The Dull-ocrats

On the campaign trail, Robert Novak notes the similarity in rhetoric of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The media keep hyping up the Democratic race as the political equivelent of a Jean Claude Van Damn movie–a fierce, bloody, death match. But it’s really more like the English Patient — a movie that goes on and on forever, with no real point, only to get rave reviews from critics.

Whatever minute policy disagreements there are between the two candidates– such as whether or not to mandate health care coverage– have been hashed out ad nauseam. The change vs. experience debate has nowhere else to go. As Novak notes, while the Jeremiah Wright and Bosnia controversies drew headlines, that played out in the media rather than on the campaign trail.

At this point, most of the debate concerns procedural issues. Should Hillary drop out? What should the role of superdelegates be? Should Florida and Michigan be seated? Should there be a revote?

Not exactly must see TV.

Nader Offers Hillary Some Moral Support

Encourages her to stay in the race. It’s worth reprinting it its entirety:

Senator Clinton:

Just read where Senator Patrick Leahy is calling on you to drop out of the Presidential race.

Believe me.

I know something about this.

Here’s my advice:

Don’t listen to people when they tell you not to run anymore.

That’s just political bigotry.

Listen to your own inner citizen First Amendment voice.

This is America.

Just like every other citizen, you have a right to run.

Whenever you like.

For as long as you like.

Its up to you, Hillary.

Just tell them —

It’s democracy.

Get used to it.

Yours truly,

Ralph Nader

Crazy Dean Watch

Should Barack Obama become the Democratic nominee, one of the interesting stories will be his relationship with DNC Chairman Howard Dean. Obama talks about uniting the country and wanting to run a respectful campaign, but Dean, who represents the angry left at its most vile, will make that utterly impossible. Today is a perfect example. This morning, John McCain released a positive ad highlighting his lifetime of service to the American people, which nobody would deny.  

The DNC soon sent out the following release in which Dean accused McCain of being a "blatant opportunist:"

After casting aside his image as a so-called "maverick" and morphing into the ultimate Bush Republican in the primaries, John McCain today released a new ad aimed at reintroducing himself to the country. After giving two "major policy speeches" that didn't include any new policies or proposals, McCain's new ad gives the American people no idea of what he would do to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end, address the mortgage crisis confronting American homeowners, or get our economy back on track.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean today issued the following statement on McCain's ad:

"The American people have been waiting for a president who understands the challenges they face, not another out of touch Bush Republican who promises four more years of the same failed leadership. John McCain can try to reintroduce himself to the country, but he can't change the fact that he cast aside his principles to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush for the last seven years. While we honor McCain's military service, the fact is Americans want a real leader who offers real solutions, not a blatant opportunist who doesn't understand the economy and is promising to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years."

If Dean is willing to go this ballistic over a positive biographical ad, I can only imagine what else he has in store for us over the course of a heated general election. It won't be pretty.

The RNC is demanding an apology in a statement from Deputy Chairman Frank Donatelli:

"It is beyond comprehension that Howard Dean would smear John McCain's character by stating he is a 'blatant opportunist.'   John McCain served our nation heroically and valiantly and it is absolutely unacceptable that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee would attack Senator McCain for discussing his record with the American people.   Dean’s comments are the latest in what has become a troubling pattern where the chairman of the national party has questioned Senator McCain's character and integrity.   Howard Dean owes John McCain an immediate apology and both Senators Clinton and Obama should unequivocally denounce this disgraceful attack."

Don't hold your breath.    

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Gov. Rudy?

The NY Post reports that Rudy Giuliani is mulling a run for governor in New York, should David Paterson be forced to resign, leading to a special election in November. At first, I thought the idea was pretty absurd. After all, Giuliani badly damaged his brand by running a disastrous presidential campaign, lost the good will he earned for his leadership on 9/11, and may have alienated New Yorkers by his moves to the right. But then again, the Republican Party in New York is in desperate shape, so the nomination is likely his if he wants it. And Andrew Cuomo, who would likely be the Democratic nominee, would be far from a shoo-in, especially after two Democratic resignations. It still seems to me a remote possibility because a lot of things would have to come together. But never say never.

