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As Super Tuesday approaches, there will be a blizzard of polls. Two IDn links provide easy access to all major national and state polling data so you can pick and choose among them for what matters most to you. Go to Polls on the lower right of our screen and open Pollster or Real Clear Politics. And if you want historical data on U. S. Politics, go to Political Almanac on our page line, above.
Frank Rich’s article in the January 27 Sunday New York Times argues that the Clintons’ two-for-one bargain could keep the Republicans in the White House for another four years. Tied directly to events surrounding the South Carolina primary, the argument is about political gaming in a primary season. Well, political gaming is not the issue.
The issue, the problem, is leadership, plain and simple. Who’s going to be in charge? Who’s accountable? The gaming chatter is mostly about whether Bill’s hand was a calculated play, or just him running off at the mouth. The issue, the question, is what happens if they win? Who’s in charge when you have two presidents in the same White House? Politics is largely about negotiation and negotiation is largely about figuring out what the other guy wants. How does it work when there are two other guys?
And that’s the simple part. The more complex part is below the surface just now, a question no one wants to ask or even think about. But it’s there, alright, a force-five hurricane of political incorrectness and it’s coming ashore. The question is this: Of the two, is one dominant? Plain and simple. If the Clintons want to challenge this country with so unprecedented a scenario as two presidents in the same White House, they have to expect this question will be asked: Will the most powerful person in the world be the most powerful person in her own home?
Let’s do it in a story.
There are two brothers, twins, John and Chris. John is a natural-born politician. Chris, his housemate, is an accountant. Before you know it, John’s a Governor and soon sniffing bigger game while Chris pays most of the bills with a thriving CPA practice.
Opportunity presents itself, John’s talked about for President, and, sure enough, he wins, taking Chris along to Washington with him. Neither’s ever married, now, just two brothers on top of the world, one President of the United States, the other minding the White House accounts and doing a lot of traveling. Soon enough, Chris starts thinking large himself. And just as John’s eight years come due, Chris sees his chance and wins a seat in the Senate. Why not?
So they go home, back to their parents’ house, Chris with his Senate work and John being a world statesman. Comes a time, though, when they’re alone, fishing or something. One says, “That White House sure was nice.” “Yes,” says the other, “yes, indeed” and before you know it, they’re thinking pretty serious about another eight years. This time, though, Chris says, “I’ll be in charge. This time, I get the big room.” “Of course you will,” says John.
Now they’re all excited about it and, their parents being gone, they run off to tell their Uncle Phil. On hearing the boys’ plan, Uncle Phil takes a deep breath, looking first at Chris, then a long gaze at John before fixing back on Chris. “Let me get this straight, Chris. You’re going to run for President and then, when you win, you and John move back to Washington, you as president, the both of you in the White House. That right?”
“That’s the plan, uncle,” says Chris, he and John giving each other a quick nod and smile.
“Got this all worked out, do you?”
“Yes, uncle,” they answer together.
Uncle Phil fixes on Chris again, harder this time. “Chris, I got to know something. I got to know how many times you beat up your brother John, here?”
Chris sat up, not expecting the question. “Why, never, uncle. Never did best him. No sir. He’s bigger, than me, you know that. Best athlete here abouts. Always been.”
“And you’re going be sleeping in what used to be his bed, flying around in what used to be his plane, running his country, and he’s just going let you do that. That’s the plan?”
“Yes, sir. We got it all worked out, don’t we John?”
“Sure do,” John said, smiling as he turned and gave Uncle Phil a wink and a nod.
“Well, good luck to both of you,” Uncle Phil said, starting back inside. “Any country fool enough to go along with that deal gets exactly what it deserves, and that’s chaos.”
Billary is not a question of Republican or Democrat, man or woman, Clinton or Obama. It is a question of practical leadership. You can’t have two presidents in the same White House. That which is required in a person to be president does not suffer well, if at all, that same quality in another so near by. One of the miracles of this nation’s democracy has been the retirement of its presidents, and that means out of town, away.
With Billary, we are now in some prospect of having not only two presidents in the same White House, the same Administration, but two presidents in the same marriage. Now, to claim anything is impossible in American politics is a fool’s game. But, by all things known of being human, the more one considers the probability of Billary being a successful presidency, the more it approaches the incalculable.
