Do you guys really want to beat Obama?

The Republican Party was riding high in late 2010. They were just one month removed from sweeping changes in the midterm elections, including a gain of 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the largest change in any midterm since 1938. In December, President Barack Obama’s disapproval rating was at 54-percent, 12 points higher than his approval rating.

Obama’s numbers had rebounded some in January, when the new legislative class was sworn in, but the mission for the GOP was already clear: Make him a one-term president. Jimmy Carter v2.0.

And that mission is hardly a long shot. Real Clear Politics sets Obama’s job approval rating today at 52-percent. Hardly ironclad. This should be a slam dunk, right? Not if you’re playing ball like the Washington Generals.

The early rollout for the 2012 GOP field has been less than stellar. There is a large group of potential candidates that has not only lacked a clear frontrunner, but has also already seen a couple of popular candidates bail.

Huckabee

First to exit was Mike Huckabee, a well-known Republican who challenged for the GOP nom in ’08. The former governor of Arkansas had been polling well early, grabbing 20-percent of the votes in a Pew Research poll in early March (1 point back of Mitt Romney). Huckabee, on his TV show, called the decision a spiritual one. “All the factors say go, but my heart says no.”

He was followed out the door by Donald Trump, who – ironically – made a taped appearance on that very Huckabee show, saying:

“This might be considered by some people, not necessarily me, bad news because he is a terrific guy — and frankly I think he would be a terrific president. But a lot of people are very happy that he will not be running, especially other candidates.”

Trump

Trump is not one of those other candidates. He dropped out of the race just two days later, still convinced that he could win it all, but unwilling to give up the fantastic money he’s making in the business world.

Those actually in the race aren’t faring much better. Perennial field-filler Rick Santorum has already stepped in it, following up an average performance at the South Carolina GOP Debate with this epically ignorant statement about Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and torture:

“And so this idea that we didn’t ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, he (McCain) doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they’re broken, they become cooperative. And that’s when we got this information. And one thing led to another, and led to another, and that’s how we ended up with bin Laden.”

Santorum

Santorum was responding to McCain’s speech from the Senate floor, where he made the factually-based, but GOP-unpopular, argument that torture did not lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden. So you can make the argument that Santorum is wrong on his biggest point. But that’s not the most asinine thing he said. “He doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works.” Not only does McCain understand how it works, he was an active participant in the process, on the receiving end, while he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for 5 years. As his daughter, Meghan, tweeted: “Rick Santorum telling my father doesn’t know about torture is like Carrot Top telling Lebron James he doesn’t know about basketball.”

McCain may have been broken by the Viet Cong, but he never gave up valuable information about his fellow U.S. soldiers. He made one anti-American propaganda “confession,” but suffered even more torture – two to three beatings weekly – because he wouldn’t sign additional statements.

John McCain doesn’t understand the nature of enhanced interrogation? Good luck walking this one back, Rick.

But I don’t think anybody’s had a more disastrous week than Newt Gingrich. Walking proof that everything old is new again, Gingrich announced his candidacy just over a week ago, then immediately began destroying it. His first mistake was seeming to compare the Medicare reform plan set forth by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to “right-wing social engineering,” a comment that drew immediate backlash from seemingly every corner of the Republican party.

Gingrich

Gingrich, acting nothing like the veteran politician he is, tried to smooth it over, but succeeded only in making himself look worse. He claimed he wasn’t referring to Ryan’s plan, then proceeded to call the Representative and apologize anyway. He also warned any future opponents against using that quote in a commercial, saying “…any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood. Because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate and I’m prepared to stand up…”

GOP voters don’t appear to be buying it, as evidenced by this exchange with a citizen in Iowa:

Oh, it gets better. Gingrich was later accosted by a gay-rights activist at a book signing in Minnesota, who encouraged him to “feel the rainbow.”

And then there’s this: The man who wants to be the nominee of the party of fiscal responsibility once owed, or may still owe, between $200 and $500K to luxury jeweler Tiffany’s. Gingrich has said he won’t address the issue, calling it “Trivial Pursuit.” Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our candidates could get away with that? And money is certainly on Gingrich’s mind now, as it seems there’s concern his donors are now backing off.

