Thursday, December 16, 2010

Witnessing History Through a Camera Lens

Don Gonyea had a great segment recently on NPR in which he interviewed Shelly Fielman, a cameraman from NBC and member of the White House Press Corps, about his experiences. Fielman began covering American presidents in 1963 and hasn't stopped since. From the Lee Harvey Oswald shooting to the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan to KKK rallies, Fielman has seen--and recorded--it all.

The interview is well worth listening to in its entirety. Fielman is a walking, breating, working, institution. Without people like Fielman, the rich history of the modern American presidency would not seem as rich.

(By the way, Fielman is holding the middle camera in the picture above in the aftermath of the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

We're Number 1!!!

How sweet it is. The University of Akron soccer team just won its first national championship--the first championship in any sport for the university. Coach Caleb Porter, who just signed a five year extension on his contract last year, is the top coach in college sports. His winning percentage since taking over Akron's soccer program is unrivaled. How lucky we are to have him.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Politics of New START and the Echo of Jesse Helms

The New START Treaty (what should really be called START III), a treaty that would reduce the nuclear stockpiles of the U.S. and Russia to historically low levels, should have sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support. After all, most arms control treaties do just that. Politics stops at the water's least it used to. Just look at the list of arms control/defense treaties since 1963:

• Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1963 -- 80-19.
• Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1969 -- 83-15. (7 Democrats and eight Republicans voted against.)
• Latin American Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty, 1971 -- 70-0.
• Seabed Arms Control Treaty, 1972 -- 83-0.
• Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, 1972 -- 88-2. (U.S. later withdrew.)
• Biological Weapons Convention, 1974 -- 90-0.
• Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, 1988 -- 93-5.
• Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty and Threshold Test Ban Treaty, 1990 -- 98-0 (to ratify both treaties).
• Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, 1991 -- 90-4.
• Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known as START I, 1992 -- 93-6. (Expired 2009.)
• Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II, also known as START II, 1996 -- 87-4.
• Chemical Weapons Convention, 1997 -- 74-26 (with 29 Republicans joining 45 Democrats in voting yes and 26 Republicans voting no.).
• Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, also known as the Moscow Treaty, 2003 -- 95-0.

Even divided government has not been an impediment to passing arms control treaties. As reported by PolitiFact: "Thirteen of the 14 treaties above were ratified when one party held the presidency and the other party held the Senate." Only the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty negotiated under Reagan and G.H.W. Bush and signed under Clinton, did not sleepwalk through the Senate and that was largely because of the opposition of Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), the Senate Foreign Relations Chair. Few members of Congress were more ideological or partisan than Helms an the 1990s--a conservative ideologue whose hatred for President Bill Clinton was unmatched. Still, despite Helms' attempts to sabotage the treaty, it mustered a 74 votes, more than enough to pass the 2/3 threshold.

So what's the problem with New START? Actually little unless you are a sitting Republican Senator more interested in political gamesmanship than U.S. national security. There is a reason that just about every establishment Republican and Democrat has lined up in support of the treaty. Such well-respected party luminaries on both sides of the aisle as James Baker, Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, William Cohen, Madeline Albright, and Colin Powell, have publicly committed to supporting the New START Treaty and the Obama administration in this endeavor. Even Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee has staked his political career and opened himself up to a primary challenge for his strong support of the treaty. Why? Because Lugar always puts principle above party and it's one of the reasons why he is beloved by so many on both sides of the aisle.

All of this has not stopped Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Republican Whip, from attempting to scuttle the treaty and deny President Obama a foreign policy victory. His intransigence is a reminder that current day senators cast in the mold of Jesse Helms are omnipresent in the 21st Century Senate. In fact, Kyl was one of Helms' compatriots opposing the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. The real shame is that the Senate, in the eyes of James Madison, was supposed to be the body of maturity and coolness to offset the passions of the more unruly House. In 2010, however, both chambers resemble twins, dedicated to partisanship and political oneupsmanship at the expense of the national good.

