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Huntsman, Stevenson and the Politics of Ignorance

Friday, November 18th, 2011

A fan of the late Adlai Stevenson once shouted to his hero at a campaign rally that he’d be elected president because “all  thinking people” in America supported him.

The erudite and quick-witted Democrat, whose two White House bids were snuffed by Dwight Eisenhower and some guy named Nixon, famously replied:

“The trouble is, I need a majority.”

Adlai’s lament (h/t Paul Begala) repeatedly has come into sharp focus during the season series of the reality TV show that is the race for the Republican presidential nomination, never more clearly than when the alien life form known as Michele Bachmann offered this suggestion at the most recent GOP debate:

If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps. If you look at China, they’re in a very different situation. They don’t have AFDC. They save for their own retirement security. They don’t have the modern welfare state. And China’s growing. And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with the Great Society and they’d be gone.

Putting aside the small matter that the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program was ended 15 years ago, let’s recap the Bachmann Doctrine:

1-Obama is a socialist, just like Lyndon Johnson.
2-Socialists support food stamps, Social Security and other forms of rob-the-rich welfare.
3-The U.S. must become more like China, a model capitalist society administered by the Communist Party.

Bibo ergo sum.

Low octane cigars: Our point here is not to impugn the intellectual credentials of the gay-curing, zero-taxing, vaccine-bashing congressperson from Minnesota, who needs no help on that score.

Neither to dwell on the fact that, compared to Rick Perry and Herman Cain, the two rivals who have succeeded her as the Tea Party favorite in the field, Bachmann looks like the president of Mensa.

Nor even to recall that the noted historian and newly anointed right-wing champion Newt Gingrich, who loves to wallow in his own alleged brilliance, believes the nation’s problems began in 1975, when the CIA was banned from using poisoned  cigars to eliminate unfriendly foreign leaders, and whose intellectual oeuvre has been compared by fellow conservatives to “an attic of throwaway, unusable and downright goofy ideas, piled high like newspapers in the room of a troubled subject on Hoarders.”

Why bother to do so, when the blogospheric conservative commentariat itself wonders in amazement, if not embarrassment or downright shame, at the low-octane intelligence of so many GOP wannabes, as in this essay by the Washpost’s Jennifer Rubin:

Republicans have sometimes mistaken anti-elitism with anti-smarts. Put differently, Republicans should not have contempt for the voters or for ideas, lest they be judged unworthy of serving in office. It’s one thing to heap scorn on liberal elites who parrot unsupportable leftist dogma or who show contempt for ordinary Americans’ values; it’s quite another to celebrate ignorance…

But what if, for example, a really smart Republican with a great track record, lots of policy ideas and the ability to counteract the stereotype of Republicans ran? Oh, maybe there already is one or two in the race. Maybe there could be more, and perhaps conservatives would be relieved not to have to make excuses for candidates who think ignorance is virtue and intelligence is a vice.

To which we say: what ever happened to that good-lookin’ fella from Utah?

A question of values: At first glance, former Beehive State Governor Jon Huntsman seems to fit the Rubin profile of “a really smart Republican with a great track record…”

With the looks and stature of a central casting commander-in-chief, Huntsman is informed and articulate about domestic matters, experienced and well-versed  on foreign affairs, and fits the hard-line conservative profile of a 21st century GOP candidate.

Despite millions and months spent campaigning, however, Huntsman has failed to gain the slightest political traction (although his 2.2% composite Real Clear Politics score this week pushed him soaring past the repulsive Rick Santorum by a full 0.04).

Part of Huntsman’s dismal showing no doubt stems from his weak performances in the first few debates (which clearly weren’t the right venue for Kurt Cobain jokes), and his Mormon doppelganger resemblance to front-runner Mitt Romney probably doesn’t help much either.

His domestic policy prescriptions may not be our favorite cup of Earl Grey, but they sure are well within range for Tea Party types: down-the-line pro-life and anti-gun control, he’s for a flat tax (a form of which he put in place in Utah), repealing Obama’s health care and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms (Hello Michele!) and eliminating the capital gains tax as part of a detailed “jobs plan” that the Wall Street Journal editorial page (subscription) simply gushed about.

