Monday, February 18, 2008

Dean's muted scream, Mac's new pander

As I noted in my Sunday print column, the Democratic presidential race (barring a miracle breakthrough by either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama) is careening toward a potential train wreck. Space did not permit me to explore an important question:

Are there any party elders, with the requisite clout and nonpartisan credentials, who can step forward to yank the brakes and prevent a derailment? Somebody, anybody, who can propose wise voting criteria for unpledged superdelegates, and who can come up with a solution to the emasculated status of Florida and Michigan?

The roster thins very quickly. Bill Clinton, the titular elder-leader, has a vested interest in the outcome. Al Gore would be suspect no matter what stance he took; if he came up with ideas that seemed to tilt against Hillary, he'd be widely accused of trying to stick it to the Clintons, as payback for the difficult 2000 election and for all the years he vied with Hillary for power and resources in Bill's administration.

What about other national-ticket alumni? John Kerry has already endorsed Obama. John Edwards will endorse somebody, as soon as he cuts a deal to his liking. Joe Lieberman, in the wake of endorsing John McCain, might want to call his convention hotel and make sure his bed isn't in the boiler room. Walter Mondale, landslide loser of '84, has endorsed Hillary. Jimmy Carter, whose clout expired roughly 30 years ago, has not even been available to issue a no comment. And Mike Dukakis...'nuff said.

The only one left - on paper, anyway - is Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. And that's a problem as well. Despite his recent remark that a stalemate in April would trigger the need for "some kind of an arrangement," he has neither the clout, nor the inclination, to take the lead.

The Clinton people have long disliked Dean; four years ago, lest we forget, they scrambled to find an alternative to presidential candidate Dean, and came up with Wesley Clark. So Dean is currently ill-positioned to get the Clinton people to agree to anything. Nor has he tried very hard. After passively allowing the DNC's Rules Committee to strip Florida of all its delegates as punishment for holding a primary too early on the calendar, he said nary a word when the Clintons (after having won the meaningless primary) began to insist that those delegates be seated. And that, in turn, has ticked off the Obama people. All told, even Dean sympathizers say he's not particularly adept at conflict resolution.

In Dean's defense, contemporary party chairmen are generally not viewed as power brokers; they're supposed to be message cheerleaders and money-raisers. The image of the backstage party boss, the guy who knocks heads together, died nearly two generations ago, roughly at the time that power was entrusted to primary voters.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, however, they may soon suffer from this power vacuum at the top. A Clinton-Obama stalemate, a potentially historic rarity, hits the party where it's most vulnerable, and prompts the question:

If the primary voters have had their say, and still there is no nominee, what's supposed to happen next? The Democratic scream might be louder than anything Howard Dean once managed to muster.


Following up on my post last Thursday, John McCain has done it again.

It's a mystery why he keeps getting media plaudits for "sincerity" and "authenticity." Judging by his appearance yesterday on ABC News, it can now be said:

He was for the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes, before he was against it.

In the midst of his "no new taxes" pledge yesterday, he ridiculed the idea that taxes should be raised on the wealthy. He did this by mocking the people who complain about the wealthy:

"Oh, yes, sure, 'the wealthy, the wealthy.' Always be interested in when people talk about who the, quote, 'wealthy' are in America. I find it interesting." For emphasis, he gestured with his middle and index fingers, tracing quote marks to underscore his use of the word.

Yet here's what McCain was saying just a few years ago: "I won't take every last dime of the (budget) surplus and spend it on tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy." He used to laud his Republican hero, Teddy Roosevelt, for having railed against "the malefactors of great wealth," a line that McCain quoted approvingly. He used to say that the federal government should have a major role in policing "the abuses or potential abuses of the capitalist system." He twice voted against the Bush tax cuts, because, as he told NBC, "you will find that the bulk of it, again, goes to wealthiest Americans."

But now he has again amended his authenticity in the pursuit of power. The latest version of John McCain needs to curry favor with the GOP establishment in order to cement his nomination. And there's no way that a Republican can be a nominee in good standing unless he stands up for the rich.


By the way, here is further evidence of why Hillary is in so much trouble. According to this report, her top strategists only discovered this month that the complex rules in Texas might yield her an insufficient number of delegates in crucial Latino districts on March 4, thereby imperiling her latest firewall.

These rules have been in force for two decades, yet Hillary's people have just learned about them?

An ABC News reporter today asked Hillary's top two spinners about the Texas delegate rules, and the perils of coming up short on the delegate count...and they were both flummoxed. It should be noted that Howard Wolfson and Phil Singer, at least publicly, are not known to be flummoxed by anything.

ABC's David Chalian: "I'm asking would you consider it a victory if you don't win the delegate allocation in Texas that night?"

Wolfson: "Ummm, you know, I'd have to think about that. I don't know the answer to that."

Chalian: "Okay, thank you."

Wolfson: "That is a, ah, less than unequivocal, but I don't know, Phil, do you have a thought on that?"

Singer: "Umm, no."

Wolfson: "You've stumped us. The last question has stumped us."

This tells us something very important: Hillary was so confident of winning the nomination on Tsunami Tuesday that she and her strategists didn't think there was any need to focus on the subsequent states, or do the fundamental homework for a Plan B. Such are the perils of political hubris.

And with respect to the latest CNN poll in Texas, I have two words for the Clinton camp: Uh oh...