gives voters a sense of ownership over the primary process. And for the first time in a long time, people's votes will actually matter. Republicans in New York and Democrats in Texas are used to their votes not counting in primary elections or in presidential elections. This idea would change that because even if a state is not competitive (does anybody really expect Fred Thompson to win Connecticut or for Hillary Clinton to carry Alabama?), at least their vote will help give their state a better chance of holding their primary contest for the next cycle a bit earlier. This idea would also keep presidential candidates on their toes too. Right now, campaign managers know the ins and outs of Iowa and New Hampshire like the back of their hand. That luxury will diminish with this idea because the 2012 election may kick off with caucuses in Kentucky followed by Georgia, while the 2016 cycle may start with Arizona and then Maine. As an added benefit, West Coast voters will have an incentive to get to the polls regardless of how lopsided an election may seem based on the results from the polls back East.

A national primary is another idea that I commonly hear people talk about. This is an awful idea though because it rewards the candidates with the most money and most name recognition. Such an idea does have some potential, however, in that a series of national primaries could take place and the candidate with the weakest support gets cut from the next ballot. Candidates who get cut from the ballot could then endorse other weaker candidates and pool their resources and consolidate their support to bring down more powerful candidates. A Dennis Kucinich could get cut from the ballot and then endorse John Edwards and have that alliance remove Barack Obama from the ballot, for example. I kinda like this idea, although I don't like it as much as the Palmer Plan listed above. I think I'll call this the Palmer B Plan.

Public funding of campaigns is an obvious reform that is needed and it pertains not just to the primaries, but also the general election. Speaking of which, the Electoral College is the next nightmare that needs to be addressed, but until an agent of change wins the White House, I don't really expect any of these problems to be resolved anytime soon.


Winnow the Minnows

Stuart Rothenberg's latest piece about how there are too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to the presidential debates is a must read. I alluded to the crux of Rothenberg's point recently about narrowing the GOP field, but he expresses this much more forcefully than I ever could as a political novice.

Basically, Rothenberg believes it's time for a big chunk of the field to drop out of the race because they have absolutely no chance of being elected. Specifically, he cites Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich as candidates who are only needlessly crowding the stage and should no longer be a part of the debates or the national presidential dialogue.

You could give Ron Paul and Mike Gravel an hour of free TV time from now until Christmas and they still wouldn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of being nominated by their respective parties.
He makes a very good point.

At the recent AFL-CIO debate in Chicago, Dennis Kucinich probably had the best performance of the evening in terms of substance, wooing the crowd, and the passion of his responses. He was probably the most supportive candidate of the labor movement on stage that evening and did not equivocate. But do you honestly think the Teamsters Union or the AFL-CIO is going to endorse Dennis Kucinich? It's not going to happen.

The same could be said for Duncan Hunter. Even though he seems to be the right match for conservative voters on almost every issue, he is stuck at 1% in almost every poll and even fared worse than nonparticipants in the recent Ames Straw Poll. There is no way he will receive the nomination, so there's no point in having him take up valuable time at future debates.
The point of debates, after all, is to help voters decide who they favor for President, not to give everyone who wants to be President exposure.
Again, another good point. Although everybody has the right to run for president, not everyone should be taken seriously enough to warrant presidential debate coverage. Mike Gravel adds nothing to the debates except color (and even that is becoming tiresome), but presidential debates should be much more substantive and consist of much more serious candidates. I will be old enough to run for president in 2012, but I am not a credible candidate. I don't have any political contacts, nor do I have any field offices in the early primary states. I have no money, no consultants, and no campaign staff. So why should I be given so many platforms to get my message out?

Ron Paul is an interesting case. I was not completely on board with Rothenberg regarding excluding him from future debates at first simply because there are no other candidates in the race who are saying the same things he is. I can't recall the last Republican candidate who ran as a Barry Goldwater libertarian conservative and generated such strong support online. His views are particularly interesting to listen to, but he's stuck at 1% in the polls just like Kucinich and Hunter. He performed fairly well at the Ames Straw Poll, but placed behind every candidate who actually participated in the event other than Duncan Hunter. However...
The long shots have raised money, put together experienced campaign teams and have at least some chance of being nominated. They certainly deserve more time on the national stage, while the Tancredo's and Kucinich's of the world have had their moment to make their cases and push their issues.
And that makes a lot of sense. People who follow politics obviously know who Ron Paul is by now, but it's not helping. Dennis Kucinich has run on a pure liberal platform before and lost badly. Voters didn't support him before, and they are not supporting him now no matter how much his rhetoric and positions may resonate with people, even if only privately (such as impeaching Vice President Cheney). So maybe Rothenberg is right about Ron Paul after all.

