Election results mixed

Who won, who lost and why? That’s consumed news and commentaries since election returns came in more fully.

In the presidential election, here’s some analysis by Dr. Paul Kengor that says a lot in brief.

For four years, I angered conservatives by insisting Barack Obama would get reelected. I figured that an electorate willing to elect a man with ideas and a record that far to the left in 2008 would do so again. I began changing my view, however, after the first presidential debate. Over the last three or four weeks, I became confident that Mitt Romney would defeat Obama.

Fortunately for Obama, two forces intervened to rescue him. One was the mainstream media, which ensured that Benghazi, Hurricane Sandy, and the increase in the unemployment rate wouldn’t be used to undermine Obama. As for Hurricane Sandy, Obama flew in for a photo-op and then immediately returned to campaigning. If George W. Bush were president, a relentless media would have ensured that Bush didn’t return to the campaign trail.

The second force was David Axelrod and the campaign machine. I stand in awe at what they pulled off. They managed to push considerably more Democrats than Republicans to the polls (38-32 percent margin), closer to the 2008 turnout that favored Obama than the 2010 mid-term turnout that favored Republicans.

Really, this was an underestimated force, to be reckoned with. Which is why some of othe top, most highly respected political analysts got it wrong.

We were certain that pollsters were oversampling Democrats. The pro-Republican, pro-Romney, and anti-Obama enthusiasm we were seeing was extremely intense. It was inconceivable to us that it could be overcome by a higher Democrat turnout. Somehow, however, it was, obliterating Romney’s five-point victory among independents. It erased Romney’s 50-49 percent edge in the final polls by Gallup and Rasmussen.

I stand in stunned disbelief. David Axelrod, you are a miracle worker.

How much of a miracle worker? Consider:

The American people reelected a man who presided over one of the worst four-year economic records in American history. By every objective measurement, the economy is far worse than four years ago…

For historical perspective, consider this: No president since FDR in 1940 won reelection with an unemployment rate above 7.1 percent. And for FDR, that number was a huge improvement from four years earlier.

How did Obama and his team overcome this? The answer: they successfully blamed it on George W. Bush, with Bill Clinton aiding and abetting the process. There were no limits to how much they blamed Bush, and how much it worked. The Democratic base swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

And that base was key to Obama’s re-election. He didn’t drift to center to win, the way Clinton had for his second term. Obama swung far left to his most extreme base. And as Dr. Kengor admits, it worked.

Sadly, other things worked as well, and none are good for this country. The framing of Republicans as conducting a “war on women” because they don’t favor forced taxpayer funding of abortion, Planned Parenthood, and contraception worked. The insistence that government-provided contraception is a new “entitlement” worked. The demonization of the Tea Party—a movement spontaneously created by Obama’s wild spending—worked.

For that matter, Obama got away with the extraordinarily wasteful $800 billon “stimulus” package that didn’t stimulate and buried us fiscally. He even got away with the HHS mandate that constitutes the greatest threat to religious liberty (particularly against the Catholic Church) in at least a century.

In terms of social policy, the electorate has given the green light to a president who is redefining marriage and promoting forced funding of abortion and contraception and embryo destruction—at the expense of religious liberty.

Moreover, the president’s unceasing class-warfare rhetoric was rewarded by the electorate, as were his attacks on profits, the private sector, the wealthy, banking and investment, and the oil and natural gas industry. The Obama energy policy is advanced. Mitt Romney would have unleashed a boom for America’s domestic energy industry. That is now gone. That is a tragedy, the levels of which we will not be able to appreciate.

And what about Romney? I had my reservations, but America rejected a genuinely decent man who had the best business background of anyone who would have ever assumed the Oval Office. He was the perfect person for the perfect time.

It was not to be. ‘What might have been’ is a waste of time now, and one more lesson from all this is to make the best use of time.

The organizations dedicated to the life and marriage issues on the ballot in this and other elections have applied all their time and resources to getting out the vote and making sure it’s well informed. That worked well in Massachusetts on the physician assisted suicide bill.

Not well in the states voting on marriage.

Voters in Maine and Maryland have approved initiatives legalizing same-sex marriage, and Minnesota voters have rejected a marriage amendment to the state constitution.

With 75% of the vote counted in Maine, voters approved same-sex marriage by a 53%-47% margin, just three years after the state’s voters, by the same margin, had repealed a law legalizing same-sex marriage.

With 98% of the vote counted in Maryland, voters approved same-sex marriage by a 52%-48% margin.

With 98% of the vote counted in Minnesota, voters, by a 52%-48% margin, rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

With 51% of the vote counted in the State of Washington, a ballot initiative that would legalize same-sex marriage was leading by a 52%-48% margin.

Tom Peters, relentless defender of marriage at National Organization for Marriage, gave my radio listeners some tough love in an interview the day after the elections. Besides being outspent on their campaign to uphold marriage law, Peters said the vigor in the movement to redefine marriage was highly-charged. “They wanted to do it more than we wanted to defend it,” he said, more as an indictment of Americans in general than his organization in particular. “Marriage undefended will lose,” he said. And that is now abundantly clear.

Until now, 32 out of 32 times the issue has been put to the ballot, voters have upheld the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Some marriage defenders believe that’s still a bulwark against further assaults on the institution.

However, despite the setback for true marriage defenders, 30 states currently explicitly define marriage has between one man and one woman in their state constitutions, presenting a formidable barrier to the advancement of the homosexualist agenda.