So to recap: Huckabee and Trump are out, Santorum and Gingrich are Keystone Kopping it all over the place. That leaves Romney the GOP frontrunner, with 16.6-percent of the vote according to RCP. Huckabee and Trump are still running second and third, despite the fact they’re not running at all, with Palin – who hasn’t even announced if she’s running or not – sitting fourth, at 10.6-percent, nearly three points ahead of Gingrich.

RCP has even worse news for the Republican party: Obama leads the “Generic GOP Candidate” 42.8-37.8 on average (the Republican candidate is up 2 points according to Rasmussen, but behind 15 points according to NBC and 10 points according to Pew).

All of that said, Obama still isn’t a lock for a second term. We’re sitting just under 18 months away from Election Day 2012, an eternity in the world of politics. I get the sense that there’s a good chance that the eventual GOP nominee isn’t even a blip on the radar right now. As The Daily Show with Jon Stewart pointed out, it was looking like Rudy Guliani v. Hillary Clinton at this point in 2007, while Joe Lieberman was the Democrat frontrunner in the early stages of the 2004 race, leading eventual nom Jon Kerry 23-17.

President Cuomo?

Even more incredible? In May of 1991, Bill Clinton was polling at 0 and 1-percent in California and Florida respectively, trailing both Mario Cuomo and Jesse Jackson. Nearly nine years later the former Arkansas governor walked out of the White House with a 60-percent approval rating after two terms in office.

And he got into that White House by unseating a president who had squandered a bump in popularity after a successful military operation in the Middle East because of a weak economy.

Sound familiar? The Republicans can find themselves on the other side of history, but there’s still a lot of work for them to do.

–qcfm

2012 race starts with a “Meh”

Image courtesy Today's News NJ

The South Carolina GOP Debate, where "Who's who" meets "Who's that?"

As far as JV games go, it was pretty typical. The first debate in the 2012 race for the White House, hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party, featured a couple of guys who looked like they were ready to elevate themselves to varsity status, one who seemed comfortable where he is, and one dude who might enjoy finding another extracurricular activity…art or music, maybe?

The debate, hosted live by Fox News, was watched by a Frank Luntz focus group. That group scored former radio talk show host/pizza chain CEO Herman Cain the runaway winner. I didn’t see it quite like that. Here’s my scorecard from the less-than-thrilling evening.

1. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) – T-Paw needed a good night, and he got one. This was his chance to prove he was ready to play on the same court with the big boys, to shed the “nice, but boring” image. He’s still not the most exciting guy on the dais, but he did have a little more fire than normal. He painted himself as well-traveled and in touch with the problems and, most importantly, didn’t dodge the questions. The most telling exchange came when he was asked about changing his position on “cap-and-trade.” He had this to say:

What i concluded subsequently is it is really a bad idea. Not in the last six months. I sent a letter congress I think about two years ago. And other times have said, I was wrong, I was a mistake and I’m sorry. It is ham fisted, it is going to be harmful to the economy.

Pawlenty admitted the mistake and showed how, with new information, he changed course. That’s a respectable stand that most politicians won’t make, because admitting you made a mistake is a fantastic way to not get re-elected. The audience seemed cool with it, though. T-Paw was also willing to give props to Pres. Obama on getting bin Laden, something that has been difficult for Republicans to do.

Let’s be frank…T-Paw didn’t create a lot of buzz for himself with this performance, but I think it’s the kind of consistent performance that could help him in the long run.

2. Herman Cain (GA) – This man captured the buzz in a way Pawlenty can only dream of. Cain is a big presence in any room, with a stern glare and booming voice. He is well polished, too, thanks in part to the fact he hosted his own talk radio show in Atlanta (it ended in February of this year). The buzz came with plenty of buzzwords to surround his performance. The Luntz Bunch said things like “a breath of fresh air,” “common sense,” and “clear and concise.”

But while I put Cain second in performance, I’m still not sold on his staying power. Most of his bullet-point answers came with three points – and as S.E. Cupp pointed out hilariously, he only got to three points of a four-point answer – and while he’s good with a quip, it’s not clear yet (because he’s so new on the scene) if there’s any depth behind them. As one member of the Luntz Bunch described him, “Talking points, no real solutions.”