And the semi-finals are upon us. In the next month or so, it is likely that a Democratic candidate will have a practical majority of the delegates needed and it will be done. If that person is Hillary Clinton and the American people have the capacity to come to an understanding of the risks of a two-president White House, which they most certainly do, then the next president will very likely be the Republican nominee.
As an Independent, my interest is in having the opportunity to consider and weigh two candidates in November and then, in my own wisdom, choose. If in November it comes to choosing between a one-president presidency and a two-president presidency, the Democrats will likely have made it, for many of us, a one party race.
In his presidential candidacy, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has been the fresh face of optimism and hope that our quadrennial national campaigns often occasion. And after Iowa, a great number of people in this country, especially Democrats and Independents, appeared to be more than comfortable with the thought that this man might be president. And this, it would seem, was where his troubles began.
In analyzing Sen. Obama’s upset loss in New Hampshire, pundits were quick to cite the Bradley Rule — i.e., poll respondents saying they leaned toward Tom Bradley, an African American, prior to his 1980 run for Governor of California but, when they got in the privacy of voting booth, didn’t. But that’s not where Obama’s troubles started. No. They started with the Clinton Rule: We win. And while the Clintons have supported and nurtured the African American community to the point of Bill’s being dubbed the first “Black President,” their devotion does not extend to an African American stepping in line ahead of them for the presidency.
In a high irony of American politics, race has become a wedge issue between two Democratic presidential aspirants. Unique in our history of minority candidates, Sen. Obama was able to pack 10,000 plus voters in convention centers and sports complexes in Iowa (need I say White?) and bring them to their feet, some even to tears. In my experience – both personal and observational – he was the first African American candidate for national office who had become so associated with a perspective on government and an enthusiasm to pursue it that race had been transcended. He wasn’t Black; he was young. He wasn’t African American; he was inspiring.
Sen. Obama had not built his campaign on an African American base. Indeed, his candidacy was not welcomed by Black political leaders. Moreover, many African Americans seemed reluctant to claim him. Iowa changed all that. While political leaders in the African American community were still hesitant, poll respondents in Black America began rallying to him. And not because he had lost to Sen. Clinton, but because he appeared to have a genuine shot at winning; i.e., he was for real. Unavoidably, as his strength among Black Americans grew, he was regarded increasingly an African American candidate. However, it was the clashes with the Clinton campaign that amplified this perception to the point of an identity.
It’s always hard to say who threw the first mud ball. When it comes to who’s lying about one point or another, however, we have the tapes. I have heard President Clinton lie about Obama’s comments on Ronald Reagan. I have seen an ad produced and placed by the Clinton campaign that repeats this lie. Never mind that the ad was withdrawn. It was done and shown, and it was a lie. Acrimony in politics often drives the contestants to their base. The great irony here is that the impact of this acrimony is to incline many to view Sen. Obama as from a base he was not claiming.
Irony raised to tragedy would be for Sen. Obama’s victory in South Carolina to so confirm him as the African American Candidate as to cripple his quest. He is clearly so much more than a person of a political base. By accounts of those who have seen him (I have not), Obama is a highly intelligent, inspirational politician with a deep commitment to the core operational tenets of a vibrant democracy – a willingness to listen and a commitment to action.
Should Sen. Obama’s candidacy be crippled buy a win in South Carolina, much angst and regret will eventuate. While groupings and identities are inevitable in a democracy such as ours, it is the manner in which this process is engaged that is the surest test of the honor and integrity of those in the contest. When such engagement is of questionable means and intent, as events here suggest, it is on us, the electorate, to measure the character and worthiness of those who promote and profit from such engagement.
And it is here that the Independent must rise above the fray, exactly because it is this side of politics that he or she so frequently abhors. Our place, indeed our trust, is to note such behavior and to weigh it heavily in our decision as to for whom we each cast our vote. Forgive and explain as you might, but be careful not to forget.
And now there are four: Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, and Romney. Of these, one, Huckabee, was wounded badly in South Carolina where exit polls indicated 60% of the primary voters were Evangelical Christians, his strongest suite. Of these, he got only 43%. McCain, for his part, won 27% of the evangelical vote which, with 42 % of the Independents and 51% of those claiming to be moderates, was enough to win the primary.
Of those self-identifying in the exit poles as “very conservative” or “somewhat conservative,” Huckabee won 41% of the former to McCain’s 19%, with McCain winning 32% of the latter to Huckabee’s 30%. Between the two of them, they won 60% of all voters identifying as either “very” or “somewhat” conservative. This is likely to be bad news for Rush Limbaugh, doyen of conservative radio wags, who had proclaimed “I am here to tell you, if either of these guys (Huckabee or McClain) get the nomination, it’s going to destroy the Republican Party. It’s going to change it forever, be the end of it.”