True. But along with much else in America, that just may have begun to change. As Tom Peters said, marriage defenders have to want and work for their goal as much as those who want to redefine it.

GOP convention wrap

These things used to be a bigger deal, a much bigger deal, and carried more weight and drama than they do now. But they still make for some high drama, some inspiring moments, some revelations, and lots of goofy hats. They are, after all, parties.

This time around, the political parties thrown by the two US political parties wrapped around either side of Labor Day, were shortened to three days from the historical week long events, and attracted less media investment in coverage because people have so many ways to access the information live time and in summary anyway. I don’t know how pollsters estimate viewership, how much of America may have watched, but I tuned in to most of it at the expense of first week action at the US Open Tennis and I’m glad I did. We should hear at least some of the addresses by party leaders and especially the candidates themselves, for vice-president and president. We should see the so-called ‘optics’ each party presents as representing their ideals, and hear the themes and points emphasized.

By many accounts, though I saw it for myself, the Republicans emphasized family, faith, and frankly love. Ann Romney’s speech, which was more like a conversation with a big group of friends, was all about these themes.

Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie focused on love at one point.

And the greatest lesson that mom ever taught me though was this one.  She told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected. Now she said to always pick being respected.  She told me that love without respect was always fleeting, but that respect could grow into real and lasting love.  Now, of course, she was talking about women…

But I have learned over time that it applies just as much to leadership.  In fact, I think that advice applies to America more than ever today.

Family and faith were strong points throughout the keynotes, several from young governors and senators who were the children of hard working immigrants.

Prominent members of the Republican Party highlighted faith and family values as being intrinsic to America’s identity as a nation at the party’s 2012 national convention.

America is unique as a country because it “was founded on the principle that every person has God-given rights” and that people should be free, said Florida Senator Marco Rubio…

He explained that America stands out because it is united as a country “not by a common race or ethnicity,” but “by common values.”

These values include the conviction that “family is the most important institution in society” and that “almighty God is the source of all we have,” he said…

Americans are “a blessed people,” enjoying opportunities beyond those experienced by most nations throughout human history, Rubio said. He contrasted the American experience of freedom with that of Cuba, which his parents left in order to seek a better life in the U.S.

Rubio described the 2012 election as “a choice about what kind of country we want America to be” and whether the nation will apply “the principles of our founding to solve the challenges of our time.”

The biggest one – principle and challenge – is the idea of what should be the proper size and role of government. The two competing visions of that idea are central to this election and everything else being debated. Like the economy.

Which gets to the two props present in the GOP convention arena, one all week and the other briefly passing through on the final night before the much-anticipated speech by Mitt Romney. The passing one got far more media coverage than the enduring one.

It was Clint Eastwood’s empty chair. However one saw that encounter, it’s surprisingly not a first.

As part of yesterday’s showings at the Republican National Convention, famed actor and director Clint Eastwood startled and amused viewers by mock-debating an empty chair, meant to represent President Obama.

Many who saw the scene thought it to be strange and bizarre, let alone unconventional, for a forum that is usually meticulously directed. Delegates on the convention floor, however, loved it.

But it turns out that the history of debating empty chairs is a rich one, stretching back to at least 1924 when Progressive* vice-presidential nominee Burton K. Wheeler took a stab at an invisible President Calvin Coolidge.

Interesting piece. But speaking of a ‘meticulously directed’ forum, media strategist Mark McKinnon called the GOP convention a masterpiece, and the Eastwood stunt a smokescreen.

Liberals and the mainstream media are having a field day over Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention, mocking it ceaselessly on cable. They’re using it just like the storm beforehand—doing whatever it takes to distract from Mitt Romney and the message he wants to convey. But no matter how crazy it drives critics, Clint pumped up the hall, showed people it was OK to poke fun at President Obama—and left ’em laughing in the aisles. No amount of post-game complaint can change the fact that the GOP—and convention organizer Russ Schriefer in particular—put on a hell of a show.

Heart, brains, and courage. It was all there for America to see on stage. And Schriefer was the man behind the curtain. Given the challenges faced by the party and its nominee, he proved to be a true wizard.

Fighting hurricanes of nature and man (Isaac and Todd Akin), not to mention the very difficult and divided factions within the GOP these days, Schriefer managed one of the most successful conventions in memory.

And the nominee did okay, after all. This NBC report sums up well.

Accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney vowed to move America past what he called the “disappointments” of President Barack Obama’s four years in office if elected to the White House in November.

In a speech that hearkened back to an America typified by Romney’s upbringing “in the middle of the century in the middle of the country,” the nominee argued he was the candidate best suited to rejuvenate a flagging economy.

“Today, the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us,” Romney said.

Using a traditional attack line against an incumbent president, Romney said, “This president can tell us that the next four years he’ll get it right.  But this president cannot tell us that you are better off today than when he took office.”

“The time has come to turn the page.”

The nationally televised address, the biggest of Romney’s political career, sought to better introduce him to Americans and erase the low favorable rating from which he suffered before the convention…

“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” Romney said. “My promise – is to help you and your family.”

That simple statement brought the crowd to their feet in a standing ovation.

And as if to preempt Democratic criticism that he was rooting for failure, Romney said he had hoped for just the opposite.

“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division,” Romney said. “This isn’t something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we can do something. With your help we will do something.”

It wasn’t soaring oratory. But it was gracious. Romney is not a politician by nature. He’s a businessman, a successful one, who is strongly rooted in faith and family and ideals of America’s founding principles.

The convention wrapped without much attention given to the presence of the enduring symbol that hung over it all week.

