Saturday, December 27, 2008

Politically, time will tell if new year will bring anything new

(Originally published 12/27/08)

Ah, the New Year ... time to resolve to lose those 15 pounds, get organized, quit smoking and make your life all you want it to be.

In other words, it's time to make all of last year's old resolutions new again.

For all the trite clichés about the new year (a fresh start, a blank slate, etc.), the new year can sometimes bring more of the same.

That can be true in politics, too –- different campaigns, same dirt; different names, same scandals; different promises, same results (or lack thereof).

Will this year finally bring something new?

President-elect Barack Obama, who won the presidency on a promise of change, will come to the White House already having dealt with its first scandal in the mess surrounding Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. As the International Herald Tribune pointed out this week, every president for the past three decades has been interviewed by federal investigators at some point. And although he participated as a witness, not a target, of the probe, "Obama may have set a land speed record by giving his first interview to investigators even before taking the oath of office," the IHT said.

How long will the Blagojevich scandal drag on? Will Obama's chief of staff-in-waiting, Rahm Emanuel, emerge unscathed? And how will the scandal itself tarnish the bully pulpit Obama won on Nov. 4?

Turning to Congress, how will Democrats handle their expanded power? They won bigger majorities in both houses at least in some part by running more conservative candidates in predominately Republican districts (Bobby Bright in Alabama's CD 2 is one example). How will House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid manage their bigger tents? Will the larger numbers shelter Obama’s initiatives to success? Or will the broader spectrum of political opinion in their party actually slow things down?

Most of Obama's biggest battles will be fought in the Senate. And although Democrats fell shy of the 60 seats they needed to avoid Republican filibusters, their lineup isn't final yet. The Minnesota grudge match between GOP incumbent Norm Coleman and former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Al Franken enters its eighth post-Election Day week; meanwhile, in Illinois, with Blagojevich facing impeachment, state legislators split between appointment and a special election and the state Supreme Court unwilling to intervene, it's uncertain how long Obama's Senate seat will remain vacant. Every day it does, Illinoisans are being shorted representation in Washington -– and Reid has one fewer vote on the board.

Closer to home, the campaign to succeed Gov. Bob Riley will kick off soon. The state budget is in proration and funding is in short supply. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for ambitious, egomaniacal politicians. Budget woes plus political jockeying? Should make for an exceptionally disappointing legislative session –- even by Alabama's low standards.

We'll have plenty to discuss into the New Year and beyond. But time, and the performance of our elected officials, will tell whether it will really bring anything new.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Want a merry Christmas? Choose to have one

(Originally published 12/20/08)

We talked in this space Thanksgiving week about things for which Americans can be thankful -– even when times are tough, as they are now.

Christmas is now upon us, and although this season means joy for millions around the world, for many others, the holidays just exacerbate their pain and loneliness.

One of my favorite things about Christmas is Christmas music, and one of my favorite Christmas songs is "'Til the season comes 'round again." But it's a bit different than the tunes of gaiety that usually typify the season.

The song is permeated with an underlying feeling that its author had been through a tough year. Although he doesn't elaborate or in any way describe his struggles, it's clear from the lyrics that in his life, fellowship with family and friends is more than a holiday obligation: It is what's keeping him going and giving him hope for the coming year.

In short, he makes a conscious decision to celebrate the season, giving thanks for what is instead of lamenting what isn't.

I recently heard someone expound on the power of the will to affect the emotions. We don't have to surrender our state of mind to the volatility of our circumstances, he said; we can choose to make our emotional state the result of an exercise of our will.

This is an important message -– not only for the many people out there who are struggling through a difficult holiday season of their own, but also for those of us who are not.

We can make a conscious decision to celebrate what we have. And we have a lot. Even in a down economy, as I discussed last month, Americans enjoy countless blessings that we simply take for granted every day.

In addition, we have the opportunity to make blessings for others. We can make a conscious decision to embody the season through acts of service or generosity to our neighbors. Donate to your favorite charity. Give to those less fortunate -– and be assured, there is always someone less fortunate.

But sharing the spirit of Christmas isn't only about money. Smile at people you meet. Look them in the eye when you speak to them. Really listen when you say, "How are you?" Show kindness to those around you.

On Christmas Eve, as I wrap presents and listen to the classic Christmas carols that have delighted people for 60 years or more, I'll be thinking of my Christmas wishes, which I share here with you:

  • That every child throughout the world would be safe, happy and loved;

  • That every homeless person would find inviting shelter;

  • That every hungry man, woman and child would have a warm meal to warm their souls;

  • That everyone already blessed with these things would share them with others, not just on Christmas but throughout the year; and

  • That your home on Christmas morning will be filled with the music of the season: songs of faith, family and giving – and the greatest gift of all.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Saturday, December 13, 2008

    For Blagojevich, governing is all about No. 1

    (Originally published 12/13/08)

    An Illinois governor, the subject of a federal investigation, charged with corruption and urged to resign.

    Gov. Rod Blagojevich?

    Well, yes. But also Gov. George Ryan – the man Blagojevich replaced.

    In running to replace Ryan, who would later be sent to federal prison, Blagojevich promised in 2002 to clean up the governor’s office. On the campaign trail, he talked about how he had pledged to his mother that he would always be honest and never take a bribe.

    Six years later, it was common knowledge that Blagojevich was under investigation for corruption. But the governor’s quick arrest Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s explanation of why it was necessary and Fitzgerald’s presentation of evidence against Blagojevich left the grittiest, most cynical political reporters – even longtime veterans of Chicago’s rough-and-tumble politics – astonished and searching for words.

    Don’t worry. Fitzgerald had them covered.

    “This is a sad day for government,” Fitzgerald said; Blagojevich was in the middle of a “political corruption crime spree” and “has taken us to a truly new low.”

    He described five examples of Blagojevich’s alleged corruption. In addition to the most publicized allegation – that Blagojevich tried to “sell” Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder – Fitzgerald described how the governor was caught on tape allegedly exploring ways to pull back $8 million in reimbursement funds for Children’s Memorial Hospital because its CEO had not come through with an expected $50,000 campaign contribution.

    Blagojevich has apparently joined the ranks of so many other public officials who have spat in the eyes of those who elected them – not only engaging in illegal and/or improper behavior, but boldly defying anyone to catch them.

    Most politicians disgraced this way finally get the message. They resign their posts or drop re-election bids, withdrawing in shame.

    But not Blagojevich. This guy redefines overachievement.

    The state’s attorney general, the lieutenant governor, all 50 Democratic members of the United States Senate and the president-in-waiting are all urging him to resign. The State Legislature is organizing an impeachment effort while scrambling to pass legislation in a special session that would strip Blagojevich of his ability to appoint Obama’s successor.

    But Blagojevich ignores them all. He doesn’t care that he has become politically radioactive. Not even 24 hours after being released on his own recognizance, he went right back to work.

    How is this sort of aloofness, this level of personal unassailability possible?

    It’s easy to understand if you consider Blagojevich’s governing philosophy, revealed in a recorded conversation on Nov. 12. Prosecutors say Blagojevich told his chief of staff that his decision about Obama’s successor would be based on three criteria and in this order of importance: “Our legal situation, our personal situation, my political situation. This decision, like every other one, needs to be based upon that: Legal. Personal. Political.”

    For Rod Blagojevich, governing has never been about anything but himself. We are the aloof ones if we expect that at this late date, even under fire, Blagojevich would actually do anything that is in anyone’s best interest but his own.

    In stubbornly clinging to power, he’s sticking right on script.

    Saturday, December 6, 2008

    Tuberville's departure confusing, sad and regrettable

    (Originally published 12/6/08)

    I wanted Tommy Tuberville to stay.

    Sure, it's been a disappointing year. But if you're wondering whether he could have turned things around, think back to what he inherited when he came to the Plains.

    Tuberville wasn't just a fireman. He has been a reconstructionist.

    And isn't it a testimony to Tuberville's success that 5-7 has been so painful? Thanks to Tuberville, we have had the luxury of forgetting the true despair of being 3-8.

    On Oct. 20, amid rumors that his job may be in jeopardy, Tuberville said he was "looking forward" to being in Auburn 10 more years. "I put my heart and soul in this thing and we ain’t going to stop now," he said.

    Sunday, Tuberville was similarly aggressive: “There's no doubt that we can get this thing turned back around ... I know what it takes ... I'm fully committed to doing it."

    Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs told reporters Thursday that as late as Monday, his goal was to fulfill Tuberville's desire to stay at Auburn for another five years.

    "Up until Tuesday, nothing was different," Jacobs said Thursday.

    But then, Wednesday, the coach who had never showed any signs of wanting to quit suddenly did.


    "I don't know. You'd have to talk to Tommy about that," Jacobs told reporters, recounting in a curious news conference that produced more questions than it answered how he and Auburn President Jay Gogue basically begged Tuberville to stay.

    It is the newest and greatest mystery about what goes on behind closed doors in the Auburn Athletic Complex, how the coach who wanted to stay so much that he has said he will remain in Auburn for at least the foreseeable future couldn't work things out with the administration that wanted to keep him so much that it will continue to use him as an ambassador for the university.

    Asked whether he believes Tuberville really resigned, Auburn center Jason Bosley looked as confused as everyone else.

    "I just know what I'm told," he said.

    Eighty-five wins over 10 years. Winning the SEC West. A conference title. Bowl bids in eight of the past 10 years. Cherished wins over our rival in six of the last seven. An undefeated season. A team that should have played for the national championship but was denied the opportunity by the BCS.

