It seems to me that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has probably been a significant impediment to his presidential campaign. And yet, as this article about a Mormon leader’s funeral makes clear, there are actually tons of successful LDS politicians. Indeed, we have five LDS Senators right now — Gordon Smith, Harry Reid, Bob Bennett, Orrin Hatch, and Mike Crapo — and it’s pretty likely that they’ll be joined by two more, Mark Udall and and Tom Udall after the election. Meanwhile, Wikipedia says there are thirteen Jewish senators. Considering that Jews and Mormons combined have to be less than five percent of the population, that’s pretty astounding.
On his nationally syndicated radio show this week, right-wing talker Neal Boortz attacked victims of Hurricane Katrina, saying that “the disaster that followed” was not “George Bush’s fault” because, in Boortz’ mind, “the primary blame goes on the worthless parasites who lived in New Orleans who you — couldn’t even wipe themselves, let alone get out of the way of the water when that levee broke.” Earlier in the same show, Boortz claimed that “when these Katrina so-called refugees were scattered about the country, it was just a glorified episode of putting out the garbage.”
Ed Kilgore notes one beneficial impact of John McCain’s emergence as the likely Republican nominee:
It was most noticeable on the immigration issue, where the cramped defensiveness of past exchanges gave way to a wonkathon that mostly centered on the question of the extent to which illegal immigrants are depressing low-end wages (though Wolf Blitzer made every effort to drag the candidates back to the tedious and highly misleading question of drivers’ licences). The simple reality is that John McCain’s history on immigration reform largely takes the issue off the table in a general election contest. It could still play hell in down-ballot races, but unless McCain does a full-scale massive flip-flop, immigrant-bashing won’t be a major feature of the presidential discussion.
This even has some influence on the Democratic primary, since Barack Obama’s campaign seems to have been emboldened to take a clear position against turning DMV officers into a locus of immigration enforcement in a way that’s helped him secure the endorsement of La Opinion and perhaps of Latino voters.
One very interesting question is how this will play out on the subject of climate change. In one possible universe, the fact that having John McCain as your opponent takes pure denialism off the table opens up a scenario where you have a debate between a timid strategy for tackling climate change and a bold strategy for doing the same. Thus, the political center of gravity shifts in a good direction. But in another possible universe, both sides vaguely pay lip service to the climate change either but neither really talks about it and the press just kind of writes this off as something on which McCain and Clinton/Obama basically agree.
With the announcement that Exxon Mobil has “beat its own record for the highest profit ever recorded by a U.S. company,” Climate Progress notes that the other Big Five oil giants — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell — have seen similar trends:
David Leonhardt previews Barack Obama’s approach to economic policy. He notes that “Indeed, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton hold similar or identical positions on a host of economic issues, and Democratic economists not aligned with either campaign often speak positively about both.” Quite true, I think. He tries to sex things up by observing that “the two candidates offer strikingly different strategies for achieving their economic agendas.” To me, though, the argument on that score is pretty unconvincing.
When you control for the fact that it would sound silly for the candidates to just agree that they don’t really have clear disagreements on the main issues, I mostly see two campaigns trying to make mountains out of molehills for the sake of having something to talk about. What’s more, in practice there’s only so much that “strategies for achieving” your legislative agenda can actually do. What matters most is not the strategy but the outcome of the congressional elections.
Yuval Levin offers what is, I think, an insightful analysis of the problem with John McCain’s approach to domestic policy issues and, indeed, I’d say all issues:
On domestic issues, McCain’s problem is not that his views are too far from the public’s. It’s that he simply doesn’t care about any of the issues on the table. In fact (as I argue in next week’s issue of National Review) McCain doesn’t actually seem to care about any political “issues” at all. He is moved by honor and country, and this has driven him to be passionately active on a few domestic fronts, but for different reasons than those that motivate just about every other politician. (A misunderstanding of this point has, I think, been behind much of the often excessive distress at McCain’s apparent ascendancy in some quarters of the right this week). And he has not found a way to understand, say, health care in terms of honor, honesty, or character. So even though his campaign has offered a very strong conservative proposal for health care reform, McCain seems incapable of talking about it as though it were even remotely significant.
