Sunday, April 27, 2008

Running Mates We'd Like To See

Rumor has it that John McCain is considering ousted Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Or, more precisely, some of Fiorina's Silicon Valley buddies are floating her name, even though she has as much chance of becoming McCain's veep as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright does of becoming his White House chaplain. A more likely scenario is that Fiorina is thinking about running for governor of California in 2010 - as is former eBay boss Meg Whitman, another Valley Republican interested in inheriting Gov. Schwarzenegger's moderate GOP mantle - and she's trying to raise her profile.

McCain says he has 20 names on his vice presidential list, and from what I've been able to gather, Fiorina is almost certainly not one of them. She's never run for elected office, she has no constituency, her truncated tenure at H-P ended in scandal and shame, and she's not nearly conservative enough to satisfy the national Republican Party's right wing. Granted, she's probably as ready to be president as Dan Quayle was, but since McCain himself has said out loud that he will be especially careful about picking an impeccably qualified running mate because of his advanced age and health history, it's beyond conceivable that Fiorina could be a legitimate candidate. Besides, her real name is Cara Carleton Sneed Fiorina. Would that even fit on a button?

But as long as we're tossing out preposterous long shots for the number two slot on the GOP ticket, I've got a few ideas of my own:

ROBERT BYRD - The nonagenarian U.S. Senator from West Virginia (yeah, that's right, he's almost 91 now) is already President Pro Tem, so he's third in line for the presidency (behind Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi), so why not kick him up a couple notches for old time's sake? He voted against the Iraq war, he's a Democrat, he's certainly experienced - talk about a national unity ticket. And who else could make John McCain seem like a frisky young'un?

PAULA ABDUL - Now, here's a woman with a national constituency. Carly Fiorina, eat your heart out. She's female, sort of a minority (Syrian/Canadian/Jewish), and you can't deny she'd bring in the youth vote. Unfortunately, 13-year-old girls can only vote for the next American Idol, not the next American President. But Abdul helps generate 30 million votes a week, which is way more than you can say for anyone else on McCain's list.

DICK CHENEY - Hey, why not? If it ain't broken, don't fix it. No need for movers or redecorating. And in case anything happens to McCain, we already know that Cheney is qualified to run the country - he's been doing it for eight years now.

But seriously folks....Next Time: Who I really think is on McCain's list.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Keystone Kops

So, as expected, the Pennsylvania primary was anticlimactic. When I told some colleagues that I'm going to Charlotte to cover the North Carolina primary, they asked why I wasn't going to the Keystone State first. My reply: Hillary's going to win Pennsylvania by somewhere between five and nine points, which means nothing will change, so what's the point? The race won't end in Pittsburgh, or Pottstown, or even Punxsutawney. But Clinton's Waterloo could come May Waterloo, Indiana. Or Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Because if Obama takes both Indiana and North Carolina (the largest remaining states), the battle really is done. This nomination is firmly in the hands of the superdelegates now, and if Obama can deliver a knockout blow, the remaining undecided ones will flock to him, and put him over the top. If he can't....then Hillary has at least some faint hope.

(By the way, Clinton won Pennsylvania by nine points, not ten, at last count, despite what you keep hearing from most media. I don't think it makes much difference, but I'm a stickler for accuracy. She will end up with a net gain of 10 to 12 delegates.)

The hot phrase of the moment is "closing the deal," as in, Obama can't do it. I must have missed the mass directive instructing all pundits to use those words, but it's just as well, because I think it's off the mark. Obama isn't attracting the white, blue-collar voters, but you know what? He wasn't winning them in January or February either, when he was sweeping one state after another. The only place he beat Clinton among that demographic was in Wisconsin. All that's happened is, the states where Obama had a natural advantage, he won...and the ones where Clinton did, she won. And that's still happening. It's just that we've reached a string of northern industrial states whose electorate breaks nicely for Hillary, so that's slowed Obama's momentum and allowed some worrisome doubt to creep into the minds of nervous Democrats.

The bigger problem for Obama right now is that as the campaign wears on, his luster wears off. He's been dragged right down into the gutter, which is never a good place for golden boys to be. It's hard to position oneself as a fresh voice of change, when you're busy picking off the bits of mud and flinging them back at your opponent. If the Democrats had winner-take-all primaries, Obama's 11-state late-winter run would have locked up the nomination, and his image would have survived intact. Now it's all flying elbows and locking horns, as he tries to hold off Hillary and keep those superdelegates flowing steadily into his column. And meanwhile, the Republicans, and the Clinton camp, have succeeded in raising a lot of questions about Obama, and planting some very dangerous seeds in the voters' minds: he's a radical, with radical friends...he's not one of us...who knows what he really wants to do to this country...why, he may even be French!

