Re: Debates in April

Hotline says Nevada Democrats have announced a candidate debate for Jan. 15, 2008, the day after the date the Democratic National Committee chose for the Iowa caucuses. The Hotline poster suggests this move will force the candidates to fly to Las Vegas rather than Manchester. Sounds to me like another reason for this man to hold our primary at a date of his choosing.

Scrap the tax code

Not only has Sam Brownback signed the Americans for Tax Reform taxpayer protection pledge, but also he favors a flat tax. Says Brownback: "We need a flat tax instead of the dreadful, incomprehensible tax code we now have."

UPDATE: A comment from Charlie Arlinghaus: "Too many people running for president are afraid to talk about ideas because of the risk of alienating anyone. Replacing the byzantine tax code with a flat tax, however, is a great idea and ought to be embraced by both parties as an anti-corruption measure. I think we've learned over the last 20 years that small abuses of power like an amendment here and there to the tax code (or an earmark) are bipartisan, more common and cumulatively more abusive than old-fashioned corruption. Structural restraint is necessary for human beings who just can't help themselves."

Debates in April

That is, April 2007! The Democratic and Republican presidential candidates will debate in New Hampshire on April 4 and 5. South Carolina, eat our dust.

UPDATE: Does this put pressure on, say, Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani to hurry up and declare a candidacy? Will Newt Gingrich, who has said expressly he won't have decided by April, be invited to participate?

Who says NH is not diverse?

UCLA crunched Census data and determined that New Hampshire has a higher percentage of gay, lesbian or bisexual adults than any other state. A commenter at Blue Hampshire quips: "Maybe we should let the DNC know that we have the highest sexual diversity in the country."

The study, which is here, estimates that 6.6 percent of the New Hampshire population is gay, lesbian or bisexual. Nevada comes in at 3.9 percent, South Carolina at 3.8 percent and Iowa at 2.8 percent. What about our neighbors? Massachusetts is at 5.7 percent, Vermont 5.1 and Maine 5.2. Has a New England tipping point been reached? The implications for the civil-union/gay-marriage debate bear watching.

Times Square on the Tigris

Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich -- potential rivals for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination -- teamed up for an op-ed today in which they argue there's hope for Baghdad in the "workfare" reform Rudy brought to New York City as mayor. A snippet:

"There are many lessons from the successful welfare reforms in New York City that can be readily applied in Iraq. In the early 1990s, New York City suffered an average of 2,000 murders a year while more than 1.1 million people -- one out of every seven New Yorkers -- were unemployed and on welfare. Too many neighborhoods were pervaded by a sense of hopelessness that came from a combination of high crime, high unemployment and despair. 'Workfare' proved an excellent method to change this destructive decades-long paradigm. It required able-bodied welfare recipients to work 20 hours a week in exchange for their benefits. In the process, we reasserted the value of the social contract, which says that for every right there is a responsibility, for every benefit an obligation."

Contrast this with George Will's observation today that "Shiites are not torturing Sunnis with electric drills and Sunnis are not beheading Shiites because both sides are suffering the ennui of the unemployed. For Iraqis, ennui is a utopian aspiration."

Iraq in '08

From today's Evans-Novak newsletter: "The more troops placed in Iraq now, the more there are likely to be in 2008, and if Iraq remains a mess by then with Americans still dying in the midst of the insurgent conflict, Republicans will have the same mess on their hands for the second election in a row."

Romney: the anti-Bush

How is it that a one-term governor from Massachusetts has made himself a top-tier candidate for president? Competence, says David Frum. And this:

"Romney built his business success on a voracious appetite for data, a willingness to hear contrary opinions and a cool and deliberate decision-making style. Although his politics broadly align with George W. Bush's, his intellectual and managerial style could not differ more."

UPDATE: Speaking of Romney, YouTube has clips of his 1994 Senate debate against Ted Kennedy. The video showed up the same day Kennedy was on Hardball reviving an applause line from that debate, saying: "Even in our debate he was, he had moved back and forth on the choices, he was a pro-choice, he’s anti-choice, he’s multiple choice."

