Saturday, March 1, 2008

Jack stumps for Hillary

Most political campaign ads are a dime a dozen: The obligatory pictures of the candidate at a parade or some other patriotic event, the flag, some kids, maybe a sunrise or some other horizon-sweeping shot, they are agonizingly irritating cookie cutter clones of one another.

... Except when they're not.

Enter this spot in support of Hillary Clinton by Jack Nicholson.

Talk about your creative ads! This one has it all!

I will say, though, that the line, "There's nothing on this earth sexier ... than a woman you have to salute in the morning," while perfect in its place in A Few Good Men, is awkward and gawky here. The whole ad is about the experience of a professional commander-in-chief, and then you get to the end, where that entire train of thought -- and feminism itself -- is forgotten, exchanged for a gratuitous, sexist remark.

It's really too bad, because the rest of the ad is genius -- one of the only truly original ideas we've seen this campaign season!

(Sorry, Obama Girl, if you don't vote, you don't count ... in more ways than one.)

Two-year madness

Here are a couple of extra things I didn't have space to tell you about in print today:

  • Rep. Terry Spicer (D-Elba) was presiding over Wednesday's hearing in the absence of the regular committee chairperson, Rep. Yvonne Kennedy, who was forced to retire following numerous investigations by state and federal officials over the past year. The Mobile County District Attorney’s Office has charged 27 people with the theft of more than $200,000 from the college, most of it financial aid, according to the Associated Press. I simply didn't have room to even begin to cover the idea that Kennedy presides over the Education Policy Committee.
  • With regard to other people lobbying your bill for you, that brings us to Paul Hubbert, political boss of the Alabama Education Association, which is pushing Irons' bill. Hubbert offered his own explanation for Wednesday’s dust-up: Turnabout is fair play.
    Spicer was given two minutes to speak at the SBE’s meeting last year, “and then the board immediately voted. …So I’m sure that had some effect on what happened out here today,” Hubbert said. “I understand his actions today because that is what happened to him when he went before the board.”
  • Irons, by the way, made it a point to tell me that she has no ties whatsoever to the two-year college system.
  • State political blogs are burning up on this issue with posts from legislators who are writing from Montgomery. Check out the roundup of two-year college follies (so far) at Doc's Political Parlor ( and reaction to Wednesday's action from Rep. Mike Ball at Daily Dixie (

Friday, February 29, 2008

Microparsing gone mad

Q. How do you know that the political phenomenon of microparsing voters (think "soccer moms," "NASCAR dads," etc.) has gone too far?

A. When white males are back to being considered the largest group of key swing votes.

McCain's eligibility issue

Speaking of McCain, just as he's nearing the magical delegate number of 1,191 to wrap up the Republican nomination, his campaign is quietly scrambling to squelch the "mounting interest" of the national press in whether McCain is eligible to run for the White House at all.

McCain was born on a military installation in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. According to this story by Carl Hulse in the International Herald Tribune, Hulse reports that McCain's advisers exude confidence that there is no question about his citizenship, but since there is no precedent definitively confirming the definition of "natural-born citizen," they are researching it just to be sure.

There is more than a little bit of irony to me in this story, given McCain's work on the illegal immigration issue and the prominence it has played in his campaign (and the attacks lodged against him).

Whispers and innuendo

Continuing with the whispers and innuendo theme, the GOP also had issues with Barack Obama this week.

The New York Post wades into the Obama photo flap

By now you know all about the Barack-Obama-dressed-in-traditional-African-garb flap. I appreciated the take the NewYork Post had on the issue. From "Backlash at 'Garb'age" to "Bum Wrap," the Post's copy editors showed why they write some of the best headlines in the business some of the best headlines in the business -- and why they would get an 'A' in any class taught by Strunk & White.

Also noteworthy was the editorial the Post's staff pulled together. Strong, direct and hard-hitting, this piece is a great example of what public opinion-shaping should be all about.

Back from the brink

OK, everybody, thanks for your patience. The column is done and I've restored relative order to my home. To reward you, I'll start off the catch-up posts with this hysterical clip of the "King of Talk" getting a little too familiar with his interview subject:

Larry King breaks it down

Let's just thank our lucky stars that wardrobe malfunctions aren't contagious.

Four more posts to come in the next few minutes ... thanks!


Hey guys,

I know, you are about to give up on me. Don't! I'm writing my print column this morning (if you live in Alabama, it's definitely one you don't want to miss), but I'll be making up my absence to you this afternoon and tomorrow. I have a ton of things to share with you!