Assuming he still gets the nomination, Obama will need to reinvigorate his base: wealthier, better-educated whites, black voters, young people and first-time voters. He will have to generate a massive turnout, to overcome the negative portrayals and Internet rumors that will swing many Americans, who pay only passing attention to facts and details, to John McCain. And if he can't do that, then those battleground states where Clinton has beaten him - Ohio, New Mexico (Florida and Michigan, too, though Obama didn't compete in the "primaries" there) and yes, Pennsylvania - become deeply problematic for the Democrats in November.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bitter Aftertaste

A few postscripts to last week's bitterness and guns controversy, before we move on to Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary...

First of all, I was inspired to write a new parody song for the radio about all this silliness, so I corraled the Not Ready for Drive Time Singers and we banged out "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," which aired on KCBS Friday. No complaints so far, and one listener even made a video for it! Coming soon to a YouTube near you.

Second, like many viewers, I was absolutely appalled by that debate on ABC News last week. There's no professional rivalry involved; I will cheer any network that does a good job on a debate and jeer those who don't, regardless of my own affiliation (I actually think the Fox News questioners have done the best job in this year's debates). CBS hasn't hosted one yet, so we'll see how Katie Couric does next week in North Carolina.

But I was stunned by the line of questioning by Charles Gibson, in particular. I had to report on this debate for KCBS, so I recorded it and then relayed what was happening. The first 45 minutes were about Obama's various and sundry controversies, with some token pressure on Hillary Clinton every now and again. It took that long for a substantive issue to come up, which I found ridiculous. Obama's San Francisco comments, his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Hillary's faulty memory on Bosnia are all legitimate matters to be asked about, but come on. They are not the most important issues for most voters. Halfway through the debate, I felt like taking a shower. Gibson and George Stephanopoulos NEVER asked about jobs, or health care, or education, or the environment. What a waste of time.

For Robert Reich, the Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, that debate was the last straw, and he endorsed Obama Friday. This was a really tough decision for Reich, who's been living and teaching in Berkeley the last few years (I run into him at the Whole Foods every now and then). He talked about it with KCBS anchors Melissa Culross and Jeff Bell.

Finally, it wasn't widely reported except on the Internet, but Barack Obama did make essentially the same point he made at that San Francisco fundraiser...four years ago, on the Charlie Rose show on PBS. I heard some commentators warning last week that Obama says one thing in public, and quite another privately to his "elitist, Chablis-sipping buddies in San Francisco" (Chablis? Viognier, maybe. Pinot noir, definitely. Never Chablis, not in the last 20 years or so anyway).

But the only thing new about Obama's now-infamous remarks was the wording. Listen to what he said on national TV back in 2004, when he was talking about the economically dispirited people of Gaylesburg, Illinois. He said they take comfort in hunting, and going to church, and the traditions that are meaningful to them, and he agreed with Rose that they won't vote for a party that condescends to them and doesn't appreciate the importance of those traditions. So he wasn't secretly revealing his true attitudes to those San Francisco liberals, after all. He was just putting some old Chablis in a new bottle. You might not like the taste, but you can't say it's a new vintage.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Clinging Bitterly to My Blog

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. My last blog post was three weeks ago.

Yes, I have been derelict. I spent much of my childhood in a small Midwestern town, so I have been very busy building an anti-immigrant fence around my compound in the woods, growing increasingly bitter, clinging to my guns and religion and xenophobia, the only solace I know in this ever-darkening economic climate.

But I have come out of my bunker, because Hillary Clinton has invited me for a shot and a beer, before we go on a church-sponsored hunting trip.

Yes, this is the state of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Barack Obama is being pilloried as an elitist, patronizing liberal, while Hillary's suddenly a gun-toting, whisky-swigging woman of the people.

Hmm, last time I checked they went to Harvard and Yale Law Schools, respectively, and I could have sworn Clinton just released tax returns showing her and Bill with over $100 million in income since 2000.

Yes, Barack Obama shot himself in the foot last week in San Francisco (if Hillary had been there, I'm sure she would have done the honors with the gun her grandfather gave her as a child). We all make mistakes; no one has blundered into more tactless, awkwardly-worded gaffes than I, as anyone in our newsroom who has enjoyed watching me try to explain what I really meant can attest. But this one has the Republicans chortling with glee. While Obama is busy trying to fend off Clinton, John McCain can start identifying the Illinois Senator in a negative way, with his own ill-chosen words. Hillary's already running a new TV commercial highlighting Obama's gaffe. By the time Obama locks up the nomination, many voters will already have "elitist" and "out of touch" branded into their brains, the way they thought "flip-flopper" and "windsurfer" when they heard the name John Kerry in 2004.