In the end, New START will likely pass but not without an already unacceptable delay. Because the original START Treaty expired in December 2009, American inspectors are no longer on the ground in Russia. Every day that passage of New START is delayed is yet another day where American inspectors do not have access to Russia's nuclear stockpile and American national security is at greater risk.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Howard Baker, Civility, and a Bygone Era

I had the privilege of delivering a lecture earlier this week as part of a conference honoring the 85th birthday of former Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. The conference took place at the University of Tennessee at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. The center is housed in an amazing new facility on the University of Tennessee campus, archives a number of important political papers, and has a really interesting museum of Tennessee political history and the career of Howard Baker.

The conference was a stark reminder of a bygone era in American politics when our governmental institutions worked and where our elected officials could argue and debate but in the end come together to find solutions and come to agreement for the greater good. In the current era of hyperpartisanship and ideological zealotry, individuals like Howard Baker and even Ronald Reagan would have their ideological credentials and party loyalty constantly questioned. But the type of leadership Baker exuded is something the current era desperately needs as the country faces daunting challenges, yet the political system is paralyzed as governing has given was to constant campaigning. There are few real statesman left.

In 1998, at the invitation of then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Baker delivered an address to the U.S. Senate titled "On Herding Cats" in which he imparted his philosophy of leadership. It's an address that every member of the incoming 112th Congress should read, especially the leadership. The Congress, and the country, would be a better place if Baker's view of political leadership became the norm and not the exception.

Here is a snippet:

"Very often in the course of my 18 years in the Senate, and especially in the last eight years as Republican Leader and then Majority Leader, I found myself engaged in fire-breathing, passionate debate with my fellow Senators over the great issues of the times: civil rights, Vietnam, environmental protection, Watergate, the Panama Canal, tax cuts, defense spending, the Middle East, relations with the Soviet Union, and dozens more. But no sooner had the final word been spoken and the last vote taken than I would usually walk to the desk of my most recent antagonist, extend a hand of friendship, and solicit his report on the next issue for the following day. People may think we're crazy when we do that. Or perhaps they think our debates are fraudulent to begin with, if we can put our passion aside so quickly and embrace our adversaries so readily. But we aren't crazy and we aren't frauds. This ritual is as natural as breathing here in the Senate, and it is as important as anything that happens in Washington or in the country we serve, for that matter. It signifies that, as Lincoln said, 'We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies.' It pulls us back from the brink of rhetorical, intellectual, and even physical violence that, thank God, has only rarely disturbed the peace of the Senate. It is what makes us America and not Bosnia. It is what makes us the most stable government on Earth, and not another civil war waiting to happen. We are doing the business of the American people. We do it every day. We have to do it with the same people every day. And if we cannot be civil to one another, and if we stop dealing with those with whom we disagree, or that we don't like, we would soon stop functioning altogether."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Bitter Pill to Swallow

This election season yielded few surprises--Republicans cleaned the clocks of Democrats all across the nation as predicted. And school levies all across Ohio were defeated.

Despite the fact that the school funding system in Ohio has been declared unconstitutional, little has been done in the way of fixing the system. So schools, big and small, urban, rural, and suburban must continually go begging their communities, hat in hand, for money to keep the school doors open and buses running. It is a messed up system and Columbus continues to ignore the problem. With an $8 billion budget gap to fill in Ohio, a long term fix is nowhere on the horizon.

I was being interviewed for NPR last week about the elections and happened to mention a school levy I worked on in my community which failed--a bitter pill for me personally to swallow. They asked me to write a post for their blog. You can read it here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Most Mean-Spirited Election Ever?

So many of my students and others I talk to think every election we have is the worst, most mean-spirited, most bare-knuckled ever. It's not. It's the way its always been. The difference: television and advertising means that citizens are continually bombarded by negative messages. But our American politics has always been negative, especially during campaign season.

Check out this video about the Election of 1800.

Hat Tip: Political Wire

"No President or Senator Cares What Political Scientists Think"

Dead. Solid. Perfect.

This video is not only hilarious, it is also largely accurate. Here's a dirty little secret: most political scientists know very little, nor care, about actual politics.

