Friday, November 02, 2007

Bush's weakness in the war on terror

With so much attention being lavished these days on the perceived flaws and foibles of the ’08 presidential candidates, it’s easy to overlook the reigning master of disaster – until such moments when he reminds us why he still wears the crown.

That’s precisely what George W. Bush did yesterday, when he spoke at a conservative think tank (naturally), and uncorked one of his rhetorical whoppers, the kind that has a landslide majority of Americans counting down the days to his departure.

In remarks to a rapt crowd at the Heritage Foundation, he essentially argued that if the Democratic Senate doesn’t confirm Michael Mukasey for attorney general, it will mean that the Democrats are weak in the war on terror. (Those last eight words worked for Bush in the elections of 2002 and 2004, and apparently he still thinks they pack a punch, despite the fact that he was soundly repudiated in the election of 2006. But I digress.)

In the midst of suggesting yesterday that Democrats are terrorist-coddlers, he came out with this: “Some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden…”

He was basically arguing that the Democrats don’t take Osama bin Laden seriously, whereas he, as our vigilant protector-in-chief, does take Osama bin Laden seriously.

But wait a minute – I seem to recall that Bush, in past disquisitions about the war on terror, told us that things were going so swimmingly that we didn’t need to take Osama bin Laden seriously. Yep, that’s what the man said, in all kinds of ways:

“I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority...I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban. But once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he became - we shoved him out more and more on the margins...Deep in my heart I know the man's on the run...I just don't spend much time on it, really, to be honest with you…He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.”

Let's puzzle out this national security flip flop.

If Osama bin Laden in the past was "marginalized" and unimportant and thus not worthy of the president’s attention, yet now he is apparently so important that he warrants the president’s attention, it can mean only one of two things: either bin Laden is still on the margins and Bush is intentionally lying in order to serve his current political needs – or bin Laden is indeed resurgent, in which case Bush has fundamentally botched the war on terror.

I lean strongly toward the latter, based on the president's well-documented ineptitude. The Bush war team allowed bin Laden to escape from the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001 - a debacle initially documented in an April ’02 news report and confirmed three years later by CIA commander Gary Bernsten. In his ’05 memoir, Jawbreaker, Bernsten wrote that he and his team begged the Pentagon for 800 U.S. Army Rangers to help go after the bin Laden entourage, and to “block a possible al Qaeda escape into Pakistan.” He was turned down; instead, the bin Laden hunt was entrusted to Afghan warlords.

The hunt took further hits in 2002 when Bush shifted his focus to Iraq. American military units that had been geared to pursuing bin Laden and his key associates were pulled off the job and sent off to fight Saddam Hussein. As Bob Andrews, former head of a Pentagon special operations office, remarked in 2004, Saddam was a needless “distraction,” in his words, “a real diversion from the longer struggle against jihadists.”

And how has that Iraq diversion been working out for us? In April of last year, the National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iraq “has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” And bin Laden is still out there, taking full advantage.

With a track record like that, it’s no surprise that Bush, and the GOP generally, have forfeited their traditional image as strong national security stewards.

The Republicans had held that advantage over the Democrats in the polls for more than three decades, sometimes by margins of 30 percentage points. Today, the polls show the two parties roughly at parity; they also show majority disapproval for Bush’s handling of the war on terror. For these reasons, it is almost presumptuous for Bush to think that he can stand in front of a conservative think tank, and lecture the majority Democrats (and, by extension, the American majority) about Osama bin Laden and the stakes in the war on terror. His own actions – and inactions – trump his tired rhetoric.

All of which means that if the Democrats can’t wage a strongly competitive ’08 presidential race, with such a strong wind at their backs, they should sell off their DC headquarters and take up residence in a historical museum somewhere, sharing a display case with the Whigs.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Joe Biden, the underdog grown-up

I was thinking this morning about Joe Biden, and about how - in two important respects - he was arguably the real winner of the latest Democratic presidential debate.

That's actually no surprise, because, in many debates over many months, while his better-financed celebrity rivals have dominated the news coverage, he has often come across as the real grown-up on stage. He shouts too much sometimes, and sometimes his natural loquacity compels him to spew too many sentence fragments, but, just as often, the venerable senator has refused to pander, instead offering straight talk on politically sensitive topics.

