While Hillary Clinton has not found a way to break the consecutive primaries losing streak against Barack Obama, now at 10 or 11 depending on whether one counts the expatriate poll, she has managed to force Obama to talk a little more specifically about policy. That apparently has cost Obama some ground, according to Rasmussen, although not so much against Hillary. His negatives have risen seven points in the last month, and now are ten points higher than those of John McCain:
Thirty-four percent (34%) of all voters say they will definitely vote for John McCain if he is on the ballot this November. Thirty-three percent (33%) will definitely vote against him while 29% say their support hinges on who his opponent is.
Barack Obama has the same number who will definitely vote for him–34%. But, more people are committed to voting against him than McCain. Forty-three percent (43%) say they will definitely reject him at the ballot box. For 18%, their support depends on his opponent.
For Hillary Clinton, 32% will definitely vote for her if she is on the ballot and 46% will definitely vote against. Core opposition to Clinton, the best-known of the candidates as the long campaign season began, hovered in the high 40s through most of the past year.
The excitement of Obama has not resonated across the political spectrum as once thought. While he has undoubtedly gained momentum among Democrats, it has slowed in the general electorate. He has only picked up five points in committed voters while gaining seven points among opposed voters and now has a negative balance.
John McCain, on the other hand, appears to have much more momentum than Obama. He has gained 12 points in the same period, while not adding any opposed voters at all. His balance is a +1, while Obama’s is a -7.
The crosstabs show a few surprises. McCain actually does slightly better among younger voters (54%) than Obama (51%), and much better among seniors (44%, 24% for Obama). He does better in the “Other” and “White” ethnic categories, but Obama hasn’t locked up as much of the black vote as he’ll need. Only 60% say they will definitely vote for him, while 19% say they will definitely vote against him. McCain gets 9% of the black vote — about what Republicans normally get — but 37% will wait to see who runs against him, and another 8% aren’t sure.
This data looks somewhat different than the media portrayals of a huge national movement coalescing behind Obama. It may be more likely that the activists have turned out in force for Obama, and that the enthusiasm we see now will remain limited to that subset on the Left.
So far, the lack of daylight between the agendas of the two Democratic contenders for the party’s presidential nomination has kept the focus mostly on experience and campaign tactics. USA Today took a look at the actual economic policies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and especially at the bottom line. They wonder who will pay the bill for the latest Democratic Party giveaway:
In 2009, when the next president takes office, the government is expected to spend $400 billion more than it takes in, adding to a national debt that tops $9 trillion. Yet Clinton and Obama both offer a long list of new spending proposals that suggests a lack of seriousness in confronting the nation’s fiscal condition.
Obama has received more criticism, perhaps deservedly so, because his list is somewhat longer. But Clinton also appears to be overpromising on what she would do and underdelivering on how she would pay for it. …
While it’s hard to come up with a precise price tag given the lack of specifics in many of their proposals, these plans are likely to cost the Treasury well into the hundreds of billions of dollars a year. The National Taxpayers Union, a conservative group that favors lower taxes and smaller government, gives a very rough estimate of $287 billion for Obama and $218 billion for Clinton.
How would the candidates pay for all these new programs without driving the deficit to new heights? Some have specific funding sources; some don’t. The candidates rather vaguely claim that costs would be covered primarily by repealing President Bush’s tax cuts and ending the Iraq war.
This is where the math gets fuzzy.
A rollback of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans could generate perhaps $75 billion next year. The Iraq war savings are much harder to figure. The war has been costing about $100 billion per year. But a Democratic president, once in office, might decide that national security demands a gradual withdrawal, or a redeployment to Afghanistan. Health care for Iraq war veterans will run into the billions for decades. It’s unlikely that winding down the war will produce a large, quick peace dividend capable of supporting a host of new programs.
The real answer: the taxpayers. Both candidates essentially offer the same discredited statist solutions that now burdens Europe Neither have honestly addressed the costs to taxpayers, nor how it will add to both the deficit spending and the federal intrusion into markets that do better at producing results.