The people who are the most hurt by including these "no shots" (as Rothenberg put it) in the debates and national dialogues are people like Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson on the Democratic side, and Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback on the Republican side. At least those candidates have a credible campaign apparatus and campaign cash. But there's too much "noise" for them to break through. Huckabee caught a huge break in the Ames Straw Poll because that gave him so much favorable media coverage.

The people who benefit the most from including these "no shots" in the debates are the ones at the very top of the field. Clinton and Giuliani in particular should be beaming with joy every time they step on the stage with gadfly candidates like Hunter and Gravel standing a few feet away from them.

Mike Gravel was not missed at the AFL-CIO debate. He could have participated, but failed to complete the required questionnaire they sent him prior to the debate. Future debate sponsors would do the presidential nomination process a great service by taking things a step further and keeping the no shots away from the long shots and big shots.

At some point, voters, the media, and debate organizers have to get serious about this. Now would be a good time to start.


Pardon me?

President Bush has just commuted the prison sentence of Scooter Libby. The basis of his decision was that the 30-month prison sentence was "excessive."

And with one stroke of the pen, President Bush has cemented the animosity, distrust, scorn, and sheer hatred his political enemies have developed for him over the years. And for regular people (who generally opposed the idea of pardoning Scooter Libby by more than a 3 to 1 ratio in some polls), this commutation likely has turned them off from the remainder of his presidency. Bush will retain his formal and executive powers, but he will be a lame duck for sure who nobody respects.

Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed by President Bush, so it's hard to paint Fitzgerald as some over-zealous partisan Bush-hater. Also, the 30-month prison sentence was consistent with the federal sentencing guidelines as well, so why Bush views this as "excessive" would be interesting to know. And why Bush didn't pardon Libby much earlier would be another good question to ask because this investigation cost taxpayers millions of dollars. And what's the point of having an investigation if the president will overturn the jury's verdict? And how can Bush say he "respects the jury's decision" regarding the verdict and then eliminate the heftiest part of the very sentence he "respects?" Anyway, it is important to stress that it is Bush's presidential right to commute Libby's sentence. However, I think most Americans will conclude that even though this is Bush's right, that doesn't necessarily make it right.

(For what it's worth, the difference between a commutation and a pardon is that a pardon completely wipes a person's slate clean. Receiving a pardon basically restores one's legal record to its previous state--that is, before any legal proceedings took place. A commutation simply eliminates prison time, but does not remove any convictions from one's records. So in Libby's case, he will still have to pay a hefty fine of $250,000 and be placed on probation. However, since Libby hasn't yet served any prison time, a commutation is essentially the same as a pardon.)

What are the consequences of this?

Democrats are incensed by this development, and rightfully so. President Clinton was impeached for a similar crime (perjury), so they think this development reeks of a double standard and a workaround that cheats the justice system. As a result of this, they will have no desire whatsoever to work with President Bush in the future. Yes, they will want to accomplish some pieces of legislation so they can brag about their performance when they return to their districts. However, don't be surprised if they drag their feet or send Bush bills that they know he won't sign. It'll be far easier for them to blame their legislative failures on "the stubborn, unreasonable Bush" than on themselves.

Republicans are likely divided by this development. Bush loyalists are elated, as they viewed Libby's transgressions as the result of a "faulty memory" or "not remembering who told you something first," rather than perjury. However, more moderate and less partisan Republicans may disagree with this and think that since Libby did the crime, he should do the time. So they may be disillusioned by their own party and may suffer from tamped down enthusiasm for their own presidential candidates who have voiced support for pardoning Libby in the past.

Democratic presidential candidates will have even more ammunition to use to whack Republicans and gin up their campaign coffers. Democrats overwhelmingly disagree with this decision, the candidates may be falling over themselves to out-rip-on-Bush each other. "Outsider" candidates, particularly Barack Obama (and maybe Bill Richardson) may see their stock go up. "Establishment" and "Washingtonian" candidates (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd) may see their stock values fall because voters may become hungrier for someone "fresh." Hillary Clinton may be particularly weakened by this development because after 8 exhausting years of Bush, would another 8 years of Clinton (and the partisanship that would ensue) be the best remedy for the nation?