The debt clock. Just as well, it’s nerve-wracking to watch.

The Democrats won’t hang that over their gathering, at least not visibly, and their convention is about to begin.

At least I got some weekend tennis matches in there, in between.

Who Mitt Romney is

Or, who is Mitt Romney? That’s the question of the week, and this is the week it’s due to get answered.

The Republican convention opened Monday, sort of.

The truncated 2012 Republican convention gets underway in earnest Tuesday, delayed by a storm threat and distracted by fears of a hurricane aiming at the northern Gulf Coast…

There is a risk of seeming tone deaf “if the rest of the county is riveted on any kind of horrific weather event,” Republican strategist Rick Davis [said].

It was a cautious start to an uncertain week. But the fact that it was scheduled to be four days in the first place, with the Democrats by necessity already shortening their convention next week to three days, calls this historical event into question, and rightfully so.

“These are very expensive propositions to put on,” [House Speaker John] Boehner said at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think, given as much news as people get today and the way they get their news, I’m not sure having a four-day convention in the future makes a lot of sense.”

It doesn’t even make a little sense. Political campaigns have become mind-bogglingly expensive with gargantuan spending on saturation campaigns and way too much time spent by candidates on fundraising instead of more important matters, like governing (the incumbant) or policy formation and coalition building (the challenger). And all in the age when we do have near total and constant access to information on the candidates. As well as an inter-generational crushing debt requiring austerity measures all around.

Anyway, thus began the GOP convention week, and it will be interesting to see how coverage goes when the Democrats open theirs next week.

For example, and here’s just one, if media ask for more revelation on a candidate’s worldview and its evolution – very fair question – they should ask the same for both party’s candidates.

So, Mitt, what do you really believe?
Too much about the Republican candidate for the presidency is far too mysterious

That’s just the headline and sub-head of the Economist Leader piece this week. Which makes one wonder…did they ask those very questions of candidate Barack Obama in 2008? Would they dare ask it now?

We want to know all about both men who seek to lead this nation and influence the world over the next four, consequential years.

WSJ picks up the question.

The leader Republicans will nominate for president this week is a man of many paradoxes, a figure well known yet not entirely understood, someone who has been examined for two full presidential campaigns but whose personal beliefs remain the subject of intense debate.

The only part of that sentence that differs from the other candidate is the party designation. No wait…the other part is the “someone who has been examined” description. Because the president never was, though the rest applies.

My Monday radio show, on the sort-of opening day of the GOP convention, anticipating the Democratic convention next week, reflected on the meaning of it all in this day of instant and near-global information access, and whether folks are tuned in after all.

But this AP piece captures it well, I think. At least right now, at this point in time.

The conventions are made for TV. But that means made for all to see, across America and even the world. And the audience now gets to talk back, drafting its own instant platform via Twitter and Facebook and all our other electronic impulses.

The conventions are taxpayer-subsidized political commercials. But if they were only that, few would watch. We’ve seen too many mean ads already. By now most voters have made up their minds about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, anyway.

At their best, every four years, these mud-slinging, self-serving, partisan-by-definition displays rise to offer something more: moments that transcend politics.

Together, the two conventions make up a national stock-taking, a pause to remember our roots, figure out who we are and decide what’s truly important, without feeling too hokey about it. Like a virtual family reunion, Americans gather around their televisions, computers or smartphones to argue or agree, celebrate the good stuff, mourn our losses and regret our mistakes, to regroup, to look ahead.

The conventions are Barbara Jordan, Jesse Jackson and Obama, their very presence on the podium insisting that the American dream no longer be deferred. And Ferraro and Sarah Palin and Hillary Rodham Clinton, bursting through doors once locked to them.

They are the thousands of Vietnam War protesters chanting outside the 1968 Democratic meeting, who couldn’t be silenced by the tear gas and billy clubs of the Chicago police.

They are Robert Kennedy eulogizing the slain president who was also his big brother Jack. Nancy Reagan telling America that its Great Communicator is being hushed by Alzheimer’s. Mary Fisher pleading with the nation to come to its senses and find its compassion so her children wouldn’t feel ashamed someday to say out loud their mother died of AIDS.

Every four years, the political conventions come along to remind us how wrong we were about some things in the past. And that we know nothing, really, about what’s to come.

It’s no coincidence that Ronald Reagan, a genius at wielding metaphor, chose to speak at the 1976 GOP convention about what he would write in a time capsule letter to the future.

The conventions are time capsules, lovingly created and then buried in the rush to Election Day.

Dig through past conventions, their speeches and platforms, and you’ll find a record not just of Americans’ politics but also of their worries and fears, longings and dreams. Not just how the parties gave us Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But also how passion to do something about slavery and civil rights and women’s rights and poverty percolated up from the people and into the convention halls and the White House.

This year’s speakers will talk about gay marriage, religious freedom, women’s health, the national debt, joblessness. And someone may say something in a way that sticks in the national consciousness and helps build a consensus that one day, in hindsight, will seem blazingly obvious.

Conventions are far from perfect. Too much of their time is wasted on things parochial and elitist and just silly. Not much has changed since Bob Dole summed up the GOP event of 1980: “The introducers spoke longer than the speakers. And the speakers spoke too long.”

But what else have we got? Self-consciously triumphant inaugurals, ponderous State of the Union speeches. Debates promise some spontaneity, but they’re too narrow, focused only on four candidates.