More From the McCain Campaign Call

The purpose of the conference call I noted before was to preview McCain's "Service to America" tour, which the campaign is referring to internally as the "bio tour" that will introduce Americans to McCain's life story. It will start at McCain Field in Mississippi, where he will discuss how his ancestors have served in every major conflict in American history, with one of his distant relatives serving under George Washington. Other stops will include an Episcopal school in Alexandria, Virginia, where he will talk about his education and Annapolis, where he will discuss his time at the Naval Academy.

Some other notes:

— Spokesman Steve Schmitt said the McCain campaign would not be playing up statements by Merrill "Tony" McPeak and Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the general election. Though he found the comments "disturbing," Schmitt said that, "We will be running the race, should he be the nominee, against Barack Obama, not against Barack Obama's advisers." He said the American people would "make a determination" about Obama.

— Schmitt emphasized on several occasions that it would be a mistake to write off Hillary Clinton from the presidential race. Clearly, the McCain campaign wants to keep the Democratic race going for as long as possible. If the McCain team were smart, it would continue to attack Clinton along with Obama, to keep her as relevant as possible.

— "When you look at what Barack Obama said yesterday, it should send a chill down the spine of every working American," Schmitt said. "Barack Obama obviously believes the rich in this country are those who make over $75,000 a year."

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McCain Flak Calls Romney “Important Leader” In GOP

There’s been some speculation in conservative circles about Mitt Romney becoming John McCain’s running mate in an effort to unite the party, and McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt helped fuel it some more in a conference call today.

“(McCain) was thrilled yesterday to be campaigning with Gov. Romney, who is a very important leader in the Republican Party,” Schmidt said of the two candidates stumping in Utah. “They had a great time together out on the campaign trail.”

It’s one thing for the two of them to be happy campaigning together, but count me among those who believe that Romney would be a huge bust as a vice-presidential nominee. He won’t deliver Massachusetts and Republicans don’t need him to deliver Utah. His level of support among conservatives is highly exaggerated by his admirers in the pundit class. If he were actually popular with grassroots conservatives, he would have won the nomination given his money and organizational advantages and the reservations voters had about McCain. Yes, the conservative vote was split, but it was split because Romney wasn’t broadly popular. And that’s among Republicans. Among the general electorate, he had consistently high negative ratings.

The other arguments given about Romney — that he has a strong management background and economic expertise — are also weak. Executive experience is less relevant for somebody who is in a subordinate position, and what conservatives see as economic knowledge can easily be used to make the case that the GOP is the party of the rich.

At the leftist “Take Back America” conference, Dave Weigel caught liberal pundit Cliff Schechter declaring, “If it were Mitt Romney we were running against we could all sit back and eat barbecue for six months and still kick his butt.”

That sounds about right to me. McCain would be pretty silly to tap Romney and make a mistake that the GOP averted in the primaries.

Island of Tropical Breezes, Indicted Governor

Puerto Rico Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila has been indicted by the U.S. government for “tax fraud and using campaign money to pay for family vacations;” expensive clothing; and credit card bills. Why should we care? Acevedo is a superdelegate for Barack Obama, and the Puerto Rico primary, with its 55 delegates, is one of the last places to vote on June 1.

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John McCain is taking out his first ad of the general election, which will air in New Mexico, seen as a swing state. The ad will be launched conjunction with his “Service to America” tour that starts Monday, in which he will travel to places throughout the nation that highlight his biography. It’s also, no doubt, a way to force the media to cover him.

Bidding Starts at $30 Billion

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r This week marked the opening round in the fight over the direction of the U.S. economy that could determine the outcome of the presidential election, and the free market is already on the ropes.

Not too long ago, political observers were convinced that the 2008 election would be a referendum on the Iraq War. In a CNN/Opinion Research poll taken last June, Americans choose Iraq as the most important issue in determining their vote, with a 31 percent to 23 percent edge over the economy. When the same poll was taken earlier this month, it found that 42 percent identify the economy as their primary issue — double the number who choose Iraq.

Such polling has not been lost on the leading presidential contenders, with each of them giving major policy speeches on the economy this week.

