Not Just An Also-Ran

Senator John McCain died yesterday, at age 81, after a long battle with brain cancer.  He was an American hero for his fierce resistance to his North Vietnamese captors after he became a prisoner during the Vietnam War, and after he was released from captivity he forged a long and equally independent record in Congress.  He was a proponent of campaign finance reform, a steadfast supporter of veterans, and a strong advocate for the military.  McCain was one of those members of Congress who was willing to buck party leadership and reach across the aisle if he felt it was the right thing to do — a reputation that was confirmed when he voted against a repeal of Obamacare — and if I didn’t always agree with his positions, I always felt that he was largely motivated by a sincere belief in what would be best for the country.

john-mccainIt’s an impressive legacy — but for many people, McCain will be remembered primarily as the man who was beaten by Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

McCain’s death got me to thinking about the people who have run for President on a major party ticket in a general election and lost, and how many of them are still living.  Two of the oldest members of that group, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, actually won the presidency before losing their bids for re-election.  The other living members of the club of people who were unsuccessful in their run for the presidency include Mike Dukakis, Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton.  All of them have had successful careers in politics and have made different contributions to the country — and all of them will be remembered, at least in part, for the time they lost.

America is a tough place for a politician.  The higher they rise, the higher the stakes, and when a person raises the money and makes the speeches and personal appearances and survives the primary system and becomes the nominee of a major political party, the stakes are the highest of all.  We routinely honor the winners — at least, most of them, if only for a short period of time — and second-guess and chastise the losers, dissecting their campaigns and pointing out every flaw and flub.

John McCain shows how unfair that perception is.  Sure, he never became POTUS, but that fact doesn’t detract from who he was or what he accomplished.  He was a lot more than an also-ran.

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Mitt Bows Out, And Drivers Get Ready For Hillary

On Friday, Mitt Romney told his supporters that he won’t be running for President in 2016.  Although he’s clearly been bitten by the presidential bug — he’s run for the nation’s highest office the last two elections — Romney said he wanted to make way for the “next generation of Republican leaders.”

I’m not sure precisely who is in the “next generation of Republican leaders” — it seems like there are about 20 names of current and former Governors and Senators being thrown around as likely candidates — but I think Romney made the right decision.  You can only run for President so many times before you become a bit of a joke, like Harold Stassen or Hubert Humphrey were when I was a kid.  Two runs is about the maximum, and if you’re going to bump up against that rule of thumb you may as well exit stage right with some class.  Romney did that with his statement on Friday; good luck to him and his family.

RIMG_4712omney was leading in preference polls, so his exit gives the Republican race a wide-open feel. What about the Democrat frontrunner?  Hillary Clinton has been laying low recently, with few appearances on her calendar.  Some say she wants to let Republicans fight and then emerge in the spring as a fresh face; others wonder if she isn’t brushing up on her political skills after a rocky book-signing tour.

If Hillary Clinton is in fact going to run, maybe she it would be a good idea for her to give some careful thought to messaging.  Yesterday I saw the bumper sticker pictured above at a stop light at a Columbus intersection, and it was a clinker for me.  Why should voters announce that they are “ready” for Hillary?  Is the bumper sticker suggesting that America has previously been a benighted land that is only now ready to finally recognize the merits of Hillary Clinton?  Shouldn’t the burden be the other way around — that it’s Hillary Clinton’s burden to show that she is ready for the most difficult job in the world?  The bumper sticker seems to tie into the theme that some potential Democratic candidates are beginning to float that Clinton is an arrogant, out-of-touch frontrunner whose campaign is based entirely on overwhelming fundraising and an ominous sense of inevitability.  It’s not an especially attractive theme for a presidential campaign.

The Education of Barack Obama

Last week President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly, which he has done five times before.  He spoke of a “network of death” and the “cancer of violent extremism” in the Middle East and said that “the only language understood by killers like this is the language of force” while promising to lead a coalition to find a military solution to the challenge of ISIS.  The President also had sharp words for Russia, describing it as a “bully” and rejecting its “vision of the world in which might makes right.”

