Blogs

Is Mitt Like Mike?

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 10:46 AM EST

350px-SLC_Temple_east_side_night.jpgMitt Romney has gone to great lengths to convince the public that his Mormon church would not drive public policy if he should become president. Lots of people, however, have not been persuaded, and perhaps for good reason. The Salt Lake Tribune late last month ran a story that once again illustrates just how involved the church can be in politics. The story isn't about Romney but another Mormon in public life, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Before joining the Bush administration, Leavitt served three terms as governor of Utah. Recently, the state posted thousands of pages of documents from his tenure online. Buried in the archives were several hundred pages of transcripts of "Early Morning Seminary" meetings Leavitt held in 1996 at the Governor's Mansion with his top advisers, including the U.S. Attorney at the time, a high-ranking Mormon church official, and a former professor from Brigham Young University. Leavitt convened the meetings to study the Book of Mormon to figure out how to best incorporate "holy and just" principles of Mormonism into state policy. Leavitt singled out several themes from the religious studies, including a focus on marriage, which later translated into a campaign to ban unmarried couples from adopting children.

Like the good Mormon he is, Leavitt recorded all the meetings (Mormons seem to write everything down), and the transcripts ended up in state archives after he left office. After the Tribune started asking questions about the meetings, Leavitt asked the state to take the transcripts off-line, arguing that they were not official meetings and might even be "sacred." Naturally the state complied, so you can't read them in full, but the Tribune posted some with its story, and they provide an interesting insight in to how deeply involved the LDS church is in Utah politics. Of course, just because a cabinet secretary based his public policy on the Book of Mormon doesn't mean Romney would as president, but it's stories like these that leave people deeply suspicious that he could simply check his faith at the door if he were elected.

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The Wrath of Hillary: Finally, She Really Fires Away at Obama

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 10:31 PM EST

The morning after, it got nasty.

At Saturday night's Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton served notice she was looking to tear down Barack Obama with two charges: he's a flip-flopper and he's all talk and no action. And moments after the debate ended, her aides trotted out to the so-called spin room to hammer home these points.

Consequently, it was no surprise that on Sunday morning, she began a day of campaign events in which she declared that New Hampshire voters should elect "a doer, not a talker" and that it was time to distinguish "rhetoric from reality." Her campaign released a statement emphasizing this line of attack that was headlined, "Rhetoric vs. Results, Talk vs. Action." It was not subtle:

At the debate last night it was clear when opponents were asked what change they had made:
Instead of telling New Hamphsire voters what he had done for them, Barack Obama defended rhetoric and talk and cited legislation that bans sit-down meals with lobbyists but allows them to stand up and eat together.
Obama talked about government reform, but denied that the co-chair of his New Hampshire campaign is a lobbyist. He talked about energy reform but couldn't defend his vote in favor of Dick Cheney's energy plan that gave the big oil companies billions in tax breaks. He talked about his speech against the war, but didn't explain why he voted for $300 billion in funding for the war and why he said as late as 2004 that he didn't know how he would have voted on the war.

The Clinton campaign was doing its best to stretch the little oppo research it has been able to dig up on Obama. When Obama voted for the energy bill--which passed the Senate on an 85 to 12 vote--he said that the measure had fallen short of what was necessary to achieve U.S. energy independence. Environmentalists did not fancy the bill, but over half of the Democrats in the Senate supported the legislation. Most of them came from states that would benefit from the subsidies in the bill--as did Obama. This vote was not a shining moment for Obama, but it represented a conventional political decision (help your state), not hypocrisy. As for the Iraq war funding issue, Obama, like other Democratic senators opposing the war (including Clinton), has voted for bills financing the war. Regarding Obama's New Hampshire co-chair, Jim Demers, the Clinton gang did have a point. He is a lobbyist for drug interests and other groups--but in New Hampshire, not Washington, the Obama campaign say. Still, he is an influence-peddler of the sort Obama has decried.

All told, though, the Clinton campaign did not present a strong case. Then came the robo-call charge.

