Monday, March 31, 2008

We love you, Hillary

In one of the most interesting turns the Democratic primary has taken, Hillary Clinton has been praised by her hated nemesis, Richard Scaife, the Chicago tycoon who went out of his way to lead the "vast right-wing conspiracy" against the Clintons in the 1990s. After she did an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a newspaper Scaife owns, he wrote that she “exhibited an impressive command of many of today’s most pressing domestic and international issues" and that her answers to reporter questions “were thoughtful, well-stated and often dead on.”
Could this be the ultimate dirty trick? Scaife's support of Clinton could turn off those who remember his salacious and scandalous attacks against Bill Clinton. He was a major backer of the American Spectator Magazine's so-called "Arkansas Project," which first brought Paula Jones' charges to the public attention and also charged that the Clinton's had murdered their top aide Vince Foster, who committed suicide in 1993.
One senses that Scaife is just eccentric enough for this not to be a ploy, in which case Hillary is now surrounded by opponents who are killing her with kindness. Obama has cleverly said recently he does not wish her to drop out of the race. But I trust politicians--and tycoons--more when they're taking potshots at each other. Killing with kindness is not their natural inclination....

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The Democratic candidates are now playing a hilarious little game of "gotcha," with Obama's forces attacking Hillary because of her claim to have "misspoke" when describing her imagined 1996 landing under fire in Bosnia and Hillary--a prime proponent of the "best-defense-is-a-good-offense" theory--going after Obama for, among other things, claiming that his parents had met during the Selma civil rights march in 1965 (Obama was born in 1961). Obama says he meant the civil rights movement in general. John McCain, attempting statesmanship, claimed that all candidates make misstatements, and this would include himself, of course.
None of these "misstatements"--really, hyperbole on the part of all candidates--amounts to much in the way of serious dirty politics, although Obama and Hillary are accusing each other of same. A little dirtier is the name-calling going on. Carville says Richardson is a "Judas." Clinton is accused by an Obama supporter of being "Joe McCarthy." misses, sometimes, the really amusing verbal onslaughts, such as George H.W. Bush's sally against Clinton-Gore in 1992 (“My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than those two bozos"). We have not yet had a "bozo" insult yet in 2008, but I keep hoping. We have also not yet had a "misstatement like the one the same Bush made in his 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis: : “I have worked alongside [President Reagan] and I am proud to be his partner. We have had triumphs, we have made mistakes, we have had sex…I mean, setbacks!”
The campaign is still young, however. Perhaps we'll get there.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Under Fire

Apologies for not posting for awhile, but I have been writing another book, which is taking up my time from dawn to dusk, and the presidential primaries have been on a little bit of an Easter hiatus. (My new book is on castaways and sometimes the allure of being on a desert island, alone, makes me start to salivate.)
Anyway, I have had to laugh about Hillary's claim that she had to run through sniper fire after landing in Bosnia in during a 1996 visit with none other than Sinbad, the comedian, and Sheryl Crow. Video shows her proceeding in a stately fashion across the tarmac and so she has had to backpedal. She had lost her lead in polls after Obama's eloquent speech on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and this is not going to help her any. It's a shame that American presidential candidates (and presidents) always have to act like they're so brave--to avoid my Classic Presidential Slur Number 2: "You're Not Tough Enough." I believe the only president to actually come under fire during combat was Abe Lincoln, who had to duck bullets sent his way by Jubal Early's raiding Confederates in 1864, yet candidates still try to claim that combat experience is a prerequisite for the office.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"An Ass in the Shape of a Preacher"

As Hillary Clinton pulls together a sizable lead in polls taken among Pennsylvania voters, it appears the brouhaha over Obama's pastor and a (now ex) member of his religious advisory panel, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, has really hurt the candidate, perhaps even worse than NAFTA did in Ohio. (Wright has called America "the U.S of K.K.K.A" and made other inflammatory statements.)
Presidential candidates and preachers have a long and checkered history which essentially states that never the twain shall meet comfortably, be they Billy Graham with Richard Nixon of Fulton Sheen with JFK.
Perhaps one of the worst conflagrations having to do with minister and politician--one that may have cost a candidate the presidency-occurred in 1884.
Republican James G. Blaine was in a tight race for the White House with Grover Cleveland--smears against Cleveland for having fathered a child out of wedlock had not quite overcome charges that Blaine was on the take--and on October 29, Blaine took his campaign to the pivotal state of New York. He came into New York with a hairpin lead in the state and on that fateful Wednesday morning sat down to a breakfast meeting at a Fifth Avenue hotel—just another rubber chicken whistle stop for the weary Blaine. Unfortunately, during the unending speechifying, a local Presbyterian minister by the name of S.D. Burchard got carried away in attacking the Democrats and called them the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion,” essentially slurring them as Irish-Catholic drunks. Even more unfortunately, Blaine apparently wasn’t listening and did not denounce Burchard’s intemperance when he got up to speak.
A Democrat attending the meeting took down Burchard’s words and raced to local party headquarters, where literally overnight, Democratic campaign operatives printed thousands of handbills trumpeting the fact that Blaine was a “Catholic-hater.”
In a city full of Irish-Catholic working-class immigrants, this did not sit well.
James G. Blaine lost the state by a mere 1,149 votes. Had it not been, as he later put it, for “an ass in the shape of a preacher,” he would have won New York and become President of the United States.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

One Born Every...Nanosecond?

