Issues


The Washington Post ran a story today about the frequency with which backtracking has become the rule and not the exception this campaign season.

Say what? The 2008 presidential campaign theme could be “Oops! What I meant was …”

Just about every Republican and Democrat has flubbed an answer to a question or made a borderline inappropriate comment _ some so uncomfortable they make you cringe _ only to take back the remarks or seek to clarify them later when under fire.

This month alone, Republican Mitt Romney backtracked from a comment about his sons’ lack of military service. Rival Rudy Giuliani retreated from his suggestion that he spent as much time as Sept. 11 rescue workers at the ground zero site and was exposed to the same health risks. Democrat Bill Richardson stumbled over a question about whether homosexuality was a choice. All sought to skirt controversy by quickly explaining themselves.

It is happening so often, “you’d think it’s deliberate!” quipped G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.

Joking aside, he said: “I don’t think you can go through this grueling ordeal and not find even the most seasoned politician who isn’t susceptible to misspeaking or a malaprop here or there. We’re seeing some genuinely real moments as these candidates are in the pressure cooker.”

Chalk up the glut of apologies and clarifications to changing times.

Candidates of all stripes have become extremely sensitive to the Internet era and painfully aware of video-sharing Web sites such as YouTube that allow images and audio to be posted online immediately.

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Many observers of the 2008 run for the White House view John McCain’s support of the Iraq War as the Senator’s biggest liability and why he could likely lose the Republican presidential nomination. However, in response to criticism that he was one of the war’s biggest supporters, McCain recently told Kiran Chetry, host of CNN’s American Morning, that, 

“…I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three and a half years. I came back from my first trip to Iraq and said, ‘This is going to fail. We’ve got to change the strategy to the one we’re using now.'”

In the early stages of the war, however, McCain painted a fairly different picture on numerous occasions.

He told then Today Show host Katie Couric on March 20, 2003, “But I believe, Katie, that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” Earlier that month on March 7th, he told ABC’s This Week, “I’m confident we’re on the right course. … I am confident that an imperfect democracy is what we’ll get out of Iraq will be vastly superior to what the people of Iraq had prior to this.” Eight months later on October 31, McCain told CBS News, “I think the initial phases of it [the war] were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise.”  On the September 21, 2004, McCain further asserted on MSNBC’s Hardball, “Have mistakes been made? Yes. But the necessity of winning, I believe, is overwhelming. And I think that President Bush is presenting a clear picture of the benefits of success and the consequences of failure.” And on December 8, 2005, McCain told The Hill, “I do think that progress is being made in a lot of Iraq. Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course. If I thought we weren’t making progress, I’d be despondent.”

Senator McCain has claimed for some time that he was initially critical of President Bush. A February 22, 2007 Los Angeles Times article discussed that, “McCain said his criticism started three years ago ‘when I saw that this train wreck was taking place, and that we needed more troops, and we needed a different strategy.'” Click to read the full text of the article. (more…)

John Edwards is the most unabashedly populist candidate (so far…) in the race to November 2008, frequently utilizing class-infused rhetoric in his diagnoses of “two Americas.”

One of Edwards’ loftiest priorities is to eradicate poverty, and ostensibly to that end he founded the now-defunct Center for Promise and Opportunity in 2005.  The group’s rather vague mission statement read:

The Center for Promise and Opportunity (CPO) is dedicated to exploring new ways to expand opportunity and realize the promise of our country for all Americans. CPO’s mission encompasses much more than just proposing ideas — it will lead efforts to build public support for change, and will serve as an incubator for solutions, conducting real-world trials.

CPO has three overarching goals. First, CPO is committed to exploring new ideas to help Americans build a better life. Second, CPO will be an advocate for change, leading efforts to build support for policies and movements that will make America stronger. Third, CPO will work to prove the strength of its ideas, through pilot projects and partnerships.

As The New York Times reports, however, the organization’s day-to-day mission seems to have been sustaining John Edwards’ presidential ambitions.  This inconvenient truth seems to represent a flip-flop from CPO’s supposed purpose, which says nothing about promoting John Edwards.

