Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Campaign Trail Follies of 08

Tweedledum and Tweedledee: During a campaign speech the other day in Kentucky, Senator Hillary Clinton (right) cited an analysis by notorious Republican hit man Karl Rove (left) as proof that she is the more potent of the two Democrats running for the presidency. “I believe I am the stronger candidate and just today I found some curious support for that position when one of the TV networks released an analysis done by – of all people – Karl Rove, saying that I was the stronger candidate. Somebody got a hold of his analysis and there it is." Way to go, Senator Clinton. You've just validated and legitimated the Tasmanian Devil of the extreme right. Well, that does it. If Karl Rove says it, it must be true.

Making things more interesting on the Right: While Senator John McCain precariously balances his "maverick" status (which is looking more and more dubious with each passing day) with his unwavering commitment to Bushite neocon politics, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr (right) is making the race even more interesting on the right by running as a Libertarian presidential candidate. The pundits and political junkies are now debating about whether Barr will become a spoiler for McCain -- a Ralph Nader of the right -- or just another irrelevant Libertarian candidate. In the Libertarian tradition, Barr is promising to scale back government, withdraw American forces from Iraq and protect civil liberties. There was a thoughtful analysis of his campaign in the Atlanta Journal Constitution a few days ago. Have a look here if you get a chance. Barr said his Republican friends have put a great deal of pressure on him to stay out of the race, telling him his run for the presidency "would upset the apple cart." But he's going ahead with it. As Barr put it, "If Sen. McCain ... does not succeed in winning the presidency, it will not be because of Bob Barr, not because of Sen. Obama. It will be because Sen. McCain and his party did not present a vision, an agenda, platform and a series of programs that actually resonated positively with the American people. It also may be because their candidate did not resonate with the American people." If nothing else, Barr's run for the presidency is but one of many signs of increasing fragmentation on the Right side of American politics.

Finally, a Few Thoughts on Byrd, the KKK and Senator Barack Obama: When Senator Robert Byrd, 90, of West Virginia (see picture below) endorsed Obama the other day, newspapers across the country blazed with headlines similar to the one in the Charlotte Observer: "FORMER KLANSMAN BYRD PICKS OBAMA." The endorsement prompted Tonight Show host Jay Leno in his Monday night monologue to quip: "That's got to make Hillary feel good, huh? Even the Klan guy is going, 'I’m going with the black guy.'"

The repeated Ku Klux Klan references -- obviously meant to highlight the irony of a onetime white supremacist endorsing an African American -- detracted from the real significance of Byrd's endorsement. Byrd is widely known as the elder statesman of the United States Senate. He is from West Virginia, the scene of Clinton's recent triumph. Byrd's endorsement will give Obama a much-needed boost in his home state. Most importantly, Byrd is a man of great dignity. Who cares if he was in the Ku Klux Klan? Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, one of the most liberal justices in the history of the Court and a pioneering champion of racial equality, joined the Robert E. Lee Klan No. 1 branch in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1923. Black was not proud of his Klan affiliation, and neither is Byrd. As Byrd told the Washington Post back in 2005: "I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times ... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened."

Incidentally, if you haven't read Senator Byrd's Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency, do yourself a favor and check it out. A number of books have been published in recent years that criticize the Bush Administration for its destructive policies, but Byrd's is by far the best. It's sharp, insightful, passionate and very direct. The man is 90 and he has still got it going on. For years now, Byrd has been a consistent voice for peace and justice in the Senate. The fact that he was a member for a time of the KKK (for which he has apologized repeatedly) is irrelevant.

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