    If that was all Tuberville had produced, it should have been enough. But there's more.

    Student-athletes who placed an increased emphasis on their studies, proven by rising graduation rates. A cleaned-up program that never found itself in trouble with the NCAA, a welcome change from what Tuberville found when he arrived. A program that cares in equal measure about developing the character and athletic abilities of young men.

    Tuberville leaves a record that stands for more than numbers -- though the numbers were great. He leaves a record of integrity.

    Word has it that Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach would "walk on water" to coach in the SEC.

    Given the curious circumstances of Tuberville's departure, Auburn's next coach –- whoever it is –- will likely find that skill handy.

    Saturday, November 29, 2008

    There are still good reasons for Americans to give thanks

    (Originally published 11/29/08)

    Things are tough in America right now.

    Given the rocky economy, you may be a little further behind on your bills than you’d like. Maybe you’ve taken a pay cut or been told not to expect that Christmas bonus this year. Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you fear that you might.

    In circumstances like these, a little perspective goes a long way. Here are some of the things for which I gave thanks this week:

  • Even though adult illiteracy still exists as America’s pervasive, silent secret, I am able to write these words – and you are reading them.

  • Folks still have at least enough money in their pockets to afford a newspaper subscription or a paper out of the rack.

  • We live in a country where newspapers are free to print whatever they like – even though we may not always like what we read.

  • We had the chance to vote in a free and fair election that determined the leaders of our local, state and federal governments, and if we don’t like their performance, we know we’ll have a free and fair chance to replace them in due course.

  • The transition our government is undergoing now is taking place without the bloodshed and chaos that marks such transitions in some other countries.

  • We don’t have to worry, as many in the Congo do, about armed thugs coming to our refugee camps in the middle of the night and raping and kidnapping our children.

  • We don’t have to spend the days wondering, as parents in Haiti do, whether our children’s schools will collapse on top of them.

  • We don’t have to worry, as parents in Afghanistan do, that religious extremists may attack our daughters and throw acid in their faces as they make their way to school.

  • We aren’t still living in tent cities this winter, as many earthquake-displaced Iranians are.

  • Our Thanksgiving dinners didn’t consist of the dried mud cakes that many poverty-stricken people in Haiti must eat.

  • If we choose to give thanks at a place of worship this weekend, we don’t have to worry whether government soldiers will come in and drag us off to prison, as believers in some other nations do.

  • We aren’t in the position of hundreds of thousands of other families across Asia, who will mark next month the four-year anniversary of the tsunamis that swept away their loved ones.

    As it has been observed, if you have something to eat in the refrigerator, can put on clothes, live under a roof and have a place to sleep, you are better off than 70 percent of the people living in the world. An estimated 500 million across the globe are dealing with dangers of war, imprisonment, torture or hunger.

    This holiday season may not be shaping up exactly as you had expected. But when you’re tempted to lament your circumstances, remember the reality of your good fortune.

    Then reach out to others, whether across the world or right down your street. You may end up being a reason for which someone else gives thanks.
  • Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Big Three bailout pursuit a rejection of capitalism

    (Originally published 11/22/08)

    The CEOs of the Big Three automakers and the president of the United Auto Workers are painting a Doomsday scenario similar to what financial leaders told Congress ahead of the first bailout fight back in September: Unmitigated disaster looms if Congress doesn’t fork over another $25 billion (or more).

    (The Big Three have already gotten $25 billion from the federal government for research and development this year.)

    I’m curious: Do the Big Three and the UAW chief also support a bailout for the newspaper industry? Journalism is the only constitutionally protected profession in this country. How about the construction industry? The contractors, their subs and suppliers comprise many more jobs than the Big Three. What about real estate professionals? They are completely at the mercy of the market.

    These are national industries. The Big Three is mostly a regional industry.

    But there is no bailout talk for journalism, construction or real estate.

    Their job losses are just as painful. So why should UAW jobs be insulated from the economic downturn and protected above and beyond other jobs?

    Complicating the Big Three’s quest for bailout is the relatively new auto industry in the South.

    At a news conference Thursday, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger took potshots at Southern success – specifically, Alabama’s Mercedes, Hyundai and Toyota operations:

    “We can help the financial industry and give incentives to let foreign automakers compete against us,” Gettelfinger said. “But at the same time, we’re able to walk away from the industry that is the backbone of our economy.”


    One, whatever incentives Alabama has offered any business – foreign or domestic – to locate here have been Alabama’s choice and sacrifice. No one from Montgomery went to Washington and begged federal lawmakers to pave the way. If Gettelfinger wants to compare Alabama’s state incentives with the Big Three’s bailout request, then he should be rapping on Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s door.

    Two, Alabama’s incentives total a fraction of the billions Gettelfinger and the Big Three seek.

    Three, Alabama’s incentives have created new American jobs in a new industry and spawned new suppliers that employ American workers in just the past 15 years. The Big Three, by contrast, have been in business for a combined 288 years. Shouldn’t the more established automakers be better equipped to weather the downturn?

    Finally, and most disturbingly, why does Gettelfinger believe that Alabamians and Georgians and Tennesseans are somehow less entitled to jobs in the auto industry than Michiganders or Ohioans or Indianans or Pennsylvanians? I know the answer to this, and you probably do, too. I just wish he would admit it.

    A compromise might allow the Big Three more latitude with the R&D money it secured earlier this year. And they can always file for bankruptcy, reorganize and return stronger – like regular Americans do with their businesses every day.

    No company is "too big to fail." Every company can fail, just as every company can succeed. That’s the hazard, and the promise, of capitalism.

    But the Big Three CEOs and Gettelfinger need to ask themselves: If they happily enjoy their profits but refuse to take responsibility for their failures, are they even capitalists anymore?

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    The rehabilitation of Sarah Palin

    (Originally published 11/15/08)

    This week was all about Sarah Palin.

    The Alaska governor who spent her early days as the Republican VP nominee on a virtual media lockdown has spent the last seven submerged in a sea of interviews, striking back against disgruntled GOP aides who have grumbled to the press that she is a “diva” –- and worse.

    Fox News Channel’s Greta van Susteren opened the media blitz with a two-part interview in Alaska. She chatted with the governor as Palin prepared moose chili in a three-piece suit.

    Freed of the shackles of her tag-team role, the difference in Palin was apparent. It was hard to believe that the woman who sat down across from Wolf Blitzer was the same woman Katie Couric had befuddled.

    Fortuitous timing was on her side. She wrapped her press push around the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association, where she delivered a speech on the values and future of the Republican Party.

    Yes, she still had to answer those exasperating questions about the wardrobe and the tension within the presidential campaign. But the tie-in naturally led interviewers to refer to her as a party leader and ask her about her plans in 2012; this, in turn, gave Palin a natural opportunity to demur but leave her options open.

    Behold, the rehabilitation of Sarah Palin.

    I’m split on Palin’s full-court media press. If she wants to be taken seriously, she should stop making herself the story and just do her job. It’s how Hillary Clinton polished her policy chops when she was elected to the U.S. Senate. But I understand why Palin feels compelled to address the stories those GOP aides are lobbing out there: If she wants to debunk them before repetition alone buys them credibility, she has to do so now.

    This week taught us two things about Palin:

    One, she would have run a far different campaign than the one the McCain campaign charted for her. Palin said she would have sought more media exposure, not less; mistakes and warts and all, that's who she is, and she says she wants authenticity with voters above all else.

    Two, Palin doesn't tolerate incompetence well (ironic, I know). She noted during one interview this week that her frustrations are sometimes obvious. And they were during the campaign, as she struggled to abide by the tight parameters McCain's advisers set for her.

    Both are for better or for worse. Authenticity isn't always pretty, and it's usually preferable for elected leaders to hold their tongues in difficult situations. But in a political system rife with made-for-TV candidates who wouldn't know to tie their shoes if their scripts didn’t order it, there are plenty of voters out there who happily prefer the refreshment of the unvarnished truth to the same cold gruel they've been digesting for years.

    She may not be able to see Russia from her house. But this week’s media blitz proves that Sarah Palin is keeping a close eye on Washington –- and she intends to be around a while.

    Saturday, November 8, 2008

    From aspirant to executive: Change comes to Obama

    (Originally published 11/8/08)

    Almost two years and $700 million removed from the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., the triumphant junior senator from the Prairie State stood Tuesday before a sea of supporters as President-elect Barack Obama.

    Borne to the stage of victory on a wave and a promise of change, his journey was fueled by soaring oratory that has already made some grade-school textbooks.

    But as change has come to America in the form of the nation’s first black president, so has it come to Obama himself. The man Colin Powell called a “transformational leader” has begun a personal transformation –- from candidate to commander, from dreamer to doer. And he’s likely finding out that achieving the change he has promised will be tougher than delivering the speeches in which he described it.

    Even as he anticipated victory and planned his transition to power, Obama began tamping down supporters’ expectations that change would come quickly. Indeed, Obama noted Tuesday night that change may not be accomplished “in one year or even in one term.”

    Obama received his first complete intelligence briefing on Thursday, so the perspective he had on world affairs that morning had likely changed a bit by afternoon. He heard everything we know about those who plot against America, including details about covert operations and tips provided by American spies tucked away in plain sight around the globe.

    During the campaign, Obama pledged to create a new tone in Washington, an atmosphere of cooperation among public officials who could “disagree without being disagreeable.” On Thursday, he hired U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a veteran of the Clinton Administration, as his chief of staff. Emanuel -– a man political observers have called “ruthless” -– has West Wing experience, but his appointment is a disappointment for those who had hoped Obama’s administration would transcend the very unapologetic partisanship and fierce rhetoric that Emanuel embodies.

