Archive for the ‘vice president’ Tag

Palin a drag on McCain, going rogue & planning for 2012

This blog’s criticisms of Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate are well-known to its readers,so I won’t swell the record here with those points again.  For them, see here, here, and here.  Suffice it to say, her selection by McCain played a role in the decisions of a number of conservatives who have endorsed Obama, myself included—and add Reagan advisor Ken Adelman to the list too—along with decisions by many other solid Republicans who won’t be supporting the GOP ticket, including my Congressman and Colin Powell.  Her addition to the ticket was pretty clearly a cynically executed political maneuver by John McCain, not one that put country first.

"Wait, what do you mean when you say that you're 'looking out for #1'?  Do you mean me...or yourself?"

McCain: "Wait, what do you mean when you say that you're 'looking out for #1'? Do you mean me...or yourself?"

Now he appears to be paying the price for the decision.  A recent poll shows that voter’s biggest concern with the Republican ticket is Palin’s perceived lack of qualifications.  Another poll indicates that 59% of voters think that she is not qualified to be Vice President.  If accurate, then at most 41% of Americans think that she is qualified (it’s probably lower due to respondants who gave no opinion).  That indicates to me that probably almost everyone who’s not voting for McCain finds her unqualified.

Now, with McCain’s slim chances of pulling off a victory declining each day, one of his campaign aides has said that Palin is “going rogue.”  She has been critisizing McCain’s campaign, saying they should have kept competing in Michigan and should stop using “irritating” robocalls to reach voters, even as the campaign was defending their use.  A second campaign insider said that Palin seemed to be looking out for her own interests more than those of the campaign.

She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone. … She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.

Possibly the words of displaced insiders on a campaign that’s behind big with just days to go.  There is a history of tension between the #1 and #2 people on a ticket and their respective staffs.

Hopefully, Palin will still be seeing plenty of this flag after January 20th, and not just because it's a pretty good one

Hopefully, Palin will still be seeing plenty of this flag after January 20th, and not just because it's a pretty good one.

But these are also possibly real insights from people who are positioned to know what’s going on behind the scenes.  Palin does appear to be positioning herself for a run in 2012 “if” she and McCain don’t win on Tuesday; when asked if she’d just return to Alaska if Obama wins she said “Absolutely not. I think that if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we’ve taken … I’m not doing this for naught.”  She has also publicly broken with McCain over a federal marriage amendment, something that McCain opposes (he wants states to decide) but that Palin’s most likely constituency, social conservatives, absolutely love.  These are not things that garner the type of attention that a guy needing a huge upset, come-from-behind victory needs to have in the week before the election.

She is clearly now a liability, not the asset she seemed to be in the days after her selection.  A number of sources are now speculating about what might have been if McCain had selected another running mate.  The guy that I would have liked to see, Tom Ridge, recently said in an interview that “I think the dynamics would be different in Pennsylvania [if I were the Vice Presidential nominee]. … I think we’d be foolish not to admit it publicly.”  Ridge, the campaign’s national co-chairman, admitted that McCain “had several good choices and I was one of them.”  (He later backpedaled saying he was “taken out of context” and that “Governor Palin will make a great Vice President” and, oh yeah, they’re going to win Pennsylvania too.)

Ridge was a popular Governor of Pennsylvania and has at least twenty times as much experience as Palin, most of it “executive experience.”  McCain would be extremely competetive in Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes) right now if he’d picked Ridge, and would probably be ahead in Florida (27 votes) and Ohio (20 votes) as well. The biggest reason that he wasn’t picked is that social conservatives in the party would probably have objected to someone who is pro-choice being on the ticket.

I hereby propose an amnesty for any and all conservatives and Republicans who have previously endorsed or supported Sarah Palin’s selection as the GOP vice presidential nominee.  Simply admit that she is, after further consideration, not the best possible pick and that you wish that McCain had selected someone else.  Do this by midnight Monday and no questions will be asked.  This doesn’t even require you to vote against McCain, just admit that Palin is not helping the ticket and shouldn’t have been selected.  You can do so in a reply to this post if you’d like.  And, whoever wins on Tuesday, let’s try to pull back together to keep our party from getting screwed up for next time, okay?

My thoughts on Biden-Palin debate

The Vice Presidential Seal.  Who will get to use it post January 20th, Biden or Palin?

The Vice Presidential Seal. Who will get to use it starting on January 20th, Biden or Palin?