Ross agrees and says it’s “another difficulty with a politics that takes “national greatness” as its touchstone and heroism as its defining virtue – it breeds a disinterest, or even an impatience, with the more quotidian (but nonetheless crucial) aspects of policy and governance.”
But, look, the problem’s worse than that. For a good long while now the Republican Party has been pushing an approach to economic policy that is contrary to the interests of most Americans. So how do they win office? Well, primarily by being a political party that’s appealing in lots of other ways — foreign policy and cultural hot-buttons, yes, but also a lot of stuff about character. In particular, character arguments were central to George W. Bush’s critique of Al Gore and John Kerry and, indeed, were about all there was to Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign. This has tended to work well as a tactic because the press is a great venue for transmitting character attacks but a terrible venue for transmitting issue attacks because reporters mostly don’t understand issues and even when they do they pretend not to.
It’s been an effective political strategy. But one thing it does is open the door wide open to someone like John McCain who really and truly doesn’t seem to have opinions about policy questions. The very same conservative opinion-mongering institutions that are so frightened of McCain are the very ones that played a key role in shifting the conversation in 2000 and 2004 to the politics of honor and character. And so they get McCain and they really lack the context to make the point that it’s a problem that his thinking is so muddled and unclear.
Earlier this week, when President Bush signed the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, he issued a little-noticed signing statement, claiming that provisions in the law — including the barring of funds for permanent bases in Iraq — could be disregarded.
Democrats in Congress were quick to condemn Bush’s stealth measure. On the Senate floor, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) called it “the clearest signal yet that the Administration wants to hold” the “option” of permanent bases “in reserve.” Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said Congress expects Bush to “faithfully implement all of the provisions of the [act], not just the ones he happens to agree with.”
In a statement, Sen. Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Bush’s signing statement “outrageous” and constitutionally questionable:
It is outrageous for the President to suggest that Congress cannot bar the use of funds — something clearly within the power of Congress under our Constitution — for the construction of permanent bases in Iraq.
Conspicuously absent from the debate over Bush’s signing statement is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). In the past, McCain has spoken out aggressively against signing statements, saying they are “wrong” and that they “should not be done“:
“I would never issue a signing statement,” the Arizona senator said at a Rotary Club meeting in Nashua, adding that he “would only sign it or veto” any legislation that reached his desk as president.
Perhaps McCain is keeping silent because he shares Bush’s goal of an indefinite, long-term presence of American troops in Iraq. Last month, McCain said it would be “fine with” him “if we maintain a presence in” Iraq for “a hundred” years.
The question arises as to what’s more important to McCain: his anti-signing statement pledge or an indefinite presence in Iraq?
Perhaps you remember last May, when the small (and shrinking) town of Greensburg, KS was practically obliterated by a tornado, and then left helpless as the local National Guard fights abroad. Today, the effort to rebuild is in full swing, including comprehensive efforts to create a model for a green, sustainable city. So let’s take a closer look – is this as good as it sounds? Mostly.
Rewinding a few months to just after the tornado, the national media jumped on this story. It strikes a similar chord as Hurricane Katrina – innocent, ordinary Americans (encompassing a wealth of our historical identity) whose lives have been wrecked by a natural disaster and then disappointed by our national government’s ability to manage the situation. (This, of course, is on a much smaller scale than Katrina-New Orleans.)
But something extraordinarily unique about the Greensburg situation is that it’s an opportunity for a demonstration project to build an entire eco-community under the national spotlight, and the timing is impeccable.
Before everyone gets too excited, I have to revert to my trip home to Kansas for the holidays where I was reminded/cautioned of two things:
Back home, I remember hearing an NPR special interviewing a youth about whether or not he’ll want to come back to a green Greensburg after he goes to college. He seemed pretty excited, but the truth is, time will answer the first question.
Trying to get to the bottom of the second question, I’ve perused the local paper, the Kiowa County Signal, for signs of frustration with the process. So far, I haven’t found many (granted, the op-ed page is blank), but I also haven’t found entirely heartening news, either….
To be continued….
– Kari M.