Friday, April 25, 2008

Granholm adopts Clinton math, says MI key to her nomination

From my new Capitol Chronicles column and blog for

After Hillary Clinton's dual victories this week in Pennsylvania and at Michigan's district conventions, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said the Mitten State would be a key factor in her candidate winning the nomination.

"I think Michigan will be critical," said Granholm, Clinton's highest-profile supporter in the state.

On Saturday, Clinton won a quiet victory at the 15 Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) conventions, taking not just her allotted delegates but is likely to eventually gain a fair chunk of the uncommitted delegates the MDP officially said should go to Obama. Several labor members elected and uncommitted delegates reserved the right to vote for whomever their union endorses and most, especially the UAW, are thought to lean Clinton.

The rest of the 128 pledged delegates will be selected at the central committee meeting in May and Obama isn't expected to fare any better with the Clinton-friendly bunch.

Granholm was upbeat about Clinton's prospects for the nomination at a press conference about an overseas investment mission today.

"I think if you look at the popular vote, that's one aspect for the super delegates can consider in deciding who would be the strongest candidate in the general election," she said.

"If you look at all the citizens who have voted in the nation, she's got more votes by citizens," the governor added.

Granholm was on message. The Clinton campaign has been pushing the idea to the media, with some success, that after her 9-point win in Pennsylvania, she now leads in the popular vote. That includes Clinton's votes in Michigan and Florida, which she won, but the Democratic National Committee (DNC) stripped them of their delegates for holding early primaries.

The official tally is Barack Obama has 14,417,619 votes to Clinton's 13,917,393. With Florida and Michigan, it's 14,993,833 for Obama and 15,116,688 for Clinton.

What's most questionable about the Clinton camp's accounting is that Obama wasn't on the ballot in Michigan, although "uncommitted" was. The MDP officially said all uncommitted delegates should go to Obama. However, Clinton math doesn't give him any of the 238,168 "uncommitted" votes. Counting those, Obama bounces back in the lead, 15,232,001 to 15,116,688.

"Even if you gave him all the uncommitted, she would still be ahead in the popular vote," Granholm said.

When she was corrected by reporters, Granholm acknowledged, "I may be wrong," adding she was looking at RealClearPolitics.

When asked why Clinton should be allowed to claim votes she didn't campaign for, Granholm said, "She left her name on the ballot." Clinton did reassure New Hampshire voters last fall that the Michigan primary wouldn't count.

Granholm also blamed Obama for not consenting to a revote in Michigan, saying it wasn't fair to voters.

"And it's all nice to talk about the delegates and the super delegates and the party poobahs who are making decisions, but the people who actually voted and there was an effort to give people another chance to vote. Now is that fair?"

Interestingly, she cast Clinton as the champion of democracy and implied Obama was trying to win on procedural grounds. The roles have been flipped for most of the contest, as Obama does lead in delegates, states won and the popular vote and Clinton would have to win via super delegates or a convention fight. There's great consternation amongst Democrats, and not just Obama backers, that a Clinton win would subvert the democratic process.

Granholm said she didn't think the nomination would be decided until the last primaries on June 3.

The governor again called on the DNC to count Michigan's votes and seat the delegation. She said she did expect the delegation would be seated (Chair Howard Dean has committed to that, however vaguely) and thought the decision would come before the August national convention in Denver.

"Nobody wants to see a fight," Granholm said, flashing a grin at the media, "except for you all, probably."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Susan J. Demas on NBC, NPR, Newsweek, RealClearPolitics sites

My Michigan is becoming Clinton's secret weapon column in the Detroit News has sparked an interesting debate. It's being discussed and linked at:


NBC News First Read

National Public Radio News Blog


Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish in The Atlantic

The Huffington Post

Daily Kos

My DD and in comments here

World and Global Politics

Outside the Beltway

Talking Points Memo and in comments here

Yahoo Buzz

U.S. Politics Today



Obama '08

The Clintonista Post

Election Bid 2008




Expressio Unius



US Democrat

Richard's Blog the 411

RSS Micro


Michigan is becoming Clinton's secret weapon

Susan J. Demas
The Detroit News

If you punched your ballot for "uncommitted" in Michigan's Jan. 15 Democratic presidential primary to back Barack Obama, your vote might have essentially gone to Hillary Clinton anyway.

While all eyes were locked on Pennsylvania for the last six weeks, Clinton was quietly amassing delegates in the Wolverine State. And she was rewarded this past weekend with a significant victory at the district conventions.