John Edwards' Stump Speech Comes to Life

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 9:15 PM EST

edwards-new-hampshire.jpg MANCHESTER, NH — For weeks, John Edwards has been invoking the personal stories of three people. Nataline Sarkisyan was a 17-year-old girl whose family fought with their insurance company to get Nataline covered for a critically needed liver transplant, only to have it agree too late to save her life. James Lowe is a man who couldn't speak for the first 50 years of his life because he didn't have the health coverage he needed to fix his cleft palate. And Valerie Lakey is a young girl who was injured on a swimming pool drain that the manufacturer knew was dangerous. Edwards fought the company in court on behalf of the Lakey family, and won.

Today, the families involved in those stories campaigned with Edwards and his wife Elizabeth in New Hampshire. Though they undoubtedly appeared with the best of intentions, they became pawns in a political game of back-and-forth before the day was out.

The emotion in Manchester's Franco-American Centre in the early afternoon was tremendous. The Edwardses tried to describe the effort the Sarkisyans had gone through to save Nataline's life before ceding the microphone to, in order, her mother, her older brother, and her father. Nataline was diagnosed with cancer when she was 14 years old, said Nataline's mother Hilda. Insurance companies sent them to multiple hospitals and were hesitant to cooperate, but eventually her cancer went into remission. After a joyous sweet sixteen party, doctors told the family there was a complication: Nataline needed bone marrow. Her brother could donate, and did. A week after the operation, it looked like everything would be fine. Once again, a complication. Nataline had turned yellow; she had jaundice.

Nataline spent three weeks in ICU, but the insurance company, Cigna, twice declined to pay for a liver transplant. Multiple doctors told Cigna (motto: "A Business of Caring") she needed the operation. Her nurses helped picket Cigna's offices, along with members of the Sarkisyans' church and members of their Armenian community. Nataline's father said he spent Nataline's last day on earth in front of Cigna's offices, pleading.

"She loved Christmas," said Hilda. "I promised her she'd be home for Christmas." Nataline didn't make it. On December 20th of this past year, Cigna agreed to "make an exception" for Nataline, but she died later that day. Her voice breaking, standing next to her family and the Edwardses, Hilda told the crowd, "I feel empty inside. My heart is a hole."

She pointed out that Nataline shouldn't have been "an exception." "We fought them, but what about the other parents that cannot speak, they don't have the community, they don't have the churches to back them up?"

New to the Edwards Stump Speech: the Good Corporation

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 8:47 PM EST

John Edwards has introduced a new idea in the last few days of campaigning: the good corporation. After months of lambasting corporate interests for "stealing the American dream from your children," Edwards acknowledged today that "there are good corporate citizens in this country." He cited Costco, which pays employees more than its competitor Wal-Mart, and AT&T, which is bringing call-center jobs back to the United States. Whenever he attacks corporations now, he includes the word "irresponsible," to indicate he only means the meanies.

Just in case you needed to see if Edwards could appreciate nuance on that issue before deciding whom to vote for...

Maureen Dowd and Hillary's Familiar Fists of Fury

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 3:58 PM EST

Maureen Dowd, in today's Times:

Listening to Hillary and Obama evokes the famous scene in the classic "The Night of the Hunter," when Robert Mitchum, whose fingers are tattooed with "LOVE" on his right hand and "HATE" on his left, has a wrestling match with his hands to see which emotion triumphs.

I don't really get the Obama=love, Hillary=hate calculation. (As usual, MoDo's hypertrophied fist of clever contrast crushes her withered claw of meaningful observation.) But the image of Hillary Clinton and competing knuckles of emotion rings a bell... Now where have I seen that recently? Oh yeah:

Read Jack Hitt's cover story on why we love to hate Hillary here.

Dem Debate in NH Previews Clinton's Get-Obama Strategy

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 1:42 AM EST

At the Democratic debate on Saturday night in New Hampshire, John Edwards came to the rescue of Barack Obama. Not that Obama needed it. But it provided Edwards the opportunity to (a) whack Hillary Clinton and (b) grab for the change wave that propelled Obama to victory in Iowa. In a debate featuring few true policy disputes, the thrusts and parries defined the final Democratic face-off before the first primary election--and they revealed the Clinton campaign's strategy for taking Obama down.