So ... how about if we meet back here this afternoon, say, around 4ish? :)


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Catching up

Hey guys,

Sorry I missed posting yesterday ... I'm still in the midst of getting caught up from being gone last weekend through Tuesday. I'll catch up the blog this afternoon sometime. I have some great stuff to share with you, so keep checking back -- I promise I'll make it worth your while!


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Odds and Ends 3

And before we forget that the GOP has a candidate (or two) in this race, as well, John McCain found himself doing damage control in Cincinnati, where conservative radio talk show host Bill Cunningham made a series of seemingly inappropriate and insensitive statements while "warming up" a crowd for the presumptive GOP nominee.

Among other things, Cunningham repeatedly referred to Barack Obama by his full name of "Barack Hussein Obama," said that former secretary of state Madeleine Albright looked "like death warmed over" and seemed to poke fun at openly gay congressman U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.

McCain quickly and forcefully condemned the remarks. According to the Associated Press:

  • "I apologize for it," McCain told reporters, adding, "...I take responsibility for (the remarks). I repudiate them," he said. "My entire campaign I have treated Senator Obama and Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton with respect. I will continue to do that throughout this campaign."
  • McCain called both Democrats "honorable Americans" and said, "I want to dissociate myself with any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them."
  • Asked whether the use of Obama's middle name — the same as former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein — is proper, McCain said: "No, it is not. Any comment that is disparaging of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is totally inappropriate."
  • McCain said he didn't know who allowed Cunningham to speak but said he was sure it was in coordination with his campaign. He said he didn't hear the comments and has never met Cunningham, but "I will certainly make sure that nothing like that happens again."
You can see the video here under "McCain repudiates supporter."

For his part, Cunningham hit back on his radio show later in the day:

"Did John McCain repudiate me? When he didn't hear the remarks at all? He didn't hear them. He just threw me under the bus to the national media," Cunningham said. "I've had it with McCain. I'm going to endorse Hillary Clinton. I'm going to throw my support behind Hillary Clinton."

See CNN anchor John Roberts' interview with Cunningham here.

SIDEBAR: I wonder if Hillary will denoun-- I mean, reject Cunningham's endorsement ... ?

Read the entire AP article here.

Finally, this must be the kind of coverage Obama is getting from cable news that has the Clinton camp in such a tizzy. From NBC/NJ’s Aswini Anburajan in Cleveland, Ohio, and found on
With a silver head of hair, a DNC chairmanship under his belt and 30 years in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Chris Dodd endorsed his one-time rival for the presidency with the air of a senior statesman anointing the next nominee.

Eww. As a reporter by trade, that lead makes me want to go take two Tylenol and call you in the morning. It's nauseating.

Odds and Ends 2

Continuing our Odds and Ends segment, here are some of the things Obama said during the news conference where he accepted the endorsement of former Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd:

  • Asked for his reaction about the now-infamous picture of himself in traditional African garb, Obama downplayed the issue, foreshadowing his handling of it during tonight's debate.
    "Certainly I don’t think that photograph was circulated to enhance my candidacy, I think that is fair to say," Obama said. "Do I think it is reflective of Senator Clinton’s approach to the campaign? Probably not. And so at this point, my interest is just moving forward and talking about the issues that are going to be helpful for the people of Ohio."
  • When pressed to comment on the increasingly strident and combative tone between Hillary Clinton's camp and his own staff, Obama again sought to diffuse any controversy by talking in broad terms about the toll tough campaigns take on the personal and professional lives of campaign staffers, acknowledging that even he was responsible for, at times, employing a "tone" that contributed to the ramp-up in rhetoric.
    "I think things have gotten a little hotter over the last couple of days,” Obama said, “but these things have gone in sort in ebbs and flows. There have been tensions if you recall in South Carolina, and we had a pretty hot debate in Myrtle Beach. And I have to just speak for myself, when I looked in retrospect at that debate although I think there were some legitimate differences that were put out there. I'm not sure that my tone was always the one that I'd like to communicate. And I think it's important for me and for Senator Clinton to communicate to our staffs as well.
    ”We're both trying out for quarterback, but we're on the same team," Obama said.

Odds and Ends 1

OK, now that the debate is over, I'll round up some other things that were blogworthy today. We'll lead off with Barack Obama's latest endorsement.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Christopher Dodd appeared at a news conference in Cleveland this morning to deliver his support to Obama. Dodd's speech was relatively decent, if self-aggrandizing (but we forgive him; he is, after all, a U.S. senator). As reported by the Boston Globe, Dodd called Obama's appeal "unprecedented, really, in almost a generation, maybe longer." Regarding Obama's crossover appeal, Dodd said yesterday's so-called "Reagan Democrats" are akin to today's "Obama Republicans."

