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.
Enough is enough.
The news last night that Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is threatening to filibuster health care reform with a Medicare Buy-In, a compromise spurred by Lieberman’s threats to filibuster the public option, is the last straw. It’s time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to strip Joe Lieberman of his commitee chairmanship, maybe even kick him out of the Senate Democratic Caucus, then go through moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) or some other means to get Health Care Reform passed.
Enough trying to figure out a member of the Democratic caucus from a very blue state who won’t keep his word. Enough trying to placate a senator who seems content on wrecking his caucus’ most important piece of legislation this Congress, specifically a component of it that, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 56% of his constituents in Connecticut FAVOR. It’s time for Reid to drop the hammer on this guy and move on before the Democratic party gets destroyed next year.
I don’t know if Lieberman is still bitter about being primaried out by Ned Lamont in 2006 or what. But ever since he won re-election as an independent that year (Connecticut allows primary losers to do so), Lieberman has increasingly gone against the Democratic Party and, therefore, most of his constituents back home. He endorsed and campaigned for Republican John McCain for President last year. Reid let him keep his chairmanship and caucus spot after that, knowing that he’d need him to avert Republican filibusters and get the party’s agenda passed this year. And that gamble has backfired big time, to the point that it is now seriously threatening the legislation that will play a huge rule in determing the party’s electoral fortunes next year and possibly in 2012 as well.
First, Lieberman threatened to filibuster the public option. He wouldn’t even accept one with a trigger, the way Snowe has. Realizing they didn’t have the votes to pass a public option along the lines of what is in the House version, Reid and a group of his fellow Democratic senators composed a compromise that replaces the public option with a Medicare buy-in. But even before the new proposal was scored by the Congressional Budget Office (the CBO report should be in by the middle of this week), Lieberman said yesterday that he’d filibuster that too. Not allow to go to a vote and simply vote against – filibuster.
If Reid strips Lieberman of his chairmanship and/or kicks him out of the caucus, it’s not like the Republicans are going to welcome Lieberman with open arms. Lieberman remains pro-choice and has other liberal view points that won’t help him with the Republican leadership. And at this point Lieberman isn’t going to get re-elected in 2012 no matter what party he runs on. I suppose he could resign in a snit and leave Jodi Rell, Connecticut’s Republican Governor, to appoint a Republican replacement. But that Republican wouldn’t be much more damaging to the Democratic party’s cause than Lieberman has.
As for what alternatives Reid has without Lieberman, he could work with Snowe, who won’t state her position on the compromise until the CBO report comes back but at least has been relatively consistent. If Reid had Lyndon Johnson’s you-know-whats (which he doesn’t), he could twist the arms of other Democratic senators (like Nebaska’s Ben Nelson and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu) to get on board. But at least Nelson is consistent – he represents a very conservative constituency.
Reid could also try to do what Trent Lott and Co. famously tried to do in 2005 and invoke the “nuclear option” – change Senate rules to end debate with only a simple majority of the Senate, as opposed to the current 60 votes needed. The Republicans would certainly howl for blood if that happened, but they tried it first.
Using budget reconciliation (which only requires 50 votes plus Vice President Joe Biden) to pass the more controversial parts of the bill is probably not an option either. The bill is too complex, the Republicans would force the caucus to hold together through even more objections than it is now and if it was going to happen, Reid needed to do it already.
Whatever Reid does, health care reform needs to get through the Senate, go through conference committee and pass both chambers again. It MUST get done, or the normal losses the President’s party suffers in his first midterm elections will be catastrophic ones. Republicans are going to be motivated to take down the other party next year as it is. If health care reform doesn’t get passed, the Democratic base will stay home as well.
Health Care Reform must get done. And at this point, that means telling Lieberman to leave.
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.
President Obama, Democrats and health care reform supporters are giddy today over the House passing its version of reform late last night. It is certainly a big step in the right direction – a bigger one than any administration and Congress has taken since Lyndon Johnson created Medicare in the 1960s.