This development naturally has been overshadowed by her big win Tuesday night in Pennsylvania. But the race for the Democratic nomination wasn't decided then and won't be by the remaining contests -- not North Carolina, Indiana or even Guam -- because the real fight is over delegates. And Michigan remains a key battleground.

On Aug. 25, Clinton will march into the national convention in Denver stronger than most people realize, thanks to her aggressive ground game in Michigan.

Buoyed by party elder support, Clinton seems likely to capture more than 60 percent of the state's 128 pledged delegates, according to an analysis by the Michigan Information & Research Service. Including the 28 superdelegates, which lean heavily in the New York senator's favor, she could win upward of 70 percent of delegates, provided that they're seated with full voting power.

That depends on the Democratic National Committee, which punished Michigan for leapfrogging the primary schedule. There is no deal yet to seat the delegation. But the Clinton camp is working overtime to ensure the elected slate is sent. Keep in mind that Clinton won 55 percent to uncommitted's 40 percent since Obama wasn't on the ballot. He has pushed for a 50-50 percent delegate split, but that proposal hasn't gained traction.

It's becoming apparent that Obama should have consented to a revote here. He certainly wouldn't have lost by 15 percentage points or more; polls have pegged the pair in a dead heat. But Obama seemed spooked that Clintonites put forth the plan and the money, so he quashed the do-over last month.

Now Obama is paying the price in delegates, starting with the Michigan Democratic Party's 15 district conventions on Saturday. The Clinton battle plan was flawlessly executed with an eye toward a contested convention. Their delegate roster is crammed with big names like former Gov. Jim Blanchard and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

"We wanted to pick people who would be loyal to Hillary, who would commit to her through multiple ballots," Blanchard says.

Michiganders for Obama, a ragtag group of new volunteers, triumphed in turnout Saturday but were steamrolled by the Clinton machine. Obama has proved to be a master of organization, but he made a tactical error not to plump up his skeletal apparatus in Michigan.

As a result, he will almost certainly fall short of the 36 uncommitted delegates selected. Volunteers argued that only Obama supporters should be uncommitted delegates, but they were outmaneuvered. About half of the uncommitted delegates reserved the right to vote for Clinton, depending on whom their unions eventually endorse.

While union officials flatly deny they're in the tank for Clinton, Obama supporters point out that United Auto Workers Legislative Coordinator Nadine Nosal was elected in the 8th District as an alternate Clinton delegate. That underscores the fact that Obama's speech to the Detroit Economic Club last year, calling for higher federal fuel economy standards, went over with labor leaders like a lead balloon.

In May, the party's labor-heavy, Clinton-friendly central committee chooses the remaining 45 delegates, setting up a scenario of more uncommitted delegates switching to Clinton.

Given her narrow path to the nomination, Clinton and her aides have argued that pledged delegates are fair game to flip. Although they've since backed away from such statements, the Michigan delegate conventions show the Clinton delegate strategy is being set into motion. What this could mean is four very interesting days in Denver. Although the odds still favor Obama -- who leads in delegates, the popular vote and states won -- he has to be a bit rattled over two losses in one week.

If Clinton comes out on top in a floor war, we might well look back at the Michigan mêlée as the turning point.

No enlightenment for protesters

ANN ARBOR ‑- It’s not every day you see hundreds of people protest peace and harmony, so I was naturally intrigued.

Actually, I had trekked to the University of Michigan to hear the Dalai Lama opine on our imploding planet. Pope Benedict XVI was doing much of the same on Sunday as he made a pilgrimage of sorts to Ground Zero in New York.

But there was no time to meditate on spiritual serendipity as a scowling Chinese grad student almost knocked me over with his floppy, sloppily scrawled sign: “Dalai Lama – 50 years of CIA funding isn’t enough for you.” He was one of about 500 “dissidents” waiving Chinese flags outside the arena.

Now I have to admit, I’m always a bit shocked to see demonstrations by non-lefties. The unions, the hippies, - these guys are pros, coming armed with professionally printed placards, a killer sound system and even creepy lifelike puppets to make their point. They know how to set the mood of righteous indignation and usually throw a cool afterhours party to boot.

Within the choreographed affair, there are usually scores of sincere folks dedicated to largely admirable ideals and causes. They’re out there exercising their right to assemble and fighting the good fight while we’re at home catching up on soul-rotting episodes of “Paradise Hotel 2.”

But when your protest slogans essentially are, “We love torture” and “Murder rocks,” it kind of kills the vibe.

Look, the idea of blasting a spiritual icon who won the Nobel Peace Prize is somewhat disconcerting. But when you stop to consider that 1.2 million Tibetans have died since the Chinese invaded in 1949, it becomes mindblowing.

Some protesters were there solely in support of the summer Olympics in Beijing, which the Dalai Lama supports. The games have come under fire because of the Middle Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record, leading the world in executions (take that, Texas) and its brutalization of Tibet, which was bloodied by another crackdown last month.

But most were citizen-bots content to pass out colorful pamphlets promising “the beginning of wisdom” by telling the truth about Tibet, which was always a part of China, don’t you know? They do, for the state-run media tell them so. Oh, and that pesky, persistent violence in Tibet? Blame it on His Holiness in cahoots with the CIA, of course.

As someone who covers politics for a living, I know a snow job when I see one. These kinds of conspiracy theories sprout like fungus in a stale, stark environment, where the government maintains a closed system of information even while opening its markets.

China has threatened to ban Western outlets like CNN from the Olympics if they dare question the government. To gain access to the Chinese goldmine, Google surrendered and censored much of the outside world.

And many of these Abercrombie-clad protesters clutching their iPhones couldn’t care less. As long as they’re free to make plenty of yuan, why should they? And who are those uppity Tibetans to get in their way?

This, of course, is the mantra of Western companies, intoxicated by the prospect of paying Chinese workers three cents an hour to make Lead Dreams Barbie for our little ones to lick.

The most hilarious part of the brochure was when it stiltedly admonished, “Principles of Journalism require news organizations to commit loyalty to its citizens. The coverage should not be slanted for friends or advertisers and should represent all constituent groups in society.”

Nothing like being lectured on ethics by Big Brother. If journalists were to slant coverage to mollify our advertisers, I reckon we’d do nothing but puff pieces on how cheap plastic trinkets from Guangdong will save the world. Almost every major U.S. corporation has an operation in China, which happens to own about $500 billion of our national debt.

Media outlets, by the way, gave extremely sanitized coverage to the demonstrators, perhaps feeling it was in bad taste to point out China’s track record on murder.

Inside, the Dalai Lama spoke to more than 8,000 souls about the growing gulf between rich and poor and sustaining our planet. He touched barely touched on politics, except to say, “If you have a Green Party, I want to join it” (and not in the Ralph Nader sense).

The Buddhist leader also made light of his persona, chuckling, “There are people who believe I have some sort of healing powers - and that’s absolute nonsense.”

The saddest thing was, I didn’t see one protester venture inside to hear what the Dalai Lama had to say. Several yawned at the idea when I interviewed them, evidently content to scream outside and pass out propaganda rather than actually listen to the man and judge for themselves.

That’s flaunting the kind of flagrant ignorance a college campus is supposed to cure. Talk about some folks in need of enlightenment.

Did Clinton Forces Infiltrate "Uncommitted" Delegates at Michigan Dem Convention?

by Susan J. Demas

Buzzflash Guest Contribution

If you voted "uncommitted" in the Michigan primary to support Barack Obama, your vote might have essentially gone to Hillary Clinton anyway.

The Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) has learned that some of the 36 uncommitted delegates chosen at Saturday's district conventions say they're staying uncommitted and not backing Obama. That seems curious, because there are only two candidates left in the race and those backing Clinton could have caucused for her.

Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Mark Brewer gave those exact instructions to those attending the 15 sites. But Obama supporters say they might not have been heeded to give Clinton even more than the 55 percent of delegates she won on January 15.

This could be a harbinger of what is to come. A MIRS analysis of superdelegates shows most favor Clinton (See "Advantage Clinton In MI Super Delegate Hunt," 3/19/08). The central committee will choose another 45 pledged delegates, and party elders are largely pro-Hillary. When all is said and done, Clinton likely will walk away with more than 60 percent of Michigan's pledged and superdelegates, perhaps more than 70 percent.

That is if the delegates are seated with full voting power. Negotiations are still ongoing with the Democratic National Committee, although it's not clear what the makeup would be. Obama has proposed splitting them 50-50. So there's a chance more chaos could ensue down the road, although MDP spokeswoman Liz Kerr said they'll cross that bridge when it comes.

Clinton, by and large, had the establishment on Saturday. Former Governor Jim Blanchard, who didn't attend the 9th District, but was elected a delegate, said the Clinton forces were well organized with an eye toward a contested convention. "We wanted to pick people who would be loyal to Hillary, who would commit to her through multiple ballots," said Blanchard.

There was Michiganders for Obama, an upstart group trying to organize but it was behind the curve since the candidate never campaigned here.

