Please, No Obama/Clinton Nightmare

Now that it is apparent to all, except perhaps Hillary Clinton and some of her die-hard supporters, that Barack Obama will be the Democratic presidential nominee, the drumbeat for a “dream” ticket [Obama/Clinton] is starting. But before this goes too far, we need to ask, whose “dream” are we talking about? Our Republican opponent’s dream or ours?

John McCain is in deep trouble, and not just because of the legacy of George Bush. He is in trouble with much of the Republican base, particularly the religious Right, who never have trusted him. It is no accident that turnout in nearly all Republican primaries has been low, that McCain’s fundraising has been dismal and that in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, nearly 25% of Republican voters voted against him, despite the fact that he clearly will be the Republican nominee.

While McCain was the strongest in a weak field of Republican candidates, his candidacy clearly is not galvanizing conservatives. There is only one candidate who can do that: Hillary Clinton. To the conservative base of the Republican Party, she is the Democratic demon and the candidate the Republicans’ want to face. She is Rush Limbaugh’s candidate of choice. She is the candidate who the Right would use to raise money and turn out volunteers. She is the only potential Democratic VP who would build Republican enthusiasm and inspire the grassroots Republican campaign.

She also is the candidate who consistently measures the highest “unfavorable” ratings of anyone who ever has run for the presidency. In an ABC News poll, Clinton polls 54 percent unfavorable; perhaps even worse, 58 percent of voters say she is not honest and trustworthy. Both Clintons stand out for the amount of voter antipathy they attract: Thirty-nine percent of voters have a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Hillary Clinton; only 22 percent have a “strongly favorable” view. Thirty-four percent are strongly negative on Bill Clinton and 51 percent have an “unfavorable” opinion of him. And Hillary’s low-road campaign has had an impact: 41 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters describe the tone of the Democratic campaign as “mostly negative,” and by nearly a 4 to 1 margin, 52 percent to 14 percent, blame Clinton. Is taking baggage like this into the general election anyone’s “dream” but a Republican’s?

Worse than Hillary’s high unfavorables, a Obama/Clinton ticket would create a continuing crossfire — not between McCain and Obama, but between Obama and Clinton. Every one of Clinton’s interactions with the media would feature questions like, “Do you still think Barack Obama lacks experience to be Commander-in-Chief?” “Do you still think Obama is an elitist?” “That he doesn’t understand the problems of the white working class?” “Do you still think his past association with Reverend Wright is very troublesome?” Obama would be asked, “During the primary campaign, your VP said your healthcare plan sucked? Was she right? Does it suck?” “Do you want to obliterate Iran, too, like your vice-president?” And, when the press wasn’t asking these questions, John McCain would ask them. Or, maybe we all could be reminded of Bill’s talk of a Clinton v. McCain contest, where we would have a campaign of “two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country,” unlike Obama. Even worse than this scenario, Barack Obama would be cast in the position of having to defend his own VP’s past attacks on himself. By doing so, he would not simply look like a hypocrite, he would, in fact, be a hypocrite — thus putting into jeopardy his coin of the realm, his honesty and integrity. The general campaign wouldn’t be about Obama v. McCain, it would be Act Two of a very bad marriage, with Obama sacrificing his integrity trying to explain away his own VPs past attacks on him. If you think her snarky, negative primary campaign was a thing of the past, think again because the Republicans and the press would offer us deja vu all over again. Lost in this dialogue of the past would be Obama’s opportunity to explain how he wants to take America into a more productive future.

Those who “dream” of an Obama/Clinton ticket also fail to recognize something significant: Hillary has been a lousy candidate. I used to think that Al Gore and John Kerry ran the worst campaigns for president ever, but Hillary’s ineptitude set new records. Five months ago, Hillary had a 20+ point lead in Democratic polling, the greatest name recognition of any candidate, the most money, support from a popular former Democratic president who was actively campaigning for her, nostalgia for the Clinton era of “peace and prosperity,” a ton of endorsements, the aura of “inevitability” — and she squandered it all with an inexorable series of misjudgments, abetted by her, Bill’s and her campaign’s unrelenting arrogance. By contrast, Obama ran down and exposed the dinosaur for what it was not simply with a brilliantly executed campaign, but with a core understanding that voters were tired of the type of old-style politics and old-style campaigning Bill and Hillary so ably represent. Why should he now forge an alliance with one of the most ineffective old-style campaigns ever, not to mention take on the Big Dog [Bill] as his new pal — in this case, an uncontrollable pal who would try to run not only Hillary’s campaign, but Obama’s, as well? This is my definition of a Living and Breathing Nightmare — one with plenty of 3 am calls from Bill! Even worse than sharing a campaign with Bill and Hill, allying with the Clintons would undermine the very essence of the Obama message — that real change is needed in Washington. It would be seen as completely inauthentic, the worst type of marriage of convenience. And unlike the shotgun marriage JFK made with LBJ, Hillary brings nothing to the table; unlike LBJ, she can’t bring a swing state into the Democratic column. Obama could win New York with Daffy Duck as his VP.

Then there are the revelations to come. Does anyone think that a man with a documented 30-year history of philandering with a long list of bowling alley queens has magically stopped playing the field, or that the Republicans will not exploit this? Does anyone think the Republicans will not exploit Bill’s fundraising associations with some of the questionable people who have given him millions for his library and foundation in favor of his deal-making with oil oligarchs, or exploit his 11th hour pardons of some pretty disreputable characters, including two convicted bomb-carrying members of the Weather Underground? How much more baggage can Hillary sustain?

There are, of course, many strong Vice-presidential candidates for Obama to choose from. In light of Clinton’s and McCain’s challenging Obama’s national security credentials, a VP such as General Wesley Clark, Senator Jim Webb or Governor Bill Richardson would add substantial national security/foreign policy heft. General Clark is our last successful commanding general and a smart, attractive spokesperson. He comes from the Clinton camp, but is no hawk like Hillary; Clark understands not only the uses of military power, but also its limitations. He would fit well with the new direction in foreign policy we hope a President Obama would take the country, as well as add great credibility to new security initiatives. Jim Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy, has been perhaps the most out-spoken and effective critic of the War in Iraq and Bush/Cheney foreign policy belligerence. He won in Virginia, a swing state, against all odds and an incumbent Republican, and is a great campaigner. Governor Richardson has spent most of his adult life working in the foreign policy arena, he is a popular governor in a swing state and is a Hispanic to boot — a near-perfect trifecta of qualifications. He also has an incisive sense-of-humor, which politics and political combat could use a bit more of. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is another VP possibility many have mentioned positively.

And, there are solid women VP candidates: Senator Claire McCaskill won her Senate seat in Missouri, a swing state in any Presidential election; she has a tough law and order background as a former Attorney General, and is smart and articulate. Kansas Governor Kathy Sibelious has proven to be an effective governor who works well with the opposition and knows how to win in a Republican state.

This short list certainly is missing many other potentially good candidates, but the point is simple: There is no dearth of qualified VP candidates for the Democrats and there is no reason to take on the baggage and negatives of the Clintons, let alone try to work closely and cooperatively with them for 4-8 years.

