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Back when 2,500 people a year were being murdered on the filthy streets and subways of the city, when crime and drug abuse were everywhere, when taxes could only go up and businesses could only go out of the city, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse decided it was time for them to take over.
Barack Obama accuses John McCain of playing the race card. Most voters seem to think it is Obama who is playing the race card, but he is actually doing something rather different. He is playing the racist card.
Mr Mugabe, I wonder would you please accompany me on a brief world tour? Yes, yes, please do bring some of your generals. And bring a few of your senior police officers. I would very much like them to see what I have to show you.
Our first stop doesn’t take us very far. This, as I am sure you know, is South Africa. And this is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I am sure you remember him: one of the heroes of liberation from white supremacist rule in southern Africa. I know you would like to see yourself in the same category but, let’s be honest, you replaced rule by one set of gangsters for rule by a different gang. Not the same thing at all.
Dateline 19 March 2008
It is rather gratifying when someone who seems to believe that the law is whatever he wants it to be on any given day discovers that this is not so.
Just a week ago Eliot Spitzer was expected to lead New York’s Democrats into legislative elections next fall and capture the State Senate – the last bastion of Republican power. By the time you read this, he will be out of office and his political enemies will be fighting over his corpse.
Dateline: 12 March 2008
The Republican race is officially over. Maverick Congressman Ron Paul has not yet conceded, but he has just won his primary to return to Congress, so even he knows it’s over.
The Democrats will be fighting for months to come. Senator Clinton will win Pennsylvania and Senator Obama will win North Carolina. Both will claim to have won the popular vote overall. She will remind voters that he is inexperienced and untried. Her surrogates will whisper that there are still too many people who will not vote for a Black candidate. He will smile sweetly and speak of her volatility and poor judgment. He will stop short of mentioning ‘hormones’ or ‘hot flashes’. We will hear all the arguments about why Florida and Michigan should be disenfranchised and the alternative reasons why they should not.
Dateline 05 March 2008
What is this obsession with seeking to find health and safety where it doesn’t belong? Risks cannot be reduced to zero.
In the Vietnam War America lost 60,000 troops with 97% of the bodies accounted for. An astonishing record, for the time, and amounting to only 6% of those killed. So far in the Iraq conflict fewer than 4,000 American military personnel have been killed. In Iraq, America is fighting using an all volunteer military, whereas many casualties in Vietnam were conscripts. Granted, the Vietnam conflict lasted 16 years, though the most violent period with high American engagement was nearer ten years. The Iraq conflict will pass its fifth anniversary this month. In other words, the average annual total in Vietnam was some 50% higher than the five year total for Iraq.
Dateline: 27 February 2008
There are more registered Democrats than Republicans. The gap is nowhere near as big as in the 1970s and 80s, when Republicans nonetheless carried four of the five presidential elections, and by big margins every time, but the gap is real. Not only that, with an unpopular president at the head of the Party and a presidential candidate who is distrusted by a large portion of the base, the GOP is feeling less than enthusiastic. After losing two knife-edge presidential polls and then, finally, recapturing Congress the Democrats are upbeat. The Party will make history by nominating either a woman or an African American for President. It seems like a good year to be a Democrat.
Dateline: 20 February 2008
Count every vote, is what Democrats shouted in Florida. Of course, what they meant was, keep looking for extra votes, but only in the counties where we are ahead. Allegations flew that Republicans were “disenfranchising” people, especially African Americans. No, said the Supreme Court, you can’t change the rules after the vote has taken place.
You will be hearing all these arguments again this summer, and even the most swivel-eyed of conspiracy theorists will not be blaming George Bush or Karl Rove. No Republicans will be involved.
Dateline: 13 February 2008
Just a few weeks ago it looked likely that the Republican race for the White House was going all the way to the Convention. John McCain won nine states on super-Tuesday – but four of them were states where Rudy Giuliani had looked like a winner until he lost in Florida. If four credible candidates had won states this race would be a marathon. Instead John McCain now has a lead that is virtually unchallengeable. He has only one serious opponent and it is much the weakest of his original rivals – Mike Huckabee. Indeed, by the time you read this, Huckabee might well have conceded.