This is not to say Cain can’t win. I’m only pointing out that for a man who has never run a successful political campaign, the 18-month run-up to November 2012 is going to present a lot of challenges. His ability to solve those challenges will prove if he’s capable of winning the nomination.

3. Rep. Ron Paul (TX) – It was a very Ron Paul-ian performance by the Texas Libertarian. He brought the house down with his discussion of the legalization of heroin and prostitution, a stance that seemed to irk the South Carolina GOP (unfortunately I’ve lost the link to that story). Paul drew several rounds of applause, including for advocating for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Paul is an interesting voice in the GOP race. He helps drive the discussion in ways that are important if uncomfortable for the Republicans. This current batch of GOPers advocate for getting government out of the way and out of our personal lives, but they only seem to mean it when it comes to the financials. Paul is willing to take it much farther, advocating for not only heroin and hookers, but also for allowing gays and lesbians to marry. If the Republicans hope to snare independents and moderates who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal, Paul is the man who can help them do it. Paul’s views are seen by many as eccentric and “out there,” leaving him unlikely to win. But maybe he doesn’t have to. Maybe it’s enough to drive the debate in different directions.

4. Sen. Rick Santorum (PA) – Santorum is, as The Root contributor David Swerdlick says, what a GOP candidate would look like if you had to “concoct the stereotypical Republican candidate in a science lab.” T-Paw gets the knock for being boring only because of the distaste Santorum’s conservative social views have stirred up (if you have a really, really strong stomach, Google the word “Santorum” to see the sexual neologism created after he went on record comparing homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia). Santorum was as plastic as can be expected in the SC GOP debate, landing no wild haymakers but drawing nice rounds of applause for being, well, Rick Santorum. The JV game suits Santorum well. He’s not ready for the varsity game, though.

5. Gov. Gary Johnson (NM) – Poor Gary. He seems like a nice enough guy, but he was clearly out of his comfort zone in this debate. His elbows were pinned to his ribs and his hands spent most of the night nervously rubbing against things. Those tics made it hard for me to hear his message, which I understand is the “far out” right (he’s made no secrets of marijuana use). The only other thing I’ll remember about Johnson is line, delivered early on in the proceedings:

“Hey, there’s been like nine questions for these guys and none for me.”

Sorry, Gary. You weren’t doing much with the opportunities anyway.

The next chance for the Republican field to create some Cain-esque buzz – and for Cain to keep it rolling – is just about a month away. CNN and WMUR are co-sponsoring a debate June 13. It will air at 7 p.m. (Central) on CNN.

–QCFM

Great victories don’t always equal great electoral success

Screen cap from Real Clear PoliticsWords, I’ve found, are completely inadequate to describe some things. That includes my feelings when I found out, May 1, that Osama bin Laden is dead. It wasn’t really joy – I’ve yet to feel that over the death of anyone – but it wasn’t sadness, either. It was somewhere in between melancholy, peace and pride. I was sad for all of those who have suffered because of bin Laden’s evil, at peace knowing he could hurt no one else, and proud of my country and my military for making sure that was the case.

The past few days have been maddening, watching those on the left and right spin this for their own benefit, using it to validate their point of view and invalidate the other. Those angles have all been covered, I’m sure, by people who are much more interested in that kind of thing than I am. But there is one thing I don’t believe I’ve seen addressed.

The question was posed – in several places – Does this ensure Obama’s re-election in 2012. I think the answer is “Not necessarily.” Recent history bears that out.

In early 1991, after the liberation of Kuwait, George H.W. Bush’s job approval ratings skyrocketed up to nearly 90%. It didn’t last long. Soon thereafter, as they economy soured, so did the public’s opinion of him. By ’92 unemployment hit 7.8% and his approval was down to 40%. In 1993 he was out of a job, replaced by Bill Clinton.

It was the same for his son, George W. Bush. The United States invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 and Bush’s approval ratings skyrocketed to about 85%.  But a slow, steady declined followed and by the time the U.S. entered Iraq it was down to 60% and Bush just eked out re-election against John Kerry. By the time hurricanes Katrina and Rita had ravaged the country, his job approval was in the 40s.