Good sports and free plugs

Remember a few weeks back, when Barack Obama did the intro to Monday Night Football (video here)? John McCain had a similar star turn in the intro to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (video here). I don't know what it says about either man's ability to be president (though being comfortable on camera is at least a small plus), but both come across as able to laugh at their own ambition. Sure, it's scripted. But they pulled it off. And it's fun. And I like the irony of the guru of campaign finance reform appearing in a clip "paid for by the committee to give John McCain a free plug on TV."

Poll-er opposites

Differences in the way pollsters Del Ali (who does the Monitor's polls) and Dick Bennett identified likely caucus-goers help to explain the very different Iowa 2008 results they recently obtained.

Of course, some people who contribute to this blog want to spoil the fun.

Your 2 cents

A UNH graduate student has started a research project "asking New Hampshire voters to provide substantive answers to questions about the upcoming 2008 Presidential Primary." Check out his blog, where he asks people to take a 12-question survey.

John McCain: a man in full

Vanity Fair has a 10,000-word-or-so profile of John McCain up on its website here. That's more than enough material to give fans and foes something to cherry-pick. Like this 3,000-worder from The Washington Post back in 2004, this latest piece will probably do more to confirm readers' impressions than to alter them. Regardless, the subject is compelling.

McCain allows reporters tremendous access, which over the years has tended to pay off in favorable coverage. But it also makes the cherry-picking easier if you're looking to catch him in an un-edited moment. In this piece, writer Todd Purdum made the most of his access and shows McCain in a range of light, from glowing to dark. What struck me, though, is how hard Purdum, the magazine's national editor and a former New York Times reporter, works to fit McCain inside a box. The headline -- "Prisoner of Conscience" -- is an appropriate one, for Purdum seems to have decided that McCain, famously a prisoner of war four decades ago, is again trapped: this time by the belief that he needs to make himself more appealing to the right wing of the Republican Party than he would be if were being true to himself.

Purdum writes: "The biggest questions of all are whether, by forcing himself to become some kind of something he just isn't, John McCain can win the presidency to begin with, and would he consider himself to be worthy of the honor if he did." Purdum, it seems to me, leaves open the answer to the first question -- can McCain win? -- but has decided the answer to the second question is No.

Leave aside the chutzpah factor -- the profile writer throwing his subject on the couch and delivering his diagnosis. What the piece seems to add up to, at least on a first read, is an assertion that John McCain, circa 1999-2000, really was what the political mythology says: the truth-telling, independent, even post-partisan figure who deserved to defeat George W. Bush not only in New Hampshire but in the rest of the presidential campaign as well. Further, that the pandering McCain, circa 2006-07, is a phoney and (here's the kicker) that he hates himself for it. The implication is that if McCain only knew himself as well as his profiler has come to know him, he would see the torture -- reference intended -- he is inflicting upon himself.

And then what? It's not clear. Perhaps Purdum just wants to say it's better to be authentic and drop your ambition than to pursue your ambition inauthentically. Perhaps it would take another 10,000 words to describe how it's not too late for McCain to return to the "Straight Talk" of 2000, to once again be one of Abraham Lincoln's "better angels." Regardless, Purdum liked the McCain he saw as more liberal better, and Purdum believes McCain liked himself better when he was more liberal.

This is neither the first nor the last time you will read that John McCain used to be more liberal, or that he really is more liberal. You'll read that from left-leaning people who liked McCain seven years ago but don't want him to win now. You'll read it from right-leaning people who didn't like McCain then and/or don't want him to win now.

What I remember reading in early 2000 (I edited the Sunday Monitor on whose front page it appeared) was a story by Ann Marimow that began like this:

"Arizona Sen. John McCain's lifetime voting record is more conservative than that of New Hampshire's Judd Gregg, yet in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, conservative groups and Union Leader editorials have tagged McCain a Democrat. For 17 years, in the House and Senate, McCain has never voted for a tax increase; he's advocated a strong national defense and a permanent ban on internet taxes; and he's consistently voted the pro-life line. Yet on the campaign trail, the issue he's made the centerpiece of nearly 90 town hall meetings -- changing campaign finance laws -- is one most conservatives vigorously oppose. . . .

"The question is how to reconcile McCain's conservative voting record with his leadership on issues, such as campaign finance reform and anti-tobacco legislation, that most Republicans believe are inconsistent with conservative principles.