Repealing the Bush tax cuts, both candidates claim, will pay for their fiscal agendas. This assumption is false on two fronts. First, both candidates plan to spend far more than the tax cuts and the war costs, even in static analysis. At best, the income derived from both would cover 75% of Hillary’s plan and 60% of Obama’s.
That doesn’t account for the fact that the so-called war costs also include a lot of normal fixed military costs, and that a withdrawal will actually drive up costs in the short run. Also, the impact of a hefty tax increase — which is the effect of allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire — will be to take capital out of the market, resulting in decreasing revenues, not increasing revenues. Both Hillary and Obama rely on static analyses to hide the true effect of the tax-cut repeal.
That will force both candidates to either increase deficit spending or to hike taxes even further. Both claim they will increase taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, while giving tax breaks to the middle class. That won’t work. The tax increases will have to hit the middle class as well, either directly or indirectly in higher costs associated with heavier burdens on producers — and employers. The gaps are simply too large to be made up by hitting “the rich”, unless one defines “rich” significantly downwards.
Besides, this shouldn’t really take a genius to deduce. Anyone demanding an additional $287 billion a year in spending when we are facing the entitlement debacle from the retirement of the Baby Boomers has to have their head examined. Perhaps one can make an argument for tax increases to cover those costs, but increasing federal spending by hundreds of billions in this situations is akin to looking for an additional iceberg to hit before the Titanic sinks entirely.
Benny Avni at the New York Sun looks at Barack Obama’s promise to meet with America’s enemies, and wonders what could come from this policy. Given that Obama doesn’t discuss the goals or the potential trading points would be, Avni sees the potential for humiliation as far greater than that of progress. It also demonstrates Obama’s moral relativism:
For Mr. Obama, however, dangling high-end diplomatic meetings as an incentive for a change in behavior is bad policy rooted in American hubris. “If we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time,” he said during the CNN/Univision debate with Senator Clinton on Thursday.
His aversion to American exceptionalism aside, Mr. Obama’s position evolved out of a primary debate last July, when he casually said he would talk, without preconditions, with the leaders of Iran and Syria. Mrs. Clinton immediately seized on the statement as a gaffe by an inexperienced politician, but Mr. Obama declined to correct his course. He instead doubled down and in last week’s debate said he favored a sit-down with Raul Castro, selected yesterday in Havana as his brother Fidel’s successor, before a single political prisoner is let out of Cuba’s gulags.
Because of his background, Mr. Obama is likely to increase goodwill toward America around the world. The leaders of Cuba, Syria, Iran, and North Korea are likely to welcome him too, which may open up new diplomatic opportunities. But what will he tell them? So far, he has declined to articulate a coherent negotiation policy beyond the need to negotiate.
For tutoring, he may turn to President Clinton’s first secretary of state, Warren Christopher, whose multiple trips to Damascus during the reign of Hafez al-Assad in the mid-1990s famously led to little of note beyond a great humiliation to America’s diplomacy. Or Mr. Obama may want to talk to the European Union’s foreign policy point man, Javier Solana, who has negotiated endlessly with the Iranian mullahs in an effort to convince them to suspend their enrichment. Or he could secretly turn to his nemeses at the current White House. Try Christopher Hill, whose negotiations with the North Koreans were successful on all fronts — except for Pyongyang’s failure to deliver its end of the bargain, as in dismantling its nuclear program.
Supporters of Obama wonder what it would hurt to meet with people like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Kim Jong-Il. As Avni explains, it creates a legitimacy that has far-reaching repercussions. In nations ruled by extraordinarily oppressive regimes, we try to support ground-up democratic movements to find alternatives to the dictatorships. These nations directly threaten the US and its allies, and it is in our best interest to encourage the reformers than to publicly befriend their oppressors.
We can, however, push for progress in lower-level diplomatic contacts in hopes of gaining real change by holding out the possibility of higher-level contacts later. We gain more from supporting the reformers than we can in a tea party with the dictators. The point of diplomacy, after all, is to further American interests, and that has usually meant helping to free people from oppression than to give oppressors a nice photo op.
