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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Planetariums

Does anyone else out there find it a little odd that Senator McCain is so obsessed with trashing planetariums? I understand that a hefty portion of his base harbors a medieval suspicion of science education in general. But you would think that a Senator, a former pilot at that, who prides himself in being a strong champion of our national security would at least get it that teaching young people about the cosmos is a good way to get them interested in physics, rocket science and the like. Here’s what McCain said at the debate:

He [Obama] voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?

It wasn’t just the words. it was the contemptuous tone, as well as the monumental hypocrisy behind it. It’s OK to squander $300 U.S. taxpayer dollars per month on each of thousands of Iraqi government employees, with no end in sight. But a couple of million dollars on America’s oldest planetarium? How outrageous. Then there’s the duplicity of calling it an “overhead projector” to make it sound like a grade school slide machine, when he knew better.
it wasn’t the first time McCain trashed planetariums in attacking Senator Obama. Back in September McCain was quoted as saying “And when you look at some of the planetariums and other foolishness that he asked for, he shouldn’t be saying anything about Governor Palin.”
To which theoretical physicist JoAnne Hewett responded:

Quite frankly, I am left speechless at the phrase: ‘planetariums and other foolishness…Sorry, but replacing 40 year old equipment at one of the leading science education facilities in this country (the Adler Planetarium is located in downtown Chicago and is the oldest planetarium in existence today) is one of the best investments in the future that I can think of. I’ve always equated planetariums with science education – an area where the US seems to be lacking.

What is even more worrisome is the subtext behind McCain’s contempt for planetariums. It’s not just a reactionary attitude toward science. He has never placed much value on education in general and sees federal investment in education as a waste. If elected, he and Palin could do serious damage to America’s ability to compete in the years ahead with other nations which are making major investments in upgrading their educational systems. It would be hard to devise a quicker way to turn America into a second-rate power than electing the pair of them. One more reason to write another check for Obama.

King of Bluegrass Endorses Obama

My one gripe about our otherwise great Democratic convention is that the soundtrack was a little short on country music for a party that aspires to make some inroads into working-class America. Well, Kathy G over at The G Spot has a post that more than makes up for it — a video/radio clip of Ralph Stanley’s endorsement of Barack Obama. Yes, THE Ralph Stanley, the King of Bluegrass, who practically owns ‘the high lonesome sound’. And just for kicks, Kathy throws in four of Stanley’s best videos. Here’s hoping the Obama campaign shows Stanley’s endorsement all over rural America, not just VA. Way Cool.

Erratic McCain Vs. ‘No Drama Obama’

Todd Beeton has a MyDD post on Senator McCain’s three plane crashes as emblematic of the GOP nominee’s erratic behavior going back more than four decades. But the best part of Beeton’s post is the quote from Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on Fox News Sunday. Here’s Beeton’s set-up of Senator McCaskill’s quote:

The media has been clutching its pearls over the Obama campaign’s use of the word “erratic” when describing McCain presumably because of an ageism subtext, but these tales make clear that in the case of John MCCain, erratic behavior is not a function of his advanced years, rather it’s simply a quality of his character. From the young McCain’s cockpit antics to the last 2 weeks of wacky behavior on the campaign trail, as Claire McCaskill eloquently documented on Fox News Sunday yesterday.

And the McCaskill quote:

Now, on the other hand, if you look at what Barack Obama’s ad says, it’s just talking about what John McCain did the last two weeks. He was erratic. One day, no bailout. The next day, a bailout. One day, “I’m suspending my campaign.” The next day, “I’m not.”
One day, “I’m going to debate.” The next day, “I’m not going to debate.” The next day, I go ahead and debate. One day, “I’m not going to leave Washington until we have a deal,” and then he’s on a plane out of Washington after the deal’s kind of blown up. So it really — there has been a lot of erratic behavior.

It appears that the ‘erratic’ meme is sticking to Senator McCain. A mirror image meme seems to be settling on McCain’s opponent. On another Sunday yak show, ABC News This Week, conservative George Will observed almost admiringly that Senator Obama has earned the nickname ‘No Drama Obama,’ which is more suggestive of the solid, steady and prudent leadership needed to end the war and navigate America through the current economic and energy crises.

Is Palin Chicken of ‘Meet the Press’?

Governor Sarah Palin did better in the veep debate than many expected, but all the polls and serious commentators agree that Biden won it by any reasonable set of measures. Now it seems fair to ask, is Sarah Palin going to do Meet the Press and other more in-depth interview shows, as has Biden and every other veep candidate since the early days of television? Or are the pundits just going to shrugg it off? Biden, one of the most frequent MTP guests in the progam’s history, raised the issue when he last appeared on the program, explains HuffPo‘s Sam Stein:

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Biden told Tom Brokaw, “Eventually, she’s going to have to sit in front of you like I’m doing and have done. Eventually, she’s going to have to answer questions and not be sequestered. Eventually, she’s going to have to answer on the record.” Later, Brokaw told viewers he had reached out to the Delaware Democrat’s Republican counterpart to no avail.l

We’re still waiting. A couple of interviews with anchors doesn’t get it. The debate was good, as far as it went. But the format didn’t allow much time for for tough follow-up questions. Are the better news interview shows (Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation etc.) now going to roll over and give her a free pass? The pundits — not just two network anchors — should have a chance to interview her in depth, if the McCain-Palin campaign is serious about her capabilities and if they care about serving the public interest.