On foreign policy, far beyond the blathering idiocy of Bachmann about China during the last debate, Huntsman’s specific and sophisticated analysis of U.S.-China relations, and his schooling of Romney on the issue, put the bellicose braying of Mittens about a trade war to shame.

So why, in its unending search for the not-Mitt, does the Republican primary electorate refuse to give the guy a look, let alone a break?

Simply because Huntsman’s problem with the Tea Party has nothing to do with policy or issues; rather it’s all about values, starting with his belief in the fundamental value of governing at all, let alone doing so through compromise and good-faith negotiation.

Huntsman’s style of cool rationality is wrong, wrong, wrong for those who want to burn down the house, while his record is filled with words and actions that are nothing short of heresy

For starters, serving as the Obama Administration’s ambassador to China demonstrated an unforgivable display of bipartisanship; publicly admitting his belief in science — “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,” he tweeted shortly after Perry had questioned every natural law except gravity — surely didn’t help matters much.

Scolding Ranger Rick, after the Texas Governor accused Ben Bernanke of “treason” and suggested traveling to the Lone Star State might be unsafe for the Federal Reserve chief, evinced an unfortunate tendency towards civility; his criticism of Michele Bachmann’s fervent call for Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling was another buzz kill that showed a clear lack of commitment to ideology. The final straw, surely, came with Huntsman’s expression of support during the last debate for the economic fears, if not the protest tactics, of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Bottom line: Not long before Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels decided not to seek the Republican nomination he delivered a speech to the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in which he said this:

Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers. I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our republic saying, ‘I told you so’ or ‘You should have done it my way’…We should distinguish carefully skepticism about big government for contempt for all government.

The unfriendly reception Daniels received for his sentiments, which could not have encouraged his presidential aspirations, also speaks volumes about why Huntsman has gotten exactly nowhere in his campaign.

At this point, Huntsman is running for the exercise. Who knows? Maybe he’s trying to lay a foundation for 2016, placing a long shot bet that the GOP will blow its splendid opportunity to oust Obama and then, chastened, moderate its extremist views.

This time out, though, Huntsman holds zero appeal for those Tea Party voters dominating the Republican primary race who, as comedian Lewis Black said, believe the “’The Flintstones’ is a documentary.”

CA Consultanate Tilts Toward Obama Re-Election

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, the Calbuzz California Consultanate – a collection of the smartest and most experienced political consultants and strategists in the state – predicts Barack Obama will be re-elected in a closely-fought election.

Twenty-five members of the 28-member Calbuzz Advisory Board of the World’s Leading Authorities on Practically Everything – all 14 Democrats and 11 of 14 Republicans — responded to our inaugural question: Who will be sworn in as president of the United States on January 20, 2013?

In a Democrat-tinged respondent pool,  12 of the 14 Democrats predicted Obama’s re-election, one predicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry and one said he hasn’t a clue. Of the Republican panelists who responded, apparently unpersuaded by the recent Newt Gingrich rebound, seven see former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney winning while four – with regret – predict that Obama will win.

“All the fundamentals – right track/wrong direction, approval rating, unemployment rate, etc. — point to a Republican victory,” said one GOP panelist. “All but one: never underestimate the ability of the Republicans to blow an opportunity. In this case, they will be blowing it by sticking to the principles they won on in 2010.”

Moreover, this Republican said, “What is emerging is that Mitt Romney is the only electable Republican running.   But he has a very limited ability to excite the base, and that will be less after a billion dollars of hammering from the Obama camp.  So for starters, the Republican ticket will not be very compelling. Newt would be more exciting but also a potentially bigger turnoff. too.”

Said another Republican: “Romney seems strong now because of how weak the Republican field is. One-on-one with Obama is a very different dynamic that will tough for him.”

Much as Calbuzz would like to attribute quotes to our panelists, in order to encourage candor — without them having to worry about little things like burning bridges and losing business -  we’re not identifying who said what.

