Monthly Archives: September 2009

Obama’s Partisan Political Courage

They are only three decisions, all of which could be characterized as acts lacking courage.  But Obama’s recent decision to scrap a missile defense system located in Poland or the Czech Republic and now his decision to tell N.Y. Governor Paterson to not run for re-election and to publicly back Sen. Bennett in Colorado who is facing a primary challenger are three acts that I think took courage.  The first because it plays into the meme about Dems being weak on defense and the second because he’s getting overtly political on the type of Democrat he wants.  He is already backing Arlen Specter but you can argue that was designed to say thanks for switching parties.

He may say he doesn’t like partisan politics, but he plays it.

Deeds-McDonnell Poll

The Deeds folks are no doubt celebrating this morning’s Washington Post poll that shows him narrowing the race for Virginia governor.  His attacks on McDonnell’s extreme right-wing views are working.  Let’s pause for a moment and relish this development:  Democrats gain by pointing out the values of conservatives.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

Deeds is gaining with “independent” women.  I know that probably means those who don’t afiliate with one political part or the other, but I think there’s another way to look at it.  Independent, in the more general sense of the word, women who are Republicans can bring along their moderate GOP or conservatic Democratic hisbands.  Independent wives tend to get their way a lot fo the time, beleive me, I know.  With plenty of time left in this campaign, they will work on their sposes and friends to vote for Deeds, unless McDonnell can turn the tide.

One message Deeds needs to continue to press is that when McDonnell wrote his thesis, he already was married and had, I beleive, two daughters.  So looking into their eyes, he saw a role for them – barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.  Deeds will need to make the conenction between McDonnel’s thesis and where he was a that point in his life.

Deeds is leading big in northern Virginia, so obviously turnout will be important here.  Expect to see flyers targeting women here until election day.  After all, in the poll only 46% said they’ve heard “a good amount” about the thesis.  There are more to be educated.  Even though only less than one percent beleive the thesis is the most important issue, there are two reasons to ignore that statistic.  One, because it’s not the most important doesn’t mean it couldn’t influenec a voter.  And two, not many people will admit it’s the “most important,” even if it is.  Also, it will be critical for Deeds to come out with an ad that says “Bob McDonnell says his views on women have changed.  Then why did he introduce 34 bills restricting abortion while he was in the House of Delegates – which he was until only four years ago?” One of the focus group participants mention that what McDonnell wrote 20 years ago isn’t as inportnat as what he did.  Thirty-four anti-women bills is what he did.

Deeds is running less than I had hoped in rural Virginia.  With his slight drawl and gun rights’ votes, I thought he could peel off some of the Republican’s natural support.  Maybe spending mor time down there might help.  Maybe he can talk about how he wants to ensure we have enouigh revenues for schools down there and pojtn ot that McDonnell’s transportation plan would cripple their schools.  MAybe he could talk about the economic development he wants to bring to those areas, suggesting that he might lure some of NOVA’s business to those areas of the state.

If we have a healthcare bill signed by November, adn if the talk in DC is about strong financial reforms, we might see an uptick in enthusiasm by Democratic voters and a better response from independnet moderates.

The sidebar that discusses the focus groups incldues this intersting statement.

Many in both groups described traffic as their top concern — perhaps reinforced by the rush-hour traffic they battled to get to the Wednesday evening focus group meetings in Fairfax. But several expressed a deep cynicism about their political leaders’ ability and will to solve the region’s congestion issues. Some were worried that Deeds, as a native of western Virginia, would not be sympathetic enough to the transit needs of Northern Virginia.

…The economy and jobs are voters’ top concerns in the election, according to the new poll, but few in the focus groups expressed a strong view on which candidate could better lead the state out of its economic doldrums. Lisa Schumann, 36, of Bristow said, "I think that I need more information to say." She also wondered how much a governor could do to make a difference. [emphasis added]

Here is where Deeds has even more possibilities.  I’ll bet he would get a bump of five percent in Northern Virginia if we would talk honestly about taxes to improve transportation.  I’ve already written about how he could frame this.  I’m under no illusion that he will tak honestly about transportation funding, as I’m sure he’s hearing an earful from spineless Democrats who are telling him he shouldn’t go near the issue.

