And the Winner Is?

Well, not my homies in the California Community Colleges. We saw our ballot Prop 92 go down to a 3:2 defeat tonight proving that in politics, like in comedy, it’s all in the timing. Had the prop cutting tuition fees and raising funding for the Cal Comms been on the ballot in November 2006 my bet is it would have passed by 55% or more. Such is life. The pity is, of course, it is in the economic hard times that funding for higher ed — especially Community Colleges–is even more of a public need. You can send people to colleges or prisons when the economy heads south. Colleges cost less and yield a heck of a lot more.

Californians proved they’d rather lose their money to Indian Casinos than the tax man approving all four casino compacts. And Californias also proved they don’t like their legislators but they also know the current system of term limits doesn’t work that well–notice the narrow 4% points the prop lost by is much narrower than the 16% (58% to 42%) Governor Gray’s term limit proposal was defeated by in 2002. Most striking, both the liberal Bay Area and conservative San Diego and Imperial Counties voted for the measure while liberal LA and the conservative Central Valley voted against it. Go figure.

Oh, and there was something about presidential primaries going on tonight too, as I reccall. Romney is a dead man walking. I expect him to pull a John Edwards sometime in the next fortnight and drop out of the race even as he insisted tonight he was in it to the convention. And Huckabee has VP, not P, written all over his primary showings.

Meanwhile the Hillary and Barack dance continues though her heir-apparentness’ large victory in California has got to give the party pause. Given the size of her victory and the distribution across the state, I figure she wins 260+ of the 441 state delegates which will put her clearly in the delegate lead. Clinton won New York, New Jersey, Florida and California — exactly the big states Dem’s have to win to triumph come November. Barack (like Romney) did best in the smaller state caucuses where turnout is skewed to the party left (or right, in Mitt’s case.) I’m still betting that post-Super T day the double big Mo’s — momentum and money-swing back to Clinton. Then Obama will have to decided how long he wants to draw out the Democratic contest to the Republican’s benefit.

OK, time to pack it in. Just spent 4 1/2 hours in the studios of KGTV with Hal Clement (yes, he’s as nice in person as he seems on TV) doing election pontificating. Tomorrow it’s These Days with Tom Fudge and Gloria Penner (9a-10a on KPBS 89.5) and then a keynote speech tomorrow night to the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community College Association’s annual Trustees dinner at USD. Topic: today’s election, of course.

And if you have a chance, check out my article in this week’s print edition of City Beat.

On to the Conventions.

Children of the Corn

The Iowa caucus results are in. A rational person may, of course, be tempted to say—would be justified to say, even—“So what? A couple of hundred thousand Iowans have had their say. Let’s get on with life.” But politics, like other, more worthwhile things in life, is occurs largely between the ears. And in American politics Iowa does matter to some degree, rationality be damned.

So what does a reading of the corn husks tell us? On the Republican side, John McCain may turn out to be the bigger winner. Mike Huckabee can win the rural heartland vote but before he returns to those fertile, evangelical fields, he has to face more secular New Hampshire where he will probably still, despite Iowa, come in third behind McCain and Romney. Huckabee might survive a bronze in NH and go on to silver or gold in South Carolina but doesn’t have the legs or pockets to carry both the home of the Confederacy and the home of old northeasterners (that would be Florida) within twenty four hours of each other.

Romney, meanwhile, may have taken the biggest hit yesterday having outspent Huckabee decisively only to come in second. While McCain’s finishing fourth behind Thompson wasn’t stellar, a) he didn’t contest the state heavily; and b) He’s more popular in NH. Thompson and the rest of the GOP crowd–except for Rudy—meanwhile, may limp through NH but will be gone before the first votes are cast in Dixie. If McCain can pull out a first or second in New Hampshire and South Carolina and a win in Florida, he’ll be well established for a decisive upset win on Super Tuesday. Move over Bill Clinton. Meet the new comeback kid. Read the rest of this entry »