Perhaps. The opposite, actually, seems more likely. What this primary season is putting into sharper focus is the complexity of contemporary conservatism, a political philosophy once seen, and even derided, as overly simplistic. It turns out that conservatives come in a wide rage of sizes and colors, including social, economic, and political. And they don’t always play well together. In fact, of the four left standing after South Carolina, there’s not a one whose conservative credentials have not been impugned by other conservatives.
And that’s just the point. Conservatives of one wing or another in the Republican Party take great pride in disdaining and deriding one or another of the remaining four candidates, all of whom are seen quite clearly as conservative by the moderate and liberal voters amongst us. A national political party, to have any meaning or stature, has to appeal to more than a slice of the political spectrum, no matter how loud it roars or deeply it believes its tenets. If the South Carolina primary turns out to have been a step, even a small one, in the direction of a broader spectrum Republican Party, then it was the party that won certainly as much as McCain.
As for Independents, we won just as big, maybe bigger. We want meaningful choices, candidates who reflect, and respect, a range of views on a range of issues. For many Independents, the hyperpartisanship of the last 10 to 15 years is just what disinclines us to party identification and participation. Thank you, South Carolina.
The Washington Post on January 13 quotes Gov. Mike Huckabee lamenting that the Republican Party has welcomed the support of social conservatives but “…Lord help us if we ever stood forward and said we would actually like to lead the party.” This, of course, is exactly his current purpose and the implications go well beyond a particular primary, or even a national election.
Even before independence from Britain, this country’s political foundation was built on the emergence of a three realm dynamic in which the political, spiritual and economic realms of those living here were separate and apart. It is the strength and vibrancy of this dynamic, first in the colonies and later the in nation, that most distinguishes us from our European forebears.
And make no mistake: This separation among the realms is more than the expression of our freedoms, it is the cause of them. A person can be politically free only if he or she is economically independent of the state, does not depend on it for a job or sustenance. A person is challenged to truly believe in God if he or she can be compelled to belief by a church capable of the political or economic sanction of those who will not “believe”. Indeed, it was the emergence of the economic realm that marked the separation of the political and spiritual realms and formed the basis of American democracy.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the separation of the spiritual and the political realms to the freedoms that define this nation. And this same nation now faces the clear risk that of one of its national parties will come under the leadership of a candidate whose political base is a religious caucus, one whose unifying force and expression is a religious denomination. A Huckabee nomination cannot but fracture the National Republican Party and with it the functioning two party system that defines this nation’s political process. The two party system needs work, no doubt, but we need it more than it needs work.
Apart from any consideration of the two party system, though, is the threat of a national candidacy, not even to mention the electoral victory, of a faith-based candidate. If there is anything that political Independents in this country must have in common it is an unwavering, unalterable and instinctive repulsion to any threat to this nation’s constitutional separation of our spiritual and political realms.
South Carolina is an open state. If you are registered to vote, vote this conviction. Stop this now, and guard against it always.
Watching the Nevada Democratic Debate last night, I was reminded why I am an Independent.
First, the opening half hour was spent talking about the campaign itself. The issue was race and it went on and on as to who said what to whom about what and “I did not mean to say anything other than that which I’m now saying I said and you can quote me on that…” Yech!
Next, was the three of them sitting at the table, Obama, Clinton and Edwards, barely sixteen years in the Senate amongst them. The biggest thing anyone one of them has actually run is their career. This is not to disqualify any of them from serving in the highest office of the land, it is to say I’d want to know a lot more about who is going to serve in their cabinet before I would consider voting for him or her in November. As of now, we have very little to go on as to their likely success in actually running the country. In this, not feeling an obligation to vote for any one of the three because of party affiliation is a genuine, board certified comfort.
Finally, there’s the vision thing. They all claim a vision for the future. How could they not? The question is the nature of the vision they see. To wit, does their vision of America in a better day necessarily include them running it? Listen to what they say, the words they use and the context they seek to set in a debate or in an interview. Do they see a better world, or just one they are running?
Clearly, a person needs an ego to want the presidency, and an ego to succeed in it. The question is, what is more important to the candidate: Purpose or Power? Figure that out among the candidates, and you will make a good vote, no matter who wins.