Category Archives: 2008 Presidential

A fun SNL skit to look back at as debates loom

First, this is just plain hilarious, so enjoy.

Second, it’s relevant. As brilliant as Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin was, it’s easy to forget how good a job Jason Sudeikis did with Joe Biden. And the Joe Biden that he was making fun of in 2008 is the same Joe Biden we see today.

It seems particularly relevant in light of Joe’s statements last week about working with everyone who will agree to help (even segregationists). What he was trying to say (which I understood perfectly, as did John Lewis and Jim Clyburn, although some people claim to be confused) last week was a lot like what Sudeikis’ Biden is saying about John McCain. I mean that in the sense of Joe’s ability to happily and cheerfully “hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Or in the sense of his willingness to disagree vehemently with someone, but still regard him as a fellow human.

It’s a message that’s counterintuitive for people who believe that left is left and right is right and never the twain shall (or should) meet. And that’s where the humor comes from in these lines:

Well, I would do what I have done my whole career, whether it’s been dealing with violence against women or putting 100,000 police officers in the streets. I would reach across the aisle. Like I’ve done with so many members of the other party. Members like John McCain. Because, look, I LOVE John McCain. He is one of my dearest friends. But, at the same time, he’s also dangerously unbalanced. I mean, let’s be frank, John McCain — and again, this is a man I would take a bullet for — is bad at his job and is mentally unstable. As my mother would say, “God love him, but he’s a raging maniac…” and a dear, dear friend….

In order to be hilarious, it’s exaggerated. But it also expresses something about who Joe Biden is. And America knows Joe Biden is this way, which is one of the reasons he’s been leading in the polls.

But whether you love or hate the way he is, whether you think it makes him a better candidate or disqualifies him, I thought you might get a laugh out of this look back.

So enjoy…

"As my mother would say, 'God love him, but he’s a raging maniac…' and a dear, dear friend."

“As my mother would say, ‘God love him, but he’s a raging maniac…’ and a dear, dear friend.”

Revisiting an intriguing proposition: Hillary Clinton as LBJ (rather than MLK or JFK)

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I was interested to read, in today’s excerpt of Jim Clyburn’s book in The State, the congressman’s account of his disagreement with the Clintons just before the 2008 SC presidential primary:

That charge went back to an earlier disagreement we had about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s suggesting that, while Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had done an excellent job promoting the issues of civil and voting rights for black people, it took a sensitive president such as Lyndon Baines Johnson to have the resolution of those issues enacted into law. In a New York Times article referencing an interview Mrs. Clinton had with Fox News on Monday, Jan. 5, 2008, she was quoted as saying “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The article went on to say that Mrs. Clinton thought her experience should mean more to voters than uplifting words by Mr. Obama. “It took a president to get it done,” Mrs. Clinton said.

It was an argument I had heard before while growing up in the South, even from white leaders who supported civil rights reform. It took black leaders to identify problems, but it took white leaders to solve them, they said. I had accepted that argument for a long time; but in 2008 it seemed long outdated, and it was frankly disappointing to hear it from a presidential candidate. When the reporter called to ask my reaction, I did not hold back…

Actually, Clyburn is misrepresenting what Hillary Clinton had said. I don’t think he’s doing so intentionally. I believe he truly remembers it that way, in those black-and-white terms.

But then-Sen. Clinton didn’t really put it in terms of black leader vs. white leader. Basically, she put both Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy in one category — that of the inspirational figure — and Lyndon Baines Johnson in the contrasting role of the less-inspirational leader who nevertheless follows through and gets things done.

I found her proposition intriguing at the time. She was posing the question, What do you want — inspiration or results? I wrote a column about it at the time, which ran on Jan. 20, 2008, just six days before Barack Obama won the SC primary.

Now that we’ve had several years in which to evaluate the kinds of results that Mr. Obama has produced as president, and as we look forward to a 2016 election in which the Democratic nomination is Mrs. Clinton’s for the taking, I think it’s interesting to revisit that column. So here it is:

BARACK OBAMA and Hillary Clinton decided last week to put their spat over MLK, JFK and LBJ behind them. That’s nice for them, but the rest of us shouldn’t drop the subject so quickly.
Intentionally or not, the statement that started all the trouble points to the main difference between the two front-runners.
And that difference has nothing to do with race.
Now you’re thinking, “Only a Clueless White Guy could say that had nothing to do with race,” and you’d have a point. When it comes to judging whether a statement or an issue is about race, there is a profound and tragic cognitive divide between black and white in this country.
But hear me out. It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”
She wasn’t insulting black Americans — intentionally — any more than she was trying to dis Irish Catholics.
To bring what I’m saying into focus, set aside Dr. King for the moment — we’ll honor him tomorrow. The very real contrast between the two Democratic front-runners shows in the other comparison she offered.
She was saying that, given a choice between John F. Kennedy and his successor, she was more like the latter. This was stark honesty — who on Earth would cast herself that way who didn’t believe it was true? — and it was instructive.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was the Master of the Senate when he sought the Democratic nomination in 1960. If he wanted the Senate to do something, it generally happened, however many heads had to be cracked.
LBJ was not made for the television era that was dawning. With features like a hound dog (and one of the most enduring images of him remains the one in which he is holding an actual hound dog up by its ears), and a lugubrious Texas drawl, he preferred to git ’er done behind the scenes, and no one did it better.
Sen. Johnson lost the nomination to that inexperienced young pup Jack Kennedy, but brought himself to accept the No. 2 spot. After an assassin put him into the Oval Office, he managed to win election overwhelmingly in 1964, when the Republicans gave him the gift of Barry Goldwater. But Vietnam brought him down hard. He gave up even trying to get his party’s nomination in 1968.
But he was a masterful lawmaker. And he did indeed push the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law, knowing as he did so that he was sacrificing his party’s hold on the South.
He brought into being a stunning array of social programs — Medicare, federal aid to education, urban renewal, and the War on Poverty.
So, on the one hand, not a popular guy — wouldn’t want to be him. On the other hand, President Kennedy never approached his level of achievement during his tragically short tenure.
You might say that if Sen. Obama is to be compared to President Kennedy — and he is, his call to public service enchanting young voters, and drawing the endorsement of JFK’s closest adviser, Ted Sorensen — Sen. Clinton flatters herself in a different way by invoking President Johnson.
They are different kinds of smart, offering a choice between the kid you’d want on your debating team and the one you’d want helping you do your homework.
Sen. Obama offers himself as a refreshing antidote to the vicious partisanship of the Bush and Clinton dynasties. That sounds wonderful. But Sen. Clinton has, somewhat less dramatically, formed practical coalitions with Republican colleagues to address issues of mutual concern — such as with Lindsey Graham on military health care.
Sen. Clinton, whose effort to follow up the Great Society with a comprehensive health care solution fell flat in the last decade, has yet to live up to the Johnson standard of achievement. For that matter, Sen. Obama has yet to bring Camelot back into being.
As The Washington Post’s David Broder pointed out, in their debate in Las Vegas last week, the pair offered very different concepts of the proper role of the president. Sen. Obama said it wasn’t about seeing that “the paperwork is being shuffled effectively,” but rather about setting goals, uniting people to pursue them, building public support — in other words, about inspiration.
Sen. Clinton talked about managing the bureaucracy and demanding accountability.
Sen. Obama offers a leader, while Sen. Clinton offers a manager. It would be nice to have both. But six days from now, South Carolinians will have to choose one or the other.