Iraq is Exhibit A. Most antiwar liberals in the Democratic base want the U.S. troops brought home as quickly as possible, with scant concern about the consequences on the ground. Biden, with decades of foreign policy expertise, has been willing to suggest that such a view is naive. The Democratic base wants simple answers; Biden has been willing to describe our national security decisions as "complicated." In a recent debate, he said: "If we leave Iraq and we leave it in chaos, there will be a regional war. The regional war will engulf us for a generation."

More than anyone on stage, he has thought hard about the Iraq that we would leave behind. His longstanding plan - to establish a federal, decentralized Iraq, with separate enclaves for the warring sectarian factions - is probably imperfect (what plan is?), but he, at least, has been willing to think conceptually and pitch the idea to Democratic debate audiences. Meanwhile, 75 senators voted on Sept. 26 to approve the Biden plan in principle; the bipartisan resolution was non-binding, but it marked the first time that the chamber had decisively bucked the Bush administration's war strategy.

Biden has talked straight on other issues. In a September debate, he was asked whether, in order to guarantee the long-term solvency of Social Security, he'd be willing to essentially raise taxes. Currently, the tax we pay for Social Security is capped on the first $97,500 worth of income; some other Democrats, notably Hillary Clinton, have been reluctant to raise the cap, for fear that the Republicans will assail them as tax-hikers. At that September debate, Hillary said she'd study the issue by setting up a bipartisan commission, a classic Washington dodge. But would Biden be willing to raise the cap - and basically tax not only the rich, but the middle class?

"The answer is yes...You're either going to cut the benefits, or you're going to go ahead and raise taxes above the first $97,000...The bottom line here is, you can't (achieve Social Security solvency) by growing the economy alone. So I would raise the cap."

Which brings us to the Tuesday night debate. While John Edwards and Barack Obama were busy hammering Hillary, Biden did two noteworthy things: He talked like a grown-up about Iran, and he, more than any of his rivals, made the argument that Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 tough guy image is a fraud.

Host Tim Russert asked, "Senator Biden, would you pledge to the American people that Iran would not build a nuclear bomb on your watch?"

Biden, refusing to accept Russert's narrow question, put the matter in proper context. He began by cautioning, "This is complicated stuff" - uh, oh, there's that C-word again.

He said it would be wrong to "talk about this in isolation. The fact of the matter is, the Iranians may get 2.6 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium. But the Pakistanis (already) have hundreds - thousands - of kilograms of highly-enriched uranium. If by attacking Iran to stop them from getting 2.6 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium, the government in Pakistan falls, who has missiles already deployed with nuclear weapons on them that can already reach Israel, already reach India, then that's a bad bargain. Presidents make wise decisions informed not by a vacuum in which they operate, by the situation they find themselves in the world. I will do all in my power to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but I will never take my eye off the ball. What is the greatest threat to the United States of America: 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran, or an out-of-control Pakistan? It's not close."

In other words, he was arguing that a narrow focus on Iran, followed by a military strike on Iran, might have serious adverse repurcussions for the big picture, and for American security generally. He was also implicitly demonstrating the inherent limitations of these debates, which often devolve into yes-or-no game shows.

Meanwhile, at another point, he refused an invitation to join the Hillary-bashing, and signaled a crucial change in subject:

"I'm not running against Hillary Clinton...Rudy Giuliani (is) probably the most underqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency. Rudy Giuliani - I mean, think about it. Rudy Giuliani - there's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11. I mean, there's nothing else. There's nothing else, and I mean this sincerely. He is genuinely not qualified to be president. Here's a man who brags about how he made the city safe. It was the Biden crime bill that became the Clinton crime bill that allowed him to do that. They wipe it out. He remains silent. The 9/11 Commission comes along and says the way to keep your city safe is to do the following things. He's been silent. He's done nothing. And now he's talking about he's going to go in and he will demonstrate to Iran, he's going to in fact lay down the law. This man is truly not qualified to be president. I'm looking forward to running against Rudy Giuliani."

Granted, one must wade through a number of Bidenesque non-sequiturs to reach bottom, but that passage was an important moment in the debate. Biden put his finger on the question that will matter most in 2008 - who will keep us safe? - and he targeted the Republican who presumes to be most qualified. If Giuliani wins the nomination, the Democrats will need to knock the 9/11 halo off his head; failure to do that could cost them the election. On Tuesday, Biden was virtually alone in taking him on.