The conventions are a political Olympics, democracy as spectator sport: Score the best efforts of mayors and governors and senators who might be president someday. Catch those candidates and insiders who claim to hate Washington and loathe politics openly reveling in the raucous, strapping national debate, whatever they prefer to call it. Watch regular folks still willing to turn out, in silly hats and buttons, to cheer for something they believe in.

Well said. True, and well said.

I hope and pray the tropical storm somehow deflects or dissolves and spares lives and property, first and foremost. And then the raucous and rousing experiences of the party conventions get fully underway. Let the competition of two very different visions for America proceed.

Romney pick defines the campaign

All of a sudden, it seems the media have noticed what the presidential election is actually all about. Ideas. Competing ideas. Two stark contrasts of opposing worldviews and what should be the proper size and role of government. It’s about time.

What was it about the choice of Congressman Paul Ryan that evoked this swift and sweeping response? His clarity, charity and honesty, seem to be the top answers of both supporters and opponents. I heard a Democratic strategist on a television news panel credit Ryan with being an intellectual, an honest man who clearly articulates and stands for what he believes and represents conservative values with weight and gravity rare at this level of politics. She just doesn’t happen to agree with his beliefs or politics, but she respects the man.

Not everyone who disagrees with Paul Ryan is so charitable, but many who do at least admit  he’s a charitable man and a formidable politician. He’s also consequential, because his elevation made media heavyweights suddenly aware that this election is about a clear choice.

Republican Mitt Romney reset the race for the presidency as a battle over the size and scope of the federal government Saturday, choosing as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the architect of the GOP’s plans to slash spending and overhaul Medicare.

In a risky and surprising move to give his campaign a jolt of momentum, Romney chose the 42-year-old congressman over several contenders considered safer bets. The selection seemed destined to shift the tone of a campaign that has become mired in petty squabbles and force a debate over how to tackle the nation’s fiscal challenges.

That was the tenor in most media stories. Including the Times.

Mitt Romney introduced Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate on Saturday at a spirited rally in Norfolk, Va., bringing to his side one of the party’s young conservative leaders in a move that altered the contours of the campaign and sharpened the choice facing the voters in November…

The decision instantly made the campaign seem bigger and more consequential, with the size and role of the federal government squarely at the center of the debate.

I’ve been saying that for months. That exact thing. So much so that on Monday, my network re-aired my earlier interview with Cong. Ryan and I opened it with the remarks that this election is essentially about the proper size and role of government, whether it is a solution or the problem, and what Catholic social teaching tells us about governing a society.

Now, big media are leading most of their stories with those same question, except for Catholic social teaching, though that’s coming out in some of the reporting on Paul Ryan anyway. Especially when it comes to claims that he’s a disciple of Ayn Rand.

Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, recently called Ryan “an Ayn Rand devotee” who wants to “slash benefits for the poor.” New York magazine once alleged that Ryan “requires staffers to read Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s gospel of capitalism. President Obama has blasted the Ryan budget as Republican “social Darwinism.”

These Rand-related slams, Ryan says, are inaccurate and part of an effort on the left to paint him as a cold-hearted Objectivist. Ryan’s actual philosophy, as reported by my colleague, Brian Bolduc, couldn’t be further from the caricature. As a practicing Roman Catholic, Ryan says, his faith and moral values shape his politics as much as his belief in freedom and capitalism does.

“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

But detractors and especially the Catholic left won’t let him off the hook.

Which brings up a point I’m struck with as these first few days of Ryan’s elevation unfold. Really, truly struck with. People have written to me earnestly asking for answers about this, for either a defense or an indictment of Ryan based on anything he may have found worthwhile in Rand’s economic philosophy in the past, or anything he holds as worthy today in economic policy in advancing a budget that reforms the American economy.

Three things, really.

One, it’s interesting to see how much energy is going into vetting the Republican vice-presidential nominee once again than ever was given to analyzing the Democratic presidential candidate for the second election in four years.

Two, it’s refreshing to see and hear so many people engage in a debate over ideas – about philosophy, politics, the economy, society and the common good – and argue them passionately. If we’re as much about equality as we believe we are, let’s apply the same scrutiny to any major candidate who changes beliefs or positions on issues. What is considered ‘evolving’ for one candidate is ridiculed as ‘flip-flopping’ for another. What’s heralded as enlightened for the one is sharply derided as disingenous for the other. Let’s be serious.

And three, let’s be informed. Instead of relying on media and punditry for interpretations and translations and representations of ‘the Ryan budget plan’, let’s read it for ourselves and see what it says. In the absence of a competing budget plan, it’s something to debate.

As Cong. Ryan told me, “we are facing the most predictable debt crisis in history.” And “the American people want to be talked to like adults,” to “form their own prudential judgments” about competing ideas. “Are we simply treating the symptoms or the root causes of poverty?” The government has a role to play, he added, but one that above all honors the dignity of the human person.

Elections are now under 90 days away, and the campaign has just become more serious and more interesting.

The bogus ‘war on women’

Some people are getting a lot of traction out of this. In spite of its contrivance as an election year strategy. 

Which became a trendy meme parroted in media. Take the Economist, for example, which is lamentable since it’s usually so much more sensible. Lexington ran this column.

It is also a mistake to assume that women’s preferences are driven only by hot-button issues such as abortion and contraception, which Mr Santorum has driven so unhelpfully up the news agenda. Polls show that women lean towards the Democrats for many other reasons. They are, for instance, likelier to believe in activist government and stronger regulation. On abortion, it turns out, men and women have similar attitudes. Just over half of both sexes think it should be legal in all or most cases, and about 43% think it should be illegal in all or most cases.