Republican presidential candidates might want to be careful with how strongly they defend Bush and Libby because that might damage them in the general election. And there are a lot of Republicans who feel Bush has hijacked their party and won't be receptive to candidates who defend him. I guess it largely depends on how far to the right the candidates are willing to run. Candidates who are on the record of supporting Bill Clinton's impeachment may be branded as hypocrites, so they can't sound too happy about this commutation. This could be particularly damaging to Fred Thompson who actually voted to impeach Clinton and expressed support for Libby. On another note, how will these candidates respond to the argument that Bush forgave someone who lied about national security matters? Would that not undercut their messages about terrorism?

Bush is hovering in the 20s in public opinion polls, so he doesn't have much to lose. But he will have to answer questions about this eventually. He's said many times before that "he can't talk about an ongoing investigation," but he won't be able to hide behind that argument anymore. He will not be in a position to demand much in terms of compromise from Congress, so look for him to be an isolated lame duck for the rest of his term with only ceremonial duties. His goal should be to run out the clock because investigations will only intensify from now on.

But here's will the average person will probably think about this:

The Bush Administration has absolutely no respect for the rule of law, and the concept of accountability does not exist. Be it Iraq, Katrina, Alberto Gonzales, Cheney's secrecy, torture, Guantanamo, wiretapping, or Valerie Wilson, the rules simply don't apply. Incompetent people get promoted and lionized, competent people get ridiculed, reasonable questions get laughed off, and whistle blowers get shoved aside. It's painfully obvious that the rules for average people are different from the rules for the well-connected. Up is down, and down is up. America is without adult supervision, and the majority of people now are probably counting down the days until Bush and his corrupt administration finally leave office.

What a disaster.


The Restive States of America

My apologies for not updating The 7-10 for almost three weeks. Class, a new job, and a hard drive failure have kept me off of the internet for awhile.

Anyway, lots of news has taken place over the past few weeks. Thwarted and bungled terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom plus heightened levels of security in the US have brought terrorism back to the forefront. The immigration "compromise" legislation died a second painful death, much to the embarrassment of President Bush who said he would "see [his political opponents] at the bill signing." Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson has all but officially entered the presidential race and has rocketed up the polls. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is flirting with a presidential bid of his own. Congress's approval rating is in the toilet. Second quarter fundraising totals will be released shortly. The Ames Straw Poll is in a few short weeks and will significantly winnow the GOP field. And there are rumors that John McCain's candidacy is on life support.

What I would like to address in this post is Congress's miserable approval rating. Some of this is due to the fact that it's Congress that we're talking about here. It's always convenient to bash the government. Politicians do it all the time when they "run against Washington" or accuse their political opponents of having an "inside the Beltway mentality." So that's nothing new.

However, people generally expect their government to be competent and to handle the nation's business. But it seems like Congress is not doing that. While Congress is knee deep in oversight hearings, they tend to be hearings that are unrelated to Joe and Jane American. Despite the reek of malfeasance on behalf of Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the average person isn't paying attention to their possible transgressions. The average person is not thinking about fired US attorneys or Dick Cheney's energy task force or even Scooter Libby. Those are all inside baseball subjects that only partisans, pundits, political junkies, and power players care about. Your average Walmart shopper or school teacher is too busy trying to make ends meet to care.

I said that people expect their government to be competent. At the very least, they don't expect their government to bungle everything up. But that's what's happening at several levels. And people are being exposed to this inefficiency, incompetence, and infighting in a level they have never seen before.

News stations regularly talk about product recalls and consumer safety alerts concerning products from China. Poisonous pet food, children's toys covered with lead-based paint, cheap automobile tires, and now tainted seafood have shocked consumers and leave them wondering how these products are even allowed to make it to US supermarkets and retailers to begin with. Are there no standards? Who's responsible for ensuring that American imports are safe for American consumers?

The State Department announced heightened security measures and went to great lengths to indicate that visitors to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean would need a passport from now on. So current and future travelers across the nation filled out passport applications in concordance with the new travel rules. However, the State Department became so inundated with applications that they were unable to process the applications in a timely manner. And then they announced that they'd relax the very rules they just implemented because they were so far behind. Did nobody in the State Department anticipate this? How could you create a scenario that would undoubtedly require increased manpower and then not have enough available staff on hand to handle the scenario you created?