Like many Americans, I was very eager to see Joe Biden and Sarah Palin go head-to-head in the first and only Vice Presidential debate. Though the two are the Number Twos on their respective tickets, I have found the veep debate has been very much worth watching in both of the past two election cycles (I thought Cheney scored clear victories in both 2000 and 2004).

This time, to use a boxing analogy, there clearly wasn’t a knockout, nor even a knockdown; but I think that there were several solid blows landed, all of them by Biden, who I’d say won on points. He didn’t commit any gaffes, nor did Palin say anything really dumb. Without repeating things that the pundits have already gone over to death, here are some disparate observations of mine that haven’t been talked about (much) in the media. Please forgive the meandering format.

The first thing that struck me during the debate came when the candidates came out and shook hands. Palin asked her Democratic counterpart “Can I call you Joe?”, a request to which he apparently assented, though his mike didn’t pick up his response. I guarantee you that this was carefully planned and done for the audience at home, to play up the governor’s friendliness and make her seem down to earth. Do I have evidence? Yes: the transcript. The word “Joe” crossed Palin’s lips exactly two (2) times: once a reference to the average American “Joe Six Pack” and the other at the end of “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” which was probably her best line of the night.

Palin tried to paint Obama as a big tax hiker, a claim that I think Biden countered effectively, stressing that 95% of taxpayers will get a tax cut and that no taxpayer making under $250,000 would see an increase under Obama’s plan. He stressed the importance of helping the middle class and their importance to our economy and painted McCain’s tax plan as simply tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. He repeated the point—effectively, I think—and parried the Palin attempt to paint the Democratic ticket as big tax hikers. His line that McCain’s health plan is “the ultimate bridge to nowhere” was pretty lifeless, though I guess he had to get that in there somehow to remind voters of Palin’s flip-flop on the bridge.

I think that Biden also effectively defended his ticket from the charges that they want to cut-and-run from Iraq or, as Palin put it, hoist “the white flag of surrender.” Delaware’s sernior senator pointed out that Obama’s plan for withdrawing from Iraq is pretty much the same as that of its Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and will draw down U.S. troops over about a year and a half. Biden’s best line of the night came after Palin talked about McCain’s exit strategy, or, as Biden put it, the lack thereof: “With all due respect, I didn’t hear a plan.” Personally, I think the plan is just to keep repeating the words “victory,” “Iraq,” and “McCain” together in the same sentence a whole bunch of times until voters simply feel that McCain will win the war while Obama will surrender somehow.

Throughout the night, Biden tried to tie McCain’s positions to those of George W. Bush, on both domestic issues and foreign policy and; he wanted to show that there was no difference between them the nominee and the, very unpopular, incumbent. One effective moment for Biden was when he brought up each of the globe’s current hot spots seriatim and asked how McCain’s views differ from Bush’s, with the clear implication that they don’t. [Note: FireFox’s spell checker doesn’t recognize “seriatim” as a word.]

Additionally, I was surprised to learn that we spend as much every three weeks on combat operations in Iraq as we have in the past 7.5 years in rebuilding Afghanistan. If this is true, that’s almost a good sign: it won’t cost that much to significantly increase our efforts to get that poor country on it’s feet. C’mon, guys, cough up the dough.

Did you know that the Vice President of the United States has his (or her) own flag?  Too bad it's nothing special.

Did you know that the Vice President of the United States has his (or her) own flag? Too bad it's nothing special.

On climate change, an area where there is some disagreement between McCain and his running mate, Palin admitted that it’s real and that there’s “something to be said for man’s activity” in causing it, but she didn’t want to argue about the causes, just the solutions. Biden voiced what I was thinking at that point: without knowing the causes you can’t solve the problem! He pointed out that McCain has voted against alternative energy frequently and tried to make Obama look friendlier to renewables, though I don’t think he was as effective on the point as he could have been. “Drill we must,” he said, but it’ll take 10 years for that oil to hit the markets. Unfortunately, Obama’s plans—and any plans—for new technology will also probably have a time horizon of about a decade.

Joe Biden went toe-to-toe with Palin over how their family lives put them in touch with regular Americans, a possible strength for the truly and obviously middle class Governor of Alaska. Biden got genuinely choked up when talking about the death of his first wife and young daughter in a car accident that also critically injured his two sons. For a guy who has spent over a third of a century in the United States Senate, he doesn’t do too bad on the “seems like a normal guy” test.