Hillary, Bill and surrogates like James Carville have graphically challenged Obama’s toughness, even his “cojones.” I recognize that Obama is a conciliator, but conciliation should not come at the cost of getting rolled by the Clintons. That first act of a Demcratic Presidential candidate would show strength to no one [including the Clintons] at a time when voters still need to be convinced that Obama not only is an inspiring leader, but a tough and strong leader, as well.

Secret Clinton Memo Revealed

I am a close personal friend of Mark Penn and Harold Wolfson. Recently, I was permitted to read, but not copy, a secret campaign memo co-authored by Hillary and Bill Clinton addressed to their demoralized campaign staff. The memo lays out many possible paths to victory still remaining in the Democratic nomination process for Hillary. My best recollection of this memo is as follows:

1. Assassination is still on the table, but it is only one possibility out of many. In light of the public furor in response to Hillary’s assassination comments, for the time being this possibility will be de-emphasized.

2. Astrophysicists are predicting an increase of meteor showers between now and the Democratic Convention. It is possible that a small meteor could hit Barack Obama in the temple at any time.

3. The most common place where people suffer fatal injuries is in their bath tub and shower. Obama is rumored to bathe every day.

4. It has been reported that Obama likes tofu; it is a little-known fact but many people have died choking on tofu.

5. We are engaged in secret conversations with George Bush and Dick Cheney to encourage them to move up the Iran invasion date from mid-October to the first week in August. We will jump all over this issue in support of the invasion and our brave troops. America likes invading other countries. That peacenik wimp Obama won’t stand a chance.

6. Obama uses an airplane to fly to many of his campaign appearances. With the soaring price of jet fuel, there is a chance his plane will run out of fuel in-flight. It is not a glider.

7. Obama plays basketball every morning. It is possible, even likely, that he could suffer serious damage to his knees and not be able to walk between now and November without a walker or wheelchair. No one wants a President in a wheelchair. We know there is the precedent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but that was before TV.

The Obama campaign only appears to be strong. Obama actually is quite vulnerable, as this memo has made clear. This is no time to feel bad, be nice or stop attacking [pandering to voters is still OK]. We are in this to WIN so stop grousing about the crappy campaign you all think we have run, think like a pit bull, not a poodle, buck up your spirits and your rhetoric and continue to ATTACK!

Too Many Unanswered Questions – Review of the Bible

See review here on Amazon.

I would like to be charitable and generous in my evaluation—even Christian, if you know what I mean—but I can’t give this book anything more than ONE STAR because there are just too many unanswered questions in it. As examples:

1. Leviticus 25.44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided that they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21.7. In this bad economy, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. The Bible teaches that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her menstrual period, but how can I tell? Whenever I ask women I meet if they are menstruating, they take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor to the Lord [Lev. 1.9]. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35.2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination [Lev. 11.10], it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. Are there different degrees of abomination?

7. Leviticus 21.20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19.27. How should they die?

9. I know from Leviticus 11.6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes people unclean. Does this mean that Tim Tebow must stop throwing footballs, or that football should be abolished?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19.19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread [cotton and polyester blend]. He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary to get the whole community together to stone them [Lev. 24.10-16]? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family ceremony, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws [Lev. 20.14]?

If the author of this book can clear up these issues, I’ll consider raising my one-star rating.

The Only Good Option For Health Care is a Public Option

The United States has the most expensive, least efficient and, in many ways, most ineffective healthcare system in the world. But you wouldn’t know it if you listened to Republicans talk about the private health care insurance system or Democratic Blue Dogs whine about costs of reform and complain about how unfair it would be to have private health insurance companies compete with a public health care option.

Despite being the most expensive health care system in the world, in terms of medical outcomes, the private U.S. health care system is the most ineffective. In fact, the World Health Organization ranks health care systems based on objective measures of medical outcomes and the United States’ health care system currently ranks 37th in the world, behind Colombia and Portugal [which both spend far less on health care than the U.S. The United States ranks 44th in the world in infant mortality, behind many impoverished Latin American countries. While infant mortality in the United States is skewed toward poor people, who have rates double the wealthy, the top quintile of the U.S. population has infant mortality rates higher than Canadians in the lowest quintile of wealth.

Not only are 47 million Americans uninsured (approximately 18.5 percent of the insurable market), 41 percent of Americans with incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 did not have health insurance for at least part of 2007, up from 28 percent in 2001; 53 percent with incomes under $20,000 lack health insurance.

There are additional costs to the haphazard U.S. health care system: More than 50 percent of the U.S. population has medical debt problems; between 1981 and 2001, medical-related bankruptcies increased an astounding 2,200 percent and 55 percent of personal bankruptcies are now caused by illness or medical debts, despite the fact that over 75 percent of the bankrupts had health insurance at the onset of bankruptcy and illness.

Contrary to popular conceptions, the average medical bankrupt was a 41-year old woman with children, some college education; over half owned homes and over 80 percent were in the middle or working classes.

The number of people without health insurance rose 18 percent from 2001 to 2007; average health insurance premiums for a family of four are more than $13,000, which exceeds the annual gross income of a full-time, minimum-wage worker. Lack of insurance causes 18,000 excess deaths a year; people without health insurance have 25 percent higher mortality rates; and, 59 percent of uninsured people with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes skip medicine or go without care — and get sicker.

Out of 30 developed nations, life expectancy in the United States ranks 21st: Life expectancy in the United States is 4.6 years less than Japan, 2.1 years less than France and 2.6 years less than Canada. The United States has fewer physicians, nurses and hospital beds than most developed nations. In the United States, 28 percent say it is “difficult to get care”; in most European countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, 15 percent say that. In terms of continuity of care (i.e., five-plus years with the same doctor), the United States is the worst of all developed nations.

By every objective measure, the United States has a second-rate health care system.

The Truth About Healthcare Costs

Even including the 47 million uninsured, the bloated, inefficient U.S. healthcare system costs more than double per capita what single-payer healthcare systems in Europe, Japan and Canada cost.

In the United States, healthcare costs were $6,001 per person in 2007. By contrast, in Japan, with life expectancy 4.6 years more than the United States (presumably a cost-increasing factor), healthcare costs were $2,139 per person; in the United Kingdom, $2,232; Sweden (the ultimate “welfare state”), $2,520; France, $2,903; and, Canada, $3,001.

And, this is not just an individual problem; this is a national problem. Health care system costs in the United States are 17 percent of GNP (and currently increasing 12 percent per year). No other country in the world has healthcare costs which exceed 11 percent of GNP and the average among developed nations is 9 percent. These high costs are making the U.S. uncompetitive in many areas. For example, U.S. car-makers spend $1,500 per car on health care—-more than the cost of the steel in cars — and are competing against European and Japanese car makers who spend nothing for health care.

Administrative costs of the U.S. private health care system consume $300 billion; profits and advertising consume another $300 billion [the CEO of Cigma insurance company made $23 million last year]. Compare those numbers to the $100 billion Republicans and Democratic Blue Dogs complain is too high a cost to reform the system and deliver care to 47 million uninsured. And compare the high overhead costs of the private health care insurance system to the 3 percent overhead of Medicare and single-payer health care systems in Europe, Canada and Japan.