Hat tip: Political Wire

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Debate Over Debates at the Akron Press Club: My Take

At the October 26 Tom Ganley event at the Akron Press Club, Tom Ganley was asked (about 40 minutes into the event) about his decision to reject offers from both the Akron Press Club and Cleveland City Club to participate in a debate with his opponent, Congresswoman Betty Sutton. At first, Ganley said that "the playing field wasn't fair." He asserted that he would not be "welcome and severely attacked." When pressed by the moderator, M.L. Schultze, the News Director at WKSU and a board member of the Akron Press Club about what would have been unfair to him about the atmosphere at the press club, he then stated that "I don't think this atmosphere would have been unfair to me" and that "there were some conflicts with some of the times we were talking about here." (By the way, Ganley is the only candidate that has appeared twice within about a year in front of the Akron Press Club in recent memory. His other appearance occurred October 1, 2009 when he was a candidate for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat. You can watch the video here).

Since I was intimately involved in the negotiations on behalf of the Akron Press Club and Bliss Institute, I have a few things to say on the record concerning the debate controversy. On July 28, 2010, I approached both the Ganley and Sutton campaigns about the possibility of a debate organized by the Akron Press Club and Bliss Institute. I told both campaigns I was gauging their interest and willingness to get into serious negotiations about a possible debate. The Sutton campaign agreed just over a week later. The Ganley campaign would never commit to a debate. There was no scheduling issue--we never even got to the stage where we could discuss possible dates. On August 30, the Ganley campaign officially rejected out offer.

As far as the fairness issue is concerned, the Akron Press Club and Bliss Institute has hosted a number of debates over the last few election cycles including a 2006 debate in the 13th Congressional District and a 2008 debate in the 16th Congressional District. We have never heard complaints that we were somehow biased or unfair in the way we conducted those and other events. Quite the contrary. We pride ourselves on our neutrality--any hint of bias or unfairness would be counterproductive and hurt our ability in the future to host these types of events which we view as a public service above all else. I, personally, have worked very hard in the past, and would have done so in this case, to ensure that both campaigns were okay with the rules and regulations before proceeding. No debate would have commenced unless both campaigns signed off on everything following what would have been intense negotiation insuring the fairest process possible.

Tom Ganley's Appearance at Akron Press Club

Congressional candidate, Tom Ganley, the Republican candidate for Ohio's 13th Congressional District, spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Akron Press Club and Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron.

You can access the unedited video here

He spoke for about 15 minutes and then answered questions for a little over a half hour.

Ganley's opponent, Betty Sutton, spoke at the same venue on October 20.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Betty Sutton's Appearance at Akron Press Club

Congresswoman Betty Sutton, the Democratic candidate for reelection to Ohio's 13th Congressional District, spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Akron Press Club and Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron.

You can access the unedited video here.

She spoke for a little over a half hour and than answered questions for the last half.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ganley, Sutton to Appear at Akron Press Club in Separate Events

There will be no debates in the Ohio 13th Congressional District this autumn. The Ganley campaign rejected the offer from the Bliss Institute and Akron Press Club for a debate while the Sutton campaign accepted our offer almost immediately. However, we managed to get both candidates to agree to speak to the Akron Press Club in separate events in October. Both candidates will make a speech and engage in Q&A for at least 20 minutes after their speeches. It doesn't take the place of a real debate but it's the best we could do since no debates will be occurring in the 13th Congressional District this 2010 election cycle.

From the press release:

The Akron Press Club is pleased to provide a forum for the two candidates seeking to represent Ohio’s 13th Congressional District. They will speak at separate lunches, with time for questions following each presentation. Both events are cosponsored by The University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

Democrat Betty Sutton will be the guest speaker at the Akron Press Club’s luncheon Wednesday, Oct. 20, at the University of Akron’s Martin Center. Sutton is a Barberton native who was first was elected to represent the 13th Congressional District in 2006. She was re-elected in 2008 and seeking a third term this fall. Sutton served in the Ohio House from 1993 to 2001. She was a member of the Summit County Council from 1991 to 1992 and a member of the Barberton City Council from 1990 to 1991.

Republican Tom Ganley will be the guest speaker at the Akron Press Club’s luncheon Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the University of Akron’s Martin Center. Ganley is president and CEO of the Ganley Automotive Group, the largest auto group in Ohio with 32 dealerships and more than 1,000 employees. In 2007 Ganley received the highest honor the FBI can give a civilian, the Louis E. Peters Memorial Service Award. The Cuyahoga County Police Chiefs Association named Ganley Man of the Year in 2006 for his support of law enforcement in the Cleveland area.