Dateline: 06 February 2008
Did Lyndon Johnson conspire with the CIA to have JFK assassinated? Have governments been keeping knowledge of aliens secret? Did George W Bush (and/or the Jews) have prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks? The answers to these questions would clearly be no, no, and no.
We can dismiss them one at a time, of course. The Oliver Stone theory about Lyndon Johnson killing JFK in order to prolong America’s involvement in Vietnam falls flat. Kennedy was the real hawk of the administration and committed to defending Vietnam. One of the reasons Johnson did not dare back down is that he feared Bobby Kennedy would denounce him for betraying JFK’s anti-communist legacy. That Bobby ultimately denounced him for supporting Vietnam (absurdly claiming that his brother would have withdrawn) merely shows Bobby’s opportunism.
Dateline 30 January 2008
While the Democrats have the weakest field of any party, possibly ever, the Republicans’ biggest problem is a surfeit of talent. Rudy Giuliani is the outstanding leader of his generation. Mitt Romney is an expert in turning around failing organizations: in business, government and the voluntary sector. John McCain has served longer in the Senate than the Democrats’ frontrunners combined, and has a record of getting legislation passed – something curiously absent among the Democrats.
Dateline: 23 January 2008
The case for Bill Richardson can be summed up in two words: quality counts.
The Democrats this year face an embarrassing choice. Even in 1984, when they knew their candidate would be trounced, a stronger field stepped forward. It is difficult to think of any time when any party has been so ill-served.
Dateline: 16 January 2008
At the time of writing there have been three contests for the Republican presidential nomination. By the time you read this there will have been four, so you have me at an advantage. So far each state has been won by a different candidate, but that trend cannot continue indefinitely, and almost certainly will not hold for Michigan, which votes on 15 January. It will probably be won by either the winner of Wyoming (Mitt Romney) or the winner of New Hampshire (John McCain).
Dateline: 09 January 2008
The Bush administration is now at odds with the government of General Musharraf in Pakistan. Musharraf’s security services claim that Benazir Bhutto, the murdered opposition leader was killed by a suicide bomber – the blast knocked her against the car she had been traveling in and broke her neck. Bhutto’s party, the Pakistani Peoples’ Party (PPP), believes she was shot in the neck and US intelligence services have information which tends to confirm that.
Dateline: 02 January 2008
At this time of year it is traditional to either make predictions for the coming year or review the year just gone. You are not going to get any predictions. By the time most of you read this, the results of the Iowa caucuses will be known – which they are not at the time of writing. It would be excessively foolish of me to make predictions in these circumstances. I could predict a stellar year for someone who has just quit national politics – as Dick Gephardt did after Iowa four years ago.
Dateline: 26 December 2008
Iowa chooses losers. Iowa usually eliminates one or more of the candidates, thinning the field for future states. It is a knockout round.
In the Republican field the early states, especially Iowa on 03 January and New Hampshire on 08 January, will help decide who goes on to challenge Rudy Giuliani. On the Democrat side they will help decide who – if anyone – goes on to challenge Hillary Clinton. Iowa’s vote is just a week away, so here is the Common Sense tip sheet.
Dateline 12 December 2007
If, as I argued last week, the Republicans now have five leading candidates, it is plainly time to assess the latest recruit to the top tier, Mike Huckabee.
Common Sense argued in July that either Huckabee or Senator Sam Brownback could make the leap into the front of the pack, but it is not something I believed would actually come to pass.
Dateline: 05 December 2007
It has been understood for some time that the Republican race is far more open than the Democrats’. It is possibly the most open race in a governing party ever. But it has also been understood that there have been two frontrunners for most of this year, with the rest of the pack trailing.
