The Sharia solution to sub-prime (read)

04 March 2009

There was a widely available form of consumer credit called “rent-to-own” which, though still available, has been much less common since, roughly, the 1970s. For the previous hundred years or so it had been a very common form of installment plan purchasing. Rent-to-own began with a court case in England which effectively legalized the contract, which then spread throughout the countries using Anglo-Saxon Common Law. Quite simply you rented the product, paying a slightly higher rent, and when the cost of purchase plus interest had been paid off, you became owner of the product. In the court case the product was a piano – a very substantial, but important, purchase, for a family in Victorian England. Such contracts became common for other major purchases such as furniture, cars and, from the 1950s onwards, consumer goods such as TVs and washing machines.

The racist card (read)

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.

Time to show us your team, Senator (read)

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.

The battle for the independents (read)

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.

Count every vote . . . er . . . at least, we think so (read)

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.

One race is over (read)

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.

GOP Primary: a surfeit of talent (read)

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.

Democratic primary: vote Bill Richardson (read)

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.

Assessing the field (read)

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).

An Iowa primer (read)

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.

Mike Huckabee is not a conservative (read)

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.

The Republican race moves into meltdown (read)

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.

Citibank is seeking a new CEO. (read)

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.

Six weeks out, Iowa remains hard to call (read)

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.

Does Obama expect to lose? (read)

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.

A star rising in the South (read)

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.

Ron Paul’s flawed campaign (read)

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.

Newt’s not running (read)

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?

The candidate from central casting (read)

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.

Leaders lead (read)

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.

Attacking your allies: it’s just not done (read)

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.”

Room for one more? (read)

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.

Fundraising – the second quarter stats are in (read)

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.

The problem with Al Gore (read)

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.

Road testing Bloomberg’s messages (read)

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.

The effect of third parties (read)

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.

Enter, stage right (read)

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.

Facing down apocalypse (read)

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.

John Edwards – almost there (read)

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.

Facts about fundraising (read)

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.

Eeyore vs Tigger (read)

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.

The candidates who are not (read)

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?

The pros and cons of a famous name (read)

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.

The rise and rise and Mitt Romney (read)

Dateline: 31 January 2007

If you were devising a candidate for a presidential run, what would you throw into the mix? Executive experience, obviously, so probably a governor. But not a policy wonk or professional politician: someone with private sector experience as well. A proven ability to win in territory inhospitable to your party would be a good thing. Ties to some of the early voting primary states and key swing states would be useful. Strong ties to tight regions like the Mid-West and interior West, where there are many swing states, would certainly help. Family connections have proved useful in the past. Oh, and good hair!

The maverick who can (read)

In what is shaping up to be a fascinating election year, no candidate divides the commentariat and blogosphere as sharply as Rudy Giuliani.

Opinions vary from those who regard him as the hot favorite to those who say he will be crushed in the primaries, and could not, in any case win the general. On the whole I am in the camp that says he would be a formidable candidate in the general election. His proven ability to win over independents and Democrats more than counters the lukewarm feelings of the base. A Republican who pulled in an extra 5% in the North East and upper MidWest would pull in five states (and more than sixty electoral votes) that went for Kerry, as well as securing three otherwise doubtful states that narrowly voted for Bush. Slipping by 5% in the Bible Belt would cost the Republicans nothing, as the GOP margins in those states are huge.

Obama Rising (read)

Dateline 17 January 2007

In a matter of months, since speculation first began late last year, Barack Obama has established himself as one of the three front-runners for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. It is a remarkable achievement for a man less than halfway through his first term as a US Senator.

A preview of 2008 (read)

Dateline: 13 December 2006

What will America seek in a candidate? Being closely related to a previous president is a big boost in the fundraising stakes. But it could be a handicap when the primaries are over. There is something that feels not quite right about following a sequence of Bush-Clinton-Bush with another Clinton or another Bush. Jeb Bush, the outgoing governor of Florida, recognizes this and has declared that he will not run. But he is known to be politically ambitious and motivated. Always more political than his elder brother, he was the one his parents expected to see in the White House. If he ever wants to run, the chance of fighting Hillary Clinton for the post must be tempting. Why not take on the one candidate who could not accuse him of running on his family’s name?