Some Obama supporters were especially suspicious on Saturday of the "unity slates" made up of members of the UAW, which hasn't endorsed a candidate. Attendees said there were shouting matches and massive confusion at the 9th District convention. UAW member Catherine Martin was elected as an uncommitted delegate and plans to stay that way until the union endorses.

State Rep. Aldo Vagnozzi (D-Farmington Hills), an elected Obama delegate, points out Martin was elected by an "overwhelmingly Obama crowd."

The problem is the perception that the UAW backs Clinton. Nadine Nosal, legislative coordinator for the UAW, was elected in the 8th District as an alternate delegate supporting Clinton.

The UAW flatly denies it's pro-Clinton. Nosal said the union put delegate candidates in both caucuses because it's neutral. As for the Obama supporters' criticism, she said, "I don't perceive it to be what they're saying."

The Clinton campaign has been unusually quiet about the Michigan conventions. Clinton and national advisers have said that Obama's pledged delegates are fair game to flip, although they've backed away from statements afterward. Still, Clinton is making an aggressive behind-the-scenes push with superdelegates and to massage the nominating process to ensure she gets the nomination, even if she's behind in the delegate count, popular vote, and states won.

The MDP hasn't released an official list of the 83 delegates and 15 alternates. Kerr said it hasn't been policy to do so in past years until a few days before the national convention.

The remaining 45 of the 128 pledged delegates will be selected at the central committee meeting in May.

Derrick Johnson is an uncommitted delegate from the 15th District who supports Obama and also is head of the Washtenaw County Board of Elections. He said he's heard from Obama backers in other districts who were concerned they were outmaneuvered by Clinton supporters.

"If you're uncommitted, our message is that you shouldn't be uncommitted now. There are only two people left. If you support Clinton, there's a process for her delegates. Uncommitted should be for Obama," Johnson said. "It wasn't a problem in our district, but I think we had a different culture there than in some others."

Vagnozzi said there were four times as many Obama supporters than Clinton backers in the 9th, which seems to fit the statewide pattern. But the MDP doesn't have attendance numbers yet.

When asked if that was surprising, given the fact that Clinton won the primary, Vagnozzi said, "I think it shows the election wasn't an accurate reflection. Obama wasn't on the ballot. Clinton was."

He said the most important thing is for the delegation to be seated, because a Democrat will never win the White House without Florida and Michigan.

Vagnozzi acknowledges that scenario doesn't favor Obama.

"It might, but it's much more important to seat Michigan than any downside to it."

Nosal said it was her "hope and prayer" that the Democrats rally around the nominee whenever that's decided. "We need to come together. We need to elect a Democrat -- I feel so strongly about that. Otherwise, we'll have four more years of what we've already had eight years of."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bitter white women cling to Clinton

As soon as crackly audio of Barack Obama’s comments about “bitter” rural dwellers surfaced, the histrionics began.

Hillary Clinton, John McCain and the pundit class declared this was It – the defining moment of the campaign, that would seal Obama’s fate as a macchiato-sipping McGovernik destined to be a footnote as that black guy who adorably thought he could run he free world.

But most polls in Pennsylvania haven’t budged and Obama maintains a comfortable lead nationally. More of those rural voters gave him money than Clinton.

So what if a candidate stumbled and no one cared? Why, the talking heads and seething rivals would keep wailing on it until people did.

So much for the media being in the tank for Obama.

Under our modern rules of simplistic, soap opera-style politics, Obama should be a goner. This campaign has been an endless parade of stupid statements, often by surrogates, typically followed by feigned outrage and resignations. Sideshow antics are deemed critical turning points, from Hillary the “monster” to Rev. Jeremiah Wright to anything that froths from Bill Clinton’s yap.

Lady Hillary’s entire raison d’être for staying in a mathematically impossible race is to goad Obama into saying something that finally convinces the unwashed masses (and superdelegates) he’s unelectable.

Obama must be taught a lesson, Senator Schoolmarm insists. You just can’t say this in politics:

“But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them.

“And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Shame on you, Barack Obama. Shame on you for that ghastly gaffe (which the brilliant Michael Kinsley defines as when a politician tells the truth).

Spend a day in the rural 7th Congressional District and tell me Obama isn’t dead on. That’s the reason a smooth-talking preacher like Republican Tim Walberg beats an effective congressman with the promise to round up illegals and rescue fetuses from slaughter. That was more important to dowtrodden voters two years ago than Joe Schwarz busting his hump to secure $10 million to expand I-94 or save hundreds of jobs at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base.

