Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama's Ironic Inaugural Address

Who would have thought that President Obama’s Inaugural Address would:
  1. Have fewer applause lines than most Inaugural Addresses, but in the light of history will likely earn more accolades than most?
  2. Contain fewer uses of I than most, but use the collective we to strengthen his leadership more than most?
  3. Speak -- as a Democrat and an African-American -- more about personal responsibility and less about individual rights?
  4. Include fewer references to the role and policies of government and more references to the values needed to restore the quality of government?
  5. Offer a sometimes conservative, patriotic, and spiritual message to a largely Democratic and Liberal audience?
  6. Use down-home, colloquial rhetoric to drive home key points during one of America’s most formal occasions?
  7. Exalt the historic successes of white America in a manner that drew black and white America together?
  8. Hold out an olive branch to the world, but shrouded with a firm warning?
  9. Demonstrate personal humility on an occasion filled with pride, pomp and circumstance?
  10. Show genuine affection and appreciation for his predecessor, when many in the audience held him in contempt?
Who would have thought that President Obama’s Inaugural Address could do all of the above without alienating and offending many? It did, and for that all Americans should be thankful. President Obama started us on the right course, uniting a divided America.

Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan would have been proud of President Obama's Inaugural Address.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over"

Yogi Berra got it right. “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.”

On November 1, 1948 Thomas E. Dewey led Harry S. Truman by 5 percent, 49.5 percent to 44.5 percent in the Gallup Poll, but on election day Truman beat Dewey by 4.4 percent, 49.5 percent to 45.1 %.

On October 27, 1980 Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan by 6 percent, 45 percent to 39 percent in the Gallup Poll, but on election day Reagan beat Carter by 9.8 %, 50.8 percent to 41.0 %.

Will history repeat itself in 2008?

Barack Obama leads John McCain in (1) nationwide polling data, (2) polling data among key groups, and (3) fund raising. Compared with McCain, Obama has more charisma and crowd appeal, better speaking ability, and a superior political organization. And he could win several “red” or Republican states, which are must-win states for McCain.

Meanwhile, McCain has an albatross around his neck, one of history’s most unpopular presidential administrations, and the economic crisis has deflected attention from his signature issue, the successful surge in Iraq.

2008 is Obama’s to lose. But so it was for Dewey and Carter.

Dewey appeared destined to win in 1948. After four Democratic administrations, which included the economic and social problems of the Great Depression and World War II and its aftermath, the handsome, suave, and debonair Dewey should have won, but he fell victim to overconfidence and arrogance, which enabled the feisty Truman to mount a successful “whistle-stop” campaign against a “Do-Nothing Republican Congress.”

Carter had history on his side in 1980. Only once since the Civil War had the incumbent party in the White House lost a bid for reelection after its first term. But Americans chose optimism over pessimism, preferring Reagan’s “It’s morning in America” to Carter’s “malaise in America.”

In 2008, however, Barack Obama’s lead appears insurmountable.

On Tuesday, October 28, one week before the election, RealClearPolitics.com averaged 9 nonpartisan polls to report (1) a 3 to 12 percent margin nationally for Obama over McCain with an average lead of 6.2 percent, down from 7.4 percent on Monday, and (2) a lead for Obama in each of seven key battleground states, Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and Nevada.

But could Yogi Berra be right once again? Yes, if the following occur in the Electoral College, in Obama's campaign, and on key issues and with key groups.

Electoral College

If the reliably “red” Republican states of Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia return to the McCain column and if he retains all other states now in his column, McCain would have 260 of the necessary 270 electoral votes to win. Each of these reliably “red” Republican states is within striking distance for a McCain victory.

Then if McCain either wins Pennsylvania, a “blue” state, or puts together the right combination of wins in Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, and New Mexico, he would win the Electoral College vote.

Obama’s Campaign

If the Obama campaign exudes an overconfidence that strikes Americans as inappropriate and premature, McCain could gain momentum. Already news has leaked that the Obama campaign may be organizing the largest victory celebration in presidential campaign history and that plans for the presidential transition are underway.

