June 16, 2008: It’s the economy again, stupid as both candidates tout their plans

The week that was….

  • June 16, 2008: Former Vice President Al Gore endorses Obama.
  • June 15, 2008: McCain cancels a fundraiser in Texas after questions concerning the host Texas oilman, Clayton “Claytie” Williams’ 1990 jokes about rape. Many black conservative consider voting for Obama because he is making history as the first black to capture a Presidential nomination.
  • June, 14, 2008: John McCain publicly opposes the Supreme Court decision that would allow suspected terrorist detainees the right to appeal for their release in federal courts.
  • June 13, 2008: Obama proposes taxing incomes above $250,000. The McCain, Obama camps fail to agree on the town hall sessions, McCain wants ten, Obama wants just one around July 4th.
  • June 12, 2008: The Obama campaign creates a website http://www.fightthesmears.com to debunk campaign myths after Michelle Obama was accused of using the racial slur “whitey.”
  • June 11, 2008: at the start of the general campaign, Obama is the favorite to win Iowa in the election. Obama’s adviser and top vetter for Vice Presidential candidates, Jim Johnson resigned amid calls of a loan scandal.
  • June 10, 2008: McCain, Obama criticize each other’s plans to rejuvenate the economy, jabs traded on taxes.
  • June 9, 2008: Nominees John McCain and Barack Obama negotiate to meet for 10 hall meetings in the next couple of months, but reject NYC Mayor Bloomberg and ABC’s offer to host the first one on grounds that they do not want just one network airing it.

The Stats

  • June 12, 2008: Gallup Poll Daily reports Barack Obama leads John McCain 48 percent to 42 percent.