Americans are hopping mad about the illegal immigration "compromise" legislation. They see illegal aliens marching in droves demanding citizenship and the rights that come with it. They see the strain that illegal aliens place on their communities and social services. They see the impact this problem is having on their schools and neighborhoods and local employers. It incenses them. So Congress creates a monstrosity of a bill that nobody read and is chock full of unbelievable provisions that offer illegal aliens more rights than US citizens have, such as in-state tuition at public colleges. This left a sour taste in voters' mouths as they wondered exactly who their government represented. So they contacted their senators en masse only to crash the DC switchboard. How could the government not provide a phone system that would be able to compensate for thousands of callers, callers who are represented by the people who created that controversial legislation? Or was the phone system really designed to keep average people from contacting their elected representatives?

Iraq is a mess, and it has been for many months now. The "surge" was supposed to be the trump card that would yield significant progress by September, but now the surge's advocates are playing down their earlier expectations, which leads voters to think that the US is simply spinning its wheels again. The Democratic Congress is passing non-binding resolutions with no teeth in them, the Republican minority seems to have forgotten that they are no longer in charge because of their maneuvering and fillibustering on the subject. And President Bush continues to dig in his heels whenever someone disagrees with his stance on the war. The soldiers, meanwhile, continue to come home in bodybags or serve longer tours while their families are placed under more and more strain.

And of course, Congress voted itself an annual raise. While it is technically a cost of living increase, it comes across as a raise that is most definitely undeserved. Is Congress tone deaf? The borders are broken, dangerous goods are entering the US market from China, Iraq is in flames, and the government at all levels seems dysfunctional. People are livid at where this nation is heading. Bush's approval rating is under 30% in several polls now, but he continues to govern as if he has a 70% approval rating. The Democratic opposition is spending more time on political payback and probing issues that don't affect average people. Minority Republicans are dragging their feet on the war, thus preventing Democrats from being able to end the war by cobbling together a veto-proof 2/3 majority.

This is why Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, and Chuck Hagel are so intriguing to the electorate. It seems that people aren't really looking for conservative government or liberal government. They are looking for competent, efficient, bipartisan, low-rhetoric government. And they're not getting it.

American voters have generally not paid too much attention to politics as of late, as is evidenced by voter turnout. But I think 2008 may be something special because a lot of these apathetic or uninformed voters have been jolted from their slumber because their government's ineptness is affecting them in ways they have never experienced before.


My Generation: A Different America

There's a lot of talk in politics about the importance of senior citizens, Baby Boomers, military veterans, Southerners, gun owners, union members, evangelicals, and suburbanites as they pertain to elections, poll data, and the crafting of political and media messages. However, there's one group that I believe is often ignored, but perhaps even more important than any of the demographic groups I listed above: Twenty-somethings.

I myself turned 30 in January, so I believe I can relate to this group. People born after about 1975 have been shaped by an entirely different set of events than their parents. For one thing, the Vietnam War is an abstract concept. I lost an uncle in Vietnam shortly before he was supposed to return home. While obviously a sad event, his death does not touch me the way it touches my mother, who was his sister. I had not yet been born when my family was notified of his death. The whole war itself means something different to me, my sister, and my cousins than it does for my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Similarly, Watergate is another major news story that happened before my time. When I was born, President Ford was cleaning out his desk at the White House to make way for Jimmy Carter. When I read stories about Watergate, it seems interesting from a historical perspective, but because I was not alive when this news was breaking and when Nixon resigned, again I feel a certain sense of distance or detachment from the true significance of these events.

Even as a Black male, the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s have a different meaning for me than they would for a Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who participated in the marches and parades and boycotts and struggles and was actually beaten because of it. These events do not touch me like they touch a Jesse Jackson, or a Betty Shabazz or even my own parents, who grew up in South Carolina and spent their childhood living under segregation. I simply cannot conceive of a reality in which it was legal for me or someone who looked like me to be treated so cruelly and so dismissively even though I was a law-abiding citizen. When I think about the civil rights leaders of yesteryear, I admire their strength. But at the same time, I cannot fathom how much strength was actually required for them to help me enjoy the rights and freedoms I have today simply because I was not there.