The 2008 Republican Presidential race might just possibly turn into a replay of 1996–with some tweaking. In 1996 Pat Buchanan upset GOP frontrunner Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary. Buchanan received so much of a bandwagon effect from all the media hype over his unexpected win that, for a short time, Dole went back to Kansas to nurse his wounds and consider dropping out of the race. Then Buchanan was defeated by Stevo “Flat Tax” Forbes in Arizona, where conservative retirees liked Forbes’ fiscal policies more than Buchanan’s xenophobia. That allowed Dole to jump back into the race and trounce Buchanan and Forbes in the South Carolina primary and then march on to the nomination unimpeded. A Huckabee win in Iowa may do the same thing to Republicans in 2008, with the possibility of the GOP nominating a candidate perceived to be too far to the right wing of the party to win nationally may precipitate the party rallying behind a more moderate candidate. Like John McCain.

Yes, THAT McCain. Read the rest of this entry »

He Don’t Know Jack

I didn’t know John Kennedy. John Kennedy was not a friend of mine. (Give me a break—I was three when he was bumped off. I’m sure, though, if I’d been older we’d have become buds and bummed around Hyannisport.) That being said, my only conclusion after watching Mitt Romney’s speech on religion and politics yesterday morning is that Mitt Romney is no Jack Kennedy.

In his famous speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, Kennedy not only stated that he wouldn’t let his religion rule him:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

he went on to fully reinforce the separation of church and state, arguing that no-one’s religion—or religion in general—should rule government, nor even overtly try and influence it:

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

Governor Romney started his speech Kennedyeque enough, saying:

“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

Then he began to veer off Kennedy’s message, saying:

“We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It’s as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong.”

First off, if secularism is a religion, the so is Fantasy Baseball. Or any system of ideas. Second off, for thirty years now a false dichotomy has been drawn—mostly by religious conservatives—between secularism and religion, arguing that one precludes the other. I would argue it is perfectly complementary to be secular in relationship in some areas—such as the realm of scientific explanation (a doctor needs not be of any religious faith to diagnose strep throat and religious doctrine does not come into play when categorizing a star as a white dwarf)—while embracing religious doctrine and philosophy in one’s moral life, both personal and social. So can be the case with politics, where decisions of the public good may be made without grounding each and every one in the dictates of any particular religious tradition.

Too often our political debate has been skewed by those who claim their ideals are right not because we as a people have agreed to them, not because our constitution defends them, not because democracy has endorsed them, but because Their God has ordained them and any argument to the contrary is not only wrong but is blasphemous and, therefore, wholly without merit. Under such conditions not only is there no possibility for compromise—the corner stone of our social contract—but even civil discourse is precluded. Which, if you’ve noticed, has increasingly become the case over the last three decades of rising religiosity in American political debate.

The consequences of this is as trite as the annual silliness—from both ultra secularists that think secularism in one area of human experience means secularism in all and ultra religious conservatives who, face facts, would not be at all uncomfortable with outright theocracy—over “Merry Christmas.” It is also as serious as people voting for candidates based on being told by their religious leaders that not to do so is to vote against God. Or President’s making policy decisions based on divination.

While I understand the oratorical eloquence of Romney saying:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

from a historical point of view I can only say, t’were that it were. Across the vast stretch of history (say from the rise of agriculture eight thousand years ago) human beings managed to find and practice religions quite easily without having to bother with the messy business of freedom. Indeed—without meaning this as a knock against religion as a concept itself—religion and authoritarian states, from the Pharaohs to the Sultans to the Czars, seemed to get along quite well.

The Governor said “Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government.” While freedom may well be a gift from God—and no blasphemy is intended here—God certainly took quite awhile to give it to mankind. Freedom, as we understand it in America, only really emerged in human cultures over the last three hundred years or so. Until quite recently the vast majority of mankind was not politically free. Even today, billions of people do not enjoy the blessings of liberty.

The bottom line is that God gave mankind free will. What we have done with it is our rap, not His. If human societies have endured millennia of dictatorship, it is because we have structured our societies in such a way to allow such oppression to flourish and not because of Divine plan. For us to fully embrace and appreciate the liberty we Americans enjoy today—and effectively share this liberty with others around the world—it is important to fully embrace and appreciate the historical circumstances that produce liberty and not, however eloquently, reduce the occurrence of liberty to a simple act of Divine Grace. God provided for the possibility of human liberty. It is up to us, not Him, to realize that possibility.