Historians Comment

  • Blair Kelley a historian of social movements at North Carolina State University in Raleigh on “How Clinton and Obama boosted feminism, civil rights The primary contest helped both of the historical causes, though some tensions erupted”:
    “Both Obama and Hillary Clinton have transformed what people, from all walks of life, believe is possible.” – Christian Science Monitor, 6-17-08
  • Norman McRae on “Obama’s candidacy is writing history”:
    Obama, win or lose, will become the symbol. But Detroit historian Norman McRae wants more. “I think that every African American should go to the polls and vote for Barack Obama,” he said. McCrae, who first voted for Harry S. Truman in 1948, is 82. He said that Obama “validates all the activities from Frederick Douglass to Jesse Jackson, from Ida B. Wells to now. It validates all of them.” – Detroit Free Press, 6-15-08
  • Jeremy Varon, a historian at Drew University on “McCain ad asserts his hatred of war Senator shifts tone to draw moderates”:
    “To me, the ad is much more playing off Bush than playing off Obama,” said Jeremy Varon, a historian at Drew University in Madison, N.J., who has studied antiwar movements. “The point of this is for McCain to say: ‘I’m very different from my predecessor even if I want to fight the same war.'” – Boston Globe, 6-11-08
  • Robert Dallek on “Obama rebuts rumors on new Web site”:
    “There is a line between scurrilous nonsense and serious discussion, that laps over, especially in this day and age, when you’ve got all this electronic media and these blogs and this kind of fanatical impulse to bring down the opposing candidate…. You never know what’s going to take hold… Dallek, the historian, said it was not surprising to see the latest swirl of political rumor and innuendo. “There have always been rumors,” he said: “That Andrew Jackson was a polygamist, that Grover Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child, that James G. Blaine was a corruptionist.” Some claims – such as those in 1960 that John F. Kennedy was a womanizer – were even true, he added. – International Herald Tribune, 6-11-08
  • Robert Dallek, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles on “Historians See Little Chance for McCain”:
    “These things go in cycles. The public gets tired of one approach to politics. There is always a measure of optimism in this country, so they turn to the other party.” – Politico.com, 6-15-08
  • James Campbell, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo who specializes in campaigns and elections on “Historians See Little Chance for McCain”:
    “Open-seat elections are somewhat different, so the referendum aspect is somewhat muted. McCain would be in much better shape if Bush’s approval rating were at 45 to 50 percent. But the history is that in-party candidates are not penalized or rewarded to the same degree as incumbents.” – Politico.com, 6-15-08
  • Sidney Milkis, a professor of presidential politics at the University of Virginia on “Historians See Little Chance for McCain”: “I can’t think of an upset where the underdog faced quite the odds that McCain faces in this election.” Even “Truman didn’t face as difficult a political context as McCain.” – Politico.com, 6-15-08
  • Allan Lichtman, an American University presidential historian who ran in a Maryland Democratic senatorial primary in 2006 on “Historians See Little Chance for McCain”:
    “This should be an overwhelming Democratic victory.” Lichtman, whose forecasting model has correctly predicted the last six presidential popular vote winners, predicts that this year, “Republicans face what have always been insurmountable historical odds.” His system gives McCain a score on par with Jimmy Carter’s in 1980. – Politico.com, 6-15-08
  • Joan Hoff, a professor at Montana State University and former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency on “Historians See Little Chance for McCain”:
    “McCain shouldn’t win it,” said presidential historian She compared McCain’s prospects to those of Hubert Humphrey, whose 1968 loss to Richard Nixon resulted in large part from the unpopularity of sitting Democratic president Lyndon Johnson. – Politico.com, 6-15-08
  • Allan J. Lichtman’s KEYS TO THE ELECTION in “Political patterns favor Obama, scholars say “:
    Historian Allan J. Lichtman is renowned in political circles for his “13 keys to the White House.” Over nearly a century and a half, no candidate from the incumbent party has won the presidency if six or more of the keys are going against him. Key 1: Party mandate. After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House than it did after the previous midterm elections.
    Key 2: Contest. There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination.
    Key 3: Incumbency. The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president.
    Key 4: Third party. There is no significant third-party or independent campaign.
    Key 5: Short-term economy. The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
    Key 6: Long-term economy. Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
    Key 7: Policy change. The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.
    Key 8: Social unrest. There is no sustained social unrest during the term.
    Key 9: Scandal. The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
    Key 10: Foreign/military failure. The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
    Key 11: Foreign/military success. The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
    Key 12: Incumbent charisma. The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.
    Key 13: Challenger charisma. The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. – www.signonsandiego.com, 6-16-08
  • Alan Schroeder: Historian Imagines McCain-Obama Debate – NPR, 6-17-08
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin on “Next for Clinton: Vice President? Senate? Governor?” – NPR, 6-5-08
  • Richard Norton Smith on “Town Hall Meetings for McCain, Obama?” – NPR, 6-5-08
  • Mary Frances Berry, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and former chair of the Civil Rights Commission on “Obama: History in the Making” – NPR, 6-4-08

On the Campaign Trail….

    Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Change That Works for You, June 9, 2008 …I’ve often said that this election represents a defining moment in our history. On major issues like the war in Iraq or the warming of our planet, the decisions we make in November and over the next few years will shape a generation, if not a century.That is especially true when it comes to our economy….

    We will begin this general election campaign by traveling across the country for the next few weeks to talk about what specifically we need to do to build a 21st economy that works for working Americans. I will speak with economic experts and advisors at the end of the tour, but first I want to speak with you, and hear about your thoughts and your struggles in the places where you live and work. And at each stop, I will take the opportunity to lay out the very real and very serious differences on the economy between myself and Senator McCain….

    This is the choice you will face in November. You can vote for John McCain, and see a continuation of Bush economic policies – more tax cuts to the wealthy, more corporate tax breaks, more mountains of debt, and little to no relief for families struggling with the rising costs of everything from health care to a college education.

    But I don’t think that is the future we want. The Americans I’ve met over the last sixteen months in town halls and living rooms; on farms and front porches – they may come from different places and have different backgrounds, but they hold common hopes and dream the same simple dreams. They know government can’t solve all their problems, and they don’t expect it to. They believe in personal responsibility, and hard work, and self-reliance. They don’t like seeing their tax dollars wasted.