My generation spent its childhood in growing up in the 80s and 90s. World War II, the JFK and RFK assassinations, the Great Depression, Vietnam, Woodstock, Watergate, and the Iranian hostage disaster are all abstract concepts to us. Even the Cold War is difficult for us to wrap our minds around because we were mere children or young teenagers when the Berlin Wall fell and the Eastern European nations were slowly opening up their borders. I remember East and West Germany reuniting when I was a 7th grader. What is a 7th grader supposed to think about this? For example, someone in my family was able to get a piece of the Berlin Wall to keep as a piece of history. When I saw that chunk of rock, I said "cool." What else was I supposed to think, since I didn't know so much about the history?

So what DOES shape our generation? Well, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and the Bush family pretty much constitute all of our firsthand presidential knowledge. Culturally speaking, we are the children of MTV, computers and the internet, blogs, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, trashy TV talk shows, break dancing, iPods, video games, The Wonder Years, Will Smith, and The Simpsons. Before 9-11, the biggest news stories for us were the first Gulf War ("Where is Daddy going?"), the Oklahoma City bombing, the OJ trial, Monica Lewinsky, Elian Gonzalez, and the 2000 recount.

You could easily argue that because of our access to information via the internet and cable television, television shows that frequently pushed the envelope (Beavis and Butthead, Jerry Springer, 90210), and integration throughout all of our schooling, our generation is a lot more liberal and/or tolerant than older generations. Things that are a big deal to a lot of people don't really bother us so much at all.

For example, one of the news stories that had a major influence on our generation was the Monica Lewinsky scandal. People of our generation were in high school or college at the time. We commonly cracked jokes about President Clinton and even gave him props for being able to get some nookie in the White House. Even though he was obviously stupid for doing it (actually, we thought he was stupid for getting caught), we really didn't care. So many of us came from homes headed by one parent, step-parents, live-in "pseudo parents," or even grandparents, so the concept of infidelity was a nonissue for us. And regarding perjury, we knew that Clinton was lying because he didn't want his wife to smack the crap out of him. He was more afraid of his wife than he was of the law. The legal significance of perjury was a nonissue for us. We could not figure out why people in Congress were tripping over themselves to launch investigations and begin impeachment hearings. We listened to congressman after congressman and senator after senator talk about the importance of "the rule of law" and "family values" and "respecting the Office of the Presidency." We were thinking, "these guys are so full of themselves" and even wondered if some of those holier than thou congressmen were jealous. Most of us had no children at the time, so the "family values" argument had no meaning for us. And in general, we did not look to our elected politicians for moral guidance. That's what our friends and family and religious deities were for. We liked Bill Clinton because "he was the hip politician who wore the cool shades and played the saxophone on late night TV" unlike those "boring politicians who made speeches all the time." This whole sordid affair turned a lot of younger people off from politics, and actually soured a lot of them on the Republican Party. (These Republicans' recent hypocritical clamoring for pardoning Scooter Libby does not sit well with us either.)

This social liberalism among my generation is reflected in other attitudes as well. Since we went to school together, played together, and worked part-time jobs together, a lot of prejudices that older people have are far less prevalent among us. We learned about "the differences between the races" from our parents and grandparents. But as was often the case, what they warned us about was often incongruent with our actual life experiences. So many of us have friends of several different races. I know Blacks that fit in easily with the White J. Crew crowd, and I know Whites that are comfortable chilling with their homegirls or chicas. Many of us have dated interracially and never thought twice about it. The majority of my friends are either in interracial marriages, an interracial relationship, or have dated interracially in the past. I myself am in an interracial marriage, although I view my partner as "my wife who happens to be Japanese," as opposed to "my Japanese wife."

Anyways, the reason why I created this post was because of a recent commentary by former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming. Senator Simpson talked about how his views on gays serving in the military have changed over time and how it's foolish to discharge homosexuals from the military even though they may have the skills and knowledge that are most critical right now, including fluency in Arabic. A few months ago I saw a news story on CNN about this very issue and they interviewed a member of the conservative Family Research Council. The woman they interviewed said that "soldiers should not have to worry about a fellow soldier sexually harrassing them in a foxhole." Unbelievable. (And here is another article that further reflects this sheer stupidity.)