Edwards' moment came when Clinton--in a much-anticipated move--went after Obama. She accused her Senate colleague of flip-flopping on health care. First, she said, he was for single-payer health care; then he proposed a different sort of health care reform. "I think that what we're looking for is a president we can count on," she added.

As far as punches go, this was no knockout blow. Clinton's previous attempt to pick a fight with Obama over the differences in their health care plans--a distinction too wonkish for most voters to worry about--did not succeed. But she was giving it another shot, hoping to depict the winner of Iowa as just another pol. Obama gently defended himself, explaining that he had once said that his preference would be a single-payer system but that he believed it would not be practical to scrap the existing system to make way for such a plan. And he noted, again gently, that he did disagree with Clinton and Edwards on the need for mandating health care coverage. He went on to point out, gently once more, that he and Edwards both have taken a stand on Social Security--advocating a small increase in payroll taxes--which Clinton has declined to do. The two bickered some more, with Clinton claiming Obama had waffled on the Patriot Act and Iraq war funding.

Then John Edwards swooped in. "Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack," he said. He was equating Clinton with those forces. She glowered at him. Edwards continued:

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Whack-a-Mitt: The Republicans Debate in NH

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 12:11 AM EST

never-heard-of-it.jpg Before you feel sorry for Mitt Romney for getting picked on relentlessly in tonight's Republican debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, consider the fact that he's devoted millions of dollars to picking on everyone else.

There was no question who the collected cast of Republican candidates wanted to put between the crosshairs. Time and again, the former Massachusetts Governor was the target of full-scale grenade attacks and small potshots.

They frequently used his words against him. On the topic of the Iraq War, Governor Mike Huckabee looked straight at Romney, who has sniped Huckabee for abandoning the President, and said, "Governor Romney, you yourself on '60 Minutes' said that we had left Iraq in a mess. You've also said that you weren't going to have this 'my way or no way' philosophy… I supported the president in the war before you did. I supported the surge when you didn't."

On immigration, John McCain defended his position from his critics on the right, including Romney, by saying, "Now, no better authority than Governor Romney believed that it's not amnesty because two years ago, he was asked, and he said that my plan was, quote, 'reasonable,' and was not amnesty. It's a matter of record."

McCain delivered some of the petty remarks, too. When Romney, who is notorious for his flip-flops, said that he was going to more fully adopt Barack Obama's message of change because, "that was the message coming out of Iowa," John McCain replied, "I just wanted to say to Governor Romney, we disagree on a lot of issues, but I agree you are the candidate of change."

The attacks were at times almost gleeful. And that may be because Romney has run more negative ads than any of the candidates in the field. He has repeatedly hit Governor Huckabee on his record in Arkansas, and has several ads that imply Senator McCain is too old and out of touch to be president. (He also attacks McCain on immigration.) He has engaged in attack politics, and spent more than the rest of the field combined to do it.

Hillary Clinton Tosses the Script

| Sat Jan. 5, 2008 6:46 PM EST

hillary-nh-event.jpg As Hillary Clinton looks to become the second Comeback Kid in her immediate family, her campaign is trying a new approach. She kicked off her New Hampshire campaign by sticking to the stump speech that she relied on in Iowa, but that's changed. Perhaps sensing that her stump speech was, in effect, third-rate, Clinton delivered very brief remarks at the beginning of her campaign appearances today and spent most of the time taking questions from New Hampshire voters.

At Merrimack Valley High School in the town of Penacook this morning, Clinton spoke for roughly ten minutes before turning to the very substantial crowd for questions. Her remarks did have a point, however: three times in those ten minutes, she managed to say that she was the only candidate ready to lead "from day one" or "from the first day." The speakers that came before her also used the phrases three times, in equally brief comments. Perhaps the Clinton camp took a hard look at the strategy from Iowa—emphasize biography, emphasize the '90s, emphasize work ethic—and determined that only the "day one" sound bite was worth keeping.