Dodd, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, beat back mentions of his previous critiques of Obama's "relatively thin resume" by saying that experience, while valuable, isn't the only important quality that matters in a presidential candidate. "It's maturity, it's judgment, it's balance, it's the ability to speak in a way that touches people that I think people are looking for in the national leadership this time around," he said.

Dodd also discussed the public service plank of Obama's platform. Dodd also noted his own Peace Corps service in a village in the Dominican Republican and said that when asked by villagers why he had come to help, Dodd said he told them, "Because someone asked me to," referring to President John F. Kennedy's call to service of young Americans during the early 1960s. Dodd said that Obama is calling a new generation of Americans to service above themselves, and they are responding.

Question 13

Williams asks the final question, which is more of an attempt to start a brawl than a conclusion: What does your opponent need to do to prove his/her worthiness as the Democratic nominee?

Obama says that there is no doubt she is competent and would be a much better president than McCain, who has "tethered" himself to policies of Bush Administration, but "I bring a unique bias toward openness in government, pushing back against special interests," Obama says.

Clinton says there is no question that both feel strongly about the country and bring energy and commitment to the race, adding her standard line about how it has been an honor to run with Obama in this "campaign that is history making," thrilled to be running to be the first woman president, sea change, challenge to the way things have been done, who gets to do them, what the rules are."

Hillary talked more about herself than Obama and did not acknowledge that Obama would be a satisfactory nominee.

Round 13 to Obama, and why he wins it is another lesson for candidates out there.

When presented with a question about your opponent's capabilities, always view it as a trap. It is a no-win situation, unless there is simply egregiously disqualifying factors to discuss. You end up looking petty and unprofessional.

This is especially true in a primary. Remember, if you lose, you will be expected in our two-party system (which is, by the way, a topic for another day) to endorse the candidacy of your party's nominee. Subsequently, you can count on your words about your primary opponent to be used by the other party against your party's nominee -- and that can be uncomfortable, especially when you go out to make the obligatory endorsement and are confronted by statements you made about how Candidate X is unprepared, ill-suited, ill-equipped, etc., to hold the office for which he or she is running.

Obama took the high road and expressed solidarity with the Democratic Party; Clinton did not. For the third time tonight, Obama was the statesman; Hillary was not.

(As a postscript, I will say that I am glad I am not Paul Begala tonight, having to defend Hillary Clinton's performance. He actually just said that Bill Clinton fought against a media bias when he ran for president.

Talk about drinking the Kool-aid.)

Question 12

Russert: What actions or words in your career would you like to take back?

Clinton: The 2002 vote on Iraq ... but the election has to be about the future. She makes a good point about the ability to do an entire program on "what we will inherit from George Bush" and notes her experience on "both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue."

Obama mentions the Terri Schiavo issue, regretting that he didn't "stand on the floor and stop it" when the Congress intervened, citing it as "an example of inaction, which can be as costly as action."

Obama wraps his comments with kind words to Hillary, saying he is proud to have run with her. "There is a vanity aspect and an ambition aspect to politics," Obama says, giving voice to that Washington current that everyone knows and hardly anyone ever admits.

Question 11

Russert to Clinton: What can you tell me about Putin's successor, to be installed on Sunday?

Hillary: He is hand-picked and spends "most of his time praising Putin" and calls his selection "a clever but transparent way of Putin maintaining power." She criticizes Bush's "incoherent policy" toward Russia, noting that the

Russert gets to the point (obviously he didn't care about the answer other than this): Do you know his name?

"Med... Medvedera, whatever," she says with a smile.

The classic "gotcha."

Obama basically agrees with Clinton and is asked by Russert what he would do if Russia tried to take Serbia back over. Obama responds with an olive branch to the Clinton Administration, saying they did a good job working with the international community on issues of this nature. This is good for mainstream Democrats, who will like hearing Obama pay homage to Bill Clinton.

Round 11 is a draw.

Question 10

Williams to Obama: You have a more liberal voting record than Ted Kennedy. How can you run in the general on this?

Obama says in looking at what the National Journal considered when making the rankings, he and Hillary have two differences; one is on immigration, the other is on an ethics issue regarding in-house monitoring of potential issues.

Obama says that second example shows "how silly these ratings are."