I think our generation is overwhelmingly more tolerant of this issue than our parents' and grandparents' generations. Even though most of us are happy heterosexuals with no desire to experiment with same-sex relationships, we really don't care about homosexuality. It's just not a big deal for us. Many of us had gay friends, gay classmates, and gay coworkers when we were growing up. We can't figure out why it seems okay for gays to be treated as second-class citizens. Seeing these social conservatives lambast gay rights today reminds us of the furor over the Monica Lewinsky nonsense yesterday. Even if many of us think homosexuality is "gross," young people just don't care and don't see why people can't be left to do their own thing. And the more people push this issue, the angrier and more disenchanted we become. Perhaps homosexuals today for our generation are what women and Blacks were 50 years ago for our parents' and grandparents' generations. Even though most of us aren't gay, most of us also realize that discriminating against them is simply wrong.

(Incidentally, after originally deciding to write this particular post, I found different commentary in the Washington Post by Justin Britt-Gibson, which talked about his own multicultural experiences and how those typified his [our?] generation. So I'm obviously not alone here.)

Anyway, young people look at all the fighting and all the tough talk going on in Washington these days and can do nothing but shake their heads. When the 60-year old politicians retire and the 80-year old politicians pass away, the younger generation will be left to pick up the pieces. My generation is the one that has to live with the consequences of the previous generation's (poor) decisions. Iran, Iraq, terrorism, and abortion rights come to mind.

For example, young people wince when they hear President Bush and his administration officials talk about or hint at bombing Iran. Doing so would only completely inflame an entire generation of young Iranians (who don't hate Americans nearly as much as their parents do) and make our lives much more difficult and impact our lives much longer than in the next 15 years a 70-year old likely has remaining in his life. Most of us were toddlers, babies or embryos when the embassy in Iran was sieged, so we can't appreciate the severity of this event as it relates to US-Iranian relations. However, the consequences of us being the aggressor this time scare us more than the actual threat.

Even though young voters are less reliable voters than older ones, my prediction is that within the next two presidential cycles, turnout among 18-30 year olds will skyrocket because at some point, young people are going to say enough is enough. Perhaps bad government has been good at heightening our consciousness of politics and current events. Iraq, Katrina, terrorism, and infringing on personal freedoms have made us, a generation that grew up in an era in which freedom was expanding, pay a little more attention than we have in the past. Politicians would be well served to take note of this. This is why Barack Obama and Al Gore have become so popular among voters our age. This is also why younger voters don't vote Republican. When was the last time you met a 24-year old who was enthusiastic about Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney or even John McCain?

It's because they don't speak our language.


The Republicans' Small Tent

Looks like Ann Coulter just gave the GOP another black eye. Ever wonder why minorities don't vote Republican? It's because of crap like this.

For those who don't know the story, Ann Coulter spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference a few days ago. She then decided to take the low road when talking about John Edwards by saying:

I was going to say something about John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word "faggot."

Naturally, her remarks set off a firestorm of criticism among Democrats and liberals. Fortunately, the GOP frontrunners wisely denounced Coulter's remarks shortly thereafter. However, Coulter remained defiant when later asked to comment on her original incendiary remarks:
C'mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean.
(I'm sure the joke is even funnier in person.)

Here is a very good quote from the Politico commentary I linked to above:
It is not "caving" into political correctness to distance and indeed condemn such remarks as unworthy of a political event like [Conservative Political Action Conference]. To the contrary, it is altogether fitting that a group that ostensibly searches for the best in conservative ideas, rewards political courage and encourages intellectual debate, should be able to differentiate the amusing from the offensive, and the clever from the vile.
There is an obvious pattern here that plagues the GOP. While I'm certainly not saying that all Republicans are bigots, I will go on the record as saying that the Republican Party is less hostile to such attitudes than the Democratic Party.

Think about Nixon's "Southern Strategy." Where do you think all those segregationist voters went when the Democrats and Republicans basically switched parties in the 1960s? Think about "conservative icons" like Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott, Jim Sensenbrenner, Conrad Burns, David Duke, and James Inhoffe. Nobody wants to come out and say it, but I think voters with racial, sexual, or religious prejudices know which political party keeps their bread buttered. When Coulter spewed her nonsense, you did not hear a single member of the audience repudiate her remarks. Instead they laughed off her brazenness. You can find the clip here (courtesy of Not Very Bright).