Have you heard the one about McCain and the Syrian rebels?

I wasn’t watching the news all that closely yesterday, so, as sometimes happens with Twitter, I saw the jokes about John McCain sneaking into Syria to talk to the rebels before I knew he had gone. Here’s the first I saw:

Syrian rebels with McCain, probably: “I want to trust your judgment, but go over again why you thought she was qualified to be president.”

Later, someone brought my attention to this one from McCain pal Lindsey Graham:

Best wishes to @SenJohnMcCain in Syria today. If he doesn’t make it back calling dibs on his office.

Anyway, no doubt to Graham’s chagrin, McCain apparently made it back out of Syria OK (at least, that’s how I read this reference to Yemen). The White House has said today that yeah, they knew he was going, and no, they don’t have anything else to say about it, but look forward to hearing from the senator about his trip.

Not that ‘Morning in America’ hubris again…

Just got this e-mail a little while ago from a reader (I guess it was a reader, anyway):

The headlines today said that McCain claims Obama "must" consult with the GOP on stimulus talks. That's not true, any more than saying that Ronald Reagan was required to allow Dems much input in his 1981 plans. On election eve 1980, even old democrats like me realized that the public had said no to government spending, said no to government meddling and no to more regulations. I believed the public was wrong, but also understood that Reagan's mandate was to proceed as he'd promised.
Thirty years later, Americans' have decided that we need government, government to stop us from dying from eating peanut butter, government to stop bankers from stealing from us, and government to provide jobs until the economy picks up. That's Obama's mandate, and to do anything else would be to back off from his promises. McCain is wrong. He and his party lost. Obama wants to be nice and extend an olive branch to the losers, but it is not necessary that he does so. What's necessary is he goes forward with his plans.

To which I felt compelled to answer as follows (slightly edited, as I read back over it):

Interesting you should mention 1981. I'm still ticked off that Democrats back then took just the attitude that you're calling for. Tip O'Neill and the rest said, well, Reagan won the election, so let's give him anything that he wants. This, after four years of that same Democratic Congress not giving Jimmy Carter ANYthing he wanted.

I'm still mad about it. I'm still mad about how the whole world just rolled over for Reagan. Much of the media was full of that "Morning in America" hoopla, and I felt like …. well, have you ever been the only person in the room who was not drunk or stoned, and everybody around you thought everything was just SO funny, and you just thought they were all very irritating? Not much fun, huh? Well, that was me in the Reagan era.

I don't feel that way this time. I sort of thought Reagan's win in 1980 was the end of the world — not because I was anti-Republican, but because I had liked Jimmy Carter so much (I don't like him as much as I did then, but I really liked him then). I don't feel that way at all about Obama. Out of all the people running for president last year, McCain and Obama were my first and second choices. So while I'm sorry McCain didn't win, I'm glad Obama didn't lose. I'm highly ambivalent on that score.

But one reason I DO like Obama so much — and liked him so much more than Hillary — is that he IS about post-partisanship. (That's one of the main things I liked about McCain, too.) He's nothing like Reagan; he's far less the ideological warrior. And if he doesn't work with McCain (something which, to his credit, he's already demonstrated a willingness to do), then he's not the guy that a LOT of people voted for. I would expect exactly the same from McCain — a willingness to work across the aisle — had he been elected.

And I have little patience for Democrats who act the way the Reaganites did in the early 80s — We won, so we'll do what we damn' well please. Unfortunately, I do hear that from some. Like "Morning in America" revisited. And I didn't like that triumphalist bull the first time, not one bit.

And if you don't care about bipartisanship, think about this: There's a good chance this stimulus will fail. There's a good chance ANY stimulus would fail. So how would you feel about it if, once the stimulus fails, the GOP recaptures Congress, and then goes around telling Obama and the world that "We won, so we don't have to listen to you?"

Far better that we have a stimulus plan that both parties buy into. It's a little late for that, but it WOULD have been far better. It's never good to have one of the two major parties politically invested in the nation failing…

(I'll add one more thought: I would not say that Obama "must" work with McCain et al. I'm just saying that to the extent that he can, he should. This is not to say that if you've tried to bring the GOP along and they've just refused and you truly believe your plan is the right one, you don't go ahead — just as I thought it was right for us to go ahead into Iraq without France, Germany and Russia on board. But I am saying that if you can possibly swing it, bipartisan is WAY better for the country.)

An Edwards column I had forgotten

Looking in our internal database for something entirely unrelated (what I might have written in the past about Bill Clinton's Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, actually) I ran across a column from 2003 that I had forgotten about. It struck me as interesting for two reasons:

  • It's an unfortunate fact that if you search for "Brad Warthen" on the Web — I did it several days ago as a way of trying out the Grokker search engine — you run across a lot of stuff about a certain column I wrote in 2007 about John Edwards. That column drew 190,000 page views to within the first week (not to the blog version — unfortunately, since the blog version was better). If you recall, it was about three incidents that, taken together, had persuaded me that John Edwards was a "phony." I didn't think all that much of the column when I wrote it, but it looks like it's going to dog me forever in what we once called Cyberspace. Anyway, this previous, forgotten column was the first time I had written about one of those incidents.
  • Criticizing John Edwards was not the point of the column. Oh, I was fairly dismissive of him; he never impressed me all that much. But the point was to criticize some young Republican protesters who had come to try to disrupt his campaign event.

Anyway, it's a mildly interesting footnote to something that caused a lot of hoo-hah, so I share it.

You'll note that I mention the very moment I later cited in the "Phony" column, and call Edwards on it for its general bogusness, which shows even then what an impression it made on me. Of course, I don't zero in on it quite as harshly as I did later, and the reason why is fairly obvious: The other two incidents had not yet happened, so while I had serious doubts about him, and especially about his populism, I had not yet put it all together and made up my mind fully about John Edwards. My impression had not yet, as I later wrote, "been reinforced with steel girders."