If McCain benefits from more turning points, such as Obama’s encounter with “Joe, the plumber,” or gaffs by Joe Biden, the momentum could shift in his favor.

If the Obama campaign fails to win at least 96 percent of an enlarged African-American vote and the votes of White Democrats in key conservative areas, such as southwestern Pennsylvania, McCain’s campaign would receive a significant boost.

Key Issues and Groups

If McCain can gain traction on the issue of taxes, he could reap a harvest of votes from voters who do not like Obama’s ideas for redistributing wealth.

If the pro-life and other Family Values issues energize Roman Catholic and Evangelical voters in Pennsylvania and other key states, they could turn the tide in favor of McCain.

If a substantial bloc of Jewish voters moves into the McCain column, they could help him carry Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Some reports suggest that McCain may win as much as 30 percent of the Jewish vote, which is substantially more than what George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004.

If undecided voters, who may number 8 percent or so of the electorate, turn to McCain, they could make the difference for him in the battleground states. During the Democratic primaries, undecided voters broke for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama, enabling her to win New Hampshire and carry most of the large states. In breaking for Clinton, undecided voters appeared to choose experience over youth and a call for change.

If McCain can make the case that the American people need him to check a very unpopular Congress led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid, he may yet turn the tide.

Possible? Yes. Probable? No. But to that Yogi would say, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who Will Win the White House?

To win John McCain must snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Many times he has done just that, but now he faces a stacked deck.

Economists, historians, political scientists, pollsters and psychologists point to an Obama victory, based upon their forecasting models and analysis.

Economists find that when economic growth is significantly up, inflation down and disposable income up, the party in the White House usually wins. That’s not the case now. James Carville got it right: “It’s the economy, Stupid.” Advantage? Obama.

Some psychologists believe that a candidate’s charisma and optimism foreshadow success. In 1960 Kennedy’s charisma and optimism, “Let’s get the country moving again,” contributed to his razor-thin victory. In 1980 Reagan’s charisma and campaign theme, “It’s morning in America,” helped him beat Jimmy Carter, who spoke about “malaise in America.” On this count Obama is more like Kennedy and Reagan than is McCain. Advantage? Obama.

Historians note that when the incumbent party in the White House has a reasonably good record and standing in the polls, that party’s presidential candidate will likely win as occurred in 1988 when Bush succeeded Reagan. The present standing of the Bush administration presents McCain with a long, uphill climb. Advantage? Obama.

The third-party candidacies of Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004 crippled the campaigns of Bush and Gore, respectively. But this year’s principal third-party candidates, Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, are not making waves. Advantage? Obama.

When Ted Kennedy and Pat Buchanan challenged the nominations of Carter and Bush in 1980 and 1992, respectively, they created lasting wounds, which contributed to the defeats of Carter and Bush. Unlike those contests, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s support of Obama is unifying the Democratic Party. For McCain questions still remain about whether his choice of Sarah Palin will maintain his party’s unity. Advantage? Obama.

Data from the Civil War through 2004 show that the incumbent party in the White House normally wins reelection after the first term and also has a marginal advantage after a second term, but the public’s disapproval of the Bush administration negates that historical benefit for McCain. Advantage? Obama.

Customarily a higher voter turnout favors Democrats as occurred in 1976 when good weather in all 50 states generated record turnouts and contributed to Carter’s narrow victory over Ford. Obama’s extensive “ground campaign” of registering new voters and increasing voter turnout should favor him. Advantage? Obama.

Presidential campaigns can turn on a dime. In 1960 Nixon, the odds-favorite to beat Kennedy, lost the first debate and never recovered. In 1980 Reagan’s unexpected win over Carter in the first debate laid the groundwork for his convincing victory.

This year Obama demonstrated in the first debate that he could stand head to head with the more experienced McCain. That and the unexpected Wall Street debacle have changed the circumstances of this year’s race. Advantage? Obama.

Almost always public opinion polls accurately predict the winner, and to date they give a slight advantage to Obama. But beneath these head-to-head polls are two lesser-known polls: “negative ratings” and “racial voting.”