All of that hardly makes Barack Obama’s current 51.3% approval rating seem unbeatable. His undoing as president could be the same as it was for H.W. Bush. In the words of James Carville – during the Clinton campaign – “The economy, stupid.”

–QCFM

How serious are we about fixing the deficit?

I apologize for the scarcity of posts. I won’t bore you with the details, but the end of the semester has been insanely busy. I hope to be back on a more regular schedule soon. This one will be quick and dirty.

I saw Joe Scarborough struggle to keep a straight face as he read this poll on his show, “Morning Joe.” It’s funny, but in a sad way. A McClatchy-Marist poll last week showed that an incredible 80% of all respondents opposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, two of the United States’ biggest entitlement programs. Wow! As for Democrats, 92% of them oppose those cuts, as do 75% of independents.

Tell me, how are those people planning to fix the deficit mess if they’re not willing to make changes to entitlement programs? Thank goodness we have the Republicans – shamed back to their conservative roots by the 2008 election – to show us the way. How many of them oppose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid? What’s that? Did you say 73%? Holy smokes.

Okay, so maybe the Tea Partiers will save us. Surely they will know we need to make fixes to our entitlement programs, reign in spending, etc. etc. etc.! How many of them oppose cuts? Wow. A whopping 70%. That’s a majority, holmes.

So the question, as the title of this post implies, is how serious are we about fixing the deficit? It’s looking like the answer is “not very.”

–QCFM

P.S. – The sign pictured is probably not legit, but something like this did happen. Check out this video, at about the 1:14 mark.

Debt fight! A game of honor and dimplomacy!

"...Debt fight! Tensions are high. Debt fight! Eye for eye.

I thought I might make a list of things I’m looking forward to over the next few weeks than I am the fight over the federal budget and our national debt. But that was taking too long, so I decided to make a list of things I’m dreading more than the budget/debt fight. But, I couldn’t come up with anything.

President Obama gave his speech outlining his deficit-reduction plan today, after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gave the GOP version. Commence finger pointing and name calling. Each side is accusing the other of not being serious about debt reduction. “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” said Obama. “The American people will not stand for (raising the debt limit) unless it is accompanied by serious action to reduce our deficit,” countered Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).

Both the Republican Democrat plans estimate they can shave about $4 billion off the debt over the next 10-12 years, but – of course – they have very different ideas about how to get there. Both of those plans – also of course – cling to traditional party ideologies. Boehner was very revealing on Sean Hannity’s radio show this afternoon, claiming he did the best he could for his “team” during the negotiations to keep the government from shutting down last week and he’ll keep fighting for his team. It’d be nice if he was fighting for Americans, but whatever.

The Tanned One told Hannity that they won’t budge of tax cuts, a stance for which he was praised. Hannity frequently claims he wants an “all hands on deck” strategy when it comes to energy policy, including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and green energies in working toward energy independence. He clearly doesn’t believe in the same approach when it comes to the deficit. None of the Republicans do, apparently. At a time when both sides agree it’s time to get “serious” about fixing our debt problem, it’s a shame Republicans are willing to take options off the table.

Raising taxes doesn’t have to be “soaking the rich,” as the Republicans call it. A small increase to the upper-level income earners can be a key piece of balancing our budget, and we don’t have to look any farther back than the Clinton administration. The top tax rate then – when we last had a balanced budget – was 39.6%. Under Obama it’s currently about 35%. Pushing it back up4.6% is hardly a soaking, especially when you consider it was 43.5% under Bush and went from 69.13% to 50% between 1981 and 1986 under Ronald Reagan. From there it went to 38.5% – close to the Clinton-era number – before falling to 28% over Reagan’s final 13 months.

But that alone isn’t going to fix things. Spending cuts are needed across the board, and it’s hard to imagine there should be any sacred cows right now. Democrats need to give some ground on Social Security, unemployment/welfare benefits, Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans need to allow meaningful cuts to our defense budget. World military expenditures reached an estimated $1.531 trillion in 2009. The U.S. was responsible for 46.5%. The next highest country was China, at 6.6%. In fact, you can add the expenditures of China, France, the U.K. and Russia and only come up with 18.1% Heck, add the next 10 countries to that total and you won’t equal what the U.S. spends on defense.