Anyway, here's the forgotten column:

State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, September 21, 2003
Author: BRAD WARTHEN Editorial Page Editor

I DON'T GET protesters.
    I'm not talking about political debate, or dissent, or seeking redress of grievances. Those things are part of what our country's all about. They're what my job's all about. We definitely don't want to curtail any of that.
    And I believe that there are rare cases when taking to the streets – in an orderly, peaceful manner – is perfectly justifiable, even imperative. Laws would not have changed in the United States if not for the forceful, nonviolent witness of Martin Luther King and thousands of others.
    What throws me is people who whip up signs and take to the streets at the slightest provocation – or no provocation at all.
    I've expressed my puzzlement about such behavior at the dinner table, only to have one of my children make the very good point that of course I don't understand; I don't have to take to the streets because I have my own bully pulpit on these pages. True enough. But everyone has available more constructive means of political expression than making a public spectacle of themselves.
    Even revolutions can be conducted with dignity. Compare John and Samuel Adams. John, who started as an unremarkable farmer and lawyer from Braintree, Mass., persuaded the Continental Congress to formally declare independence. Cousin Samuel, by contrast, preferred whipping up mobs in the streets of Boston. Who accomplished more? I would say John.
    All of this is on my mind because I went to hear John Edwards announce his candidacy at the Russell House Tuesday. What did I see when I was there?
    Well, a lot of silliness, mostly. But it was to be expected. There are few things more unbecoming than a millionaire trial lawyer presenting himself to a crowd as the ultimate populist. Huey Long could pull it off; he had the common touch. So did George Wallace. But John Edwards is one of those "sleek-headed" men that Shakespeare wrote of in Julius Caesar. He may be lean, but he hath not the hungry look. Mr. Edwards is decidedly lacking in rough edges. Not even age can stick to him.
    His entrance was predictably corny. Other speakers had unobtrusively climbed the back steps onto the platform. Mr. Edwards snuck around to the back of the crowd, then leaped out of his hiding place with a huge grin and his hand out, looking for all the world like he was surprised to find himself among all these supporters. He hand-shook his way through the audience to the podium, a la Bill Clinton , thereby signifying that he comes "from the people." Watch for that shot in upcoming TV commercials.
    His speech was laced with populist non-sequiturs. For instance, he went way over the top exhibiting his incredulity at Bush's "jobless recovery," chuckling with his audience at such an oxymoron – as though the current administration had invented the term. (A computer scan found the phrase 641 times in major news sources during calendar year 1993 ; so much for novelty.)
    Despite all that, I came away from the event with greater sympathy for the Edwards campaign than I might have had otherwise. That's because he and his supporters seemed so wise, thoughtful, mature and dignified – by comparison to the protesters.
    These were, I assume, members of the University of South Carolina chapter of College Republicans, based on that group's stated intention to be there in force. I suppose I could have confirmed that by asking them, but like most of the folks there – Edwards backers and disinterested observers alike – I tried to ignore them. It wasn't easy. When one speaker praised Mr. Edwards, they would yell, "Bush!" When another said Elizabeth Edwards would be a fine first lady, they hollered "Laura!" The signs they carried were equally subtle. Some called the candidate an "ambulance chaser." Two were held side by side: One said "Edwards is liberal"; the other, "S.C. is not." Deep stuff. It apparently didn't occur to them that conservative people don't act this way.
    They settled down noticeably when Mrs. Edwards politely called for a display of "good Southern manners." But the heckling resumed when her husband started speaking. I had made the mistake of standing near the back of the crowd, and some of the young Republicans took up position behind me. Therefore, when the candidate noted yet again that he was born in Seneca, South Carolina, and a heckler hollered a sarcastic "No kidding," it was right into my ear. I was similarly well situated to get the full brunt when someone started shouting some of Mr. Edwards' more well-worn stump speech lines along with him.
    What makes people behave this way? Yes, they were young; I understand that. But why is it that political dialogue has degenerated to the point that even young people find it acceptable to act like this?
    Agree with him or not, John Edwards is running for president of the United States. Why can't people just let the man have his say? What compels them to rush out into public and show their fannies this way?
    Not that anyone did that literally, although there was this one young man off to the right of me who did lift his shirt to flash his ample belly at the rostrum. I have no idea what that was about. Maybe he had something written there; I didn't look that closely.
    What I did see was the huge, cherubic grin on his affable face. He was having a whale of a good time. I suppose I should be glad that someone was.

Write to Mr. Warthen at P.O. Box 1333, Columbia, S.C. 29202, or

McCain, Graham support Obama on Gitmo

FYI, I just got this release from Lindsey Graham's office:


Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and John McCain (R-Arizona) today issued the following statement regarding the executive order put forth by President Obama calling for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo:  

“We support President Obama’s decision to close the prison at Guantanamo, reaffirm America’s adherence to the Geneva Conventions, and begin a process that will, we hope, lead to the resolution of all cases of Guantanamo detainees,” said Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator John McCain.  “The executive orders issued today constitute an important step in the right direction but leave several major issues unaddressed.”
“Numerous difficult issues remain,” Senator Graham and Senator McCain continued.  “Present at Guantanamo are a number of detainees who have been cleared for release but have found no foreign country willing to accept them.  Other detainees have been deemed too dangerous for release, but the sensitive nature of the evidence makes prosecution difficult.  The military’s proper role in processing detainees held on the battlefield at Bagram, Afghanistan, and other military prisons around the world must be defended, but that is left unresolved.  Also unresolved is the type of judicial process that would replace the military commissions. We believe the military commissions should have been allowed to continue their work.  We look forward to working with the President and his administration on these issues, keeping in mind that the first priority of the U.S. government is to guarantee the security of the American people.”


… which seems to me an appropriate stance for the loyal opposition. They support their commander in chief because they share his concerns that our nation live up to its highest ideals — which is completely consistent with their advocacy during the Bush administration. (And remember, McCain said that he, too, would have closed the Gitmo facility if elected.) At the same time, they make sure they get on the record the unresolved problems inherent in this move. Smart, principled and appropriate.

They threw away my Obama bottle!

My brother, who will be 50 on his next birthday, still complains about the tremendous financial reversal he suffered when Mom threw out his baseball cards.

Well, I can top him on that: I returned from vacation, and the new cleaning people who started here last week had thrown out my Barack Obama water bottle! So much for my best opportunity to get rich on E-Bay.

You may or may not be aware that all things Obama are hot. You would definitely know this if you 
worked here and saw the people lined up in our lobby to buy copies of the Nov. 5 front page pictured at right. And that was just a reproduction of a page ABOUT Obama.

So just imagine how much I could have gotten for a water bottle with actual Obama DNA on it. I had picked it up when I was gathering up my stuff from the table after our editorial board interview on Jan. 21 of last year. Actually, I wasn't entirely clear on whether it was HIS water bottle or MINE. But then, the photographic evidence indicates I was drinking coffee, while he was drinking water (from my special Initech cup from "Office Space"), not water, so it was most likely his (of course, I also have a photo below in which he had no water bottle before him, but what are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?). The photo above, by the way, is a blown up detail from the wider shot back on this post.

Anyway, I had left it on a credenza on the other side of my office, and it had sat there unmolested for 11 months. Every once in a while I'd look at it and wonder what I should do with it, then promptly forgot about it.

When I went on vacation Dec. 26, I cleaned up my office. My desk was spotless. There was no debris apparent anywhere — except for that old water bottle, which I no longer noticed. But obviously our new cleaning people did. They were getting paid to clean the office, and that was the only thing that looked out of place to them. Just my luck. (I only realized it was gone when I used a water bottle to water a dying plant — which I see the cleaning people or somebody had also trimmed back from where it had been trailing on the floor, and started to leave the bottle next to the plant, but thought that wouldn't be tidy, and happened to think of the Obama bottle…)

Weirdly, they left an empty water bottle on my window sill that says "Galivants Ferry Stump, May 1, 2006" on it. I guess it was more obviously a souvenir.