He notes that he is attracting more independent votes and Republican votes in the primaries because those voters are rejecting the usual suspects in Washington and the "proof is in the pudding."

Question 9

Russert to Obama: Do you accept the support of Farrakhan?

Yikes, watch out! Obama says he denounces the anti-Semitism in Farrakhan's statements. Russert continues to push ... Obama continues to say that is "reprehensible and inappropriate," and leaves it at that. Russert is trying to link Obama to Farrakhan through Obama's preacher.

(What is with this line of questioning? What is Russert insinuating? Obama has been clear on support for Israel ... does Russert expect Obama to identify with every statement made by his supporters?)

Obama makes lemonade out of this ... Regarding Israel, "Their security is sacrosanct and the U.S. is in special relationship with them," he says, adding that he wants to rebuild the relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities. He adds that he is sitting on that stage thanks in part to the support the Jewish community gave to the civil rights movement. That is a brilliant, brilliant transformation of a very ugly question.

Hillary says ME TOO! "I had a similar situation," she says, trying to remain relevant. She's forced to insert herself into the conversation here. "There's a difference between 'denouncing' and 'rejecting,'" she says, with an obvious barb at Obama. Clinton gives another example of the Clinton dictionary. (Sorry, I couldn't resist. :) )

Obama feeds the audience more lemonade: He says doesn't see a difference between "reject" and "denounce," but if "reject" makes Hillary more comfortable, then he "rejects and denounces" Farrakhan's remarks. The audience applauds for the first time tonight, pleased with the clarity brought out of the jumble.

This is political brilliance, plain and simple. He defangs her attack, making her look juvenile and catty, and he looks, again, like the longtime statesman.

Round 9 to Obama, and Hillary is beginning to fade.

Question 8

Russert asks Obama about public financing: "You seem to be waffling ... why won't you keep your word that you made in writing" to use public financing?

Obama says he is not yet the nominee, and that if he is, he will sit down with McCain and work something out that is acceptable to both parties. He is backing out to a broader perspective, which is good, because -- again -- most people don't understand the concept of public financing. They do understand, "I don't take PAC money."

Russert is a jerk.

To Clinton: You refuse to release the joint tax return with President Clinton ... Ohio Gov. Strickland, your supporter, made accountability and transparency an issue against his opponent. Why shouldn't you?

Clinton has a good line about how the American people are supporting her campaign in response to Russert's question about who is funding her campaign. Clinton completely blew the part of the question about why she won't release the return. "I'm a little busy right now," she said. Smarmy and arrogant -- and also transparent.

Round 8 a draw.

Question 7

Hee hee, here's a question on Hillary's sarcasm. This is awesome. Obama says she "Sounds good." That was so PERFECT. Ha ha!!!

Obama said she showed good humor and he would give her points for delivery; Hillary cackles. Wow, what a difference there: on one hand, a self-assured candidate; on the other, a desperate one.

Obama has been well prepped for this question; he's ticking off the points where the "rubber meets the road" in terms of his record, which he says is more than just speeches.

Hillary defends herself, which isn't necessary; it was a funny moment, and everyone enjoyed it. She says she has put forth "very specific ideas about how we can get back $55 billion from the special interests" that were given, presumably, through earmarks. Now she's hitting Obama on the energy and credit card cap bills.

To Obama: Clinton casting herself as "co-president?" Obama says she counts that time in the White House as part of her experience, adding that he doesn't begrudge her that and that he hasn't said that it isn't part of her experience. "You have to take responsibility as well as credit," he says ... demonstrating why he's a master of the sound bite.

Obama is making a tactical error, in my opinion, by getting caught up in this discussion about the minutiae of policymaking. Average folks don't understand the committee process, the amendatory process, the idea of conference committees, the idea of negotiations in conference, the conference product, etc. He should make the large point and let it go.

Round 7 to Obama.

Question 6

Russert is back to Obama, now on the future of Iraq. What if the Iraqi government throws out our troops immediately if they don't like the fact that they are pulling out but leaving a residual force?

This may be the dumbest question yet ... there is no basis for the possibility that this might actually happen, and it's a hypothetical anyway, so they both should refuse to answer it.

Obama did make a point that Iraq is a sovereign nation and that it is distracting us from Afghanistan. Russert cuts him off, apparently because he didn't like the answer; that's one of the most annoying things about Russert.

Clinton says she would pull the troops out, too. Russert interrupts again. Does he want the answer or not? What if al Qaeda resurges? Russert asks. Can you reserve the right to re-enter?