Deeds could also make the link between what a Democratic governor can get from a Democratic administration in terms of new jobs and the race.  Fact is governors can’t do a whole lot to help the state besides give away the store in terms of tax advantages to companies who bring business here.  What we give away and what we gain in new jobs can be debated.  Moreover, I’m not so sure that tax relief wins the day when a business and their workers can’t get around the state because of traffic.

Gregory Misrepresents Carter’s Statement

David Gregory was just on Hardball and played a clip from his interview with President Obama that will air Sunday on “Meet the Press.”  In the question, Gregory, as have many others, misrepresented what Carter said.  I don’t have the transcript of Gregory’s interview yet, but what he said, to paraphrase, was “Carter attributes most of the opposition to you to racism,” and then asks Obama whether he agrees with that.

As we follow this story, I think we’re going to see that translation of Carter’s remarks take hold—that he blames most of the opposition to Obama on race.  It will become fact the way the meme about Gore inventing the internet became.

Here’s what Carter said:

An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American.

I live in the South, and I have seen the South come a long way. And I have seen the rest of the country that shared the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African- Americans. That racism in connection still exists.

And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

What he’s saying is that a large majority of the people who are carrying the most offensive signs – showing Obama as a witch doctor (clearly racist) or calling him a traitor, a Communist, or wishing his death – are racists.  If you look at the protests in Washington last weekend, the truly offensive signs were not among the majority, though there were quite a few of the distasteful “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy.”  If you look listen to the raucous town hall meetings (which were the minority of town hall meetings, by the way) or viewed the signs outside those contentious arenas, most of them are not personally attacking Obama or are offensive.  Hyperbolic, sure, but not offensive. 

What Carter is saying is that only an “overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Obama is” racist, not most of the opposition. He’s saying that a large portion of the small portion of protestors are racists.

Deeds-McDonnell Fairfax Debate


When I wrote the post below yesterday, I hadn’t seen this after the debate interview.  It’s not pretty.  This is why you can’t run away from an honest discussion of taxes. Robert McCarthy has more this morning.

Here’s another answer you could try, Creigh, to the question, “Will you raise taxes?”

“No governor can raise taxes without the consent of the governed.  Mark Warner didn’t raise taxes.  Gov. Warner saw a need, went across the Commonwealth to discuss that need with Virginians.  They saw the need.  They understood his reasons.  And they backed him.  But even then, he couldn’t raise taxes until the General Assembly agreed with him.  They debated.  They compromised, and they voted to raise taxes.  When I’m elected, I will study our options, see how the economy is doing next year, discuss it with Virginians through the state and with their representatives to see if, together, we can come up with a plan that move us forward on an issue that concerns citizens greatly.”

Of course, that would take a backbone, which puts Democrats at a congenital disadvantage.

This morning’s debate wasn’t really illuminating, but it had its moments.

First, the award for the stupidest question, to be given to one of the local reporters who surely couldn’t hold a candle to the bright light that is David Gregory of “Meet the Press.” You guessed it. The oracle on high asks Creigh Deeds, “Are you an Obama Democrat?” Not really that far from “Do you think Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright loves America as much as you?” asked by George Stuffasockinhispuss. Gregory, oblivious to his own silliness, actually asked the question twice.

McDonnell still comes off as smoother, but borders on rehearsed and automated. Deed’s passion comes through, though others may see a tongue flapping in the wind. He loses his point occasionally. Both ignored questions so they further rebut a previous question, but McDonnell managed to do it without getting snickers from the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce audience, who, let’s face it, was more likely to favor him.

McDonnell effectively addressed the thesis question by citing his wife and especially his Iraq veteran daughter as examples of his support for working women. That didn’t deter Deeds, who recited the points from his ad several times. But he missed an opportunity. He could have addressed his opponent directly. “Bob, you say that the thesis is old hat, but your record of introducing 34 bills to restrict the right to abortions is very recent. Why did you introduce so many such bills? Do those bills reflect your attitude about women’s rights? Are you willing to explain to voters why that was so much of your legislative agenda? Are you afraid to address that question?”

