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February 23, 2007

Vilsack Bows Out

    Word is that former Governor Tom Vilsack is withdrawing from the presidential race. He is the third Democrat to bow to reality – Mark Warner and Evan Bayh abandoned their bids before they ever got off the ground – and he is unlikely to be the last on either side of the aisle. People forget that in the 2000 campaign, several candidates who were thought to be possible heavyweights – Liddy Dole and Dan Quayle among them – abandoned their early efforts.
    Vilsack was trailing badly in early polls even in his home state of Iowa, which he had to win to remain viable.  So discretion here is the better part of valor. It will be close to impossible for any candidate other than Edwards, Clinton, or Obama to win the nomination – unless Al Gore changes his mind and decides to run.

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February 23, 2007

Ads Classified: Romney Kicks Off the Ad Campaign

    In a campaign that has started earlier than ever, it’s no surprise that the ad campaign has begun earlier as well. Still, Mitt Romney’s ad in Iowa and New Hampshire (as well as a few other markets) this week – available here -- is a bit of a surprise. Since no voter in his right mind is paying attention to the race yet and in Iowa only caucus attendees vote anyway (a very small slice of the TV audience), one has to assume that these ads are really aimed at the media and party pros, in an attempt to convince them of the early viability of Romney’s candidacy.
    Yet why run them now? Romney is doing OK, having established himself firmly in third place in the GOP race; no one would expect him at this point to be anywhere near Giuliani and McCain in the polls. In fact, running ads so soon reveals an early hint of desperation that really isn’t appropriate in a campaign that needs to get used to some early adversity.
    More important, the ads aren’t terribly memorable. If Romney’s numbers go up early in NH and Iowa on the basis of these spots, it’s a good argument for picking some other states to do the early screening.
    True, he does look good and presidential (though if you can’t even look presidential in your own ads, you’re a certain goner).  But all he basically mouths is a litany of tired clichés about lower taxes, leaner government, unelected judges, etc. etc. 
    “Strong. New. Leadership,” states the ad with its slogan. Strong? Maybe. Leadership? That remains to be seen. But new? Not really. Against Giuliani and McCain -- two real heavyweights -- efforts like this aren’t going to cut it.

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February 22, 2007

Tote Board Column -- 2/22 -- More Rules for Presidential Candidates

    This week's Tote Board discusses three more rules that govern presidential politics at //  Incidentally, the rule about the advantages of having run before was well-illustrated yesterday at the Democratic forum held in Carson City, Nevada. The field is a strong one but John Edwards outshone his rivals. He's clearly a far better candidate than he was four years ago -- which, of course, is no surprise. Experience counts, as Richard Nixon once argued.

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February 20, 2007

World Gone Wrong (Or at least the Democratic Congress)

    For the last week, the political press hasn’t stopped discussing the merits of Congress’s non-binding resolution to oppose the Administration’s plans to send additional troops to Iraq.
    Yet the truth is that no matter what one’s opinion is about the direction of American foreign policy, the resolution was a disgrace.
    That’s because the resolution was, of course, non-binding. If I personally protest the war as an ordinary citizen, my opposition is, of course, non-binding. But Congress is the one institution with the power to take binding action. Why, on earth, is it wasting its time passing non-binding resolutions? What’s next, a non-binding tax cut? (Don’t laugh – it’s already happened.)   
    It’s all of a piece with the direction in which Congress has been heading for decades. Years ago, in his seminal book, “The Image,” Daniel Boorstin wrote about the rise of “pseudo-events” in the American media and political cultures, in which the illusion of results becomes far more important than the results themselves.
    Congress may well be the worst culprit among the three branches. From legislative hearings that don't really look at legislation to crime bills that almost everyone privately admits will do next to nothing to reduce crime, the appearance and the drama of the action overshadow the importance of the action itself. The press gets all excited analyzing these pseudo-events on the Sunday talk shows and in the blogs, magnifying their “importance.”  Pseudo-events, Boorstin said, are usually more interesting than real actions (a resolution opposing the war!!) and they therefore seem more compelling and often more real.
    He wrote, “Once we have tasted the charm of pseudo-events, we are tempted to believe they are the only important events . . .. And the poison tastes so sweet that it spoils our appetite for plain fact. Our seeming ability to satisfy our exaggerated expectations makes us forget that they are exaggerated.”
    Thus, what Congress did a week ago was worse than meaningless. It was harmful to any antiwar effort because it gave the false impression that it was meaningful. Congress has the power to end the war. The fact that a new Democratic majority would devote its energies to the passage of a pointless resolution shows that, unfortunately, no matter which party is in control, it’s business as usual on Capitol Hill.

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February 14, 2007

New in the Phoenix -- Tote Board Column 2/15 -- "Let the Horse Race Begin"

The first Tote Board is in the Phoenix at //

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