Like the Democrat who said, “Obama doesn’t get re-elected. Reasons: economy, independent voters who have buyer’s remorse, depressed and disappointed liberals, fewer paths to victory on electoral map and if the third-party effort, American Elect, gets legs, their candidates will likely be to Obama was Ross Perot was to Bush 41.”

This consultant, by the way, is the only one predicting that Perry will emerge from the GOP pack: “Once in the voting booth, the Tea Party and conservatives are just not going to be able to stomach voting for Romney. Ultimately, they will look around at all of the other candidates and decide that Perry is their choice . . . Put Perry in the general (election) with his statements and positions on immigration as governor of Texas and he puts together enough of the Latino vote to put Colorado and New Mexico – must-have states if Ohio and Florida don’t vote Dem – out of reach for Obama.”

Or another Democrat who said, “The Republican field is not particularly relevant to the president’s re-election chances. It depends on whether he can convince people he has a plan for the economy and the future.”

These, by the way, are not the commonly held viewpoint among Democratic consultants and strategists.

Who will win? “Obama,” said one Dem. “I present the following arguments in support of my case: Romney, Perry, Cain, Bachmann and Gingrich. And, of course, the Calbuzz piece dated 11/7/2011.”

More pearls of wisdom from Democratic panelists:

– Obama. But it will be a very tough and close campaign . . .Romney will not be easy to defeat – but his long record of flip-flopping will alienate the conservative base to such a degree that he will not be able to generate enough excitement to win a tough race. Obama, on the other hand, will turn on the charm and ramp up his (up until now ignored) base, especially African Americans, who will not let the first black president go down without an historic fight . . . PS Perry’s debate performance made Howard Dean’s scream look like a minor bump in the road.  One of the all-time defining moments in a presidential campaign ever.

– Obama will win . . . more because the Republican field is pathetic.  “Mittens” is the likely winner, but has flip-flopped more than a tuna on the deck of a boat.

– The way the election is going now, I think Obama will not have an easy time of it, but I do think in the end he’ll prevail.  That’s assuming he runs a campaign similar in quality to the effort last time and with the money they are raising, that should be possible. 

  — As much as history points to no president being re-elected with unemployment numbers this high, there is no sign that the GOP can get its act together and nominate anyone capable of defeating Obama. As amazing as it may be the GOP is poised to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory — what a party!

 – Barack Obama — and by a landslide. With the exception of a handful of southern states and a couple in the upper midwest, Obama will win handily.

 – Obama will be re-elected, despite a sluggish economy, because Mitt Romney has the ultimate glass jaw — he made his fortune on a business model at Bain Capitol predicated on downsizing and off-shoring companies – making what Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina did on the jobs-killer front look like they merely downsized and off-shored a lemonade stand (and we saw just how vulnerable both were on this issue with DTS voters in CA) . . . Now, for Obama to be able take advantage of Mitt Gekko’s glass jaw, he will need to: (1) Have some economic growth — even if anemic there has to be growth; (2) Provide the country a real sense of his actual vision of where are going that demonstrates leadership, begins to address the abiding fear of the decline of America and gives him a foundation for making a compare and contrast; and (3) Leverage his personal likeability (astoundingly high considering right track/wrong track and job approval). 

 – New boss, same as the old boss. The next president of the United States will be Barack Hussein Obama. Other than in 1980, the White House has not been won back by the other party after only four years since 1896 — and even in the latter case, the sitting president, Grover Cleveland, had lost the Democratic nomination to run for another term. And Carter in ’76 had defeated our first-ever appointed president. Romney, the probable GOP nominee, combines most of the worst features of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry. That’s some feat — and it won’t get him to the White House.

 – This election will be closer than ‘08 but President Obama will be re-elected . When the race becomes a comparative choice, all the Republicans including Romney will have difficulty appealing to swing voters. The Republican nomination race is so far out in right field, it will take the Republicans at least two presidential elections to get anywhere near the middle.