In 1980 and 1992 “high negatives” contributed to the defeats of Carter and Bush, respectively. The most recent polls show Obama with lower “negatives” than McCain, especially after the first presidential debate, which increased McCain’s “negatives.” Advantage? Obama.

Polls reveal a tug-of-war along racial lines among Democrats. While Obama expects to win perhaps 96 percent or more of a greatly enlarged Black vote, he faces the prospect of losing a significant number of white Democrats, who may not vote for him for reasons of race and/or qualifications.

In a close race, Obama may need an extraordinary turnout of Blacks to compensate for whatever losses he may incur from white Democrats, especially in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Florida.

But Obama’s support from Bill and Hillary Clinton should reduce the risk of his losing a significant number of these white Democratic voters. Advantage? Obama.

Before pronouncing “last rites” on the McCain campaign, remember 1948.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is Sarah Palin the Next Ronald Reagan?

Sarah Palin and Ronald Reagan appear poles apart in their backgrounds. Before coming to the center stage of national politics, Palin was a small-town mother of five and Governor of Alaska, and Reagan, a Hollywood actor and Governor of California. But these and other dramatic differences mask surprising similarities, which now appear to merge at the intersection of time and circumstance.

Low Bar of Expectations. Critics contended that Ronald Reagan was nothing more than a third-rate Hollywood actor, who lacked the intellectual depth and educational training to serve successfully as president. And critics now contend that Sarah Palin lacks adequate experience to be one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. By jumping high over the bar of expectations set for her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin has become the "rock star" of conservatism, drawing huge crowds and raising untold campaign cash. Of course, after Senator Barry Goldwater's humiliating defeat in 1964, Reagan surprised his critics by unexpectedly transforming the lost cause of conservatism into a victorious nationwide movement.

Insurgent Leadership. Just as Reagan became the leader of a conservative insurgency in the Republican Party that ultimately propelled him into the Oval Office in 1980 so, too, has Sarah Palin led insurgent reform movements to become Mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska. As a reformer she became the perfect fit for John McCain's image as a maverick challenging Washington's "Beltway establishment."

Surprising Ecumenicity. In their rise to power Palin and Reagan demonstrated political pragmatism by reaching out to both Democrats and Republicans. Reagan appealed to the so-called "Reagan Democrats," primarily conservative Roman Catholics in the North, and also to the Democratic Party's southern evangelicals. He even converted some Democratic members of Congress to the Republican Party. As a reformer Palin crossed over party lines to lead as Mayor and Governor. Time and circumstance have now bestowed upon her the Reagan mantle of appealing to those same "Reagan Democrats" and southern evangelicals, whose votes were vital to Reagan's election then and McCain's election now.

Reserved Religiosity. Both Palin and Reagan subscribe to similar religious beliefs, such as trusting Jesus Christ as their personal savior and supporting the Genesis account of creation. But not with great fanfare. Reagan attended the comfortable Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, while Palin left the more emotional Assemblies of God Church to attend the more reserved Wasilla Bible Church. Her personal faith, like Ronald Reagan's, appeals to the increasingly large and vital evangelical movement.

Instinctive Leaders. Like Reagan, Palin is not a "policy wonk." She does not devote herself to the minutiae of public policy details, but rather she leads by instinct, based upon her guiding principles of right and wrong. When Reagan's advisors tried to prep him for presidential debates through reading thick manuals, he refused. Rather he brought to the debates a set of well-honed conservative principles, which he used as a grid to filter his answers to policy questions. Sarah Palin's early campaign speeches, especially her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, suggest that she is cut out of the same cloth.

"Skin Comfort." As former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said of Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention: "Her timing was exquisite. She didn't linger with applause, but instead launched into line after line of attack, slipping the knives in with every smile and joke. And she delivered it like she was just BS-ing on the street with the meter maid. She didn't have to prove she was 'of the people.' She really is the people." Likewise, Reagan exuded that same comfort with his persona whether delivering major speeches or dealing with members of Congress. In working with House Speaker Tip O'Neill, he demonstrated that despite major partisan differences, it was difficult for political adversaries to dislike him.

