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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tough Spot for Clinton and Obama

The United States Senate's biggest vote of the year came and went this week. The war has been re-funded. The Democrats lost. The Republicans won. Might this be foreshadowing? The results of the vote encompass two huge factors in the 2008 Race to the White House.

1. Now, more than ever, every vote on the Senate floor by Presidential candidates will become campaign fodder for multiple opponents. Example #1: Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted no on a bill that effectively funded our troops. This will ruffle many feathers. Example #2: Senator John McCain voted yes on a bill that effectively extended a war many consider un-winnable. This will ruffle many feathers. This vote alone cost each of these candidates an unknown chunk of votes, in the primary and the general election.

This, of course, is the reason why a Senator has won a Presidential election once in the last eighty years (that's one in twenty elections). Constantly voting on bills that the entire country will not agree on is hurtful to a campaign. A typical Congressman - that is, one that's not running for President or is named Lieberman - mostly worries about representing the local constituency. A candidate running for a national mandate has a much more difficult time appealing to a national audience, as written earlier in the week. This Iraq War funding bill epitomizes this point.

2. This war vote tells us how either A) incompetent or B) impotent this Democratic majority is when it comes to dealing with the biggest political issue in the country. Clearly, the Democrats took both chambers of Congress riding the coattails of an unpopular war. That's why they won. Now that they're in, has anything changed? They wanted steady troop reduction. They wanted a timetable for complete withdrawal. They produce bills with literature saying as such. What they got, however, was exactly what the President and the Republicans wanted. Not a good job by the Dems.

This, however, might be better for Democrats in the long term, and here's how: First, if the war continues to frustrate Americans, the Democrats can blame the Republican President for slowing down the Democratic agenda. Second, a Democratic Congress was powerless to reverse the Presidents agenda. The veto power of the executive was too much to overcome without a supermajority, and let's face it, this country is too equally divided for the Democrats to achieve 2/3 majority in 2008. So what must happen for the government to finally reflect the stance of the public?

A Democrat must be in the White House.

Another Democratic Congress will be equally powerless to change course if John McCain or Rudy Giuliani are in the White House. If voters want change, they need to elect a Democratic executive to go along with a Democratic legislature (and then John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg can finally retire without fear of nearly completely losing the bench).

Until Election '08, look for Republicans to tirelessly propose bills that require a vote from Clinton and Obama that will divide the country. This is master politics before an election. We're talking Karl Rove doing everything this side of walking into the well of the House to propose bills himself. They will start pushing initiatives that will put Clinton and Obama into very entangled voting situations. The other Senate Democrats running, Biden and Dodd, will have little problem voting down every GOP proposed bill that comes their way, as they need to concentrate solely on the primaries. Clinton and Obama, however, both have one eye on the general election.

Tough spot.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How Madison and Co. Tried to Save Us From This

(Editor's note: It's been brought to my attention that a way to separate my political columns from the rest of the smorgasbord of blogs was to infuse one of my other loves: history. So, here goes nothing.)

It was the most brilliant section of one of the most brilliant publications in the history of man. That would be an accurate description of James Madison's Federalist #10.

The tie in to presidential politics? Federalist #10 lectured its readers on the necessity for the President to be appealing to a wide range of people. Madison argues it's easy for a local Congressman to embody a caricature of what his constituents are looking for in a representative. You're in the Iowa 4th district? Ethanol rules! You're in the Connecticut 2nd? Go sub base! You're in the California 30th? Take care of our environment! Nevada 1st? Labor rules! Kansas 4th? Hail Mary! Florida 17th? Vamanos, amigos!

It's that simple when you're a candidate for Congress.

But when you're a candidate for President? It's a whole different ballgame. You have to try to appeal to the Iowa 4th AND the Florida 17th. You have to woo Texas voters by lauding the second amendment while simultaneously telling Massachusetts that we need stricter gun control. If you don't cross appeal, you might be okay, but you better make darn sure that none of your base is even thinking about going with the other guy, or you're toast.

Madison and other Constitutional Framers knew this, of course. It's why they did it! They understood that a Greek-like democracy, with no central, unifying figure, would be torn apart by competing factions. It'd be mob rule. The President and Vice-President, as the only nationally elected members of our government, should find a way to bring the country together. It is through this motivation that, for years, Presidents were elected on their ability to moderate themselves and appeal to as many different types of Americans as possible.

Then, however, there was President Bush, and not without fault, John Kerry. Perhaps beginning in the election of 2000, and certainly solidified in 2004, the country turned into two factions: Red States and Blue States. To win an election meant to solidify your political base and get two out of three swing states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida) to your side. The product of this strategy is 40% of the country all but ignored. Regardless of who ended up winning the election, there were going to be a lot of people displeased with the results. It's hasn't been this drastic since the election of 1860.

Now, as we enter our first election Post President Bush, who knows how this election will be won? Will we have a Clintonian or Reaganesque unifier? Or will we have someone who finds and exploits the political divide, further pulling apart a steadily entrenched and close-minded country in order to win an election? Will there be two candidates blindly pulling at the wishbone that is America (ironically the land where wishes supposedly come true)?

Ultimately, will 2000 and 2004 be a fluke, or is it the new norm?

All I know is, James Madison is rolling in his grave.
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