Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Massachusetts Miracle?

Next week in Massachusetts, a special election to fill the Senate seat of the departed Ted Kennedy will take place. The Republican candidate Scott Brown has overcome a huge 30 point deficit in the polls to pull within two points of Democrat Martha Coakley, according to a recent Rasmussen poll. With less than a week to go before the election, the candidates took the stage for a last debate.

The physical contrast was striking. A fit and chiseled Brown (he once posed in the buff for Cosmopolitan) looked ready for action. Though appearing pale and almost lethargic, Coakley interrupted Brown on issues she felt played to her advantage, mainly abortion. This could be a mistake. As Creigh Deeds found out in Virginia, the social issues seem to have taken a back seat to the economy. On his short side, Brown didn't have much to offer on the economic side except tax cuts and stopping Obamacare as the 41st Republican Senator. For Republicans, that may be enough, but will it convince the 50 percent of Massachusetts voters who call themselves Independents?

Also, on stage was third party candidate, Joe Kennedy (no relation to Ted) who was a pretty much a one trick pony devoted to stopping spending. When Moderator David Gergen drew him out as to how to cut spending, Kennedy took the bait and said he'd go after entitlements like medicare and social security. After this political self-immolation, Gergen (looking rather old himself-I guess he needs to get back to those soft lights on CNN) tossed a softball to Coakley about how her campaign was going. Her tepid response said volumes about a candidate that seems to want to appear substantive without actually saying anything specific. She couldn't even nail the fattest of political pitches. Her flat response about working hard landed with a thud.

Her other responses were the usual Democratic rote about that dastardly pair Bush/Cheney or about how something must be done on health care. The moronic "anything is better than the status quo" argument doesn't hold water because we don't really know what the "anything" is. More importantly, we don't' know how will we pay for "the anything". Coakley simply said it's deficit neutral, leaving out the half-billion in cuts for the Medicare program that may or may not occur.

Before the debate, state Democrats may have hurt Coakley by saying even if Brown is elected they will hold up his swearing in until the health care vote is taken in D.C. This delay could be as long as a month, unlike a recent Democrat special election winner Nikki Tsongas, who was sworn in two days after her special election win. This brazen con job doesn't help the Democratic brand, the health care debate or Coakley. It simply highlights the rapacious one party system in the Bay state.

With regard to foreign policy, what Coakley stands for is largely a mystery. However, she wants to give Al-Qaeda civilian trials and she asserts that Al-Qaeda has withdrawn from Afghanistan and the U.S. should pull out. This last claim makes the false assumption that if we left Afghanistan that Bin Laden and company would not return. Brown hammered Coakley on her anti-war stance, her support of Al-Qaeda civilian trials, particularly the Christmas Day Bomber. He also showed up her dubious claim of an Al Qaeda free Afghanistan by pointing out that Bin Laden and the boys would love Afghanistan as a base to topple Pakistan and, thereby, get nuclear missiles.

What was the final tally? This observer would say Brown bested Coakley, but more on energy and image than actual arguments or rebuttals. Before somebody says Brown is all fluff, you have to say that JFK wasn't exactly known for his substantive policies before becoming president. His young handsome countenance was a marked difference from the aged warrior Ike or the rather oily Richard Nixon. Image was important then as now. In their famous TV debate, Kennedy won among TV viewers, while Nixon actually was preferred by radio listeners. In the current Senate debate, Scott Brown looked engaged and energized, while Coakley seemed distant and sported a rather thin smug smile from time to time.

In a sense, Scott Brown has already won. Everyone now knows how amazingly weak the Democratic party is in a race that should have been a cakewalk. Now this could be an early protest vote against a radically unpopular Democratic governor, Obama pal Deval Patrick. His lone achievement, if you can call it that, has been to raise the sales tax. With his approval numbers in the low thirties, Patrick stands little chance of re-election this year. Even a visit by President Obama failed to stir enthusiasm at a Patrick fundraiser in December that was sparsely attended.

