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Monday, February 18, 2008

Clinton's attacks on Obama's oratory called into question

One of the sharpest tactics in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign arsenal is to belittle the value of rival Sen. Barack Obama's oratorical skills, an attack strategy that Democratic observers say isn't smart and isn't working.


It is a line of criticism that Mrs. Clinton has used throughout much of her campaign, especially in debates with her rival, but one she is using more frequently lately as she attempts to counter the contrast between her nuts-and-bolts, "ready to go on Day One" stump speeches and Mr. Obama's soaring rhetoric that summons Americans to unite behind his agenda for change.


"Speeches don't put food on the table," she said last Thursday at a General Motors plant in Warren, Ohio. "Speeches don't fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills."


"My opponent gives speeches. I offer solutions," she said.


It is a staple line in her campaign speeches in one form or another. "You can choose speeches or solutions. You can choose talk or action," she said in Cincinnati on Friday.


But some party strategists who have been involved in many presidential campaigns think the attack strategy is ineffective at best and self-defeating at worst because it seems to smack of a self-acknowledgement that Mr. Obama has better communications skills — a chief requisite for an effective presidency.


"I don't think it's a smart attack, unless she can make the 'all talk, no accomplishments' charge stick. Clearly, when good oratory is linked to action, it enhances the effectiveness of the action," said a veteran Democratic adviser who asked not to be identified.


Government scholars seem to agree, saying that oratorical skills are important attributes in a president seeking to lift up the nation, move it in another direction or build support for a reform agenda.

"The two most successful recent presidents are Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who gave great speeches. They were really good at it, and that's one of the reasons they were successful," said Gregg Easterbrook, a governance studies scholar at the Brookings Institution.


"One of the main things we remember about Abraham Lincoln is his oratory. We don't remember the details of a deal he cut with the House Ways and Means Committee, but we remember his speeches," Mr. Easterbrook said. "You don't have to be a good speechmaker to be a good president, but it sure helps."


But Mrs. Clinton's repeated put-downs of Mr. Obama's speechmaking on the campaign trail have drawn growing criticism from pundits and pollsters — from liberals and conservatives alike.


When the New York senator was campaigning in early January in the Iowa Democratic caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, she said, borrowing a phrase from former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, "You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose."


"Clinton has not heeded her own lesson. She is campaigning in prose and has left the poetry to Barack Obama," Brookings Institution analyst E. J. Dionne Jr. wrote last month.


Conservative pollster Frank Luntz, author of a book on strategic words that appeal to voters in campaigns, told CBS News last week that he's "more than impressed" with Mr. Obama's oratory. "I've been mesmerized."


This blunt, almost brutal contrast in the speaking abilities of the two candidates is increasingly being highlighted in news accounts of their campaign events.


When Mrs. Clinton "speaks to large audiences, be it a rally with several thousand students or a fundraiser with well-heeled donors, she often sounds more like a senator than a presidential candidate — delivering wonky recitations of her policy positions instead of a raise-the-roof stemwinder," the New York Times reported on Super Tuesday.


Mr. Easterbrook finds her criticism of Mr. Obama's speeches ironic. "She is giving speeches to complain about someone giving speeches. She must think speeches are important, or she wouldn't be doing it all day long," he said.

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Dick Morris Says Hillary Clinton lacks experience

Who was it that defined neurosis as repeating the same mistake again and again, and expecting a better outcome each time? That’s really what the Clinton campaign is doing in its post-Chesapeake primary strategy. Now Hillary defines Obama as the candidate who makes speeches, while she is the one who provides “answers” and “solutions.”

Why is Hillary embracing this new line? It’s not that she has any great record of solutions or answers of which to boast, but rather that she wants to highlight Obama’s lack of a legislative record. Once again, she and her campaign geniuses are making the same mistake they made when they decided to use the experience as their defining difference with Obama. It’s not that she had much, but they sensed an opportunity to highlight that he had even less.

Of course experience not only didn’t work. It backfired massively. By co-opting the experience tag, Hillary bought into the status quo and left Obama to be the agent of change. A candidacy that could have excited tens of millions of women, the first serious prospect of a female president, became merely a boring part of the status quo, shorn of its novelty.

Hillary’s claim to be the solution-person won’t work either for the same simple reason: She hasn’t passed any. If she were McCain, she could tout a long history of legislative success on key issues and herald her ability to pass bills and engineer progress. But she hasn’t done that. She hasn’t walked the walk so now she cannot talk the talk.

As a first lady, Hillary’s sole important legislative involvement came during the first two years of her husband’s presidency when she sought to pass her ill-conceived health care reform, an effort that failed so miserably that it cost her party control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Between 1995 to 1997, she was largely absent from the White House, traveling the world, promoting her best selling book and helping to raise funds. She never attended strategy meetings and her only intervention in the singular legislative achievements of Bill’s administration — welfare reform and the balanced budget deal — was privately to urge a veto of the former and to oppose the latter because it provided for a cut in the capital gains tax. Hillary returned to the White House in 1998 to oversee the defense to the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment attempt, but the Clinton administration essentially folded its legislative efforts during those years and hung on for dear life. No portfolio of accomplishments there.