McCain and Clinton are still piling on. There’s something mildly amusing about two long-time multimillionaires blasting the guy who grew up on food stamps as a shameful snob.

It’s unfortunate politicking by McCain, who in January admirably told Michiganders the truth that auto jobs weren’t coming back.

But Clinton’s jabs are fiercer, since she desperately needs “Bittergate” to be the death blow for Obama. Now Hilly’s got a gun and recently recovered memories about hunting ducks with Gramps (let’s hope these hold up better than sniper fire at Tuzla). She’ll reign over us with the sunny optimism that’s marked her indignant, calcified campaign.

Too bad she once slammed southern working-class whites this way: “Screw ‘em.”

The year was 1995. Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution had engulfed the nation as a backlash to Clintonism. Angry white men were everywhere, railing against their witchy wives and black guys taking their jobs. And Hillary was incensed by their betrayal.

But there’s an eerie parallel with the bitter white women who are the bedrock of Clinton’s campaign today.

Their narrative (just ask Gerry Ferraro) is a page out of the angry white male handbook: Baby Barack is an affirmative action hire out to snatch the job out from under the vastly experienced Clinton. Missing from this (racist) feminist parable is the obvious fact that our heroine’s résumé is only worth considering because she has her husband’s last name (ooh, gutsy move, Mrs. C.) and claims his time in the White House as her own, a truly ballsy move.

“It’s her time!” the Clintonistas whine.

So when I heard about their “I’m Not Bitter” bumper stickers, I almost spit out my Merlot, elitist that I am.

Look, their girl used to be young and idealistic like Obama, but she learned, thanks to that vast right-wing conspiracy, that getting down and dirty was the only way to win. The new face of Girl Power looks a lot like Machiavelli: The ends justify the means, baby.

So if Obama glides to the nomination on that unbelievably naïve “Hope” campaign, it’s just not fair.

Which is what almost certainly will happen, gaffes be damned. The Clintonian kitchen sink strategy is crumbling.

And that’s a truly bitter pill to swallow.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Susan J. Demas featured in the Guardian U.K., Forbes

Korea trade deal an issue in Michigan election

From The Guardian U.K. and Forbes
By Soyoung Kim

DETROIT, April 17 (Reuters) - Deepening woes in the U.S. auto industry have raised concerns about a free trade pact with South Korea, and analysts say it could sway Michigan voters when they cast their presidential ballots.

The pact, signed last year and awaiting legislative approval in both nations, is viewed by many as punishing an industry already in the middle of a wrenching restructuring.

Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have seized on the backlash and made their opposition to the deal their top selling point in Michigan. But presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has endorsed it.

The Democrats' strategy has a good chance of paying off in a race that is likely to be tight, political analysts say.

"There is certainly a backlash against trade agreements with nations like South Korea in Michigan, which has seen thousands of jobs shipped overseas," said Susan Demas, an analyst at Michigan Information & Reserve Service in Lansing.

"Obama and Clinton definitely have the upper hand in Michigan on trade," she said.

From 2000-2005, Michigan, home to General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler, lost 42 percent of its auto assembly jobs, versus a 14 percent loss in the rest of the nation, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Rising imports and more production in southern U.S. states by Asian rivals such as Hyundai Motor have helped make Michigan's unemployment rate -- at 7.2 percent -- the highest in the nation.


The trade agreement calls for the immediate elimination of South Korea's 8-percent tariff on U.S. vehicles and the U.S. removal of its 2.5-percent tariff.

It would also remove South Korea's system that levies taxes based on engine size, a disadvantage to larger U.S.-made autos. It also has a clause that if South Korea violates the promises, U.S. tariffs on South Korean cars, which topped about $220 million in 2006, would snap back into place.

But Detroit is more concerned about South Korean autos and parts flowing in than about gaining market share in Korea. Less than 4 percent of cars sold in South Korea are imports, the lowest market share for imported autos of any industrialized country.

"It's various nontariff barriers that change the game to make it difficult for foreign automakers to compete, not the 8 percent tariff," said Stephen Collins, president of the Auto Trade Policy Council which represents Detroit carmakers.


South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, who is in the United States this week in his first official visit to the country, pledged a swift ratification of the pact in an investor forum in New York on Wednesday.

Expectations are growing that South Korea will soon take a step to fully opening its market to U.S. beef, which U.S. lawmakers say is a prerequisite for the auto pact to be ratified in Congress.
But concerns that the annual $11 billion loss in automotive trade with South Korea will only widen, along with the beef feud, are casting a shadow over speedy resolution.