He could have made his argument more concise (no surprise there). The Biden/Clinton crime bill put 100,000 new police officers on Americans streets, and New York City benefited from that; later, when the Republican Congress slashed the funding for that program (hence Biden's reference to "they wipe it out"), Giuliani barely uttered a peep. Meanwhile, regarding the 9/11 Commission, Biden could have mentioned that Giuliani testified in secret - and no wonder, because we now know that he admitted to the commissioners that, prior to 9/11, this alleged terrorist expert knew virtually nothing about al Qaeda and had to be briefed after the fact. There's a lot more in the Rudy file - such as his decision to place the crisis command unit inside the World Trade Center, despite the experience of the '93 bombing - but at least Biden was willing to defy the Hillary-centric theme of the debate and frame the '08 political stakes.

So perhaps the big question is, why does Biden remain mired in the second tier? It's the usual stuff, nothing new: He's tagged forever as a guy who runs his mouth too much without editing in his brain (on C-Span last spring: "You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent"); he's a career senator, with a penchant for talking about legislative nuance, and a fondness for recounting his work with other senators, yet most Americans ignore senators unless they're crossover celebrities (like Hillary and Obama); the embarrassment of his first failed bid in '87, when he lifted a British politician's rhetorical passages for his own use, has not completely faded (Giuliani retaliated yesterday by bringing it up).

But he's clearly providing a valuable service in these debates, and it would not be a surprise to find him serving in a new Democratic administration, free perhaps to attend to the nuances of foreign policy, far from the simplicities of the electoral arena, and the imperatives of celebrity.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Character attacks as a form of flattery

For two hours she stood there with a semi-civil smile nailed to her face, her shoulders squared, her head held high, swiveling left and right to look her accusers in the eye - taking it like a man, as it were - and listening to critiques of her character that essentially boiled down to this:

Hillary Clinton is dishonest, reckless, polarizing, integrity-challenged, and unelectable.

Such was the verdict rendered at the Democratic debate last night by her two chief rivals (or, in Hillary's word, "colleagues"), both of whom have decided that they cannot rise in this marathon race unless she is somehow made to fall. And such is the lot of the frontrunner - especially this one, whose steady march toward the party nomination had begun to take on the trappings of a coronation. How ironic that she took so much character flak in the City of Brotherly Love.

Barack Obama had signaled in the press several days earlier that it would be No More Mr. Nice Guy, and he did ratchet up his criticisms of Hillary, but he is instinctively too decorous to engage in bareknuckled brawling (indeed, he cautioned everyone, right at the start, that "I think this has been the most hyped fight since Rocky fought Apollo Creed"). Obama left the dirty work to John Edwards, who is even more stymied in the polls than he is, and whose whole candidacy could collapse unless he, Edwards, somehow can manage to beat Hillary in Iowa 65 days from now.

Edwards, who, as a former senator, had the luxury of not needing to decide whether to vote for the recent Senate resolution that declared Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, repeatedly banged away at Hillary for voting Yes. This way, he could assail her as a reckless Bush-enabler who is again (coupled with her 2002 Iraq war authorization vote) giving the Republican regime an excuse to go to war.

He said that Hillary voted for "a resolution that looks like it was written literally by the neocons...A lot of us on this stage have learned our lessons the hard way, that you give this president an inch and he will take a mile...what I worry about is if Bush invades Iran six months from now, I mean, are we going to hear, 'If I only I had known then what I know now?'"

The latter sentence was a frontal slap at Hillary, because that's how she currently laments her '02 war vote. Edwards had to carry the ball for Obama on the Iran issue, because Obama has actually indicated in the recent past that he thinks the Guards should be deemed a terrorist organization - and when it came time to vote on the resolution, he didn't take a position. He was out campaigning instead.

But even though Edwards got off some of the roughest lines - Hillary, he said, doesn't spend sufficient time "in tell-the-truth mode" - Obama did contend that her reputation as a polarizer is grist for the Republicans, and hence a prescription for more politics as usual: "Part of the reason that Republicans, I think, are obsessed with you, Hillary, is because that's a fight they're very comfortable having. It is the fight that we've been through since the '90s...And what we don't need is another eight years of bickering." (Edwards topped him, though, by arguing that anyone who thinks Hillary will truly reform the system must also believe in Santa and the tooth fairy.)