There's a lot of truth in what Obama said at that fundraiser in Pacific Heights last week. I have the audio of it, but it's so hard to understand I don't think it's worth posting the link here. You've read it by now anyway, right? Small-town voters are bitter after years of economic hardship and government inattention, so they cling to their guns and their religion and their antipathy towards people who aren't like them. Is that condescending and elitist? Or is it a frank assessment of America in the 21st century? The powers that be don't want someone telling the people the truth; they'd rather distract Americans with mock outrage, much as they accused anyone who dared question the government's response to 9/11 of being an unpatriotic traitor.

But Obama's words weren't artful. He's right; he could have said it a lot better. "Clinging" to their guns and religion? Ouch. That offends. This is a perfect example of why I predicted last December that Clinton, not Obama, would be the nominee. He's just not experienced enough to avoid these kinds of mistakes, and he's going to make more, folks. By the time November rolls around, assuming Obama still gets the nod, McCain will have a stack of these to use against him. Luckily for him, McCain steps in it now and again, too. We'll just have to see who the mess sticks to, and which of the nominees has teflon shoes.

Obama's stumble reminds me of the 1982 New York governor's race, when three-term Mayor Ed Koch was a heavy favorite to move up to Albany. Until, that is, he lamented the "sterile" nature of life in upstate New York, ridiculed small-town women for wearing gingham dresses, and complained about how unhappy he would be living in the boonies. That doomed his candidacy, and Lt. Governor Mario Cuomo came out of nowhere to upset Koch in the primary, and go on to serve three terms as governor.

There are a couple of other things about this that bother me more than Obama's words, though. First off, I know that many bloggers consider themselves "journalists." But it would be completely unethical, and maybe illegal, for me to infiltrate a private event, record it surreptitiously, and then report what I heard. And that's just what a Huffington Post blogger did to Obama in San Francisco. We have to identify ourselves as reporters, we can't record someone without permission (unless they're in a public place with no expectation of privacy, certainly not the case at a private home where invited guests have paid $2300 apiece to be there), and we cannot obtain information under false pretenses. In this age of cell phone videos and around-the-clock webcams, candidates should probably assume anything they say anywhere could be recorded. But still, Obama was speaking candidly with a small, private audience of campaign insiders and supporters. Those words were not for public consumption, and now he is consumed with defending them.

But Obama put himself in this position by being there in the first place. I "covered" his visit to the Bay Area last Sunday. He made four stops - all private, attended by paid donors, who coughed up anywhere from $1000 to $2300 for the privilege to hear him speak. He spent a full day here, and did not meet a single person who didn't pay him first. No voters, no reporters, no real people on the street. No interviews, no news conferences, no public speeches. The media coverage consisted of standing outside, interviewing the rich people who were going inside, and getting long-lens shots of Obama from across the street. And now, the Obama campaign has sent out an appeal for more donations, appealing to supporters who are outraged by the criticism of his remarks to dig deep and help him respond. All the campaigns do that now - they turn every attack or controversy into an opportunity to solicit more money: "Isn't this terrible? Won't you help by sending us $25 today?"

I'm fed up with the big money that drives presidential politics. If Obama, Clinton and McCain want to convince us they're in touch with the common folk, then they should start spending some real time with them. Let's face it, all three of them are elitists. They are very rich, high-achieving Americans. If they weren't, we wouldn't elect them president, would we? Isn't that the point of an election - to choose someone from the top tier to run the country? Do we want Hillary's beer buddy in the Oval Office? Or do we want a highly educated, successful person to run the government? So all three should stop pretending they're down in the gutter with the rest of us (okay, I admit it, I have risen from my humble Midwestern upbringing to become one of the elite, too) and become who they are. Stop pretending you're just like everyone else - and start caring about everyone else instead. FDR didn't try to hide his patrician roots - but he genuinely cared about the common man, and his policies reflected that.

At least Obama was trying to tell the truth in that mansion last week, and in his comments since. If we see him out hunting next week, between church services, with a six-pack in one hand and a shotgun in the other, then the Democrats are in deep trouble come November.

QUICK HITS: Okay, so I'm a little rusty; this rant rambled a bit. But I'm pleased to announce that the RTNDA/Edward R. Murrow Awards have recognized some of our earlier work. KCBS just won four regional Murrows (the Western United States) and one of them is for Best Broadcast Website, for, including Sovern Nation. And another one is for Best Feature, for the first parody song we did in 2007, "Super Cali Tex Illistic Yorkizona Docious," about Super Tuesday. I will proudly call myself an award-winning singer-songwriter now. Thanks to the Not Ready for Drive Time Singers for making it, well, sing. Now we're nominated for the national Murrow awards. Stay tuned.

I think there's definitely a song in Obama's bitter words and Hillary's Bosnia snipers, among other things. I'll work on that and get back to you...