Anyway, Palin beat expectations in the debate, but I don’t think by enough to make any real difference; vice presidential debates rarely do. To the surprise of no one, Biden’s answers on foreign policy were much more nuanced and contained more specifics and details. I didn’t get the impression that Palin’s on foreign policy questions had any depth to them, though she seems to have done a good job of studying her briefing books. I think she’s fortunate that the debate format didn’t allow for questions from the other candidate or for serious follow up questions from the moderator, either of which I think would have exposed her shallow grasp of the various issues.

She came off as being on message and my assesment of her political skills has accordingly gone up; she avoided a possible disaster and a bad performance from her in this debate could have been a mortal blow to McCain’s chances. But I still don’t think that Sarah Palin will make a good vice president at this point in time—she should have been groomed for higher office longer before being thrust onto the national stage. One thing they definitely should have worked on is her pronunciation of nuclear; she says noo-cu-lar, like George W. Bush does. That’s not a good sign.

The political futures markets have given a good sign to Barack Obama and his supporters, however. Following the debate, Intrade contracts on an Obama victory have risen to 67.0 and those for a McCain victory have fallen to 33.0, movement of about 4 points or so up and down, respectively. The chances that Palin will be withdrawn as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee fell in post-debate trading from 10.5% to just 4.1%. The chances that Biden will be withdrawn from his ticket only fell from 5.7% to 4.9%.

Anyway, the race goes on. The next presidential debate, which will be town hall format, will be held Tuesday night starting at 9:00 pm EST. The election itself will be held one month from today, on November 4th.

Veep debate moderator may not be impartial

With the first and only Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin just over 24 hours away there is now concern about the neutrality of the moderator, PBS journalist Gwen Ifill.  The McCain campaign is saying that they think she’ll do a good job; nonetheless they’re calling into question her impartiality, largely over her upcoming book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, which is scheduled to be released January 20, 2009—Inauguaration Day.

Doubleday, the publisher says the book “surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.”  In addition to Obama, the book also deals with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Ifill says she has yet to even write the chapter on Obama and that her reputation as a journalist indicates that she can and will be impartial during the debate.

Some conservatives are playing this up.  In an article for National Review Online columnist Michelle Malkin says that “She’s so far in the tank for the Democratic presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out.”  Ouch.

Dick Morris, on Bill O’Reilly’s program pointed out another possible conflict of interest that I hadn’t considered.  Morris says that her book will sell much better if Obama wins the election than if he doesn’t and that she stands to make $300,000 or more in additional royalties if the ticket that Palin is on loses. 

I recall that Ifill did a very good job moderating the Cheney-Edwards vice presidential debate in 2004 and I think she is a professional journalist who shouldn’t intentionally make any decisions that would favor Biden unfairly; good reporters are used to keeping their personal views out of their work.  However, there could still be unconscious bias, which woul be just as bad.  And even if there is no bias, the perception that there could be would be bad.  Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.

Given the circumstances, Ifill probably should have recused herself, and probably shouldn’t have been asked to host the debate to begin with once it was known that Obama was the nominee.  But McCain could have vetoed her selection; it wouldn’t have been a big deal and could have been done politely and in a low key manner.  So why didn’t he?  One possibility is that his campaign wants the story after the debate to be on the media and how unfair they are to Palin and stacked the deck against her.  That this issue over Ifill is coming up the day before the debate, when it is impractical to get a new moderator or reschedule, lends credence to this possibility.

Expectations are that Biden should win, given his much greater experience and knowledge.  I think that much of the talk on this issue is being orchestrated to further lower expectations for Palin, making it easier for her to exceed them.  We’ll have to see how it goes.  The debate begins at 9:00 pm EST Thursday.

Sarah Palin, the press, and proximity to Russia

The 0.22% of Americans who live in Alaska are (probably) all closer to this than you are. Are they all more qualified to be Vice President?

The 0.22% of Americans who live in Alaska are (probably) all closer to this than you are. Are they all more qualified to be Vice President?

The Obama campaign reports that Joe Biden has given approximately 89 local and national interviews since his selection as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. Sarah Palin has given just three meaningful interviews. Apparently to quiet media criticism about this secrecy, today she met with a few of the media who travel with her—after informing them just 20 minutes in advance; she took just four (4) questions in that brief session (read transcript).

Howard Kurtz, a Washington Post and CNN media critic, said “I have never seen a presidential or vice presidential nominee, in my lifetime, be so inaccessible to the national media.” The protection from the press that she’s getting is incredible, as I blogged yesterday. But it’s easy to see why this is: she’s not doing very well in real interviews with well-prepared journalists and needs to be shielded from them. Sarah Palin is not ready for prime time, let alone the Vice Presidency of the United States of America.