Two years ago, one of my adult sons went to a medical office for testing. On completing the tests, he was handed a bill. The bill had two prices: One was the insurance price, $969.25, the second was the “cash pay price,” $678.00 — exactly 30 percent less than the insurance price. What more do you need to know about the excessive cost and inefficiency of the American private health insurance system than that it costs 30 percent more than the underlying medical services are worth?

This is the costly, inefficient system — and the profits — that Republicans and Democratic Blue Dogs [bought off by health insurance money] are seeking to protect.

In America’s for-profit private insurance health care system, medical technicians must contend with hundreds of different forms, billing procedures, regulations and requirements from hundreds of insurance companies; U.S. health care companies spend money for advertising and marketing; and, the U.S. health care system is based on profit. Since 1970, the number of medical doctors in the United States has increased 40 percent, while the number of medical administrators has increased almost 3,000 percent.

Currently, we are drowning in a massive, inefficient private health insurance bureaucracy. The increasing cost of prescription drugs also is increasing the health care bill, and U.S. drug costs are the highest in the world. Americans pay 30 percent to 80 percent more for prescription drugs than citizens of any other country largely because Republican legislation enacted under George W. Bush prohibits Medicare and private insurance companies from negotiating lower drug prices from Canadian and European suppliers, even of American pharmaceuticals. So American patients pay double and triple the cost of the same drugs, in the same bottles, made by the same companies in the same plants as Canadian patients. Profit in the present U.S. system has been exalted over good care, health and cost considerations.

You might think that this excess money goes into developing new drugs, but you would be wrong: Only 13 percent of drug costs go to research and development, and little of that goes for pioneering new drugs to deal with life-threatening conditions; 51 percent goes to marketing, administration and profits.

And when considering costs of health care, remember that the U.S. taxpayer already pays for more than 60 percent of the American health care bill. It does this by allowing businesses to deduct the cost of health care for employees as a business expense, thus reducing taxes on businesses, which puts a greater burden on individual taxpayers, as well as paying for government supported health care such as Medicare and the Veteran’s Administration health programs. Being the payer of 60+ percent of existing health care costs, you would think the U.S. government would have a right to demand a more efficient system [President Obama thinks it does], but not if you listen to Republicans and Democratic Blue Dogs complain about change [i.e., less profits for their insurance company donors].

The Public Option

The most logical correction to the costly inefficiencies of the American private health insurance system would be a single-payer system — such as Medicare, a popular and successful single-payer system. But single-payer has proven to be too radical a change for Congress even to consider this time around, so we are left with the possibility of a “public option,” which would allow individuals and employer plans to buy into a public system modeled on Medicare. While this “public option” may not be the perfect solution, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Moreover, if the public option is robust, over time it would out-compete the costly, inefficient private health insurance system and you would find not only individuals choosing the public option, but also employer health plans concerned about costs. And precisely because the private insurance companies fear competition from a more efficient public health care system, it is using every weapon in its arsenal to spread fears of “a government takeover” of health care, distort the debate and, of course, buy off members of Congress [Republican and Democratic Blue Dog members of the Senate Finance Committee, for example, have received an average of more than $2 million each in donations from private health insurers].

While single-payer will not be legislated this time, what would be unacceptable would be for health care legislation not to include a robust public option, or to so weaken the public option that it could not compete effectively with private insurers, such as prohibiting use of Medicare rates for medical services, prohibiting negotiation with drug companies for lower prices and/or breaking up the public plan into regional, state or local “coops” which would be too small to compete against national insurance companies. This is the current fault-line in Congress and is why the public option is being attacked by conservatives as “socialized medicine.” Of course, neither the public option or even single-payer systems are socialized medicine.

Medicare is a single-payer system and single-payer systems such as Medicare do not employ any doctors or own any hospitals or medical facilities, let alone create bureaucracies like the bloated, inefficient bureaucracy the private insurance model has created in America. The Veterans Administration health system is a socialized system, as is the military health system, as they both employ doctors and provide hospital facilities, but ironically none of the opponents of the public option ever mention the VA system or the military.

Rather than hundreds of payers (insurance companies) and thousands of different forms, regulations and procedures, a public option would have one payer and one set of forms and procedures. A public health care option, like Medicare, also would offer more choice of medical providers; unlike the current private insurance system, where patients are limited to panels of providers, a public plan would permit patients go to any doctor they want, submit a national health insurance card and the government would pay — just like Medicare. It is the simplest, most efficient plan of all.

There are many ironies in the debate about the need for a public option and one of them is that in one breath conservatives argue that the government is inherently inefficient and can’t run anything, and in the next breath argue that it would be fundamentally unfair to make private insurance companies compete against a public health care plan. Of course, the truth is that the inefficient private system probably can’t compete effectively, but why should we protect inefficiency in health care? We don’t run police and fire services privately or the Army, Navy and Air Force, so why should private for-profit insurance companies hold a virtual monopoly on health care, especially when the evidence is overwhelming that they don’t do a very good job at it?

Congress will be in summer recess next week. This is the time your Congress member and Senators need to hear loudly, clearly and repeatedly by email, phone and letters that you support a robust public health care option, one modeled on Medicare.

Pat Buchanan Attacks Affirmative Action And Sonia Sotomayor

Yesterday, on MSNBC, Pat Buchanan attacked Sonia Sotomayor specifically, and affirmative action in general. Included in his attack were such claims as “this has been a country built basically by white folks,” that Sonia Sotomayor was purely an affirmative action candidate who lacks real credentials and his suggestion that we need more white-male Supreme Court nominees—-like Robert Bork—-despite the fact that 108 of the 110 United Supreme Court Justices in our nation’s history have been white.

What opponents of affirmative action like Pat Buchanan fail to grapple with is that this country was built on affirmative action—-for white males—-and you don’t have to go back to the Founding Fathers to see this in action. If you go back to the 1950s, which Buchanan apparently wants to do, and look at the major private universities, you would find that 20-30% of the admissions were “legacies,” people who got there not on merit but because they were the sons of alumni and donors. George Bush, of course, is the poster-child for this generation of affirmative action babies. I’d like to see Buchanan, or any conservative, defend his admission to Yale on the basis of merit. And I’d like to stack his credentials up next to Sonia Sotomayor ‘s and ask which one was more deserving of admission to a major university, or the bench, or the Presidency, or anything.

The white-male affirmative action which bozos like George Bush benefited from and want to protect was a monopoly of opportunities; monopolies work to undermine healthy competition and produce bad results. The affirmative action which emerged from the 1960s civil rights movement was an effort not only to promote diversity of people and opportunities, but to democratize opportunities so that white-male hierarchies did not automatically get all the perks. This has been healthy for America, not only because society has become more diverse, but also because it now is less likely that the truly unqualified, the frat boys like GWB with no academic credentials and problems with excessive alcohol consumption [but a connected family] are not automatically passed on to graduate schools, and then on to unsuccessful business careers, not to mention catastrophic political careers.