Observers have noted that the UN speech represents a dramatic change in the President’s tone and focus.  A National Journal article compares the six UN speeches and shows a President who has been transformed from a believer in “hope” and “change” and a world in which everyone shares a common interest in peace to a man who realizes that there are bad people in the world, that they want to do evil things, and that the only way they can be thwarted is by deeds, not words.  Optimism — about relations with Russia, about common values and shared dreams, about an inexorable arc of progress toward a rosy future — has been replaced by a recognition that the world right now may be teetering on the brink.

Only two years ago, President Obama mocked Mitt Romney’s realpolitick view of the world and America’s role — I thought an unseemly low point for the President in this regard came during a debate discussion about Russia in which he sarcastically stated that the 1980s had called and wanted its foreign policy back — but now the President has come around to largely adopt Romney’s position, and to use language that is reminiscent of President George W. Bush.  He probably won’t acknowledge that fact, but at least he now recognizes the threats we face and is resolved to do something about them.

Conservatives may criticize the President for being late to the game and for failing to more quickly recognize and respond to the threats posed by ISIS, Russia, and other bad actors on the world stage.  That’s fair, I suppose, but I think most of us learn from experience and modify our views of the world as we go through life.  President Obama also is learning the lessons taught by the School of Hard Knocks.  As we all know, such lessons can painful, but we can hope in this instance that they are lessons that are well-learned.

What Does It All Mean?

We’re hours into the election coverage, and the results are on the razor’s edge. The President leads and looks like he may well win the Electoral College tally, but Mitt Romney remains within striking distance if the cards fall his way.

States have been called as predicted, and other states — those damnable “Battleground States,” like Florida and Virginia and oh-so-fickle Ohio, that swing from party to party from election to election and delight in confounding the experts — are too close to call.

Interesting, isn’t it?  This vast country, with such diversity, geographical and demographical, sends millions of people to the polls over a vast area thousands of miles across, and the election nevertheless remains excruciatingly close.

There will be a winner and there will be a loser, but is there really a message?  With such a close election, after months of campaigning and billions of dollars spent, we are left to ask: What does this election really mean?

As We Reach The Finish Line, Time To Get Out And Vote!

To every American — Democrat, Republican, or Independent, Romney supporters or Obama boosters, male or female, Red Stater or Blue Stater, regardless of your ethnic or demographic group — here’s your chance to ignore the media, the polls, the pundits, the yammering talking heads, and the incessant horse race prognostications that we’ve been hearing for months.

Today, on Election Day, let your voice be heard!  Exercise the most important right we have!  Confirm that you care about your country enough to go to your local polling place if you haven’t voted already, spend however long it takes to wait in line with your fellow citizens, give your information to the blue-haired ladies behind the registration table, and push the screen, pull the levers, or fill out the ballot for the candidates of your choice.

I’ve got my preferences in this election, as we all do — but I also think we would all be much better off if more Americans were involved the process, paying attention, and holding our political leaders of both parties accountable for the course of our country.  The first step toward doing that is to vote.  — and that’s what I’m going to be doing today when the polls open here in Ohio at 6:30 a.m.

A Last Dispatch From Battleground Ohio

The soldier, winded and hunched, ran the last few yards before leaping into the Foxhole that had been dug behind the carcass of Big Bird.  “Sergeant Jones, I’ve got bad news,” he said.  “I think we’ve lost Nesser.”

Dammit!  What happened, Private Ujay?”

“He was trying to weave through that field of empty chairs when he was knocked down by a fusillade of negative TV ads.  He wasn’t wearing his ear plugs or a gas mask, and he started retching after hearing about the President’s economic record.  The last I saw of him, he was being dragged away by a team of pollsters to participate in a focus group.”

What the hell!  I’ve told everyone that they need to keep the masks on, because the noise and poisonous messages are more than any man can bear.

“He said he wanted to breathe free and watch the Buckeyes game on TV, sir.”