I thought that Palin had given up on claiming that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience, but when Katie Couric brought it up in an interview Palin didn’t back down (see video, read transcript). Couric asked what Palin meant when she cited the nearness of Russia as part of her foreign policy experience.

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.

COURIC: Mocked?

PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.

COURIC: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of.

Though she couldn’t give any specifics concerning how she’s interacted with Russia (saying something vague about trade missions was the closest she came) Palin still claims that living near a foreign country is somehow a qualification to be the second highest ranking person in our government. Yes, governors do interact with other countries; but Palin needs to build her case on the specifics of those interactions, not by pointing to a map and saying “see how close we are?”

The nominee didn’t do much better on the economic questions that Couric asked. I don’t get the sense that there is a real deep understanding of the issues under Palin’s answers; she sounds like she’s just regurgitating the talking points. Here’s a short clip:

I feel sorry for Joe Biden. How do you prepare to debate someone like this without looking patronizing or like a bully? Especially given that she’s a woman and he’s quite prone to gaffes, as I blogged previously.

On viewing those interview clips, one Slate blogger said “She cannot possibly be this uninformed. You absolutely have to see these for yourself to believe them. These are self-mocking; they could be SNL appearances. Tina Fey couldn’t possibly improve on this. This is why they’ve been keeping her under wraps.” Yep.

Joe Biden is still Mr. Gaffe

If elected Vice President, this guy will still be gaffe prone

If elected Vice President, this guy will still be gaffe prone

Delaware’s senior U.S. Senator Joe Biden has been for years well known for being prone to embarrassing gaffes and this has not changed since Barack Obama selected him to be the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.  Now he has an even bigger stage on which to misspeak.

In the past few days he said that President Franklin Roosevelt went on television after the stock market crash of 1929. But Roosevelt was not president in 1929, and it’d be years before any presidential address was televised.  He’s also made misstatements about the political positions that Barack Obama has taken, saying that the Illinois Senator opposes clean coal technology, but he does.  He’s also criticized an ad that the Obama campaign has aired and said that Hillary Clinton would have been a better Veep choice.

Everyone misspeaks, and politicians talk on the record a lot more than most of us.  But Biden is definitely more prone to it than most; if elected, he’d probably produce more humorous quotes than any Vice President since Dan Quayle.  No doubt much of it will end up on YouTube, like this clip:

Chuck Graham, a Missouri State Senator, is paralyzed from the waste down and confined to a wheelchair; he is incapable of “standing up.”

Many of his other gaffes, going back decades, are also well-known, such as his characterization of Barack Obama as “a clean guy” during the primaries.  However, these misstatements don’t appear to be hurting the Obama-Biden ticket, or even getting that much media attention–compared to how they’d be covered if Sarah Palin had made them.  Slate.com has an interesting take: he makes so many gaffes that they aren’t notable anymore.  writes:

Biden’s blunder couldn’t matter less. Not because gaffes never matter—they can, if they play into public perceptions of the candidate’s character—but because Joe Biden is gaffe-proof. Whatever traps he sets for himself, however many minorities he offends, he always seems to wriggle out. It’s almost as if, by committing so many gaffes, he has become immune to their effects. “Joe Biden Makes Gaffe” is the new “Dog Bites Man.”

In some ways, the one Vice Presidential debate may be more interesting than either of the three Presidential debates.  Not just because we’ll all be watching to see if Biden makes another gaffe, but to see if Palin can hold her own.  Maybe we’ll get another “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Palin protected from the probing presence of the press

If this woman can't handle questions from the American press corps, do we really want her meeting with foreign leaders when it counts?

She can give a speech, but if this woman can't take questions from the American press corps, do we really want her meeting with hostile foreign leaders when it counts?

Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin visited with foreign heads of state yesterday and today, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and Pakistan’s newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari. Palin has accumulated little to no foreign policy experience so far in her political career and didn’t travel outside of North America until last year. This is her first opportunity to meet with foreign leaders.

The meetings are designed in part as a photo op, to show her meeting world leaders and thus enhance her foreign policy credentials in the eyes of voters. It is also to continue her crash course in foreign affairs ahead of the upcoming Vice Presidential debate with Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. To this end she also met with former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissenger.

The meetings have all been tightly choreographed and carefully controlled. Palin has taken no questions from the media. Initially, John McCain’s campaign wanted to exclude reporters even from the photo ops, in case they might overhear something worth reporting or maybe ask a question. However, the five major TV networks threatened to boycott the meetings and not broadcast the pictures and video if no reporter could be present. The McCain campaign relented; a journalist was allowed to be there, but not to ask any questions.