    Obama spent nearly two years decrying the “Karl Rove-style politics” of the Bush Administration. But given the opportunity with his first and most important non-Cabinet appointment to un-Rove the White House, he chose in Emanuel a Rove all his own.

    On Election Night, Obama assured Americans who did not vote for him, “I hear your voices ... And I will be your president, too.”

    Ironically, while Obama made hope the handmaiden of his message of change, it is Americans who supported John McCain who are now left to haltingly, if skeptically, hope – hope that a man whose economic motives they mistrust and whose experience they question will be able to govern with the same singular focus and determination to succeed that won him the White House.

    Much of Obama’s executive destiny will be determined in the Senate, where Democrats await final word on their swelling majority. Democratic wins in just two of the four outstanding races will render GOP filibusters impracticable and likely deliver to Obama his signature proposals –- and a large portion of the federal judiciary –- on a silver platter.

    Faced, then, with pursuing change in a system that was built to resist it, Obama’s biggest challenge to change may be practicing his politics-above-partisanship promise when the only check on Obama’s power is the president himself.

    Saturday, November 1, 2008

    Take your place in history's parade: Vote

    (Originally published 11/1/08)

    Over the past 21 months, have you fallen into a lull and let all the political noise fade into the background?

    Considering the commercials that have blanketed television over the past four weeks, tuning out is more of an adaptive survival skill than anything.

    But this campaign, which feels like it’s been going on forever, will end –- and it will end in something very concrete.

    The winner of next week’s presidential election will hold your lives and your livelihoods in his hands for the next four years.

    Americans of all stripes, with backgrounds as diverse as we are, will join Tuesday in one of the common civic duties that ensures the survival of our way of life: We’ll go to the veterans’ halls, recreation centers, churches, temples, schools and other polling locations around our communities to choose the leaders we wish to serve us in local, state and federal office.

    It all comes down to this. I hope you’re planning to take part.

    On past election days, I have occasionally encountered people who shared with me that yes, they plan to vote, as long as they have time/there aren’t long lines/it isn’t raining/they can get a good parking spot, etc.

    In short, they are willing to cheapen -– or throw away altogether –- their right to vote based on convenience.

    I struggle to understand people like this.

    Barack Obama’s historic candidacy has amazed many older African-Americans who remember the time when they were refused the ballot.

    If you read Mary Belk’s column in this paper on Wednesday, you know what the women of the suffrage movement paid for their rights –- and the rights of their daughters and granddaughters and all who came after –- to have a say in the stake of their future.

    White men aren’t immune from being denied their constitutional rights. Not so long ago and just 30 miles from where the Opelika-Auburn News was printed this morning, men were beaten and bloodied for daring to show up at the polls to support candidates who spoke out against the corruption and graft that was swallowing Phenix City whole.

    It wasn’t convenient or easy for them, but people in each of these groups stood up and fought in their time so that you can stand up without a fight on Tuesday.

    Vote. Don’t let anything get in your way. Take your children with you if you can. Talk with them about the process and why your vote matters.

    And yes, it does matter. When you lean over the sacred luxury that is your secret ballot, secured for you by those patriots who gave of themselves so you would have the ability to express your desires for the leadership of your country, do not dishonor their sacrifice by casting a throwaway vote. Your vote is only one, but it is yours. Do not compromise your principles for the sake of party or cast your ballot out of disgust more than desire. You control the validity of your vote; don’t dilute it for any obligation beyond your own civic responsibilities as an American.

    You owe your forebears and descendants -– and yourself -– that much.

    Saturday, October 25, 2008

    630 days down; nine to go

    (Originally published 10/25/08)

    Plenty of things have likely changed in your life over the past 21 months, but there has been one constant: We’re still talking presidential politics.

    It’s hard to believe that some people -– a group large enough to constitute double digit percentages in some polls, if you believe the numbers -– say they still don’t know for whom they will vote.

    Who are these people, and where have they been?

    I read one comment this week from someone who said he believes that no one is truly undecided. If they say they’re still on the fence, it’s just because they crave attention.

    But who wants more attention? I know you’re probably sick of all the polls and speculation and allegations and disgustingly awful television commercials. I’m a political junkie, and even I’ve had enough.

    It’s been a difficult campaign, rife with disturbing undertones and flush with the promulgation of unsubstantiated, irrelevant and indefensible innuendo. But we can no longer blame the candidates alone for the nosedive in the level of American political discourse.

    Voters themselves are culpable. Many of the same conservatives who prize Sarah Palin and renounce the media’s relentless attacks on her have spread false information about Barack Obama through e-mail and on blogs for months. And many liberals who cheered Hillary Clinton in the primary season and decried the sexist treatment they said she endured have been guilty of sexism themselves as they have mercilessly mocked Palin over the past two months.

    Through all this, the mainstream media has breathlessly reported on major national issues like the amount of money that might have been spent on Palin’s wardrobe. Considering the sheer number and profound gravity of the issues facing this country, I am at a loss to explain the news “judgment” that went into chasing that story. Unfortunately, it’s indicative of the poor choices and sloppy reporting that have characterized the mainstream media’s overall coverage of this race: It has been constantly plagued by the blurring line between reporting and punditry. Both the coverage of this election and the mainstream media’s credibility have suffered as a result.

    If you’re sick of John McCain and Barack Obama, remember that there are lots of downticket races, state proposals and local referenda that will need your attention. These are at least as important -– and perhaps more important, at least as they relate to your daily life –- than the race that tops the ticket.

    Over the next few days, the Opelika-Auburn News will present its editorial endorsements. (For more on the congressional race between U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers and Josh Segall, check out my blog on Sunday.) I encourage you to read the recommendations and consider the arguments presented therein. You probably won’t agree with all the endorsements. But don’t miss the opportunity to strengthen your argument that exists in carefully considering the one made for the other side.

    Finally, I’m just hoping we’re ready for what these closing days will bring. If the last 630 days are any indication, the final nine will be downright harsh.

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    'Joe the Plumber’ offers false connection between candidates and voters

    (Originally published 10/18/08)

    On Sunday morning, Joe Wurzelbacher was a regular guy, a plumber in Toledo, Ohio.

    Then he met Barack Obama on the campaign trail.

    Wurzelbacher questioned Obama about his tax plan and extracted from Obama a sentence Republicans received with glee: “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

    Someone nearby was running a video camera, so it wasn’t long before the clip went viral on the Internet.

    Suddenly, John McCain’s campaign staff was inviting Wurzelbacher to appear with the GOP nominee at campaign events. Barely 72 hours after his colloquial conversation with Obama, Wurzelbacher had become a buzzword: Between the two of them, McCain and Obama mentioned “Joe the Plumber” more than two dozen times in their 90-minute debate Wednesday night.

    The candidates had found a symbol. The national media sensed a phenomenon. And Halloween costume retailers had been handed a male counterpart to the jackpot they already have in Sarah Palin.

    As for Joe the person, he’s enjoying the benefits –- and dealing with the consequences –- of his 15 minutes of fame. He’s making the rounds on national talk shows, but he’s been exposed as a tax debtor. He’s finding that when it comes to public perception, becoming a symbol means losing some humanity.

    But when the media coterie covering the presidential campaign has left the Buckeye State and Wurzelbacher returns to his plumbing truck, the caricature he became will remain with us, seared into our political psyche by relentless repetition. Whereas previous election cycles gave us soccer moms and NASCAR dads, 2008 bequeath to us “Joe the Plumber.”

    So while the media asked, “Who is ‘Joe the Plumber?’” broader questions went unaddressed: What does it say about the policies of our presidential nominees when the candidates are left to explain them through an unassuming plumber from Toledo? What does it say about their leadership and their connectivity to the people they hope to govern?

    What does it say about the rest of us that the candidates seize upon a symbol as if it is indicative of every American waiting to cast a ballot?

    The irony of “Joe the Plumber” is that in relying on a symbol to connect with us on an individual level, the candidates abandon any opportunity of connecting with us as individuals.

    By marrying their campaigns to the symbol of “Joe the Plumber,” McCain and Obama accept Wurzelbacher as an acceptable stand-in for the rest of us –- to them, he is America, writ large. In doing this, they assume one of two things: Either voters lack the ability and understanding necessary to find our own way through the implications of their proposals, or there really isn’t an appreciable difference among us to necessitate differentiation.

    It isn’t a flattering picture –- for them or for us –- either way.

  • Thanks to those of you who participated in Wednesday’s live blog chat. We’ve planned another one for election night, so I hope you’ll plan to join us. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions about how we can expand or improve that feature, please e-mail me. We’d love to hear from you!

  • Saturday, October 11, 2008

    Is Washington calling the code on capitalism?

    (Originally published 10/11/08)

    No end in sight.

    That’s how reporters described the markets’ freefall this week.

    But it seems there’s also no end in sight to Washington’s frantic scramble to stanch the financial bleeding.

    When Congress passed the $700 billion so-called bailout plan last week, lawmakers said it was only the first step toward restoring stability to an economy that suddenly resembled a sieve.

    Well, at least they were right about that.

    The initial Wall Street bailout was followed by a similar bailout of British banks by their government; an almost-unprecedented interest rate cut coordinated by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the central banks of five other countries – and another $37 billion crutch from Uncle Sam to AIG.