Hillary mostly sought to deflect the attacks by focusing most of her fire on the Bush administration, but there came a point - toward the very end of the debate - when she suddenly dug herself a hole and descended into it. Her rivals were only too happy to pile on the dirt.

She was asked to comment on a proposal, by New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, to give drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. She recently told a New Hampshire newspaper that the proposal made sense, and last night she explained why she thought that, yes, it did make sense:

"What Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of (the Bush) administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It's probability. So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum."

Yet, minutes later, after Chris Dodd had voiced his opposition to the idea, Hillary jumped in and appeared to say that she was actually against the idea after just having said she was for it:

"I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it. And we have failed -- "

Dodd jumped all over that: "Wait a minute. No, no, no. You said yes, you thought it made sense to do it."

Clinton replied: "No, I didn't, Chris. But the point is, what are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are (driving)?"

Tim Russert, the co-host, pounced like a cat that had just smelled fish: "Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure what I heard. Do you, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, support the New York governor's plan to give illegal immigrants a driver's license?...Do you support his plan?"

Clinton replied: "You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha." (When the press nails a politician for double talk, the politician often tries to play the victim by invoking the Gotcha Defense. President Bush does it all the time.)

She continued: "It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem...Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No."

After that, it was a race between Edwards and Obama to say I-told-you-so. Edwards won: "Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago, and I think this is a real issue for the country. I mean, America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them." Obama followed, essentially saying: Yeah, me too. (Here's Hillary strategist Mark Penn, spinning the incident after the debate.)

But will all this intramural Hillary-bashing slow her march in the end? Edwards has been hammering Hillary in this manner for many months, yet the strategy hasn't moved the needle on his candidacy. If anything, her lead in the Democratic polls has widened. She remains highly popular with the Democratic base, and it's quite likely that the base will not warm to any rivals who critique her character in ways that might benefit the message-crafters on the Republican side. In particular, this could prove to be true in Iowa, where local Democrats prefer that their candidates make nice.

Loyalty to Hillary may be her strongest trump card, even though she persists in giving evasive or multiple answers on a range of topics (for instance, on how she'd save Social Security), while stonewalling on others (would she favor opening up her First Lady papers to public scrutiny? "That's not my decision to make," she replied).

Last night, it fell to Bill Richardson to sue for peace: "I'm hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That it's bothering me because it's pretty close to personal attacks that we don't need...We need to be positive in this campaign. Yes, we need to point out our differences, and I have big differences with her...I think it's important that we save the ammunition for the Republicans....the important thing is that we need to stay positive. We need to have disagreements on the issues, not on whether you can trust. I trust Senator Clinton..."

Somewhere in that particular rumination, Richardson also tried to tout his own credentials as a governor. He reminded everyone that seven of our last eight presidents had been governors. The only problem with that statement was this: It was wrong. In point of fact, only four of our last eight presidents (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush) had been governors.

But luckily for Richardson, he's so far down in the polls that his rivals don't bother to fault him for not being in "tell-the-truth mode." That's Hillary's burden alone, and she appears not be ruffled by it, because she knows that, for a frontrunner in this high-stakes game, character attacks are merely a form of flattery.

And if Obama and Edwards wind up merely dividing the not-Hillary vote, her path to the nomination will be that much easier.


Meanwhile, on the Republican hypocrisy front, we now have yet another family-values conservative caught in the act. Richard Curtis, a legislator in the state of Washington, who has consistently voted against gay people...has been named in police documents as having sought sex with a man whom he met at an adult video store. There was a dispute over money, but the police documents specify that Curtis and the other guy had sex anyway.

I suppose my favorite detail is that Curtis, who is married, and who has voted against civil rights protections for gays as well as domestic partnerships for gays, was spotted in the store wearing women's stockings and a black sequined lingerie top.
(Update: Curtis resigned his state Senate seat late Wednesday.)

Wait, let me amend that. My favorite detail is actually what he told a local newspaper this week, after acknowledging that he and the other guy did have sex: "I am not gay."

No word yet on whether this family-values conservative can manage a wide stance in women's stockings.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The rich grist of presidential debates

As the Democratic presidential candidates prepare for tonight's debate in Philadelphia - their 12th or 13th, depending on your criteria - the usual complaints are being raised that these forums are too numerous, too wasteful of the candidates' precious time, and way too boring for the average American voter.