Of course, it might not have been the cleaning people. But I don't think my Mom has a key to my office, so they're at the top of the list. And there's nothing I can do about it, because they have a perfect comeback — it looked like trash. In this sort of dispute, the authorities never side with the pack rat…

Lieberman lets Democrats keep his vote


That’s all I had to say. I just thought I’d offer the alternative interpretation to the standard headline, such as this one on the NYT site, which was "Democrats Let Lieberman Keep Senate Chairmanship."

I wonder if this development had anything to do with the president-elect’s meeting yesterday with the other two of the Three Amigos? I don’t know, but it’s another positive development. I always like to see Joe get what he wants; he deserves it.

Find a better job for Hillary


This advisory just came in:

{bc-broder-column advisory}<
{(ADVISORY FOR BRODER CLIENTS: David Broder has written a column for} Wednesday publication on the potential selection of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Expect the column by noon Eastern.)<
{(For Broder clients only)}<
   (c) 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

Mr. Broder is reflecting the huge buzz inside the Beltway about appointing Sen. Hillary Clinton to State, which I think would be a mistake, for this reason:

Given the reaction his election has gained from around the world, Barack Obama’s best international ambassador is Barack Obama. His policies are more likely to gain acceptance among friends and foes because they are his policies. You put somebody as Bigger Than Life as his erstwhile opponent in the top job at State, and suddenly the State Department becomes the Hillary Department. Everyone, from the U.S. media to foreign potentates, would look at the actions of the State Department in terms of "What Hillary Clinton is doing," rather than what is being done in the name of Barack Obama.

I just can’t see her effacing herself enough not to get between Obama and the rest of the world — even if she wants to.

Sure, one doesn’t have to be a nonentity to be SecState — look at Colin Powell. But Gen. Powell was known as the Good Soldier, a man who serves something greater than himself. That’s not something I can see Hillary Clinton (or her husband; in that they are a matched pair) pulling off successfully.

Anyway, it doesn’t seem the right job for her. What would be the right job? You mean, aside from U.S. senator from New York, which is not too shabby in itself? Something special. Economy Czarina or some such. Something ad hoc, something geared specifically to her. Sure, she failed when she was given the health care thing, but that was a long time ago; I think her political skills have improved since then.

I don’t know; I just don’t see her as the right person for Secretary of State.

As for the other two who have stirred the most comment:

  • I don’t know whether Larry Summers is the best person to be SecTreas or not, but he certainly shouldn’t be given the job because of that Harvard nonsense. Whomever the president-elect chooses, he needs to make it clear he’s not kowtowing to the absurd prating of the sillier feminists. I don’t know whether boys are better than girls at math or not; I do know it’s offensive to this boy’s intelligence to say it just can’t be so, because I don’t want it to be so, which is what I heard from those who ran him out of Cambridge.
  • There seems to be a lot of bipartisan murmuring that Robert Gates should stay on at Defense. I don’t know whether he’s a great secretary of defense or just seems like one because he followed Rumsfeld, but I’ve always liked the guy. So it would be fine by me if he stayed. At the same time, the president needs to know he’s got his own person in that job, so I wouldn’t think it would be horrible if another highly qualified candidate were nominated. Gates sets the bar pretty high, though.

The Obama-McCain meeting


Not a lot to emerge from the president-elect’s meeting with John McCain (and Lindsey Graham and Rahm Emanuel) today, which is to be expected. Here’s the closest thing to substance I’ve seen, from their joint communique:

We hope to work together in the days and months ahead on critical
challenges like solving our financial crisis, creating a new energy
economy, and protecting our nation’s security.

Of those items, seems to me the greatest potential for collaboration would be on energy. (But I would think that, wouldn’t I?)

Here’s a scene-setter from the NYT politics blog:

Senator John McCain and President-elect Barack Obama are sitting
down together now and metaphorically smoking a peace pipe in their
first face-to-face session since the bruising campaign.

The two are meeting at Mr. Obama’s transition headquarters at a federal building in Chicago, where they just posed for the cameras.

The meeting space has a stagey look, in front of the kind of thick
royal blue curtain you see in an auditorium, not the usual
campaign-rigged blue backdrop. Flags are strewn throughout, with one
planted between the two principals, who are sitting in yellow,
Oval-Office-like chairs.

To their sides are their wingmen, Rahm Emanuel on Mr. Obama’s left
and Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina on Mr. McCain’s right.

They’re all looking jolly (Mr. Obama and Mr. Emanual the jolliest), and we’ll soon get a read-out on the discussion.

The Obama team is hoping they can smooth any ruffled feathers and
build an alliance with the old John McCain — not the one whom the Obama
camp called “erratic” during the presidential campaign but the
self-styled “maverick” who worked across party lines for various causes
that Mr. Obama wants to advance — global warming, immigration, earmark
spending among them.

In the brief moment before the cameras, Mr. Obama said: “We’re going
to have a good conversation about how we can do some work together to
fix up the country, and also to offer thanks to Senator McCain for the
outstanding service he’s already rendered.”

Mr. McCain was asked whether he would help Mr. Obama with his administration.

“Obviously,” he said.

Those pesky reporters tried to shout out other queries, like about a
possible bail-out for the auto industry, but the pool report says they
were “shouted down by the pool sherpas,” and that “Mr. Obama finally
said with a smile, ‘You’re incorrigible.’”

The last in-person meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain took place more than a month ago, at the third and final presidential debate at Hofstra, remembered chiefly as the coming-out party for Joe the Plumber.

Updated | 2:12 p.m.: A joint statement was released from President-elect Barack Obama and Senator John McCain:

“At this defining moment in history, we believe that Americans of
all parties want and need their leaders to come together and change the
bad habits of Washington so that we can solve the common and urgent
challenges of our time. It is in this spirit that we had a productive
conversation today about the need to launch a new era of reform where
we take on government waste and bitter partisanship in Washington in
order to restore trust in government, and bring back prosperity and
opportunity for every hardworking American family. We hope to work
together in the days and months ahead on critical challenges like
solving our financial crisis, creating a new energy economy, and
protecting our nation’s security.”

Beyond that, here are versions of the story from:

Hoping, audaciously

BACK IN JANUARY, I said — on video; you can view it on my blog — that this year’s presidential election presented the American people with a no-lose proposition.
    It was the first time in my career when the two candidates we (and I) enthusiastically endorsed for their respective nominations actually made it onto the November ballot. So how could we lose?
    Well, there’s one way — the guy we preferred between the two guys we liked didn’t win on Nov. 4. But now that the other guy has won (and did you ever really think he wouldn’t?), I’m putting that setback behind me and looking forward to what happens next, with Barack Obama as my president.
    You could say I have no choice, but you’d be wrong. Unfortunately, we have before us a plethora of examples of how to have a perfectly rotten, stinking attitude when your preferred candidate loses, from the “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Bush” bumper stickers that appeared on Republican cars before Bill Clinton was even inaugurated to all that nonsense we’ve heard for eight years from Democrats about how the election was “stolen” in 2000.
    We always have the option of being mean, petty, poor losers. But not me. Call me audacious, but every day I see fresh cause to be hopeful:

  • First, there’s Barack Obama himself. Just as John McCain was the best conceivable Republican to unify the country, Sen. Obama offered himself as the one Democrat most likely to put the bitterness of the Clinton/Bush years behind us. As we wrote when we endorsed him in the S.C. primary, “for him, American unity — transcending party — is a core value in itself.” In a column at the time, I cited “his ambition to be a president for all of us — black and white, male and female, Democrat and Republican.” When a guy like that wins an election, nobody loses.
  • Sen. McCain’s gracious (and typical, for him) concession speech left his supporters no room for bitterness, as he wished “Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.”
  • Sen. Obama’s promise that same night, in his first flush of victory, “to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn.” He said, “I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.”
  • The appointment of Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. He’s been called a partisan attack dog, but he was defended against those who called him that by our own Sen. Lindsey Graham, John McCain’s close friend and ally. Yes, he ran the Democrats’ successful effort to take over Congress in 2006, but he did it by recruiting candidates who appealed to the political center — something his party’s more extreme elements haven’t forgiven him for. In an interview just before he was offered the job, Rep. Emanuel said, “The American people are unbelievably pragmatic. Have confidence in their pragmatism. It’s the operating philosophy of our country.” (The Associated Press says exit polls back that up: “This year 22 percent called themselves liberal, compared with 21 percent in 2004; 44 percent moderate, compared with 45 percent; and 34 percent conservative, same as four years ago.”)
  • The image of the Obamas visiting the Bushes at the White House a week after the election. No big deal, you say? It is after the way the current president has been demonized by many Democrats. The presidential election of 1800 proved the miracle of the American system — that power can change hands in a peaceful, civilized manner. That never gets old for me.
  • After days in which the more partisan types in the Senate debated just what to do to Joe Lieberman in light of his unpardonable “sin” of supporting Sen. McCain, the president-elect said that of course the senator from Connecticut should still be allowed to caucus with the Democrats.
  • The fact that on Monday, Sens. Obama and McCain will sit down at transition headquarters to chart ways to move forward together. “It’s well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government,” said an Obama spokeswoman Friday, adding that the two men “will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality.” They will be joined by Sen. Graham and Rep. Emanuel.

    You’ll notice a certain theme in my points, and just in case I haven’t hit you over the head with it hard enough, I’ll say it again: I draw my hope from signs that this country is ready to move beyond the stupid, pointless, destructive  polarization that has been thrust upon us by the two dominant political parties, their attendant Beltway interest groups, the blogosphere and the mindless yammering of 24/7 shouting-head cable TV “news.”
    You might say that mere nonpartisanship — or bipartisanship, or post-partisanship (or my favorite, UnPartisanship) — is not enough by itself. That’s true. But without it, there’s no hope. Fortunately, I see plenty of cause to believe we’re about to see something new, and better.

Join me in hoping at

This turbulent priest

A reader, Matthew Butler, sent me this e-mail today:

Obviously I’ve read the news (over the top) about the actions of Fr. Newman
in Greenville, what appears to be NOT over the top is the type of echo
chamber that St. Mary’s is. This is Fr. Longnecker’s, the pastoral associate
(and a married priest!), response to the election. I know we’re supposed to
‘speak truth to power’ and sometimes that involves harsh words, but really?
Just wanted to get your opinion on the matter.

Here’s the reply I sent:

St. Mary’s is
a very conservative parish. I’ve been to Mass there. I know we’re not supposed
to make judgments about people based on outward appearances, but I have to admit
that that was the most WASPish, Republican-looking, country-club congregation I
ever remember seeing in a Catholic church. It gave me a sense of dislocation.
Not that any of that should matter.
As for Fr.
Longnecker (sounds like a guy you’d want to have a beer with, just going by the
name)… in his position, as a person who admittedly doesn’t think much about
politics, I could see having his attitude.
I like Obama.
But to like anybody, there’s always something you have to overlook. With Obama,
the biggest thing I have to overlook is his position on abortion (plus the
mental gymnastics he goes through to justify his position constitutionally). If
I did the opposite, if I looked at Obama primarily through his position on
abortion, I would be horrified by him. And being horrified, I could see myself
using some pretty strong language to describe him (although I’d probably be more
likely to invoke Henry II than Herod). Obama does have a cold-blooded view of
the issue that is disturbing
, considered in a vacuum.
Fr. Longnecker’s view of Obama is untempered by any consideration of him beyond

Ironically, that exchange occurred while I was working on my Sunday column, which is all about POSITIVE thoughts I’m having about the president-elect…

Election results certified (finally)

Cindi has a column for tomorrow about early voting, in which she more or less expresses support for the idea, and mentions me as the elitist, paternalistic mossback who doesn’t like the idea.

You just can’t get good help these days.

Anyway, I’ll write more about that tomorrow, after she’s had her say. Suffice it to say that my reasons for opposing it (aside from the fact that I am just at heart a traditionalist, which doesn’t change anyone’s mind about me being a mossback) are related to why I oppose the way people like Mark Sanford look at public schools. That will bear explaining, and I will explain it — later. Basically, I look at this as a communitarian, while Cindi is looking at it as a small-d democrat. Or at least, as somewhat more of a small-d democrat than what I am.

But speaking of outmoded ways of doing things, a few minutes ago I got the regular notice that the state election commission has certified the election results:


COLUMBIA, S.C. – (November 12, 2008) – The State Election Commission met at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 12, 2008, as the State Board of Canvassers to certify the results of the November 4, 2008 General Election.  Official results can be found at  No recounts were necessary in any federal, state, or multi-county contests.
    The certification, protest, and appeal schedule is attached.

Every election year, I am struck by how LONG that takes.

Mind you, I’m not being critical. Far as I know, the folks at the election commission have really been busting their humps getting the results certified. And I DO want them to get it right, even if it takes more time.

But it still always strikes me as very horse-and-buggy to take so long — especially with electronic voting. Part of it is that in my business, it’s about getting it right away (AND getting it right, of course). Even long before we used computers for this stuff, we moved Heaven and Earth to get complete election results to the reader the very next morning, moving back deadlines, holding the presses to the limit then holding them some more, to get the job done. And if there were results we could NOT get you in that news cycle (often due to the fact that the poll workers didn’t have our same sense of urgency), you got them 24 hours later.

So it still strikes me as … anachronistic to get the certification a week later. Not that I’m complaining; it’s just something I always think about.

Change I can believe in: Cable TV reform


ooking for some art to go with a David Broder piece in tomorrow’s paper, I ran across this pic of Obama with his economic advisers, which had the following cutline:

President-elect Obama, center, meets with his economic advisory team in Chicago, Friday, Nov. 7, 2008. Facing camera, from left are, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons. Back to camera, from left are, White House Chief of Staff-designate Rahm Emanual and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

… which prompted me to think, Time-Warner Chairman? How about asking him, while he’s at the table, when he’s going to start letting us pay for the cable channels we want, a la carte, instead of having to buy expensive "packages?" Now that’s some change I could believe in, and you wouldn’t even have to pass a new law. You wouldn’t even have to be president yet. Just jawbone him, the way JFK did the steel companies.

Yeah, I know it’s not as important as Detroit collapsing or any of that stuff, but as long as he’s sitting there, why not ask?

On second thought, I DO have something to say about Atwater…

After I had a good night’s sleep, I thought of something I wanted to say about the Lee Atwater documentary I saw last night.