    ... After AIG executives returned from that cushy, $500,000 resort retreat to recuperate from the exhaustive exploits of their corporate marauding, of course.

    But then came the devastating body blow to American capitalism: Reports that the U.S. government may now adopt the British philosophy and nationalize at least part of many banks as part of the $700 billion not-a-bailout plan.

    But the markets continue to tumble. Why?

    Could it be that the very actions meant to stabilize the markets is what is causing their continued instability? Could it be that investors are reacting to the idea that the government is taking over Wall Street?

    Between the billions being given away hand over fist to corporations that have spent years defying the simplest good-business principles and the incomprehensible trillions of dollars that have simply evaporated on Wall Street over the past three weeks, Americans could be forgiven for missing the forest for all the felled trees.

    I recently read an article in Time Magazine entitled, “How we became the United States of France.” In it, Bill Saporito catalogs the many ways the federal government has now intervened in various aspects of the free market while haughtily maintaining a disingenuous façade of laissez-faire superiority. “We don't want to interfere with market forces like the French do — until we do,” Sapirito writes. “We’re more French than France.”

    Thank goodness Saporito treated his subject with humor. Without it, the underlying reality would be too depressing to describe.

    I don’t advocate an unconstrained market. We live in the real world, not insulated by the illusory shelter of one that exists only in theory between the covers of economics textbooks. If the mortgage industry’s meltdown gifted anything to American economics and politics, it is the lasting lesson of the dangers of laissez-faire run amok.

    But somewhere between willful government detachment and irresponsible government giveways, there must lie a sensible middle ground – a place where investors are free to dare and dream and build their fortunes, but where accountability awaits if they trample their fellow citizens along the way.

    Over the next six to nine months, the United States of America will either affirm its lifelong commitment to capitalism – to entrepreneurship, to the underlying idea that it is the individual, not the government, that is the catalyst for wealth production – or abandon it to become the world’s newest welfare state.

    There is no end in sight to signs of the latter.

    Saturday, October 4, 2008

    Could financial crisis signal end of two-party system?

    Originally published 10/4/08)

    PBS personality Gwen Ifill asked vice presidential nominees Joe Biden and Sarah Palin during their debate Thursday whether this week’s chaos on Capitol Hill over the financial industry bailout plan revealed the best or worst of Washington.

    It was both.

    This week in Washington was simply remarkable: Fascinating, thrilling and wonderfully messy.

    It was a beautiful chaos that pervaded the House vote on Monday: Lawmakers scurrying around, furiously negotiating with the fate of the bill in the balance.

    So much of what happens in Washington is scripted and calculated. As independence and true debate among lawmakers has become all but extinct, the legislative process has become a bad reality show. It was so refreshing to see lawmakers operating in an uncontrolled, unpredictable environment.

    We saw the worst Washington has to offer in the lead-up to the crisis -– when neither Democrats nor Republicans were successful in enacting the necessary regulation to require common sense in lending when mortgage giants ignored it –- and in the finger-pointing that went on in the hours following the bill’s stunning rejection in the House on Monday.

    Republican leaders blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a partisan speech she gave in the moments leading up to the vote. But barely two days later, they were working with her to try to find 12 votes to ensure the bill’s passage.

    Meanwhile, the Senate cobbled together a compromise that united Democrats and Republicans – not by party, but on principle.

    And the two-party system splintered. Blue Dog Democrats in the House joined forces with Senate Republicans like Richard Shelby; the former out of concern for the deficit, the latter out of concern for the free market. Pelosi and her Republican nemesis, Minority Leader John Boehner, pleaded together with their members for support. Liberal senators acceded to conservative-style tax cuts to placate shaky House Republicans.

    Fellow Americans, we have seen this week a glimpse of the impact a multi-party political system would have on Capitol Hill.

    I loved it.

    Lay aside the contentious nature of the bill itself. Think about the bartering, the hard compromise, the genuine coalition-building that has had to take place to move it.

    Over the last week, the best of Washington was revealed as our elected officials had to talk with each other, consider all sides, make the best of all the ideas and work together to find a solution to a problem facing our nation.

    This week required our elected officials to actually do their jobs.

    Republicans and Democrats spent the first part of the week pointing fingers at each other. They spent the second half of the week learning – some for the first time – how to work together.

    Come to find out, there’s a lot more to them than the D or R behind their names.

    If any good can come of this “toxic mess” in which we now find our economy, perhaps it will be the end of the two-party political system and the stranglehold it has on our policymaking process.

    Maybe then, we’ll know the best of Washington when we see it.

    Saturday, September 27, 2008

    Equal is equal ... except when it's not

    (Originally published 9/27/08)

    Lilly Ledbetter had worked at the Gadsden, Ala., Goodyear plant for 19 years and was preparing for retirement in 1998. An anonymous colleague tipped her off in a note that that she had been underpaid by thousands of dollars a year compared to her male colleagues. Even her pension was affected.

    A jury awarded Ledbetter more than $3.3 million in back pay and damages. But the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the award last year, ruling 5-4 that Ledbetter had filed her claim too late. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 typically gives workers 180 days from the time of the alleged discrimination to report it.

    As dissenting justices pointed out, workers don’t typically have access to other employees’ paychecks for comparison.

    Never mind that, the majority said. You’re still on the clock.

    Democratic lawmakers howled. In legislation to fix the problem, lawmakers say the decision "significantly impairs statutory protections against discrimination" "contrary to the intent of Congress."

    Republicans, including both of Alabama’s U.S. senators, are blocking the bill out of fear that the clarification would lead to lawsuits that would drag down the economy.

    ... Because greedy mortgage lenders haven’t done that already. But I digress.

    Opponents give bloviating speeches about how they support equal pay for equal work. They wax warmly about their mothers, sisters and daughters and the good work they do in the economy. And then they go kill the legislation that would make things better -- and by better, I mean just equal –- for their mothers, sisters and daughters.

    U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers voted against the bill when it passed Congress last year. Why? Here’s the full explanation his press secretary provided:

    "I grew up in a blue collar family with a Mom who worked at a textile mill and Dad who served as a firefighter. I know firsthand the pains of working people, and of working women in particular. I certainly understand the intent of this legislation, but remain concerned it simply doesn’t strike the right balance."

    Really? What is the right balance? What did Rogers do, if anything, to improve the bill? And was Rogers’ mother lucky enough to make equal pay for equal work at the textile mill? Or was she underpaid and discriminated against, too?

    Rogers didn’t respond.

    Of course, Republicans who believe so much in fairness could offer their own bill or amend the existing one. Maybe they’d like to block punitive damages. I wouldn’t like it – after all, punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer for ... well, doing wrong. How are they not appropriate in a case wherein a corporation has knowingly, willfully and repeatedly violated the Constitution and discriminated against its employees?

    But at least I would respect them for trying to make the bill into something they could support. Instead, they give us trite sound bites about how they support the principle but oppose a bill that would strengthen that principle.

    There’s been a lot of talk this year about women’s progress in this country.

    Yes, we have come a long way, baby. But Lilly Ledbetter’s appearance in the Senate on Tuesday was a stark reminder that we’ve still got a long way to go.

    Editor’s note: Staff for U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers responded to my follow-up questions after this column’s print deadline. To read the response, read “Alabama’s lawmakers on the Fair Pay Restoration Act” here.

    Saturday, September 20, 2008

    The culture of entitlement calls in its loan

    (Originally published 9/20/08)

    $300 billion in two weeks.

    That’s what it has cost American taxpayers to expunge the recklessness and willful irresponsibility of corporate mortgage giants.

    The latest failure, of megainsurer AIG, was remarkable for its size and its speed; after it floundered almost overnight, AIG on Wednesday became the fourth financial institution overtaken by Uncle Sam this year.

    Wall Street was in freefall, and leadership was scarce. “No one knows what to do,” Senate Majority Leader Harry “Henny Penny” Reid lamented Wednesday. When a 410-point resurgence in Thursday trading failed to calm world markets, congressional leaders began drowning in bug-eyed panic.

    Lawmakers emerged from hastily arranged evening meetings with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke looking like bewildered youth. As administration officials outlined the great, great-granddaddy of all bailouts -– a gigantic government program to enable banks to get rid of “illiquid assets on financial institutions’ balance sheets,” Paulson said –- lawmakers became bobbleheads beside the podium. They would do exactly as they were told -– and on the double, too.

    To put this in perspective, if we count the economic stimulus package from earlier this year, the U.S. government is now $400 million in the bailout tank for 2008.

    By comparison, the plan Paulson outlined will enable the government to assume “illiquid assets” of at least $1 trillion – though the total could be twice that much.

    One TRILLION dollars.

    Hello, Austin Powers? Dr. Evil, line 1.

    Republicans blame Democrats for failing to acknowledge the role of the individual in the mortgage mess. It is a willing, if unwise, borrower who assumes a loan he can’t repay. Democrats, in turn, blame Republicans for promoting a culture of deregulation that has allowed the financial services industry to prey on vulnerable Americans. After all, who doesn’t want a home?

    They’re both right –- and wrong.

    Republicans ignore the predatory nature of so many subprime lenders, which sought out such loans and happily wallowed in the rich interest rates they could charge before the loans inevitably ended in default.

    Democrats neglect to mention that although they’ve been in power for two years, they’ve failed to institute whatever industry regulations they presumably believe could have stopped this mess.

    Wait; I forgot. They didn’t know what to do.