But I would caution those supporters to not get too giddy. Because there are still several mountains left to climb before this is a done deal.
The next one is in the Senate, which has yet to pass its own version. On paper, this shouldn’t be a problem – the Dems and those caucusing with them control 60 seats and have the Vice President – more than enough to get a simple majority. In practice, however, it’s not nearly that simple.
Senate debate rules require 60 votes to “invoke cloture,” or stop debate and bring a bill to an up-or-down vote. So Majority Leader Harry Reid actually needs 60 votes to get this done. And there are a number of Democratic caucus members who represent conservative constituencies (or are just in the pockets of the insurance companies) who will be a tough sell to get on board with a public option – one of the most critical parts of any real healthcare reform, in my opinion. This group includes Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Joe Lieberman (Connecticut). Lincoln and Bayh are both up for re-election next year. But Lieberman could be an even bigger fly in the ointment – he represents a rather liberal state (which went for Obama by 20 points last year) and votes with the Dems on most social issues. But he voted for the Iraq War and campaigned for Republican John McCain against Obama last year, even speaking at the Republican National Convention.
Reid could get around cloture rules by trying to pass the Senate’s version through budget reconcilliation, where he would need only 50 votes plus Vice President Biden. But this move would require the spending authorization to be renewed after 5 years. If the Republicans were to regain control of the Senate by that point, you know what would happen then.
The bill has already been delayed in the Senate and now may not even get passed this year, breaking President Obama’s second deadline. And if the debate goes into next year, moderate and conservative Democrats who are up for re-election in otherwise Republican districts or states are going to be even more reluctant to get on board.
Even if the Senate passes its version, it will have to be merged with the House version in conference committee. Both chambers will then have to pass the final combined version before President Obama can sign it. Same rules and obstacles will still apply.
So be happy with this step forward. But don’t pop the champagne corks just yet.
After a day of wrangling and debate and voting on amendments, the House of Representatives passed its healthcare reform bill late tonight. Most of the Blue Dogs (a group of 45 or so moderate or conservative Democrats) voted nay, and others needed an amendment proposed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) that banned plans that paid for abortions from the proposed new exchange to be satisfied. But the bill passed by a 220-215 vote shortly after 11 p.m. ET. Joseph Cao (R-LA), who was elected from an overwhelmingly pro-Democratic district in New Orleans last year after “Dollar Bill” Jefferson was indicted for corruption (most famously having $90K in cash in his freezer), was the only Republican to vote for it.
President Obama gave House democrats a pep talk before today’s debate and voting. He reminded them to “answer the call of history.”
Now the ball is in the Senate’s court. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who I’ve been very critical of, is showing some fire in trying to get his caucus on board and avert a Republican filibuster (he needs 60 votes to invoke cloture). He’s running into a lot of resistance from Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who was primaried out by Ned Lamont in 2006, won re-election as an independent, caucused with the Democrats, but then campaigned for Republican John McCain in last year’s Presidential election. I’m not sure what Lieberman is trying to do – CT is a very Democratic state. But he could be a bigger fly in the ointment than Olympia Snowe or even Ben Nelson.
Anywho, if the Senate passes its version – and who knows if or when that will be – the two versions will go to a conference committee to form one final bill, which both chambers will vote on one last time.
Despite what the Republicans will no doubt be crowing, tonight’s results are not a referendum on President Obama. But they do provide an important lesson that Obama and his advisers would be well advised to heed.
It’s time for Obama to shut up, lead and actually get things done.
The story of tonight was simple – conservatives were galvanized, out of disgust with Obama’s policies and sensing vulnerability. Liberals were disenchanted by Obama’s failure to back up his campaign talk and stayed home. And independents see an economy that is still broken and broke heavily for challengers over incumbents. If Obama and the Dems want to do well in next year’s Congressional midterms (when 37 other governorships will also be up for grabs), they better lay off the glitzy speeches and actually get things done.
Create jobs. Pass real healthcare reform. Just get things done that are actually going to improve things for people outside of Washington. Things that you pledged to do as a candidate. Actually do those things, and your base will be energized again, independents will appreciate you accomplishing something and the rest will take care of itself.