Details for both lunches:
· Time: Buffet luncheons begin at 11:45 a.m. Program follows.
· Place: Martin University Center, 105 Fir Hill, University of Akron campus.
· Cost: $15 for Press Club members, $20 for non-members.
· Reservations requested: Call 330-564-4211 or e-mail

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ohio AG Candidates to Speak to Akron Press Club

Well, we couldn't get the DeWine camp to agree to a debate so we arranged the next best thing: both Ohio Attorney General candidates will be speaking to the Akron Press Club in the next couple weeks in separate appearances. I hope as many people from the general public and media can attend.

From the press release:

The Akron Press Club Presents

Candidates for Attorney General

The Akron Press Club is pleased to provide a forum for the two candidates seeking the Ohio Attorney General office. They will speak at separate lunches, with time for questions following each presentation

Both events are cosponsored by The University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

Sept. 28 -- MIKE DeWINE

Republican Mike DeWine will be the guest speaker at the luncheon on Tuesday, Sept. 28, at The University of Akron's Martin Center.

DeWine represented Ohio in the U.S. House and Senate and served as lieutenant governor. He began his political career as a county prosecutor and later was elected to the Ohio Senate. He represented Ohio's Seventh Congressional District for four terms before being elected as lieutenant governor for a four-year term that began in 1991. DeWine was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1994, where he served two terms


Democrat Richard Cordray, the current attorney general, will be the guest speaker at the luncheon on Thursday, Oct. 7, at The University of Akron's Martin Center.

Cordray was elected attorney general in 2008. He won the Ohio treasurer position in 2002 and also has served as Franklin County treasurer. He served in the Ohio House from 1991-1993. From 1993-1994 Cordray was state solicitor. He also was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Byron White.

Details for both lunches:
--Time: Buffet luncheons begin at 11:45 a.m. Program follows.
--Place: Martin University Center, 105 Fir Hill, University of Akron campus.
--Cost: $15 for Press Club Members, $20 for Non-Members.
--Reservations requested: Call 330-564-4211 or e-mail

Monday, September 20, 2010

Obama's New Oval Office Digs

For the first couple years, President Obama has used the Bush 43 decor until his own furnishings were ready. Those Bush items, including the sunburst rug, are off to a future home in the Bush Library and Museum. When the president was recently on vacation, the Oval Office was renovated. According to the White House, no taxpayer money was used for the makeover.

Vanity Fair has a compilation of Oval Office decor going back to Jimmy Carter and you can vote on your favorite.
One thing I have noticed: there is always a fresh bowl of apples in the Obama Oval Office.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

American Soldier

The United States is concurrently fighting two of the longest wars in American history, Iraq and Afghanistan, yet it often feels as if that is not really happening. The wars are rarely on the front page and not in the consciousness of the average American. Well, here's a newsflash: American soldiers are still fighting and dying overseas. One of those soldiers is my nephew, Kyle, and here is his story.

For those of you interested in the story of the American infantry, you might pick up the book Grunts, authored by my good friend John McManus, a prolific historian of the American combat experience. McManus is one of the best storytellers I know and a master of archival research and oral history.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Have They No Shame?

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill has already eclipsed the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill as the worst in history. It may be the costliest environmental disaster in American history before all is said and done which could be months from now. Yet you have a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Joe Barton (R-TX), complaining that the Obama White House is perpetrating a "shakedown" of a private company by forcing BP to create a $20 billion dollar fund to compensate victims of this tragedy.

Some thoughts:

1. BP is responsible for the real "tragedy" in the Gulf of Mexico and I'd bet the price tag will far exceed $20 billion to clean up all the damage.
2. A Congressman, whose largest campaign contributor is an oil company, should be smart enough not to go on record defending a company that is solely responsible for the real tragedy that is occurring.

The fact is that the response in the Gulf to the leak, from BP to the White House, has been woefully inadequate. However, it is outrageous that a member of Congress would publicy defend BP, and portray it as a victim, when that company has been responsible for such a large scale disaster. Incredible.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Back to the Kitchen...and the 19th Century

Earlier I posted videos of Ohio U.S. Senate candidates who spoke at the Akron Press Club. One of those candidates was Republican Tom Ganley, a wealthy car dealer from Cleveland who has since dropped out of the senate race to challenge Betty Sutton, the Democrat from Copley who represents the 13th Congressional District. The race is starting to heat up--or at least the rhetoric is. In a newsletter sent out to Medina County Republicans, Medina County Republican Executive Committee Chair Bill Heck intones: "Let's take Betty Sutton out of the House and put her back in the kitchen!"