Finally Hillary stops him and says it's a hypothetical; Russert says it's "reality," which, of course, it isn't. This has been a waste of five minutes.

Clinton charges that Obama hasn't held any substantive hearings on Afghanistan, which Obama says is true, but because he just became chairman at the beginning of 2007, when he began running for president. Eh, maybe. He could have made it a platform, but then he would have been criticized for using it for political purposes, so ... either way, he loses. It's a wash.

Obama says he would act in the interest of safety of American interests abroad, while working with allies where possible but standing up to uncooperative countries where necessary.

Hillary's really getting combative. Whew, it's time for a commercial break. :)

Round 6 is a draw.

Question 5

Williams to Obama on national security: How was Hillary unfair in criticizing your readiness to be president with regard to foreign policy?

"Clinton equates experience with longevity in Washington ... I don't think that's the accurate measure," Obama says.

This is a great argument for him. It plays to the sentiment against the war while taking the wind out of the sails of the charge that he doesn't have enough foreign policy experience to be president.

Obama sticks by his judgment as proof that he is ready to be president.

Williams asks Hillary whether she believes Obama is qualified to be president, noting that she took a pass on this question on Thursday.

Clinton is put in the position of defending her vote for the war, "when it wasn't just a speech," she says. This is a good argument for her, but she's not making it eloquently. This section needed work. It's a missed opportunity because she is making a good point: Obama was on the sidelines and didn't have accountability for his position on Iraq in 2002.

She says that Obama "basically threatened to bomb Pakistan," and that's one of the reasons why she would be a better match for McCain in November.

Obama says his 2002 speech was more than action, saying she was "ready to give in to George Bush on Day One" on this issue. Wow, this is his hardest-hitting response yet. This is as aggressive as he has been. As for Pakistan, Obama hits back, giving recent history on Pakistan and defending the strategy.

Round 5 is a draw.

Question 4

Question 4, again to Hillary first (that's four in a row), this one on the economic plan on which Hillary ran for Senate. Will you say the pledge for new jobs was "exuberant?" Russert asks.

Hillary says no (which I don't understand, because she has already said she was exuberant, in a conversation with the Buffalo News), because she was counting on a Democratic president and Congress to help get it done. Hillary is back on the "clean, green jobs" line, and she's using Germany as an example. This is her first solid, well-delivered answer so far.

I guess Obama doesn't get a touch on this question...?

Question 3

A debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot? Something about us getting out in six months? Where did that come from?

Hillary says she would renegotiate NAFTA, that we will "opt out if we cannot renegotiate it." She is trying to have it both ways, standing by the agreement for the places where it's worked and saying it's been deficient for the places it's hurt.

(Has there ever been a federal policy that was good for everyone, especially when it comes to trade? I would have to say no.)

Hillary tries to hit Obama on his farm position and is pushed back by Tim Russert, who redirects her back to the original question about her position on NAFTA. She is getting visibly angry. Watch her jaw, which is clenching, and her eyes, which are opening wider.

She recovered well, though.

Now to Obama: "You have been consistently ambivalent" on the issue, Russert says. Obama says we should use the "hammer of potential opt-out" to renegotiate and that Hillary has the right position on this issue.

(As a general rule, candidates are discouraged from saying that their opponents are "correct" or "right," out of fear that those comments will be misconstrued as an endorsement of the opponent's position. I don't necessarily believe in a hard-and-fast rule on that ... I think it makes the candidate look silly. Everyone is right at some point; it's silly to pretend otherwise.)

Round 3 to Clinton.

Question 2

NAFTA gets the call for the second question.

Wow, what a baby ... "I get the first question all the time ... I'm not complaining, I just find it curious." Good grief; what's next? Hillary is really hurting herself with this attitude.

She says she didn't have a public position on NAFTA during the Clinton Administration because she was part of the administration. I would challenge her on that -- didn't we just get done talking about the public position she had on health care when she was part of the administration?

Speaking of that first question, 16 minutes on health care ... how'd those "reasonable time limits" work out for you, Brian and Tim??

"We do need to fix NAFTA; it's not working," Clinton says.

(There is a "manufacturing caucus" in Congress? That's a new one on me.)

Obama hits Clinton again on NAFTA, saying that it isn't accurate to say that she always opposed it. He is measured but assured. He is just aggressive enough, pressing her enough without going overboard. He had good reasons and gave a thorough answer.

Round 2 to Obama.

Question 1

Straight out of the gate, Hillary is asked about the difference in tone between the candidates' love fest last week and her temper tantrum on Saturday. She is talking about the "tactics" used by Obama's campaign and calls them "disturbing."