And it's just as well. At both the Penacook appearance and a later one in Durham, Clinton was masterful in the question and answer sessions. The questions were easy; examples included "What are the top two reasons to vote for you?" and "I've been frustrated by the deceptively named No Child Left Behind. What will you do about it?" Clinton provided very long answers—an answer ostensibly on social security touched on middle class incomes, health care, energy, and the Republican war on science, and lasted over 10 minutes—that included smart tangents and acknowledgments of important sub-issues. For example, when asked a question about rising health care costs by a woman who claimed to be the caretaker of both her parents and her children, Clinton pointed out that "the most difficult time of day for families is often three to six" and that "you can get more help from the government putting parents in nursing homes than you can for keeping them in your own home." In another discussion, she pointed out dental hygiene's connections to heart health and infections all over the body. If other candidates have an appreciation of the issues that is this in-depth, they don't show it on the campaign trail.

And that may be the point of the new all-questions strategy. It allows Clinton to display the breadth and depth of her knowledge. Her ability to make reference to past battles and former achievements underscores her experience even if it isn't a central focus.

Obama's New Hampshire Ads - Preview of National Race? Cause for Concern?

| Sat Jan. 5, 2008 6:11 PM EST

These Obama ads currently running in New Hampshire are obviously designed to pick up independent voters. If Obama wins the nomination, is this what we're going to see eight months of?

Obama highlights his independence and his ability to unify the country. Fair enough; he's trying to win in a state with lots of independents. (The main competitor for those votes, as odd as it sounds, appears to be John McCain; independents in New Hampshire can vote in either primary.)

I'm getting worried; should we be concerned about Obama's allegiance to progressive beliefs? Would a President Obama compromise on key issues in order to make it look like he is "bringing the country together"? And let's say at some point in his term(s) he faces stiff Republican opposition in Congress that doesn't share his passion for bipartisanship. Will he move to the center or to the right just to keep Washington from getting mired in gridlock?

Copycat GOPers: Mitt Channels Obama, McCain Claims He's an Agent of Change

| Sat Jan. 5, 2008 5:31 PM EST

Washington is fundamentally broken. It cannot deliver what the public demands: health care coverage for all, energy independence, good schools. And we're not going to change Washington by handing more power to the same-old people already there. Hillary Clinton says she has experience, but that's not what the voters want. They want someone who can bring real change to the nation's capital.

Is that Barack Obama campaigning in New Hampshire? No, it's Mitt Romney. At an "Ask Mitt Anything" meeting on Saturday morning in Derry, Romney was channeling the Democratic victor in Iowa. After finishing second in Iowa, where he had invested so much political and actual capital, Romney, good businessman that he is, took stock of the results and saw that the political market is demanding not experience but change. So he has recalibrated his sales campaign. "The message I read into" the Iowa results, he told the assembled in Derry, is that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were "handily rejected by people with messages of change." In that category he included Mike Huckabee, the GOP winner of Iowa, Obama, the Democratic winner, and...himself. Though Romney had finished 9 points behind Huckabee, he was claiming he had not been spurned by the voters and was a fellow rider of that change wave.

This is rather imaginative bookkeeping. But you can't blame a CEO for trying. And Romney appears to be in a tight (and bitter) race with McCain in New Hampshire. So he's attempting to hijack the Obama magic and discredit McCain as just another do-nothing Washingtonian.

At the Derry event, Romney stood near a giant sign proclaiming "Washington Is Broken" and unveiled a to-do list for the U.S. government. It included almost every idea that any candidate has proposed during this campaign: protect America, end illegal immigration, reduce taxes, cut pork, provide health insurance for everyone, end dependence on foreign oil, grow the economy, fix Social Security, put people ahead of "selfish interest." He was covering all the bases. And he discussed each as if he were conducting a PowerPoint presentation. Romney also noted that much of this would not be possible unless "we get the lobbyists off the shoulders" of the legislators. With this remark, not only was he swiping Obama's message, he was also shoplifting McCain's and John Edwards'. Talk about a hostile takeover.