Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ugliness of 2008 could doom hopes in four years

John McCain, you could argue, had no choice. He saw he was on pace to lose this election, his last shot at the presidency. He wants to win, so he apparently thought he had to resort to unsavory tactics.

He has nothing to lose. His reputation will be fine; no matter what happens, he will be welcome on every Sunday morning talk show as long as he wants to show up. Why not pull out all the stops?

Sarah Palin, though, is in a different position. She’s young enough, and already popular enough, to be part of the national political scene for the next 25 years. It might behoove her, regardless of November’s result, not to provoke more than half the country into a rage at the sight of her.
Maybe she just can’t help it.

As it stands, McCain is in serious trouble. Barack Obama has solid leads in every state John Kerry won four years ago, in addition to a pair of Al Gore states, Iowa and New Mexico. That means, barring catastrophe elsewhere, McCain has to run the table on the following states — Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri and Colorado. Every one of them shows either an Obama lead or looks to be a toss-up. If Obama takes even one of them, he wins the election.

That doesn’t mean McCain and Palin should give up. But there are limits.

McCain’s ads have long pushed the boundary of truth, but he broke new ground last month with a spot that claimed Barack Obama supported "comprehensive sex education" for kindergartners. It was actually a bill in support of teaching children to be alert for inappropriate advances from adults — the kind of thing they teach in the Cub Scouts.

Palin, as vice presidential candidates are wont to do, is leading the attacks, calling Obama "someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country."

It’s a reference to a ’60s radical who has sporadically crossed paths with Obama over the years. By this logic, half the city of Chicago has been "palling around with terrorists," but never mind. Guilt by association is all that matters here.

She’s reveling in the ugliest corner of her party’s support. Rallies over the past week have featured backers yelling racial epithets, calling Obama a terrorist and worse. She has shown not the slightest indication any of this was a problem for her. (Nor, it should be noted, has a certain Connecticut senator on stage with her at a few of these events.)

Palin was in a position to be, in the event of a McCain loss, the leading contender for the 2012 Republican nomination. But she’s turned off so many voters in the last month that her party may decide she’s too toxic to take a chance on. They don’t nominate rabid partisans; George W. Bush ran from the Republican brand as a "compassionate consevative" — he wasn’t one, but he pretended to be — and McCain has based his entire candidacy on a willingness to go his own way.

What seems likely is that Palin, her relative youth aside, knows that this, too, is her best and only shot at bigger things. The more people find out about her, the less popular she gets. Her favorability rating dropped from plus-20 a month ago to around minus-10 today.

Her routine has already run its course, and there are signs of trouble in her home state of Alaska. The local media is not amused by the goings-on of the past few months, in which every inquiry into happenings at the state capital has been routed through the McCain campaign. And she has a serious abuse-of-power investigation hanging over her head.

After her speech at the Republican convention, it looked like we’d be hearing her name for decades to come. Instead, in three weeks, Sarah Palin may already be a footnote.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. He can be reached at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Monday, October 6, 2008

When crossing the aisle is all that matters

Last week’s defeat of the Wall Street bailout package in Congress should have made political writers faint with joy. It was just so bipartisan!

Among Democrats, it was 140 yes and 95 no; for Republicans, 65 supported and 133 opposed. That’s about as far from a party-line vote on a contentious issue as you’ll ever find these days.
Isn’t that what we’re supposed to support? Reaching across the aisle, putting country over party?

Sure. Be bipartisan, be pragmatic. But we’ve somehow reached a point where bipartisanship is praised for its own sake — as if working with the other party is a de facto "good thing," regardless of the merits of the issue. Whether a proposal is sound or not, no one wants to seem too partisan.

That’s the Joe Lieberman school of politics, anyway, and it’s infected the entire country — bipartisanship for its own sake as the ultimate goal.

It’s worth remembering, though, where that can lead. The worst performances by congressional Democrats in the last decade are all linked to a desperate attempt to achieve bipartisan agreement on what could only be called bad ideas. And the best move by Democrats in the Bush years was also their most partisan moment.

The danger of reflexive bipartisanship is this: The party in power can make a proposal, and even if it doesn’t pass the laugh test, members of the opposite party feel compelled to meet halfway. It’s the story of the Iraq war.

George Bush said, in effect, We’re going to invade Iraq, and neither Congress nor anyone else is going to tell me otherwise. Congressional Democrats could have demanded a good reason to start a war. They could have insisted on seeing legitimate proof of a threat (which didn’t exist, but that’s another story). Instead, they opted to be "reasonable."

They persuaded the president to go to the United Nations, and made him promise to seek congressional approval before invading. He did both, and then did what he was going to do in the first place. He ordered, for no discernible reason, the invasion of a country that didn’t threaten us.

Immediately after 9/11, it was understandable that Democrats didn’t want to appear obstructionist. It’s why there was never a chance the Patriot Act wouldn’t pass — in that atmosphere, no one could risk looking political. But they could have developed some spine before giving approval to start a war — one that, it must be repeated, continues to this day.

At least Democrats learned a lesson. After his re-election, Bush embarked on the conservative dream of dismantling Social Security (incidentally, is anyone not happy today we didn’t agree to put all that money in the stock market?). He failed, mostly because it was a bad idea and people hated it. But, just as crucially, the opposition party did its job.

Even with a majority, Republicans knew they couldn’t push through their plan without bipartisan cover. In their earlier incarnation, Democrats would have hedged, met them halfway, sought out a compromise. To their credit, they didn’t. They stood together, cast aside false bipartisanship and helped defeat what would have been the domestic equivalent of Iraq.

Remember that the next time the centrists of the world, or the Fourth District, promote their history of bipartisanship. So what? If a resolution in support of clubbing baby seals emerges with bipartisan support, that doesn’t make it a good idea.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. He can be reached at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at