The organization became a big part of a shadow political apparatus for Mr. Edwards after his defeat as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and before the start of his presidential bid this time around. Its officers were members of his political staff, and it helped pay for his nearly constant travel, including to early primary states.

While Mr. Edwards said the organization’s purpose was “making the eradication of poverty the cause of this generation,” its federal filings say it financed “retreats and seminars” with foreign policy experts on Iraq and national security issues. Unlike the scholarship charity, donations to it were not tax deductible, and, significantly, it did not have to disclose its donors — as political action committees and other political fund-raising vehicles do — and there were no limits on the size of individual donations. […]

Additionally, Edwards has gone a fair bit beyond the usual extent to which politicians funnel cash to their own interests — though it all appears to have been ambiguously legal.

[…] [I]t was his use of a tax-exempt organization to finance his travel and employ people connected to his past and current campaigns that went beyond what most other prospective candidates have done before pursuing national office. And according to experts on nonprofit foundations, Mr. Edwards pushed at the boundaries of how far such organizations can venture into the political realm. Such entities, which are regulated under Section 501C-4 of the tax code, can engage in advocacy but cannot make partisan political activities their primary purpose without risking loss of their tax-exempt status.

Because the organization is not required to disclose its donors — and the campaign declined to do so — it is not clear whether those who gave money to it did so understanding that they were supporting Mr. Edwards’s political viability as much or more than they were giving money to combat poverty.

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At last year’s Take Back America meeting of liberal activists, the New York Times described the reception of Hillary Clinton,

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, faced boos and shouts of ‘bring them home’ from an audience of liberal Democrats here on Tuesday as she argued against setting a deadline, wading into what she called a ‘difficult conversation.’

At last year’s conference she said,

“I don’t think it’s in the best interests of our troops or our country [to withdraw troops from Iraq],”

At this year’s meeting she said,

“I have been saying for some time that we need to bring our combat troops home from Iraq starting right now.”

In a piece by NBC’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, on this morning’s today show, NBC News political analyst Charlie Cook said,

“You can see that Clinton’s position has shifted increasingly against the war and at about the same timetable as public opinion has moved over.”

Mitchell’s piece goes on to discuss the entire Democratic Party’s increasing move to the left over opposition to the war.

To check out Mitchell’s entire story, look for Today Show video “Democrats Swinging Too Far Left?”

An article published yesterday discusses Hillary Clinton’s shifting position on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law signed by her husband, which permits states to ignore same sex marriages or civil unions granted in other states.

“Clinton’s change on DOMA came to light when her advisers released the text of her candidate questionnaire for the Human Rights Campaign.

Her new stance may be an attempt to establish a separate identity from that of Bill Clinton, whose presidency was somewhat of a best-of-times, worst-of-times for LGBT Americans….

DOMA contains two provisions — one that gives states autonomy on marriage and one that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

With the precision of a neurosurgeon, Clinton cut herself free of the second plank of the law while continuing to embrace the first plank, essentially saying that she would let states decide their own destiny on marriage but leave the door open for federal recognition of same-sex unions.

‘Sen. Clinton believes that each state should make its own decisions regarding marriage or civil unions, but once a state legalizes such relationships, these relationships should receive full federal recognition and benefits,’ Ethan Geto, Clinton’s senior national adviser on LGBT issues, wrote in an email to The Advocate.

‘As several states have legalized gay marriage or civil unions, Sen. Clinton has come to believe that the restrictions imposed by DOMA on federal government recognition of same-sex relationships are unfair.’

The position represents a marked departure from her comments to a group of about 40 LGBT leaders in New York in October during her Senate reelection campaign, in which she stood firm on the strategic importance of DOMA in helping to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have constitutionally denied the right of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

‘One of the strongest arguments we had against the constitutional amendment, which kept Democrats and even some Republicans from voting for it, was DOMA — that (the Federal Marriage Amendment) was not necessary; marriage has always been the province of states,’ Clinton said during that meeting.

‘I feel very good about the strategy we took on DOMA,’ she added.

While cynics may roll their eyes at ‘strategy,’ and while many LGBT activists criticized Clinton for not being more supportive during the federal marriage debate, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, has credited her as a strategic force in defeating the amendment in 2006.”

