Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain’s VP Pick

A young reformer picked an experienced foreign policy specialist: (Obama-Biden).

An experienced foreign policy specialist picked a young reformer: (McCain-Palin).

The mirror image of these two picks is striking. There are some advantages that this pick brings to McCain. If you follow my list of reasons for selecting a VP, Palin qualifies for reasons 3, 4, and 7. She reinforces McCain’s “government reformer” message, she unifies the party by solidifying the support of social conservatives, and she helps win the female vote.

There are some clear disadvantages to this pick as well. Obviously, McCain didn’t follow my advice to pick a VP with a presidential-ready resume. I am concerned that she does not have the experience necessary to be president (a concern I share about Obama, by the way). Also, one of McCain’s main criticisms of Obama is that he doesn’t have the experience necessary to lead. His VP pick seems to negate much of the thrust of that attack.

Republicans are countering that at least she has executive branch experience, while Obama has none. But McCain doesn’t have executive branch experience either. So, if executive branch experience is such a valuable asset, is McCain qualified? Republicans will have difficulty making the experience argument now.

Typically, if you are ahead in the polls, as Obama is, you should play it safe. Obama has done that by picking an old, white, male with foreign policy experience. If you are behind in the polls, as McCain is, you should make some risky moves. McCain has certainly done that with his VP pick.

Monday, August 25, 2008

9 Reasons for Selecting a VP

All the talk about Obama picking Joe Biden as his VP candidate started me thinking about the different reasons for choosing a VP. I went over this list with my American Political Parties class today and they helped me expand the list from 7 to 9 (the last two I hadn't thought of. Thanks class!)
  1. Qualified to assume duties as President. Hopefully, this is a minimum requirement for all candidates. With Dan Quayle, I have my doubts.
  2. Help govern. Dick Cheney did nothing to help Bush win, but he has definitely been a major player in helping him to govern. This was likely a consideration when Clinton picked Gore as well.
  3. Reinforce your message. Al Gore probably best qualifies here: two Southern centrist (at the time) Democrats on the same ticket.
  4. Unite the Party. Both parties are made up of different factions. If one of the factions is upset at their candidate, the candidate can compensate by picking someone who represents that faction. This may have been part of Obama's calculation in picking someone who represents the blue-collar Democrats that supported Sen. Clinton in the primaries.
  5. Unite the Country. In 1864, after a long, bloody Civil War, Lincoln picked a Democrat to help unite the country. If McCain were to pick Joe Lieberman, his reasoning might be along those same lines.
  6. Help win a state. This worked in 1960 when Kennedy chose LBJ and won Texas.
  7. Help win a demographic. Pick a woman to capture female votes. Pick a Latino to capture Latino votes. Or, so the reasoning goes. Catholics have been an important swing vote, and Obama picked a Catholic. A coincidence?
  8. Compensate for a weakness. Obama's weakness is his lack of experience, especially on foreign policy. He picks a long serving Democrat with lots of foreign policy experience.
  9. To win the VP debate. Biden has a reputation as a great debater. This may have been part of the calculation as well.
Any other reasons you can think of? It would be nice to have an even 10.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Short History of Political Conventions

CQ Press has put together this short video that touches on some of the highlights of Party Conventions in US history:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Obama, White Evangelicals, and Abortion

Saddleback Church was obviously a venue that would be more favorable to McCain. Nonetheless, if Obama is going to close the "God Gap," he needed to appear and make his case by giving these voters reasons to vote for him. Otherwise, there would be no reason for showing up at Rick Warren's church.

One sticking point for many white evangelicals will be the abortion issue. Since Obama is pro-choice, and white evangelicals are strongly pro-life, he needed to convince those voters that there are areas where the two sides can work together on the abortion issue. So how did he do? Here was his response:

Did you notice how Rick Warren asked the question? "At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?" As US citizens, we are all entitled to certain rights under the law, such as the right of due process to name just one. Warren was asking at what point do we obtain those rights. The typical pro-life response would be at conception. The typical pro-choice response would be at birth. The important thing to understand is that this is a legal question. It is about when certain laws apply and when they do not.

And Obama's answer? He said that the question is above his "pay grade." So, for a lawyer, former law school professor, and US Senator, a legal question is above his pay grade? Obama flubbed that part of the question, for sure. I suspect that Obama anticipated the "when does life begin?" question. To this question, "above my pay grade" would have been an appropriate response. When Warren threw him a curve ball (the legal question), Obama just answered as if he were answering the "when does life begin?" question, and hoped that no one noticed.

The latter half of his response is, I suspect, one of the main messages he wants to get across to pro-lifers. He wants to reduce the number of abortions by making it easier for pregnant women to choose life. This is similar to Bill Clinton saying, in 1992, that he wanted abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare."