I prosecuted employment discrimination class actions for 25 years, in the process forcing many major corporations to hire and promote women, minorities, older people and the disabled. In every single case I had, when the case was over and the workforce was integrated, no matter how bitter the litigation had been, the companies would confide in me that their workforces after “affirmative action” were stronger, more competitive, more productive. Affirmative action has been good for American business and good for America. Indeed, corporate America, which has seen the benefits of fair employment practices first-hand, long ago abandoned opposition to it. Too bad racists like Buchanan have failed to pay attention to what really has happened in the American workforce over the past 40 years.

The Presiential Election is Not Going to Be Close

In early December 2007, at a time when Hillary Clinton was tracking 20+ points ahead of the Democratic field in national polls, I published an article contending that Hillary Clinton was an inherently weak candidate, a beatable candidate, and that Barack Obama would be a stronger match against Republicans.

I argued that she had the highest “unfavorable” rating of anyone who ever had run for the presidency, that she was the only Democratic candidate who could unite and energize the Republican base, that she was running 10-15 points behind generic Democrat v. Republican presidential polls, that her head-to-head match-ups with the Republican candidates were poor, that in Iowa, where she was the only woman candidate with seven men, she was polling only 26%, that several Democratic U.S. Senate candidates had told me she would pull the ticket down in her states, and that Bill was a potentially large, uncontrollable liability [even I did not know how true that prediction would become!]. Hillary never was “inevitable.” The evidence of her imminent demise was there for anyone who wanted to look. OK, that was then, this is now.

The November Presidential election is not going to be close. Barack Obama is going to beat John McCain by 8-10 points in the national popular vote and win 300-350 electoral votes. Barack Obama is going to wipe-out John McCain mano-a-mano.

I am far more confident making this prediction than I was in predicting Hillary’s demise. There are many reasons why.

The Political Environment: The Republican Party is led — and branded — by an extraordinarily unpopular president, whose policies John McCain has staunchly defended and supported [95% voting congruence in 2007]. In the recent CBS News/New York TImes poll, Bush is at 28% approval, 65% disapproval; in the Hart/Newhouse poll, he is at 27% approval, 66% disapproval. While some presidents have fallen to low levels in the past, what is truly remarkable about Bush is how long-term and persistent voter disapproval of him has been and the depth of voter sentiment: The May 12th Washington Post/ABC poll showed only 15% of voters “strongly approve,” while 52% “strongly disapprove.”

Voters think, correctly, that the country is on the wrong track. In the Hart/Newhouse poll, 15% of voters said the country was headed in the “right direction,” while an astounding 73% said “wrong direction.” Remember, these polls include all voters, not just Democrats!

On issues, Republicans are on the short-end of everything except the military and national security. Among voters, in the New York Times/CBS poll, when asked which party is better, on healthcare 63% say Democrats, while only 19% say Republicans; the economy, 56% say Democrats, 28% say Republicans; sharing your moral values, 50% say Democrats, 34% say Republican; and, dealing with Iraq, 50% say Democrats, 34% say Republicans. The Democratic Party has a 52% favorable and 41% unfavorable rating; the Republican Party has a 33% favorable and 58% unfavorable rating. A whopping 63% say the U.S. needs to withdraw from Iraq within twelve months; John McCain wants to stay roughly forever — and attack Iran. When asked [Washington Post/ABC poll], “Which party do you trust to do a better job coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?” Democrats are chosen by a 53-32% margin.

The U.S. economy is sinking (while John McCain has said he doesn’t know much about the economy); gas prices are skyrocketing; the housing market has collapsed and people are losing their homes; and, the Iraq Recession shows no signs of abating.

McCain has been able to stay close to parity in polls matching him with Obama, but that is the product of the bashing Obama has taken from the Clinton campaign. Once that internal scrap is behind him, and he can go head-to-head against McCain, his polling is going to soar.

Even in fund-raising, a traditional Republican strength, the Republicans are at a disadvantage. At last reported count, Obama had $51 million cash-on-hand; McCain had $11 million. In the combined cash of the national party committees, Republicans had $55.5 million; Democrats $87.1 million. The netroots has raised unprecedented amounts of money for Democrats, especially Obama; labor unions have gone deeper into their pockets and are raising more money for Democrats than in prior elections; and, even business PACs have given more money to Democrats! Business blows with the wind and it knows which way the wind is blowing.

Simply put, this is the worst possible time for any Republican to be running for President. And, this is not simply my opinion, it also is an opinion which has many adherents in the Republican Party and among traditional Republican supporters. Representative Tom Davis, from Virginia, in an internal memo to Republicans, recently wrote, “The political atmosphere facing…Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic that the fall of 2006… The Republican brand is in the trash can….[I]f we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”

The Candidates: While many ardent Democrats would disagree with this assessment, I personally consider John McCain to be an honorable, decent man. I have enormous respect — and cannot forget — the fact that he declined the opportunity to be released from a North Vietnamese prison because his father had been a Navy Admiral and chose instead to stay with his comrades for 5 1/2 years. Very few of us would have done that — I know I would not have. There is a loyalty and integrity there that we need to remember and honor. And, despite efforts to disparage the “maverick” label, the reality is that, for a substantial part of his political career, he was a Republican maverick on a variety of issues, including the environment, immigration, campaign reform, taxes and the budget. These are not inconsequential disagreements with the Republican Party and he has been almost singular in being willing to disagree with the Republican establishment. But that is the previous incarnation of McCain, not the version we’ve seen for the last four years or the version who has to run between now and November.

What we are going to see in the general election from McCain is a ton of mistakes. The very thing the press likes about him, his candor and shoot-from-the-hip style, is going to kill him when the full weight of media attention is trained on him. He never has been a good speaker with a prepared text (last night, his speech was characteristically wooden, with several word confusions). What the media always has loved about him is the quick, gritty, candid John McCain, but that version is gone; he now is a damaged, slower-thinking McCain, but his habits will remain the same, he will still try to be the quick wit, the maverick. It just isn’t going to work, and while McCain is still capable [with help] of firing some zingers which hit, he will be unable to sustain a narrative, or fool the American voters for the next five months. This is not just about being 71, it is about being a very old 71. It might be sad to watch, but I for one will have no sympathy. There is too much at stake.

Obama is the perfect candidate for Democrats, and a nightmare for McCain. Obama, who by every metric is a brilliant strategist, thinker and speaker, is going to run circles around McCain. While McCain, who is not a very good speaker even on his best day, will appear slow, befuddled, confused, he will make gaffes; Obama will be charismatic, smart, thoughtful, high-minded, alert and substantive. It will be no contest. And adding to Obama’s natural advantages, McCain has just enough integrity to try to match up with Obama on issues. In that debate on substance, Obama’s overwhelming intellectual superiority and mental alertness will become obvious. There will be the believers, who have jumped on-board the Obama campaign and will continue to multiply, but there also is going to be another type of vote which is going to swing heavily to Barack Obama — the default vote. Voters are going to default to Obama because it will become obvious McCain simply is not up to the task of being President.

This is going to be the first not-close Presidential election since 1988. You heard it here first.

What Game is Hillary Playing?

Nothing reveals more clearly how utterly unprincipled the Clintons are than their assertion that rules set by the Democratic Party’s Rules Committee, and endorsed by all Clinton representatives on this Committee, now should be abandoned. Nothing reveals more clearly that the only rules the Clintons follow are rules which favor them. Nothing reveals how exaggerated their claims are than Hillary’s recent comparison of the votes in Michigan and Florida to the civil rights movement, the suffragette movement, the fraudulent election in Zimbabwe and the 2000 election in Florida.