Defense, Social Security, unemployment/welfare, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s approximately 75.48% of the budget. None of them have to suffer too much if all of them suffer a little.

But there’s one big problem: 2012. There’s a big election coming and this fight over the deficit is going to be a prelude to what should be a particularly nasty election season. This will be all about team, not country. Don’t doubt that.

–QCFM

P.S. — If you don’t know where the title of this blog post came from, watch this: “Bat Fight,” on Funny or Die.

Friday Soundtrack, or a mental break

Oh, Régine.

Well, just when I thought it was safe to poke my head out again, here come the Republicans and Democrats to shut down the government over .17% of the federal budget. It’s the same games we’ve come to know and despise – an unrelated rider is attached to a bill, and the whole process of actually doing stuff grinds to a halt because of the unrelated rider. Beautiful, ladies and gents. Way to earn the paycheck.

Ugh.

I need a mental break. My latest checkout from the incredible Springfield-Greene County Library system is the Grammy-winning album “The Suburbs” by indie rockers Arcade Fire. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) is my favorite track of the album, as they lovely Régine Chassagne coos over pulsing synth: “Living in the sprawl / Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains / And there’s no end in sight / I need the darkness someone please cut the lights…”

Appropriate, I guess, since the federal government looks like it’s going dark for a little while. But I’m going to try not to think about that tonight and try to enjoy my weekend, at least for a little bit.

–QCFM

 

 

First they came for the menthols…

Courtesy: Chris MaddenThis Tuesday, April 5, I get to flex my democratic muscle once again. Love it! I’m pumped, even though my stance on one of the issues has drawn the ire of the other members of my household. I’ll explain.

One ballot measure, according to Springfield News-Leader reporter Amos Bridges, “would outlaw smoking indoors almost everywhere except private homes and vehicles, as well as outside in playgrounds and within 5 feet of prohibited areas.” I plan to vote “No” on this issue.

Full disclosure: I’m not a smoker. It’s been a good year since I’ve used tobacco of any kind, and there was another significant gap before that. And, contrary to the views of the News-Leader’s editorial board, I do understand that “the freedom of one person to smoke infringes on the personal liberty of others.” I also understand the health risk posed by tobacco use – even incredibly limited use like mine. I’m not denying that, like some opponents of the ban are (which I think is pretty ridiculous). To me this isn’t a public health issue. It’s a personal freedom issue.

I don’t mind outlawing smoking in bars and restaurants, hospitals and colleges, even playgrounds. That’s fine. What concerns me is the bill doesn’t allow exceptions for certain businesses, including tobacco shops. Supporters of the ban claim they are protecting workers and members of the public from the risks associated with secondhand smoke. That’s good. Most people, at some point, find it necessary to go into a restaurant or, even, take a job there. They shouldn’t have to be bombarded with secondhand smoke.

But a tobacco business, like Just for Him or The Albatross, isn’t like a restaurant. The average citizen could go their entire life and never set foot inside of those places, and the average citizen wouldn’t seek out employment in such a specialized shop unless they were interested in the product. Selling tobacco is perfectly legal, and the secondhand smoke in those businesses isn’t bothering anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered. But if the ordinance passes, both of those places will be forced to go smoke free, and The Albatross is likely out of business.

I don’t want to be responsible for that. Restrictions to protect public health are fine, but, when they force legal businesses to shut down, the civil libertarian in me gets uncomfortable, so I’m voting no. That means, according to the QCFW, I’m currently living in a house divided.

I’m also voting no on the ban on alcohol in family theaters. The News-Leader editorial board has my back on this one, calling it “unreasonable, and likely unenforceable.” This ballot measure seems aimed at Campbell 16 Cine, which has no history of troubles with alcohol. This, like the smoking ban, feels like an overreach.

But that’s just my opinion. Whatever your opinion is, make sure it’s heard Tuesday.

–QCFM

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