Well, there’s no saving the poor bastard now,” Sergeant Jones said.  She peered over Big Bird’s soiled yellow feathers, scanning the terrain.  “Get down!” she barked, as a fusillade of binders full of women rained down.

“I’ve got more bad news, sir,” Ujay reported.  “Some of the members of the platoon are saying there’s nothing to worry about and no need to get ready for the next attack.”

Blast!  Didn’t they watch that first presidential debate and see what happens when you start to take things for granted?

Another soldier appeared and saluted.  “Message from Captain Duhamel, sir.  He says the Bain Capital Brigade is approaching from the east.  He thinks they’re hoping to outsource us all to China.”

Thanks for the warning, Private Jeff — but we all know that those briefcase-carrying Bain bastards are ruthless.  They’ll stop at nothing once they’ve decided to downsize.”  The sergeant paused for a moment.  “Well, we know that we don’t have enough horses and bayonets to make a stand here.  Time to move out.

“But Sarge — if we move we’ll lose the cover we’ve got here in this Foxhole.”

You didn’t build that, Mack!  Now move!

The bedraggled platoon scrambled out of the Foxhole, past the hulk of Big Bird.  Nearby, hordes of “ground game” campaign workers were dragging reluctant Ohioans to the polls for a final day of early voting.  A black motorcade barreled past, hurling campaign literature about a five-point plan at passersby trying to dodge the Obama volunteers talking about how a 7.9 percent unemployment rate means the economy is on the road to recovery.  A crowd of “campaign surrogates” traded punches on a street corner, and a phalanx of Jeeps carrying members of the 47 Percent Regiment were advancing from the west.  Overhead, the voices of pundits filled the air, raining invective and talking points on the few remaining civilians not under cover.  And Bill Clinton and David Axelrod were spinning like tops, knocking people down as Joe Biden’s Cheshire Cat grin blinded the soldiers and his maniacal laugh echoed off the downtown office buildings.

“My God!  It’s carnage,” Private Ujay shouted, as he ran after Sergeant Jones.  “We’ll never survive this, never!”

Yes we will,” Sergeant Jones bellowed.  “We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.  It’s what you get when you live in Battleground Ohio.”

Is Mitt Romney Rising Or Falling In Ohio?

At yesterday’s Ohio State home game a Mitt Romney for President blimp circled Ohio Stadium and its vast tailgating areas and drew lots of comments from people favoring and opposing the Republican candidate.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a presidential campaign blimp at an OSU game.

The blimp is an apt metaphor for the overriding question about Battleground Ohio:  is Mitt Romney rising, or deflating?

As always seems to be the case in this unpredictable swing state, the signs are decidedly mixed.  Romney held a huge rally Friday night north of Cincinnati, attracting thousands of people who patiently stood outside listening to speeches on a cold evening.  On the other hand, the final Columbus Dispatch mail poll of Ohio voters, released just this morning, has President Obama up by two points, 50-48.  However, that lead is well within the poll’s 2.2 % margin of error and represents a huge comeback for Romney since the last Dispatch poll, taken before the debates, in which Romney trailed by nine points.  But, the poll shows that Obama has a huge lead among people who have already voted.  On the other hand, the poll is based upon the statements of those who returned it, who represent only 15% of the ballots that were sent out in the first place.

Get the picture?  It’s whisker-close here in the Buckeye State.

My unscientific sense is that the Hurricane Sandy episode helped President Obama stem the Romney momentum that had built since the first debate.  One hurricane, however, isn’t going to be decisive.  From talking to fans craning their necks at that Romney blimp, I think most people have made up their minds.  There may be undecideds ruminating on how to cast their ballot on Tuesday, but the vast majority of Ohioans are ready to be done with this election.  That means that the outcome will hinge on turnout, and the “ground games” we’ve heard so much about over the past few months.  Not coincidentally, both candidates and their proxies are here today and tomorrow, hoping to whip their supporters into a turnout frenzy.

The forecast for Tuesday, incidentally, is for clear skies and temperatures in the 40s — and no storms to discourage people from going to the polls.