    Anyway, the reality is that this crisis began when Americans were seduced into this pervasive entitlement culture and began to allow greed to supplant personal responsibility. This is as true of the lenders as it is of the borrowers.

    It’s what morphed capitalism into the grotesque, barely recognizable shell of itself that we now see. Is it any wonder the free market is on life support?

    Analysts say that if it’s properly structured and executed, the government’s grandiose bailout deal might yet work out for the American taxpayer.

    But even if we lose the money, we must determine to find in this tumultuous upheaval a renewed commitment to personal responsibility and self-reliance.

    Because if the last two weeks are any indication, by the time this is all over, reliance on self may be all we have left.

    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    Remembering 9/11 -- and how to never forget

    (Originally published 9/13/08)

    What were you doing on Sept. 11?

    2008, not 2001.

    How did you remember the worst terrorist attack on American soil?

    Millions of Americans watched the observances from Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. Others participated in services involving first responders in cities and towns, like ours, all across the country.

    As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, this is altogether fitting and proper.

    I watched news coverage from 9/11. I knew it would be unsettling, watching the anchors sort through the confusion. Watching in sheer disbelief as another plane careened across the sky and buried itself into the second tower. Watching two massive structures crumble to the ground. Watching people slowly realize what was happening.

    Watching the world change.

    I didn’t realize the physiological reaction I would have to reliving all this. Seven years on, my pulse was racing, my breathing more rapid. I was tense.

    Amid the annual vows to “never forget,” I wondered: Do we truly remember –- not where we were, but how we felt?

    I was seven months pregnant with our first child and teaching a 10th grade English class. I had just picked up a test when my phone rang. We turned on the television. As that second plane hit the WTC, I touched my belly and wondered what sort of world my child would inherit. My students asked what was happening; I had no answers. President Bush was 10 miles away, and he was a likely next target.

    I turned and looked at my students. Twenty minutes before, their greatest concern had been passing a vocabulary test. These teenagers -– who, like all teens, constantly strove to be older -– suddenly looked like lost little children.

    It is a psychological necessity to mentally distance one’s self from trauma. There is nothing shameful or unpatriotic about it. Survival requires it. It is one of the ways we cope with tragedy in our lives.

    But moving on shouldn’t mean checking out.

    Survival also requires adaptation. That is doubly true when the environment is a new one. Animals who cannot adapt their self-defense strategies to meet the needs of their environment can become prey for those that can.

    And so it is with terrorism.

    So how do we adapt?

    As long as the enemy exists, we must never underestimate his capability. We cannot have, as 9/11 commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton so evocatively said, another "failure of imagination."

    And we must consciously decide to remember the raw shock, the weight of our helplessness and then the steely resolve this nation shared in the days that followed.

    Far from politicizing 9/11, it helps us to remain united as a nation -– whatever our philosophical differences -– and committed to the singular goal of protecting our country and our people from terrorism. As President Kennedy said: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

    May God comfort the families of those lost, and may He protect those of us who remain -– and remember.

    Saturday, September 6, 2008

    Partisanship doesn't have to be poisonous

    (Originally published 9/6/09)

    John McCain accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday, delivering a safe, if staid, address to the party faithful convened in Minneapolis.

    Pundits were split on the efficacy of the speech, but they agreed on one thing: The partisan tone struck at the Republican convention was over the top.

    I don’t understand that analysis, especially since many of these same pundits condemning the GOP’s tone were the same ones who, barely a week ago, were decrying the Democratic Party for not being aggressive enough in attacking Republicans.

    I watched about 80 percent of the presentations in prime time over the two weeks. Neither side had any difficulty leveling aggressively partisan charges against the other.

    Of course, that didn’t stop the ticket-toppers of both parties from employing the buzz words of bipartisanship, “building coalitions” and “reaching across the aisle.”

    But is partisanship necessarily a bad thing?

    After all, we expect each party to believe its ideas are the best. Partisanship an inevitable product of our adversarial two-party system. It is much like dissent, which is sacrosanct under our political system.

    The problem develops when partisanship and dissent morph into something else, something deeper.

    Something uglier.

    It happens when protesters, in a frenetic, almost possessed effort to dilute, disparage and diminish the message of their opponents, trample the free speech and expression rights of those opponents. It happens whenever someone receives –- and then forwards -– an e-mail that attacks the character of a person without considering the veracity of the claims contained therein.

    John McCain repeatedly contended with the former as he tried on deliver his speech on Thursday. Barack Obama has been constantly victimized by the latter over the past year and a half.

    Who determined that it is impossible to agreeably disagree with one’s opponents? Who made the decision that elections are now full-time affairs?

    Who decided that partisanship has to be poisonous?

    It’s no wonder our governments are failing us. If you don’t ever stop campaigning, you can never start governing.

    McCain and Obama will use the next eight weeks to aggressively advance their ideas, as they should. But I’d love to see them demonstrate along the way that political opponents can cooperate on some ideas even while opposing each other on most others.

    Public service is one issue where the candidates can start working on that “common ground.”

    The Democratic candidates kicked around the idea of compulsory community service in one debate last summer. John McCain built his whole convention –- indeed, his entire candidacy -– around the idea of “serving a cause greater than your own self-interest.”

    By virtue of their divergent life experiences, both men are in unique positions to talk about the value of public service and how that service can change America for the better. Surely both men would agree that whatever change needs to come to Washington, much more effective change can be made by individual citizens who mobilize with a determination to make a difference in their communities -– and, by extension, their country.

    On Nov. 4, only one man can win the election. But America can be the real victor in the end.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008

    Sarah Palin a surprise? Shouldn’t have been

    (Originally published 8/30/08)

    Sarah Palin is a politician whose name you probably never heard before this week –- or maybe even yesterday.

    Why would John McCain pick a former “Miss Wasilla” and first runner up in the 1984 Miss Alaska beauty pageant, even if she is the state's popular governor? She’s unknown outside the Last Frontier.

    The national media is playing Palin’s pick as a surprise. But is it?

    Conservatives who were unnerved at the idea of McCain picking a moderate are assured with Palin on the ticket. An avid hunter and fisherman, Palin is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. Like Joe Biden’s son, Beau, Palin’s eldest son serves in the Armed Forces and will be deployed to Iraq by the time voters decide who should lead them. And her pro-life politics are more than just talking points: In April, she delivered a son she and her husband knew would have Down syndrome.

    Politically, the pick looks like a slam dunk: Voters concerned about McCain’s age? At 44, Palin is the youngest governor Alaska’s history. Running against an historic ticket that features the first African-American presidential nominee from a major party? Palin is also Alaska’s first female governor.

    The pick is obviously meant to attract disaffected women who were disappointed that Barack Obama didn’t choose Hillary Clinton as his No. 2. And Palin’s personal story will likely resonate with them. A beauty queen, yes, but an athlete, too; she eloped with her high school sweetheart; her five children range in age from 19 years to just four months; a self-professed “hockey mom,” she will connect with mothers across political and generational spectra.

    As an elected official, she has broken with members of her own party. Her battle to root out political corruption in Alaska nearly cost her her own political career when she exposed powerful fellow Republicans. She’s been active on energy issues, pushing for drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. As governor, she has crusaded against wasteful government spending vetoing “pork barrel projects.”

    It’s no wonder McCain is comfortable with her. She’s all but a younger, female version of himself.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that Palin has executive experience, something McCain, Obama and Biden don’t. And in this year of “change,” the pick leaves the McCain ticket with 22 combined years in Washington, while the Obama-Biden ticket tallies nearly 40.

    The only question is whether Palin can match Biden at the vice presidential debate on Oct. 8. But even that may work in her favor: Biden will come in a heavy favorite and have to find some way to meet those astronomical expectations without coming across as too aggressive against a woman who once was named “Miss Congeniality.” In that way, McCain seems to have neutralized Biden’s well-earned reputation as a fearless attack dog: His biggest asset as a VP candidate.

    When word leaked out yesterday that Palin was McCain’s pick, I was among those who had their doubts.

    But considering what I’ve learned about her in the last 24 hours, I’ve come to think that it would have been folly for him to choose anyone else.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    Obama VP prospects abound, but few fit the bill

    (Editor's note: Major media outlets are reporting that Barack Obama has selected Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate. For more, check out the Clarion Caller Blog.)

    (Originally published 8/23/08)

    Barack Obama is within hours of announcing his vice presidential pick.

    Of course, we’ve been hearing that since the first of this week.

    So let’s take a look at the list of contenders while we still can:

    Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh are believed to lead the pack. Kaine is a popular Democratic governor in a suddenly-swing state that hasn’t gone for a Democrat for president since at least 1968. He could do wonders for Obama in the South. But Kaine has literally no foreign policy experience, and that would leave Obama-Kaine vulnerable on that issue all the way to November – and possibly beyond.

    Biden has all the foreign policy experience Obama could want. But he would be no help to Obama in the South, and he’s been in the Senate since 1972 – 14 years longer than McCain, whom Obama attacks as a “Washington insider.” Selling as an agent of change a 65-year-old senator who’s spent half his life in Washington would require a speech beyond even Obama’s superior oratorical capabilities.

    Bayh is a steady-Eddie who isn’t prone to mistakes. He wouldn’t upstage Obama on the trail, and since he supported Hillary Clinton in the primary, his selection would be seen by many of her supporters as an olive branch to unite the party. But Bayh voted for the Iraq War. Swing state or no, Democrats wouldn’t approve of Obama “rewarding” Bayh in spite of that position, and Obama would have a hard time squaring Bayh’s selection with his pledge to choose someone who shares his ideas.

    Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is a rising star whom Democratic Party leaders tapped to give her party’s response to President Bush’s State of the Union in January. Obama-Sebelius could give a nod to the millions of women who supported Hillary Clinton for president – just without all that Clinton baggage. But Sebelius lacks the foreign policy credentials that Obama needs if he’s going to be able to respond to McCain as he campaigns on his military service throughout the fall.

    As for Hillary herself, some have suggested that Obama may be orchestrating a masterful head fake by focusing the attention on Kaine, Biden and Bayh to deflect it from his plans to select her. But as I said back in June, it can’t be a good thing that more than one pundit has used the phrase “food taster” in describing what Obama would need to make that partnership work. The poisonous darts of the primary are just too much to forget.

    Other names have cropped up, including U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed and even Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel – a Republican. But none of these prospects offers the whole package.

    That leaves us with former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Neither has led pundits’ speculation as they have reached fever pitch.

    But beyond having what Obama needs to round out the ticket, both men have what it takes to be president.

    And that’s what should drive Obama’s decision in the end.

    Saturday, August 16, 2008

    Conventions, protestors and peaceful assembly

    (Originally published 8/16/08)

    The conventions are right around the corner, and you know what that means: Long-winded speeches with painfully predictable sound bites. Goofy pins and hats that look more at home in the Disney costume collection. The hackneyed balloon-and-confetti drop.

    And ... protestors!

    CBS 4 in Denver got an inside look at the holding facility city officials have prepared for use in the (unlikely? inevitable?) event the demonstrations become violent during the Democratic National Convention. Denver’s jails are already beyond capacity, and putting protestors there isn’t an option. So the facility is a city-owned warehouse that’s been – shall we say, repurposed.

    The reporter described the “dozens (of) metal cages” “made out of chain link fence material and topped by rolls of barbed wire. Each of the fenced areas is about 5 yards by 5 yards and there is a lock on the door. A sign on the wall reads ‘Warning! Electric stun devices used in this facility.’”

    Naturally, protestors who may end up in the lockup weren’t impressed by their potential accommodations. They’ve already calling it “Gitmo on the Platte.”

    Zoe Williams of Code Pink – an organization that considers Nancy Pelosi to be too conservative – remarked that the temporary jail was “very bare bones and very reminiscent of a political prisoner camp or a concentration camp.”

    Williams knows a little something about jail; CBS says she was arrested at the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004. But that woman compared this warehouse with a place like Auschwitz.

    Outrage, anyone?

    Then there’s this genius: “That’s how you treat cattle,” said Tent State University organizer Adam Jung. “You showed the sign where it said, ‘Stun gun in use,’ and you just change the word ‘gun’ for ‘bolt’ and it’s a meat processing plant.”

    And they wonder why the majority of Americans can’t take them seriously.

    But Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper still felt the need to explain “the purpose of the holding facility” through “community outreach.”

    It could have been the shortest press release ever: “The purpose of the facility is to detain protestors who choose not to adhere to the rule of law in Denver.”

    But Hickenlooper said that the “temporary arrestee processing center” (as the city calls it) is meant to provide “additional processing capability to reduce the time that arrestees will have to wait to be processed, post bond and/or appear in court.”
    Denver Sheriff’s Department officials added that the facility “will not be used for long-term detention” and that people will only be there for “the few hours it requires for processing.”

    Hickenlooper assures protestors that the city “does not anticipate the need for widespread arrests during the Convention” but “it is obligated to plan and prepare for that possibility given the volume of people anticipated to attend and the intention of some organizations to deliberately get arrested.

    “To this end, the temporary arrest processing center will be operational as needed.”

    So there’s a simple solution for the protestors who don’t care for Denver’s digs. To paraphrase the First Amendment: Peaceable assembly.

    And that should be easy. After all, they are all about peace, right?

    Saturday, August 9, 2008

    Equality isn't achieved through unequal laws

    (Originally published 8/9/08)

    The case of Luis Ramirez is the latest incident that has civil rights advocates calling for an expansion in the federal hate crimes law.

    Ramirez, a 25-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant, had been at a friend’s house on July 12. While walking his fiancee’s sister home around 11 p.m., Ramirez encountered three white teenaged boys. Words were exchanged and epithets reportedly used. A fight ensued. When it was over, Ramirez had been beaten into unconsciousness. He died two days later.

    The three young men face murder charges, and the federal government has opened a civil rights investigation into the matter. But prosecutors have already labeled the incident a hate crime and have charged the three teens – star students and football players in the small town of Shenandoah, Pa. – with ethnic intimidation.

    Hate crimes are specific bias-motivated acts that are defined as distinct crimes and punished with harsher criminal penalties. In addition to the federal provision, all but five states have some form of hate crimes law.

    I have always had a hard time understanding the idea that society can create or foster equality by treating its citizens in unequal ways.

    Hate crimes laws echo existing provisions outlawing murder, assault and battery, intimidation and property destruction – they just create and designate "protected classes." A murder, for example, can be punished more severely if the victim belonged to a "protected class."

    Of course, by definition, if some classes are "protected," that must mean others are not.

    Are you one of the lucky ones?

    In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, the case that set the precedent for hate crimes law, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that bias-inspired conduct is more harshly punished because it "is thought to inflict greater individual and societal harm. For example ... bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest."

    But if the likelihood of spawning distinct emotional harms and community unrest is the standard, then physical, sexual and mental abuse of children must be hate crimes against kids. Rape must be a hate crime against women.

    You see the problem here? Who deserves to be especially protected, and who has to settle for being just plain old regular protected?

    And is it even fair to draw such a distinction? Isn’t the life of a person in a non-protected group just as affected as an attack on someone in a protected class? Why should one perpetrator be punished less severely than the other?

    And the law already provides “penalty-enhancement provisions:” They’re called aggravating circumstances. Taken into consideration at sentencing, they allow harsher punishment for crimes that are especially heinous or outrageous.

    It’s ironic that political liberals are most often the ones supporting the expansion of hate crimes laws. Liberals typically jealously guard their privacy – and rightfully so. Their opposition to the government’s warrantless wiretapping program is one example. But how much more than scanning your call lists is the government invading your privacy when it ascribes motives to your deeds – literally concerning itself more with your thoughts than your actions?

    Regardless of whether his killers were racists, Luis Ramirez was beaten to death in the middle of the street.

    How can that be any worse?

    Saturday, August 2, 2008

    Should your vote still count if you're dead?

    (Originally published 8/2/08)

    The stories we’ve all heard about dead people voting are generally linked to allegations of fraud in tight races. Some locales have developed enduring reputations for, shall we say, high postmortem voter turnout.

    But those anecdotes usually involve people who have long since passed away. The Associated Press recently examined an oft-overlooked flaw in mail-in ballot programs: What should be done with a vote if the person who cast it dies before it’s counted?

    Every state has an absentee ballot program, and they are increasingly popular. But as the laws governing absentee ballot programs differ among the states, so do the rules relating to voters who die between casting the ballot and Election Day – and many state statutes are silent on the issue altogether.

    The AP reported that laws in at least 12 states are evenly split between counting and tossing out the votes.

    The argument against counting the votes of the recently dead centers on the guidelines that qualify voters to participate in elections. As South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson told the AP, “You have to be a qualified voter on Election Day. I don’t know how someone can say you’re a qualified voter if you’re deceased.”

    But for a voter casting an absentee ballot, his election day is the day he marks the ballot – not the day he doesn’t show up at the poll.

    But if being alive on traditional Election Day is the standard, then we’ve just added a new qualifier: Must be 18, must be a citizen of the U.S., must be alive on Nov. 4.

    Kathy Krause, whose mother’s absentee ballot was tossed out because she died shortly before her state’s primary, argues that the alive-on-Election-Day argument has unintended consequences: “What if (soldiers) vote and they’re killed in action, God forbid? Should we take away their vote because they died for their country?” Krause said.

    There should be some recognition of the intention of an American citizen to make his or her voice heard in an election, especially when that intention is expressed through the completion of an absentee ballot that was received and is returned in compliance with state statutes.

    But since elections management falls to the people running America’s individual voting jurisdictions – and there are more than 7,000 of them – it seems a too-heavy burden to place on local elections officials to determine on Election Night whether an absentee voter is still alive when they are ready to run his ballot through the machine.

    It’s likely the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually provide some guidance on this. It’s just a matter of time before someone argues that the 14th Amendment forbids states from discounting properly-cast votes of citizens who happened to die before their votes could be counted: Tossing out such votes is an abridgement of “the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;” in addition, the willy-nilly, haphazard system we have now, in which votes of the recently deceased are counted in some states but not others, constitutes a violation of the “equal protection of the laws” the amendment guarantees.

    And the Court may get its chance sooner rather than later: The AP reported that election experts expect as many as 25 percent of voters to vote by mail in November.

    Saturday, July 26, 2008

    Media must redouble its commitment to fairness

    (Originally published 7/26/08)

    The media is meant to tell the story. Not be the story.

    But now it is, as the line of objectivity has become increasingly blurred during this presidential campaign.

    It’s been especially obvious over the last two weeks: As dozens of journalists have scrambled for their places on Barack Obama’s Amazing Incredible Tour of Europe and the Middle East, literally two journalists – one reporter and one photographer – met John McCain as he arrived in New Hampshire Monday.

    But which would you rather cover: One candidate’s highly anticipated overseas trip, or your 3,947th town hall meeting? So some of this is understandable.

