Saturday, February 09, 2008

Unintentional brilliance

CNN's Wolf Blitzer just noted that lingering GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee "captured Kansas decisively ... in Kansas."

Yep, sounds about right.

A tribute to Multiple Choice Mitt

The week shouldn't pass without a remembrance of Mitt Romney, the presidential contender who shared your values. Always.

You guys are pro-choice? Hey, cool, so is he. Well, I mean, he was. Before he remembered he was passionately pro-life. After hyping his endorsement from a pro-choice group during his run for the Massachusetts governorship. And admitting he was "effectively pro-choice" as recently as 2005.

You're all about supporting equal treatment for gays? Hey, he was even stronger on gay rights than Ted Kennedy. Until he realized he was vehemently against the scourges of gay people being allowed to get marriage licenses or serve in the military.

You say you're from Michigan? Say, what a coincidence, because that's his home state, too. Before it became Massachusetts, of course. And there was that time he was from Utah, too. And that summer house in New Hampshire. And...

Poke fun if you must. But before you bid adieu to Romney, bestow upon him the fulsome praise he deserves for the valuable lessons he shared with a grateful nation before he dropped out of the Republican presidential race this week.

Without Romney, how would you have known that the same person could argue that only "a person of faith" is qualified to be president, then turn around and argue that a candidate should not be elected or rejected due to religion?

Without Romney, how would you have known that someone could oppose "the surrender to terror" by surrendering a presidential campaign that got its clock cleaned on Super Tuesday?

And without Romney, how would you have known that a wealthy businessman could spend $30 million of his own money on a White House bid, only to get trounced at the ballot box and get served in a public battle with a computer-generated snowman?

So farewell to the last (kinda, sorta, maybe) great hope for true American conservatism, whose glory days still must be ahead. After all, if Romney is a loyal GOP soldier and doesn't take any more road trips with the dog on the car roof, John McCain surely will pick him as a running mate to burnish his conservative credentials in the Deep South this fall.

Until he remembers Romney didn't win in those places, either.

The Punch is spiked at last

Could it be? Could it be that Alabama has liberated itself from the viselike grip of the Punch Heard 'Round the World once and for all?

State Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, told his colleagues Thursday that he'd accept his punishment for punching Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, in the head last year -- and he won't even sue over it, either. "I'm going to treat everyone in this Senate the same way I want to be treated," Bishop said.

See how easy that was, guys? Now, everyone get to work. There's a budget crisis that's waiting patiently for your attention.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

We'd never miss it, right?

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Sounds like a great idea. Too bad this may be about to happen.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Late observations on Super Tuesday