Round up of 2006 - The losers (read)

Dateline 27 December 2006

The biggest loser of 2006 was, undoubtedly, the President. George W Bush had, as Presidents always do, a mixed year. An Iraqi court sentencing Saddam to death was an undoubted triumph, and in the long term may be seen as the most significant event of the year, but in terms of its immediate implications it was swamped by the Republican losses in November. It is a long time since a party has faced only losses in the mid-term elections. Republicans did not take a single governorship, House seat, or Senate seat that they did not hold the day before the election. It is not even clear that any American party has ever faced losses on this scale without any countervailing gains.

Round up of 2006 – the winners (read)

Dateline 20 December 2006

In a year the Democrats gained the House and Senate and took a majority of the governorships for the first time since 1994, most of the winners are Democrats. The losers – the focus of next week’s roundup – are dominated by Republicans.

The fights for Congressional Leadership (read)

Dateline: 22 November 2006

As expected, the new Minority Leader in the Senate is to be Mitch McConnell, a right wing master of Senate procedure who was number two to Bill Frist. Frist, of course, retired from the Senate to pursue Presidential ambitions. The Republican Whip will be Trent Lott, the GOP’s former Senate Leader, who defeated Lamar Alexander for the role by one vote.

New York endorsements (read)

Dateline: 01 November 2006

The election takes place next Tuesday, except, of course, for those of you who have already voted. It is time for Common Sense to make its endorsements. Few of the elections are likely to be close, and my endorsements will not change the outcome, but it would be remiss of this column to let such important elections pass without engaging in this longstanding media tradition. Particularly when it is certain that the state will elect a new governor and possible that control of Congress will change.

Two elections this November (read)

Dateline: 25 October 2006

I want you to imagine a country facing an upcoming election. Let’s see if we can guess who will win.

 Economic growth for the first half of 2006 was over 4% at an annualized rate.

 Taxes have been regularly cut since 2001.

Mark Foley – the wider implications (read)

Dateline: 11 October 2006

The resignation of Mark Foley has a number of serious implications, which are worth exploring, but first, Foley himself.

Mark Foley was one of the many gay people who was neither ‘out’ nor ‘in’. He did not declare his sexuality on his website. But it was no secret from those who knew him socially and he did not lead a double life with a wife and family living back in his district.

The most exciting Senate races this November II (read)

Dateline: 04 October 2006

Democrat vs Democrat

Connecticut sees primary victor, Ned Lamont, facing off against the loser, and former Veep candidate, Joe Lieberman. Lamont is against the war, and seems to have solidified his lead among Democrats, but in the general election independents and Republicans can vote too, so Lieberman retains a small lead. Confusingly, the Republican candidate is against the war, probably why his support is in single figures. Democrats did not want this fight, as it puts Democrat divisions on national security at the top of the news, but now they are stuck with it. Tossup.

The most exciting Senate races this November I (read)

Dateline: 27 September 2006

Democrat targets

The President’s approval ratings remain low and generic polls (“which party would you be most likely to vote for?”) give an edge to the Democrats, though perhaps by less than in the summer. So the seats most likely to change hands are ones the Democrats are targeting.

Deserving winners and losers (read)

Dateline 20 September 2006

In less than two months time America will elect the last Congress of George W Bush’s Presidency, and more than half the states – including New York – will elect a governor. New York is one of the states with an open gubernatorial election, so even if the result was in doubt we could still be sure the state was getting a new governor.