    Or is it? When McCain traveled to Iraq in March, the networks produced only four full-length stories during evening news programs: NBC had three, ABC had one. CBS devoted only 31 words over 10 seconds to the trip over the whole week.

    Enter media bias.

    Journalists are human beings. They have opinions and a life experience that shape them. They have value systems, just like everyone else. And they take these things with them to the newsroom, to interviews, on assignment and on set.

    But there’s something else at work. Journalists are also Americans. They’re voters (well, many of them, anyway). They’re taxpayers. They send their kids to public schools and have concerns about American foreign policy and domestic issues like healthcare. Why should they be immune from the excitement of this history-making election? How is it fair to expect them to remain stoic, just because journalism is their craft?

    As I have said here before, everyone has bias. That’s a simple fact. What sets journalists apart is their ability – and commitment – to recognize their personal leanings and account for them when telling a story, so the story is as fair and accurate as possible.

    Obama is plowing new ground in American politics, as the media is doing in covering him. But the media’s commitment to fairness is falling by the wayside.
    Journalists could help themselves by not engaging in analysis. I’m sure the intent is to provide factual information that grounds the analysis. But the practice falls far short of the ideal. CNN frequently puts its reporters into this no-win situation. Predictably (and in Candy Crowley’s case, unapologetically), they can’t provide facts without opinion.

    The media can also take advantage of natural opportunities for parity. The New York Times blew one such opportunity this week when it rejected an op-ed piece by McCain responding to an Obama piece about Iraq. Opinion page editor David Shipley told McCain staff that he wouldn’t accept the piece as written, but he suggested that McCain pen a response “that mirrors Sen. Obama’s piece.”

    Micromanagement, anyone?

    Yes, the Times endorsed McCain in the primary. Yes, the Times’ “standard procedure” is to “go back and forth with an author on his or her submission.” And yes, the Times has published at least seven such pieces by McCain since 1996.

    (By the way, Shipley was President Clinton’s senior speechwriter from 1995 to 1997.)

    I wonder: How many of those previous seven did the Times kick back to McCain?

    If members of the media can’t find their center and stop being the news, they might as well not bother reporting it.

    Saturday, July 19, 2008

    Dreaded disease is back among politicians

    (Originally published 7/19/08)

    Bad news, friends: That dreaded disease, flipflopitis, is back – and it's spreading.

    Outbreaks of flipflopitis are common among politicians in election years. Notable recent cases include:

  • Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who had opposed oil drilling off the Gulf Coast – until he supported it;
  • President Bush, who had long insisted that his administration would not engage in diplomatic talks with Iran as long as it was pursuing development of its nuclear program – until he decided to send the No. 3 man in the State Department to multilateral talks with Iran in Geneva and establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran; and
  • Democratic presidential nominee-to-be Barack Obama, who had opposed FISA and telecom immunity last year – before he voted for them this week, and who had pledged to accept public financing for the general election – before he opted out.

    And then there’s GOP presidential nominee-to-be John McCain.

    For two years, McCain had been the face of “comprehensive immigration reform” and various proposals that would provide a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants already in the United States.

    Then came the primaries, and McCain had to win over Republican hard-liners who oppose amnesty in any form. He admitted that the country just wasn’t ready for “comprehensive immigration reform” and began talking about how nice it would be to have a border fence.

    Then he secured the nomination. Speaking this week to the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., McCain didn’t back away from border security but was back to talking about “comprehensive immigration reform.”

    Maybe it's because candidates aren't sleeping much and don't remember their previous positions; perhaps it's because all that Red Bull clouds their judgment. But most cases are actually a side effect of another disorder: Panderosis, an insidious, underlying condition that predisposes politicians to doubletalk and manifests itself as candidates face cheering crowds of supporters during campaigns.

    Flipflopitis is highly contagious. It tends to spread among politicians especially when they are together, such as debates. It can also be triggered when they are faced with aggressive questioning from the media and/or evidence, such as polls, that a candidate’s previous position on an issue is no longer the prevailing one.

    There is no known cure for flipflopitis. Once stricken, the victim must live with the effects, which may include being categorized as a flip-flopper or being served waffles by hecklers at campaign breakfasts. Unfortunately, even if the patient is able to recover from the underlying psychological issues that drive him to seek approval even at the cost of his own dignity, the political distinction of “flip-flopper” will likely remain.

    But, there is good news: Voters can manage the symptoms of flipflopitis in their politicians by administering frequent doses of Don’tInsultOurIntelligencicillin. Think recovering surgery patient with a morphine pump – but voters hold the button. While initially embarrassing, and even painful, for politicians to receive, Don’tInsultOurIntelligencicillin is quite safe. Over time, it has a therapeutic effect that has even been known to blunt the effects of panderosis.

    Of course, the government doesn’t cover Don’tInsultOurIntelligencicillin, and it isn’t available in bulk from Canada. It’s up to voters to mix their own doses, with the raw materials of current events awareness, independent thinking and common sense.

    Judging from recent examples, Americans need to stock up – and soon.

  • Saturday, July 12, 2008

    Respecting the presidency, not discouraging dissent

    (Originally published 7/12/08)

    With the War in Iraq now into its sixth year, a struggling economy and a growing sentiment among Americans that their government just doesn’t get it, it’s a good time to explore political protest.

    Hence, last week’s guest columns about whether Americans should “support” President Bush.

    The answer is subjective and based on each person’s individual values. As Americans, we have not only the right to question our leaders, but the freedom to support or oppose them based on their answers.

    So the question should really be whether Americans should respect him, regardless of whether they support him. And even then, it’s really two questions.

    There’s President Bush, the man, who is responsible for the decisions and policies central to his administration. Think what you will of him based on his record. But the president is not the presidency.

    The presidency, the office itself, was carefully crafted by the Framers, who provided a system of checks and balances to ensure that despotism – even benevolent despotism – would not develop in the new country called the United States of America.

    The presidency is an institution that has survived 43 presidents over 219 years. And it will outlast the presidency of George W. Bush.

    Matthew Goodwin wrote last week, “The most patriotic thing to do is to be engaged and voice your opinion; the unpatriotic thing to do is to discourage dissent out of ‘respect for the office.’”

    Right – and wrong.

    I’ve said it here before: Beyond being a privilege of freedom, engagement in public affairs, whether in agreement or opposition, is Americans’ responsibility.

    But encouraging respect for the presidency isn’t discouraging dissent. It doesn’t mean blindly pledging allegiance to the officeholder, come what may. Indeed, to willfully disregard the uniquely American rights “peaceably to assemble” and “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” simply for protocol’s sake is to disregard what it is to be an American.

    There is a difference between protesting a politician and disrespecting the office he holds. The key is to keep protests against politicians in the political arena.

    Of course, the beauty of this country is that people are just as free to display their ignorance as they are to protest.

    Goodwin recounted with self-serving pride how he booed the president at a university commencement last year.

    “If the president believes in the freedoms he says he wants the world to enjoy, then he of all people would have been the most proud of me,” he crowed.

    Goodwin is among many Americans who no longer understand the difference between the office and the person holding it.

    Consider what happened on the Fourth of July, as President Bush was welcoming to the American family a group of naturalized citizens who were taking their oaths of citizenship.

    It was a completely apolitical event, but it was interrupted several times by disruptive protesters yelling at the president about the War in Iraq.

    In all likelihood, those protesters were born into their American citizenship.

    But by exercising their right to protest when and where they did, they said to the newest Americans, for whom citizenship has long been the fondest of dreams, “My rights matter. Yours do not.”

    At one point, Bush raised his voice over a shrieking woman to say, “We believe in free speech in the United States of America.”

    Goodwin, of all people, would have been the most proud of him.

    Coming up on the blog, a look at the campaign finance reports of Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller and challenger Rainer Meadows.

    Don’t forget to vote in the statewide runoff Tuesday!

    Saturday, July 5, 2008

    Freedom, the child of Hope

    (Originally published 7/5/08)


    It’s a beautiful word, rolling off the tongue like a breeze.

    It’s a beautiful word for a beautiful concept: The ability to pursue opportunity, to practice individuality, to participate in the extraordinaries of ordinary life without fear of retribution.

    And we Americans celebrate this extraordinary concept in ordinary ways.

    In backyard barbeques and around picnic tables all across this country, Americans will gather ’round to enjoy holiday meals as they observe the anniversary of their country’s freedom.

    There are dishes aplenty with cosmopolitan influences befitting the melting pot that is the United States: Whether it’s mojito-marinated, ranchero-flavored or huli-huli grilled chicken; Mediterranean or Bavarian potato salad; Peking pork pasta, Aegean or Vietnamese rice noodle salad; kielbasa or baked bean pot lentils; you can have a meal for Independence Day as ethnically diverse as your fellow celebrants.

    And as with everything American, even eating is competitive: There’s even a world-famous hot dog eating contest in which participants race to see who will need angioplasty first.

    Not really. But sort of.

    High school marching bands provide the soundtrack in communities across the country, a Souza-laced celebration punctuated by the occasional piccolo and reminiscent of the bands that once accompanied America’s fighting men and women into battles to secure and protect that freedom.

    Most of us finish the night enjoying breathtaking fireworks shows, whether on a blanket out in our community or vicariously through the wonders of television. It’s a spectacular way to finish the evening.

    But for three American families, freedom this Fourth of July takes on a whole new meaning.

    Held hostage in Colombian jungle by a revolutionary militia for more than six years, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell were freed Wednesday in a daring rescue operation that was described by fellow hostage and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt as “a miracle.”