I'll stipulate that these candidates are starting to resemble the large gaggle of prison escapees in Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run, seemingly doomed to wander the land in collective misery because they are joined at the ankles by the same length of chain. Fearing that they will lose face if they offend debate sponsors, these candidates (the Republicans as well) have been rocketing hither and yon for six months already, tethered to each other, to their well-rehearsed talking points, and to their well-honed rebuttals.

I'll also stipulate that the viewing audiences are relatively miniscule: perhaps a couple million, which is roughly 10 percent of the viewership for a crucial postseason baseball game. I'll also stipulate that chaos reigns, because every TV operation from CNN to Univision, from PBS to Logo (the gay network), wants to host a debate and hence boost their profile; and every special-interest group from the AFL-CIO to the AARP, from the NAACP to the CBC wants the candidates to run the gauntlet.

As one veteran Democratic strategist, Tom Pazzi, groused to me four years ago - when the same pattern was evident, during the runup to the '04 primaries - "You just show up, and all you can do is stay on message or be evasive, no matter what the question is...To some extent, we're just doomed to do this."

And yet, in the spirit of contrarian thought, I'll suggest here that a crowded debate calendar is a good thing. Debates help the top candidates hone their rhetorical skills under pressure, and they provide the underdogs with free exposure. The viewing audiences may be small, but that's the wrong way to measure the impact of these events. The key exchanges in these debates, and the behavior of certain candidates while under questioning, have driven much of the subsequent media discussion of the '08 campaign, and have resonated in the political community for days or weeks afterward.

The debates have already supplied us this kind of grist (and this is only a tiny random sampling): Hillary Clinton's refusal to be pinned down on how she'd reform Social Security ans whethey she'd raise payroll taxes to do so; her stonewalling on the issue of whether the names of Bill Clinton's library donors should be made public; Joe Biden's insistence that Hillary is too polarizing to govern effectively; John McCain’s dismissal of Mitt Romney as a flip-flopping opportunist; Rudy Giuliani’s fumbling attempts to tiptoe away from his past record as an abortion rights defender; the GOP candidate competition to see who’s most macho on Iran; Barack Obama’s penchant for platitudes, and his persistent reluctance to duke it out with his chief rival.

Speaking of which...The latter already is deemed to be the big story in advance of tonight’s debate. Obama truly has a dilemma: he wants to travel the high road as the epitome of a new politics of civil discourse, but there is no way he can win the Democratic nomination unless he descends into the arena with Hillary. He signaled the other day that he thinks maybe he will do so, telling The New York Times that he plans to confront Hillary more forcefully. Yet I viewed that story as a fresh sign of his reluctance. If you’re really going to slug it out with the frontrunner, you simply do it; you don’t launch a trial balloon in the Times, vowing to do it.

The truth is, Obama doesn't seem to feel comfortable confronting Hillary on camera. The guy by instinct is not a street fighter - Chris Matthews last night called him "a National Public Radio liberal," and he didn't intend that as a compliment - yet the simple fact is that, if he ultimately wants the power, he'll have to fight for it. And that will require him to take on a battle-tested woman who has been in the arena since 1992. Worse yet, he'll have to fight with enough deftness to attract new followers, rather than alienate those he already has.

In a way this is a character test for Obama - and we can thank these debates for providing him the opportunity. There will always be complaints about these forums, as evidenced by this news story: "Political specialists continue discussing how many debates are too many debates...Some organizers fear that voters' interest is strained (and that) the candidates may be a little jaded..."

That's from The New York Times - on January 8, 1988.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Hillary narrowing the gal gap?

Since I seem to be on the subject of Hillary Clinton – as evidenced again yesterday, when I wrote in my newspaper column that she's unpopular with white males (the white guy gap) – it’s also worth noting that she has long had problems attracting a certain category of females.

Ironically, it is the category to which she herself belongs: upscale, college-educated professionals. Call it the gal gap.

This past summer, a plurality of these women told pollsters that they favored Barack Obama over Hillary in the Democratic nomination contest (35 percent to 32 percent). In late May, only 19 percent of college-educated women saw Hillary as the most honest candidate in the field; by contrast, 50 percent chose Barack Obama. And last April, in the crucial early primary state of New Hampshire, only 25 percent of professional women told pollsters that they favored Hillary.