Will Voters Tire of McCain’s Theatrics ?

Will he or won’t he? As I write, John ‘Hamlet on the Potomac’ McCain is still dithering over whether or not to honor his commitment to debate Senator Obama tonight, rudely leaving many McCain supporters as well as his adversaries, in the lurch. Voters are supposed to believe that he can’t take a few hours to fly to Mississippi and proceed with the debate as he agreed because his physical presence in D.C. is so urgently needed.
Hard to say what McCain will do at this point. MS Governor Barbour reportedly expects him to show. GOP strategist Ed Rollins doesn’t think so. Who could blame Obama — and level-headed voters — for saying “Oh, whatever.”
No telling how McCain’s latest stunt will play with voters on Nov. 4. As our staff report indicated yesterday, most voters want the debate to proceed, albeit with some discusssion about the economic crisis. Yet, on election day McCain’s debate vacillations could be old news.
Meanwhile Katie Couric’s interview with Governor Palin yesterday did nothing to dismiss the argument that McCain picked a lightweight or that her selection was “gimmicky,” as GOP strategist Mike Murphy termed it. McCain may survive waffling about the first debate. But my guess is that one more such stunt would be “strike three” with many, if not most undecideds.

McCain’s Fishy Debate Postponement Proposal

Much of the speculation about McCain’s debate postponement proposal around the blogs settles on grandstanding as The Noble Bipartisan (Digby and The Fix), putting Obama on the spot and inadequate debate preparation (Tapped) as his real motives, all of which are plausible explanations.
I suspect another motive is that he would like to push the foreign policy debate closer to the election to give it a little more shelf-life in voters’ minds. The tip-off would be if his campaign fights hard to make the last debate about foreign policy. McCain and others believe foreign policy and national security are his strong cards, and that debate affords his best opportunity to shine in comparison to Obama. He may be wrong about that for a number of reasons, but it’s never stopped him before.
I’m not sure it helps him. His postponement proposal may well add to the image of McCain as erratic, mercurial, and distracted, in addition to the obvious grandstanding meme. McCain clearly has an inordinate fondness for the ‘wow factor’ and the ‘Hail Mary.’ He’s the player most likely to bet the ranch on an inside straight as the situation deteriorates. You couldn’t blame voters for thinking ‘I don’t know what this guy is going to do next.’
Here’s hoping Obama doesn’t fall for rescheduling the foreign policy debate. If McCain simply refuses to debate, then nothing happens on Friday. But Obama should hang tough as the solid, steady guy who shows up on time and keeps his agreements. Let McCain, who has missed 412 of 643 Senate votes this session, be viewed as the one who didn’t show for the debate, either.

So Where’s the Fiorina Ad ?

Meredith Viera’s deer-in-the -headlights interview with John McCain ought to be a training video for TV reporters who want to see how the hardball political interview is conducted. Viera makes the GOP nominee squirm, sweat and jabber, as he struggles to reconcile Carly Fiorina’s leading role in his campaign, her 45 million dollar golden parachute and his hypocritical put down of “greed on Wall St.” and execs’ “huge severance packages.” Almost a ready-made ad for the Obama campaign.
On the same topic, see Elizabeth Bumiller’s New York Times article “McCain Stands By Fiorina,” in which McCain blasts two Fannie Mae execs for their golden parachutes, each about half the size of Fiorina’s package.

In a McCain-Palin administration, there will be no seat for these people at the policy-making table…They won’t even get past the front gate at the White House

I guess he would let Fiorina in the back door.

Obama Must use the “R” Word

The editors of The New Republic have a post scolding Senator Obama for his reluctance to use the word “Republican.” Here’s the gist:

If voters thought McCain was just another Republican, they would run away screaming. That is why McCain is desperate to shed the label–and Barack Obama is desperate to make it stick.
Except, um, that’s not what Obama is doing. On the day before McCain released his ad, Obama gave a major speech on economics. It was a hard-hitting address, in which Obama proclaimed, “It’s time to put an end to a broken system in Washington that is breaking the American economy.” But the word “Republican” never came up. The next day, Obama released a somber ad in which he addressed the camera for two minutes. It included plenty of smart ideas (something he has never lacked, notwithstanding the bogus charge that he’s “all talk”). But its message was all about Obama the non-ideological reformer–that is, the guy positioned to clean up Washington. “Partisan fights and outworn ideas of the left and right won’t solve the problems we face today,” he said. Republicans? They didn’t make cameos here, either. Neither did Bush.