 – Obama will win a second term. The GOP keystone-coppery of a primary is doing nothing to move their needle. That coupled with a (slowly) recovering economy, solid foreign policy credentials (Bin Laden, Gaddafi, etc.) and a superior campaign team will be the difference.

– As soon as the Republican nomination is settled, voters will begin to see this election as a choice, not a referendum on the president or the economy. The Obama campaign will have the resources to tell their story, set the record straight, and draw the contrast.  The American people (or at least those in swing states) will learn about the clear choice between a president fighting to create jobs and restore the economy and a Republican nominee whose priority is cutting funding for job creation and education so that millionaires don’t have to pay their fair share.

GOP Strategists Pick Romney

Most of the Republican panelists see the upcoming election as a referendum on Obama whom, they believe, will be found wanting by a majority of voters. In their view, as one GOP panelist put it, the dynamics are pretty straight-forward: “It’s the economy stupid.”

Some of the other Republican perspectives:

– I think there is a President Romney in our future.  He actually does well in Iowa and wins in Hew Hampshire and it is off to the races.

 – Presidential Job Approval in low 40s and Wrong Track over 70% is a deadly combination for an incumbent president. So I say Romney, with two caveats: First, that there is no wacky Tea Party independent candidacy and second, Romney steps up and defines himself with a big bold governing agenda (and 59 Point Plans ain’t it).

 – Mitt Romney.  If he can get past the primary, Romney is the best contrast for voters concerned about the economy and creating the conditions that allow businesses to create jobs.  The margin will be razor thin as President Obama will use every possible resource to his advantage but in the end James Carville’s words (It’s the Economy Stupid) will prove as true in 2012 as they were 20 years ago.

– Mitt Romney should be the next president, if he focuses back on the economy and stops making ads attacking immigrants. The GOP nominee needs to get about 40% of the Latino vote to win the White House, right now Romney won’t get that, ironically enough Newt Gingrich might.”

 – The United States will swear in its first Mormon president on January 20, 2013. Both Romney and his campaign have been impressive. They have been disciplined, focused, polished and systematic. Romney is the only GOP candidate who is actually trying to win the party nod without simultaneously losing his ability to attract swing voters in the general. President Obama and his talented campaign team will be armed with a billion dollar war chest so it’s going to be a close, hard fought and bitter race. At the end of the day, the American people are significantly worse off than they were four years ago and exploiting social issues isn’t enough to get the guy sitting in the Oval Office re-elected given the nation’s fundamental economic realities. 

Calbuzz will be checking back with our panel on this question throughout the presidential campaign. As noted in the link above, you can see our list of panelists by clicking here.

 

Tomorrow: The Calbuzz Board of Strategic Advisors

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Dear Readers,

Just when you were asking yourselves – “Selves, is it possible that Calbuzz could be any more clever, insightful, smart-ass, snarky and sesquipedalian than it already is?” — here comes a fabulous new feature:

The Calbuzz Advisory Board of the World’s Leading Authorities on Practically Everything.

Yes, the news source that the Washington’s Post “The Fix” blog crowned the #1 political web site in California (yeah, yeah, we know it’s in alphabetical order) has recruited an All-Star Panel of 28 of the most intelligent, influential and innovative strategists in the state to share their wisdom, wit and wiseacre musings with our sagacious, smart and sophisticated audience.

Plenty of free parking.

Incurring Sparing no expense, we’ve assembled the most extraordinary source of  collective political knowledge since Thomas Jefferson dined out alone at Denny’s, a painstakingly selected A-List cast of Dems and Reps, women and men, commies and knuckledraggers, Keynesians and Hayekians,  dogs and cats, living together.

Starting tomorrow, when the Calbuzz California Consultanate will reveal the secret of Who Will Be the Next President of the United States, we’ll bring you regular features on the most pressing issues and questions of the day, synthesizing the consolidated, over-caffeinated thoughts and theories of an elite corps of Machiavellian schemers who will shape what you like to call your state political landscape in 2012 and beyond.

Be afraid to miss it. Very afraid.