The outlines of this story are simple and straight-forward: Two states, Michigan and Florida, sought to advance their Democratic primary elections ahead of other states in order to increase their influence in the primary process. If they had been allowed to do so, Democratic parties in other states could have done the same, it would have become a frantic, disorganized race to be the first, or among the first, state primaries, and the primary season could have been extended substantially. The Democratic Rules Committee reviewed this, understood that chaos would ensue if every state party could advance their presidential primaries unilaterally, and ruled that if Michigan and Florida advanced their primaries, the votes would not count in the delegate race. Hillary Clinton had 15 representatives on the 30-member Rules Committee and every single one of Clinton’s representatives supported this Rules Committee decision, which passed unanimously; Democratic parties in 48 states followed the rule, but Michigan and Florida chose not to. Subsequently, no Democratic candidate campaigned in either state and no Democratic candidate, except Hillary Clinton [who fudged the rules] was even on the ballot in Michigan. The Clinton campaign now contends that these wholly undemocratic elections — even the Stalinist one-candidate election in Michigan — must count or democracy itself will be imperiled.

Harold Ickes, one of Hillary’s representatives on the Rules Committee who voted for the rule barring counting the Michigan and Florida votes, and Hillary’s chief negotiator of this issue, was asked recently on one of the Sunday morning political talk shows, “You voted for the Rules Committee decision, but now you are complaining about it. What has changed?” Ickes replied, “What has changed is that now we are behind.” So, there it is — there is not an ounce of principle in the Clinton position. When they thought they were ahead in the presidential race, they supported the rule, but now that they are behind, they don’t like it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the rest of us could act like the Clintons and support rules when they favor us and ignore them when they don’t?

Two days ago, Hillary hyperventilated on this topic, comparing enforcement of party rules — rules she earlier had agreed to — to the civil rights and suffragette movements, Zimbabwe and Florida 2000, as though enforcing a reasonable party rule was comparable to 300 years of slavery, the disenfranchisement of racial minorities and women from voting for hundreds of years, the unprecedented action of a conservative Supreme Court and the tyrannical actions of an African dictator. The Clintons are desperate; they need boundaries.

Ignoring ALL rules established for the Democratic primaries, which all Democratic candidates, except Hillary Clinton, followed, the Clintons now also contend that the elaborate system of caucuses and primary votes which have been used for this and prior presidential elections should be ignored in favor of reliance only on popular vote counts. In other words, 48 states have been actively engaged in following established rules, but now, at the end of the process, the Clintons propose to jettison the rules and substitute their own new interpretation. Not only is the threshold proposal absurd on its face, the Clintons don’t even count the popular vote fairly: They include votes in the Michigan primary, where Hillary was the only candidate on the Democratic ballot and Obama got zero votes, and exclude hundreds of thousands of caucus votes in the caucus states. If ALL votes are counted, Obama wins by every metric, including popular vote, and he currently is 180+ votes ahead in the delegate count.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign remains open to compromising this dispute so that delegates from Michigan and Florida can be seated at the convention, but, to date, the hard-line Clintons have refused all efforts at compromise.

We need to ask, “Who is the audience for this kind of nonsense?” There are only three possible answers: [1] Super-delegates; [2] Voters; and, [3] The Clintons.

If the Clintons think their bogus arguments are going to move super-delegates to their side, they clearly have miscalculated. In the past ten days, Obama has picked up 42 super-delegates; Hillary has picked up two. I have been calling super-delegates for the past two weeks, including some who previously leaned toward Clinton. Not a single one takes the Clinton disenfranchisement or popular vote arguments seriously. Every single one knows the rules were set by the DNC on a consensus basis, that they were necessary and that there would be chaos in the Democratic primaries if the DNC could not enforce rules such as this.

New York Governor, David Paterson, a Clinton super-delegate, was asked today if the Michigan and Florida votes should be included. He responded: “I would say at this point we are starting to see a little desperation on the part of the woman who I support …There was a process. I thought at the time everybody agreed to it. I didn’t hear any objections from the candidates … So I think the Democratic National Committee would leave it where it is.”

When asked about Clinton’s claims about how to count the popular vote and her comparison of her plight to the civil rights movement, Paterson said, “You have to assume she won 100 percent to nothing in Michigan. I don’t think anybody in their right mind would do that, nor would they see it as a civil rights issue.”

If the audience is voters, the Clintons are reaching some of them, but for what purpose? If you read the blogs, you find some comments expressing distress at the prospect of Hillary losing, with some of them complaining about Florida and Michigan, as if including these states would make the critical difference. These are the Democratic voters threatening to sit out the general election or vote for McCain. Is that what Hillary and Bill are trying to accomplish — to increase the number of disgruntled Democratic voters and make winning the general election harder? Whether this is their purpose, or not, clearly their behavior is having this effect.

Both Clintons graduated from a respected law school so I think it is safe to say they are smart enough to know their arguments about disenfranchisement of voters and their new preference for the “popular vote,” as they selectively calculate it, have no weight. But they don’t want to quit and the only way to justify staying in the obviously lost race is to build their resentment to the level of self-righteousness, and, like most confabulators, they have begun to believe their own propaganda.

Hillary and Bill are not acting like leaders, they are acting like self-absorbed adolescents, thinking that if they whine loudly enough people will accommodate them. This is not leadership, this is petulance. They will go down in this race, but not without their own sense of righteousness and value intact. This conveniently avoids the unpleasant prospect of actually taking responsibility for why they lost.

Introspection does not come easy to the Clintons, but during the next four years, let’s hope they try some.

Hillary Clinton Might Be the Least Electable Democrat

Last Sunday’s New York Times contained an op-ed by Frank Rich (“Who’s Afraid of Barack Obama,” Dec. 2) suggesting that, for a variety of reasons, Barack Obama is the Democrat the Republicans fear most. While Rich emphasized Obama’s authenticity, his early and unequivocal opposition to the Iraq war and his cross-over appeal to independents and Republicans, missing from his otherwise excellent article were polling results confirming why Republicans fear an Obama presidential candidacy and why they would prefer to run against Hillary Clinton.

While Clinton maintains her lead in national polling among Democrats, in direct matchups against Republican presidential candidates, she consistently runs behind both Barack Obama and John Edwards. In the recent national Zogby Poll (Nov. 26, 2007), every major Republican presidential candidate beats Clinton: McCain beats her 42 percent to 38 percent; Giuliani beats her 43 percent to 40 percent; Romney beats her 43 percent to 40 percent; Huckabee beats her 44 percent to 39 percent; and Thompson beats her 44 percent to 40 percent, despite the fact Thompson barely appears to be awake most of the time.

By contrast, Obama beats every major Republican candidate: He beats McCain 45 percent to 38 percent; Guiliani 46 percent to 41 percent; Romney 46 percent to 40 percent; Huckabee 46 percent to 40 percent; and, Thompson 47 percent to 40 percent. In other words, Obama consistently runs 8 to 11 percent stronger than Clinton when matched against Republicans. To state the obvious: The Democratic presidential candidate will have to run against a Republican.

Clinton’s inherent weakness as a candidate shows up in other ways. In direct matchups for congressional seats, Democrats currently are running 10 percent to 15 percent ahead of Republicans, depending on the poll, while Clinton runs 3 percent to 7 percent behind — a net deficit ranging from 13 to 22 percent. No candidate in presidential polling history ever has run so far behind his or her party.

To look at Clinton’s candidacy another way, Clinton runs well behind generic polling for the presidency: In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Nov. 1-5, 2007, voters were asked, “Putting aside for a moment the question of who each party’s nominee might be, what is your preference for the outcome of the 2008 presidential election — that a Democrat be elected president or that a Republican be elected president?” By 50 percent to 35 percent, voters chose “Democrat” — a 15-point edge. Thus, Clinton is running 10 to 15 percent, or more, behind the generic Democratic candidate. This is not a promising metric nor the numbers of a strong candidate.

Look at Iowa: It is neck-and-neck, with Obama, Clinton and Edwards running close among the first tier of Democratic candidates. But Clinton is the only woman running against seven men, yet polls only around 25 percent. When you have been in the public eye for 15 years and are well-known, when your husband was a popular president and remains perhaps the most popular Democrat in America, when you are the only female candidate in a race against seven men, but you are polling just 25 percent, you are not a strong candidate.

I had occasion last week to speak for an hour and a half with a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in a battleground state. Without revealing who I favored in the Democratic primary, I asked, “Who would help you the most at the top of the Democratic ticket in November 2008?” Without hesitation, the candidate [who cannot take a public position in the presidential primary] responded: “I can tell you who would hurt me the most — Hillary Clinton. She has 30-40 percent of voters in my state who never would vote for her under any circumstances, and she is no one’s second choice. Her support is lukewarm, at best.”

In a recent article in The New Republic, Thomas F. Schaller quoted two Midwestern politicians about the negative effect of having Clinton lead the Democratic ticket in 2008. Missouri House Minority Whip Connie Johnson warned, “If Hillary comes to the state of Missouri, we can write it off.” Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks of Indiana stated, “I’m not sure it (Clinton candidacy) would be fatal in Indiana, but she would be a drag.”

Karl Rove recently commented on Hillary’s candidacy, observing that she had the highest “unfavorable” ratings of any presidential candidate in modern polling history. In the USA/Gallup Poll, over the past two years, Clinton’s “unfavorable” ratings have ranged from 40 percent to 52 percent and currently are running 45 percent — far higher than any other Democratic or Republican presidential hopeful and higher than any presidential candidate at this stage in polling history. Hillary Clinton may be the most well-known, recognizable candidate, but that is proving to be as much a burden as a benefit.

Another factor to consider is the power of Clinton to unify the opposition. While the field of Republican candidates is uninspiring, if not grim, Clinton is a galvanizing force for conservatives. While Clinton-hatred may be unfair (I happen to think it is), the intensity of animosity conservatives have reserved for the Clintons is unprecedented. They want to run against her not only because she may be the weakest candidate, but also because they hate her and what they think she stands for. I am not endorsing this hatred, which I consider irrational and destructive, but Democrats need to consider that her candidacy, more than any other Democratic candidate, has the potential to motivate and activate the opposition.

To be fair, it should be noted that not all polls find Clinton on the short end of polling disparities, and some have found her polling at parity, or sometimes even slightly ahead, of Republicans (generally, within the margin of polling error). But this should not obscure the main point: By every measure, Clinton’s support runs well behind congressional Democrats, well behind generic Democrats and, generally, behind her Democratic presidential rivals in matchups with Republicans.

Bill: When will the other shoe drop?

Every presidential candidate inspires humor. In the case of Bill and Hillary, it is an avalanche, including the “Hillary Spanking Bill Clinton Whipping Magnet” for refrigerators across America. But what about Bill’s proven 30-year history of womanizing? Should we assume these patterns have disappeared? Or should we assume there may be more revelations about Bill’s continuing liaisons with women that Republicans will produce during the general election, taking voters back to memories of Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky, with Hillary playing the role of Bill’s enabler? Given Bill’s past conduct, wouldn’t it be prudent for Democratic voters to assume this is an additional liability a Clinton candidacy might have to carry in the general election?

When the beginning point for Clinton is at or behind her Republican opponent, and 10 to 15 points behind the Democratic Party, how many liabilities can her candidacy sustain? Even if there is less than a 50 percent chance of more revelations about Bill, is it wise for Democratic voters to ignore this risk, roll the dice and take that chance when the presidency is at stake?

If Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, I will support her candidacy and hope for the best, because I am not sure much of America would be left after another four to eight years of a Republican presidency. But shouldn’t Democrats be thinking strategically about who comes to the table with more strengths, fewer liabilities and fewer potential game-changing surprises? I sure hope so.

The Dems Need an Iran Strategy ASAP

Democrats are almost giddy about their prospects of winning the presidency and increasing their majorities in the House and Senate. In fact, in the November/December 2007 issue of Mother Jones magazine, Simon Rosenberg and Peter Leyden of the New Democrat Network even predict a 50-year shift of power to Democrats.

Democrats are almost giddy about their prospects of winning the presidency and increasing their majorities in the House and Senate. In fact, in the November/December 2007 issue of Mother Jones magazine, Simon Rosenberg and Peter Leyden of the New Democrat Network even predict a 50-year shift of power to Democrats.

Due to the near-complete collapse of conservative ideas and policies, Democrats have an opening and perhaps even a strong hand to play, but they are underestimating the Republican trump card and Bush’s willingness to play it — national security. In fact, Democrats are woefully unprepared for what is likely to happen between now and next November.

The last three federal elections have been decided on security issues, with the Republicans winning two of them. Even in 2006, with the Iraq war collapsing around the Republicans, according to a Quinlin Greenberg poll, 22 percent of voters said “protecting America from terrorism” was their No. 1 voting priority and these “security voters” broke 74 percent to 24 percent for Republicans. On all other issues, Democrats maintain 20-plus point advantages over Republicans. In light of such facts, which are well-known, should we assume the Republicans, specifically Bush, Cheney and Rove (who continues to advise Bush) will let the election be dominated by Democratic issues? Shouldn’t we assume Bush/Cheney will play the one strong card they have? These people have proved their willingness to lie, cheat, manipulate, create fear and even go to war against a country which posed no threat when it served their political purposes. In short, we must assume the worst — that they will take aggressive action against Iran, most likely an air attack — before November 2008.

Democrats are not merely unprepared for this, they appear to be traumatized by it. Given a mandate by voters in November 2006 to wind down the Iraq war, they splintered, proved incapable of uniting and failed to use the authority expressly given to them by the Constitution — the power to withhold funding. In fact, many Democrats are continuing to blame Republicans for the impasse on Iraq, contending that they need a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate to put conditions on funding to stop or wind down the war when, in fact, all they need to stop continued war funding is a simple majority in the House (which they have) and 41 votes in the Senate (which they have). In short, if the Democrats were as resolute in what they believed as the Republicans, the Iraq war would be well on the way to meeting the Iraq Study Group Report recommendation of near-complete withdrawal by March 2008. Instead, Dick Cheney’s prediction in October 2006 that the November 2006 election results would not matter, as he and Bush would continue to prosecute the war regardless of the election results, has proved to be 100 percent accurate.

Democrats are fragmented and disorganized, blood is in the water and Bush/Cheney are set to exploit this disarray to the Republicans’ advantage.

Sometime in March 2008, soon after the Democratic presidential nominee is identified by the presidential primaries, we should expect the Republican drumbeat about Iran to crescendo and the Republicans in Congress to promote an Iran resolution much like the one they foisted on the Democrats in October 2002, shortly before the 2002 midterm elections, where they crushed the Democrats. They will claim the resolution will not specifically authorize war against Iran, that its purpose will be to strengthen Bush’s hand in negotiations with Iran, but which will be broad enough in its terms to be used for an attack on Iran by Bush/Cheney. Democrats will whine and moan, but the more conservative Democrats, approximately 75 in the House and 25 in the Senate, fearing accusations of not being “strong on defense,” will cringe and crumble and sign on with the Republicans. A charade of “negotiation” will ensue, punctuated by claims insurgents in Iraq are being supplied by Iran, and perhaps even that Iranians are moving into Iraq, and in late fall 2008 (my guess is Oct. 1) Bush will authorize an air attack on Iranian targets to (1) protect our soldiers in Iraq and (2) reduce the Iran nuclear threat (a still-unproven threat). Act One in this drama already has occurred, with the Republicans promoting a resolution (Kyl-Lieberman) in the Senate to brand the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organization” (the first time a part of any national army has been so branded). Predictably, 25 Democratic senators, including Hillary Clinton, voted for this resolution and it passed 76-22. The resolution was nonbinding, but the exercise displayed for all to see the inherent weakness and lack of self-confidence of Democrats on national security issues.

Attacking Iran would be mostly symbolic, but would have disastrous consequences

Attacking Iran would not protect American soldiers in Iraq. Almost certainly, it would have exactly the opposite effect. American soldiers already are stretched to the max in Iraq; replacements and reinforcements are not available. According to Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton (ret.), who was commanding general in the Office of Security Transition in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003-2004, even without the added pressures of an attack on Iran, the current “15-month tours will break the Army.” Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said last week that “the answer to dealing with Iran will not be found in a military operation. The U.S. is currently bogged down in two wars. Our military is terribly overburdened, and we are doing great damage to our force structure and readiness capabilities.”

The United States does not have the capacity to widen a ground war and take on a nation with more than double the population of Iraq. Attacking Iran by air risks Iran retaliating by sending armed forces and advanced weaponry into Iraq, which, to date, Iran has not done. Iran also has the capacity to send armed forces into neighboring nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon, creating a wider war front, as well as increasing its political reach. Last week, Eaton confirmed that “the United States has insufficient forces in Iraq to defend from an Iranian attack.” He added, “Iran has the capacity to send thousands of soldiers into Iraq in 4-9 person teams, armed with rocket-propelled grenades to support the Iraq insurgency; the U.S. does not have sufficient forces to respond to this.” Eaton also said that Iran is believed to have “sleeper cells” throughout the Middle East, increasing the chance of widespread asymmetrical warfare the United States is not prepared to counter. The prospect of putting our soldiers in Iraq at much greater risk and transforming a one-nation war into regional war is real.

The downside to attacking Iran is even deeper. If Iran controls Hezbollah and Hezbollah is as dangerous as everyone says it is, attacking Iran could lead directly to “nonattributive” terrorist attacks on American soil. It wouldn’t take a nuclear device or dirty bomb to disrupt the American economy. A few suicide bombers and/or “suitcase bombs” in crowded transportation hubs, shopping malls, movie theaters or perhaps an NFL football stadium would cause major economic dislocations in the United States. Iran also could close the Strait of Hormuz, where 20 percent of the world’s oil supplies must pass, with sea mines and cut off oil to the West; Iran could attack Iraqi, and perhaps even Saudi, oil production. If world oil prices hit $200 a barrel, the world economy, already weak, would be seriously threatened — a global depression is even possible. And while the United States gets relatively little oil from the Middle East, China, Russia and Japan get most of their oil there. Are they going to sit by quietly while the United States threatens or diminishes their oil supplies? China and Russia have a great capacity for mischief and the unintended consequences of attacking Iran could be dramatic.

At a minimum, China has the capacity to stop buying U.S. bonds or even begin selling their huge supply of U.S. dollars, further depressing the value of the U.S. dollar, already at historic lows. And, Russia, which is building close economic relations with Iran, likely would provide more sophisticated weaponry to Iran in the event of a U.S. attack, including advanced anti-aircraft weapons. Hagel said last week, “The challenge of Iran will not be successfully met without Russia and China and the world community.” It will not successfully be met by jeopardizing China’s and Russia’s oil supplies.

Attacking Iran also will unite the Iranian population against America for a generation, the Arab street throughout the Middle East will become even more hostile to America and the world community, with the exception of Israel and possibly a few other nations, will condemn the United States Can our position in the world get worse? Yes.

Lastly, a “surgical strike” at Iran’s nuclear program would largely be a fiction. First, we should not assume U.S. intelligence about where Iran’s nuclear development sites are located is any better than the faulty intelligence about Iraq’s supposed WMDs. Second, current U.S. “bunker busters” (aka “penetrating warheads”) do not have the capacity to bust into deep underground bunkers. In fact, dropping a series of bunker busters would liquefy the soil around the bunkers and make them even more impregnable. The only way to knock out the bunkers is with nuclear weapons, but nuclear weapons and the radioactive fallout from them could cause millions of deaths and casualties, and not just in Iran. Last year, Gen. Wesley Clark stated that Iran’s nuclear program could not be stopped by an air attack alone, and last week Maj. Gen. Eaton confirmed that assessment. Thus, a Bush/Cheney decision to bomb Iran largely would be symbolic, designed perhaps for an audience of American voters, but not to fundamentally alter realities on the ground, except to diminish U.S. standing in world opinion — already at historic lows.

In the alternative, Bush could attack the many Iranian Revolutionary Guard encampments. Of course, the Democrats who voted to condemn the Revolutionary Guards as “a terrorist organization” have left themselves wide open to this; if the guards are “terrorists,” how will those Democrats be able to object to an air attack? Remember, Bush/Cheney were not the ones who made “regime change” in Iraq official U.S. policy; credit for that belongs to Bill Clinton and congressional Democrats who collaborated with Republicans in 1998 to accomplish this. Democrats play chess one move at a time; Republicans seem to be able to see the whole board.

If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, and her past behavior is a guide, we can expect cautiousness and triangulation on Iran, and perhaps even outright support for military action. Already, she has fallen into the Republican trap of supporting the Kyl-Lieberman Senate resolution characterizing a part of the Iranian national army as a “terrorist organization.” This is the kind of rhetoric which Sen. Hagel recently called “the lowest common denominator of ‘who can talk the toughest’ and who is the ‘meanest cowboy on the block.’ That kind of rhetoric … political as it may be … will only drive the world further away from America and deepen a world crisis … that we may not be able to recover from.” Democrats falling in line with Republican “cowboy” rhetoric and behavior on Iran sets up the prospect that the 2008 election could mirror 1968, when progressive opponents of the Vietnam War, outraged by Democratic inaction, deserted the Democratic Party, thereby helping to elect Richard Nixon. We could even see the rise of one or more third parties. Given Clinton’s already record-high unfavorable poll numbers and her weak matchup poll numbers with Republican presidential candidates, it won’t take much to tip the election to the Republicans.

Will the military dtop Bush/Cheney?

Important components of the U.S. military are opposed to military action in Iran. It has been reported that Adm. William Fallon, head of Central Command in Iraq (i.e., General Petraeus’ boss) has said there will be no attack on Iran “on my watch.” Think Progress, http://thinkprogress.org/2007/05/16/fallon-carrier/. And, it is rumored that 20-plus high-ranking army officers have already tendered resignations in case Iran is attacked. We should salute these brave officers for keeping sight of America’s long-term interests in the Middle East mind, not the short-term political needs of Republicans, but the American tradition is civilian rule, not mutiny, and we should expect that no matter how many courageous military officers object, when the order is issued to attack Iran, it will be followed.

What can Democrats do?

Democrats cannot outbid, outspend, outcowboy or outhawk the Republican hawks; if Democrats play the “tough on Iran” military card, they will be chasing Bush/Cheney all the way into another unwinnable, war. From a strategic game-theory standpoint, those who are posturing “tough on Iran” are putting control of the game totally in the hands of the opponent. Isn’t this the one lesson from the runup to the Iraq war that every Democrat should have learned? Democrats need to get ahead of this issue, not continue passively to respond to hawkish initiatives, like the Kyl-Lieberman resolution, which accept all the hawk assumptions and set the table for war.

The “hooks” Bush likely will use to justify attacking Iran will be twofold: (1) He is protecting American troops in Iraq, and (2) he is preventing World War III by stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Democrats need to attack, as well as put into context, both claims. While there may be some Iranians in Iraq supporting their Shiite compatriots, and some of the IED’s found in Iraq may have been manufactured in Iran, Iran has been remarkably cautious about arming or supporting Iraqi insurgents, particularly given the fact that Iran has 300,000 American soldiers and mercenaries on its borders. While Ahmadenijad — like Bush and Cheney — has been bellicose, Iran’s actual behavior in Iraq has been cautious. One prominent national security expert, Peter Galbraith, even has argued that Iran is our natural ally in Iraq, as Iran does not want continued instability on its borders, and both Iran and the United States support the Shiite-dominated Maliki government in Iraq. This provides Democrats the opportunity to make the case — perhaps through investigative hearings featuring testimony by military commanders — that attacking Iran will put American soldiers in Iraq more at risk, not less. Adm. Fallon, testifying in Congress about his doubts about taking military action against Iran and his “not on my watch” statement, might take the initiative from the Bush-Hawks and change the terms of public debate in more sensible directions. Army commanders testifying in public about “breaking the Army” with multiple 15-month tours of duty and not having sufficient forces available in Iraq to contend with Iranian retaliation might change perceptions about which party “supports the troops.”

Democrats also need to deal with the Iran nuclear threat for what it is — a potential long-term threat, but not an immediate threat. In fact, many security experts, including United Nations chief inspector El Baradei, say Iran’s nuclear threat will not be realized for five years or more. We know it is possible to deal with such threats diplomatically because last February the Bush administration made a deal with another member of the “Axis of Evil,” North Korea, to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program in favor of promises of economic aid. Bush has been remarkably quiet about this — perhaps his one legitimate foreign policy success — but there is no reason for Democrats to be quiet about the possibility of diplomacy working, as it worked in North Korea. Furthermore, there have been efforts by Iran to forge a game-changing deal with the United States. As Trita Parsi’s book Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States shows, in May 2003, the Iranian government sent a proposal to the United States via its Swiss ambassador proposing a deal in which Iran would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for an end to U.S. hostility. As explained in the book, as well as Peter Galbraith’s article published in AlterNet, the deal was summarily rejected by Bush/Cheney, but now with the United States so much weaker in Iraq, and with its real options limited in Iran, diplomacy, and a deal, should be pursued, just as the Iraq Study Group Report recommended. In short, there is no reason for Democrats, or anyone, to assume diplomacy has no chance of success.

Last week, Sen. Hagel gave a thoughtful, well-reasoned speech about Iran and the Middle East. Echoing the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group Report, he called for direct talks with Iran: “[N]ow is the time for the United States to actively pursue an offer of direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran … We should make clear that everything is on the table — our issues and Iran’s — similar to the opportunity we squandered in 2003 for comprehensive talks with Iran.” Hagel added, “We must be clear that the United States does not … does not … seek regime change in Iran. There can be no ambiguity on this point. This should include offering Iran a credible way back in from the fringes of the international community, security guarantees if it is willing to give nuclear weapons ambitions, as well as other incentives … Creative approaches like these, rather than war speeches and talk of World War III, would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies and international institutions would be more confident to stand with us, not just because of our power, but rather because they trusted our purpose, our words and our actions. It could create a new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations, in part by incentivizing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West because it is in their interests … By refusing to engage Iran in direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks, we are perpetuating dangerous geopolitical unpredictabilities.”

Let us salute Republican Sen. Hagel for his insights and courage to speak forthrightly about Iran, but shouldn’t we expect the same from Democrats?

Two weeks ago, Rep. John Tierney, who sits on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and chairs a National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee, initiated a series of subcommittee hearings, inviting experts to teach Congress about Iran, such as what the Iranian people want, where power lay in the Iranian government, how Iran might be engaged diplomatically, what the costs of military intervention in Iran might be, etc. And, recently, Sen. Jim Webb (former Secretary of the Navy) sent a letter to President Bush contending “that offensive military action should not be taken against Iran without the express consent of Congress.” As Steve Clemons, who directs the American Strategies program at the New America Foundation, and others, have argued, in light of the Kyl-Lieberman resolution, Democrats need to get 50 votes on something, even a nonbinding resolution, even a letter to the president, showing that a majority of the Senate opposes an attack on Iran. This is an opportunity for leadership from Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden — the Democratic presidential candidates from the U.S. Senate. Can one, or more, of them rise to the occasion and bring some sanity to the discussion of Iran?

Conclusion

Three months ago, I attended a two-day Democratic Party policy discussion. The featured luncheon speaker on the second day was famed Democratic strategist James Carville, whose topic was the 2008 elections. Carville provided a rousing, rosy picture of Democratic opportunities in 2008, but missing from his discussion was any mention of national security contingencies. During the Q & A, a major Democratic donor asked Carville how the Democratic Party would respond to a major act of terrorism or a manufactured security event, such as Iran. With Nancy Pelosi sitting nearby, Carville answered, “I don’t have a clue; that is way above my pay station.”

If the Democrats hope to avoid another crushing, demoralizing defeat in a presidential election, as well as prevent America from digging an even deeper hole in the Middle East, they will need more than a clue, they will need a coherent strategy about what to do about Iran, and the sooner the better.