Round two of banter about projections, exit polls, momentum, delegate counts, and wall-to-wall television punditry:
  • Barack Obama has won 13 states thus far to Hillary Clinton's eight, but she claimed a big prize today in California, where early returns indicate she's building a margin that's larger than expected. Still, as the pundits have told us time and again, it's the delegate count that matters, and the early indication is that the national split will be about 50/50.
  • John McCain has taken 10 states, but today's biggest winner could be Mike Huckabee, who may well have shored up the Republicans' vice presidential nomination with triumphs in the GOP strongholds of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee. The shock with which the talking heads have greeted the idea that a Southern Baptist preacher would do well in the South has been an endless source of amusement.
  • Clinton's campaign strategist called her Massachusetts win an upset. So it's supposed to be an upset for someone to win in a state where she has led from the beginning and had a seven-point edge in the polls going into today? Really?
  • Creatively named "upsets" aside, the biggest surprise on the Democratic side was Obama's win in Connecticut. The Northeast is Clinton's home turf, a region where she sewed up Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York with relative ease. Her campaign can't be comforted by a loss there.
  • Mitt Romney is done. So very, very done. Who ever would have expected Republican primary voters to reject a guy from Massachusetts who until recently was pro-choice and supported gay rights?
  • Caucuses are Obama's friends. The Iowa caucus vaulted him to prominence, and tonight he's rolled to enormous margins of victory in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, and North Dakota. One possible explanation: Caucuses tend to attract parties' hardcore political junkies, and Obama's support is greater among them. Another possible explanation: Caucuses tend to happen in the West and Midwest, where Obama's support appears to be stronger. A third possible explanation: It's all just an accident of circumstance.
  • Regionalism has continued on the Democratic side. So far, Obama has dominated in the Midwest, and Clinton has swept all the Northeastern states except Connecticut. The wildcards are the West and South, where Obama seems to have a narrow edge right now.
  • Republican contenders keep dropping out, but Ron Paul's vote share stays about the same. As determined and fervent as his supporters may be, a second-place finish in Montana just won't be enough to make it happen.
  • The Clinton campaign made a tactical error by letting Obama have the last word tonight. Had they held off the speech until the media called California for their candidate, Clinton could have made a good case that she had the momentum going forward. As it is, they ceded the traditional "winner's slot" to Obama and helped ensure the narrative instead will be more about Obama's ascendancy.
  • Sure, you mock the American Samoa caucus now. But those three delegates will split 2-1 for Clinton, and as close as the race appears, who's to say that won't be the difference?
The race goes on and on and on. Wouldn't it be funny if this turned out to be the year when Alabama's primaries, for once, would have gotten more attention by staying in June?

Early observations on Super Tuesday

Scattered election notes, in no particular order...
  • Alabama has done its part for Barack Obama. The Illinois senator leads Hillary Clinton 56 percent to 41 percent with 70 percent of precincts reporting. Though he dropped out late last month, John Edwards has more than 5,500 votes.
  • The national media sure moved quickly in calling Alabama for Mike Huckabee, doing so even before the Obama projection. For a while there, John McCain was up by several points despite the check mark by Huckabee's name. But the former Arkansas governor has begun to pull away, leading 41 percent to 38 percent with 69 percent reporting.
  • It's been a better than expected day for Huckabee, who has claimed Alabama, Arkansas, and West Virginia and is running close in several other Southern states. Mitt Romney has taken Massachusetts and Utah, but unless he gets a sizable win in California, it's hard to see how he can hope to stay in the race given the high hopes with which he entered the day. As I suggested a few weeks ago, it's probably down to McCain and Huckabee for the GOP, with a McCain nomination now looking all but inevitable.
  • Barring a serious mistake by one side or the other, there's a real chance the Clinton-Obama race could go all the way to the convention, with the so-called "super-delegates" (a concept that should be abolished) anointing one of them in a decision that would enrage half of the party base.
  • Bill Richardson has responded to the disappointment of his failed presidential bid in much the same way Al Gore did: by growing an ultra-scraggly beard.
  • Huckabee earned points with me by issuing forth a "Roll Tide Roll" during his victory speech in Arkansas. Seconds later, he lost them back and then some by suggesting he'd like to sing "Rocky Top." Pick a side, Mike.
More thoughts to come later.

The Punch yet lives

Thought you'd heard the last of the Punch Heard 'Round the World when a Senate committee decided to drop the matter last week?

Think again. Today, mere hours into Alabama's 2008 legislative session, 19 Democratic senators approved a resolution allowing the Senate to vote, if it later chooses, to require that any lawmaker who hits someone on the floor be accompanied by a security guard. You know, just in case any lawmakers happen to do that sort of thing in the future. But such a hypothetical lawmaker could have the restriction lifted by finishing anger management.

In other, surely unrelated news, a group of legislators today stripped Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, of most of his committee assignments. When Bishop left the building shortly thereafter, he was, to put it charitably, displeased.

One day down, 29 to go. Learn to love the gridlock.

Newspaper and blog endorsements galore

As I did for the 2006 general election, I've compiled a list of newspaper endorsements for today's Alabama presidential primaries. Unlike 2006, I also included links to the opinions of some major state bloggers, because there seems to be a wider array of views this year than in 2006. My thanks again go out to Doc's Political Parlor for making it easy to find so many of these.

