Re: Biden

On Obama, from the NY Observer story Prowler linked to:

“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

Giuliani NH Update

I just spoke with Wayne Semprini, who is the newly-appointed chairman of the Giuliani Exploratory Committee in NH (and was, until Saturday, the chairman of the NH Republican Party). When I asked him what he thought of the Beltway buzz that Giuliani will drop out of the Presidential race like he did the 2000 Senate race, Semprini laughed. “What can I say to that? I hope that he doesn’t have a potential life-threatening illness this time,” Semprini said, in reference to Giuliani’s bout with prostate cancer. “That’s what took him out of it the last time.”

I also taked to him about the strength of the McCain and Romney organizations in the state, and he said the Giuliani team was starting to get aggressive. He said he’s been bombarded with phone calls from people who want to join the campaign following Rudy’s trip to NH over the weekend, which he said was “incredibly well-received.” In just his first two days on the job, Semprini has already “penciled in” 19 Giuliani events with Granite State civic and business groups and political committees. They’re also in the process of negotiating a lease for office space.

Does this sound like someone who isn’t running?

Romney and the Jewish Vote

The Politico has an odd story out about how a bill Romney vetoed in 2003 could hurt him with the Jewish vote:

Now that he's in full presidential campaign mode, Romney may be wishing he hadn't vetoed a budget provision in 2003 that would have reimbursed nursing homes in Massachusetts that provided kosher meals to Jewish residents on Medicaid. The measure promised to pay an extra $5 a day per kosher diner. The state legislature overrode Romney's veto.

I don't see how this is a problem for Romney.  This is a rather obscure piece of legislation to begin with, and Jewish voters  represent a small segment of Republican primary voters. In a general election,  the Jewish vote is overwhelmingly Democratic anyway. Orthodox voters tend to be more Republican, but they  vote Republican  on the basis of  support for Israel and values issues, both of which Romney would be stronger on than the Democratic nominee on. And the tiny bit of support  Romney  could conceivably lose as a result of this obscure veto would be offset, becuase  if the  issue ever gets publicized, he'll look better among  fiscal conservatives. As a Jewish conservative myself,  I'd side with Romney on this veto. Either way, I  know Politico is trying to  appeal to political junkies, but doing a whole story  on this one veto seems a bit much to me.    

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Dick Morris Speaks

I just got back from the Spectator’s Newsmaker Breakfast, in which Dick Morris was the guest.

Some of the main points:

Morris said that Barack Obama is a gift to Hillary Clinton, because he clears the field of potential competitors, and specifically keeps Al Gore from entering the race, who is the Democrat with the best chance of beating her. He described Obama as a “political stem cell” who can be made into anything you want “because he’s just been born.” Morris said that Obama is the certain VP candidate, because any Democrat who beats him will have to make amends with the black community by choosing him as the VP.

He said that the surge resolution as well as a vote to defund the Iraq War will replace the 2002 resolution to go to war as the new litmus test for Democratic candidates. Hillary will probably vote against defunding the war, thinking about the general election, but such a vote could conceivable doom her in the Democratic primary.

On the Republican side he said Giuliani’s social views, Romney’s reputation as a flip-flopper, and general conservative dissatisfaction with McCain lead him to believe that all of the top tier candidates will be disabled by the time the primaries roll around, leaving an opening for one of the “pigmies” such as Brownback, Hunter, and Gilmore-and he was especially high on Huckabee. When a lot of conservative journalists in the audience said that they thought Giuliani had a chance to win the nomination, he said he would reconsider his writing off of Giuliani.

Morris talked about his 90-minute anti-Hillary Clinton documentary set to come out in September, in which he uses video to expose her many faces to demonstrate her “essential, fundamental, phoniness.”

He said Hillary has been acting like a pragmatist to get elected, but unlike Bill Clinton who remained a pragmatist once in office, she would govern as a far leftist and be the worst president in history. “She’s the closest thing we have to a European socialist,” he said. She would also use the FBI, NSA, and all tools at her disposal to go after her enemies in a Nixonian way. According to Morris, Republicans will get “massacred” in 2008 Congressional races and Hillary will become president, but Republicans will win back Congress in 2010 and recapture the White House in 2012. But whoever is elected in 2012 will be the last Republican president in history because of a growing Hispanic population that Republicans permanently alienated with last year’s anti-immigration rhetoric.

Asked if he would leave the country if Hillary were elected, he said, “Either voluntarily or involuntarily.”

The Immigration Trap

This article appears in the new February issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.