  • Remarks by John McCain at the NFIB and eBay 2008 National Small Business Summit, June 10, 2008…Now that we know who I will be facing in the general election, the real debate over economic policy can begin. And as you may have heard, Senator Obama and I might well be meeting soon in a series of town hall discussions. Just the two of us, in direct conversation with voters. No need to turn it into a big media-run production with process questions from reporters, a spin room, and all the rest of it. To keep things friendly, I also suggested that my opponent and I travel to these town hall meetings together in the same plane.Our disagreements in these town hall meetings will be civil and friendly, but they will also be clear for all to see. On tax policy, health-care reform, trade, government spending, and a long list of other issues, we offer very different choices to the American people. And those choices will have very different consequences for American workers and small business owners.

    No matter which of us wins in November, there will be change in Washington. The question is what kind of change? Will we enact the single largest tax increase since the Second World War as my opponent proposes, or will we keep taxes low for families and employers? This election offers Americans a very distinct choice about what kind of change we will have. This is especially true for the small business community.

    Let me speak to you about the change I will seek….

    My goal, however, is not to denigrate government but to make it better, not to deride it but to restore its good name. Government should be on your side, not in your way. It will be hard work, but it is a cause worthy of our best efforts. And if we do it well, in the right spirit, it will be because we have again put our country’s interests before the interests of parties, bureaucracies and self-interest. And then we will finally reclaim the confidence of the people we serve.

  • Former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore in an email…, June 16, 2008
    Dear Friend,A few hours from now I will step on stage in Detroit, Michigan to announce my support for Senator Barack Obama. From now through Election Day, I intend to do whatever I can to make sure he is elected President of the United States.

    Over the next four years, we are going to face many difficult challenges — including bringing our troops home from Iraq, fixing our economy, and solving the climate crisis. Barack Obama is clearly the candidate best able to solve these problems and bring change to America.

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Michael Beschloss & Richard Norton Smith: Their Commentary on the Republican Convention

By Bonnie K. Goodman

History News Network, 9-06-04

As part of PBS’s coverage of the Republican National Convention in New York last week, historians Michael Beschloss and Richard Norton Smith provided historical perspective. The first day of the convention the discussion focused on war presidents, the second on party perspectives, the third on the effect of outside events on the course of the election, and the fourth on acceptance speeches. The following is a summary of their commentaries.

Day One: War Presidents

The discussion on the first day of the convention focused on war presidents, the advantages and disadvantages of being a war president. In their discussion on Abraham Lincoln’s re-election effort in 1864, Beschloss commented on Lincoln’s fear that he would lose the election because of the lack of decisive victories, but argued that “people were larger-minded enough to see he was doing it the right way.” Smith noted that the Republican Party this year is not attempting to broaden its appeal in the same dramatic ways the party undertook in 1864, when Lincoln insisted on running with a Southern Democrat.

Smith saw parallels between Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election and George W. Bush’s. Smith pointed out the various strategies that Nixon employed to change the subject from Vietnam. He brought hundreds of thousands of troops home, “casting himself as a peacemaker.” He opened up U.S. Soviet relations and U.S.
China relations. He proposed “ending the draft, which of course had been at the heart of much of the intense opposition to the war.”

Beschloss noted that Nixon had additionally distracted the public from the war by having his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, claim that “we believe that peace is at hand.” Beschloss said that this was “cheap politics that presidents should not follow.”

Another parallel the historians discussed was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s re-election campaign in 1944. Beschloss argued that the parallels were suggestive. Despite tangible successes in the war, Roosevelt was being scrutinized as officials probed the reason the nation had been caught sleeping when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Thomas Dewey in a speech “suggested that Roosevelt was in some way responsible for Pearl Harbor,” which Beschloss pointed out put Roosevelt in a “very risky situation.”

In commenting on the Vietnam War and the 1968 campaign Beschloss claimed that “Nixon was pretending that he was likelier than [Hubert] Humphrey to pull troops out of Vietnam if he was elected. A lot of peaceniks voted for Nixon, bizarrely enough, and Humphrey who would have really done that, was scared into suggesting in public that he followed Johnson on the war because Johnson called him up and said, ‘Hubert, you oppose me on Vietnam, I’m going to dry up every Democratic dollar from Maine to Hawaii.’ Humphrey was already broke, he couldn’t do it.”