Let me know if I've omitted any noteworthy nods that offer at least a couple of paragraphs of explanation, and I'll add them ASAP. (Only one endorsement per party per site, please.) Here's the list:

Hillary Clinton: Anniston Star, Daily Home (Talladega), Decatur Daily, Montgomery Advertiser, Times-Journal (Fort Payne), Birmingham Blues

Mike Huckabee: None found

John McCain: Anniston Star, Birmingham News, Crimson White, Daily Home (Talladega), Decatur Daily, Montgomery Advertiser, TimesDaily (Florence), Times-Journal (Fort Payne), Tuscaloosa News, Doc's Political Parlor*

Barack Obama: Birmingham News, Crimson White, Selma Times-Journal, TimesDaily (Florence), Tuscaloosa News, Daily Dixie, Doc's Political Parlor*, Hey Jenny Slater, Practically Harmless, Red State Diaries, World Around You

Ron Paul: Daily Dixie, Flashpoint

Mitt Romney: None found

* This endorsement came from guest poster Chauncey Sparks, not the site owner, Danny.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The case for Barack Obama

When I started Red State Diaries more than three years ago, the political atmosphere was even more polluted than it is now.

It was mere days after the 2004 presidential election, a hostile affair that had devolved on each end into barely contained hatred and thinly veiled contempt for the opposing side, and the prospects of healing the nation's 51/49 rift any time soon seemed distant at best. Still, retaining hope that our country could unite again with a common sense of purpose and trying to find others who felt the same way, I added my voice to what was then a relatively small contingent of Alabama bloggers. The site's original tagline said it all: "The musings of an Alabama moderate in a country that isn't as divided as it thinks."

More than 1,300 posts later, the tagline has changed -- I decided moderate was too subjective and went with the more objective independent label instead -- but the sentiment hasn't. I still long for leadership that plays not to the base but to everyone, leadership that tries to bring us together instead of trying to tear us apart, leadership that appeals to our best instincts rather than our darkest fears. After decades of bitter division, I believe our country finally has a chance for that sort of leadership, and I believe that leader's name is Barack Obama.

* * *
The slumping economy is the No. 1 issue for a sizable number of Americans, recent national polls have shown, but for me this election comes down to one word: Iraq. The war has caused tens of thousands of deaths, distracted from our mission in Afghanistan, tarnished our image in the world community, suffered from the Bush administration's botched planning from the very start, prompted tens of billions of dollars of deficit spending, and -- yes -- contributed in no small part to the recession that's either already here or will be soon. For all the talk, mostly from Republicans, that "the surge is working," the fact is that the Iraqis have made virtually no progress toward the political stability vital to any lasting peace, and the surge simply is unsustainable with many soldiers already on their third or fourth tours of duty.

Anyone who plans to keep our soldiers in Iraq with no clear end in sight will not get my vote. That measure rules out every Republican candidate except Ron Paul, whose love for the gold standard and sponsorship of legislation that would strip federal courts of the power to hear cases on gay marriage and state governments' establishment of religion, among other things, must lead me to decline the generous offer to join his revolution.

So that brings it down to a choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom have spent roughly the same amount of time in elective office. They are veritable mirror images on a range of domestic policy issues, including taxes, health care, energy, and environmental protection. Each also pledges to end the Iraq war as quickly as possible and redirect our efforts toward pursuing al-Qaeda. Despite some minor policy divergences, their websites indicate the similarities far outnumber the differences.

But the presidency is about more than just making promises; it's about making correct decisions. And when the Iraq war debate came around in 2002-03, Obama made the right assessment, while Clinton didn't. Well before any insurgencies or "Mission Accomplished" banners or dire State of the Union warnings, scores of Middle East experts and other observers publicly warned that the decision to go to war for proffered reasons that, to be generous, turned out to be not quite accurate, would leave our nation mired in just the sort of difficulties we face now.