Moreover, in contract to Obama’s rhetoric, the US does stand above many other nations in terms of liberty, justice, and standard of living. North Koreans routinely starve while Kim’s elite delight in Western trade. The Iranians chafe under the theocracy that has brought them misery and poverty despite having enormous oil resources.
Why should an American President consider Iran and the DPRK our equal among nations? Why should Americans elect a man to the presidency who does not believe that we stand above at least those two nations and their dictators? That’s what Barack Obama doesn’t understand, and why his stated foreign policy smacks of dangerous moral relativism.
The ascent of Barack Obama to front-runner status has also given rise to some highly irresponsible talk in the media, mostly sotto voce, about the potential for assassination. The New York Times breaks this into the open, giving Obama more uncomfortable associations with Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy than those his soaring rhetoric had already generated:
There is a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe?
In Colorado, two sisters say they pray daily for his safety. In New Mexico, a daughter says she persuaded her mother to still vote for Mr. Obama, even though the mother feared that winning would put him in danger. And at a rally here, a woman expressed worries that a message of hope and change, in addition to his race, made him more vulnerable to violence.
“I’ve got the best protection in the world,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said in an interview, reprising a line he tells supporters who raise the issue with him. “So stop worrying.”
Yet worry they do, with the spring of 1968 seared into their memories, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in a span of two months.
Mr. Obama was 6 at the time, and like many of his admirers, he has only read about the violence that traumatized the nation. But those recollections and images are often invoked by older voters, who watch his candidacy with fascination, as well as an uneasy air of apprehension, as Democrats inch closer to selecting their nominee.
Why does the Times, and other media outlets, even make this an issue? Will talking about this make Obama or anyone else one whit safer? Of course not. The Times makes it worse by releasing Obama’s Secret Service code name, which has usually been considered confidential. Karl Rove recently refused to reveal his, and he no longer has Secret Service protection.
In one sense, the debate over the potential for assassination gives Obama even more of a messianic veneer. King and Kennedy were both cast as martyrs, the former for more reason than the latter, after their murders. This focus on Obama as a prime target is giving him a pre-martyr sense, something Obama and his family certainly don’t appreciate for very obvious reasons. He doesn’t want to martyr himself — he just wants to run for President. And while Obama probably likes people comparing him to Kennedy and King, he doesn’t want to join them.
2008 isn’t 1968. The Secret Service knows how to protect people to the extent they can be protected, and Obama has had their protection for almost a year. Nothing more can be done to keep him from harm. It serves no purpose to have public hand-wringing over his security or that of any other candidate, and it could encourage nutcases to test the Secret Service.
They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning,
No-one you see, is smarter than he….
When Mitt Romney first appeared at CPAC in 2007 as a presidential candidate, a man in a dolphin costume began following him to highlight his “flip-flops” on policy. Flipper made an appearance at this year’s CPAC as well, but found himself out of a job on the first day when Romney withdrew from the presidential race. If he reads today’s Washington Post, he might find new material to extend his gig by making appearances at Barack Obama rallies instead:
Top Obama Flip-Flops
1. Special interests In January, the Obama campaign described union contributions to the campaigns of Clinton and John Edwards as “special interest” money. Obama changed his tune as he began gathering his own union endorsements. He now refers respectfully to unions as the representatives of “working people” and says he is “thrilled” by their support.
2. Public financing Obama replied “yes” in September 2007 when asked if he would agree to public financing of the presidential election if his GOP opponent did the same. Obama has now attached several conditions to such an agreement, including regulating spending by outside groups. His spokesman says the candidate never committed himself on the matter.
3. The Cuba embargo In January 2004, Obama said it was time “to end the embargo with Cuba” because it had “utterly failed in the effort to overthrow Castro.” Speaking to a Cuban American audience in Miami in August 2007, he said he would not “take off the embargo” as president because it is “an important inducement for change.”