The reason why minorities don't vote Republican is because the Republican Party seems to embrace these kinds of people. Until you hear voices of condemnation from within the Republican Party, people on the outside are going to assume, fairly or not, that Ms. Coulter speaks for the majority of Republican candidates and voters. And since she is able to sell so many books and generate such large audiences, who can blame them? And even worse, Coulter and her contemporaries (Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, Melanie Morgan, Michelle Malkin, Bill O'Reilly, etc.) proclaim themselves to be in the "mainstream" or a product of "Middle America." But their rhetoric is often a major turnoff to a lot of people.

Republicans may talk about being "the party of Lincoln" and the party with the "big tent," but to a large segment of the population, that tent is awfully uncomfortable if you're not a straight White Protestant male with a pick-up truck or a net worth of more than $150,000. Someone needs to freeze these bile spewing, flamethrowing bigots out of the political dialogue. Period. The Republican Party will never be taken seriously by Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, immigrants, homosexuals, the disabled, and even women until these noisemakers are silenced.


An interesting primary proposal...

I recently posted about my displeasure with the presidential nomination process and how Iowa and New Hampshire have a disproportionate influence on deciding the nominee and how most of the United States' voters won't have a chance at all to have their say because the whole process would likely be wrapped up by February after only a handful of states have their contests on Super Tuesday.

My original suggestion was to base the contests on their level of voter participation in the previous presidential election cycle. That would incent voters across the nation into participating.

However, I stumbled across an interesting propsal by the National Association of Secretaries of State:

"The proposal divides the country into four geographic areas—Eastern, Southern, Midwestern and Western—and rotates each region to vote first beginning in March. The other regions would hold their primary elections in April, May and June. A different part of the country would vote first every sixteen years."

Now, I listed the cons of having region-based primaries in my earlier post. However, this proposal did bring up an interesting point:

"New Hampshire and Iowa would retain their early status to allow under-funded and less widely known candidates to compete through retail politics rather than the costly media-driven campaigns required in larger states."

I still don't like the idea of Iowa and New Hampshire having this privilege yet again (what about South Dakota? Mississippi? Alaska?), but they do raise a very good point. How could a lower tier candidate compete in the Massachusetts or Florida media markets if those states happened to have their primaries first based on the incentive model I proposed? It would all but eliminate anyone whose campaign does not have deep pockets. In 2008, that would mean Clark, Dodd, Tancredo, Biden, Hunter, Brownback, Vilsack, and several other candidates would be severely disadvantaged.

Perhaps the issue is not so much a matter of which state gets to vote first as it is a matter of campaign financing. Free speech advocates believe soft money should be permitted like it was prior to McCain-Feingold. But that means a millionaire has "more freedom of speech" than Joe Schmoe who can only contribute $20. I'm really not sure of how to best address this problem. Public financing seems to make sense, but how could private expenditures be regulated?


Primarily Stupid

I do not understand the presidential selection process. It makes no sense whatsoever. There are 50 states in the union, but it seems that the nominees are selected after only two of these states have their say. And which states are they? Iowa and New Hampshire. But why? And why is it these same two states cycle after cycle?

I just don't get it. Why do Iowa and New Hampshire have the "privilege" of getting the first crack at the presidential candidates each cycle? What makes them more deserving than a Delaware, or a New Mexico, or a North Dakota? It really burns me up when people from Iowa and New Hampshire say that "they take their elections seriously" and "take the time to get to know the candidates." Do you mean to tell me that voters in Mississippi or Oregon are less serious about their voting responsibilities? Do you mean to tell me that people in Rhode Island or Indiana can't be trusted to thoroughly vet out the candidates? What makes Iowa and N.H. so uniquely qualified to handle this? Why not give some other states a chance to prove themselves?

To compensate, the Democrats moved up the contests in Nevada and South Carolina to bring a bit of diversity to the process since Iowa and N.H. are about 95% White. But unfortunately, even though they have good intentions, this approach doesn’t really do much to solve the problem. Democratic officials want to talk about diversity in the form of allowing more minorities to participate in the process. However, one could argue that despite the addition of these two states in the early stages of the campaign, there is still a glaring lack of diversity in other regards that politicians of all stripes must take seriously.

For example, none of those early states are considered border states. Yes, N.H. borders Canada, but you don't hear many stories about illegal aliens infiltrating Coos County! When will the candidates have the opportunity to listen to and address the concerns of people whose lives and property are directly impacted by illegal immigration?