Dateline; 28 November 2007
The bank should appoint Margaret L Wolff to the role. Ms Wolff is undoubtedly an intelligent woman. Of course, intelligence alone is not a qualification to run an organization as large and complex as Citibank. She is a partner with a leading New York law firm. And, though this is undoubtedly a challenging and responsible job, it is difficult to see that it has much in common with running Citibank. Ms Wolff’s principal qualification is something different. She is married to former CEO Chuck Prince. And, of course, that is how we judge married career women in today’s world – as an adjunct to their husband’s careers.
Dateline 21 November 2007
There is no doubt that British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is in trouble.
After ten years as Chancellor (Treasury Secretary) and effectively (but not formally) Tony Blair’s Deputy, he finally took over the top job in June. To refresh the government he cleared out some of Blair’s top allies and moved almost every surviving cabinet minister to a new post. It worked. The government looked new for a while. He managed to look appropriately serious in the face of natural disasters such as summer floods and farm animal disease scares. He was popular. Speculation about an early election reached fever pitch.
Dateline: 14 November 2007
In six weeks the people of Iowa – or rather a small percentage of them – will begin the process of selecting the next US President. Technically, of course, they will merely begin the process of choosing two candidates for the presidency, but the chances of the next president being someone other than the Republican or Democratic candidate seem extremely remote.
Dateline: 07 November 2007
When Pervez Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999 it was warily welcomed in the west. Military coups are not, in general (no pun intended) a good thing. But Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif was corrupt and chaotic. Also Musharraf did not seem likely to bring back the Islamic fundamentalism of General Zia ul Haq, the previous military dictator from the 1980s.
So it proved. Musharraf struggled to lead Pakistan in an increasingly secular and pro-western direction. His government has been more secular than Sharif’s, himself only a moderate Islamist.
Dateline: 31 October 2007
How to account for the behavior of Barack Obama? He used to wear a lapel pin of the American flag. He stopped doing so. When challenged he said there are different ways of showing patriotism. Well, yes, but why was a way of showing patriotism that he found appropriate a few months ago suddenly inappropriate today? He wouldn’t say. He pointedly adopted a relaxed stance and glanced nonchalantly around during the national anthem. Behind him were clearly visible Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson and John Edwards. All were standing to attention, right hands over their hearts. This is a man who has, in the past, eschewed class warfare and looked for optimism and unifying themes. What is he up to?
I suspect the real question concerns what he is not doing. He is not running for president.
Dateline: 24 October 2007
Just occasionally you catch a glimpse of a rising star.
In 1956 John F Kennedy put his name forward to be Adlai Stevenson’s running mate. He didn’t quite make it. Some of his advisors – including, by some accounts, his father – thought this was a narrow escape. They, rightly, had Stevenson pegged as a loser and didn’t want JFK linked to him.
Dateline: 17 October 2007
So, the inventor of the internet wins a Nobel peace prize. Not a bad call. A very good one in fact. Except that Al Gore never did invent the internet, he just made few speeches in Congress about it. And he won the prize for a rather bad film with quite a few inconvenient untruths in it.
Dateline: 10 October 2007
Which presidential candidate has the most enthusiastic supporters? That would be Ron Paul, Republican Congressman from Texas. He has run for President before. In 1988 he quit the House and the GOP to run as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. He came third with 0.47% of the popular vote.
Dateline: 03 October 2007
So, Newt Gingrich is not running for President. This is no particular surprise, and this columnist did not expect that he would. The recent speculation in the media – and the announcement that he would not run – were both designed to maximize coverage for his American Solutions policy conference.
Does it matter that he is not running? And will he throw his support behind any of the candidates?
I understand you are without a government, and have been for some months now. I understand that most of the Flemish majority in your country expect – and almost half want – to see the Belgian state disbanded. After years of alliance and friendship between Britain and Belgium it pains me to say this but, good. Belgium, I am fed up with you. I’ll be glad to see the back of you. You have lived too long for any good that you might have done. It’s time to end this charade of a country and stop pretending.
Dateline: 19 September 2007
Democrats and their operatives outside Congress have discovered a solution to “a real big problem”. The problem is the one I wrote about a few weeks ago. It is the ‘problem’ of increased democracy, security and human rights in Iraq. It is the ‘problem’ of America making small, but real, progress in the War on Terror. The solution is a mixture of denial and personal attacks on the messenger.