Ron Gettelfinger, head of the United Auto Workers, attacked the Bush administration for backing the South Korea deal.

"We don't value our industry as a nation compared to other nations," Gettelfinger told a forum in Canton, Michigan, this month. "South Korea exported 700,000 vehicles to the United States. The United States exported 7,000 vehicles to South Korea."

U.S. auto employment peaked at 1.1 million in 1999 but has since fallen by 27 percent, according to Automotive Research. The center estimates employment by Detroit's Big Three will fall another 15 percent by 2016 from about 241,000 at the end of last year.


The UAW has yet to endorse a Democratic candidate. Once it does, it will make a substantial difference in a state that has voted for a Democrat in every presidential election since 1992 but now appears to lean toward McCain, said Phil Power, head of the Center for Michigan, an Ann Arbor-based think tank.

"I've seen recent polls suggest Senator McCain is ahead. I think part of that is caused by the fact there's no Democratic nominee at this point and that the Michigan primary election was so confused and messed up that Michigan voters are not very happy about the Democratic Party right now," Power said.

The national party invalidated the Democratic nominating contests in Michigan and Florida in January because the states violated party rules. The states were denied delegates to the August party convention that picks the nominee.

Friday, April 11, 2008

What the media get wrong

John McCain is one angry man. Everyone knows that.

So no one was surprised last week to learn of his tirade against a hapless Teutonic foreign minister at the 2006 Munich Security Conference.

"I haven't come to Munich to hear this kind of crap," the Mighty Mac roared, unleashing the biggest German explosion since the Hindenburg.

That led to much tittering about the perils of having a petulant president with his creaky finger on the button.

There was only one problem: The McCain meltdown never happened. The account of one anonymous source was promptly contradicted by several eyewitnesses on the record, including former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz.

"There was a bit of tension for 15 or 20 seconds when there was a problem with the translation," recalled Schwarz, who had sat six feet from McCain. "There was no outburst, no shaking, no rising out of his chair."

Newsweek, which didn't even check the story with the senator, issued a semi-retraction this week. What happened is all too familiar. In the magazine's rush to churn out a piece in the familiar Mad McCain motif with a new twist, the staff didn't vet the lead anecdote.

It seemed true, so it must be. After all, who wouldn't be scrapping for a fight after being shot down in the Vietnam jungle and tortured for more than five years? And McCain did seem awfully peeved to have lost in 2000 to that ingrate, George W. Bush.

Throw in a couple shoutfests with Sens. John Cornyn and Chuck Grassley and presto! McCain is a walking land mine.

Just like back in 2000, when priggish presidential hopeful Al Gore was slapped with the "serial exaggerator" label. When he was misquoted about taking credit for discovering Love Canal, few media bothered to correct it. Instead, they ran with the "There he goes again . . ." storyline.

Good thing the man who did make it to the White House never lied about anything of life-or-death consequence, like the al-Qaida-Saddam Hussein connection, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or Saddam's uranium-hunting trip to Niger. And kudos to the media for dropping those bummer storylines.

We've officially entered the silly season in politics.

Forget the hysterical whining about lib-rul media bias (and the flipside in the lefty blogosphere). Here's the real problem with media coverage.

Whatever policy debate there was (i.e. a brief segue about the apparently permanent surge in Iraq before in-depth analysis of Angelina Jolie's baby bump) has evaporated into the fresh spring air.

Tee-vee personalities, who wouldn't know journalistic standards if they read them off a teleprompter, have dug into tough political issues like Hillary Clinton's cleavage malfunction and Barack Obama's abs glistening on a Hawaii beach.

But the neverending Democratic brawl has worn on actual reporters, who last saw their kids in a media-release program for an hour over Christmas before the Iowa caucuses.

Sleep-deprived and slap-happy during a season that was supposed to end on Super Tuesday (sorry, Hillary), journalists have to bustle at a breakneck pace through Puerto Rico's June 1 primary or even the Denver convention in August.

The unforgiving 24-hour news cycle and incredibly shrinking newsrooms mean more work, like insipidly blogging about wintry mix forecasts on the trail in Iowa for the world's greatest newspaper, The New York Times.

It's enough to drive you mad. So reporters succumb to pack journalism and pump out pieces assiduously free of policy debate that follow a set narrative, which often are quarantined from what's actually happening.

Better yet, they can just play those four clips of Obama's irascible pastor (the only dude even angrier than McCain!). Heaven forbid we see an endless loop of the senator's speech on the racial question, a truly spellbinding oratory that scholars will still scrutinize in decades to come.