Day 2: Party Perspectives

On the second day of the convention California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Laura Bush spoke. Both historians observed that Governor Schwarzenegger’s views on social issues do not resemble the positions of that other famous Republican actor turned governor of California, Ronald Reagan.
Beschloss said Schwarzenegger’s liberal social views most clearly reminded him of California Governor Earl Warren. Schwarzenegger, according to Smith, is “post ideological” and “transcend[s] party labels in a lot of ways.” But the governor also resembles Reagan in the way he can get away with such comments as “girley men.”

Beschloss argued that that there may be a future for Schwarzenegger in presidential politics “if the Constitution is amended some day and if the Republican Party does feel it wants to move back to the center.” They thought he might be particularly helpful winning the immigrant vote. Schwarzenegger is sponsored by Pete Wilson, who supported propositions in the 1990s that were considered hostile to immigrants. Smith said Schwarzenegger, an immigrant himself, could change the perception that party is anti-immigrant.

Also discussed was the issue of first ladies as a political asset in a campaign. Smith mentioned that after Betty Ford’s explosive “60 Minutes” interview, conservatives were concerned that she might cost Ford the presidency. But she may indeed have helped improve Ford’s support among women; “by 1976 there were buttons all over the country that read Betty’s husband for president.” In regard to the present first lady Beschloss commented that “Laura Bush speaks rarely on politics, so when she speaks people listen.” Some of her views differ with the president’s and may be more liberal, helping Bush win over centrists. Smith agreed that “a lot of people find it reassuring to think that someone that close to the president, maybe shares some of the concerns.” Lady Bird Johnson according to Smith also “managed to straddle the divide between a traditionalist and activist.”

Day 3: The Importance of Outside Events on the Course of the Election

On the third night the discussion focused on events outside the candidates’ control that can affect the election, including the possibility of an October Surprise.
According to Smith, Johnson’s 1964 campaign worried about Walter Jenkins, “who was a very close aide to President Johnson, [who] was arrested in a YMCA in Washington under compromising circumstances.” When news leaked out about the arrest the Goldwater conservatives believed they could make a strong case that the country faced moral decay under LBJ. But foreign issues quickly wiped the Jenkins story off the front pages. China, noted Smith, “successfully tested their first nuclear device; and in Moscow the politburo overthrew Nikita Khrushchev.” Beschloss added that the World Series and a change in government in London also helped Johnson.

Beschloss argued that for events like these to influence an election the contest has to be close “in those last weeks in October; and it also has to be an event that’s really at the center of the campaign.” Such was the case in 1968 when on October 31 Johnson halted bombing in the Vietnam with peace a possibility, “so for a couple of days, Humphrey zoomed in the polls, and then the South Vietnamese government said they would not negotiate, and Humphrey plunged,” and he lost the election. Beschloss said it was not clear if a terrorist attack on the United States in October would help or hurt President Bush.

Smith pointed out that events helped Lincoln in 1864. By August Lincoln did not believe he could win. However, when the Democratic Convention met and “they adopted a peace platform, calling for a negotiated end to the war and repeal of the Emancipation Proclamation, that shocked millions of voters. And then, two days after that convention, General Sherman took Atlanta.” Winning the war was possible and Lincoln’s “victory became almost a forgone conclusion.”

Beschloss observed that in 1992 Lawrence Walsh indicted members of the Bush administration in connection with the Iran-contra scandal, and suggested George H.W. Bush was more involved than originally believed. “Bush the elder had been getting traction on the issue of honesty and integrity against Bill Clinton. At that moment his polls began to go down, and there was not much chance that he would win.” In 2000 Bush’s son’s integrity was also cast in doubt at the last moment when it was revealed that he had been arrested for drunk driving in the mid-1970s.

Another case of a revelation in the last week prior to an election that hurt the candidate’s chance for winning according to Smith came in 1976, during the Ford-Carter race. By the last weekend of the campaign Ford had managed to turn a thirty-three point deficit in the polls into a one-point lead. Ford claimed there was an economic recovery, but when unemployment statistics came out that suggested otherwise, this “caused second thoughts in enough voters so that at the very last minute they moved back and Jimmy Carter narrowly won.”