Clearly this was a poor attempt at a clever pun. Newsflash: Its 2010, not 1810 or 1910, or even 1960. Women vote. They also work outside the home now (not that working inside the home is something to be ashamed of as is inferred in the above comment). They are CEOs, astronauts, teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges, cabinet members, legislators, even heads of state.

A comment like this can only backfire. You can bet Emily's List, who bankrolled much of Sutton's 2006 inaugural House campaign, has been energized by this. Ganley has deep pockets but so does a ticked off Emily.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ohio U.S. Senate Candidate Videos

In the autumn of 2009, the Akron Press Club and Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron co-sponsored a series of luncheon talks by the four announced candidates for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat of the soon-to-be-retiring George Voinovich. The events were recorded by Time Warner Cable and broadcast later on the cable network. The videos for each of those events have been converted and are now available on-line.

Things have changed since then on the Republican side as Car Dealer Tom Ganley dropped out of the Senate race to enter the GOP primary for Ohio's 13th Congressional district, a seat held by Congresswoman Betty Sutton. This is slightly ironic as Sutton became known as the originator of the "cash for clunkers" program which became so popular among consumer last summer and probably put a lot of cash in Ganley's pocket as he is the biggest car dealer in Ohio. Ganley's move leaves former Congressman and OMB Director Rob Portman as the presumptive nominee.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher has been unable to pull away from Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner despite a hefty cash advantage. With the May 4 primary rapidly approaching, anything could happen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Penultimate Decision

Before a president signs an important piece of legislation, as President Barack Obama did when he signed the historic health care reform legislation into law, his staff has a trivial yet interesting decision to make: how many pens will POTUS use and who will receive them as gifts afterward? President Obama used 22 pens to sign the legislation. That is not a typo--22 pens to sign his name. With 11 letters in his name that averages out to a half of one letter per pen. According to Politico, the recipients were:

1. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
2. Sen. Dick Durbin
3. Sen. Max Baucus
4. Sen. Tom Harkin
5. Sen. Chris Dodd
6. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
7. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
8. Rep. James Clyburn
9. Rep. George Miller
10. Rep. Henry Waxman
11. Rep. Sandy Levin
12. Rep. John Dingell
13. Rep. Charles Rangel
14. Vice President Joe Biden
15. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
16. Vicki Kennedy (Senator Ted Kennedy's widow)
17. Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform
18. Phil Schiliro, assistant to the president for legislative affairs
19. Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association
20. President Obama himself
21. & 22. NARA

The multiple souvenir pen tradition began with Harry Truman. Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 where he gave a pen to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps the most famous of all pen giveaways. Using all those pens to construct a legible and flowing signature has to be a difficult task unless the president prints his signature.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Political Dorks Rejoice!

C-SPAN has placed its entire video library on-line. For free. Hundreds of thousands of shows. For free. It is an amazing digital library and historical archive.

Who can forget Senate Foreign Relations Chair Jesse Helms (R-NC) blocking fellow Republican William Weld's (R-MA) nomination to become ambassador to Mexico in 1997? I've been retelling the story to my students for years. Now I can actually show them. (I'd like to show the video but am having problems embedding it. No matter, here is the link).

Bravo C-SPAN.

Hat Tip: Political Wire

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Face of Gridlock

The House empowers the majority party; the Senate empowers individual senators. That's the way it has been for about a century and will continue for the foreseeable future. With the intoxicating power to shut down the institution via the filibuster and hold, it is no wonder that most members of the House dream of sitting in a Senate seat.

Just witness the story of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) who single-handedly blocked 47 Obama appointments in order to "get the attention of the administration" because he wanted a lucrative military contract to build refueling tankers for the Air Force to be awarded to a company in his state. When asked why he did it, Shelby replied: "Ultimately, I am a senator from Alabama. I wanted to make sure there was fairness because if there was fairness, the jobs would go there." And when asked about whether or not the nominees he blocked were qualified, he replied: "Oh, I don't have any idea."

