Friday Talking Points [34] -- General Election Preview

As the primary election season sinks slowly in the West (South Dakota and Montana, to be exact), we turn our eyes (finally!) to the general election campaign against John McCain.

Before we move forward, though, allow me to make my penultimate primary pick for Sunday's vote in Puerto Rico: Hillary Clinton wins by fifteen points.

Up until now, we've been playing the politically wonky game of predicting the division of delegates, pledged and super alike. But just because primary season's over doesn't mean there aren't other political insider games to play for the next few months. The biggest of these, for now, is to guess the Vice Presidential pick for McCain and Obama. But once that's over with, everyone's going to start looking at the electoral map in earnest.

USA Today (of all places) has a great page on their site where you can play "call the election." It comes complete with electoral maps back to 1960, for reference (warning: Democrats shouldn't click on 1984 or 1972 unless they're sitting down, preferably with a strong drink handy). It starts you off with what they consider "safe" states already marked (their definition: safe states voted the same way in the last four presidential elections), but you can click "all undecided" to start with a clean slate, if you prefer. The good news: their "safe state" starting point starts at 248 Democratic, 135 Republican.

So I invite you over to play with the numbers, to see how Obama can win in November, even without Ohio and Florida.

 

Both Most Impressive and Most Disappointing awards this week are somewhat belated, as they cover things which actually happened last week. But, with Congress on another of its vacation weeks, the pickings have been slim this week for Democrats in the news.

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week goes to Senator Jim Webb, for his resounding success in getting his "New GI Bill" through the Senate with a veto-proof margin.

Now, he deserves the award for this feat alone, and for the fact that it seems to be a great bill which will better the lives of America's veterans. Both the bill itself, and the 75-22 vote deserve an award on their own merit.

But the real reason he gets the award is for so successfully stealing the Republicans' thunder on one of their key issues: support for the military. This cannot be overstated -- this is exactly what Congressional Democrats need to do in an election year. Not just get good bills passed, but get good bills passed that paint Republicans into a corner where they either have to support an obviously good bill, or they'll have to explain their position to their voters all summer long.

Republicans have made such a blunt instrument of "support the troops!" over the last few years (heck, over the last few decades) that it is a stroke of genius to turn it against them for once. "So, you 'support the troops' but you won't pay for their education? Smells like hypocrisy to me."

For this masterstroke of politics, Jim Webb deserves the (belated) Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Well done, Senator!

[Congratulate Senator Webb on his Senate contact page to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

 

Sigh. Once again, Hillary Clinton wins the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, for using the word "assassination" on the campaign trail.

This was no off-the-cuff remark, she has used it before. The first time it was used by the Clinton campaign was actually back in New Hampshire, in January. Clinton, at that time, wasn't the one to bring it up, it was said by Francine Torge, who was introducing Clinton at a rally. This was in the midst of Clinton pushing hard on the mystifying tactic of pointing out that "L.B.J. got the Civil Rights Act passed, not M.L.K." Here is how the New York Times reported the incident, at the time:

Today, in Dover, Francine Torge, a former John Edwards supporter, said this while introducing Mrs. Clinton: "Some people compare one of the other candidates to John F. Kennedy. But he was assassinated. And Lyndon Baines Johnson was the one who actually" passed the civil rights legislation.

The comment, an apparent reference to Senator Barack Obama, is particularly striking given documented fears among blacks that Mr. Obama will be assassinated if elected.

Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman said: "We were not aware that this person was going to make those comments and disapprove of them completely. They were totally inappropriate."

Mrs. Clinton's expression did not change noticeably when Ms. Torge made the comment.

Hillary Clinton should have listened to Phil's advice, as he made exactly the right response to using the word "assassinate" in any political campaign. Unfortunately, the next line in the article is:

Only a few hours later, she brought up the civil rights legislation herself in remarks to a Fox News correspondent.

So, her campaign officially denounced "those comments" a long time before Clinton actually said "those comments," more than once. They should have trusted their initial instincts, I guess.

I've written before that I think this was Clinton's Waterloo with black voters. She was pushing this point hard, and it had the effect of guaranteeing 80-90% of the black vote to Obama for the rest of the campaign. And this was back in January.

But for bringing it up again last week, Clinton is the obvious choice for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week. She is now a three-time winner (loser?) of this award. For shame, Senator Clinton, for shame.

[Contact Hillary Clinton on her Senate contact page to let her know what you think of her words.]

 

Onward to the Friday Talking Points. Before we begin, though, I'd like to point out an article which gives a peek into just how vile and nasty the Republicans are going to get against Obama. Some small group is preparing to smear Obama as a "communist." Boy, doesn't that take you back? Talk about showcasing John McCain as a bridge to the last century! The article includes such hilarious quotes as "The more I look at this, I'm seeing there are a lot of red-diaper babies around here."

But top prize for most ridiculous quote has got to go to the following:

But the star of the show was the ancient Herbert Romerstein, who once plied his trade for the Un-American Activities committee. "We decided to start going back and seeing what things influenced him even before he was born," Romerstein announced without a trace of irony, before tying Obama to the Communist Party of the 1930s in Hawaii and Soviet spies on the island. "This is the atmosphere that young Barack Obama grew up in."

Wow. I mean... wow. A member of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee? HUAAC? Seriously, what decade are we in here -- the 1950s?

Sheesh. It sounds ridiculous, but then so did the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. So this week, all the talking points will be things Obama should say in front of a television camera at the next available opportunity.