WHEN HILLARY CLINTON’S HUSBAND was elected president in 1992 with just 43 percent of the popular vote, many analysts believed that he owed his victory to the nutty Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, who did well among middle-class and wealthy white voters who typically voted Republican. The biggest challenge Hillary faces in winning the presidency in her own right is that much of the public wouldn’t consider voting for her, making it difficult to attract more than 50 percent of the vote. Thus, her best hope may be to follow in the footsteps of her husband and divide and conquer.

No issue remains more divisive to Republicans than immigration. It divides economic conservatives and populists, Beltway policymakers and grassroots activists, as well as urban conservatives and those living along the border. The split within the conservative movement was reinforced by the starkly different interpretations that were offered for how the immigration issue played out in the recent midterm elections.

One side argues that the elections proved that the immigration issue, which had been trumpeted by some as the potential savior of the Republican Party, was a dud. Despite blanket news coverage of immigration protests last spring, by the time the fall came around, the issue wasn’t on the radar in most congressional races. Even in those races in which immigration was prominent, the results were not encouraging for proponents of tougher measures against illegal immigrants. In Arizona, both J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf ran as hardliners on illegal immigration and lost. In a column published after the election, Linda Chavez wrote, “Now that the people have spoken, maybe the Congress will finally listen and pass comprehensive immigration reform.” President Bush, in press conferences and interviews, has repeatedly said that he hopes to work with the new Democratic Congress to do precisely that.

Not so fast, says Chris Simcox, president of Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, the grassroots group that gained notoriety for organizing volunteers to help patrol the border. Simcox disputes the conventional wisdom that interpreted the election results to mean that Americans rejected a get-tough approach to illegal immigration. “That’s a completely biased spin,” he says, and offers a competing analysis. He argues that Hayworth lost because of his links to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Graf fared poorly because he didn’t receive help from the Republican establishment, which supported his more moderate opponent in the primary. He also notes that when Arizona voters were able to vote specifically on the immigration issue, they overwhelmingly approved three anti-illegal immigration ballot measures, and another one to establish English as the state’s official language.

NO MATTER WHICH NARRATIVE is accurate, it’s clear that deep fissures remain on the immigration issue, which could mean big trouble for Republicans in the next presidential election. Of the three top contenders for the Republican nomination (John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney), none is considered acceptable to anti-illegal immigration hawks. Even Sam Brownback, who is presenting himself as the only true conservative in the field, came out in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, drawing the ire of those who view such a policy as rewarding criminal behavior. Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is a hardliner on illegal immigration, has said he intends to run, and Rep. Tom Tancredo, who has become the most prominent spokesman for tougher measures to stop illegal immigration, told TAS he was “seriously considering” seeking the nomination. But with Hunter and Tancredo long shots to win the nomination, chances are anti-illegal immigration activists will be left without a candidate in either major party. The question is whether they will stay home, or even defect to a third party in large enough numbers to swing the election, especially if that means risking another Clinton presidency.

“The Republicans always have their bogeyman, and this time it will be a bogeywoman,” said James Clymer, the chairman of the Constitution Party, which hopes to woo conservative defectors from the Republican Party, especially on the immigration issue. Clymer said that the party expects to be on the ballot in 46 to 50 states in 2008. The list of possible Constitution Party nominees includes former Republican presidential hopeful Alan Keyes, Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist, and Jerome Corsi, who co-authored a book on immigration with Gilchrist and also co-authored Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. Tancredo and Rep. Ron Paul would also be welcomed into the party, but neither of them is expected to leave the Republican Party.

“The American people aren’t being suckered into going with one party or another anymore and I think this will be a key litmus test and a real indication, this next presidential election, of just how willing voters are to go away from both parties,” Simcox said. In particular, he viewed a McCain candidacy as the most likely to cause anti-illegal immigration voters to abandon the Republican Party, because of McCain’s co-sponsorship, with Ted Kennedy, of a comprehensive immigration reform package. “We’ll do everything we can to ensure that McCain doesn’t get to the White House.”

The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, not to be confused with Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project, has 61 chapters in 29 states, 9,000 registered volunteers, and an e-mail list of 1.3 million. In addition, the group started a political action committee last year that raised nearly $1,000,000; 10 of the 18 candidates it supported won.

Richard Shaftan, who runs the PAC, argues that even the threat of a Hillary Clinton presidency may not be enough to dissuade disgruntled conservatives from bolting the Republican Party. “If you have someone like McCain, the chances of a viable third party candidacy would be a very real thing, because to a lot of conservatives it would make no difference if it was McCain or Hillary Clinton, only McCain would be more dangerous because he’d be a Republican pushing all of this nutty stuff.”