Senatorial holds and the blocking of nominees are not partisan issues--they happen regardless of the party who holds the White House and who controls Congress. Their frequent use does point to a larger problem, however: the fact that the U.S. Congress in the modern era is dysfunctional. With 535 members each looking out for their own parochial and partisan interests, often with little regard for the national interest, Congress is failing in its responsibility as a co-equal branch. It is no wonder that every president, even if they were a member of Congress previously, looks to increase the power of the executive branch vis-a-vis Congress. It is also little wonder that a mere 14% of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling their job.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

White House Photostream

I love anything presidential. I love pictures. The White House Flickr account marries the two. It is a constantly updated photo album of the Obama White House which makes available hundreds of pictures taken by official White House photographer Pete Souza and his staff. The photos give you a glimpse of the president, his staff, his family, and the White House itself very often not present during official events.

For example, one observation: President Obama likes sports and exercise. He shoots hoops. He plays golf. He throws a football, often. He throws it with staff. He throws it with members of Congress (even the opposition). I like that. It's cool seeing the president from beyond the podium. This humanizes a president--all presidents.

I hope this and future White Houses continue the practice of using Flickr. It's a very easy way to attempt to connect with the American people not subject to the filter of the media.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NASCAR's Danica Moment

NASCAR used to be rolling in cash, sponsors, and fans. It can boast none of that now. The sour economy has impacted NASCAR like no other major sport. Sponsors have been fading away quicker than the ink on Sarah Palin's hand. Fans? There's still a huge fan base but many fans have become bored with NASCAR, especially after the generic Car of Tomorrow has taken hold and fan favorite Dale Earnhart Jr. has struggled in the last few years.

Now comes Danica Patrick. How important is Patrick to NASCAR? Very. Just look at the ratings jump for Speed Network for Danica's ARCA race last Saturday--her first race in a stock car (she finished 6th). The ratings jumped 87% over last year. These numbers are out of sight and excellent news for a sport losing fans--especially the lukewarm fans that it needs to stay connected with the sport.

The big question is: will she be able to handle a stock car? At 5'2" and around 100 pounds, a stock car will be a beast to handle compared to the open wheel IndyCar she is used to driving. Also, much of NASCAR is about bumping and grinding--stuff that gets you killed in open wheel racing.

Yes, there will be challenges for her and success right away will be unlikely. However, she has the confidence, demeanor, and talent to run with the big boys. Although she's only won once in 81 starts since 2005, she finished fifth in points in 2009. I expect she'll make the jump to the Nextel series in 2011 and bring the best ratings to the Nationwide series ever.

Although the dinosaurs of NASCAR, fans and drivers alike, are likely rooting against her, those interested in seeing NASCAR flourish should be rooting for her because NASCAR's Danica moment could be the only compelling reason for many band wagon fans to jump back on the wagon and make NASCAR a profitable enterprise again. I know I'll be doing something this Saturday I haven't done in a long time: watching a Nationwide Series race. How Patrick handles Daytona International Speedway will certainly be on the minds of most. I think she'll do just fine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wasilla Imbecile

Imbecile: "A person whose mental acumen is well below par."

How else can one describe former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin these days? It is mind-boggling that she was a major party candidate for vice president in 2008 (and I have made my opinions known on this subject in several posts on this blog). It is downright frightening that she is a GOP front runner for president and populist hero to millions.

In case you haven't heard, Palin was caught looking at notes written on her hand to answer questions at a Tea Party event last week. If one of my students had done this during a test, I would have failed them. The fact that this person is considering running for the highest office in the land should give everyone--Democrat, Republican, and everyone in between--pause. Not only is Palin "not ready"--she never will be.

If you need notes to answer pre-screened questions from a friendly questioner, you are an imbecile and always will be. You may be a hypocrite too, especially if you had just ripped the current President for being a "charismatic guy with a teleprompter" (a device, by the way, Palin uses herself). Now, if the event were not scripted in advance and you didn't know for certain what questions you might get asked--a debate perhaps--it is perfectly appropriate to have notes to refer to (though I would never recommend writing them on your hand like a 10 year old). But this wasn't a debate. It was a softball Q&A session among worshippers. Any public person worth their salt should be able to sleepwalk through such an event. But not Sarah. She had to write notes on her hand...

[Below is Jon Stewart's take on Palin's palm notes and the Tea Party convention in general. As per usual, Stewart nails it.]

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Are These Poll Results For Real?

Daily Kos/Research 2000 conducted a poll of Republican voters over the last several days of January. The results were shocking. Here's a few of the more interesting results:

39% of Republicans think President Obama should be impeached; 29% are unsure. [Um, and what crime is he alleged to have committed exactly?]

36% of Republicans do not think Obama was born in the U.S.; 22% are not sure. [Birthers are still prevalent in the GOP we see]

63% of Republicans think Obama is a socialist; 16% are unsure [Most of those have no idea what a socialist is]

55% of Republicans are unsure of whether or not ACORN stole the 2009 election [Seriously?]

31% of Republicans think Obama is a racist who hates white people; 33% are not sure [This has to be the scariest result of all. If you really feel this way, you are ignorant beyond reason and I am wasting my time typing this because you likely cannot read]

53% of Republicans believe Sarah Palin is more qualified than Barack Obama to be president [This one is laughable but scares me at the same time. Anyone who really believes this has zero credibility]

This poll is sad and shows the amount of hysteria gripping the Right in this country. The results would be equally sad had it been conducted with Democratic voters and garnered similar extreme results during the Bush 43 presidency.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Beyond the Political Cage Match

On Friday, President Obama walked into the hornets nest in Baltimore, also known as the House Republican retreat. Not only did Obama voluntarily walk into enemy territory, he opened himself up to questions and brought the media with him. This is the first time a president attended such an event sponsored by the opposition party...and he did it live on television.

I can't remember the last time I watched something on C-SPAN until the wee hours of the morning but I found myself doing just that on Friday night watching a rerun of that afternoon's events. It was fascinating political theater. Though the questions were anything but unscripted, the give and take was free flowing and fascinating. It also gave me hope that perhaps, just perhaps, both parties might be able to sit down and actually work together on the large number of issues they actually agree on.

To quote the President at the Baltimore retreat: "They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive. That's not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done, and to solve the problems that they're grappling with every single day."

Amen to that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Dodgy Dual Veto

The Huffington Post contains an interesting post by Political Scientist Robert Spitzer of SUNY Cortland who pens a letter to President Obama about Obama's first veto. According to Spitzer:

He continues:
"Here's the problem with your veto: instead of issuing a regular or return veto, your message was titled "Memorandum of Disapproval," indicating that this was a pocket veto. But your message then said this: "To leave no doubt that the bill is being vetoed ... in addition to withholding my signature, I am also returning H.J.Res. 64" to the House. The problem is that your action creates doubt because it combines two mutually exclusive actions: a regular veto and a pocket veto. Even more troubling, the history behind this veto gambit - claiming the exercise of a non-return pocket veto while simultaneously returning the bill to Congress - is a presidential power grab designed to stretch the no-override pocket veto into an absolute veto power that could be used anytime Congress is not in session, giving the president the very power the Founders sought to deny the office."

As Spitzer points out, Obama is not the first president to us the "dodgy dual veto" (known officially as a "protective return pocket veto"). The practice dates back to the Ford administration where President Ford issued five such vetoes only to be challenged successfully in Federal court by Senator Edward Kennedy. President Bush 41 revived the protective return pocket veto and every one of his successors followed suit.

The dodgy dual veto is a wonderful example of how presidents, regardless of party or ideology, seek to expand the prerogatives of the office. It is also a reminder of why the American system has checks and balances built into it and the need for a vigorous Congress and judiciary to serve as a counter-balance to the executive branch as well as to each other.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Surprise Page Turner

Non-fiction books are rarely page turners. However, I spent most of my holiday break in the land of cheese reading a book I did not want to put down--Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.

The Washington Post's Barton Gellman produced a manuscript that is a well-balanced, well-researched, thoughtful examination of the impact of the most powerful vice president in American history: Richard Cheney. What is remarkable about the Cheney vice presidency is not how consequential he was, but rather how a figure so powerful operated largely from the shadows in order to game the system. Any student of the George W. Bush presidency or White House operations in general should read this book.

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