Sincerely,

Dr. P. J. Hackenflack
Executive Vice President for Marketing, Astrology and Political Psychiatry

.

How the Occupy Movement Can Move Forward

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Having argued more than once that the Occupy movement needs to develop a set of common principles, a coherent agenda and a leadership structure, we thought we’d ask a political professional to offer advice on where the movement can go from here.

 

By Sterling Clifford
Special to Calbuzz

You don’t really see it on TV, but if you stop by Occupy Oakland, the crowd looks familiar. Some hipsters on laptops, a couple of homeless guys, men in khakis moving in and out, and a surprising number of children. I’ve seen this group before: every day in fact, at Starbucks.

Yes, there are plenty of classic liberal stereotypes and wackos. But there are also plenty of once middle-class folks worried they will never be able to afford homes, never be able to pay for their kids to go to college, worried that the freeways are crumbling and that the air is getting dirtier. And they’re not sure why those with huge piles of money feel no need to pitch in.

The group is eclectic, the list of specific grievances virtually endless. But their demands are actually pretty simple – Fix It!

Ok, so it isn’t simple. But it is coherent. The protesters want a social safety net that actually catches people, an economic system in which those who benefit the most contribute the most, reasonable environmental safeguards and a general renewal of the uniquely American ideal of opportunity for all.

As Calbuzz rightly noted, the existence of Occupy has already changed the national political conversation.  That’s quite an accomplishment in just a few weeks. But the esteemed men of Calbuzz asked the right question too. What’s next?

Occupy has reached a critical moment. Big city mayors, as sympathetic a group as Occupiers are likely to find, are running out of patience and money for police overtime. Reporters looking for new angles have begun writing about frustrated small businesses near protest sites, and the hooligans who turn every protest in Oakland into vandalism against Foot Locker and Men’s Wearhouse will only get worse.

The latest plan floating around Occupy Oakland is the takeover of foreclosed property. The protesters tried a similar move a week ago in a building that once housed homeless services. It didn’t draw much attention to a lack of services for the homeless, but it did make the protest look dangerous and unruly.

The political reality is that those who hold and seek office will respond when they feel pressure at the ballot box, and that is where Occupy has to go now.

How does a loosely organized group with a loosely defined agenda actually change things? The Tea Party showed us how.

Get small. It’s not possible to sustain the numbers at the Occupy sites now. It is possible to keep people engaged. Neighborhood and Congressional district-sized groups who meet less often, who attend town halls and candidate forums will keep the part-time protesters involved and the issues on the table. Tea Party activists were unavoidable in 2010, and Occupy activists should be unavoidable in 2012.

Be good; know who your friends are.  Civil disobedience is fun. Nothing makes the powerless feel powerful quite like standing your ground against riot police and tear gas. But traffic laws and closing parks at night aren’t the laws that concentrate wealth at the top.  Big city mayors are a liberal group; they might be the elected officials most sympathetic to the goals of Occupy. Work with them, and let them find ways to accommodate and amplify the message. Especially in Oakland, distancing a protest with legitimate grievances from rock throwers with no political agenda is the only way to get 51% of the 99% on board.

Identify candidates, work hard for them. The Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives is small. But the budget fights over the summer and the permanent deer-in-the-headlights look on John Boehner’s face are proof you only need a few votes to throw a wrench in the political machine in Washington.  There are open, competitive seats in California, and swing districts around the country where Tea Party candidates won surprise victories in 2010. With enough support on the ground and enough small contributions, those seats can be won in 2012.

I’ve visited Occupy protests in three cities. If you had to pick one word to describe the mood at all three, it would be frustration.  The far right channeled its frustration into elections in 2010, and nobody can say it didn’t make a difference. It did – things got worse. Making things better depends a lot on what the Occupy movement chooses to do next.

Editor’s Note: For another take on how the Occupy movement can move forward, check out Eliot Spitzer at Slate.

Sterling Clifford, who served as Jerry Brown’s campaign press secretary in 2010, is a communications and campaign consultant.