Mojo - August 2008

New Poverty Data Induce Clinton Nostalgia

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 11:31 AM PDT

Hillary's speech last night at the Democratic convention wasn't the only event of the day to inspire a little nostalgia for the Clinton administration. A few hours earlier, the Census Bureau released its 2007 poverty and income report, a snapshot of the nation's economic well-being. The easy takeaway message might have been this: We never had it so good as we did in Bill Clinton's second term, when unemployment was low, poverty was low, and the rising tide was lifting all boats. The Census data for 2007 confirm that all future economic progress will be measured by whether the country can get back to the prosperity of 1999. Right now, the Bush administration can't even get the economy back to where it was during the 2001 recession.

According to the Census Bureau, child poverty, which hit a record low during the Clinton years, went up in 2007, and it's significantly higher than it was in 2001 (18 percent vs. 16.5 percent). Median income for working-age adults was lower last year than it was during the recession of 2001, and more people were uninsured, too. The numbers were especially grim given that they came at the end of six years of economic expansion. The data for 2008 are likely to be much, much worse.

The happy years of the Clinton administration notwithstanding, the data make clear that the country has made scant little progress in combating poverty since 1980. The percentage of children living in poverty today is 18 percent, slightly more than it was 28 years ago. The percentage of single moms living in poverty stands at 30 percent, almost exactly what it was in 1980. And the median income for black households in 2007 was $33,916. In 1980, it was $32,876. The poverty trends haven't gone unnoticed by the political class, however, on both sides of the aisle.

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Bush "Came Into Office on Third Base and Stole Second"

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 10:47 PM PDT

Second line of the night:

You know, it was once said of the first George Bush that he was born on third base and thought he'd hit a triple. Well, with the 22 million new jobs and the budget surplus Bill Clinton left behind, George W. Bush came into office on third base, and then he stole second.

—Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in a speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.

A Clear Message from Hillary: It's About Obama, Not Me

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 9:49 PM PDT

The only question was this: would there be a hint of resentment or reluctance in her speech, any sign of holding back? But Hillary Clinton, on the second night of the Democratic convention and in a much-anticipated speech, offered a loud and clear message to her supporters: get behind Barack Obama. In the opening moments of her speech, she identified herself as a "a proud supporter of Barack Obama" and declared,

I haven't spent the past 35 years in the trenches advocating for children, campaigning for universal health care, helping parents balance work and family, and fighting for women's rights at home and around the world...to see another Republican in the White House.

No ambiguity there.

Prior to the speech, a parlor game for the politerati assembled in Denver was to trade gossip and rumors indicating that the Clintons might not be fully with the elect-Obama program. A prominent Obama supporter said she had heard that the Clinton speech would be "bad for us." A reporter said that he had heard that a top Clinton aide was trash-talking Obama to other reporters. This all fed the only narrative of conflict at the convention: the Clintons versus Obama. But right before the speech, Joe Lockhart, who was a press secretary for President Bill Clinton, said to me that Hillary Clinton would put this subplot to rest.

The Speeches Before Clinton: Warner Bad, Strickland Good, Schweitzer Awesome

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 9:43 PM PDT

schwzt_warner.jpg The relevance of the speeches that came before Hillary Clinton, who will surely get the lion's share of the coverage tonight and tomorrow, is mainly felt among insiders. Democratic Party officials and politicians get a look at how their peers perform on a national stage; the political press gets to see who deserves buzz in conversations about future stars.

That said, there were some genuinely interesting people at the podium tonight. Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, and Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana, were two such people. Unfortunately, Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia and a current Senate candidate in that state, was not. Warner painted himself as a bizarro Obama. Both Warner and Obama came from hard-luck circumstances, both made themselves into superstars by working hard and taking advantage of the opportunities for advancement that only America affords. But Warner's meteoric rise was in business — he has made hundreds of millions through early investments in cell phones — while Obama's was in politics. And the speech was heavy on "Yes, We Can" enthusiasm. Warner was a pragmatic governor who worked frequently with Republicans in Virginia; he has stressed throughout his career that he cares about ideas that work, not ideas that originate on his side of the aisle. But for all this resonance with Obama and his story, the speech was underwhelming. It lacked a unifying theme and any rhetorical flourish or rhythm.

And that, ultimately, is why even though Warner likely has the same presidential ambitions as Obama, he would likely be a very different national leader. Obama leads through the sheer force of his personality. Warner has built his immense popularity in Virginia through being an extremely able technocrat. He's effective, not sexy.

Perhaps Warner was doomed from the start. He had the hardest task at the convention — deliver the keynote four years after Barack Obama delivered one of most memorable keynotes in recent political history, and on top of that, speak in the shadow of Hillary Clinton.

MoJo Video: Party-Crashing The Democratic National Convention's Private Back Rooms

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 7:11 PM PDT

Like the flow of the Mississippi or the winds of the Sahara, the pursuit of free alcohol, free finger food, and access to power is an unstoppable force. No puny ethics legislation shall stand in its way.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, passed after the Democrats took control of Congress, limited the ways in which lawmakers can hobnob with lobbyists, corporate officials, and special interests. But if Denver is any example, hobnobbing is a game and flexible beast, able to squirm over or around any obstacles placed in its way.

For example, there is a rule against lawmakers and their aides accepting meals from lobbyists. That means that every time a lobbying firm throws a party here in Denver, it has to follow the "toothpick rule." Hors d'oeuvres only. If it fits on a stick, put it on one. This leads to odd scenes, like a woman at a party on Monday night eating a slice of pizza on a toothpick.