 

Volume 34 (5/30/08)

 

   "Red" states, eh?

Luckily, there's an easy way to point out the silliness of a member of HUAAC calling Obama a pinko.

"The suggestion that things which happened before I was even born somehow make me a communist is absolutely ridiculous. It would be just as ridiculous as me calling the Republican Party communist because they are shown on the map as 'red' states. John McCain and his supporters need a reminder that the Cold War is over, and has been for almost two decades."

 

   Bush / McCain

Judging from the apoplexy this causes among right-wing commentators, they are seriously worried about this becoming how John McCain is "framed" with the American public. You can almost see the veins pop out on Brit Hume's forehead when he strongly argues that McCain doesn't equal Bush, and nobody should think so. When the other side is this angry, it shows that it is touching a nerve. So my advice to Obama is: Keep it up! It's working!

"I've noticed that right-wing media types are denying that John McCain will be exactly like George Bush if he gets into office. But the fact is, it's hard to deny such an obvious statement. Especially when we find out that John McCain voted with Bush one hundred percent of the time last year in the Senate. Doesn't sound much like a 'maverick' to me. In fact, his voting record shows that he would indeed be exactly like George Bush."

 

   Bush's third term

Variations on a theme: "third term." Obama has been doing a great job with this one, too, and it gets under Republicans' skin just as much as mentioning the Bush's name every time Obama mentions McCain. Bush recently did some fundraisers for McCain, and McCain was so embarrassed he almost entirely avoided anyone taking a picture of the two together. But it won't be so easy to duck the "third term" label on the campaign trail.

"John McCain wants to continue George Bush's Iraq war policy. McCain wants to continue Bush's other foreign policies. McCain wants to make Bush's tax policy permanent. McCain agrees with Bush's domestic agenda as well. So if you think the country's doing great and we should continue the direction George W. Bush has been taking us for eight years, then vote for John McCain because he'll give you a third term of Bush policies. If you want a change, then vote for me."

 

   Why doesn't John McCain support our troops?

Barack Obama is already using this to great effect. And, judging by McCain's response, he's not a happy camper. McCain's problem, though, is that he's on the wrong side of this issue, and Republicans are stumbling over themselves to vote for Jim Webb's GI Bill. Bush has said he's going to veto it. Maybe he'll change his mind, and spare McCain the embarrassment of having to vote with Bush while the Senate overturns his veto. Or maybe he'll just skip the vote, the way he did the first time.

"When I say I support the troops, I mean it. When a bill comes before Congress which gives our brave fighting men and women GI benefits which I do not consider 'too expensive' or 'too generous' then I proudly vote for it. If George Bush vetoes it, I will proudly vote to overturn that veto. Why do Bush and John McCain not support our troops? The last time this bill came before the Senate, John McCain wasn't even there for it. He was out fundraising, instead of doing the job he was elected to do. Democrats support our troops by allowing them to go to college after their service. John McCain and George Bush think that's too expensive. I do not. That's the difference between us. When I say I support the troops, it's not a political slogan -- I actually support the troops. John McCain and George Bush should do the same."

 

   McCain -- the gift that keeps on giving

John McCain seems to say something monumentally stupid once a week or so. This is good news for the upcoming campaign, as who knows what idiotic thing he's going to say next?

McCain, after mixing up Sunnis and Shi'ites a while back, just said that things were calm in an Iraqi city that had three car bombings the same day, and that we're back to the pre-"surge" troops levels. His actual quote: "I can tell you that it is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr City are quiet and it's long and it's hard and it's tough and there will be setbacks."

Except that there are currently 155,000 American troops in Iraq, up substantially from the 130,000 there before the "surge." And this is supposed to be McCain's strong point (foreign policy)?

The fun part of these incidents is that McCain does his impression of an erupting volcano when called on it. Can't you just wait for the debates?

An Obama spokesman, Damien LaVera, issued a statement that is so good that I could do no better myself:

"Either John McCain doesn't know the facts on the ground in Iraq or he is continuing the Bush Administration's pattern of intentionally misleading the public. Either way, he is the wrong choice for America's future."

 

   Woo Hillary's voters

This hardly needs saying, but at some point in the next week it is likely that Obama will be the uncontested Democratic nominee (likely, but not guaranteed). And there are some Hillary Clinton supporters who are (dare I say it) bitter about this turn of events. Barack Obama has been magnanimous to Hillary staying in the race, and he should continue this by asking politely for her help on the campaign trail in the fall.

"We've had a long primary race, and looking forward to November, I welcome any help Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton will give me on the campaign trail. Beating John McCain is crucial for this country's future, and I hope to work with the Clintons to try to get every vote we can possibly get to elect a Democrat to the White House again."

 

   Propagandist in chief

Lil' Scotty McClellan sure dropped a bombshell this week, in the form of a tell-all book. All Washington is a-twitter over the McClellan's revelations that all those other books written by former Bush officials were correct. Cheney pulls the strings, Bush can't admit he made a mistake (ever), and the Iraq war was a bill of goods sold to the American public.

I'm not as stunned as some seem to be over this, because, as I said, this isn't the first time a book has come out with exactly the same theme: Bush is in way, way over his head.

But that doesn't mean it's not worth a cheap shot on the campaign trail. Barack can comfortably take the high road on this one:

"I do not see the office of the White House Press Secretary in the same way Bush apparently does -- as 'Propagandist In Chief.' When I am elected, I will restore honor to the White House press podium. I think the American people deserve truth -- and not lies -- from that podium."

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com