Today, the foreign policy crash course continued with Palin and McCain scheduled to meet with the Presidents of Urkarine and Georgia, Viktor Yushchenko and Mikheil Saakashvili, respectively.  They were also to speak with U2 singer Bono and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Previously, Palin had cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as evidence of her international exposure and her foreign travel has been so scant that her campaign initially counted a touchdown in Ireland as a visit.  She has backed away from both claims.

Today, First Lady Laura Bush, while openly acknowledging Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience, characterized her as a “quick study.”  We’d better hope so.

Evolution of the vice presidency and Cheney’s claims

This man claims he's not a member of the executive branch of government

This man claims he is not a member of the executive branch of government.

Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney has claimed that he is not, in fact, part of the executive branch of government. The claim was part of his bid to be able to destroy large amounts of records produced by his office and to avoid handing those over to the National Archives under the Presidential Records Act. Apparently, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington told Congress that the vice president belongs to neither the executive nor legislative branch of government, but rather is attached by the Constitution to Congress, by virtue of being President of the Senate.

In modern times, Vice Presidents have only very rarely presided over the Senate, as the position carries almost no power; virtually all the presiding officer of the Senate does is recognize people to speak. Veeps pretty much only appear when a vote that is important to the president is expected to be very close so that they can be ready to cast a tie-breaking vote, the only power of the office specifically enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.

Modern vice presidents have little to do with the legislative branch, beyond lobbying members behind the scenes, but they are immersed in the operations of the executive branch. This represents a considerable evolution of the office. America’s first Vice President, John Adams, presided over the Senate most of the time it was in session; he angered Senators by becoming involved in actual debate and trying to steer the affairs of the chamber. George Washington’s administration did not allow Adams to attend cabinet meetings, on the theory that he was a member of the legislative branch and that his presence would violate the separation of powers. Most would be surprised to learn that the first vice president to attend cabinet meetings was Thomas Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921).

Modern vice presidents do attend, and in the absence of the president preside over, cabinet meetings and meetings of the National Security Council; they perform numerous ceremonial duties, like attending funerals, presenting awards, and giving speeches; and they largely serve as point man for the president, so their actual responsibilities and influence can vary greatly with their relationship to the top guy. Cheney has been a particularly active number two, as was Al Gore before him (they’re probably the two most active and consequential vice presidents in history, excluding those that were elevated to the presidency). By statute, the vice president also serves ex officio as one of 17 members of the Smithsonian Institution’s board of regents, one of very few legally required duties.

Back when the office was rather unimportant, vice presidents mostly seem to have spent their time commenting on how pointless the office was. John Adams, for instance, declared it to be “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” John Nance Garner, the first of Franklin Roosevelt’s three vice presidents, said the office was “not worth a bucket of warm piss” (often bowdlerized to “a bucket of warm spit”). The aforementioned Thomas Marshall claimed that most of the “nameless, unremembered” jobs assigned to him had been concocted essentially to keep vice presidents from doing any harm to their administrations.

Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States since 1974

Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States since 1974

There is an interesting anecdote that I can’t help sharing about Calvin Coolidge’s time in the office, back when the office did not have an official residence. Coolidge was living at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. when it was evacuated in the middle of the night due to a small fire. He got tired of waiting outside and attempted to go back in; a fireman tried to stop him, but then decided to let Coolidge proceed when he identified himself as the Vice President. However, before he could actually enter the hotel, the fireman stopped him again and asked, “What are you the Vice President of?” Upon learning that he was the Vice President of the United States, he sent Coolidge outside again to wait with the rest of the huddled masses. “I thought you were the vice president of the hotel,” the fireman explained.

Since 1974, the Vice President has been entitled to live in a large Victorian house on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Vice President Gerald Ford became President before he could use the home, and Nelson Rockefeller, primarily used the home for entertaining since he already had a residence in Washington. Walter Mondale was the first Vice President to actually move into the home and every Vice President since has lived in the house.

Anyway, I think it makes the most sense to view the vice president as both a member of the executive branch and a member of the legislative branch, but all of his papers and documents produced pursuant to his role and duties within the executive branch, which constitutes the vast bulk of Cheney’s duties, would definitely fall under the Presidential Records Act; it might be permissible to withhold documents produced in his capacity as President of the Senate. Of course, given Cheney’s extreme predilection for secrecy, this would probably lead to much more litigation. Congress could perhaps settle the matter more quickly by legislating on the matter, specifically extending the act to cover all or most of the Vice Presidents papers.