When I talk about American presidential elections and tell people about the kind of slanders politicians have bandied about for over 200 years, the initial reaction tends to be, who are you kidding? Who would actually believe that John Quincy Adams was a pimp while acting as ambassador to Russia, or that Martin Van Buren wore women's clothing or that Al Smith built the Holland Tunnel in order to secretly meet the Pope under the Atlantic Ocean, or that Michael Dukakis would really let serial killers out of jail to satisfy his liberal lust for going easy on criminals?
And what I always say is: there are always people willing to believe anything and everything.
Case in point: this afternoon I take my daughter to her gymnastics lesson and while she is out rolling and tumbling the following conversation takes place directly behind me in the observation room parents are confined to:
"There's no way that Obama guy can be in the White House," says First Woman.
Second Woman says: "You don't think he can win?'
First Woman: "I don't think he can win, but even if he does win, he can't be sworn into office."
Second Woman: "Why not?"
First Woman: "Because of the Bible. It says in the Constitution you have to take the oath of office on a Bible and he can't. Because of the Koran or whatever you call it."
Second Woman: "Oh, I forgot --he's Muslim."
First Woman: "That's right. He's Muslim and if he swears on a Bible he'll, like, burn in hell or whatever."
Second Woman: "So what are they going to do?'
First Woman: "Don't worry -- McCain is going to win. Are you kidding?"
Second Woman: "But I hear McCain's not an American...."
At this point, I tiptoed gently out of the building. If I still smoked, I would have lit up one and inhaled deeply. As it was, I just inhaled.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

All The News That Gives Us Fits

Well, this is the week that was, as someone used to say, and it's only Wednesday. First of all there's New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who has apparently made it his habit, for at least the past eight months, to dally with call girls from a prostitution ring called The Empire Club. This has all the trappings of a Gilded Age scandal--I mean, the "diamond ratings" for the girls, the secret arrangements and lush meeting hotels from Dallas to Florida to Washington D.C. I spoke with a reporter from the Chicago Tribune about the scandal Monday night and my remarks are recorded here in a nice article (although my name is misspelled--the bane of us Cumminses is that "g" tossed in at the end. We spend our lives crying "Cummins! No "g!"). The point of our conversation, as you might expect, is that nothing is new under the sun. However, Spitzer's downfall is astonishing. Somehow or other--and this is the interesting question--the IRS was watching his bank accounts during a "routine tax investigation" and saw large amounts of cash going out to a shell corporation through which clients of the Empire Club paid their bills. Were the IRS set on him by a political enemy, of which he has many, and in both parties? And in the meantime, where is Kristen, the young woman with whom he spent the night of Feb. 13 in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington? As a friend emailed me last night, as giddy as the stocktraders who broke out into the laughter on the floor of the Exchange on hearing the Spitzer news this Monday, "We want Kristen We want Kristen! Whips, butt plugs, and all!" (Eliot supposedly had a predilection for sex that was "not safe," according to the young woman.)
We'll the meantime, the fact that he has not yet resigned only goes to show how tenaciously these guys want to hold onto power. According to news reports, his wife, Silda, is supposedly urging him to stay and fight. Supposedly. She had that Dina McGreevey look at his press conference, as if someone had just handed her a large, dripping, decapitated head--that of her husband, of course. But I have to say, like the James McGreevey "I am a gay American" scandal, which brought us out here in New Jersey out on the streets to talk to each other, the Spitzer news has become great conversation fodder. I was taking a stress test yesterday and I guess my heart must be okay because while the treadmill churned away myself, the cardiologist, and two nurses chatted nonstop about Spitzer.
In other news, there's a presidential primary going on, right? Almost forgot. As expected, Obama trounced Hillary in Mississippi, but even here Hillary lucks out a bit, as the Spitzer news has driven the Mississippi contest from the top of the fold. More interesting are the increased tensions between the two camps. My friend Diederik, a staunch Obama supporter, has been emailing me tidbits that have flown through the internet. The comedian Sinbad has contradicted
Hillary's account of a supposedly perilous 1996 trip to Bosnia, saying the only "red phone" moment was, "Do we eat here or the next place?" And there's Geraldine Ferraro's claim that Obama would not be where he was if he were not black. The Obama camp called this remark "racist" and "outrageous." Best of all were Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod's comments, which show that this campaign is ready for the big time, Anything for a Vote style.
"All this is part of an insidious pattern that needs to be addressed," Axelrod said, re Ferraro's comments and Clinton's "60 Minutes" claim that Obama was not a Muslim "as far as I know." Axelrod went on to depict Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson (whom he described "as a friend" ) as "a kind of junkyard dog."
Well, as Silda Spitzer knows to her regret, politics makes strange "friends" and bedfellows.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Good vs. Evil. Or Perhaps Not.