4. Illegal immigration In a March 2004 questionnaire, Obama was asked if the government should “crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants.” He replied “Oppose.” In a Jan. 31, 2008, televised debate, he said that “we do have to crack down on those employers that are taking advantage of the situation.”
5. Decriminalization of marijuana While running for the U.S. Senate in January 2004, Obama told Illinois college students that he supported eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use. In the Oct. 30, 2007, presidential debate, he joined other Democratic candidates in opposing the decriminalization of marijuana.
The Post, which does not have a byline for this article, also has a list of Hillary Clinton’s flip-flops …. but who cares at this point? The Clintons have always triangulated; it’s their main strategy in grabbing and holding power. Issuing a comprehensive list of their switchbacks could take months and more newsprint than the Post can afford.
It stings the Obama campaign more, and rightly so. Obama has made his new, non-pandering politics the central selling point for his election. This shows that Obama has no problem with adjusting his message when needed. The specifics of the changes are less interesting than the changes themselves. It also calls into question for what Obama really stands, other than platitudes about “hope” and “change”.
Mitt Romney got bounced from the campaign for changing his mind on fewer policy issues over a much longer period of time. If people thought Romney had authenticity issues, what will they make from these more recent and more numerous Obama flip-flops? Will Flipper find a new lease on life out on the campaign trail?
Byron York interviewed two of the men mentioned most often as potential running mates for John McCain, governors Tim Pawlenty and Mark Sanford. Both men enthusiastically supported McCain in the primaries, but both men have significant policy differences with McCain on the nominee’s signature issues — immigration and campaign-finance reform. How they reconcile themselves to McCain may prove instructive to the rest of the field, and may give conservatives reason for hope in both men:
On Sunday, I spoke with two leading contenders for the McCain ticket, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, both in Washington for the annual meeting of the National Governors’ Association. While each expressed strong support for McCain, neither would deny differences with the candidate on two of the issues that have caused McCain the greatest trouble with the conservative base: immigration and campaign-finance reform. ….
Both men praised McCain’s desire to fix the system — “I don’t begrudge him for trying to do something on that,” Sanford told me — but it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that both think McCain’s reform crusade was profoundly misguided.
Yet both enthusiastically support McCain, and both stressed to me that, in light of their agreement with him on big issues like Iraq, the war on terror, and federal spending, their differences on a few other issues did not diminish their zeal to help him win election in November. “John McCain is a conservative,” Pawlenty told me. “Now, there are some particular issues that have disappointed conservatives. He acknowledges that, and he has got some work to do to convince and reassure people that he is in fact a conservative…. But if you look at the totality of his record over the total time he’s been in Congress, it would seem to be unfair and incomplete to label him as something other than a conservative. And if the definition of conservative is going to be so narrowly construed as to only be those things to the right of John McCain, we’re going to have a fairly narrow market share.”
Both men have received quite a bit of attention from those making early VP predictions. Both have recently won re-election as governors, and both have been at least center-right in their governance, with Sanford probably more reliably conservative and Pawlenty dealing with a more opposition-dominated legislature. Both governors are relatively young and potentially good candidates for a later presidential run for the GOP.
Conservatives have expressed a great deal of hesitation in climbing aboard McCain bandwagon, mostly on the basis of the two issues York mentions. They may find themselves energized by the addition of a running mate willing to dissent on McCain’s positions on immigration and on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold.
Pawlenty and Sanford both give gentle but firm opposition to McCain’s efforts on both in this interview — which normally would signal a presidential nominee to avoid them as running mates. However, in this instance both men could make excellent emissaries to the conservative wing of the party. They can lay out the thinking conservative’s case for enthusiasm in McCain better than anyone else, and at the same time lay out their own cases for higher public office in the post-McCain phase. It promises a means to influence in the next administration and grooming more palatable conservatives for the future.
McCain will make his own decision on a running mate, but he may not get better choices than Pawlenty or Sanford. If he chooses a partner willing to dissent with him on these two issues, he will send a signal of openness to the Right that should help build more enthusiasm for his campaign.