There’s so much wrong with that paragraph, better to just let it stand on its own.

Yet it is hard to believe that the Republicans’ problem with women has not been aggravated by Mr Santorum’s obsession with who is doing what to whom in the bedroom, or by Mr Romney’s promise to defund Planned Parenthood, the organisation on which millions of poor women depend for family planning (including abortion), or by the antics of Republican state legislatures. In recent months newspapers have carried startling reports about Republican-governed states pushing women who seek early abortions to have a probe inserted into their vaginas, in order to provide an image of the unborn child, in the hope that the picture will change their minds.

So let’s see… One shot aims to ridicule, simplify and demonize Sen. Santorum. So would the equal and opposite be true by saying that Mr. Obama has an obsession with contraception and abortion? Rhetorical question… Another shot, this one at Mr. Romney, overlooks the decades long serious efforts in Congress to stop throwing hefty sums of taxpayer funds at the highly profitable abortion giant Planned Parenthood, portrayed here as the salvation of millions of poor women looking for benevolent family planning, whatever that term has come to mean, in addition to the ultimate extreme of abortion, which means no family and no planning.

Then there’s the rest of that paragraph, those “startling reports about Republican-governed states pushing women who seek early abortions to have a probe inserted into their vaginas,  in order to provide an image of the unborn child, in the hope that the picture will change their minds.” Besides the obvious partisan political nature of the shot, there’s the crassness and dishonesty of the rest of it. A few points…One: Exactly how does the abortionist go about the business of eliminating that “unborn child” without a far more violating instrument into the woman? Two: Some state laws, like one proposed in Illinois for instance, aim to offer women the option to see an ultrasound, which she may choose or decline, which may be done non-invasively. And Three: The reason is to provide women fully informed consent, so they, you know, can make a choice. Who benefits if they can’t change their minds? Who’s trying to avoid giving women a choice to make up their minds?

And what is this “politics of women” business? What does it mean? Who does it speak for? Are feminists okay with Lexington’s derogatory remarks here? Kudos for getting two things right, “the snake pit of politics” that targeted Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin for sexist media coverage. Right on, there. But perhaps Lexington isn’t familiar with Susan B. Anthony women in politics.

As long as media beat this drum, there are fortunately other voices to meet the challenge, willing to parse truth from nonsense.

New Hampshire Republican senator Kelly Ayotte, who endorsed Romney and campaigned with him before the Granite State’s GOP primary, stresses in an interview that Romney’s message will ultimately prove appealing to women.

The issues that matter most to women voters are also the issues that play to Romney’s strength, Ayotte notes. Above all, she says, women are concerned about the unemployment rate: They want to make sure they and their families have good jobs. Like everyone else, women want a strong economy. The other top two issues Ayotte lists for women: gas prices and the debt…

Ayotte pushes back against the Democratic notion that the GOP is waging a “war on women,” as supposedly evident in the party’s position on various issues, such as opposition to the requirement that employers at religious institutions provide insurance coverage for birth control, including sterilization and abortion-inducing pills.
 
“They make a mistake when they think women are a monolithic group,” Ayotte says. “Women have diverse opinions on these issues.” She points to a USA Today/Gallup poll of battleground states in which women ranked government policies on birth control as the sixth most important issue to them this election, behind health care, gas prices, unemployment, the national debt/deficit, and international affairs. Democrats want to push the “war on women” storyline because they think it will work well for them, Ayotte says. “But at the end of the day, women have very different opinions, and they’re going to vote on a broad array of issues.”
 
Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway agrees that Democrats’ strong push on their liberal social policies could backfire. “It presupposes that women care, discuss, and vote only according to those issues,” she says, referring to contraception and abortion. That premise, she adds, “insults women.”

Yes it does. Colleen Carroll Campbell puts it this way:

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to make a request of America’s political and media elites on behalf of America’s women: Stop lumping us together.

To be more specific: Stop telling us “what women want” in the next president, which political stands are sure-fire winners (or losers) of “the women’s vote” and what constitutes “the women’s view” in debates over everything from the morality of abortion to the limits of government and the best path to national prosperity.

While you’re at it, please stop quoting a handful of self-appointed “women’s advocates” as if they were proxies for all 156 million Americans who carry two X chromosomes. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards no more represents my views than Sarah Palin represents hers. And I think I can speak for all women in saying that no single woman or women’s group speaks for us all.

And while we’re at it, please stop lumping us into identity politics altogether. Just who does that benefit?

What happened in South Carolina?

I remember writing in 2008 that the race was consistent only in its unpredicability. That’s the only resemblance this presidential race holds to the last.

There is no comfort in any political camp right now. They each feel equally emboldened and vulnerable. Just as they did in the Democratic primary in 2008.

That’s not bad for the political process after South Carolina, third race in.

Three states. Three winners. A divided delegate count. If there is one clarity in the unpredictable, captivating turns of the Republican presidential race, it is this: Anything can happen and Florida, which is next to vote, is wide open.

“Whether it’s a ball game or a political race, momentum counts. And Gingrich has it,” said state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who is not affiliated with a candidate.

Gingrich’s resurrection comes as the GOP field has narrowed, allowing him to tap into conservative voters eager to settle on a candidate other than Mitt Romney, whom Gingrich has relentlessly pounded as a “moderate.”

This raises a big question for a lot of people: Why are conservative voters eager to settle on a candidate other than Mitt Romney? Do conservative voters coalesce around any candidate? My discernment is not yet. They’re splintered.

