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Where is Joe Sestak?

One of the most important things in Public Relations is that you stay out in front of problems. Make sure that you’re the first one to define your brand, the competition’s brand and the debate. When trouble strikes, make sure you’re the one who is out there first explaining things. In general, make sure YOU’RE the one who creates the first impression in the minds of consumers, because it makes it much easier to keep customers on your side.

This is particularly true in politics. And it’s playing out in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate election.

This week, Republican Pat Toomey, a former Congressman from the Lehigh Valley region of the state and President of the Club for Growth, ran these ads on Philadelphia television defining himself, Democratic nominee Joe Sestak and the debate in terms favorable to him:

There were no ads in response from Sestak. Why not?

This is not the same situation that Sestak had in the primary, where he held off on a TV ad blitz (including one very devastating ad) until the very end and still easily won. Incumbent Arlen Specter was very unpopular already and primary voters were simply waiting for Sestak to give them a reason to vote for him.

Other than Republicans (Toomey narrowly lost the GOP Primary for Senate to Specter in 2004) and his former constituents, most Pennsylvanians don’t know Toomey. And even fewer Pennsylvanians know Sestak, a two-term Congressman from Delaware County. A big part of this race is going to be which candidate can paint the other one as least mainstream in his views. Toomey has beaten Sestak to the punch on this. And it means that Sestak is going to be fighting an uphill battle to redefine both he and his opponent in a favorable manner.

That’s no easy task, especially for a Democratic candidate this year.


Something for everybody: Obama lays out Afghanistan case

Proving once again that he is a very compelling speaker, President Obama had something for everybody last night in laying out his case for sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. In a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Obama gave conservatives what they wanted by sending in more troops, eased the worries of independents and moderates by explaining what he was doing and why he took the length of time he did to make the decision, and threw liberals a bone (or at least tried to, anyway) by setting a goal of starting a withdrawl by July 2011.

President Obama is correct in putting in some kind of exit strategy, even a general one, so we have an idea of how to finish this thing. But I, like a lot of people, am wary of Hamid Karzai and his ability to hold Afghanistan’s notorious factions together solidly enough to have a stable central government. The controversy over his re-election earlier this year didn’t assuage those concerns any. Yes, Karzai is much better than the alternatives (The Taliban or total anarchy), but will only one year with all of the additional troops there be enough? Is Karzai capable of keeping Afghanistan together at all long-term?

Obama would be well-advised to be flexible with that withdrawl date. If Karzai’s government is not capable of defending itself at that point, we need to stay until they are. The last thing the United States (and Obama) need, after all of the billions of dollars spent on this war and the questions about Obama’s leadership, is a repeat of the end of the Vietnam War. The last thing we need is the Taliban and Al Qaeda simply waiting us out under the guise of a “truce,” much like the Viet Cong did (knowing we didn’t have the stomach to fight a guerilla war indefinitely), then overrunning Karzai’s government as soon as the last troop planes take off.


Finally, Obama makes decision on Afghanistan

It took him longer than I (and many others) believe it should have. But President Obama has reportedly ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to hopefully finish off Al Qaeda, neutralize the Taliban and finish the war that the 9/11 attacks wrought – the war that Candidate Obama rightly said was the justifiable war, the one that we had to win.

Obama will address his Afghanistan decision in a nationally televised speech from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point tomorrow night.

The number of troops is slightly less than what General Stanley McChrystal requested, but it is close enough. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is why it took so long for him to make this decision. I’m all for thinking through decisions carefully to make sure you get them right. I certainly don’t believe in the “shoot now and ask questions later” philosophy that the previous administration took to many of its foreign policy endeavors. But you can’t take over a month to decide whether or not to send more troops to a conflict that you criticized the previous administration for neglecting. This delay certainly won’t help the perception that Obama can’t lead.

Now we better hope the delay won’t hurt this country’s chances of victory.


The Obama Store

I just got back from spending the last two days with family in the Washington, D.C. area. After a nice Thanksgiving dinner and some cake in honor of my mother’s birthday on Thursday, I spent most of the day today in downtown Washington.

And what did I find on the bottom level of Union Station? A store dedicated to President Obama. Yes, an Obama Store. I kid you not. Earlier this year, I saw a cart near City Hall in Philadelphia selling some Obama paraphenalia. But an entire store?