Hosts can play the music in the background, instead of throwing a concert, so lawmakers can't be said to be accepting free music. They can take away chairs, because a standing-only reception is apparently less ethically questionable than an event where power players can schmooze while putting their feet up. Party throwers can distribute literature that advocates for a cause, making the event "educational." Slate reported that the Distilled Spirits Council got away with hosting a bash for lobbyists and politicians on Monday by handing out literature on the dangers of underage drinking.

And of course there is the farce known as the "widely attended event," a party that can have a high-roller host and an exclusive, undisclosed guest list as long as it makes a point of inviting 25 people who are not lawmakers. The rules may be shown the door, but you and I certainly aren't getting in, as my video above illustrates.

Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Foundation, a government oversight group, is trying to illustrate the ineffectiveness of current ethics restrictions by attempting to get into as many fancy receptions as she can, knowing she'll be rejected time and time again. While it is not shocking that a party-crasher would get turned away at the door of a high-end party, it nicely illustrates that the infamous smoke-filled backroom is still alive and well, at least in a figurative sense, and that oversight has a long way to go.

I spent an afternoon with Nancy as she sought a lobbying firm's reception, Democratic top-dollar donors, and a party thrown by the CEO of a telecom company. Not surprisingly, we ended the day without a single cucumber sandwich. [To see her try, watch the video above.] —Jonathan Stein

A blog post about mojo

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 4:22 PM PDT
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POW as Crutch

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 12:47 PM PDT

Tell me how McCain's response here is in any way relevant to the question:

JAY LENO: Welcome back, Sen. McCain, for one million dollars, how many houses do you have? (Laughter)
JOHN MCCAIN: You know, could I just mention to you, Jay, and a moment of seriousness. I spent five and a half years in a prison cell, without—I didn't have a house, I didn't have a kitchen table, I didn't have a table, I didn't have a chair. And I spent those five and a half years, because—not because I wanted to get a house when I got out. And you know, I'm very proud of Cindy's father, he was a guy that barely got out of high school, fought in World War II in the Army Air Corps, came home and made a business and made the American dream...

That is just so bald! So shameless! The gall it takes to invoke something so serious and so redoubtable simply to avoid a politically difficult question is truly astounding.

We've been here before on MoJoBlog, but I don't have faith that the rest of the Left will join me in talking about McCain's exploitation of his POW experience. In 2004, the Right took John Kerry's frequent invocation of his Vietnam service as license to criticize an aspect of Kerry's candidacy that Kerry had hoped to turn into a major strength. I would argue that McCain has given the Left the same opportunity. The Right used lies and smears and I would never suggest the Left do the same. No one needs to claim that McCain left other prisoners behind, for example. But pointing out that John McCain's willingness to exploit his imprisonment in Vietnam for political gain is a sign of character strikes me as entirely within acceptable bounds.

Progress in Iraq Might Have Been Possible Without "Surge," Says Petraeus

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 12:28 PM PDT

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General David Petraeus is a popular man in Washington and not without good reason. Under his watch, Iraq has gone from total chaos and anarchy to partial chaos and anarchy. No small achievement when you remember back to how things were just a year and a half ago. So it may come as no surprise that politicians seeking election—particularly those, like John McCain, who point to recent security gains as evidence we we are "winning" in Iraq—love to bask in the Petraeus glow. McCain has pointed time and again to the "surge" as proof that things are going well, and on at least one occasion declared the US has already succeeded in Iraq. But Petraeus, bound next month for his new post as CENTCOM commander, warned in a recent interview with Newsweek against rushing out to buy some ticker tape. From Newsweek:

Petraeus acknowledged that this policy of modesty in the face of success is very much informed by our premature victory ejaculations of previous years (before he took charge, of course). "The champagne bottle remains in the back of the refrigerator," he says. "When you've been in Iraq for as long as actually both of us have, coming up on four years, you're a little less prone to get too excited too quickly."
..."Yes, Al Qaeda in Iraq has been significantly diminished, its capability substantially degraded," he says. "But we assess they remain lethal—what we call the 'wolf closest to the sled'." And, he adds, "every time you start to feel really good, there will be some kind of incident. There will be a suicide-vest attack; there will be a car bomb attack or what have you."

Lanny Davis, President of the "You're Not Helping" Caucus

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 12:00 PM PDT

Updating David's post from yesterday: Lanny Davis is at it again. From Fox's "America's Election HQ" today:

That red meat is issue differences and not talking about a gaffe about remembering how many houses. Gaffes and 'gotcha' politics is what Barack Obama is opposed to, yet there are ads focusing on a gaffe.

Lanny Davis. Undercutting Democratic party unity since 2008.

This Just In: Republicans Really Good at Attack Ads

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 11:25 AM PDT

McCain's newest ad is the fourth in the past week to invoke Hillary Clinton's primary-era criticisms of Barack Obama. This time, though, it's a double whammy. McCain is also going the scare tactic route, using images of tanks, missiles, and masked men under the words, "Uncertainty. Dangerous aggression. Rogue nations. Radicalism." It quotes Clinton questioning Obama's readiness to be Commander-in-Chief and ends with, "Hillary's right. John McCain for president."

Kevin argues that until we know this ad is running widely, we should treat it like a flyer or blog post put out by two-bit crazies. I tend to disagree. (1) The very first "celebrity" attack ads against Obama weren't widely circulated, but the McCain campaign's internal polling or focus groups must have told them they were on to something because that meme exploded over the course of late summer. If Democrats are going to keep hurtful frames from dominating the campaign for weeks or months at a time, they need to look at and respond to new McCain approaches in their nascent stages. And (2) these ads are excellent examples of how to go negative well. The Democrats look like they need every lesson they can get in that respect.