In the Senate, she has largely spent her time raising funds for herself and other Democrats (in hopes of attracting the votes of super delegates) and promoting her best selling memoir Living History. In part because of a lack of attention and also because of the Democrats’ minority status during much of her Senate tenure, she has passed very, very little of note.

Her legislative accomplishments in her first term in the Senate were almost entirely symbolic. She renamed a courthouse after Justice Thurgood Marshall. She passed a resolution honoring Alexander Hamilton and another celebrating the win of a Syracuse University lacrosse team. She renamed post offices, founded a national park in Puerto Rico and expressed the sense of the Senate that Harriet Tubman should have gotten a federal pension 150 years ago.

Her only actual legislation included one bill to increase nurse recruitment, another to aid respite time for Alzheimer’s care givers and another to expand veterans’ health benefits, a paltry output for six years’ service.

In her second term, she has spent full-time campaigning for president and has the worst attendance record of the three senators now still in the presidential race.

So who is she kidding? If she wants to hit Obama with a negative based on his inexperience and limited legislative record, she should go right ahead. But to pretend that she is the “solutions” and “answers” person while he gives speeches is absurd.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports

See Other Commentary by Dick Morris.

See Other Political Commentary

Rasmussen Reports is an electronic publishing firm specializing in the collection, publication, and distribution of public opinion polling information.

The Rasmussen Reports ElectionEdge™ Premium Service for Election 2008 offers the most comprehensive public opinion coverage ever provided for a Presidential election.

Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, has been an independent pollster for more than a decade.

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OBAMA 'ROBBED' IN NY

February 16, 2008 -- Barack Obama's primary-night results were strikingly underrecorded in several districts around the city - in some cases leaving him with zero votes when, in fact, he had pulled in hundreds, the Board of Elections said yesterday.

Unofficial primary results gave Obama no votes in nearly 80 districts, including Harlem's 94th and other historically black areas - but many of those initial tallies proved to be wildly off the mark, the board said.

In some districts getting a recount, the senator from Illinois is even closer to defeating Hillary Clinton.

Initial results in the 94th, for example, showed a 141-0 sweep for Hillary Clinton, but the recount changed the tally to 261-136.

As yet, none of the results have been certified, but a ballot-by-ballot canvassing of all voting machines has begun, a board spokesperson said. Many of the mistakes were chalked up to human error -- and some Clinton tallies were wrong as well. In several congressional districts she was shown as having received zero votes when in fact she got hundreds, Boe said.

Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron called the understated figures "outrageous."

"I think this is an all-out effort to stop a campaign that is about to make history and render America's first black president," he said. "We need some kind of independent or federal agency to investigate this."icate that she may not even come out the winner - Obama currently has 116 votes to her 118.

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The Dumbing Of America

"The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.") Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book -- fiction or nonfiction -- over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing and video games.

Does all this matter? Technophiles pooh-pooh jeremiads about the end of print culture as the navel-gazing of (what else?) elitists. In his book "Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter," the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their "vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen." But these zombie-like characteristics "are not signs of mental atrophy. They're signs of focus." Balderdash. The real question is what toddlers are screening out, not what they are focusing on, while they sit mesmerized by videos they have seen dozens of times.

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time -- as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web -- seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events. It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.

No wonder negative political ads work. "With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information," the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in the New Yorker. "A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching."

As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible -- and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate -- featuring the candidate's own voice -- dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.

The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin."

This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning and complexity than today's public. According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."

That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a "change election," the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

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Keith Olbermann buries Bush with truth

Mr. President, you’re a fascist and a liar!

Bush Dismisses Iraq Recession: The War Has ‘Nothing To Do With The Economy’

This morning on NBC’s Today Show, President Bush denied that the there’s any link between the faltering U.S. economy and $10 billion a month being spent on the Iraq war. In fact, according to Bush, the war is actually helping the economy:

CURRY: You don’t agree with that? It has nothing do with the economy, the war — spending on the war?

BUSH: I don’t think so. I think actually the spending in the war might help with jobs…because we’re buying equipment, and people are working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses and the economy’s adjusting.

Watch it:

The Iraq war has created jobs — for the administration’s defense contractor allies. Bush’s most recent budget is a windfall for contractors, and between 2000 and 2005, procurement was the “fastest growing component of federal discretionary spending.” (Halliburton has been the biggest beneficiary of the administration’s generosity.)

Five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, however, national unemployment is going up. Between December 2006 and December 2007, the national unemployment rate increased by 13.6 percent in seasonally adjusted terms, from 4.4 to 5.0 percent. Additionally, 68 percent of the American public believes that redeployment from Iraq would help fix the country’s economic woes.

Digg It!

Transcript:

Some Americans believe that they feel they’re carrying the burden because of this economy.