I certainly recognize the historical and social significance of Obama being elected President last year (I even canvassed and made Get Out The Vote calls for him). But this is WAY too much. I don’t recall there being Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton stores in Washington, or anywhere else for that matter. And while I wasn’t alive at the time, my parents don’t recall there being John F. Kennedy stores either.


Congresssman Runyan? Former Eagle running in 2010

Former Eagles offensive lineman Jon Runyan will retire after this season and run for Congress next year, the Associated Press Reports.

It has been rumored for a while that Runyan, 35, would challenge Democratic incumbent John Adler next year in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, which stretches across Southern New Jersey from Philadelphia’s east suburbs, through the Pine Barrens region to the Jersey Shore. Runyan made the challenge official yesterday. The district is very much a swing district, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index (CPVI) rating of R+1. Adler narrowly won the district by 3.4% in 2008.

“I look forward to a successful end to my career on the field,” Runyan said, “and a spirited campaign against Congressman Adler in 2010.”

Runyan hasn’t played since the Eagles let him go after having surgery on his right knee following last season. He signed a free agent deal with the San Diego Chargers yesterday, which he said would be his last NFL deal.


FOX News Poll: Bow-gate much ado about nothing

According to a poll conducted by FOX News (not exactly the most liberal media outlet there is), 67 percent of Americans believe it is appropriate for the President to bow to a foreign leader if that is the country’s custom. Only 26% said it is never appropriate. Even among Republicans, 53% said it was appropriate, to 40% never appropriate.

This was in response to President Obama bowing to the Emperor of Japan last week and the resulting furor. Conservatives have complained about this and Obama’s other greetings when meeting foreign leaders, complaining that he conveys American weakness.

Me? I think that whole issue – not just this case – is much ado about nothing. There are plenty of things worth criticizing President Obama about, but this is not one of them. This is nothing more than the neoconservative meme that Obama is “Anti-American” and the belief in their interpretation of American Exceptionalism (not the original one laid out by Alexis de Tocqueville) – that America and Americans can and must be able to do whatever they want and get whatever they want, and that all other countries are subservient.

I for one think American Exceptionalism is a very short-sighted belief. The United States should not expect, let alone demand, the rest of the world to acquiesce to its whims and desires. There is only one world, and it has to work for all 6 billion-plus humans out there, not just the 300 million in the United States. The same goes for every other country in the world.

And just in case anyone has forgotten, we have far bigger problems to deal with than how President Obama should be greeting foreign leaders. Unemployment is over 10%, a figure that, since late October, includes yours truly. We’re in the middle of two outrageously expensive wars, one of which we shouldn’t have been in to begin with and the other of which President Obama can’t decide how to finish. Health care needs reforming, and President Obama won’t take the lead on one of the cornerstones of his campaign.

How the President greets foreign leaders is not high on my list of things to bitch about.


Reid announces Senate healthcare reform bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unveiled his chamber’s version of Healthcare Reform yesterday. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s version will guarantee health insurance coverage for 94% of Americans and cost $849 billion over 10 years, which will ultimately reduce the budget deficit by $127 billion.

“We’re proud of these figures,” Reid told reporters. “Not only do we make [health insurance] affordable for every American, we certainly do it in a fiscally responsible way.”

As expected, the Senate version includes a public option with an opt-out clause, persumably allowing Democrats from more pro-Republican constituencies the cover of voting for the bill, or at least for cloture, while claiming that the bill will give states the option to not participate if they so choose. The Senate version, like the House version, prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions.

Now the tough part begins for Harry Reid. He has to make sure he has 60 votes on board to invoke cloture and get the bill to the floor for a vote. If he does and it passes, the Senate and House versions will have to be combined in conference committee, after which both chambers will have to pass the final version. So while Sen. Reid deserves praise for getting healthcare reform this far in the Senate, there is still a ways to go.

 

 


Why Palin gets piled-on

I haven’t posted in a while. And with Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue coming out this week, there is certainly plenty for political pundits to analyze and discuss.