So, for white evangelicals who like Obama on other issues, but have objections to his abortion stance, is this enough? The answer to this question could be a determining factor in the outcome of this year's presidential race.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Junior Statesmen Summer School Students

Here is a picture of my Junior State of America summer school class at Princeton University. They will be entering high school this year and have already had the equivalent of a college-level US Government course. Way to go junior statesmen and stateswomen!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The White Evangelical Vote

Obama's outreach to white evangelicals will be an ongoing story in the days leading up to the election, and deservedly so. If recent coverage is any indication, however, some of these news stories may be misleading. In order to help you evaluate this coverage, here is my list of facts that you should know about white evangelicals in this election:

  1. Obama is not the first Democrat to reach out to white evangelicals. Bill Clinton did it, especially in 1996, and Howard Dean did it, as Chairman of the DNC, in 2006.
  2. Obama will not win the white evangelical vote. And by “win,” I mean that he will not receive a majority of their votes.
  3. Obama does not need to win the white evangelical to make a difference, or win the election. Since the two major parties have been closely divided in recent elections, small changes in the voting patterns of a few demographic groups can change the outcome of the election.
  4. McCain needs to worry more about whether the politically active evangelicals will volunteer for his campaign, than whether they will vote for him. Someone is more likely to vote if they get a personal phone call or knock on the door from a volunteer than if they get one of those annoying automated phone calls. The energy, enthusiasm, and number of campaign volunteers can make an important difference in elections. White evangelicals made up a large part of these foot soldiers for Bush and helped him get elected. Will they do so for McCain?
  5. White evangelicals have broadened their agenda. You will continue to hear a lot about this from the media. They are concerned about AIDS in Africa, genocide in Darfur, global warming, and poverty, to name a few. But keep in mind, having a broader agenda does not mean that they no longer care about their previously narrower agenda. Abortion and gay marriage are not issues that have gone away and will continue to be an important part of the voting calculation for many evangelicals.
  6. White evangelicals do not, in general, dislike McCain. Though they backed Mike Huckabee in large numbers during the state primaries and caucuses, when asked who they would vote for if Huckabee were not in the race, most said McCain. I suspect that the reluctance shown by some to vote for McCain has more to do with Republicans in general than McCain in particular.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Saddleback Civil Forum

Rick Warren interviewed both major party presidential candidates for a nationwide TV audience earlier tonight. For Obama, it represented his continued outreach to white evangelicals, a demographic that has helped Bush for that last two presidential elections. For McCain, it represents his effort to shore up the support of this group as they have become increasingly disenchanted with the Republican party.

Tonight's event also represented a turning point, I believe, for evangelicals themselves. It used to be that when the media would seek the evangelical viewpoint, they would turn to Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. Now, Rick Warren has emerged as the media's go-to-guy. Warren is much different than Robertson and Falwell, especially in tone. For instance, he spoke before and after the event about the need for civility in our public life, "we need to learn to disagree without demonizing each other." This demonization was often embodied by Robertson and Falwell.

If you watched the event, please feel free to leave your general impressions in the comments section below.

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on this topic.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Presidential Elections and the Art of Compromise

In one of the ironies of US politics, voters prefer for partisans to work together to find workable solutions to problems, but they punish candidates who express, or have shown, a willingness to compromise. For example, George H. W. Bush made a promise during the 1988 election, "read my lips, no new taxes." He later signed a bill that raised taxes. Not because he wanted to raise taxes. Instead, he thought that tax increases were an acceptable compromise to get other items in the bill that he wanted, namely, restrictions on spending. Did voters reward Bush for his bipartisanship? Just the opposite. In his 1992 race for reelection one of the biggest criticisms was that he didn't "keep his word."

More recently, both major party candidates have expressed a willingness to compromise on an issue in order to find a workable solution. In both cases, members of the press and the opposing campaign have suggested that the candidate was a "flip-flopper" or was not standing by their principles.

For McCain, the issue was the social security crisis. McCain is opposed to tax increases, but in a recent interview said that he would accept an increase in the cap on the payroll tax as part of a compromise bill. This means that, even though he is personally not in favor of increasing the cap, he would sign a bill that included this provision, if it contained other solutions to the social security crisis that he favors, such as personal accounts.

For Obama, the issue was the energy crisis. Obama is opposed to offshore drilling. His proposed solutions include developing more wind and solar power and conservation. But, he has said that he would accept more offshore drilling as part of a compromise bill. So if a bill that includes his proposed solutions also increases offshore drilling he would, apparently, sign it.

Our next president, even more that our current one, will be faced with both crises in energy and social security. If the two parties do not work together on these solutions, with each side accepting some compromise, nothing will get accomplished.

So, will voters be able to tell the difference between a candidate's principles and what they are willing to accept as part of a compromise? Or, will they force these candidates to take such hard-nosed positions that they will be too hogtied to accept a compromise bill, fearing the same backlash endured by the first President Bush?