The other thing that struck me is how fast each candidate talked, rattling off facts and figures that surely were lost on the many in the audience due to the acoustics and probably by a good number of people who will hear this online or on TV. McDonnell is smoother at fast talk, which gives Deeds an opportunity to appear more thoughtful by slowing down. That doesn’t mean accentuating his slight Southern drawl. But by slowing his speech and using pauses effectively, he could be a thoughtful counterweight to McDonnell’s patter. Deeds did sound more passionate but it bordered on frantic. These delivery issues are much more important than candidates think. If you talk slower, with “thoughtful” pauses, people can follow your arguments better.

Speaking slowly might also allow a candidate to say something none of them want to say. Ever since Walter Mondale said he was going to raise taxes, it has been an article of faith among politicians that they never say they’ll raise taxes, especially during a campaign. The man or woman hailed as the next Obama will be the one who can articulate a grown-up approach to taxes. The argument is not that hard to make in the case of Virginia’s transportation system. (In fact, in front of the Chamber, if either said he’d consider a tax increase they might have gotten a cheer out of the blue suit crowd–as long as it wasn’t business taxes.)

How do you make the case for tax increases? Some thoughts for starters….

  1. First, you demonstrate the courage to address the issue. That alone will win you points. You don’t have to put it in an ad (believe me your opponent will) but being an adult about the issue will win you admiration from the information gatekeepers, especially editorial boards and likely a few reporters.
  2. You make the argument that a tax increase can actually save people money. For example, how much do you pay when you lose a tire or need a front end alignment after hitting a pothole? Or how do you value the time lost? Or gas burned sitting in traffic? It’s likely less than the tax increase one might proposed for transportation. Would you pay $75/year, or even $225/year (based on average 15,000 miles per year driven in a vehicle getting 20 miles to the gallon) for a 10-30-cent increase in the gas tax, which has declined in value over the last 20+ years? This is a tougher sell in non-urban areas, but the votes you lose there likely would be more than made up in urban areas. Is 30 cents enough? It’s a good start.
  3. Be specific on what they’ll gain. It’s not just we’ll improve transportation but what projects would you build, when would they be finished and exactly how much time and money might they save the average driver? People reject taxes in a knee-jerk fashion because they don’t believe they’ll get anything for it. Saying that a tax increase “will fix our transportation problem” is too vague. You need to be specific. You also might suggest tax trade-offs. What taxes or fees would you reduce to guarantee adequate transportation funds?
  4. Emphasize other cost savings. Tell them what you’ll cut in the overall budget to minimize the need for tax increases. If you emphasize only the income generation, you’re a tax-and-spender. Democrats especially can gain traction by talking about areas that can be cut. Today in Virginia, it’s prisons, as Kaine has learned.
  5. Attack the other guy’s empty promises. I am amazed that not once did Deeds point out that what McDonnell is proposing is the “borrow-and-spend” approach of the Bush administration. That’s what his bond program is all about. You need to service that debt. The money must come from somewhere.
  6. In Virginia, I think you can make the argument that so goes NOVA’s transportation, so goes its economy. And so it goes, so goes southern Virginia schools. NOVA pays for them.
  7. And, yes, speak slowly. Give people a chance to hear your argument.

Bottom line is we need to make that argument. I heard one Democratic leader say after the debate that “everyone in that room knows Deeds is open to a tax increase, but he can’t say it.” So do a lot of voters who are sitting on the fence. He needs the ones who may be open to a tax increase to fix transportation. But they won’t know what he plans to do until he tells them.

There may be another opening for Deeds in McDonnell’s antipathy towards unions. Many government workers are unionized. And I believe a lot of them live in Virginia.

Deeds missed another opportunity. When he mentions that McDonnell opposed Warner’s tax increases, he needs to tell Virginians where we’d be today without them. The hole would be much deeper and the cuts more draconian

One final note: I appreciate the nod Deeds gave to this blog, when he said he was a “commonsense Democrat.”