After criticizing Mitt Romney’s abortion flip-flop last week, John McCain has struck again.  A blog entry at the New York Times discusses the McCain campaign’s latest allegations that Mitt Romney flip-flopped on the hot-button issue of public funding for embryonic stem cell research.

On abortion, Romney has clearly switched his position — it’s up to the individual voter to decide if he flip-flopped or if he changed his mind for non-political reasons.  But do these stem cell charges hold water?

The McCain campaign’s charge relies on this video of a March 2005 press conference:

Then-Governor Romney repeatedly states that he supports stem cell research within “ethical boundaries” and that (in Massachusetts at least) it should be researched as part of a broader approach:

ROMNEY: I’m looking forward to seeing what bill comes forward, I believe that stem cell research is important for our state and for our nation, and I also believe that there should be ethical lines drawn around the appropriate research, but stem cell research is important, and I’ll support it, and I’m gonna continue to encourage ethical lines to be drawn in a way that respects human life.

Asked whether both public and private funding should go to stem cell research, Romney responded with a focus on economics rather than the usual social politics:

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Reality Check recently posted an entry regarding some of the inconsistencies in Rudy Giuliani’s security record and his rhetoric out on the campaign trail.  Flip-Flops are not limited merely to shifts in rhetoric, after all, but can also emerge when candidates’ past actions do not match their campaign positions.  Since 9/11 looms so large in Giuliani’s campaign, scrutiny of his record is bound to intensify as the primaries approach.

Over the weekend the New York Times published an article that highlights the dispute of at least some firefighters with Giuliani’s rhetoric regarding national security and emergency response.

Their images are permanently etched in photographs after the fall of the World Trade Center towers, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and firefighters cloaked in the same gray dust. For months afterward, they stood together at funerals. Mr. Giuliani, in his eulogy, always asked for a round of applause to celebrate the dead firefighter’s life.

It would be easy to assume, then, that Mr. Giuliani can count on the support of the 11,000 men and women of the New York City Fire Department as he runs for president. But that would not be entirely true.

Interviews with more than 50 firefighters and department officers show a mix of admiration and disdain for the former mayor. Many firefighters praise his years in office, citing his success in reducing crime and his leadership after the terrorist attacks. Others harbor a deep resentment for what they describe as his poor treatment of the department before and after Sept. 11.

Some still speak bitterly about a contract that left firefighters without a raise for two years. Some also say Mr. Giuliani has exaggerated the role he played after the terrorist attacks, casting himself as a hero for political gain. The harshest sentiments stem from Mr. Giuliani’s decision nearly two months after 9/11 to reduce the number of firefighters who were allowed to search for colleagues in the rubble — a move that he partially reversed but that still infuriates many firefighters. […]

“I think they assume that we all love him,” said Robert Keys, 48, a battalion chief and 25-year department veteran, referring to people outside New York. “He wound up with this ‘America’s Mayor’ image. Those of us who had to deal with him before and after 9/11 don’t share that same sentiment.” […]

On the campaign trail, Mr. Giuliani frequently invokes the Sept. 11 heroism of “my firefighters,” as he often calls them, as emblematic of American patriotism and resolve. But some firefighters have begun organizing efforts to dispel the notion that they are in his corner.

The International Association of Fire Fighters, an umbrella union based in Washington, spoke out against Mr. Giuliani in March. The group is also preparing a short DVD outlining its grievances that it plans to send to fire departments across the country. Meanwhile, a small group of Sept. 11 family members and firefighters has been protesting outside many of Mr. Giuliani’s campaign appearances.

One of those protesters, Deputy Chief Jim Riches, who lost his firefighter son that day, said Mr. Giuliani did nothing on Sept. 11 to warrant hero status. “He’s making a million dollars a month with his speeches,” said Chief Riches, 55. “It’s blood money.”

Though no one actually uses the word “flip-flop,” these groups and protestors are essentially claiming that the Giuliani campaign’s solidarity with and support from firefighters is overstated — that his rhetoric does not match his record.  It seems comparable to when some black commentators emphasize that Barack Obama is not “the blacks’ candidate” but rather a black candidate that some blacks support.  In this case, though, 9/11 ratchets up the intensity of the feelings involved.

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