This is not the first time I have had occasion to bring to task the titular leader of the national Democratic Party. Nor, watching the breaking news stories today, will it apparently be the last.
What I can no longer hold back is the painful realization that Barack Obama is in over his head. He lacks the basic decisiveness and willingness to inflict discomfort on the political opposition that are necessary for effective political leadership, particularly in the age of McConnell-Boehner hyperpartisan Republican politics. As I have noted before, the Madisonian theory of balancing conflict underpinning our Constitution presumes that both sides will aggressively pursue their interests, and when one side fails to do so, the other side attains a near-tyrannical predominance.
The source of this tirade is, of course, Monday morning’s arrest of two Democratic state legislators, along with several lobbyists, and one token Republican legislator, Senator Jim Preuitt of Talladega. Beside Preuitt, the arrested legislators were Senator Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, and Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb. Smith had been widely rumored to be ready to caucus with the Democrats, after the GOP leadership refused to permit her to qualify for re-election in the Republican primary.
Since 1980, when Republicans tried to undercut President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to free the Iranian hostages in the months before the election, the phrase “October Surprise” has had currency in politics. Normally, it has served as a source of anxiety or chuckles. Sometimes, as against Carter, it has been deployed to create an insinuation that the incumbent is shifty or unscrupulous enough to use the power of office to manipulate good or bad news right before an election, for maximum political benefit. Even when, as with Carter, such an allegation is absurd; Carter could have been re-elected by turning the Air Force loose on Iran in October, but was too moral and competent to do so. We Democrats made good use of talk that Osama bin Laden would be “captured” in October 2004, and again in 2008. Almost no political operative has had the gall to spring an obviously-timed October Surprise - until now.
Leura Canary, the Bush-Rove appointed prosecutor of Democrats in Alabama, continues to hold her position as United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, one year, eight months, and sixteen days after Barack Obama took the oath of office as President. Given her track record of politically motivated prosecution of Don Siegelman and other Democrats, and her proven record of professional misconduct in those earlier prosecutions, it is inexcusable that she is still in her post, even before Monday’s October Surprise. Despite testimony before Congress about Mississippi Choctaw casino money being paid to Bob Riley, the Republican payola goes uninvestigated and unprosecuted by Ms. Canary. To Barack Obama, I ask one simple question: Why? As noted by the nonpartisan, Justice Department news blog mainjustice.com, “The White House ... thus far has been loath to mix it up with Republicans over U.S. Attorney nominations ...” Talk about a gift for understatement! Obama did not even have to have a confirmable nominee ready to replace Canary. All he had to do was fax her a letter of termination on the day he was inaugurated, and send some career DoJ attorney in from D.C. to serve as Interim U.S. Attorney while the GOP partisan mess was cleaned up. The whole muddle involving Canary’s continuance in office has just been another aspect of the recurring theme of Obama’s dithering and vacillating while Republicans score points in the PR game and erode Democratic poll numbers up and down the ticket. The man makes Hamlet look like General George S. Patton.
Someone unwilling to stand up for his supporters and the interests of the people in general, has been given the keys not only to the country, but to the Democratic Party. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of the media, and of Obama’s opponents in the 2008 primaries, who (with the belated and muted exception of Hillary Clinton) never asked the most germane question of the nomination contest. That was: what business does someone have, being nominated and elected President, who was a mere mid-junior member of a state legislature two years, one month, and seven days before the announcement of his Presidential campaign? Do not get me wrong; I am as happy as anyone that we broke the racial barrier in Presidential elections. But the media’s obsession with Obama as the “first credible black candidate” kept that very question from being asked. Had it been asked in a sufficiently pointed manner, Obama would never have reached the nomination. Instead, we were treated to the likes of Chris Matthews of MSNBC, whose barely-concealed manlove for Obama on the night of the New Hampshire Primary kept him insisting that the student vote from Dartmouth would put Obama back on top, ending the Clinton campaign that night. Never mind that by that hour, Hanover was the only precinct not reporting; Clinton’s statewide lead was larger than the total enrollment at Dartmouth; not every Dartmouthian would vote in New Hampshire; and Dartmouth may be the one Ivy League school where a plurality of students are Republicans. (Of course, Clinton won New Hampshire.)
For what it’s worth, Obama’s 2004 election to the Senate was almost equally fortuitous. The incumbent Republican Peter Fitzgerald declined to seek re-election; and the better-known Democratic former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun opted for an ill-advised Presidential bid. Finally, the eventual Republican nominee, Jack Ryan, dropped out after it emerged that he had forced his estranged wife, Jeri Ryan of Star Trek: Voyager fame, to accompany him to swinger clubs against her will.