That’s what he meant, wasn’t it?

Great Headline

Here’s a great headline on a post on the FAIR blog:  “Baucus Plan:  No One Likes It, So It Must Be Good”

It attacks The Washington Post’s Ceci Connolly’s “analysis” of the bill.  It also takes a swipe at USA Today’s coverage.

Who Is Journalism About?

Years ago, I was acting station manager at a public radio station.  Despite my “acting” status, the station’s board of directors wanted me to boost the station’s income.  I conducted group discussions with the staff.  One question I asked them was, “Why do you work for a public radio station?  The answers were surprising.  Mostly, it was a version of “Working in public radio allows me to do what I want.” 

Most of those employees were involved in music programming.  But I was reminded of that experience when I read this by the outgoing editor of Texas Monthly.

It’s not about us; it’s about them. People who read this magazine care about Texas. Except in the rarest instances, they don’t care about TEXAS MONTHLY writers. Personal essays have always been part of the magazine’s mix, of course, but we’ve had the greatest success when our writers are the vehicles to tell other people’s stories, not their own. For as long as I can remember, we’ve discouraged writers from “inserting” themselves where they don’t belong. The magazine does right by its readers by remembering that egos should be kept in check.

I don’t think reporters necessarily want to tell their stories.  But they often see their job as one that offers opportunities to showcase their writing, instead of their reporting skills.  In that way, it is about them.  And that’s the problem with much reporting.

Journalism should serve the reader.  If you want to write eloquently about things, be a novelist, or if you want to write about things that people don’t really care about, be a writer for the Style section of The Washington Post. 

Much of the narrative in articles doesn’t do much to impart critical information.  For example, in today’s Post, I’ll bet more eyeballs looked at the chart than read the article about Baucus’s health bill. Yet, when looking online at the story, it’s a lot easier to find the narrative than the chart.  Yet the chart gives most of the information you need (with some notable holes).  But the chart is a faster read.  And let’s face it, the story is cluttered with self-serving quotes that do nothing to illuminate the issue.

It’s not about reporters; it’s about readers.

Vanishing Middle Class

A story oft told, will this book make a difference?

ONE afternoon in November 2006, a policeman spotted an expired license plate on Dorothy Thomas’s 10-year-old Toyota Corolla as she drove through San Jose, Calif. He ordered her to pull over.

Struggling under the weight of thousands of dollars in credit card bills, Ms. Thomas was perpetually short of cash. She had not bought a $10 auto registration sticker. The officer checked his database and recognized that she had already been ticketed once before for the same thing. He arranged to have her car towed away.

“I got down on my knees and begged that officer,” Ms. Thomas recalled.

As she watched her car being hauled off, she sensed that this was the beginning of a descent into a crisis from which she might not easily escape. Without money to pay the towing and storage fees, she could not extract her car from the lot, and the tab soon grew to $1,600. Without a car, she could not reach the hospital where she worked in the administrative offices, so she lost her $16-an-hour job. Without a paycheck, she could no longer pay the rent on her modest home. She moved to Oakland, where a friend lived in a beaten-down, rented house on a street they called Crack Avenue. By year’s end, Ms. Thomas, then 49, was occupying a bunk at a homeless shelter, searching in vain for a job in an economy plagued by unemployment.


Jimmy Carter is 84-years-old and three decades removed from the White House, but he still has the power to make Democrats run.

Away from him, that is.

From the White House to Capitol Hill Wednesday, Democrats raced to distance themselves from the former president’s claim that racism was behind Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You Lie” outburst and other attacks on President Barack Obama.

Politico leads with this in a story headlined The race from race: Dems Rebut Carter.  They have plenty of quotes, most of them justifying the headline.  All those quoted are current politicians.  Carter is not.  He’s not wrong; he’s unencumbered by politics, and a bit hyperbolic.  The pols aren’t wrong, either.  You obviously don’t want that fight. 

OK, can the press move on now?