Last night I posted something sort of neutral and didn’t offer an opinion about Atwater, probably because it just seems so long ago, and the man’s dead, and since I don’t have anything good to say about him, why say it? Unlike Kathleen Parker, I do not share the philosophy of Alice Roosevelt Longworth (someone my grandma, who grew up in Washington during that period, used to talk about a lot; one gathers Alice was sort of the Paris Hilton of her day, in the sense of being a constant subject of media attention), summarized as "If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me."

That sort of attitude appalls me. Folks who think I’m just mean as hell to the likes of Mark Sanford, or Jim Hodges before him, just don’t understand how hard I have to be pushed to be that critical. Like Billy Jack, I try; I really try. But when I get pushed too far…

Anyway, a column in the WSJ this morning — by that paper’s House Liberal, Thomas Frank — said something (in a different context) that made me think of the Atwater movie:

In our own time, a cheap cynicism has been so fully assimilated by the
governing class that the disenchantment is already there, incorporated
into the orthodoxy itself. What distinguished the late conservative
era, after all, was its caustic attitude toward the state and its loud
expressions of disgust with the media….

And indeed, that was Atwater’s contribution to American politics — cynicism of the cheapest, tawdriest, most transparent sort. The sort that brings out the Pollyanna idealist in me, that makes me want to say, "Have a little faith in people." Or in God, better yet. Or in something good and fine and worthwhile. Atwater embodied, without apology — in fact, he boasted about it — the dragging of our public life, our great legacy from our Founders (do you hear the fife in the background yet?), down to the level of professional wrestling.

He made politics — already often an ugly pursuit — uglier, as ugly as he could make it and get away with it, and reveled in doing so.

Oh, and before you Democrats get on a high horse and shake your heads at Atwater as "the Other," check the beams in your own eyes. It was fitting that one of the people in the movie who defended Atwater was Mary Matalin. And it’s no coincidence that she is married to James Carville. Nor is it a coincidence that Carville — check the picture — looks like Gollum. All those years of cynicism ("It’s the economy, stupid") have done that to him as surely as carrying the "precious" did it to Smeagol.

It’s that "Oh, grow up! This is the way the game is played, so get over it" attitude that makes politics so appalling today. (I like what this writer said about Carville-Matalin: "For the love of God, please stop enabling them.") Both parties have thoroughly embraced the Atwater ethic — or perhaps I should say, nonethic.

Good news, though: Obama just may be the cure for what ails us, since so many voted for him as an antidote to all that — especially those young folks who flocked to his banner. Time to ask what we can do for our country, rather than merely sneering at it, as Atwater did.

(Oh, and before Randy says, "Why don’t you condemn McCain for his horrible, negative campaign," I should say that you know I’m not going to do that. McCain disappointed me by not running the kind of campaign he could and should have run, emphasizing his own sterling record as an anti-partisan figure. But he didn’t disappoint me enough not to endorse him, so get over it. Everything is relative. I could, as you know, condemn Obama for tying McCain to Bush, which was deeply and profoundly offensive to me given its patent falsehood, and all that McCain had suffered at the hands of Bush. That was a cynical and offensive ploy to win an election, and it worked. But I prefer not to dwell on that, and instead to dwell upon the facets of Obama’s character that inspire us to hope for something better. Those facets are real — just as the virtues of McCain were real — and we owe it to the country to embrace them, to reinforce them, to do all we can to promote the kind of politics that lifted Obama above the hyperpartisanship of Carville and the Clintons.)

Anyway, that’s what I thought of this morning to say about Atwater.

Since when do stem cells top the agenda?


So Obama’s hitting the ground running — jawboning Bush about Detroit, and so on — and that’s a good thing. Actually, he’s running BEFORE he hits the ground, which doesn’t happen until Jan. 20, but that’s good too. The nation needs leadership in a time of economic trouble, and it hasn’t had any lately.

Team Obama is also turning to some other priorities, such as shutting down Guantanamo (which, if and when it happens, will likely be cheered by John McCain as well — even if he may quibble over what happens with regard to trying the prisoners), and signaling that it is NOT going to dismantle our intelligence apparatus (much to the consternation of Obama’s base). All to the good, and all appropriate.

But one thing that the new team is signaling as a priority puzzles me. I first ran across it in the WSJ‘s weekend interview piece with Rahm Emanuel. Headlined with the quote, "Do What You Got Elected to Do," it looked at first as though it would make eminent good sense, invoking such themes as,  "Barack Obama’s message of change and Bush and the Republicans’ record of incompetence." Fine. But then I got to this:

Asked what Barack Obama was elected to do, and what legislation he’s
likely to find on his Oval Office desk soonest, Mr. Emanuel didn’t
hesitate. "Bucket one would have children’s health care, Schip," he
said. "It has bipartisan agreement in the House and Senate. It’s
something President-elect Obama expects to see. Second would be [ending
current restrictions on federally funded] stem-cell research. And third
would be an economic recovery package focused on the two principles of
job creation and tax relief for middle-class families."

At this point, I got whiplash. Say what? Hey, I’m all for Schip and all that — for starters (it doesn’t get us to a National Health Plan, but it’s something). But I don’t recall it being, specifically, a main topic in the election. But let it pass; it fits under the umbrella of a topic Obama DID talk a lot about.

But stem-cell research? You’re kidding me, right? An issue from the very heart of the Culture Wars, the second priority of the new president? In what universe, other than that occupied by the NARALs on one side and the Right to Life lobby on the other?

Why would this supposedly pragmatic, triangulating new chief of staff choose such a pointlessly divisive cultural issue as Priority Two for a president who so famously wants to end divisiveness in the country? Does he want to make the biggest mistake since Bill Clinton, after winning as a Third Way Democrat, both lifted regulatory restrictions on abortion and tried to eliminate the barrier to gays in the military in his first days in office?

Obama making stem cells a top priority would be like … I don’t know… like a Republican getting elected and announcing that one of the first things he’ll do is intervene in something like the Terri Schiavo case. One can quibble all day about the efficacy of different approaches to research in this field — but lifting the very narrow restriction that exists on federal funding of this activity (not on whether the research will take place, but on whether we the taxpayers will pay for it) is all about bragging rights in the Culture War. It’s a big deal to the left to lift the restrictions and a big deal to the right to keep them in place, but it doesn’t bear much on the price of fish for the rest of us. In fact, the technology may be on the way to making the political argument moot.

At first I attributed this to some sort of misunderstanding. After all, this interview was conducted on the fly, in an airport, before Mr. Emanuel had even been officially offered the post of chief of staff. And it WAS couched in terms of what Obama’s "likely to find on his … desk soonest" from Congress, which is different from what his own priorities might be.

But then I started seeing other references to this Kulturkampf issue, references that indicated this would be a priority for the new administration. And I had to wonder why. Is this a sop Obama would throw to his base so they get off his back on intelligence matters? Maybe. And maybe it’s just some partisans on his transition team getting carried away with themselves.

But it gave me pause.


Waiting for the liberals to calm down

As you know, I’ve been picking our syndicated columns since we lost Mike Fitts. This means judging a fairly stiff competition each day, since most days that we have an oped page, I only have room for one syndicated column (and one local, which Cindi deals with). On Sunday there’s room for two; on Saturday and Monday, zero. Then there’s Saturday’s online, where I can run several "also-rans" from during the week.