The messianic rhetoric surrounding Barack Obama’s presidential run just got a little stranger, although in one sense somewhat fitting. Speaking at the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviour’s Day event, Louis Farrakhan claimed that Obama could be the only person who could “lift America from its fall,” and compared him to NoI founder Fard Mohammed (via Memeorandum):
In his first major public address since a cancer crisis, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said Sunday that presidential candidate Barack Obama is the “hope of the entire world” that the U.S. will change for the better.
The 74-year-old Farrakhan, addressing an estimated crowd of 20,000 people at the annual Saviours’ Day celebration, never outrightly endorsed Obama but spent most of the nearly two-hour speech praising the Illinois senator.
“This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better,” he said. “This young man is capturing audiences of black and brown and red and yellow. If you look at Barack Obama’s audiences and look at the effect of his words, those people are being transformed.”
Farrakhan compared Obama to the religion’s founder, Fard Muhammad, who also had a white mother and black father.
“A black man with a white mother became a savior to us,” he told the crowd of mostly followers. “A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall.”
As far as is known, Obama didn’t seek this quasi-endorsement, and he would be wise to avoid it. Farrakhan has been associated with anti-Semitism and violence, from neither of which he has repented. The speech from Farrakhan will probably give a boost to the nutty Obama-is-a-Muslim rumors that Rick Moran destroys at length in his post yesterday, but that’s not where the problem lies with this speech.
Farrakhan’s address exemplifies the irrational exuberance, to use Alan Greenspan’s words, surrounding the Obama campaign. It doesn’t come from the candidate’s own rhetoric, but from his high-profile supporters, including his wife on one occasion. Obama’s election can save America from itself; it can heal broken souls; it can do everything except show a track record of the candidate doing any of this at any level of government. We hear almost nothing of substantive policy on the stump from Obama or any of his surrogates, but plenty of themes of the dire straits in which we find ourselves and the call to faith that Obama can lead us from them.
That’s not a political campaign; it’s a secular revival. Regardless of how one feels about Obama — and I think he’s a good man with a very thin resume — the kind of rhetoric surrounding his run feels dangerous. Voters have been asked to take a lot almost literally on faith, and the hyperbole has continued to increase as he sweeps to victory in state after state. It has gotten less rational, not more, in that period.
What happens when this bubble bursts? After all, it only really began getting strange in late November and early December. After he wins the nomination? After the convention? At some point, he will get challenged on policy like never before. Hillary Clinton couldn’t do it, because there is almost no daylight between their policy beliefs after she decided she needed to run more to the Left in the primaries, which is why she’s tried to run on experience. If Obama gets past her to the nomination, he’ll come up against John McCain, who will force Obama to stop talking thematically and debate over the costs of those themes and what it will mean to people.
He’d still do better than Hillary in that situation, but the Messiah fever will likely come to an end. And what can Obama offer without it?
UPDATE: Jeralyn at TalkLeft notes that the Obama campaign isn’t exactly doing high-fives over the endorsement, and gives a couple of reasons why.
Barack Obama has raised hopes for a Democratic victory in November by winning primarily in states that normally vote Republican. He argues that this shows he can redraw the Electoral College map in the general election and force Republicans onto the defensive in normally safe areas of the country. However, Hillary Clinton has an argument by reflexion that she can safeguard the Democratic strongholds better — and that Obama’s red-state strength could be overrated:
In winning Tuesday’s primary in the key swing state of Wisconsin, Sen. Barack Obama drew support from tens of thousands of Republicans and independents. He pulled off the same feat in his landslide victory in the Virginia primary the week before, suggesting he could win the state in November. In South Carolina, he had more votes than the top two Republican contenders put together; in Kansas, his total topped the overall GOP turnout.
All along, Obama has argued that he can redraw the political map for Democrats by turning out unprecedented numbers of young voters and African Americans, and by attracting independents and even Republicans with his message of national reconciliation. But the picture emerging of his appeal in GOP strongholds and in swing states, even as he widens his delegate lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), is more complex than his claim to broad popularity in “red state” America would have one believe.