But buxom, Botoxed Fox News babes carped it was all about Obama hatin' on his white grandma, making you shudder at how they'd have shrilly bashed Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King back in the day.

These storylines do serve a useful purpose for those who don't care to pay much attention. You now have permission to vote against Obama. Not because he's black (oh, no) but because his craaaazy preacher means he simply cannot be trusted to solve the foreclosure crisis.

Same goes for McCain. It's not that you think he's an old coot; it's just that he lacks the correct temperament to fix Medicare.

The sad part is they're two of the most authentic and genuinely engaging candidates we've had to choose from in decades. The media do them and the public a tremendous disservice by boiling this race down to sound bites and stereotypes.

This is the contest the press has been clamoring to cover since Kennedy-Nixon. Not a mudslinging slugfest between the lesser of two evils, but a reasoned choice between political philosophies, policies and leadership styles.

If we get the chance, let's not blow it with braggadocio. The stories will practically write themselves.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Review Politics for junkies

Susan J. Demas

For the Enquirer

Dana Milbank dedicates his tome to Tom DeLay -- and that pretty much says it all.

Political junkies will delight in the absurdism of a tribute to the indicted Republican bad boy known as “The Hammer” for his soto voce leadership style.

And if you can’t quite place who DeLay is, well, “Homo Politicus” isn’t for you. In fact, it’s so smirkingly inside-the-beltway that even politicos outside the Washington orbit might feel a bit lost.

A creature of the Capitol for two decades, Milbank writes the merrily nipping “Washington Sketch” column for the Washington Post. Like his column, the book supplies slaps and flesh wounds to the Capitol gang, without going for the jugular like H.L. Mencken or Molly Ivins. Milbank’s goal isn’t to rail against the political power circle and call for its overthrow; he’s just the court jester who gabs and jabs – but ultimately doesn’t want to lose his place in the kingdom.

It’s written in anthropological tongue-and-cheek, chapters commencing with exotic anecdotes about the Vikings, Aztecs and the Masai tribe in Kenya. There also are scores of subheads on “Totem poles” (symbols like motorcades), “Kin selection” (parties choosing candidates) and “Moka partners” (gift-giving, lobbyist-style).

All this is meant to underscore the wackiness of Washington, i.e. Potomac Land, just as Horace Miner satirized American culture in his seminal, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.”

In 276 pages of often too-clever-by-a-half metaphors, Milbank hammers home his theme like any good stand-up comic or rush-hour radio DJ: No, it’s not just you. Your leaders really are crazy.

One reason for this: In the era of hyperpartisanship, Milbank sagely surmises, “Democrats and Republicans alike will tolerate almost any oddity in a person’s character as long as that person contributes to the strength of the party.”

The book is a series of snapshots of politicians’ most outrageous comments and egregious sins, belying “Potomac Man’s trademark sense of entitlement.” One might expect a D.C. insider to reveal rare morsels about pompous poobahs, but his passages on Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and Howard Dean mostly rehash well-known yarns.

Milbank’s real genius is in his deft descriptions of luminaries, like that of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert “a huge and rumpled figure” known as the “accidental Speaker”(much as former state House Speaker Craig DeRoche was). Rep. John Conyers is skewered for treating “the House floor as his legislative playground” and helping “himself to a wife from his staff.”

The author nails Dick Cheney perfectly as “impossibly dour, his lips sagging in one corner, emerging occasionally to speak about the imminent demise of humanity, the absolute correctness of the Bush administration, or both.”

Milbank is at his least amusing and convincing when he critiques the Washington social scene of which he’s a part, taking a few swipes at his more gregarious colleagues.

He’s at his best penning an explanation for an empty index, which Milbank knows will frustrate Potomac Man, who narcissistically flips there first to find his own name and those of his rivals.

The highlight of the book is the glossary, which translates famous phrases such as George W. Bush’s “I don’t pay attention to the polls” (My job approval rating is 32 percent) and John Kerry’s “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it” (I am trying to lose the election).

Milbank’s true genius is mixing self-deprecation with sublime self-promotion. His back-cover reviews include Sen. Barbara Boxer slamming him for “taking trash journalism to new heights” and a poll by snarky “Dana Milbank is … emblematic of the deterioration of the American media, 12.1% … the savior of American journalism, 13.5% … a publicity whore, 74.4%.”

In the end, “Homo Politicus” is a mirthful, breezy read – at least for those of us hankering for a break from C-SPAN’s “Road to the White House” or CNN’s “Ballot Bowl.”