Each day, I just try to pick the best column, without keeping count as to how many "liberals" or "conservatives" I’ve run. "Best column" to me means the most thought-provoking and least predictable. I’m utterly uninterested in a column that simply channels the rantings of left or right that you can find on the Blogosphere. That shouldn’t be hard, right? These people are professionals, the tops in their field, so they should be perfectly capable of original thought, right?

Not always. Too often, especially during an election year, columnists succumb to the urge to play to a side. I think of it as writing so as to get pats on the back from the people you meet at Washington cocktail parties — reinforcing the prejudices of one’s friends, rather than provoking them to think. (Admittedly, I’m having to guess at something from the outside. I don’t have a ready-made set of folks who agree with ME, since I’m uncomfortable with both established flavors.)

Anyway, the point is, about a month into my doing this, one of my colleagues noted that I was picking mostly "conservatives." Was I? I looked back, and yes, I was. I didn’t try to change anything, but kept on picking the best column each day, regardless of its point of view — giving no more thought to it than I give during the process to whether the candidate we’re endorsing is a Democrat or a Republican. And I noticed (without having it pointed out to me again) that I was still picking mostly "conservatives."

But that’s because the conservatives were more interesting this year. Why? Because they were struggling. They were uncomfortable. They knew they were likely to lose this election, so they struggled. They were unusually critical of "their" standard bearer, and particularly his veep choice. Some just went ahead and endorsed Obama. They bickered with each other, and in their struggle, in their striving, they had an occasional original thought here and there. You had Kathleen Parker saying Sarah Palin should drop out. You had George Will sneering for all he was worth at McCain for having embraced campaign finance reform, only to be done in by an avalanche of money. You had David Brooks struggling for sociological metaphors to explain what was happening. You had Charles Krauthammer getting irritated at the lot of them, and in reaction writing an endorsement of McCain that was sharper than it otherwise would have been because he wrote it in reaction to the defections of conservatives, as an argument against their apostasy.

Meanwhile, on the left, you had what you always had — recitations of "the failed policies of the past eight years," the assertion that McCain equals Bush, yadda-yadda. Same old-same old. Lots of vitriol of the repetitive variety. When people find a formula is working for them, they stick with it. Failure, however, is simply more interesting. It provokes thought, and builds character. So the left just wasn’t nearly as interesting.

There were exceptions. Tom Friedman was good as always, but as critically important as his "Green Revolution" columns are to an Energy Party guy, they often seemed off-topic at a time when everybody wanted to read about and talk about the election. Friedman’s best that WAS election-oriented? His lecture to Sarah Palin (and the Mark Sanford’s of the world) explaining that paying one’s taxes IS patriotic. Amen, Brother Thomas.

And I thought David Broder’s two columns on "what we have learned about" McCain and Obama to be two of the most thoughtful, helpful summaries of the candidates I saw anywhere. They’re better than David Brooks’ attempts at similar columns on McCain and Obama — and certainly more concise than my own offbeat efforts. (I particularly recommend the McCain piece, which was as clear-eyed as anything I saw during the long campaign.) But that’s because Broder, who is center-left at most, is a reporter first and foremost. His writing, while sometimes dull, is refreshingly free of cant. He makes observations that are fair, and therefore sometimes ground-breaking. Those two columns were a nice coda on a long and distinguished career.

But Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman? Fuhgeddaboutit. Occasionally, Krugman was able to write something helpful about the financial crisis, and when he did, I ran it. But he should stick to what he knows, and too often does not.

Anyway, with the election over, I thought maybe the liberals would settle down. Their guy just got elected; they increased their majorities in the Congress. The man they hate more than any other human in the history of the world will soon be out of office. So maybe, once they’d gotten over celebrating, they’d start saying, "OK, so know we’ve got to govern, and we have differences even among ourselves, so let’s start thinking."

But it hasn’t happened yet. I’m still seeing the same old patterns. Gail Collins, who is usually not one of my favorites, nevertheless had a somewhat provocative piece over the weekend looking at poor winners and losers. I might use it tomorrow. But Bob Herbert? He went out of his way to illustrate what Ms. Collins called " the dark side of the postelection mood." He had a column for the same day that you’d think would be constructive, or at least upbeat. It was headlined, "Take a bow, America." So I read on, hoping to be uplifted for once.

Then I got to his second sentence, in which he was explaining the significance of the election results:

Voters said no to incompetence and divisiveness and elbowed their way
past the blight of racism that has been such a barrier to progress for
so long….

Those, of course, would be the only reasons anyone might have voted for John McCain — if they were in love with incompetence, or just stone racist.

Explain something to me, folks: How can someone who habitually writes that way about people with whom he disagrees, even in a moment of celebration, accuse other people of "divisiveness," and do so without any visible trace of irony? Some of it is the unfortunate New York mindset that one often sees in the Times — most perfectly expressed in the writing of Frank Rich — that folks out there in flyover land are just beneath contempt. That is expressed in Herbert’s very next sentence: "Barack Obama won the state of North Carolina, for crying out loud." In other words, even THOSE redneck idiots knew better.

Perhaps even Herbert will settle down eventually, and turn to the actual issues facing the country — and facing the just-elected administration-to-be. Just as the right has gotten interesting in recent months as it has struggled to define itself in adversity, perhaps the left can settle down and address such difficult issues as the tension between the far left and the pragmatists like Rahm Emanuel, who infuriated True Believers by recruiting Democrats who could win back in 2006?

We’ll see. In any case, I plan to continue doing my best to choose the most thought-provoking column each day, whether that produces a string of liberals, a run of conservatives, or a perfectly blended mix.

Here’s how ‘our’ candidates did

Editorial Page Editor
THE TIME for reckoning has arrived. No, not the election; we just did that. I speak of my traditional post-mortem, in which I look back on the candidates this newspaper endorsed, and how they did.
    First, the obligatory disclaimers:

  • Endorsements are about who should win, in the judgment of The State‘s editorial board, not who will win. Predictions are another thing altogether. You want predictions, go to my blog. On this page, we do endorsements.
  • Political party is an unimportant consideration to us. We do our best to eliminate it from our considerations entirely. In fact, nonpartisanship is a quality we actively look for in candidates, and those who possess it are more likely to win our nod than those who don’€™t, other things being equal.