Denial, because they simply deny the facts on the ground. The war is going badly as viewed from the offices of The New York Times. If the view from Iraq is different then Iraqis, and others who are actually in Iraq, must be wrong.
Dateline: 05 September 1814
First, my enormous thanks to the owners and editor of Lake Champlain Weekly for allowing me, an enemy national, to write this column at a time of war between our countries. This respect for freedom of speech is part of our shared Anglo-American heritage, which your country, to its great credit, has written into its Constitution. As my regular readers will know, I am a great admirer of America, and though your country is less than 40 years old, I am sure it has a great future ahead of it.
Dateline 29 August 2007
He’s been called the candidate from central casting. Time’s Joe Klein called him “the most perfect iteration I've seen of the television-era candidate” – and Klein wrote a fictionalized version of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign.
It is certainly true that Mitt Romney looks and sounds like a President in a way that no other candidate has since at least Clinton, and possibly Reagan. His résumé is replete with executive success. He was a brilliant investment fund manager and the President of the Marriot Hotel chain. He rescued the Salt Lake City Olympics from bankruptcy and scandal. As governor of Massachusetts he worked with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature to find a workable healthcare solution.
Dateline 22 August 2007
The separation of powers is right at the heart of the US Constitution. It was developed for several reasons. One is the basic one of checks and balances with which everyone is familiar, but there is another. Talent is not generalizable. Just because someone is good at one thing it does not mean they would be good at a different job.
The American electorate understands this instinctively. In the whole of US history just three serving members of Congress – House and Senate combined – have been elected to the Presidency. Presidents are much more likely to be drawn from the ranks of state governors. The only Washington job from which someone has a better than even chance of being elected President is . . . President. It is more often than not that Presidents get re-elected, but, while Vice-Presidents and Senators are good at becoming candidates, they are bad at winning elections.
Dateline: 15 August 2007
As the news from Iraq worsens, panic starts to set in.
A major paper conducts a poll which shows a dramatic shift of opinion. The shift is so big that the paper doesn’t publish the results and commissions a new poll instead. When the new poll confirms the results they publish, but bury the story on an inside page and describe the shift as “modest”.
Dateline: 07 August 2007
Britain’s new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, recently made his first visit to the US since assuming power. I want you to imagine that a candidate for President said that we all know there are terrorists in London and “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and Gordon Brown won’t act, we will.”
Dateline: 01 August 2007
If Karl Rove, the President’s campaign and communications advisor had been exposed as misusing government resources to blacken the name of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I think we could guarantee blanket negative coverage of this by the mainstream media. In fact we have had the bizarre spectacle of more than two years standing in which ridiculous non-entities like Joseph Wilson have been given huge coverage in their campaign against Rove. Wilson wanted to see Rove “removed from the White House in chains” over a leak involving Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame.
Dateline: 25 July 2007
It is a little over 200 years since Malthus predicted that the world was on the point of running out of food. Population grows geometrically, he pointed out, but food production just arithmetically. Starvation and poverty were around the corner.
When Malthus developed his theories the world was home to just under one billion people. Today it is more than six billion, and they are better fed, better clothed and better housed than ever before. Malthus was more comprehensively wrong than almost anyone else in history, and yet he still has his admirers today.
Dateline: 18 July 2007
At the beginning of the year the GOP had a ‘big three’ group of presidential contenders: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. McCain and Giuliani dominated the polls, but Romney was putting together a very professional campaign under the radar and looked poised to strike. The only discussion about an outsider joining this group focused on Newt Gingrich.
Dateline: 11 July 2007
Figures for second quarter fundraising by the various presidential candidates are now in. There are a number of key stories below the headline figures and, as usual, good news for some and bad for others.