That’s it. Enough talking. Time to show some guts, lead and git r done. The incumbents (or their parties) weren’t perceived to have gotten it done and paid the price. Obama better get things done or he’ll be joining them in the unemployment line.
With Republican Bob McDonnell on his way to a landslide victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election and Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine having battled back into a statistical tie with Republican challenger Chris Christie in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, many pundits are looking at the special election for New York District 23’s Congressional seat on Tuesday as a sort of tie-breaker in Tuesday’s off-year elections. This seat was vacated this summer when Republican John McHugh resigned to become President Obama’s Secretary of the Army. This race took on added intrigue when Doug Hoffman entered the race on the Conservative Party’s ticket…and won the endorsement of many nationally prominent Republicans over the local party’s choice, moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava.
Today came news that Scozzafava, trailing both Hoffman and Democratic nominee Bill Owens in polls, is suspending her campaign. She’ll still be on the ballot on Tuesday, and likely has already gotten some votes through absentee voting, but this makes the race between a hardcore conservative and a Democrat.
People who follow politics have certainly noticed that there are increasingly fewer moderates in the Republican party, especially in Congress. They have either been ousted by Democrats, retired or, in the famous case of Senator Arlen Specter (PA) this past spring, switched parties.
While pundits will use Tuesday’s elections as a referendum on President Obama, this special election may be more of a referendum on whether or not there is still a place for moderates (such as Senator Olympia Snowe) in the Republican party. If Hoffman wins, national Republicans will crow that Americans want hardcore conservatives in Republicans. If Owens wins, it could create a split within the party. While Obama did win NY-23 by 5 points last November, the district has long been solidly Republican; parts of it have been represented by a Republican since before the Civil War. If Owens wins, moderate Republicans will blame the party’s conservative wing for costing them a seemingly safe seat in the House just so they could maintain ideological purity, while conservatives will blame the district’s GOP establishment for not nominating a conservative.
Could the Republican party split into two?
One of the dominant narratives in American politics is that Democrats are wimps, that they’re indecisive, that they don’t stick to their beliefs and that they don’t support national security and defense. This may not really be true, but all to often Democrats do things that give creedence to this notion.
President Obama may be doing so again.
According to the AP:
President Obama is prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan’s political future and appears inclined to send only as many more U.S. troops as needed to keep al-Qaida at bay, a senior administration official said Thursday.
The sharpened focus by Obama’s team on fighting al-Qaida above all other goals, while downgrading the emphasis on the Taliban, comes in the midst of an intensely debated administration review of the increasingly unpopular eight-year-old war.
Though aides stress that the president’s final decision on any changes is still at least two weeks away, the emerging thinking suggests that he would be very unlikely to favor a large military increase of the kind being advocated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
McChrystal’s troop request is said to include a range of options, from adding as few as 10,000 combat troops to – the general’s strong preference – as many as 40,000.
Obama’s developing strategy on the Taliban will “not tolerate their return to power,” the senior official said in an interview with The Associated Press. But the U.S. would fight only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan’s central government – something it is now far from being capable of – and from giving renewed sanctuary in Afghanistan to al-Qaida, the official said.
One of my biggest criticisms of George W. Bush was that he abandoned the war in Afghanistan, the one that was justified, the one that the rest of the world supported, to launch his quest to settle his Dad’s old score the invasion of Iraq. During his campaign last year, Obama rightly said that Afghanistan was the war we should win. So I find it outrageous that he is now willing to settle for something less than that.
And while I disagree with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on a lot, he was right when he said this week that we need to go after both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, that if we leave the Taliban with any kind of a chance to take power, terrorists will follow. They may not have the name “Al Qaeda,” but they’ll still have a haven to flourish in.
Should President Obama have had to deal with Afghanistan on top of Iraq and the economy? No. But the bottom line is he does have to deal with them. And he better deal with them a whole lot more forcefully than this.