Friday, September 25, 2009

It's a Crazy World, Waffling on Afghanistan?, More Obama Polls, Tracking NJ and VA, Health Care Plods Along, MA Senate Controversy

There has been a ton going on this week in the world of politics, so I'll get right to it....

Nutcases, Radicals and Dictators -- Oh, My! If there is one thing that the UN and G20 meetings has confirmed, it is that there are still a lot of crazies in the world....and that we need to keep an eye on the ones who could potentially get their hands on nuclear weapons.

From the re-emergence of Libya's nutty-again dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, who, apparently has quite an axe to grind with just about everyone in the world, to Iran's illegitimately elected (probably), nuclear-ambitious, holocaust-dening, always-nutty Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the world is quite a scary place.

Of the two, while Qaddafi's rambling, long speech garnered the eye of the media, it is Ahmadinejad and Iran's nuclear ambitions that deserve our attention. A nuclear Iran is a scary prospect indeed. While Iran lacks the technological capability to launch a nuclear weapon that could reach U.S. territory, they could certainly turn the middle east into a crater, Israel included.

A much harder line is needed with Iran. President Obama is right to declare their actions unaccceptable, but the world needs to stand together to do much more than talk. Iran should have zero access to capital, equipment or trade unless and until it abandons its nuclear ambitions. They are simply too great a risk. What purpose does the UN serve if NOT to stop rogue nations like Iran from acquiring the ultimate destructive weapon?

At the G20, a slightly more sane gathering of nations, things were considerably tamer. Sure, we had the normal protests from the usual anti-globalization radicals, but the tone inside was considerably more business-like. That said, no real break throughs came out of the session. The leaders declared it a success and agreed to some underlying principles on things like regulation of the financial markets and pollution control. Nothing really meaty though.

The international schedule has been crowded as of late, particularly with the aftermath of a global recession. Unfortunately, I fear the world is just nibbling at the edges of the causes of the near-collapse of the global economy. No one has addressed in a serious way, how to eliminate the risk posed by "too big to fail" institutions, which are at the root of the severity of the recession. And it appears unlikely they will as the crisis has passed.

Is Obama Shooting Straight on Afghanistan? From the onset of his campaign for President, Barack Obama made it clear that he viewed the war in Afghanistan as a "war of necessity" as opposed to the Iraq war, which he viewed as a "war of choice". He relentlessly criticized the Bush Administration for failing to commit adequate resources to Afghanistan and for taking its eyes off the ball by focusing so much troop strength in Iraq.

It is concerning, then, that the President seems reluctant to send more troops and appears to have held back the recommendation of Gen. Stanley Mcchrystal to send at least 10,000 additional troops to the country.

Is Obama caving in to the left-wing of his party?

The worst solution in Afghanistan is to maintain the status quo. We could have a reasoned debate about whether a continued American presence makes sense (I tend to think it does, although we need a great deal more clarity on the mission objectives and conditions for exit), but EITHER commiting more troops OR exiting the theater are preferable to maintaining the status quo. We learned our lesson in Vietnam, that half-pregnant wars do not work.

Let's hope President Obama takes a clear position in the next couple of weeks and if he chooses to continue to leave troops in Afghanistan, that he commits a sufficient number to do the job.

More Obama Polling

It is remarkable, given everything that has happened over the first 8 months of his Presidency, that President Obama continues to enjoy popularity at or above his November totals. The hope and change President has seemed far less inspirational and a lot less visionary over the past few months than many had hoped. Yet, on his ultimate scorecard he is still faring pretty well.

President Obama has continued to hold on to the modest gains that he had achieved following his late-August lows. He has yet to have a polling day below his November margin of 7.2%.

In the monthly data, President Obama actually has a chance for September to be the first month that he gains ground. His average as of today is +12.0%, just slightly below his August average of +12.3%, but his daily numbers are tracking above the average, so it certainly looks that, at worst, President Obama will have a flat month in September. Not a bad recovery after the disaster over the summer.

NJ/VA Governor Updates
It's getting down to crunch time in the 2009 elections, and the only ones of significance are the fights for Governor in New Jersey and Virginia. The GOP would still have to be considered a favorite to take both seats, but things continue to get closer.

In Virginia -- my latest analysis of polls puts this at a 4.4% margin for Republican Robert McDonnell over Democrat Creigh Deeds, while the RCP average has an identical margin. This is practically a pick 'em in a state race with over a month to go and Deeds closing at a pretty good clip (we were talking mid-double digits a couple of months ago.)

In New Jersey -- my latest analysis still has it a 7.5% margin for Republican Chris Christie over incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) while the RCP average shows it a 6.6% race. This one is tightening too, although not as fast.

I'd been predicting from the get-go that Corzine would close in New Jersey, given its history of flirting with Republicans but electing Democrats. Could I have had this backwards? Might the DEMs pull it out in now-purple Virginia and get scortched in still-deep-blue New Jersey?

Health Care Bills Moving, But Not Too Fast
In the House, Nancy Pelosi is slowly moving towards a showdown on the floor sometime in the next month, basically negotiating only with Democrats. It appears likely that the bill will make it to the floor with a public option in it, as Pelosi has expressly rejected both co-ops and the "trigger" mechanism as alternatives. The problem Democrats face in the House, is that it is not clear that they can cobble together enough Democratic votes to pass a bill with the public option, and they will certainly get no GOP votes. It's also not clear that a bill that excludes a public option would attract enough liberal support. Back to the same problem -- the Dems are not on one page.

The Senate prospects, unbelieveably, actually look brighter than in the House. Despite lots of partisan committee votes, it appears that the Baucus bill will make it to the floor without major changes and with no obvious Democratic defections. If the Senate passes a bill without a public option, it will put major pressure on Pelosi and company to get the liberal wing in line and line up behind a similar bill.

Still a long tricky way to go on this one.

Hypocrites in Massachussetts
Governor Deval Patrick (D) has named Paul Kirk to fill in as an interim Senator until a special election is held in January to select the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D). He made this appointment after the legislature rushed through a bill, changing the law to allow such an appointment. The Governor waived a normal protocol that laws in the state be deferred for 90 days before taking effect, prompting a GOP court challenge, which appears to have at least initially failed.

Gov. Patrick and company were probably within their legal rights here. But that's not the point. The point is the hypocracy that they delayed in making the change in the law.

Massachussetts had previously had a law which allowed temporary appointments to the Senate. In 2004, when Sen. John Kerry (D) was seeking the Presidency, the legislature promptly changed the law to allow only selection by special election, guarding against a GOP Senator from then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R). Now, when a 60th Democrat is needed for health care reform, they switch it back. Changing the rules of election to serve a specific political outcome is wrong and should be condemned.

And while we are on the topic, shouldn't we have a uniform selection of laws across the country for how Senators are selected in the event of a vacancy?

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