"It's important that you stand up for yourself," she said. She says "it's unfortunate" that Obama says she would require people to have health care even if they can't afford it.

Hillary is taking care to maintain an even tone during her response. This is key to her not sounding too strident while challenging Obama.

Here's the question about the Clinton campaign leaking the Obama-Africa picture. She is asked to state unequivocally whether her campaign is responsible for the leak.

"We have no evidence of where it came from," she said, adding that she believes it is clear from previous similar incidents how she would respond if it was shown that her people were responsible (she has fired or accepted the resignations of people who have done similar things, attacking Obama outside the auspices of the campaign).

Obama plays the statesman and addresses the hot topic of the picture with one sentence, saying that he takes her at her word and he leaves it at that. This is a brilliant strategy because it completely takes the wind out of the sail on the issue while allowing him to stay above the fray.

Now he's on to health care ... they are back to the same points they bickered about for three questions on Thursday.

Obama seems to suggest that Clinton "whines" about tough politics. That was kind of funny.

I appreciate that health care is one of the biggest issues in the campaign, but this kind of wonkishness doesn't help the average voter at all. Ten of the first 13 minutes of this debate are lost to details that are causing average voters to tune out right now. Make the broad point and move on.

Here goes Hillary again. Let it go, Hillary. Make the point and let it go. She is closing in on the strident tone. It makes her go from sounding intelligent on the issue to just plain stubborn ... which is unfortunate, because she really is very well versed on this issue -- perhaps she is the most well-versed politician in this issue in the country today. It's too bad that that's being lost in her mismanagement of this issue in the debates.

Obama is missing an opportunity to make her look worse and make himself look better by continuing to respond.

Candidates, there's a lesson in this mess you're watching now: You don't always have to have the last word -- just the best one.


They are going to try to enforce some "reasonable time restrictions" on the candidates?

Good luck.

Debate time

Hey folks,

Sorry for the delay … I was setting up at home and realized that the wireless router was down, apparently due to the power outage here this afternoon. (At least we’re not in Florida … some 4.4 million were without power for several hours this afternoon after an “incident” at a nuclear power plant on the East Coast.)

But we're up and running, and not a minute too soon. If I knew how to post music here, I would be playing, "LET'S GET READYYYY TO RUMMMMBBBBLLLLLLLLLLE!!!!"

"Judgment Day"

Found this during 20-minute layover in Nashville:

To use a poker phrase, Hillary Clinton in "all in" on March 4.

Think it's coincidence that the campaign would acknowledge this on the day of the big debate in Ohio?

On to B'ham!
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

Homeward bound

Good morning, readers,

There was snow in Kansas City last night and it's a "balmy" 21 degrees here, but there's nothing cool about what's going on between the Democratic presidential candidates today.

The hottest political news centers around the controversial release by Hillary Clinton's campaign staffers over the weekend of a photo of Barack Obama wearing traditional African garb during a trip to the continent in 2006. There is tremendous fallout from the move, which Clinton herself denies having known anything about in advance. The barbs have flown between the camps since Saturday as the candidates' surrogates have seriously ramped up the rhetoric, and it sets up the potential for a NASTY debate tonight in Cleveland.

Brave yourself for television anchors to deliver unavoidable and annoying clichés that will tie the winter storms in the Midwest to the political "storm" brewing in Cleveland.


Whatever tonight's debate will be, I guarantee this: It won't be boring! Look for national press traveling with the candidates to do their best to pour fuel on the fire between now and the debate at 8 CST.

I'm in the airport in Kansas City awaiting my flight home. I'll post when I get settled back in Auburn, which should be late afternoon.

So it promises to be one of those news-heavy days. I hate to turn off my phone and lose access to the news for three hours! Thank goodness XM makes POTUS '08 a free channel ... I can catch up on the way home from Birmingham!
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

Obama has Oprah; Hillary has ...

... Ellen!

CNN political producer Peter Hamby reports that super-cool talk show host Ellen DeGeneres made a surprise appearance via video uplink at a Hillary Clinton rally in Washington, D.C., Monday night.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I LOVE Ellen's show. It is hysterical -- especially when she calls Gladys! Check out Ellen's web site for more, including a video of her doing a neat card trick!)

The audience was made up of mostly college students from George Washington University, and Clinton was quite obviously making a run at Obama's supposed lock on young voters. But this event was a "low-dollar fundraiser," and one has to wonder why Clinton held it in DC instead of at any college campus in Texas or Ohio (Austin or Columbus, anyone?).