G. BUSH: Yeah, well…

CURRY: They say we’re suffering because of this.

G. BUSH: … I don’t agree with that.

CURRY: You don’t agree with that? It has nothing do with the economy, the war — spending on the war?

G. BUSH: I don’t think so.

I think actually the spending in the war might help with jobs.

CURRY: Oh, yeah?

G. BUSH: Yeah, because we’re buying equipment, and people are working.

I think this economy is down because we built too many houses and the economy’s adjusting.

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Poll: Leaving Iraq Will Help Economy

WASHINGTON - The heck with Congress' big stimulus bill. The way to get the country out of recession - and most people think we're in one - is to get the country out of Iraq, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll.

Pulling out of the war ranked first among proposed remedies in the survey, followed by spending more on domestic programs, cutting taxes and, at the bottom end, giving rebates to poor people in hopes they'll spend the economy into recovery.

The $168 billion economic rescue package Congress rushed to approval this week includes rebates of $600 to $1,200 for most taxpayers, the hope being that they will spend the money and help revive ailing businesses. President Bush is expected to sign the measure next week. Poor wage-earners, as well as seniors and veterans who live almost entirely off Social Security and disability benefits, would get $300 checks.

However, just 19 percent of the people surveyed said they planned to go out and spend the money; 45 percent said they'd use it to pay bills. And nearly half said what the government really should do is get out of Iraq.

Forty-eight percent said a pullout would help fix the country's economic problems "a great deal," and an additional 20 percent said it would help at least somewhat. Some 43 percent said increasing government spending on health care, education and housing programs would help a great deal; 36 percent said cutting taxes.

"Let's stop paying for this war," said Hilda Sanchez, 44, of Waterford, Calif. "There are a lot of people who are struggling. We can use the money to pay for medical care and help people who were put out of their homes."

The subject of leaving Iraq shows a sharp partisan divide - 65 percent of Democrats think it would help the economy a lot, but only 18 percent of Republicans think so.

Just 29 percent of people think putting more money in the hands of the poor would help a great deal in fixing the country's economic problems.

According to many economists, the lower people are on the income ladder, the more probable it is that they will spend a rebate and do it quickly - a shot in the arm for the ailing economy.

In the poll, 61 percent said they think the economy is already in a recession.

"Things are bad, but it will get a lot worse," said Jim Sims, 60, of Greer, S.C.

And Nanette Dahlin, 52, of St. Louis Park, Minn., said the economic stimulus package "would only make a recession less damaging."

The economy nearly stalled in the final three months of last year. Some economists, like the majority of poll respondents, say it may actually be shrinking now, given the strains from a persistent housing slump and a painful credit crunch. The worry is that people and businesses will hunker down further and pull back their spending, sending the economy into a tailspin.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has gotten more forceful in cutting interest rates to spur people to buy more and to energize businesses. And now Republicans, Democrats and the White House have shown rare cooperation in approving relief.

Rebate checks could start showing up in mailboxes in May. However, Sanchez is typical is saying the money will "go automatically to bills." Thirty-two percent said they would save or invest the rebate. Said Sims: "I'm hoping to hold onto it."

Just 19 percent - like Dahlin - said they would spend it, while 4 percent said they would donate it to charity.

Paying off bills or saving the money won't give the economy a quick boost, though it may well be a wise financial decision for many people who are up to their eyeballs in bills.

"What is good for the economy as a whole - spending a rebate - is not the best idea at an individual household level if you are buried in debt," said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. "Issuing rebate checks to give a boost to consumer spending amounts to a Band-Aid over the much bigger problem of consumer debt burdens," he said.

With Wall Street in turmoil, the top economic worry for poll respondents was seeing their nest eggs shrink. Fifty-nine percent said they were worried "a lot" or "some" about seeing the value of stocks and retirement investments drop. Those approaching retirement fretted the most.

Nearly half - 46 percent - said they were worried about being able to pay their bills. This is especially a concern for people whose household incomes are under $50,000, and for minorities. Twenty-eight percent most feared losing their jobs; minorities and those with a high school education or less were especially concerned.

Also, 48 percent of homeowners polled worried that the value of their homes would drop. The housing bust has led to record-high foreclosures, and weaker home values have made people feel less wealthy.

Who deserves most of the blame for the economy's troubles?

More than half - 56 percent - pointed the finger at mortgage lenders. Forty-four percent said Bush deserves a lot of the blame. After that come Congress, Wall Street, consumers themselves and in last place the Federal Reserve.

The Fed has the public's confidence that it will be able to right the economy.

More than half - 55 percent - said they have a great deal or some confidence in Fed to turn things around. Forty-one percent said that about Congress, only 28 percent about Bush.

In fact, economic problems have contributed to pulling the president's approval ratings to all-time lows. Only 29 percent approve of his handling of the economy, the lowest mark yet in this polling. Bush's overall job-approval rating slid to 30 percent, also a record low.

The AP-Ipsos poll was conducted Monday through Wednesday this week and involved telephone interviews with 1,006 adults. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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