Then again, Gingrich could squander it all, as he has before in the lead position. With nine days before primary day on Jan. 31, his surge will be met with negative ads and increased news media scrutiny.

And Ron Paul is prepared for the long slog.

“THIS is the beginning of a long, hard slog,” said Ron Paul, at his optimistically titled “Victory Party”. “This is a hard fight because there’s so much worth fighting for,” said Mitt Romney, “and we’ve still got a long way to go.” Indeed we do…

What happened in South Carolina? Erick Erickson writes that today’s result was “about Republican grassroots giving the Washington Establishment the finger. The base is angry, and right now only Newt is left to fight for them.” Mr Gingrich can hardly be considered a Washington outsider, having served in Congress for some 20 years, but if there is one thing the former speaker is good at, it’s fighting. His debate performances this week displayed not a mastery of the issues, or any particularly novel policy proposals, but anger. His speeches have portrayed the campaign as an epic battle between an exceptional American, himself, and an un-American president.

And it has tapped into the anger of the people joining Tea Party movements and Occupy movements and given them voice. How that will play in Florida is the next great unknown.

‘The great unknown is well put.’ The Florida primary is on the 31st. Political maneuvering asaide, the people have a say and want to express their values and priorities.

An awful lot can happen between now and then. Stay tuned. It will probabaly change daily.

One thing I’m going to be watching for is the ‘electability issue’, with the observer status that the term has been applied equally to three different candidates in the Republican campaign, as if they’re each the only one electable against the sitting president.

Stay tuned. Each primary holds infinite possibilities and hope.

Mitt, the unpopular winner

For many months, an odd trend has held sway in the GOP and the media reporting on the presidential campaigns as they shaped up: calling the weekly Mitt Romney polling strength and the Not-Mitt Candidate of the moment who shared or even overtook the lead in those polls. That Not-Romney Candidate has rotated through the ranks over time, but the position has remained important to a major faction of the GOP. Even on election night in the New Hampshire primary.

Jonah Goldberg’s article on NRO says that ‘despite his lead, the not-Mitt mood is intensifying.’

Mitt Romney is the most improbable of presidential candidates: a weak juggernaut.

He is poised to sweep every primary contest — a first for a non-incumbent. And yet, in Republican ranks there’s an abiding sense that he should be beatable — and beaten.

It’s not that Romney doesn’t have fans. His events in New Hampshire were packed to the rafters and felt like general-election rallies. He’s surging in polls in South Carolina and Florida.

And yet the non-Mitt mood just won’t go away. Indeed, it’s intensifying. One reason for that is people are starting to doubt whether he is in fact the best candidate to beat President Obama. For instance, you hear conservatives wondering more and more whether all of the attention from the White House is a head fake. Romney certainly makes a convenient foil for a presidential campaign already in populist overdrive. The desperate attacks from Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry on his career in the private sector are indefensible, but Romney certainly has a gift for inviting them. You can be sure President Obama is grateful to Gingrich and Perry for making them bipartisan critiques.

No kidding. For months now, I’ve been picturing an Obama campaign collecting and saving sound and film clips of the Republicans tearing into each other, but mostly the field of candidates tearing into Mitt Romney. It’s all going to come back in the general election campaign, so why do they do it?

I asked on my Facebook page the rhetorical question ‘Why do attack ads work?’ And got a range of interesting opinions. But not one person said they don’t work.

Goldberg continues:

Romney was at his best swatting away the swarm on inanities at the debate…He’s weakest, however, when discussing himself. In this he is the anti-Obama. The president is never more eloquent and heartfelt than when he is talking about himself; it’s his ideas he can’t move.

Romney, meanwhile, has the opposite problem. Voters can buy his policies; it’s the salesman that leaves them unsure.

That’s true. Voters don’t buy his salesmanship, even if they buy his policies. It’s weird.

His authentic inauthenticity problem isn’t going away. And it’s sapping enthusiasm from the rank and file. The turnout in Iowa was disastrously low, barely higher than the turnout in 2008 — and if Ron Paul hadn’t brought thousands of non-Republicans to the caucus sites, it would have been decidedly lower than in 2008. That’s an ominous sign given how much enthusiasm there should be for making Obama a one-term president. It’s almost as if Romney’s banality is infectious.

None of this says anything about core fundamental values, competing worldviews, the conviction of human dignity that should be the center of gravity for anchoring the politics of the moment. It’s all cosmetic, or pragmatic.

The most persuasive case for Romney has always been that if he’s the nominee, the election will be a referendum on Obama. But that calculation always assumed that rank-and-file Republicans will vote for their nominee in huge numbers no matter what. That may well still be the case, but it feels less guaranteed every day.

Every four years, pundits and activists talk about how cool it would be to have a brokered convention. This is the first time I can remember where people say it may be necessary.

One of my guests on radio, a political expert in Washington, said we’re living in unprecedented times, and this election is even more consequential than the last. That rings true. But what threw me was what she said next, and with conviction: We’ve never had a moment in time when we could have more hope.

Little more than a week ago, the worldwide headlines rang in the new year declaring the populist mood to be ‘cautious optimism.’ We are a people of hope, but we are wiser and more discerning in extending it.

The emergence of social moral issues

The media don’t quite know how to handle this.

GOP presidential candidates are talking, and more boldly, about the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, human dignity and ‘rights endowed by the Creator’, especially in their debates. Partially because they’re being prodded by media moderators.