    The three Americans arrived back in the States in the early morning hours of July 3 to receive medical treatment and to be reunited with the families that had yearned so long for their return.

    Imagine, for a moment, what that must have been like. Where were you six years ago? Think about what it would have been like to be held in a jungle in a foreign land since then. Think about all you would have missed – with your family, with your friends – as those years slipped away.

    Upon your return, would you recognize your children?

    Would you remember what it was like to make your own decisions?

    Would you have given up hope?

    For in the beginning, it was hope that gave birth to freedom – hope that there could be a New World, that individuals could have a country wherein they could worship freely, that the ideals of self-reliance and personal responsibility and determination would be a strong enough foundation to turn that hope into reality.

    Hope gave birth to freedom on that day in 1776, and freedom holds open the doors of opportunity for us.

    Welcome home, Marc, Thomas and Keith. Welcome home to freedom.

    Saturday, June 28, 2008

    Young people: Voting is your right -- and your responsibility

    (Originally published 6/28/08)

    Is Election Day voter registration a good idea?

    Yes, says Tim Russert’s son, Luke –- especially as a means of increasing young voter turnout.

    Luke argued this week on CNN that if it was easier for young people to vote, more of them would do it.

    Yes, they would. But would that necessarily be a good thing for the country?

    I say no.

    I once believed that Americans should be required to vote. Regular readers out there know how I feel about citizens’ responsibility to participate in their government.

    But I no longer believe in compulsory voting – and it’s because of how I feel about citizens’ responsibility to participate in their government.

    Voting isn’t like going to the corner store to pick up milk (or, in the case of some college students, beer), or downloading this week’s No. 1 song to your iPod.

    Voting is a solemn responsibility that Americans have an obligation to take seriously. We’re not voting for Student Council when we choose our local, state and federal officials, and we’re not picking a Homecoming Queen or Prom King when we elect a president.

    At least, we shouldn't be.

    And that’s why we should invest time and effort in making our choices – and if we won’t take the time and make the effort on our own, our system should encourage us to do so. Early registration, which requires voters to be deliberate about their intention to vote, is a reasonable component of that system.

    Luke Russert said he believes the youth vote has increased over the last three election cycles because the Internet has made political information more accessible to his generation and allowed young voters the opportunity to “be very engaged in the political process.”

    “Even kids who went into business who are only interested – or just interested in art or other aspects of – in college life, they would read up on politics, more so this election than in the past,” he said.

    (What? Even business students are reading up on this election? Wow, it is exciting!)

    So why won’t young non-voters engage?

    “I think, one, you’re going to have kids who are just apathetic, who really don’t care, who would rather go to a party or think about a sports game rather than actually voting,” he said. “…You can almost say that the motto for kids in politics is ‘Whatever.’ What you hear a lot amongst college kids is, ‘Whatever, man, whatever, I don’t care, it’s not that big a deal to me.’”

    Luke lauded Election Day voter registration as “one of the best things individual states can do to get young people to the polls.”

    “If you’re in college and there’s a ticket party, there’s always more kids at the ticket party who buy at the door than having to buy it in advance,” Luke said. “I think that could translate into young people voting.”

    But polling places aren’t ticket parties, or keggers or anything else cavalier. So why should America make it easier for those who haven’t made their government a priority – and who actually actively avoid political issues and debate – to have a stake in picking her leaders?

    I agree with Luke on the endgame: "It’s so, so important for young people to have a stake in this election right now and just in their democracy,” he said.

    Yes, it is – important enough for them to prepare and educate themselves to participate in that democracy. And not just “right now,” but all the time.

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Well-behaved wives rob voters of authenticity

    (Originally published 6/21/08)

    The national media must be sick of writing about John McCain and Barack Obama, because this week, it was all about the ladies.

    Michelle Obama appeared on The View Thursday to talk, among other things, about panty hose, whether Barack still takes out the trash (he doesn’t) and what she meant by that infamous proud-of-my-country remark.

    Politicos nodded in knowing approval at the “remodeling” of Michelle Obama, like she’s some sort of rental house that needs to be updated.

    Meanwhile, Cindy McCain traveled to Vietnam as part of her work with Operation Smile, a non-profit medical charity for needy children in developing nations. She clarified her remarks about Michelle’s proud-of-my-country statement, still insisting she wasn’t trying to start a catfight.

    It took a sound bite from ubiquitous political talking head Larry Sabato to shock me into understanding how much this bothers me – and why.

    Asked about the move to “remodel” Michelle, Sabato said, “If you’re a candidate for first lady, probably the best thing you can be is innocuous.”

    First of all, since First Ladies are not elected, there is no such thing as a “candidate for first lady.”

    Secondly, “the best thing you can be is innocuous?”

    Excuse me?

    Is this 2008, or 1908?

    If Hillary had won, would Sabato advise Bill Clinton to be innocuous?

    “The idea is to let (the candidate’s wife) get known in a softer form,” Sabato said.

    A “softer form?”

    Is this guy married?

    More Sabato: “The less (Michelle Obama) says and does, the better it will be. The less she is on the front pages, the less she is profiled, the better it will be for the Obama campaign.”


    Michelle Obama is a well-educated, highly accomplished businesswoman, a wife and working mother who is passionate and eloquent about the things she believes in.

    So is Cindy McCain.

    One of these women will wield tremendous influence in the White House while her husband leads the free world.

    And that is nothing new. Remember Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband, the future president, wherein she beseeched him to “remember the ladies” when writing this country’s laws?

    So why should Mrs. Obama and Mrs. McCain be innocuous?

    Why should Americans see a “softer form” of them? (And who decided they needed to be “softened,” anyway?)

    Why would voters be better served by hearing from them less, and not more?

    I know that campaigns try to make candidates’ wives more Jackie, less Hillary. But it wasn’t until I heard Sabato’s comments that I realized what that really means: They’re trying to make the wives more palatable, as it were – as if the default versions are somehow defective, unacceptable or crude.

    That is so incredibly offensive to me – as a woman, yes, but also as a mother, as a wife, as a voter and as an American.

    Their husbands are hammering out the details of joint appearances. Michelle and Cindy should be doing the same.

    Far from standing dutifully quiet with their pearls in the corners, they should unite and stand together in their passion for this country and their spouses.

    Instead of attacking each other, they should work together to get Americans involved with their government.

    Think about the level of interest their joint appearances would generate.

    I wonder what Larry Sabato would say.

    But then again, perhaps the less he says and does, the better it will be.

    On the blog this weekend, Abigail Adams’ most famous letter, and my take on State Sen. Ted Little’s recent column.

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    Free advice for vice presidential search teams

    (Originally published 6/14/08)

    John McCain and Barack Obama are turning their attention to what John Adams once called “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived:” the vice presidency.

    And the focus isn’t limited to potential VPs themselves. This week, even the search teams have drawn scrutiny.

    McCain sniffed that Obama veepster Eric Holder “recommended the pardoning of Mr. [Marc] Rich.”

    Rich is an international commodities trader/financier/man of mystery who was pardoned by President Clinton in 2001.

    Obama spokesman Bill Burton shot back, “I’m rubber; you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks on you.”

    Well, I paraphrased.

    “We don’t need any lectures from a campaign that waited 15 months to purge the lobbyists from their staff, and only did so because they said it was a ‘perception problem,’” Burton said.

    I’ve never advocated for a presidential pardon or engaged in any high-powered D.C. lobbying. (Actually, I’m not sure at this point whether that qualifies or disqualifies me.) But if I was advising our intrepid candidates, here’s what I would say:

    • You need someone who complements you. McCain, find someone who knows the economy. Obama, find someone with a strong foreign affairs background. Like Jerry McGuire, you need to be able to look at your VP and say, “You complete me.”
    • While you’re at it, find someone who is strong enough on his own to not just be a yes man. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, one of you will be the leader of the free world in seven months and a few days. Ask yourselves: When you’re faced with an international crisis, the potential for war, a sagging economy or any one of the dozens of difficult issues you’ll tackle over the next four and a half years, how useful is a bobblehead, really?
    • I know it’s tempting to consider someone from a swing state. But this person is going to be your partner in governing long after the polls have closed. He’s not just an A-I-S to bring you a few votes in November. (And while we’re on that subject, readers, if anyone out there has voted for president based on the his VP, please e-mail me. Otherwise, I’ll continue to regard that idea as ludicrous.)
    • Find someone you’re comfortable with, someone whose loyalty you don’t have to question. Look your potential choice in the eye, and ask yourselves: Can I trust this person? Can we work together?
    • To that point, steer clear of the big-name candidates currently topping the veep sweepstakes. You need a partner, not a competitor. Choosing someone who will settle for No. 2 just because he (or she) couldn’t be No. 1 is a recipe for disaster. Remember that arranged political marriages begin in estrangement, and go instead with tested — if little-known – spotlight — eschewing public servants.

    Obviously, the foremost concern in choosing a vice president is being preparing for a potential moment’s-notice presidency: Your pick must be able to be president himself. Since 1901, presidents have lived under a thick blanket of Secret Service protection. But lest we forget that bright Dallas day in 1963, that blanket is no impenetrable shield. Above all else, give your country the assurance that if tragedy strikes, your successor will have the depth and breadth of experience to step in.

    Finally, remember that although the next five months will be all about politics, four years of policy will follow. Be mindful that what appears to be a politically expedient choice in the short term could result in headaches in the long term.

    Check out the blog this weekend.