None of this was particularly surprising, because Hillary’s brethren have actually been cool to her for years, largely for cultural reasons.

Many of these women simply didn’t like the fact that Hillary had opted to stick with Bill in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal. They felt that she had allowed Bill to walk all over her – in their view, unacceptable behavior for a feminist – and, worse yet, that she had done so only to further political ambitions that could not be fulfilled without the philanderer’s assistance. (By contrast, Hillary’s strongest female supporters – downscale, blue-collar, non-college-educated women – reportedly believe that she deserves to be lauded for making the tough decision to keep her family together.)

I can attest to the attitude among upscale professional women, having watched videos of Democratic focus groups that were convened when Hillary was first running for the Senate. Those Long Island gals didn’t mince words. And I was reminded of their skepticism yesterday, when I ran across an article in the new issue of The Atlantic. The writer Caitlin Flanagan, a well-educated professional female in good standing, lays out the anti-Hillary case. Since her ruminations are for magazine subscribers only, here’s a lengthy excerpt:

If Hillary really wants to connect with professional, well-educated women, “she would have to be willing to let us women in on the big, underlying struggle of her life that is front and center in our understanding of who she is as a woman. Her husband’s sexual behavior, quite apart from the private pain it has caused her, has also sullied her deepest – and most womanly – ideals and convictions, for the Clintons’ political partnership has demanded that she defend actions she knows to be indefensible. To call her husband a philanderer is almost to whitewash him, for he’s used women far less sophisticated, educated, and powerful than he – women particularly susceptible to the rake’s characteristic blend of cajolery and deceit – for his sexual gratification. In glossing over her husband’s actions and abetting his efforts to squirm away from the scrutiny and judment they provoke, Hillary has too often lapsed into her customary hauteur and self-righteousness, and added to the pain delivered upon these women…

“(B)ecause Hillary long ago attached her ideals and political destiny to Bill Clinton’s, she has of necessity made herself complicit – in ways that go far beyond the traditional role of first lady and candidate’s wife – in all sorts of unsavory actions, including the way he treated vulnerable women…In short, to get excited about Hillary is not to get excited about how a woman can change the world, but rather to endorse the way a certain kind of man – over time, and holding her hostage not only by her ambition, but by the love she has for a child whose home she desperately didn’t want to destroy – can diminish the very best of a woman.”

But here’s the interesting new development: well-educated professional women are starting to warm to Hillary anyway.

According to the numbers-crunchers at Gallup, who just conducted a poll analysis for the nonpartisan National Journal, Hillary’s growing autumn lead over Obama on the Democratic side is largely attributable to an influx of support from these women. That summer survey I mentioned earlier, which showed professional females backing Obama by 35 to 32 percent? Now the numbers have reversed; now it’s Hillary over Obama by 47 to 24 percent.

Apparently this is happening because the well-educated professionals are increasingly impressed with Hillary’s specificity on certain top-tier issues, notably her new health care plan, her crisp communication style, and her sense of command in the Democratic debates (another is slated for tomorrow night, in Philadelphia). That’s how some Democratic pollsters see it, anyway. But clearly Obama has hurt himself as well, by failing to close the sale. He has promised to raise the political discourse, but many professional women have apparently concluded (at least for now) that his high-road idealism is not sufficient, that they can’t get a sense of how he would actually govern.

All of which prompts one other thought: Won’t it be great when we can finally test these shifting sentiments with the help of actual votes? Is it January 3 yet?


Good grief, those conservatives are sure hard to please.

Here's a Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, who has made it abundantly clear that, as an ordained southern Baptist preacher, he (a) supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, (b) considers abortion to be a "holocaust," and (c) doesn't believe in evolution....and yet a lot of conservatives think the guy is just too liberal.

The Washington Times reports today that some vocal conservatives are assailing Huckabee as a "treacherous liberal on taxes, social welfare spending, and illegal immigration." Fiscal conservative leader Pat Toomey complains about Huckabee's "big government liberalism." What we have here, apparently, is vivid evidence of a split on the right - between the fiscal conservatives (who care most about money) and the social/religious conservatives (who care most about the soul).

When the GOP is healthy, these factions tend to be in sync. Not so today.


And congratulations to the ballclub that has owned my heart since 1962, the Boston Red Sox.