Shortly after last weekend’s ABC debate, some top stories on my news aggregator recounted a particularly odd and persistent exchange between questioner George Stephanopoulos and candidate Mitt Romney. That story disappeared quickly and was replaced by boilerplate rundowns of the debate and especially from the angle of who was attacking whom on stage over political and business track records. Where did that story go?

It turned up here, which is pretty thorough in describing the snip and then publishing the video and transcript.

During Saturday’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, hosted by ABC, co-moderator George Stephanopoulos bizarrely pressed candidate Mitt Romney on whether the former Massachusetts governor believes the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn a 1965 ruling that a constitutional right to privacy bars states from banning contraception.

And that’s the key to what should be the focus whenever this topic is raised. Whether it’s intended as a ‘gotcha’ question or whatever. NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez brings clarity to the media distortions and confusion.

The problem with the headlines is that they are untrue.

What Santorum has said is that the Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut — which dealt with a case that was a Planned Parenthood official’s stunt — was a bad precedent and bad law. It created a constitutional right for married persons to use contraceptives. Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas declared that ”specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance,” and that “various [of these] guarantees create zones of privacy.” That would be the basis for the Roe decision eight years later, which relied on a similar constitutional stretch.

All of which provides another opportunity to point to this critical understanding of Roe as bad law and wrongly-decided law. Let’s just look at the first three ‘pro-choice scholars’ quoted here:

Laurence Tribe — Harvard Law School. Lawyer for Al Gore in 2000.
“One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”
“The Supreme Court, 1972 Term—Foreword: Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law,” 87 Harvard Law Review 1, 7 (1973).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
“Roe, I believe, would have been more acceptable as a judicial decision if it had not gone beyond a ruling on the extreme statute before the court. … Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”
North Carolina Law Review, 1985

Edward Lazarus — Former clerk to Harry Blackmun.
“As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to the right to choose, as someone who believes such a right has grounding elsewhere in the Constitution instead of where Roe placed it, and as someone who loved Roe’s author like a grandfather.” ….
“What, exactly, is the problem with Roe? The problem, I believe, is that it has little connection to the Constitutional right it purportedly interpreted. A constitutional right to privacy broad enough to include abortion has no meaningful foundation in constitutional text, history, or precedent – at least, it does not if those sources are fairly described and reasonably faithfully followed.”

Let’s have this debate. But let it be honest, respectful, and open to core beliefs and truths.

The Gingrich bump is persisting

So it’s more than a bump. And it’s the darndest thing…media pundits presumably on the same side of the political equation are on opposite sides of the Gingrich calculus.

There’s a tenacity to Newt Gingrich’s hold on the top position right now,  in spite of all the armament being fired at him. In spite of what reason tells us should be happening. Although this year, nothing is happening along predictable lines…(and I recall saying that about the Democrats in 2008).

Like it or not, Gingrich is beating Romney in his own back yard, the early primary Romney was supposed to have wrapped up a long time ago.

New Hampshire is supposed to be Mitt Romney turf, but Newt Gingrich was the one with the Granite State magic Monday night.

The former House speaker locked the attention of the 1,000-person overflow crowd at Windham High School here with the serious, controlled manner of a nominee holding a general election town hall.

Classic Gingrich was on full display.

“You will not see me bow to a Saudi king,” he said to deafening applause.

“Tomorrow morning I’ll release a letter to my staff, to any consultants and to any surrogates we have indicating our determination to run a positive campaign,” Gingrich said, in a call for civility at the end of a day when he and Romney had veered sharply to the negative.

Gingrich pledged to “publicly disown” and “urge people not to donate to” any super PAC or group that went negative on his behalf.

But Gingrich remained on the attack, saying that while he’s been consistently positive, he said he doesn’t expect others to be, continuing to cast the campaign as a contest between his candidacy of big, positive ideas, and an opposition which is willing to play dirty to weaken his support.

What is going on here?

A Gingrich staffer said the event — capped off by a mob of fans looking for Gingrich and his wife to sign baseballs and even spiral-bound notebooks, and of course their books — was the former House speaker’s biggest of the campaign cycle so far.

“We’re on a roller coaster for which they do not issue seat belts,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said, following the town hall.

It can be a wild ride just to watch the news shows try to analyze these events, with all the spin they throw in. But this was the hairpin turn where no one expected it.

Derek Kittredge, a Rochester, N.H. lawyer who previously supported Herman Cain and Sarah Palin, called Gingrich “the sharpest pencil in the box.”

“Most Americans are really tired of bullet-point politics – they want an adult at the picnic,” he said.

Jack Kimball, a former New Hampshire GOP chairman who recently endorsed Gingrich, said the former House Speaker is gaining ground – rapidly.

“Newt’s really closing the gap here in New Hampshire. This is going to be nip-tuck,” he said.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting that believable analysts claim the Obama team is throwing their influence behind getting Gingrich elected, since they see him as eminently more beatable than Romney. While comedians and media ‘strategists’ on Obama’s backup bench have been ridiculing and excoriating Gingrich as not remotely in touch with modern voters and culture.

This is a free for all, and that’s fine at this point. It engages voters to pay attention to the sharp division between the real opposing sides in this election, the worldview and ideology of the two parties on the size and role of government in America, and the role of America in the world.

Where the GOP candidates stand

So here we are, a few weeks away from the first primary elections, with more debates to analyze and more media handicapping of party hopefuls and pundits saying exactly opposite things about the contenders.

There are voters committed to voting for Barack Obama again no matter what, and those who already have decided upon one of the Republican candidates as their favorite, the contender most closely aligned with their values and viewpoints, and most likely to beat Barack Obama. For the rest of us, these GOP debates are…if not illuminating and inspiring…context.