What about large cities? States with large urban centers are definitely being left out of the process. Let's see, you have Des Moines, Las Vegas, Columbia, and Manchester as the largest cities in these states. Do they really have the same concerns as people from Chicago, L.A., or Philadelphia? You would think Democrats in particular would take this into consideration since they rely heavily on the urban vote, but I guess not.

There are also states that have issues unique to them. What about Florida and its Cuban and Haitian refugee conundrum? What about New York and its abundance of terrorist targets? What about Washington and its concerns regarding Asian-Pacific relations? What about California and its minority-majority status? Or how about Louisiana and Mississippi and the aftermath of Katrina? When does it end?

Some people have floated proposals of having the least-populated states go first and having the mega-states like California, Florida, and New York have their contests at the end. However, that would drag the process out too long because we have so many states and voters in the bigger states would be unable to benefit from as much face time with the candidates simply because they would be too busy plane-hopping from Sacramento to Scranton to Sarasota as all the mega-states have their primaries at the same time.

Another commonly stated proposal is to divide the United States into four regions and have one rotating state from each region have its contest at the same time. This is a bit more attractive, but it is essentially a national primary and does not treat all states equally because there is a mix of densely-populated and scarcely populated states in the same region. Florida and Mississippi would presumably be in the same group, as would Vermont and Pennsylvania. And how would you classify states like West Virginia, Texas, and Missouri that fit into more than one region geographically and culturally? Also, grouping states into four regions is going to disadvantage two states (and presumably two regions if they are to all be of equal size) because of the math involved with having 50 states. And besides, who wants to wait 40 years for their state to get first crack at a candidate?

Yet another proposal I often hear is the idea of a national primary. What a terrible idea. This would all but ensure that only the most well-financed candidates had a chance to win. How could a lower tier candidate compete in the San Francisco, Atlanta, Denver, Boston, and Chicago markets at the same time? This would all but ensure that McCain, Giuliani, or Romney would be the nominee for the GOP, while Clinton, Clinton, or Clinton would be the nominee for the Dems.

I think the single best way to improve the process would be to introduce the element of competition. Assign primary and caucus order based on a state’s level of voter participation in the previous presidential election. This would reward states that actually do take their voting responsibilities more seriously and encourage voters around the nation to get out and vote because nobody wants to be from "the state with the apathetic voters." To avoid having 50 caucuses and primaries on 50 different days, one could have the top five states have their contests individually, then have the next ten states have their contests in groups of three, then the next states in groups of four, etc. States in the back of the process would be competing with other similar states for the candidates’ attention, which would be appropriate because they did not earn the privilege to have regular access to the candidates one-on-one.

It’s a shame that this likely will never happen because I really think it’s a good proposal. Voters around the nation would feel that their vote matters, and politicians would be thoroughly tested in the early stages by people who verifiably take their responsibilities seriously. If Iowa and New Hampshire have the two highest levels of voter participation in the presidential election, then they should earn the right to have first crack at the candidates in the next cycle. However, that would be because of their actual commitment to democracy in the form of voting, not because they happen to be residents of those particular states.

If I were a candidate, my strategy would be to campaign in every state other than one of the early ones as a form of protest. If people want to change the process, they have to be bold and draw attention to themselves by their deeds, not by their words. It’s easy for a candidate to say “the system is broken” and then head to a fundraiser in Dubuque or Nashua. If that costs me the election, so be it. But I think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction among the electorate out there that wonders why the process for selecting someone so critical to our nation is so critically flawed. The politician who taps into this disdain can go a long way.


Introducing The 7-10!

Well, here it is: The 7-10. I've been wanting to start something like this for a very long time.

Here goes.

I named this blog "The 7-10" (pronounced "seventen") because of its parallels to bowling, my favorite sport. Anyway, if you aim carefully and throw the bowling ball correctly, you won't leave these two nasty corner pins (e.g., the 7-10 split) standing. However, if you are unfortunate enough to have to confront this split, you should take solace in the fact that while difficult, converting the split is by no means impossible. But finessing it is easier said than done.

The 7-10 applies to politics as well. If you are able to hone your message and succesfully adapt to ever-changing political conditions, you'll be able to get a strike almost every time you step up to the lane and give a speech or an interview.

But woe to the politician who is caught flatfooted in a lie, a contradiction, a transgression, or a gaffe of some sort because...BAM! Another 7-10. And each 7-10 brings about another chance at ridicule, another lost opportunity, and another chance to have your score (your political standing) diminished.

Thus, this blog.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.