Maybe Clinton was wondering, too; something had her distracted. As she was working to get the crowd whipped up, she told them, "We're going to win Ohio and Michigan!"


"... Wait a minute, Ohio and Texas," she said when the cheers died down. "We already won Michigan."

Oh, OK.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Incidentally, Ellen's web site lists Hillary Clinton as the scheduled guest for today's show, and she has included a note that she is trying to schedule appearances by Barack Obama and John McCain, as well. Check your local listings and tune it in!

The "Quiet Revolution"

President Bush delivered a report to the National Governors Association today on the "Quiet Revolution," his administration's efforts to support faith- and community-based organizations with federal funding increases.

If you haven't heard about the "Quiet Revolution," you're not alone. But it isn't for the government's lack of trying.

Here are some eye-popping facts and figures on the effort, from a blog by the Baltimore Sun's Mark Silva:

In 2006, a voluminous report from the White House today finds, the government distributed $2.18 billion to faith-based organizations delivering social services around the country -- a level of annual spending on this initiative that the Bush administration had reached a couple of years ago. And in 2006, the government distributed $12.56 billion to not-for-profit organizations. All told, some 15,000 secular groups and 3,000 faith-based groups benefited.

You can read the rest of Silva's post here , or check out the government's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives home page (and read the report itself) here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ralph Nader on aging

In an interview with Fox News Channel's Martha McCallum this afternoon, Ralph Nader was asked whether his age -- he will turn 74 this week -- will be an obstacle to his presidential campaign. McCallum pointed out that Nader is older than McCain, who would already be the oldest president if he is sworn in next January.

"Age is nothing more than the erosion of one's ideals," Nader said.

I love that quote. It is so true. How many 70- and 80-year-old idealists do you see running around out there?

I appreciated Nader's fresh perspective on aging.

McCain and matching funds

For you hard-core junkies out there, here's a primer from The Politico on the complaint the DNC will file against presumptive GOP nominee John McCain and his attempts to withdraw from the federal presidential matching fund system.

For the rest of you, here's the deal: McCain took a $1 million loan from the feds in January because he was low on cash ahead of Super Tuesday. The money allowed him to stay competitive, and it also allowed him to be automatically placed on the ballot in several key states. But it came with a catch: candidates who use matching funds must agree to a $54 million spending cap in primaries -- and McCain has already spent at least $49 million.

I know, you're thinking, "He has the nomination just about wrapped up. Why would he need to spend any more money?" And you'd be right -- if Republican rivals were the only ones attacking McCain. The cap hampers McCain's ability to effectively respond to incoming Democratic fire up until the GOP convention in September.

McCain would need approval from the Federal Elections Commission to withdraw from the matching-funds system ... but "a partisan dispute between the White House and Senate Democrats has left the FEC without a working quorum of commissioners in place," The Politico reports.

Who says politics is boring???

Obama's security

I'm sure you have heard quiet conversation among your friends and co-workers about the possibility of an assassination attempt on Barack Obama. Almost everyone I talk to mentions such talk, either because he is the first black candidate to have a real shot at a nomination for president or simply because he is marketing himself as an "agent of change." People just seem to think that something terrible is more likely to happen than not.

Obama's presidential run bears so many similarities to that of Robert Kennedy, it's impossible not to make the connection. So the quiet -- but persistent -- murmuring has given rise to this New York Times article about the speculation and the steps the candidate and those around him have taken to avoid catastrophe.

Forgive me in advance for linking you to the New York Times, but it is the first story I have seen to address this subject.

Hillary's sarcasm

If you haven't seen it, here's the link to the tape of Hillary Clinton mocking Barack Obama.

Forget whispers; it's an all-out scream campaign

Barack Obama has managed to this point to effectively quell mainstream skepticism about his religious background. The whisper campaign about it -- "He is secretly a Muslim," "His name rhymes with Osama," and "After all, his middle name is 'Hussein,' y'all" -- have prompted Obama to post a separate page about it on his web site.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. Witness the latest actions of Hillary Clinton surrogates, who are circulating a photo of Obama dressed as in traditional Somali garb:

The photo was taken in 2006 while Obama was on a five-country tour of Africa, according to the Drudge Report.

The Clinton staffers were apparently trying to make the point that mainstream media has glossed over religious issues where Obama is concerned. "Wouldn't we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were HRC?" one is quoted as saying.

But the Obama campaign dismisses that argument as smoke and mirrors meant simply as an excuse to display the photo. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe called the move "part of a disturbing pattern" and blasted it as "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election."