Beschloss discussed the origin of the term October Surprise. He traced it back to the 1980 campaign and the Iran hostage crisis. “The Reagan people were worried that Jimmy Carter would commit some kind of October surprise, meaning something that would suddenly cause the hostages to be released and Carter to win the election against Ronald Reagan.” There was also suspicion that vice presidential candidate George Bush “flew to Paris in an SR-1 spy plane to have a secret meeting with some French people and some Iranians to try to foil this.”

Day 4: Acceptance Speeches

In anticipation of the President’s acceptance speech the discussion focused on “what makes a great re-nominating acceptance speech, or one a president or his campaign may come to regret.” In the last century the acceptance speech that has perhaps made the most lasting impression was Roosevelt’s in 1936, though Smith added that “that year FDR could have read the phone book and he would have carried every state but Maine and Vermont.” According to Smith “the incumbent has one advantage–they always go second. And the other advantage is, they’re an incumbent. Truman was able to use this advantage as to not run against “Tom Dewey, his nominal opponent, he ran against the so-called do-nothing 80th Congress. He said he was going to call them into session on what they called Turnip Day back in Missouri. He put the ball in their court knowing Congress would not adopt the liberal platform and then driving a wedge right down the middle between Dewey and his allies.”

Beschloss noted that Clinton’s 1996 speech, which “was 66 minutes, [was] one of the most boring speeches I have ever heard.” It was “this laundry list of proposals like cleaning up toxic waste dumps, it wasn’t very interesting.” But the purpose of the speech was to get the voters who would watch the speech for a couple of minutes to tune in, and hear a few proposals that would prompt them to vote for Clinton, and “the speech worked in that sense.” On the other hand Smith pointed out that Bush the elder failed to do the job in 1992. He had given his speech at a negative kind of convention, where “the economy was in the doldrums” and because of his foreign policy strengths he appeared disengaged on domestic policy. Smith commented that “he got up there and he had a speech that frankly was a bit of a mishmash, not very thematically coherent.”

Beschloss said that in Nixon’s speech in 1972 “the language was not memorable, but what he was conveying was with the I’m the guy who made the opening to China, who was doing diplomacy with Russia, on the verge of ending the Vietnam War. If you all want to throw that away, fine with me but I don’t think you should.” Smith brought up FDR’s speech in 1944. “FDR gave a war speech. He didn’t speak at the convention hall. It was announced he was speaking from an undisclosed location. A military installation on the West Coast.” In Beschloss’s opinion, “the one thing is that if a wartime president makes himself seem indispensable he can get Americans to vote for him even if they may not like his domestic policies.”

Wrap-up

In his reaction to President Bush’s acceptance speech, Smith said it was “sort of a state of the union address, plus an inaugural address, it had a lot of policy but it was also very personal.” Bush’s speech focused on policy primarily, and was a “Reaganesque speech in the optimism, in looking to the future.” Smith “thought it was a very powerful speech. We won’t know for two months whether it worked or not, but it certainly worked tonight.”

Beschloss said it helped establish Bush’s position on issues: “there’s no chance that he’s going to be accused of having failed to present an agenda for the second term, a very long list of domestic proposals.” As for foreign policy, what Bush’s speech communicated was that “We’re staying on the offensive, striking terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home.” The tone reminded Beschloss of offensive military policy harking back to the Cold War era Republican campaigns from 1972 to 1988, when the Republicans would stress that their party was tougher on communism and more trustworthy on defense than the Democrats. “We are in a war, a fight for our lives; I, George W. Bush, I’m the one who can keep you safe, John Kerry can’t for all sorts of reasons. And if people believe that they are likely to forgive a lot of things they don’t like about George Bush, even domestically. If people see it that way he’s going to win the election.”

Smith said that “much of that week you had a feeling that there was an attempt to blur” the differences with the Democrats by trotting out moderates. But Bush’s speech was “actually very ambitious, an attempt to recast the Republican Party and conservatism generally, almost along Thatcherite lines. You know, I think of Margaret Thatcher when you hear about the ‘ownership society.’ That’s more than a slogan, potentially. That’s a fairly radical redefinition of conservatism.”

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