Compelling Personal Stories. Reagan and Palin beat the odds. Coming from the small town of Dixon in the midst of flat Illinois cornfields, raised by a very religious mother, whose training led him to become a Sunday School teacher of grade-school boys, a graduate of a tiny and little-known religious college, Eureka, Reagan hardly had the pedigree to become President of the United States. Neither does Sarah Palin. Her small-town background, a degree from the out-of-the-way University of Idaho, and sportscaster start, the same as Ronald Reagan's first job after college, hardly qualified her to become Governor of Alaska, much less a Vice Presidential candidate.

Time and circumstance merged for Ronald Reagan. Will they for Sarah Palin?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

John McCain’s Lottery Game

Selecting the right vice-presidential running mate is like winning the lottery. A survey of Republican vice presidential picks since 1960 shows that Republican presidential candidates have had the wrong lottery pick six times.

As the saying goes, “He who does not learn from history is condemned to repeat it.” John McCain can greatly improve his chances of winning the vice-presidential lottery by testing prospective nominees against six types of losing lottery picks.

Type 1. Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1960 Richard Nixon sought to unify the Republican Party geographically and ideologically by selecting the handsome, suave and debonair Henry Cabot Lodge, but his choice backfired. Lodge upstaged Nixon, causing some critics to say that Lodge, not Nixon, should have been the Republican presidential candidate. And still other critics pointed out that Lodge was lazy, even taking afternoon naps, including one in the most critical State of Illinois the Saturday before the Tuesday election, which Nixon lost by about 9,000 votes.

Type 2. William Miller. In 1964 Barry Goldwater picked someone exactly the opposite of Lodge, choosing William Miller, a little-known Congressman from Buffalo, New York, who added no stature to Goldwater’s candidacy.

Type 3. Spiro Agnew. In 1968 Richard Nixon made sure he did not choose someone who would upstage him by selecting a little-known former PTA President, who had won a fluke race for the Governorship of Maryland. Although Agnew did not hurt Nixon’s candidacy, he did hurt his presidency when he had to resign in disgrace because of scandals in his closet.

Type 4. Bob Dole. In 1976 Gerald Ford chose the sharp-tongued Bob Dole, who alienated many voters with his acerbic campaign style. In a come-from-behind campaign, Ford almost closed the gap against Carter, leading some critics to say that Dole’s caustic style might have cost Ford the election.

Type 5. Dan Quayle. In 1988 George H. Bush chose Dan Quayle, whose youthfulness and inexperience made him prone to mistakes. Also the Bush campaign did not sufficiently vet Quayle to learn about some of his problems, such as his efforts to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Throughout Bush’s presidency, Quayle was a drag and was one of the reasons he lost his bid for reelection in 1992.

Type 6. Jack Kemp. In 1996 Bob Dole chose Jack Kemp, who failed to live up to expectations. One of the reasons Dole chose Kemp was his speaking ability and knowledge of issues. What he did not account for, however, was his lack of preparation to debate Al Gore, who handily defeated him.

John McCain has bought many vice-presidential lottery tickets, including Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, Tom Ridge, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Eric Cantor, Joe Lieberman, Michael Bloomberg, Mike Huckabee, Meg Whitman, and others.

How do these oft-mentioned lottery picks stack up against the six losing lottery picks? Does John McCain have a winning lottery number among them?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tim Kaine for Vice President?

Trends indicate a Democratic presidential candidate could win Virginia for the first time in 40 years, and perhaps thereby win the presidency itself. But why Virginia and why Tim Kaine for Vice President?

In what promises to be another very tight election like 2000 and 2004, the change from Republican to Democratic in just one or two states could propel Barack Obama into the White House. And that’s where Virginia’s 13 electoral votes and Governor Tim Kaine’s vice-presidential candidacy come in.

First, the South is the key that unlocks the White House door. Every winner of the Presidency from 1976 forward has carried a substantial portion of the South. For example, Ronald Reagan won the White House in 1980, because he won a significant portion of the South while running against a southerner, Jimmy Carter. In the razor-thin Democratic losses in 2000 and 2004, if Al Gore and John Kerry could have penetrated the South, they would have won. So if history is the best predictor of the future, Barack Obama needs to capture a foothold in the South.