It is a consequential decision, but not necessarilly such an easy call. I tend to agree with the TNR editors that Obama has to use the label to make it stick. Surrogates’ sound bites just don’t get the necessary buzz. Yet Obama is making some inroads with “Obamacons” and seniors (see new CNN poll), many of whom are Republicans. And his campaign’s internal polling may show a potential for many more in light of the deepening financial crisis. Not all conservatives are gung ho in favor of bailing out failed businesses, elective war and nation-building in other countries. He has to be a little careful, not to be perceived as engaging in name-calling that would alienate potential supporters.
That said, the Republicans are directly responsible for the deregulation mania that lead to the financial meltdown, and you can’t hold them responsible without saying so at some point. The challenge is artfully making the distinction between Republican office-holders “who have betrayed their conservative heritage” and fed-up Republican voters who may be considering a Nov.4 cross-over. It’s about simultaneously holding the GOP responsible, while at the same time expressing welcoming respect for potential converts.

Messaging the Meltdown for Seniors

The meltdown of top financial institutions has left millions of American workers in doubt about the security of their retirement assets, and it’s a particularly urgent concern for those nearing retirement age. The crisis presents an opportunity for the Obama campaign to make significant inroads into a major demographic group that has trended toward McCain thus far and who are now feeling the big hurt — seniors.
Amazingly, the GOP nominee has cooperated in trashing his own credibility on the topic. Here’s John McCain breaking bad on golden parachutes:

Speaking to NBC’s Matt Lauer about the current crisis on Wall Street, the Republican nominee said executives have “treated it like a casino and need to be held accountable and stop walking away with these fat-cat packages.”

Ridiculous as it sounds, coming from one of the Fat Cats’ most reliable Senate bellhops, lots of people will buy it. Why? Because it fills a void. Working people do want more accountability and more fairness in retirement pensions. To those who are not familiar with his track record on social security, pension reform and banking regulation, it sounds plausible, and it fits in well enough with the McCain campaign’s ‘Maverick’ meme, bogus though it is.
But it can only work if Senator Obama and the Democrats let it go unchallenged. Let all Democrats hasten to point out at every opportunity that McCain’s trusted business and economic advisor/sidekick/mouthpiece, Carly Fiorina floated away from her unproductive tenure at the helm of Hewlett-Packard with a golden parachute worth a cool $42 million.
One way to do the the soundbite for speeches, ads, debates and interviews:

John McCain recently called for more accountability for corporate executives with “fat cat packages.” You can bet he didn’t get that idea from his top business advisor Carly Fiorina, who left Hewlett-Packard with a $42 million dollar golden parachute. Now millions of American workers are seeing their retirement saving slashed.

Or, on Social Security reform:

John McCain was one of the champions of putting your social security assets in the private sector. Imagine the shape millions of working families would be in now if he got his way. We need better judgment in the white house.

It appears the Obama is on the right track. Here’s what he said yesterday in New Mexico:

“In the next 47 days, you can fire the whole trickle-down, on-your-own, look-the-other-way crowd in Washington who has led us down this disastrous path,” he thundered. “Don’t just get rid of one guy. Get rid of this administration. Get rid of this philosophy. Get rid of the do-nothing approach to our economic problem and put somebody in there who’s going to fight for you.”

When we say “It’s the economy, stupid,” we’re basically talking about four key concerns — jobs, pay, retirement and health security, and now we can add housing — all of which have been put at risk for millions by GOP-driven deregulation and the current meltdown. Democrats have been given a timely opportunity to demonstrate leadership and the superiority of their track record and policies as champions of genuine economic security. Making the most of it with seniors will serve us well.

Rebutting the ‘Divided Government’ Case for McCain

George Will’s column, “McCain’s Closing Argument,” appearing today in WaPo and zillions of other newspapers, urges the GOP nominee to make the old ‘virtues of bipartisan government’ argument as his trump card. It’s a clever strategy, and would be more effective if Will had not gone public with it and instead coached McCain to roll it out in the final presidential debate, catching Senator Obama off guard.
McCain will make the argument. He has to, although not only in the debates. He may roll it out even sooner, hoping to get a meme going. The danger for Democrats is that it is an argument that has some appeal for moderates. Will knows Obama will now have a response ready, which will include a couple of key points.
One counter-argument is that there are not two, but three branches of government, including the judiciary, which was conveniently not mentioned by Will. In fact, the ‘virtues of divided government’ argument is misleading for that reason. The only way we could ever have an evenly divided government is for the Supreme Court to have an even number of members, instead of nine.
After eight years of Republican judicial appointments, the U.S. Supreme Court and federal judgeships are already drifting too far to the right. Four or eight more years of GOP domination of the judiciary could be disastrous for women, unions, working people, consumers, the environment and civil liberties.
But it’s not just the judiciary. Eight years of Republican control has also transformed all of the federal departments and agencies into rubber stamps for the worst policies of corporate management, serving the super-wealthy and privileged at the expense of working people. Senator Obama can respond to good effect “What would America look like after 16 years of Republican control of the executive and judicial branches of government?”, with the current meltdown as exhibit “A.”
As the nation’s most widely-read columnist, Will’s real goal in promoting the ‘virtues of divided government’ argument is to generate buzz among the electorate in living rooms and at water-coolers across the nation. No doubt the buzz is already rolling. Democratic candidates, campaigns and ad-makers should be ready with the rebuttal.