Via one of my fellow bloggers, I read a column by Andrew Malcolm in the Los Angeles Times that ponders the question of why Sarah Palin inspires so much hatred on the part of her opponents. Is it simply her beliefs themselves? Is it sheer snobishness? Do her opponents, especially her female opponents, somehow feel threatened by her?

Those probably have something to do with it. But I think most of the issue is not Sarah Palin’s beliefs themselves, but the way she conveys them. The Sarah Palin we’ve seen since John McCain tabbed her to be his running mate 15 months ago, the one some of whose fans have tabbed “the female Ronald Reagan,” has been very Un-Reagan-like in her style.

Simply put, she’s been a divider, not a uniter.

Much like Nancy Pelosi and (to an extent) Hillary Clinton on the left, Sarah Palin is very in-your-face with her beliefs and values, in many ways demonizing those who don’t march in lockstep with her. This attitude gets under her opponents’ skin, so when she has a moment of vulnerability (the Couric interview, etc.), they’re more than happy to exploit it.

Reagan espoused his values in a more genteel, welcoming way. Reagan understood that everybody wasn’t going to agree with him on every part of his ideology. But he based his message on a few key non-divisive issues that unified Americans of many persuasions. That’s how he won over the Reagan Democrats (of course, Jimmy Carter being the worst President of the last 60 years helped his cause).

Sarah Palin, however, went on the campaign trail last year talking about “Real Americans” and questioning people’s patriotism and belief in their country’s values. The implication was that anyone who didn’t believe in her brand of conservatism was somehow less of an American. Maybe that wasn’t her intent. But between her campaign style and some of the words that she said and some of the things that happened at her rallies, that’s how it came across. And while it fired up her party’s base, it equally galvanized her opponent’s base against her.

I don’t recall Reagan inspiring that kind of divisiveness. I don’t recall him questioning Jimmy Carter’s patriotism or accusing Walter Mondale of palling around with terrorists. The closest I can recall Reagan coming to that was his “Welfare Queen” remark during his failed 1976 primary campaign. Reagan unified.

If Sarah Palin or any other Republican wants to win next year or in 2012, they need to run the type of campaign that Reagan did, and that Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell did this year. Espouse conservative principles, but do so based on the issues of the day in your constituency. Present a clear alternative to your opponent, but don’t be a jerk about it. And don’t focus simply on pandering to your base with culture war rhetoric. Reagan, Christie and McDonnell didn’t win because of their stances on abortion, gay marriage and gun rights.

This is how Sarah Palin took down Frank Murkowski and the Republican establishment in Alaska to become Governor in 2006. It’s how she had approval ratings of close to 90% before McCain came calling. And it’s what she’ll have to get back to if she’s going to have any chance of overcoming her very sudden and clumsy resignation this past summer and having a political future.


UH OH! No funds in budget for Christie transition

christie

In a radio interview this morning, New Jersey Governor-Elect Chris Christie said there are no transition funds for his incoming administration.

No money for hiring of new staffers. No money to update signs, publications and stationary. No money to do the things that have to be done when one administration leaves and another enters.

 “Interestingly, the state didn’t fund the transition,” Christie said in the interview. “They didn’t put any money in the budget for a transition so we need to talk about making sure that we get that squared away.”

Christie defeated incumbent Jon Corzine 49.1% to 44.6%  in the November 3 general election, becoming the first Republican to win a statewide election in New Jersey since 1997. He takes office in mid-January.


SEPTA STRIKE ENDS

The mass transit system in Philadelphia is rolling again!

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, SEPTA and Transit Workers Union Local 234 came to a tentative contract agreement early this morning, ending the week-long strike that shut down Philadelphia city buses, trolleys and the Broad Street and Market/Frankford Subway lines.

Union and SEPTA officials announced the deal at 12:45 a.m. this morning at a news conference outside the Center City office of Governor Ed Rendell, the Inquirer reported. The first buses began rolling again around 4 a.m.

According to the Inquirer:

The five-year contract also calls for a 2.5 percent raise in the second year, and a 3 percent raise in each of the final three years. It increases workers’ contributions to the pension fund from the current 2 percent to 3 percent, and increases the maximum pension to $30,000 a year from the current $27,000 a year.

The deal will reportedly be formally voted on by union members within the next two weeks.