"He has a solid conservative voting record, with a handful of exceptions,'' said Grover Norquist, who serves on the board of the American Conservative Union, which publishes annual conservative ratings. "My unhappiness with him is driven by his main issue . . . but he's not a liberal, no, no." [UPDATE: Here's a link to the whole story.]

Which is to say, there were then, and are now, reasons to vote for John McCain and reasons to vote against him. (I happen to share Norquist 's distaste for campaign finance reform, even if for me the defense of political speech should not be trivialized as a liberal or conservative stance.) But it makes too much of his decision to speak at Jerry Falwell's college campus to suggest that McCain has fundamentally changed, or that he has sacrificed what was his essential nature. He wasn't that much of a saint then, and he's not that much of a sinner now.

As for whether he has imprisoned himself in something that's not really him, I'm not going to venture my own diagnosis. I will note that he is an elected official -- a senator, no less -- and that ideological flexibility, while often criticized, comes with the territory. I also go back to that story from 2000, when McCain told Marimow he "was surprised to learn his lifetime conservative rating" from the ACU was only 86 percent. "If you take out votes on campaign finance and tobacco, he said, his overall record would be about 95 percent." (Through 2005, the ACU gives him a lifetime score of 83.)

Remember, on the Purdum timeline, that was the authentic, liberated McCain talking.

ANOTHER VIEW: The Fix calls the Vanity Fair piece "at times revelatory," adding: "Purdum gets at the fundamental question/problem of McCain's candidacy: How much can a man whose entire life has been centered on bucking the rules bend to the orthodoxies required to become the nominee of the Republican Party?" The question/problem notwithstanding, McCain is listed as the GOP frontrunner.

Clinton, Obama on the record

The Washington Post found 40 Senate roll-call votes where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were on opposite sides. Bottom line: "The Senate has held 645 roll-call votes during their shared tenure, and more than 90 percent of the time the two senators stood with other Democrats. They opposed John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination as chief justice, supported increased funding for embryonic stem cell research and backed the same nonbinding measure that urged President Bush to plan for a gradual troop withdrawal from Iraq.

"But other votes reveal important differences between the Democratic rivals that distinguish them as they prepare to launch their anticipated candidacies. The areas of dispute include energy policy, congressional ethics and budget priorities, relations with Cuba, gun ownership, and whether a senator can hold a second job."

UPDATE: The Washington Times editorial page looks at not only Sens. Clinton and Obama, but Sens. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and John Kerry as well, and has trouble telling them apart:

"Each opposed the reconciliation bill that extended the reduced tax rates on capital gains and dividends for two years through 2010. Each was among the 41 senators who sustained a filibuster against a bill that would have permanently repealed the estate tax. All five were among the 30 Democratic senators opposing a constitutional amendment banning desecration of the flag; the amendment, which required a two-thirds majority, was defeated by a single vote. Each supported a bill allowing the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. All five joined 37 other senators in sustaining a filibuster against an abortion-related parental-notification bill. The five Democrats also voted in unison against the military-tribunals bill, which passed by a 65-34 margin, including 12 Democrats. All five supported a bill, which was defeated 60-39, that endorsed the phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq beginning in 2006. All five voted for an immigration-overhaul bill that would have effectively granted amnesty and provided a path toward citizenship for a large majority of the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the United States. All five opposed Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court." [bold added to highlight issues]

Rudy's money trail

This New York Daily News story reports on a leaked document regarding Rudy Giuliani's campaign plans. The most interesting part of the story lists people whom Rudy & Co. apparently hoped to hit up for big bucks but who have since signed on with others, most often John McCain.

What, no parting gifts?

This New York Post columnist is even harsher in his adieu to George Pataki than David Yepsen was to Tom Vilsack.

Edwards makes it official

"The biggest responsibility of the next president of the United States is to re-establish America's leadership role in the world, starting with Iraq. And we need to make it clear that we intend to leave Iraq and turn over the responsibility of Iraq to the Iraqi people. The best way to make that clear is to actually start leaving, which is why I've said we ought to be taking 40,000 to 50,000 troops out now, and that ought to continue over time."

John Edwards, announcing his presidential candidacy this morning. The full transcript is here.

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