On Monday, Hillary Clinton outlined a plan calling for a massive government-led restructuring of mortgages and a $30 billion fund enabling state and local governments to purchase foreclosed properties and resell them to low-income families. She also reiterated her support for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and a 5-year freeze on mortgage rates.

The latter measure would not only raise serious legal issues — and possibly be found unconstitutional — but it would be counterproductive. If lenders (and mortgage financiers) know that the government can arbitrarily rewrite the terms of contracts, this would make it more difficult for homeowners to obtain mortgages, and would trigger a spike in interest rates on new loans.

Yesterday, Clinton called for a 5-year, $12.5 billion job training program.

Barack Obama also spoke about the financial markets in New York yesterday, and displayed his mastery of the art of faux conciliation.

Obama ruminated on the historical conflict between government and economic freedom, lauded the free market as “the engine of America's progress,” but then blasted an “ethic of greed” and ultimately called for a “21st century regulatory framework” consisting of six parts. He also announced a $30 billion economic stimulus package.

He topped things off by telling CNBC later in the day that he supports hiking the capital gains tax, possibly to nearly twice its current rate.

ON TUESDAY, John McCain delivered an economic speech that was, in parts, far more promising for free marketers.

“I will not play election year politics with the housing crisis,” he declared. “I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.”

McCain proposed making mortgage contracts simpler and more understandable to borrowers, updating accounting standards, and increasing down payments to prevent homeowners from taking on mortgages they cannot afford. He also proposed a meeting of the top mortgage lenders and urged them to come together to help cash-strapped borrowers.

But while McCain deserves some credit for rejecting the most draconian proposals of the Democrats, he still left the door wide open for some form of government intervention down the road. He said he was “prepared to examine new proposals” that were consistent with his principles.

On a conference call with reporters yesterday, McCain advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin echoed Obama, asserting that “certainly John McCain is interested in a 21st Century financial regulations system.”

Another advisor, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, emphasized that McCain still believed there was a role for government to help the “truly needy.”

When I asked Fiorina how she would define “truly needy” and why those who took out mortgages they couldn't afford should be bailed out by taxpayers anyway, she distinguished between speculators and those who are “cash-strapped” and have felt the pinch as housing prices tumble.

She emphasized that McCain wants mortgage lenders to get together to help their customers, without government intrusion.

WHILE SUCH AN approach may hold the fort for McCain while the Democrats are still focused on battling each other, once the general election is in full swing, he will be under constant attack for being out of touch for not having a plan to help poor homeowners. The media will no doubt provide an assist, with countless stories of Americans losing their homes because of predatory lenders.

The question for free marketers is, will McCain remain as reticent about government intervention if the crisis persists into the fall?

One of the best arguments free marketers have to stave off a big government rescue plan is that the overwhelming majority of lower and middle income American homeowners behaved responsibly when they took out mortgages on their homes. It simply isn't fair for them to be stuck with the bill for those who acted recklessly.

Unfortunately, the Federal Reserve Board's $30 billion bailout of Bear Stearns and resulting sweetheart deal for J.P. Morgan makes it much more difficult to make that argument. In fact, Democrats have already seized on the deal to argue for more government intervention.

“Well, if the Fed can extend $30 billion to help Bear Stearns address their financial crisis, the federal government should provide at least that much emergency assistance to help families and communities address theirs,” Clinton remarked in her speech.

In the conference call, Holtz-Eakin said this was just an example of playing politics, by choosing the figure $30 billion to make a point rather than after careful consideration of economic factors. Fiorina argued that the Fed's action was different because it was combating systemic risk.

Maybe so. But it's easy to see such subtle arguments getting lost in a heated election battle. r

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It’s 3am, Economic Edition

I’m working on a longer piece about the three candidate’s economic proposals so will hold back on offering futher comment for now, but this Hillary Clinton remark today was too absurd too leave unmentioned:

“It’s time for a president who is ready on Day One to be the Commander-in-Chief of our economy. Sometimes the phone rings at 3 a.m. in the White House and it’s an economic crisis. And we need a president who is ready and willing and able to answer that call. I read the speech that Senator McCain gave the other day which set forth his plan which does virtually nothing to ease the credit crisis or the housing crisis. It seems like if the phone were ringing, he would just let it ring and ring and ring.”

Video here.