Obama (Ill.) posted big wins over Clinton in caucuses in Plains and Mountain states such as Kansas, Nebraska and Idaho, but Republicans in those states scoff at the suggestion that victories in the small universe of Democrats there translate into strength in November. In Tennessee and Oklahoma, Obama lost by wide margins to Clinton, who lived in nearby Arkansas. He narrowly won the primary in the swing state of Missouri, but did so thanks to the state’s solidly Democratic cities, losing its more rural, and more conservative, areas to Clinton. …
The red states where he has won have tended to be in the Deep South, where victories were based on overwhelming support from African Americans, or in mostly white states in the Midwest and West, where he relied on a core of ardent backers to carry him in caucuses, which favor candidates with enthusiastic supporters. He has not fared as well in areas that fall in between, with populations that are racially diverse but lack a black population large enough to boost Obama to victory.
This tends to deflate the enthusiasm argument for Obama. He has won his states through hard work and outreach, but primarily to the Left and among his own base in red states. His caucus victories in these states show that he can fire up Democrats, but Democrats don’t decide general elections in states like Kansas and Georgia. Hillary has a point when she notes that Obama fares less well in traditionally strong Democratic states, suggesting that the centrist appeal of John McCain could prove deadly.
However, Karl Rove proved that a party could win a national election by sufficiently motivating its base — twice. Obama shows that he can do that much in the red states, putting them at least in play. The problem for Obama is that the African-American electorate is traditionally the most motivated and responsive segment anyway, and young voters tend to skip the actual casting of ballots. Can he really gain enough momentum in a general election to squeeze enough new votes to change the electoral map?
It’s possible. Hillary could claim that she could hold the blue states more effectively, but with her out of the picture, nothing indicates that Obama wouldn’t do well. The biggest problem Obama will have will be the purple states — states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, and others that barely went red or blue in 2000 and 2004. If McCain makes the case that Obama is too much a lockstep liberal and big-spending statist, the battleground states will make all the difference — and McCain’s maverick track record gives him the inside track for the center.
The ascent of John McCain to the apparent Republican nomination has discouraged some conservatives, who have expressed a willingness to sit out 2008 and let a Democrat win the White House. They claim, hyperbolically, that no real policy differences exist between McCain and either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, and that having a Democrat take the blame for the coming debacle will make it easier to elect Republicans later. An interesting analysis of the direction of the Supreme Court in the Washington Post should serve as a reminder of one area that will turn out very differently:
The increasingly conservative court has said often of late that it is getting out of the business of finding a right to sue that is not explicitly stated in the law — what lawyers call an “implied cause of action.”
Two discrimination cases that the court heard last week, both concerning retaliation, made plain that a sizable number of justices are deeply resistant to finding such rights and to expanding those it previously recognized. …
“I agree with you entirely that it would make sense to provide a cause of action for retaliation, but we don’t write statutes,” Scalia said. “We read them. And there’s nothing in this statute that says that.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wondered whether the court’s respect for stare decisis should extend to cases it believes were wrongly decided, and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said he could not find a way to read the law that gave plaintiffs the right they wanted.
The election will present American voters with real choices on policy, especially on taxation, foreign policy, expansion of government, and national security issues, despite the complaints of the disappointed. It also provides a stark choice on the direction of the judiciary.
At least two Supreme Court justices will likely leave in the next four years, both of them from the Left, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The election will determine whether the court continues to turn in a more constructionist direction, forcing policy back to Congress where it belongs, or whether activists can outlast the constructionists. Jurists nominated by Obama or Hillary will have a much different idea of the Supreme Court’s role than those nominated by McCain.
Elections matter. The next President will have a mandate to determine the direction not just of the Supreme Court but the entire federal bench. Conservatives can either help ensure that the work begun to get the judiciary out of the policy-imposition business will continue or allow it to get reversed.