It’s difficult to quantify the potential appeal of a third party movement fueled by the immigration issue, because polling results on immigration depend on the way the question is asked and how people define “amnesty” or “tough border security.” A Tarrance Group poll conducted days before the midterm elections found that by a margin of 48 percent to 46 percent, Americans agreed with the statement: “Any program in which one who is currently an illegal immigrant could earn the right to citizenship is amnesty.” But when given further details, 68 percent of Americans thought “A program in which an illegal immigrant could earn citizenship over many years by paying a fine, working, paying taxes, living crime free and learning English isn’t amnesty and is a reasonable way to deal with 12 million illegal immigrants here now.” Incidentally, that’s a position along the lines of the McCain-Kennedy bill that angered many grassroots conservatives. The same poll found that going into the elections, 11 percent of Americans identified illegal immigration as their most important issue.

HOWEVER, A THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE would not have to garner Perot’s 19 percent to make a difference in the outcome of the election. In 2000, Ralph Nader captured less than 3 percent of the popular vote nationally, but his 97,000 votes in Florida were more than enough to cost Al Gore the election. And we might still be looking at a Republican-controlled Senate today were it not for Stan Jones, the Libertarian candidate in Montana who may have siphoned off enough votes from incumbent Republican Conrad Burns to elect the Democratic challenger, Jon Tester. In 2008, the Republican nominee could be especially vulnerable in potential swing states where the immigration issue is prominent such as Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona (if the nominee isn’t McCain, since it’s his home state).

The potential impact of the immigration issue will depend largely on what happens legislatively this year.

“I don’t think there will be a wholesale rush to the left on this, and by that I mean a massive amnesty or guest worker program that will be put through with one big bill,” Tancredo said. Instead, he predicts an “erosion” of some of the measures that were passed last year. For instance, the new Congress probably won’t adequately fund the construction of a 700-mile border fence that was authorized in a law signed by President Bush weeks before the elections. In addition to tougher border enforcement, Tancredo advocates imposing penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, which, he argues, would cause a natural exodus of immigrants back to their own country because they could no longer find work in America.

IF PRESIDENT BUSH FOLLOWS through on his vows to work with the Democratic Congress on bipartisan legislation, it could trigger one of two reactions. On the one hand, it could highlight the fact that the two-party system has failed those who support tougher measures against illegal immigration. “If they passed amnesty, that will be the catalyst for millions more people going away from both parties and going with a third party movement,” Simcox said.

But Chuck Muth, who deals with the immigration issue as president of the grassroots organization Citizen Outreach, thinks that if any legislation is passed, the immigration issue will become less important because voters will determine that the issue is being dealt with, as has been the case with past legislation.

“It takes the issue off the table for a lot of people,” Muth said. “A lot of people were worked up [last] year, but when Congress passed the legislation that authorized building the wall on the border, we saw the intensity of that issue drop tremendously even though there wasn’t money, even though it wasn’t built….We saw activism in that issue drop in our direct mail.”

In the next year, the leading Republican presidential candidates will do their best to placate the conservative base on the immigration issue. McCain will likely emphasize the hoops that illegal immigrants would have to go through to obtain citizenship under his reform plan. In a speech in New Hampshire a few days before the midterm elections, Giuliani gave a preview of how he may handle criticisms that he was lax on immigration as mayor. He argued that his policies as mayor were based on the fact that he took over a city that already had an estimated 400,000 illegal immigrants and emphasized that many of the same tactics he employed to cut crime in New York could be applied to improving border security (such as increasing law enforcement personnel and making better use of technology). Romney, meanwhile, in one of his last acts as governor, authorized state troopers to detain illegal immigrants — a move that drew kudos from Pat Buchanan.

But if none of these gestures is enough to satisfy anti-illegal immigration hardliners, Hillary Clinton may be able to return to the White House — even if most people don’t like her.

Hillarytarians

Those still entertaining the idea of a liberal/libertarian alliance ought to watch  Hillary Clinton's talk in Iowa from over the weekend.

A sample:

"I got a call from this gentleman up in what we call the North Country and he told me about his son who was in desperate need of a certain operation and the insurance company said 'no.' So we went to bat for him, and we got him the permission to have the operation. But, you know, as happy as I was to be able to take care of him, I thought, 'What a sad commentary that you have to go to a Senator of the United States to get the treatment that you need for your child.' We're gonna change that. We're gonna have universal healthcare. We're gonna deal with obesity–and with diabetes."  

Nuff said.

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Roberts and Roe

Jeffrey Rosen has an excellent interview with Chief Justice Roberts in the current issue of the Atlantic. The article describes Roberts’ efforts to build consensus on the Supreme Court and have less closely split 5-4 decisions, so that its judgements will have more clarity and force.