Bloomberg for President (read)

Dateline: 16 August 2006

Mike Bloomberg is a popular mayor in a city the size of a state. It has more than twice the population of the state which Bill Clinton governed when he ran for the Presidency. A lifelong Democrat he switched to the Republicans in 2001, reportedly to avoid the crowded field in the mayoral primary. He is not beholden to any party or special interest. He funds his own campaigns and outspends his opponents by five or ten to one, without accepting a cent from lobbyists or the taxpayer.

The problem of gerrymandering (read)

The principle of democracy is that electors get to choose their representatives. The principle of gerrymandering is that representatives get to choose their electors. This can lead to some absurd distortions. It is designed to do so.

Let us look at a few examples. First, let us dispose of one. A few weeks ago the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Texas Democrats against a mid-decade redistricting in that state. The argument was partly that redistricting should not take place mid-decade, that it ‘disenfranchised’ minority voters, but mostly that it cost the Democrats six seats they felt entitled to hold. It provoked what Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza called ‘a spin war of massive proportions’. It was controversial, but it was not, in any meaningful sense of the word, gerrymandering. In fact it was de-gerrymandering.

The question of Newt (read)

Eight years ago there were obvious front-runners for the Presidency: George W Bush and Al Gore. Today, the battle in both parties is far more open. I have already looked at the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and John McCain . It is time to look at the most interesting candidate in either party: Newt Gingrich.

Senate squabble (read)

Dateline: 22 March 2006

A respected Senator places a motion before the Senate. Immediately, dark forces conspire to ensure this motion shall never be voted on. It is not that anyone expects the resolution to pass, but so dangerous is it, that people should not even be obliged to take a position one way or the other. Preferably, it should not even be discussed.

Should Cheney resign? (read)

Is there a case for the Veep's resignation? And if he does, what will happen?

How might John Mcain mobilize Republican voters? (read)

John McCain is already a hero. He needs an agenda that will appeal to Republicans and independents in equal measure.

Is Ohio turning round? (read)

Dateline: 17 February, 2006

My article “What’s going on in Ohio?” looked at how the long-dominant state Republican Party seemed to be throwing away its lock on the state. Larry J Sabato of Crystal Ball still has the state down as leaning to a change of parties in this gubernatorial election. Certainly, both the governorship and the US Senate seat are in play in November, but I differ from Sabato’s assessment that the Democrats are ahead in the race for the state house.

Boehner's election (read)

The lessons of earmarks and Abramoff are that Congress needs to change. Electing Boehner just might be the first step.

A clever politician (read)

As Hillary Clinton moves towards the center, media commentators call it clever positioning . . . I am not so sure

The case for William Weld (read)

If it is critically important that New Yorkers reject Eliot Spitzer in next year’s gubernatorial election, then it is equally critical that Republicans find a credible and electable candidate.

Justice and the plea bargain (read)

New York State will next year vote in an election in which a deeply ambitious politician will lay down a marker for the Presidency. No, not Hillary Clinton, Eliot Spitzer.

What is going on in Ohio? (read)

The famously decisive state of the 2004 elections could turn out to be a key battleground in 2006 and 2008, so the answer potentially affects all Americans.

The lineup for 2008 (read)

The editor comes late to the debate on the 2008 race

Dean for Chairman (read)

What sort of Chairman would Howard Dean really make for the DNC?

Election Review (read)

Published in Public Affairs News - electoral post mortem

Not all Brits think Americans are dumb (read)

Published (with variations) in the Detroit Free Press and the Houston Chronicle - why some Europeans welcomed the election result

Making choices (read)

What sort of person will America elect?

The Saigon Factor (read)

Is Iraq the new Vietnam? Written last year this article is still very relevant. Despite being drubbed in Presidential and Congressional elections, Democrats still fantasise about Iraq as the new Vietnam.

The next Bush administration (part two) (read)

Restructuring domestic management

The next Bush administration (part one) (read)

Restructuring foreign policy management

George W Bush, MBA (read)

Managing America

Political conjunctions (read)

The real division in politics is one of grammar

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