    There was a time when I contented myself with the disclaimers, and airily brushed aside any thoughts that ran against them. But even those of us who have grown accustomed to referring to ourselves by the editorial "€œwe"€ are human –€” when you prick us, do we not whine? And a human can take only so many years of people saying "€œYour candidates always lose,"€ and "€œThe State‘™s endorsement is the kiss of death,"€ or that we are part of the "€œliberal media" cabal or "€œthat right-wing Republican rag"€–€” especially when said human can offer objective data to the contrary, on all points.
    So, several elections back, I spent some time in our musty archives calculating just how many candidates we had endorsed had won and how many lost, and what the partisan breakdown had been — going back to 1994, the year I joined the editorial board. (No one else who was on the board then is on it now, so elections before that year did not concern me.) I just wanted to know.
    I was gratified by what I found, which was the same as what I had suspected: First, most of "€œour"€ candidates had won –€” which bodes well for policies we advocate, and also helpfully indicates that we are not "€œout of touch"€ with our community (to cite yet another tiresome accusation). Secondly, we had pretty much split down the middle between Democrats and Republicans –€” although we had endorsed slightly more Democrats, which will no doubt shock those Democrats who only remember our presidential endorsements, which have uniformly been Republican.
    The trend continues.
    Each year since I put those numbers together, I have added the latest election’€™s numbers to them. I’€™m always careful to do this after we’ve made all our endorsement decisions, to avoid being influenced by the wish to keep our numbers good. While sometimes we form a rough impression –€” one of my colleagues observed several weeks back that it felt like we were headed for a "losing season,"€ and at one point I remember thinking we were flying in the face of the Obama Effect with each Republican we chose –€” we’€™re careful not to keep a count. Not doing so is a tricky mental exercise, rather like a pitcher telling himself, "€œDon’€™t think about the fact that you’€™ve got a no-hitter going," but election seasons are so busy for us that it’€™s easier than you might think to avoid stopping to calculate.
    Anyway, I went through our endorsements (all of which you can read at to do the partisan count the week before the election, and indeed we were defying the Obama Effect: We had endorsed eight Republicans and five Democrats. (And Elise Partin, running in the nonpartisan race for Cayce mayor.) That brought our eight-election running total (every two years, starting in 1994) to 60 Democrats and 54 Republicans, or 53 percent to 47 percent. Back in 2006 we had backed 12 Democrats and only five Republicans. (Since we don’t consider party when choosing a candidate, it’€™s sort of random — one election year we might be lopsided for Democrats; the next year for Republicans. So it’€™s nice to see this running total, if you value nonpartisanship the way I do.)
    And as always, once I added them up after Tuesday’€™s results, we had a "winning season"€–€” although, to be brutally honest, "€œour"€ candidates didn’€™t dominate quite as much as usual.
    This time, nine of our candidates won their elections, and five lost. That’€™s a winning percentage of 69. That brings our running record since 1994 to 85-31, or a .733 batting average — which is down from .753 as of four years ago, but still satisfactory in my book.
    That’s the strictest way to look at it, and the way I’m going to keep it on my running spreadsheet. If I wanted to be generous to us, I’d say that John McCain did win in South Carolina, and surely you can’€™t hold us responsible for what the rest of the country did? But I won’€™t let myself do that. And if we included ballot questions, on which the voters agreed with us four-to-two… but that would be inconsistent with the way I counted past years.
    Looked at another way, the voters agreed with us on four of the Democrats we endorsed, and four of the Republicans, and disagreed with us on one Democrat and four Republicans. That’€™s counting McCain as a loss, of course. And they agreed with us in the one nonpartisan race (if only there were more!) for Cayce mayor.
    So I’€™ve told you what I know about our stats — except for one thing. You might still wonder, what if he had been making predictions? Well, I did, on my blog, on Tuesday before the polls closed. You can go look. I got 13 predictions right, and one wrong, and on that one I had been tentative, hoping more than believing Mike Montgomery would keep his seat on Richland County Council.
    So that’€™s how we did. How’€™d you do?

Come tell me about it at

Graham likes Obama’s 1st pick

Thought y’all might find this interesting:

Graham Statement on Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham
(R-South Carolina) today made this statement on the news Illinois Congressman
Rahm Emanuel has accepted the job as White House Chief of Staff.  Graham spoke
by phone with Emanuel earlier today.

Graham said:

“This is a wise choice by President-elect Obama. 

“Rahm knows Capitol Hill and has great political
skills.  He can be a tough partisan but also understands the need to work
together.  He is well-suited for the position of White House Chief of Staff. 

“I worked closely with him during the presidential
debate negotiations which were completed in record time.  When we hit a rough
spot, he always looked for a path forward.  I consider Rahm to be a friend and
colleague.  He’s tough but fair.  Honest, direct, and candid.  These qualities
will serve President-elect Obama well. 

“Rahm understands the challenges facing our nation
and will, consistent with the agenda set by President-elect Obama, work to find
common ground where it exists.  I look forward to working with him in his new
position and will continue to do everything I can to help find a pathway forward
on the difficult problems facing our nation.”


After reading of Mr. Emanuel being a hard-ball operative from Clinton days, and how he was expected to play "bad cop" to Obama’s "good cop," I was prepared not to like him. I mean, didn’t we choose Obama over Hillary Clinton to get away from that stuff? But if Lindsey likes him, I need to reconsider.

By the way, I’d have included a picture of Graham from our recent interview with him, but MY LAPTOP GOT STOLEN, so all those pictures are gone!

Just in case you didn’t know.

The proper emotion, the seemly sentiment


Yesterday morning, looking for art to go with today’s lead editorial, I picked the photo above. Along the way I had briefly considered the ones back on this post, but this one worked best worked best for my purposes in terms of expression and composition — it worked perfectly in terms of the size and shape I needed.

I hesitated to use if for only one reason: He looked so extremely YOUNG — far, far too young to be president. As young as his campaign workers that I wrote about back in this column in the summer of ’07. It brought to mind something I said to my wife recently about JFK: He was several years younger than Obama when elected, but I remember him as looking older and more mature. Is that because I was a child at the time, or did he just look more grown-up manly. Was it something about that generation — they had been to war, and that does something to a man’s face. They were the Daddy generation (in fact, somewhat older than MY dad, who was too young for WWII). My wife pointed out something I should have realized: The prednisone that Kennedy took for his back problems caused his face to fill out; before that, HE looked like a skinny, gawdy kid. True enough, I suppose.

So I hesitated to use a photo with our congratulatory editorial that in my own mind raised one of the reasons I preferred McCain, on a gut level: Obama is to me something far more dramatic than the first "black" president (a distinction regarding which I have my own rather pedantic doubts). He is the first president younger than me. Quite a bit younger. So it is that, not wanting to express doubts about the new president through my choice of a photo, I paused. But nothing else I saw was nearly as suitable, so I went with it.

Imagine my dismay last night when, flipping channels on the boob tube, I saw a news program use the very same photo quite prominently. Then imagine my further concern this morning to see that our newsroom had decided to, in the hyperbolic expression that many readers use, "splash" that photo across six columns on the front page this morning. This coincidence give grist to those who believe there is collusion between news and editorial, when the truth is that I see these things when you, the reader, do.

These "coincidences" cause me to reflect on what Tom Wolfe once said about the news media, which was to call us the Victorian Gentleman, constantly striving to evince the proper emotion, the exact right tone for the moment — which causes us to make the very same decisions simultaneously, without the slightest effort at collusion or even awareness of what each other are doing. This picture is an illustration of that phenomenon. It said "winner" better than any other photo, so everyone picked it.

By the way, my second choice of the day was the one below that I used on the op-ed page, with the David Broder column. Obama’s expression isn’t nearly as good — he almost looks apprehensive — but he has that "eyes on the distant horizon" look, and the air Biden has of presenting him to the world (Behold, your new president!) was just too good, too apt, to pass up.

So on the whole, this Victorian Gent is satisfied.