Obama: In the first quarter Obama narrowly trailed Clinton. This time he beat her by a handy $5 million. But it gets better. Nearly all of Obama’s money is for the primaries. Some of Clinton’s is for the general, and cannot be legally spent on her primary campaign. On that measure Obama won the first quarter too, and in the second quarter he outperformed Clinton and Edwards combined.
Dateline: 04 July 2007
What exactly, does a Vice-President do? The original version of the Constitution gave the job to the runner up in the Presidential election. The post attracted heavyweight leaders: Adams and Jefferson. But this proved unworkable. Jefferson was both Vice-President and leader of the opposition. And giving Electors two votes lead to the Jefferson-Burr tie in the 1800 election.
Dateline: 27 June 2007
Each of the two parties has a ‘big three’ of Presidential candidates; one outsider challenging; and a wild card who may enter the race. For the Republicans the wild card is Newt Gingrich, whom Common Sense discussed last year. For the Democrats it is former Vice-President, Al Gore.
Gore, if selected, would be the first major party candidate since Richard Nixon to get a second chance at the presidency. They have other things in common. They were rather wooden senators selected as running mates by charismatic candidates. Both served two terms as Vice-President and lost narrow – and controversial –elections to the presidency. Both may have won the popular vote while losing in the Electoral College.
Dateline: 23 June 2007
Being a billionaire has a number of well-documented advantages. One is that if you are running for President you can start out-spending your opponents pretty early on, and use your spending to define them before they can define themselves. You don’t need to wait while you raise money, or while you get nominated by your party. You don’t even need to wait while parties select their nominees, as you can start defining messages which play well against potential opponents. Let’s look at a few possible Bloomberg messages and how they might work.
Dateline: 20 June 2007
In the Twentieth Century, third party candidates were a major feature in just three presidential elections: 1912, 1968 and 1992. Of those three occasions, only one – 1912 – genuinely affected the outcome of the election. It enabled Democrat, Woodrow Wilson to win during a period otherwise dominated by the Republicans.
Dateline: 13 June 2007
For about a year, bloggers and the commentariat have been talking about the ‘big three’ in the Republican primary campaign: Giuliani, McCain and Romney. By now people are getting bored with this field, and the weaknesses of the three have been explored endlessly. Understandably, some have been calling for a new candidate to enter the field, and it looks as though those calls have been answered.
The only question that remains is this: is Fred Thompson just a temporary blip in the polls, as a response to big-three-fatigue, or will he stay the course as a leading contender.
Dateline 06 June 2007
Imagine you live in a small country of 1.3 million people – the same as Maine or New Hampshire. Imagine that next door (to the east) is a country 100 times larger. Further south and west, another country some 60 times your size. Almost 300 years ago, your country was conquered by your eastern neighbor, though it had previously been under the control of a maritime country lying to your west. There followed over 200 years of occupation. Between the end of the first world war and the beginning of the second your country was independent. This was followed by another 50 years of brutal occupation.
Dateline 30 May 2007
It was Donald Rumsfeld who divided Europe into “old Europe” and “new Europe”. Old Europe means the hardcore of countries which comprise the European Union. Of those, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg were hardline opponents of the Iraq war. New Europe incorporated the swathe of ex-communist countries which entered the European Union in 2005 and 2007. Where Britain, and Spain – longstanding EU nations which joined the Iraq War Coalition – or Italy and Holland, founder members which did the same, fit on this analysis is unclear.
Back when 2,500 people a year were being murdered on the filthy streets and subways of the city, when crime and drug abuse were everywhere, when taxes could only go up and businesses could only go out of the city, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse decided it was time for them to take over.
Dateline: 11 May 2007
Tony Blair is to resign in June. After ten years in office he is not only the only living person to have led his Labour Party to victory in a general election, he is the only Labour leader ever to achieve three consecutive victories. First elected at only 44, he seems to combine for his party the characteristics of JFK and FDR. Except for one thing: his party doesn't really like him very much.