Friday, April 4, 2008

The sad, short political life of John Edwards

John Edwards stood before me, cradling an angelic 11-month-old popping a pacifier with the serenity only a father of four has.

His now famously $400-coiffed hair was shaggier then, his powder-blue Oxford collar unbuttoned and his cauliflower eyes less crinkled. There was an ease to the then-freshman senator on that sultry August day in 2003.

Speaking to a gathering of 40 university-types in a sprawling Iowa City backyard, Edwards relished his sunny, upstart campaign, much like Mike Huckabee did this time around.

The expert litigator didn't unfurl a fiery speech, as would become his trademark in 2008, nor did he spend much time on labor issues, save for his "son of a millworker" spiel. He deftly touched on the death of his oldest son, Wade, which propelled him into politics.

But in spite of his paper-thin political résumé (far skimpier than Barack Obama's), he looked presidential in a Hollywood sort of way. And he definitely had the kissing babies part down.

So I wasn't particularly surprised that he scored second place in the Iowa caucuses in '04. Nor was I by his repeat performance this year.

The difference was, after moving to the cornfields for a couple years, coming in No. 2 again was the death-knell of his campaign. I had my suspicions even back in August 2007 after talking with Edwards strategist Joe Trippi.

In the spin room after a Chicago debate, Trippi refreshingly didn't fall over himself to invent all the ways his guy won. He wisely said the field was winnowing to three, lumping Edwards and Obama together as the reform candidates.

When I asked if Edwards would hold a fundraising and organizational advantage over Republicans, Trippi replied, "Whoever the Democratic nominee is - whether it's Edwards or someone else - will inherit a much better operation."

When your communications guru stops painting you as an invincible superhero, you've got problems. Even Dennis Kucinich kept hope alive by adorably telling audiences, "When I'm president . . ."

There was a surrealist melancholy to Edwards' second run, as his wife, Elizabeth, wilted from a recurrence of incurable breast cancer. Both of them seemed itching for a fight - and who could blame them?

But for a former political Pollyanna, Edwards' newfound anger seemed off-key and his love affair with unions (after previously sitting on his hands in right-to-work North Carolina) came off contrived.

His worst moment came at that Chi-town debate, when a disabled steelworker who could barely stand at the microphone pled with candidates about universal health care.

"What's wrong with America?" Steve Skvara asked, neck pulsating in pain. "And what will you do to change it?"

Edwards blithely dispensed vague promises of reform, before proclaiming himself to be the true workers' candidate.

"Who was with you in crunch time?" Edwards grinned ingratiatingly at the crowd.

It was a truly chilling exchange, which his campaign didn't get, instead trumpeting the footage on YouTube. I wondered how a man whose wife has metastatic stage four cancer could respond that way.

After a string of dismal showings before Super Tuesday, Edwards quit. He never captured the limelight he felt he'd earned as a former vice presidential nominee, usurped by Hillary Clinton primping herself for coronation and by the superstar status of the silver-tongued Obama.

("We can't make John black; we can't make him a woman," Elizabeth Edwards had once scowled on the stump).

As the increasingly bitter Democratic brawl drags on, attention is turning to party elders to inject some sanity. But although a steady drip of superdelegates have come Obama's way, Edwards has stayed mum.

The conventional wisdom was that Edwards would endorse the frontrunner. They'd both ganged up on Clinton as the corporate candidate, who defended taking boatloads of lobbyists' cash because they "represent real Americans."

The golden boy hasn't and is now said to favor Clinton, whom he respects as a fighter, underscoring his resentment of Obama's successful healer-in-chief campaign.

The Edwardses are, not surprisingly, passionate about health care and prefer Clinton's blueprint to Obama's. This has always been a bizarre argument amongst the Dems, who all sport strikingly similar plans that are miles from John McCain's and the status quo.

There's a legitimate debate to be had over mandates (Obama doesn't have one for adults) but it's really just academic. Plans are just a starting point for negotiating with Congress (which Clinton blew big-time in 1993).

Four years after that Iowa City garden party, I'm still not quite sure who John Edwards is.

What is it that he wants? Does he want attorney general, terrorizing Wall Street a la Eliot Spitzer (sans the hooker mess)? It seems doubtful that he covets a second crack at veep. And he seems too restless to settle back down at the admirable anti-poverty organization he founded.

I don't think he knows.

He appears to be a man adrift in the face of losing his rock of 30 years. Grief and ambition drove him into politics. Sadly, it's now become a circular quest.