Did I mention that MSNBC will host the two Democratic candidates in a debate in Ohio tomorrow night at 8 p.m. CST?

So ... coming on the heels of Hillary's finger-jabbing temper tantrum Saturday, this incident has the potential to, as Emeril would say, "kick it up a notch."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Grace at the Oscars

Two of the best moments at the Oscars have come during winners' acceptance speeches.

The first was delivered by Marion Cotillard, who won the award for best actress in a leading role. "There really are angels in this city," she said as she accepted the Oscar.

The second came from the best moment host Jon Stewart has had tonight: Bringing Best Original Song winner Marketa Irglova back out on stage to say a few words after her fellow winner, co-writer Glen Hansard, took up all the time allotted for acceptance with his remarks. Stewart brought Irglova back on stage when the show returned from commercial break, and she delivered the following remarks:

"Hi, everyone. I just want to thank you so much. This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are. And so thank you so much, who helped us along way. Thank you."

Hansard and Irglova won the Academy Award for their song, "Falling Slowly," from the motion picture Once.

Orange ribbons on the red carpet

Activism (or "slacktivism," to George Carlin) has given rise to a veritable rainbow of ribbons for dozens of causes. (Click here for an interesting Wikipedia table that deciphers some, like "responsible use of public lands for the benefit of all recreationists," for you.)

One political cause in Hollywood was seen on the Oscar gown of Best Actress nominee Julie Christie tonight.

Christie wore an orange ribbon in support of the campaign to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. You can read more about the orange-ribbon movement here and here.

Quote of the Day

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, she delivered the quote of the day while campaigning in Providence, R.I. Hitting again on her insistence that Obama is more style than substance, she said:

“Now I could stand up here and say, let’s just get everybody together. Let’s get unified. The sky will open, the light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know that we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect. Maybe I’ve just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear."

I love sarcasm; don't you?

Special Oscar notes

Here are a couple of observations from the first couple of segments of the Oscar broadcast:

  • First of all, WHERE IS ELLEN? Ellen DeGeneres is the host by which all others are judged, in the mind of this viewer ... well, Ellen and Billy Crystal. Jon Stewart ... just isn't funny.
  • The first segment of the show left me wondering whether it was written before the writers' strike was settled. Really, how difficult is it to list every actor who's been nominated?
  • The only really funny moment of the first half hour was Stewart's line about Away From Her, a movie "about a woman who forgets her own husband. Hillary Clinton called it the 'feel-good movie of the year.'"
  • Stewart's line about the election ("Have you all studied the candidates, gotten to know their positions on the issues and decided which Democrat you'll vote for?") fell flat ... maybe it's because the assembled masses thought Stewart was giving them a lecture about civic responsibility.
So far -- BLAH.

Nader jumps in

Well, if Mike Huckabee wants to save some dough on the campaign trail, he should call Ralph Nader.

Nader made his fifth candidacy for the presidency official today on NBC's Meet the Press:

Nader makes it five

Huckabee and Nader should travel together. They wouldn't have any shortage of things to discuss, and they would both save money along the way.

I thought that Nader's book, Civic Arousal, was sold out more as a result of its title than because of his popularity. But then my friend Amy told me that at one point today, Nader was the No. 1 search term on Google.

There are signs, though, that Nader isn't exactly ready for his closeup: The lead headline on his web site, "Stop importing dangerous drugs," was updated on Feb. 22.

Huckabee on SNL

GOP still-a-candidate Mike Huckabee appeared on Saturday Night Live last night as part of the Weekend Update segment. If you missed it, you can see it here:

Huckabee misses his cue

I thought it was mildly funny -- enough so that going on SNL wasn't a mistake, anyway.

"The best person in the world"

There was a time in my life when I believed that voting should be compulsory in our country. Regular readers of my column know how I feel about the responsibility of Americans to participate in their government.

But I no longer believe in compulsory voting -- and it's because I feel the way I do about the responsibility of Americans to participate in their government.

I know; that doesn't sound like it makes much sense, right? Well, check out this link posted by my celebrity-expert friend, Amy.

Check out that video, then ask yourself: Are you comfortable with the idea that that girl could be making an impact on national security, tax policy, health care coverage, immigration reform and a whole host of other issues facing the United States?

I've come to realize that although every American should care about their country the way this girl cares about Paris Hilton, that isn't going to happen ... so we should just cross our fingers and hope that she's too busy watching "The Hottie and the Nottie" to make it to the polls on Election Day.