Dateline: 04 May 2007
John Edwards has always been part of the pack of contenders for 2008, but has never broken out of the pack. Most were predicting, after his decent performance in 2004, that he would be running second to Hillary Clinton. Second place in the primary polls is not a bad place to be. The front-runner experiences all sorts of pressures, and critics tend to rally round whomever looks best placed to challenge. That might be particularly true with a front-runner such as Hillary Clinton, with famously high negatives.
Dateline: 27 April 2007
It would be to August 1991. I would want a word in the ear of one of the century's most important politicians.
Boris Yeltsin was at the height of his powers, both politically and personally. The Soviet Union was still intact, just. Yeltsin was its only elected politician. He was drinking, not to excess, and the heart operation was in the future.
Dateline 20 April 2007
One measure the commentariat applies to electoral campaigns is fundraising. It gives us real numbers to look at. This far out from the 2008 primaries, polls mostly measure name recognition so another measure is useful.
Fundraising, has a clear weakness – it is not a particularly good predictor of electoral success. Several big fundraisers have flopped in the actual primary votes, including John Connally (1980), Phil Gramm (1996) and Howard Dean (2004). Other candidates with large personal fortunes that made fundraising unnecessary – such as Ted Kennedy (1980), Steve Forbes (1996 and 2000) – also crashed. John Kerry, who falls into the same category, won his primaries but went on to lose the general.
Dateline 13 April 2007
2007 is not, of course, the first time that a President of one party has faced a Congress controlled by the other. It was actually the post-war norm. Jimmy Carter is the only President since Lyndon Johnson to serve his entire term with Congress controlled by his own party.
Dateline 06 April 2007
British Foreign Secretaries like to boast that the country ‘punches above its weight’ in matters of foreign affairs. Britain sits at the intersection of some powerful international organizations. My country is one of the largest, and wealthiest, members of the European Union with a permanent (veto-wielding) seat on the UN Security Council. It is the spiritual home of the 53-member Commonwealth of Nations. Britain has a global influence that far exceeds what might be expected of so small a country.
Dateline 28 March 2007
What should your child have for breakfast this morning? Why not phone Eliot Spitzer and ask him? After all, Eliot knows your child better than you do, right? Eliot knows your child’s tastes and nutritional needs. Eliot knows all about your child’s allergies.
Or maybe, just maybe, Eliot doesn’t. Maybe Eliot doesn’t know your child at all, and cannot make complex judgements about every individual child in the state.
Dateline: 21 March 2007
Eeyore’s home is called “Eeyore’s gloomy place” and his favorite food is thistles – though he doesn’t like thistles very much.
Tigger, of course, is much more upbeat. It is well established that bouncing is what tiggers do best.
Dateline: 14 February 2007
What do you call someone who has been in the Senate as long as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama combined? What do you call someone who has as much experience in a governor’s mansion as Bill Richardson and Mark Warner combined – more, in fact, than George W Bush? What do you call someone who has won statewide five times in a state otherwise very inhospitable to his party and holds the record for the largest margin of victory by any member of his party in that state?
Dateline: 07 February 2007
They say that everyone can remember what they were doing when they first heard of the Kennedy assassination. They say it a lot, though it is probably not true.
“Flashbulb” memory is an intriguing phenomenon. John Kerry talked about a memory of being in Cambodia being “seared, seared, into his brain”. It didn’t happen. He talked about being ordered there by Richard Nixon – though Lyndon Johnson was President at the time. He talked about hearing the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination in Vietnam, though if so he heard the news many months after King’s funeral.
Dateline: 28 February 2007
The XVIth, XVIIth, and XVIIIth amendments to the Constitution, passed between 1913 and 1919, greatly expanded the power of the federal government with respect to the states. The XVIIIth, prohibition, has been repealed. The others deserve separate examination and this column is dedicated to deconstructing the XVIIth.
Dateline: 21 February 2007
Let’s look at a presidential candidate who isn’t running. A two-term governor with a record of cutting taxes and introducing school choice, he took a state which the Democrats had held for almost two centuries and captured the governor’s mansion and legislature for the Republicans. He remains popular in the second largest of the states that twice voted Bush. So why isn’t he running? Because of his name: Jeb Bush.