And please; if I hear one more pundit or supporter hold forth on Obama’s political genius, or that of his “team,” my nausea will reach the projectile stage. Obama, Axelrod, Plouffe and Emanuel are treated like Magi for winning the 2008 election. Memo to the world: after eight years of Bush bungling, and the Republican self-inflicted wound of the Palin nomination, we could have nominated Pat Paulsen and run up the same winning vote Obama did - and Paulsen’s been dead since 1997! None of these media darlings have shown the wit to realize that when your side is being attacked, and you don’t respond, swing voters will move in the direction of the side doing all the attacking. Obama was so determined to look in the mirror and see Joe Cerebral Cool in 2008, he came closer than we remember to losing the election. As I noted elsewhere, McCain actually had a lead in the polls, despite all the GOP handicaps, as late as the middle of September 2008. If Lehman Brothers had not tanked and given the economy top billing, McCain might have won. Had Obama come out of the gate in Spring 2009, putting the laser spotlight on Big Pharma and Big Insurance, and painting the GOP as blocking coverage of pre-existing conditions and a ban on insurers dropping sick claimants, we would have had a much better health care bill passed. More to the point, no one would be talking about a GOP takeover of either house of Congress. Marginal losses, maybe, but no takeover. And “brilliant orator”? Again, please. Need I remind Obama’s dwindling band of sycophants that even George W. Bush sounded functionally literate when linked to a Teleprompter? Or that Obama, when decoupled from the same device, has been known to go off-message in an embarrassing way - or am I the only one who remembers, “You’re likable enough, Hillary”?
The brief flashes of spark shown by the President in the last couple of weeks give me hope that his Presidency, though doomed to underachievement by his faults to date, may yet be salvaged. (He might even regain my support in the 2012 primary.) But he is going to have to continue to show some fire in the belly, not only through the remnant of this year’s elections, but through and including those of 2012. And in the legislative battles to come. And he’s going to have to put an end to the political whoring of Leura Canary by firing her in the most disgraceful manner possible.
In the meantime, we Alabama Democrats have some work to do. Most immediately, we need to push back hard against the Republican narrative, which will be echoed in the media, that this “scandal” means an inevitable GOP takeover of the Legislature. Look at the arithmetic, media. The Preuitt seat has effectively flipped to the Democrats since he made his pre-indictment announcement that he was dropping his re-election bid; his indictment isn’t changing that. The Ross seat is sufficiently Democratic that I am not even looking up the demographics, and there is no crime of which a Democrat could be accused that would defeat him in a general in that district. (Or which could defeat a Democrat in a special, in the very unlikely event Ross vacates the seat.) The Smith race remains a wild card. Though historically a Republican, Smith has made no secret of her dislike of the GOP; she has appeared publicly with Ron Sparks within the last week. And it is not written in stone that her indictment will hurt her election chances. Her involvement in the bingo legislation was a response to the Riley-Republican War on Jobs in Houston County. She has been indicted for fighting for unemployed Country Crossing workers. This indictment shows the depths to which the Alabama GOP will go to earn their payola from the Mississippi Choctaw casinos by blocking Alabama bingo. If Smith plays this right, Houston County voters may be more likely to support her independent bid. The only seat where this indictment may help the GOP is in Larry Means’s race. Again, Means reportedly came around to support the bingo bill when it was adjusted to include a potential site in his Etowah County district. I am not sure that hurts him, and when I was on the ground in Etowah County last week, what I heard was that Means was pulling away from his opponent. I saw many Means yard signs in Republican precincts through which I drove. He may yet win, and if a special is ever held, it’s a heavily Democratic-leaning district. Short version: the impact on the Legislative head count shouldn’t be that big.
At a more basic, ticket-wide level, this indictment provides one whopping push-back opportunity the media haven’t fully grasped yet. They have reported the Democratic characterization of the indictment as politically motivated, but there’s an even more effective angle of attack. The observant have noted that GOP Senator Jim Preuitt announced he was dropping his re-election bid just days before the deadline (and perhaps not then) for the GOP to name a replacement nominee. Not that Leura Canary would tip off the GOP, or delay an indictment until it was too late for a replacement Democratic nominee ... but you get the drift. (Neither would I want to replace either of the indicted Democrats. Both have more integrity in their pinky fingers than Bob Riley has in his whole body!) Perhaps the best push-back, though, is to ask why, with all the amply-supported suspicion of Mississippi casino backing of Riley and the GOP, Canary - and, Mr. President, your FBI - haven’t been investigating those links. Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense, a point often lost on the Axelrod-Plouffe crew.
So let’s roll up our sleeves one more time, fellow Democrats, and get to work. The old saw says “don’t get mad, get even.” I am to the point of getting both. While you’re at it, use this link to give the President an Ermeyesque motivational message to keep the fire in his belly, and to give us a little help down here shaking off the Bush shackles.
In an editorial note, I apologize for my silence over the last couple of weeks. Someone apparently hacked my Blogspot password and changed it, and it took awhile to persuade the folks at Blogspot that I was the genuine article. I am just glad no Republican propaganda was posted here in the interim.