Have no doubt that Clinton and Obama -- highly educated, politically astute people -- both heard those analyses. Obama responded with a passionate speech against the war. Clinton responded with an oscillating speech and a vote to authorize the war. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but all other things being roughly equal, it sure does make a great tiebreaker.

Intrinsics also make a great tiebreaker, and Obama has a solid edge over Clinton here. Due partly to some controversial campaign tactics and partly to her opponents' unforgiving, otherworldly antipathy for her, Clinton has been a lightning rod for a decade and a half, inspiring intense loyalty among many voters but intense hatred among many others. Fairly or not, her negative ratings are quite sizable, and if she becomes the Democratic nominee, the country will be well on its way to another 51/49 election that will drag the electorate into another period of destructive, counterproductive "us vs. them" politics.

Obama is a fresh face who hasn't evoked nearly as many fiery negative responses. He also is able to reach out to many people who already have written off Clinton as an option. Obama's stump speeches, laden with rhetorical flourishes and repeated calls for unity and hope, have earned him tremendous support from millions of young voters and independents, and even some old-school conservatives. Among the last category is a lifelong GOP voter who attended a jam-packed rally in Birmingham last week and put it this way: "I've spent the past few elections voting against a candidate. This time, I'm voting for Obama."

* * *
The very first thing I posted on this site was a mission statement. I wrote it partly to introduce my writings to a world of strangers, but more importantly to have a reminder of the principles that inspired me to start writing here in the first place. At the risk of sounding too self-absorbed, allow me to quote the 2004 version of myself: "We live in an unhealthy environment where honest political debate has been replaced by a mindless shouting match, where demagogues can win elections with promises to discriminate against an irrationally feared minority, where people are told they hate America if they deviate from the accepted party line. It's a wretched environment for democracy, for basic human decency, and for our future. It has to change."

Indeed it does. That's why my personal endorsement for Tuesday -- and with any luck, for this fall, too -- goes to Barack Obama.

It turns out that they're just people, too

Interested in a little-known fact about each remaining presidential contender? Sure you are. These gems come from the bottomless wellspring of wonder and merriment that is Wikipedia.

Hillary Clinton: She spent the summer of 1969 on a journey through Alaska, including stints as a dishwasher at Denali National Park and a salmon slimer at a fish cannery.

Mike Gravel: Though he grew up in western Massachusetts, he spoke only French until age 7.

Mike Huckabee: His band, Capitol Offense, has opened shows for Grand Funk Railroad, Willie Nelson, and Percy Sledge.

John McCain: As a young man, his high school nicknames included "Punk" and "McNasty," and he once dated an exotic dancer known as Marie the Flame of Florida.

Barack Obama: His brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, is the head basketball coach at Brown University. (This one actually came from his wife's Wikipedia page, but I'll still count it.)

Ron Paul: As a teenager, he was a Pennsylvania track star who delivered milk to baseball hall-of-famer Honus Wagner.

Mitt Romney: He's a big Roy Orbison fan, but you'll need to keep the eggplant far away from his plate.

Bite-sized presidential trail mix

Just because I haven't written about the presidential primaries here in a few weeks, that doesn't mean I haven't kept up with them. Here are a dozen full-blown posts I've neglected to write on a timely basis -- each conveniently condensed into a single (though occasionally long) sentence.
Stay tuned for more fun facts and actual, substantive discussion of the White House race -- or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I, I... I just saw that

Eli Manning just played in the Super Bowl. And was on the winning team. And was the MVP for the winning team. And deserved it. Because he led a two-minute drill to win the game of his life. Over the team of the decade. Which was an unprecedented 18-0 at the time. And being billed as the greatest team in history. Ever. Kind of like a certain college football team was a few years ago.

Also, if I didn't know better, I'd think that toward the end of the game, I saw a commercial with a man jump-starting a vehicle via nipple clamps. But surely I had to be mistaken.