Given the anti-Washington, anti-Beacon Hill mood, a flaccid machine candidate like Coakley could lose. However, should Brown lose by a point or two, the damage will have been done. In the original blue state, the message will be unmistakable. Democrats ran the last two cycles against incumbency as change agents. Now they are the incumbents. Having offered wild spending, more taxes and 10% unemployment, the Democrats are about to feel the pain of the electorate in a most visceral way. In head spinning fashion, the former agents of "change" are now in danger of being changed. If the facts could be a rally cry, it might be "change the change!"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Biggest Cynic

It's been over twenty posts since I started here. While I'm a firm believer in Satchel Paige logic that marking milestones can be dangerous, I thought it might be appropriate to tell you little bit more about myself. In the immortal words of Elwood Blues "My brother would like to become increasingly intimate . . . with you"

Now I'm part of a group that has been pilloried at length by many during the last two years. Candidate and now President Obama rails on us and our outlook at almost every turn. We were bashed in the West Point speech. He even flayed us in his second Christmas Bomber speech from dreamy Hawaii. While we never get the top billing on the villain list that "extremists" (actually jihadists) or Republicans receive, we are always brought up for the usual sucker punch. I have no idea what's in the State of the Union speech except for the usual unpaid for handouts and mandates, but I'm rather certain that our group will be brought up for the usual drubbing.

You see I am a cynic and life under Obama is tough. Now before you simply equate cynicism with simple greed, let me say we are concerned with "the self" When you think about it, our Greek school of philosophy predates that whole West Coast Zen Buddhist thing which runs along similar rails. Left coaster Mr. Star Wars George Lucas calls himself a cynical optimist. We try to help the world through ourselves.

Now can a greedy slug be cynical? Sure and it's easy to get the two confused. Take Bill Clinton- a man of immense appetites. The women, the food (until heart surgery) White House furniture all flowed toward the maw that was Bill. Even now remnants remain, like the unending flow of cash from Saudi Arabia into the Clinton Foundation. Old greedy ways never die.

In the interest of bipartisan ship, I would posit that Richard Nixon was a total cynic. It is hard to admit, because he hurt so many, but the truth stands. Nixon could take any adversity and spin it for his own advantage. Whether it was a personal adversity like the Chequers Speech when Nixon was caught with hand in the political money cookie jar or the country wide chaos of 1968. Nixon deftly spun any crisis his way. Of course, that eventually led to the idea that virtually any deed legal or not could be taken and consequences could be avoided. Say hello to Watergate, Mr. President.

Now we have a President, rising to power in the midst of a great crisis, who seems positively repulsed by cynics. Thou doth protest too much? We got an inkling of the budding cynic within when Obama opted out of campaign finance rules for his own benefit. He played by the rules until it was best not to. The dance followed the same steps with C-span and health care. He was going to televise health care negotiations until it didn't serve his political interests. Too many people seem to oppose Obamacare and further exposure could get them riled up. Probably the most odious/Nixonian cynical move was putting troops in Afghanistan in 2010, but beginning to pull them out in 2011. The goal seems to have all troops out by the 2012 election. This way Obama creates a positive military issue to land him back in the White House. This truly Nixonian move makes you wish that when it comes to the troops a different standard would apply, that personal power wouldn't always be the goal, especially with troops in the field. Is this a cynical use of the troops? Even a cynic can go too far.

Lately, the turn to the cynical side seems even more pronounced. On the eve, the Massachusetts Senate election, Obama declared war on the banks with hefty taxes even though the government had made a nice profit on TARP money loaned to said banks. The President said "Bankers don't need another vote in the United States Senate. They've got plenty" Perhaps most of the Senate has been bought by the banking industry. But that seems a rather cynical statement given the fact that the President himself is engaged in buying senate votes for Obamacare. Do I hear a Cornhusker Kickback or a Louisiana Purchase anyone?

Now, if Obama came out as a cynic, we could overlook some of the little stuff, like the truck.
Obama seemed fixated on the truck that Scott Brown campaigned in as some patently false prop. Perhaps it was, but Brown did put over two hundred thousand miles on it and pointedly corrected the President not everyone could buy a truck. I guess in the Washington world of bailouts and kickbacks a new truck is such a small item. It's like a nice parting gift on a game show. Johnny O, what fabulous parting gift do we have for Barry?

After getting clocked by the Massachusetts Miracle win of Scott Brown, what did the President do? Why he went chumming with regular folks in of all places Ohio. Ohio, that most pivotal of states that had John Kerry got a mere hundred thousand votes more, we might be in the second term of the Kerry Administration. Now it might appear cynical to flee to Ohio once your presidential career seems threatened. The president however had a different take. He simply wanted to "escape" from Washington. I would suggest that given the fact that Mike Huckabee is now leading Barrack Obama in the latest PPP poll, the Presidents' escape from Washington may not be all that long in coming. Or perhaps it's too cynical of me to suggest that end, especially without offering a parting gift, like a truck.