I found it odd that Governor Romney went out of his way to link Europe (who American religious conservatives like to point to as the epitome of the abomination of secularism ) to violent Islamic Fundamentalism, even though he tried to qualify the direct comparison:

“I’m not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I’ve visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired, so grand and so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too ‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer. [Gee, someone should mention that to the throngs of faithful I have always seen on hand at Paris’ Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame.]

Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent jihad, murder as martyrdom, killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.”

Okay, he used the qualifier “infinitely worse.” But if he really felt that radical religious zealots were so “infinitely worse” than European secularists, doesn’t that empty the connection he obviously wanted to make between them? What he really wanted to say to his target audience–Christian conservative voters who so narrowly define their concept of what is True religion that they might not vote for a Mormon—was that he was one of them. He, too, agrees that secularism, while maybe not as big a threat as radical fundamentalism, registers on the same threat meter.

Governor Romney’s speech demonstrates that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a politician to successfully walk the fine line between adhering to the doctrine of the separation of church and state and pleasing the very religious conservatives who want to tear down that wall. What Governor Romney really was trying to say was, “While I give lip service to the doctrine of the separation of Church and State, what I really want is for all you religious conservatives who voted for George W. Bush because you hoped he would enforce your religious views on the rest of the country to think I’m Christian—enough for you to vote for me, too. Then I’ll enforce your religious views on the country.”

Governor Romney should have paid more attention to Kennedy’s prophetic words:

“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim- -but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril…

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”

Governor Romney fails to fully appreciate that the very (ironic) hurdle he faces in getting religious Christian conservatives to vote for him because he is a Mormon flows directly from the very intolerance Kennedy believed flowed inevitably from allowing religion to breech the wall of separation between Church and State. Were he alive today Kennedy would not be at all surprised, I think, that, forty-five years later, given the rising power of organized religion in American politics, a Mormon like Mitt Romney should face challenges similar to his own. He would also, I think, be very disappointed.

I Couldn’t Have Said It Better

OK, maybe not better but certainly earlier. In his column yesterday, Washington Post pundit David Broder stated that:

“If the Republican Party really wanted to hold on to the White House in 2009, it’s pretty clear what it would do. It would grit its teeth, swallow its doubts and nominate a ticket of John McCain for president and Mike Huckabee for vice president — and president-in-waiting.”

Which is what I’ve been saying about McCain as top of the ticket since May and about Huckabee as Veep for a month. The McCain nod is based on my theory of legacy candidates (such as McCain) historically doing better in their party nominating processes than establishment candidates like Romney and Rudi or insurgent candidates like Huckabee. The Huckabee pick is pure politics — if the Republicans are going to win (which is an up-mountain struggle, at best) they are going to have to get out the conservative Christian vote big time, not just in Red States but in the Purple ones like Ohio and even Florida. Either marriage and abortion flip flopper Rudi or abortion and everything else flip flopper Romney will have a very hard time doing so. McCain-Huckabee just might.

So, early projections: Romney comes in first, Huckabee second and Rudi third in Iowa on Jan 3.. The story the next day is not McCain number four, it’s Rudi’s a loser. The story is also not Romney came in firts , which he has been forecasted to do for months but is Huckabee’s a near winner. Meanwhile a Huckabee win in Iowa basically turns both Mitt and Rudi into dual losers. Then, a week later, Huckabee comes in 2nd or 3rd in New Hampshire (as he’s bet the farm, so to speak, on Iowa) and John McCain (you know, the guy who won the Granite State in 2000) ends up well postioned to win again. Then it’s off to South Carolina where Uber-Yankee Rudi and kinda-Christain Mitt (not my slur — bottom line, as offensive as it may seem to social inclusionists, a lot of the conservative Christian voters in the state that brought you the Civil War may not see through Romney’s Utah roots) may have a hard time against southern Governor Huckabee and solid social conservative McCain. By Tsunami Tuesday, it may all be over.

At least, that’s my betting odds. Let’s see if Broder copies that, now…..