Mojo - January 2008

In New Hampshire, Negative Signs for Romney

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 10:50 PM EST

romney-mccain-nh.jpg MANCHESTER, NH — If you were to guess the location of a Mitt Romney campaign event, what would it be?

A corporate office? A country club?

Try both. This morning in New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts Governor appeared at the Timberland world headquarters in Stratham, New Hampshire, and then moved to the Nashua Country Club in Nashua. His appearances in both locations, along with multiple events by Senator John McCain also held today, illustrate why Romney will likely get beaten by his main competitor in tomorrow's primary election.

Romney has held campaign events at corporate headquarters before; a campaign official today could identify at least three, including today's at Timberland. The crowds are always sizable, said the official, and the campaign doesn't need to work to turn out attendees since they are already at the site for their day jobs. But if Governor Romney is anticipating a conservative and business-friendly audience, he's mistaken.

For beginners, Timberland is a progressive company, committed to social responsibility. It uses soy-based inks and 100 percent recycled post-consumer waste fiber boxes. People attending today's event passed solar arrays out front and displays in the lobby that demonstrated how the company takes advantage of recycling opportunities (next to a giant pile of plastic bottles was a sign explaining that Timberland uses recycled plastic to make the lining of its boots). The company houses and sponsors the non-profit organization City Year.

So when I headed into the event's auditorium, I suspected Romney wasn't hitting his target audience. Before the event began, I surveyed people and found I was right. Of the 17 people I spoke with, two said they were committed to Romney, one said she was leaning toward him, and the other 14 said they were "learning more about him," which could mean they were considering him or just playing hooky from work.

Ten of the 17 called themselves independents, four said they were conservatives, and three said they were liberals. Not the right mix for someone who has tried to position himself to the right of his opponents on issues like national security, immigration, and gay marriage. After Romney finished speaking, he turned to the crowd for questions. People were slow to rise to their feet. Eventually, three people did ask questions, one of whom was distributing leaflets on Israel beforehand and used her question to promote her agenda. The same lack of excitement characterized Romney's crowds in Iowa a few days before he lost to Mike Huckabee in that state's caucuses.

Afterwards, I poked my head into the cafeteria and found five City Year employees, all young men and women. I asked if any of them were more likely to vote for Romney after the event. I got grimaces and awkward giggles. Most stared at the table. None responded.

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All Terror, All the Time Is Giving Americans Heart Failure

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 9:26 PM EST

A new UC Irvine study suggests that the Bush Administration's attempts to intensify fears of terrorism for political gain have significantly contributed to Americans' heart problems.

Researchers showed that stress responses to the 9/11 attacks—particularly those that persisted for years afterward—were linked to a 53 percent increase in cardiac ailments. The most common triggers of renewed stress were videos of the attacks in the media (thanks, Rudy!) and—you guessed it—the rise and fall of DHS' terror alert levels. All that politically opportunistic drum-beating has actually made us sick. Perhaps if Americans had universal health insurance, the government would think twice about such callous manipulation.

One of the Irvine study's findings seems to provide more general insight about violence. The study was able to document post-traumatic responses among Americans who merely saw the attacks on TV. If, as the finding suggests, seeing violence happen to others with whom we identify can spur emotional distress and ill-health, that says a lot about what it's like to be black, or a woman, or a soldier in Iraq, doesn't it?

In the Debates, Gaza Is Verboten

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 6:30 PM EST

This Fall, Human Rights Watch declared Israel's limitation of fuel supplies to Gaza collective punishment of a civilian population and thus a violation of international law. As the area's humanitarian crisis worsens, grim headlines about the misery of Gazans have become all too familiar. I was moved to search the transcripts of the past 11 presidential debates to see if our presidential hopefuls were addressing the situation in Gaza or the larger issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What I found is troubling, though not entirely surprising given the bipartisan consensus to support Israel, right or wrong.

In nine of the 11 debates, the terms Israel, Palestinians, and Gaza were either never uttered or were mentioned once or twice peripherally. For instance, Joe Biden said at the October 30 NBC debate that Pakistan has missiles that can reach Israel. The two exceptions were the November 15 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, where Bill Richardson, unprompted, briefly outlined his ideas for a two-state solution, and the December 4 Democratic radio debate on NPR, in which moderator Robert Siegel posed the single question about Israel of the past 11 debates. Unfortunately, the query was effectively avoided. Excerpt of Edwards and Obama dodging, after the jump.

Desperate in NH: Fibbing About Obama and Iraq?

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 6:11 PM EST

Campaigning in Dover, New Hampshire the day before the primary, Senator Hillary Clinton once again pounded Barack Obama for being big on talk and small on deeds. And before a crowd that could barely fill half of a modest-sized gymnasium, she continued to claim that Obama is a disingenuous politician, no noble and inspiring force of change. Using the thin opposition research her campaign operatives have managed to unearth on her rival, she recited what's becoming the campaign's regular litany of Obama's alleged hypocrisies. Saying you oppose the Patriot Act and then voting to extend it—"that's not change," she declared. Saying you're against special interest lobbying and then having a lobbyist co-chair your New Hampshire campaign—"that's not change," she thundered. Saying in a campaign speech that you will not vote to fund the Iraq war and then voting for $300 billion in war financing—"that's not change," she exclaimed. After the event, in an interview with Fox News, Clinton was even sharper. She referred to Obama's (and John Edwards') "hypocrisy," and said, "Senator Obama has changed many of his positions." Voters, she insisted, deserved to know this: "Talk is, as they say, cheap."

Her charges against Obama have generally been weak—standard truth-stretchers for standard political campaigns. But in casting Obama as a phony on the Iraq war, Clinton has veered close to outright lying.

Is Mitt Like Mike?

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 11:46 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.

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

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 11:31 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.

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John Edwards' Stump Speech Comes to Life

| Sun Jan. 6, 2008 10:15 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 9:47 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 4:58 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 2:42 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: