2011-2012 Director's Corner

The Real Mitt Must Stand Up
New York Daily News
March 4, 2012

Jimmy Carter was able to explain to people that being a peanut farmer wasn’t a bad thing.

Ronald Reagan demonstrated that working as a movie actor shouldn’t keep voters from considering his candidacy.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both convinced us that their personal problems weren’t disqualifiers.

So why is Mitt Romney having so much trouble persuading voters that being a successful businessman isn’t a problem?

From the beginning, one essential element of the Republican primary fight has remained absolutely unchanged: It has been a contest between two candidates. One, of course, has been Romney. Let’s call the other one Un-Romney. Read more>

Huntsman, The Man Who Wasn't There
Election Center, CNN
November 18, 2011

When Jon Huntsman announced his campaign for president last summer, he received the type of media attention that presumed he would be an immediate and formidable challenger for the Republican nomination.

Unlike other early casualties like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, Huntsman did not self-destruct. There was no spectacular immolation or flameout that rocked the political world, nor had there been the type of stratospheric rise that marked Cain and Bachmann's campaigns. Read more> 

Who Tests the Testers?
Room for Debate, New York Times
November 18, 2011

It's perfectly understandable to want the most capable members of our community to represent us in public office. The problems begin when you try to set up non-negotiable criteria for measuring candidates' intellectual abilities or knowledge by any standard other than voter assessment and support. Requiring politicians to take a single, authoritative test by which their fitness for office is determined would be a recipe for disaster, given the inevitable and unresolvable debates over how to objectively measure their competence. Read more>

What Should Occupy Wall Street's Agenda Be?
Topic A, Washington Post
October 21, 2011

The difference between a movement and a large group of unhappy people is the ability to articulate specific policy goals. Those who held the earliest Tea Party rallies in 2009 had not yet developed legislative priorities to substantiate their slogans, but, over the course of several months, the congressional debate over deficit reduction and then the nation’s debt limit provided them the opportunity to directly influence policy in Washington. In an earlier era, the protesters who rallied public opinion against the Vietnam War underwent a similar evolution. Read more>

Face-Off at the UN
Opinion, Los Angeles Times
September 20, 2011

The looming United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood is not a cause for celebration — for Palestinians or anyone else. It is merely further evidence of the utter stalemate of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which once promised to deliver a two-state solution but which during the last few years has deteriorated into a depressing morass.

The U.N. vote, assuming it takes place, will be mostly symbolic. Whether it ends in a Security Council veto or a successful follow-up in the General Assembly, it will not, in fact, result in the imminent creation of an independent Palestinian state. When the vote is over, Israel will still control the territory it controls now, settlements will continue to dot the West Bank, and Hamas and the Palestinian Authority will remain suspicious rivals fighting to lead a stateless people. The Israeli occupation will not come screeching to an end. Read more>

Book Review: Dick Cheney's "In My Time"
Los Angeles Times
September 12, 2011

In the 1990s military courtroom drama "A Few Good Men," Marine Col. Nathan Jessup, as played by Jack Nicholson, faces down an inquisitor who challenges the measures Jessup believed were justified to protect the nation's security. "You want the truth," he thunders, "You can't handle the truth!"

As far as we know, Jessup never wrote an autobiography. But if he did, the tone of it would probably read a lot like that of Dick Cheney's recently released "In My Time." In the book, Cheney explains and defends the Bush administration's policies in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Read more>

Shaming California
Opinion, Los Angeles Times
August 17, 2011

We're not always fair to our politicians. We criticize them for raising taxes or for cutting spending, but then we complain when they refuse to compromise. We get angry when they grovel to special interests, except when those interests are our own. We disparage them for attacking each other, and we ignore them when they don't.

But at the point our political leaders not only treat each other as enemy combatants but begin to regard the rest of us as unnecessary nuisances, our contempt for them becomes entirely deserved. Read more>

Who Won and Lost in the Debt Deal?
Topic A, Washington Post
August 1, 2011

We can’t stress enough how important it is that Congress has agreed on a deal to increase the debt limit. Allowing our country to default would be the worst possible policy.

The cuts called for in this plan are significant and represent the first step along the path of real fiscal reform and responsibility. The problem with this plan is that it isn’t a solution, it is merely a first step and no one should regard it as more than that. The nation’s debt will continue to rise as a share of the economy. There is no requirement that the special committee recommend structural changes to entitlements or tax reform. And the trigger mechanism designed to force action exempts too much and requires too little. Read more>

In Debt Talks, Did the Tea Party Win?
Room for Debate, New York Times
August 1, 2011

The real moment of victory for the Tea Party was not when Barack Obama first agreed to a debt agreement with all cuts and no taxes. It wasn't when John Boehner was forced to redo his own proposal so it could pass the House last week. But when Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney rushed out a statement on Monday morning opposing the final deal, the Tea Party triumph was complete.

Even as his standing in the primary polls has eroded, Mr. Romney has steadfastly resisted the rightward pull from the G.O.P. base to remain focused on a jobs-creation agenda that he believes will be critical to his efforts to defeat President Obama next November. He has largely ignored the pressure, provocation and outright insults from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Representative Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota and the rest of the field: even Texas Gov. Rick Perry's likely entry into the race has not swayed Mr. Romney from his message. Read more>

Policies, Not Religion
Room for Debate, New York Times
July 4, 2011

Either Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman could very well be the 2012 Republican nominee for president. But if they fall short, it will have a lot more to do with health care (in Mr. Romney’s case) or same-sex marriage (for Mr. Huntsman) than either man’s religious faith. Both men have taken positions on issues fundamentally at odds with a majority of registered Republicans, and much larger percentages of G.O.P. party regulars oppose them on those policy matters than voice concerns about the Mormon religion. These two issues are what have made Mr. Romney the shakiest Republican frontrunner in modern history and created a significant obstacle for Mr. Huntsman to overcome as he tries to become known among primary voters. Read more>


A Matter of Perseverence
Room for Debate, New York Times
June 17, 2011

When it comes to voter reaction to politicians who overstep personal and sexual lines of decorum, the rules for penalizing, forgiving and ignoring are difficult to pin down.

On one end of the spectrum is John Edwards using political contributions to pay off the mistress who he took up with while his wife battled cancer (criminal, reprehensible and unforgivable). On the other is Jimmy Carter admitting that he looked at women other than his wife with lust in his heart (harmless, silly and not worth penalizing). In between, there is a sizable gray area in which our political leaders navigate an amorphous and constantly shifting series of legal, moral and ethical crosscurrents. For those who occupy the space between the extremes represented by Mr. Edwards and Mr. Carter, for the Clintons and the Gingriches, the Vitters and the Spitzers and the Sanfords, the likelihood of survival seems to be based primarily on the individual’s willingness to persevere. Read more>

Reboot for Obama's Economic Team?
Arena, Politico
June 7, 2011

The absence of Austan Goolsbee and Christina Romer from the White House will have much less impact on president’s economic agenda than the absence of Howard Dean or Russ Feingold from the campaign trail. 

Since the dawn of the primary era, every incumbent president who has avoided a significant primary challenge has achieved re-election (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43). Conversely, every president who has faced a plausible opponent from his own party has gone home (Johnson, Ford, Carter, Bush 41) . A president’s re-election chances improve when he can move toward the political center as early in the process as possible: a challenge from his party’s own base delays that shift until much later in the campaign. Read more>

John Edwards Indicted: Can His Legacy be Rehabbed?
Arena, Politico
June 3, 2011

If John Edwards didn’t exist, Anthony Weiner would have had to invent him. After a week of Weiner’s flailing, which -- barring the appearance of more sordid details -- is more silly and embarrassing than anything else, cue the Edwards jury to remind us what true moral repugnance really looks like.

But just as Edwards moves public attention away from Weiner, Weiner had shifted our gaze from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had distracted us from Arnold Schwarzenegge,  who had not quite made us forget about Charlie Sheen. Somewhere, Gary Hart must be either smiling – or outraged. Read more>

Oprah Vs. Newt
Room for Debate, New York Times
May 26, 2011

It’s more fun to be Oprah Winfrey than Newt Gingrich.

Sarah Palin is fast arriving at a crossroads in her career, where she will soon have to decide whether to pursue the path of an entertainer who dabbles in politics (a conservative version of Oprah) or of a candidate with celebrity credentials reaching beyond the campaign trail (a female Newt, if you will).

The followers of both Mr. Gingrich and Ms. Winfrey will recoil from the comparisons, because Sarah Palin is neither as well-suited for the role of consoler-in-chief as Oprah or the public policy volcano that is Newt. But she maintains a cross-over appeal that both of her fellow one-named wonders lack, and she has successfully parlayed these two personas into a very profitable and high-profile enterprise. Read more>

GOP's Messaging Problem on Medicare?
Arena, Politico
May 24, 2011

They’re already on the record for the [Ryan plan] vote, so there’s no going back. Now they have to fight through the jungle. According to polling, it’s an uphill fight. But they’ll need to find a way to convince voters that the Obama alternative is even more tight-necked. It’s going to be even harder to convince voters now that this reform is a good thing, and the only way out is to convince them that the alternative is even worse.

Voters who say, “Don’t touch my Medicare,” are saying by implication that Medicare is just fine the way it is. The task for Republicans is convincing them that it isn’t. No one’s going to leave a sinking boat as long as they think it’s going to float. If you convince them that it’s going down, they’re going to have to use the lifeboats.

Why Personal Biography Matters
Room for Debate, New York Times
May 15, 2011

When Americans vote for a member of Congress or a state or local official, we're essentially electing a stack of policy positions. But when we select a president, we're investing our trust in a man or woman we want to lead us. We're looking not only for agreement on the issues but for an emotional connection that allows us to place our trust in another human being. That's why the personal biography - and personal transgressions - of presidential candidates are so much more important to us than those of other politicians.

Divorce once represented aberrational behavior and a breach of trust that most voters could neither tolerate nor forgive. But as societal norms change, the standards for a candidate's personal behavior are modified as well. Not only is divorce no longer a disqualifier; it is not even an obstacle to be overcome. But the unique situations of two Republican presidential possibilities are drawing a significant public and media attention, albeit for very different reasons. Read more>

Avoiding the Siren Call
Room for Debate, New York Times
May 12, 2011

The candidate is always greener on the other side of the fence.

When a presidential primary campaign reaches the first turn and begins to move from the small rooms where donors and activists congregate to the broader public spaces, a political party’s insecurities inevitably begin to emerge. Those insecurities are strongest when a party is most worried about its prospects in the upcoming election: they display themselves in a general sense of nervousness that the party is not putting up its strongest possible candidate. Read more>

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