"The unfortunate side-effect of reading this book is a complete and burning desire never to participate in any political effort at all. If you're a Republican or a Democrat, you'll be sickened by the tactics your own party has used, although not surprised by the skullduggery of the opposition. And you'll be revolted by the mutton-headed willingness of the electorate to believe any damned thing someone tells them, especially if it reflects their prejudices."
Thus speaks Marc Davidson, co-editor of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, who reviewed Anything for a Vote over the weekend. Davidson liked the book, but apparently felt that it painted a bleak picture of the American electoral process.
Perhaps, but it is also a realistic picture. While I hope reading my book doesn't keep people from the wonderfully diverse, chaotic, and insane mess that eventually elects our Presidents, it does show us--the main point I had in writing the book--that dirty tricks are a part of who we are as a people. Not only that, but politicians who "go negative" in the current parlance can be just as effective leaders as those who do not.
The great, unprecedented Obama-Hillary contest seems less about substance than about who is being portrayed as more negative--something our ancestors would have shaken their head at. Of course, you play hardball--that's the nature of the game. You may not try to spike the shortstop in the shins when you slide into second (or, if you're Ty Cobb, you may) but you do slide hard and try to knock him on his ass. But with Hillary vilified as a "monster" and Obama portrayed as a shining knight--well, are we really doing anybody any good promulgating either of these stereotypes? Calling for Obama to take the second spot on a Hillary presidential ticket is insidiously nasty--but so is demanding that Hillary release her tax returns and acting as if she's got something to hide before the fact. And yet I'll wager that both Hillary and Obama would make good, moral, tough presidents -- just as did Thomas Jefferson (who campaigned very nastily in 1800), Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and others who fought hard, rough and tumble campaigns.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Fight Goes On

Well, despite all the handwringing and worrying that the Democratic party is tearing itself apart in a protracted primary battle, I--being more of presidential election anarchist--think what has happened so far is great. I mean, it's like a seesaw play-off battle to see who gets into the World Series or an extraordinary prelim race to see who makes the Olympic Finals.
Sure, it may leave both Hillary and Obama panting and covered with sweat, but it also allows us to see what these two are really made of. Obama, finally having learned the John Kerry Lesson--one must respond aggressively to negative attacks (I hate to say I told you so, but....) has finally announced his intention to go on the offensive, while Hillary, seemingly undaunted that the delegate math is against her, is now claiming that she is on a roll that will take her to the White House.
In the meantime, we are treated to the wonderful sight of John McCain being embraced by George Bush, the man whose minions so smeared McCain's reputation in South Carolina in 2000. Ain't politics wonderful?
Upcoming for the Democrats is Wyoming and Mississippi and of course Pennsylvania. Look for the race to get nastier and nastier. Obama is not just calling for Clinton income tax forms to be released--he is asking that her "papers" (“secreted in the Clinton library," as his top aide David Axelrod amusingly puts it) be released. Let's see--in that file marked "Plan Z" must be all the nasty stuff she's keeping on herself for just such a moment. Stay tuned.....

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Shattered glass

Yet another Super Tuesday is upon us with the primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont. Opinions abound as to the possible outcome. Hillary may win both narrowly, or split the two states, some say. No one seems to think Obama will blow her out, as he had been doing, but there is a lot of feeling that he will at least win Texas. If so, what should Clinton do? Quit, say many, while others cry for her to push on to Pennsylvania, Mississippi, even Puerto Rico.
It's somehow fitting that these two big ones today are in states known for nasty electioneering in the form of vote stealing. The 2004 residential election ultimately came down to the state of Ohio, which George Bush won by a margin of 118,601 votes, giving him the state’s 20 electoral votes and victory.
But it has been estimated that one out of every four voters in Ohio who registered to vote and showed up at the polls did not have their votes counted.
Even worse, some writers claim that 80,000 votes that were cast for Kerry in fact were counted for Bush in a contest overseen by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who – like Katherine Harris in Florida in 2000—was co-chair of the Bush-Cheney reelection effort.
Texas has also has a rep, dating back even before the 1960 elections, when dead voters walked the land, zombie-like, casting their ballots over and over again, and some precincts had voting machines rigged to give Democrats two votes for every tug of the lever.
Not that this will happen today in a primary race, but things are getting nasty and there seems to be perception that Clinton's aggressive tactics are roughing up Obama a little, although how much remains to be seen. It's just a foretaste of the general election. Quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, John Gilliom, a political scientist at Ohio University, said the candidates are still in a healthy process of "checking for glass jaws." Voters "want to know what Sen. Obama's answers are on the various questions she's been asking," he said. "They're going to be asked in a lot tougher way later on."
Quite true. My prediction for today? More shattered glass, since there will be a split victory and this incredible Democratic race will go on.