There was another one last Saturday night and will be another one this Thursday night and it’s all information that should go in the mix. I’ve been watching and listening to both the candidates and the pundits, and having done this for a long time as a veteran journalist, I must admit this one is unlike anything I can recall. The GOP is really split, voters and even conservative media are split, and it seems to be mainly between candidates Romney and Gingrich, who has recently gone from discounted to the main ‘not-Romney’ candidate (which has been a consistently odd category) to the de facto top candidate in polling.

The so-called ‘values voters’ are even all over the place, though I’m reluctant to use that term, because everyone is a ‘values voter’ and it just depends on whose values you’re talking about. Someone’s values will prevail. So the distinction is between traditional social/moral values and what we know as progressive secular liberal values.

During the Saturday debate, the Twitterverse was alive with activity giving play-by-play analysis on who won virtually each question, much less the whole debate. At times it was Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, sometimes a thumbs up to Perry, and a nod to Michele Bachmann a couple of times at least. I keyed in on the posts most influential in the ‘so-called values voters’ orbit and they were confounding, because they were either weighing in for Mitt or for Newt.

Which is precisely where we stand right now. NPR is one of many media who sees Newt in the lead.

Judging by the attacks on Newt Gingrich at Saturday’s GOP debate in Des Moines, Iowa, the former House speaker is the man to beat in the Republican presidential field.

The past few weeks have seen a remarkable turnaround for Gingrich’s campaign.

He’s holding on to frontrunner status.

With just over three weeks until the first nominating contest, Bachmann — as well as other contenders, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman — are vying to get a leg up over Gingrich, who has taken the recent lead in polling, and Romney, who has cast himself as the de facto nominee to challenge President Obama when all is said and done.

Which is why this WSJ op-ed piece by Peggy Noonan is getting such buzz.

That’s the problem with Newt Gingrich: It’s all true. It’s part of the reason so many of those who know him are anxious about the thought of his becoming president. It’s also why people are looking at him, thinking about him, considering him as president.

Ethically dubious? True. Intelligent and accomplished? True. Has he known breathtaking success and contributed to real reforms in government? Yes. Presided over disasters? Absolutely. Can he lead? Yes. Is he erratic and unreliable as a leader? Yes. Egomaniacal? True. Original and focused, harebrained and impulsive—all true.

Do you want evidence he’s a Burkean conservative? Start with welfare reform in 1996. A sober, standard Republican? Go to the balanced budgets of the Clinton era. Is he a tea partier? Sure, he speaks the slashing lingo with relish. Is he moderate? Yes, that can be proved. Michele Bachmann this week called him a “frugal socialist,” and there’s plenty of evidence of that, too.

One way to view this is that he is so rich and varied as a character, as geniuses often are, that he contains worlds, multitudes. One senses that would be his way of looking at it. Another way to look at it: In a long career, one will shift views, adapt to circumstances, tack this way and that. Another way: He’s philosophically unanchored, an unstable element. There are too many storms within him, and he seeks out external storms in order to equalize his own atmosphere. He’s a trouble magnet, a starter of fights that need not be fought. He is the first modern potential president about whom there is too much information.

What is striking is the extraordinary divide in opinion between those who know Gingrich and those who don’t. Those who do are mostly not for him, and they were burning up the phone lines this week in Washington.

Those who’ve known and worked with Mitt Romney mostly seem to support him, but when they don’t they don’t say the reason is that his character and emotional soundness are off. Those who know Ron Paul and oppose him do so on the basis of his stands, they don’t say his temperament forecloses the possibility of his presidency. But that’s pretty much what a lot of those who’ve worked with Newt say.

This is getting a lot of press, as a fair, honest, accurate and somewhat scathing analysis of the searing mind of Newt Gingrich. Noonan understands inside-the-beltway Washington politics from the Reagan days forward (if that’s the right direction of reference), and like it or not she has good insights into the Republican establishment as well as the newcomers.

The antipathy of the establishment not only is not hurting him at this early date, it may be helping him. It may be part of the secret of his rise. Because establishments, especially the Washington establishment, famously count for little with the Republican base: “You’re the ones who got us into this mess.”

Republicans on the ground who view Mr. Gingrich from afar, who neither know nor have worked with him, are more likely to see him this way: “Who was the last person to actually cut government? Who was the last person who actually led a movement that balanced the federal budget? . . . The last time there was true welfare reform, the last time government was cut, Gingrich did it.” That is Rush Limbaugh, who has also criticized Mr. Gingrich.

Exactly. Which reveals the confusion among the base of GOP supporters.

Those who know him fear—or hope—that he will be true to form in one respect: He will continue to lose to his No. 1 longtime foe, Newt Gingrich. He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, “Watch this!”

What they fear is that he will show just enough discipline over the next few months, just enough focus, to win the nomination.

Weekend news panels were at odds over where the Republican party stands and who may be the frontrunner and what it all means for the campaign to beat Barack Obama.

One of the networks ran an interesting clip from a January 2008 Democratic candidate debate specifically with tense exchanges between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was good historical context for the current GOP debates. The more animated the tension and drama between the top two party candidates, the more the debates clarified the differences and drew out the base to engage the political process and support a candidate.

So who best represents the pro-life values of the Republican party right now? It’s no more unified than the Democrats were in 2008. And that’s okay. There’s one more debate before the primaries begin January 3rd in Iowa. And a long way to go after that.