There was one passage that I found particularly illuminating:

Chief justices, Roberts acknowledged, are more likely to sublimate their personal views for the good of the Court than associate justices are; he cited the example of his former boss, William Rehnquist, for whom he clerked. “I think there’s no doubt that he changed, as associate justice and chief; he became naturally more concerned about the function of the institution,” Roberts said, pointing out that though Rehnquist had previously opposed the Miranda v. Arizona decision of 1966, which required the police to read suspects their rights, he wrote the opinion upholding Miranda in 2000. “He appreciated that it had become part of the law-that it would do more harm to uproot it-and he wrote that opinion as chief for the good of the institution.”

Of course, when I read that, it immediately made me think of Roe v. Wade, and I found myself wondering whether Roberts would ultimately vote to overturn it given what a closely divided decision on abortion would do to the Court and to the nation.Would he make a decision purely on the basis of his view of the constitution, or would he vote to uphold it “for the good of the institution”?

Milton Friedman Day

Was just watching a memorial service for Milton Friedman held at the University of Chicago as part of Milton Friedman Day. Look for a replay of the Webcast here soon. Speakers included fellow Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker and Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic. President Bush and Alan Greenspan sent in letters that were read before the audience at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. The speakers honored his influential ideas on monetary theory, the role of prices, flexible exchange rates, a volunteer army and Social Security privatization.      

To me, more than any specific idea, Milton Friedman's lasting contribution was to emphasize that people can't be totally free unless they have economic as well as political freedom. In practice, communism inevitably leads to totalitarianism, but advocates of statism like to kid themselves into believing that the government can exert control over the economy while maintaining political freedom. Friedman convincingly argued that individuals cannot be considered free if they are restricted from engaging in mutually beneficial voluntary exchange with one another.

For more on Friedman, you can also watch PBS tonight, which is airing a documentary, "The Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman."

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Anti-Romney Bias?

In response to the Prowler item below, a reader writes:

I find it a bit curious that magazines of conservative opinion are so critical of Governor Romney's blatant switch on the life issue, but simultaneously tout Rudy Giuliani as a viable candidate who is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, and an advocate of gun control. Why is it that the former Mayor gets a pass from The Spectator and National Review, while Governor Romney gets savaged? Besides the crime issue, how is Rudy Giuliani even a Republican? He might very well be considered a conservative to moderate Democrat.

 

Me: I don't think it's true to say that Giuliani has been given better treatment than Romney in the conservative media. Very early on, Romney was treated to favorable profiles in cover stories for the Weekly Standard, National Review, and for the Spectator (under the headline "Romney Rocks!")

As for Rudy, I've actually found myself in the minority over the past few years for thinking that a) Giuliani will run and b) he can win. The conventional wisdom in conservative circles has been that Giuliani can't win because of his liberal social views and most people inside the Beltway have been skeptical that he will run given how much more aggressive Romney and McCain have been at hiring talent and building national organizations. Last fall, the National Review savaged Rudy in a cover story featuring him in drag with the headline "But will it Play in Peoria?" To whatever extent his liberal social views haven't gotten even more attention, it's because people routinely dismiss that he's a serious candidate in the first place.    

Romney has come under fire for his past statements on abortion because he has aggressively pitched himself as the best choice for social issues voters, so conservatives are asking questions about whether he is actually one of them or if he's just saying the right things to win the nomination. Giuliani clearly won't be the choice of voters who decide primarily on the basis of social issues, but he isn't selling himself that way. His emphasis is on economic issues and the War on Terror.  If he were to come out now and say he changed his mind, and he's pro-life and a supports of a Federal Marriage Amendment, he'd be a laughingstock, and rightly so. And those who believe he's only a Republican on crime should read this piece by Steven Malanga, which outlines Giuliani's record as mayor, during which time he cut taxes, slashed welfare rolls and fought racial preferences among other conservative policies.  

We have a long way to go, and  the backgrounds of all candidates will be put under the microscope.      

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The New Hampshire Primary

I made my first trip to NH during political season over the weekend, and my reaction was bittersweet. I found myself encouraged by how seriously the state’s residents take their voting responsibility, and how they take the time to research and carefully consider each candidate before making a decision. But I was also saddened by the fact that such a process couldn’t be replicated at the national level. New Hampshire’s relatively small size and status as the first primary in the nation gives its voters the unique oppourtunity to get face time with the candidates and interact with them on a personal level. Also, New Hampshire voters get to choose from a wide range of candidates. Those of us in the rest of the country don’t get to see much of the candidates and we don’t have as many choices because the field begins to dwindle after NH. If primaries were nationalized so that all states held them on the same day, candidates would not be able to interact with as many people and those who couldn’t raise enough money would perhaps have even less of a chance of being heard than under the current system. So, I think there’s a clear value to NH’s status as the first primary in the nation, but I’m jealous of people who live there.