Second, more than any other southern state, Virginia offers the greatest promise for Democratic success. Republicans have lost Virginia’s last two gubernatorial elections and the most recent senatorial election. In no other southern state has the Democratic Party done as well in recovering from the Republican Party’s domination.

Third, the latest Rasmussen Reports on the Virginia presidential election show McCain and Obama in a dead heat at 44 percent each. When the Rasmussen includes “leaners” in its poll, McCain leads Obama by a statistically insignificant margin, 48 percent to 47 percent.

Fourth, recognizing its potential for a victory in Virginia, the Obama campaign has shifted substantial resources into Virginia, including money and staff. Historically, what is the significance of this effort? No Democrat has won Virginia in a presidential race since 1964 when a southerner, Lyndon B. Johnson, carried the state. Since then no Democrat has made a serious investment of time, talent, and treasure in winning Virginia.

Fifth, Virginia’s demographics make it the most likely southern state for Obama to capture from the Republicans. The rapidly growing electorate in the Washington, DC suburbs of Northern Virginia, which is Virginia’s most Democratic-friendly region, helped to propel Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to victory in the two most recent gubernatorial contests and Jim Webb in the most recent senatorial election.

Northern Virginia had a 15 percent growth rate in its Washington, DC suburbs between 2000 and 2006. Fully one-third of all Virginians now live in these suburbs, but more than that Northern Virginia’s exurbs expanded by 60 percent since 2000. Voters moving to these areas lean Democratic.

Blacks constitute 20 percent of Virginia’s population. Because all polls show Barack Obama energizing the Black electorate, he will likely reap the dividend of a significant increase in Black voter registration and voter turnout. Typically Blacks cast 85 to 90 percent or more of their votes for Democratic candidates, but with Obama running for President that percentage could reach 95 percent or more, which would present Republicans with a formidable challenge in keeping Virginia in the win column after 40 years.

Sixth, as a popular Democratic Governor in a Republican state, Tim Kaine could not only help Barack Obama seal the deal in Virginia, but he also could help him elsewhere, especially among one of the Democratic Party’s most important constituencies, Roman Catholics. From Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal until now, Democrats have depended heavily on capturing the lion’s share of Roman Catholic voters. As a Roman Catholic in good standing, Governor Kaine holds positions on various social and moral issues that generally accord with Roman Catholic teaching.

As a Southern Governor, Tim Kaine would have the added advantage for Barack Obama, a Protestant, of balancing his ticket with a Roman Catholic running mate, who could also help Obama outside the South in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio, which have substantial Roman Catholic populations.

Could it be that Tim Kaine holds the key to a Barack Obama victory in November?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tired of McCain and Obama?

Are you tired of the presidential campaign? Should you be tired?

To the casual observer, American presidential campaigns are excessively long. In some countries, national campaigns last no more than 30 days. But in America, they begin not with the 60 to 90 day, head-to-head race between the major party candidates after the national conventions, which campaigns for delegates in conventions, primaries and caucuses precede by many months, but they also include several years of serious exploratory efforts by prospective candidates to raise funds and to create campaign organizations.

Advances in technology and transportation along with front-loading of caucuses and primaries have combined to lengthen presidential campaigns. In anticipation of 2008, prospective candidates began to establish exploratory committees and to travel to key states in 2005.

Critics contend that elongated American presidential campaigns waste substantial sums of money on advertising, travel, media coverage and campaign staff. But these same lengthy campaigns also insure that the candidates face five vital tests.
  1. Test whether candidates have sufficient mental, emotional and physical capabilities and energies to survive the extraordinary rigors of four years in office.
  2. Test the ability of candidates to unify their parties after divisive primaries and caucuses.
  3. Test the public’s acceptance of the candidates’ issues and ideas.
  4. Test the administrative skill of candidates to organize personnel and to develop coherent policies.
  5. Test the ability of the front-runner to maintain his lead against the challenger.
So, these five tests make the presidential campaign the best test we have to determine if Senator McCain and Senator Obama have what it takes to lead the world’s oldest, largest, most prestigious, and most powerful democracy.

In short, a presidential campaign serves as a simulation of the presidency itself.