In their superb book on last year's presidential election, "The Battle for America 2008," Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, two gifted political reporters, persuaded David Axelrod, Barack Obama's political strategist, to share his Nov. 28, 2006, memorandum assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Obama as a potential 2008 presidential candidate.
TOWSON, MD. - Those of us who live in Washington, D.C., do not make movies or airplanes. We do not raise corn or cattle. What Washington occasionally makes is public policy, and we constantly produce "conventional wisdom."
The late Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, a political leader of surpassing eloquence, once introduced John F. Kennedy, the man who defeated him for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, this way: "Do you remember that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, 'How well he spoke,' but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, they said, 'Let us march'?"
All Democrats with an IQ above room temperature understand the gigantic stakes involved in the success - or failure - of President Barack Obama's commitment to overhaul the nation's healthcare system. Those stakes include nothing less than the political fate, fortune and future of this still-new Democratic administration and, quite possibly, the continued survival of Democratic majorities in the Congress.
President John F. Kennedy frequently told audiences: "There are three things which are real: God, human folly and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third." Nobody in recent American politics ever did more with and for laughter than former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who sadly left these mortal precincts, altogether too soon, not quite three years ago.
Losing presidential campaigns are a lot like failed marriages. In their aftermath, both unhappy experiences regularly leave similar casualties: open wounds, paralyzing self-doubt and an irresistible urge to settle personal scores.
There is a theme, a mantra you will hear regularly expressed by those who oppose President Barack Obama's push to overhaul the national's health care system: their all-out resistance to any "government-run" health plan.
All things being equal (which, as we all know, they never are), President Obama would rather, we are told, that the U.S. Senate pass 85 percent of his proposed health care reform with the backing of 70 senators than pass 100 percent of his plan with just 51 or 52 votes.
Over more than half a century of superb work, David Broder has earned the title of dean of American political reporters. So I pay attention when David Broder writes, as he did, on the eve of the last presidential campaign:
Whenever you get fed up listening to some gasbag run on and on about how everybody in Congress is a faker or a hypocrite or both, tell the gasbag to call me so I can introduce him to Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican now serving his eighth term.
The prevailing consensus in Washington endorsing the deregulating of American business from government supervision had been self-assured: Government was not the solution; government was the problem. The smart money all agreed that The Private Sector knew best. Federal rules on business were, almost by definition, obstacles to economic growth and, probably, socialistic schemes dreamed up by some impractical theoretician who obviously "had never met a payroll."
In his terrific and readable new biography of President Andrew Jackson, "American Lion," Jon Meacham reports on the absence of communications between President-elect Jackson and the man whom he defeated, President John Quincy Adams.
Among others, James Michael Curley, the charismatically colorful Irish-American politician who was elected to the Congress, mayor of Boston and governor of Massachusetts, candidly observed, "Every time you do a favor for a constituent, you make nine enemies and one ingrate."
Long before he would become a respected Washington attorney (no, that is not an oxymoron!), Harry McPherson, as a young man, had recently graduated from his home-state University of Texas Law School and come to Washington and gone to work in 1956 on Capitol Hill for Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. Nine years later, McPherson, by then a White House counsel, was in the House chamber when President Johnson summoned a joint session of Congress to pass the nation's first voting rights act in order to enforce constitutional guarantees for black Americans to register and vote in the United States of America.
In the 1972 Florida Democratic presidential primary, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, an especially admirable public servant, was featured speaker at a Miami dinner sponsored by combined Jewish philanthropies. In attendance was a group of voters widely known for their generosity and political clout, who had been regularly courted and wooed by the most importunate and creative of candidate-suitors.
What have we learned after six years? That we went to war against a country that did not threaten the United States, a country that had never attacked the United States, and because of weapons that this country did not have, weapons that did not exist.
In a burst of clear thinking, the national Democratic Party in 2007 permitted just four states - New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina - to hold their presidential nominating contests before Feb. 5, 2008.
What sauce do you eat with crow? That's the question asked by yours truly and an unhealthy majority of my fellow travelers on the press bus who could not resist speculating the fallout from Hillary Clinton's losing the Texas or Ohio primary.
Politicians of the losing party are always quick to find the "gimmick" a winning opponent has so obviously mastered that explains the winner's success with the voters.
During a political campaign, there are certain verbs you never want to see in a newspaper headline anywhere near your candidate's name.
Let me tell you, from personal experience, what the presidential campaigns of Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are experiencing hourly in late February of 2008.
Long before he would become Democratic Party chairman as well as the colorful and successful Washington lawyer, Bob Strauss grew up in the small West Texas cowboy town of Stamford, where, as he joked, his non-Jewish neighbors thought "Hanukkah was a duck call."
MANCHESTER, N.H. - Les Biffle remains the most legendary American "pollster" whose name nobody knows. During the 1948 presidential campaign - when literally all the Wise Men of the press corps (there were among the press no acknowledged Wise Women in 1948) had, long before a single vote was cast, named Republican Thomas E. Dewey the winner over Democratic President Harry Truman - Democratic operative Biffle, disguising himself as a butter and egg salesman, traveled throughout the Midwest. Listening only to ordinary voters, he turned out to be the only semi-public figure to correctly predict the historic Truman upset victory.
On the night of Jan. 3, 2008, two major national events will take place. In New Orleans, Ohio State will play Louisiana State University in the national championship football game, and across the state of Iowa, the first-in-the-nation contest to nominate the major party nominees for president will be held. If the past is precedent, the college football game will result in a single winner, while the Iowa caucuses will manage to produce multiple "winners":
When it has come to the serious business of selecting presidential nominees, the Republican Party has been far more orderly, organized and predictable than the Democrats. In the last 35 years, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have all won the Democratic presidential nomination even after each, one year before the election, was the choice in the Gallup Poll of 5 percent or less of his party's voters.
DES MOINES, Iowa - Remember back a short two months to October, when New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was coasting confidently - even inevitably - toward the Democratic presidential nomination? Polls in the first two state contests, Iowa and New Hampshire, in addition to national surveys, all showed her with comfortable - bordering on lopsided - leads over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards. The press had an explanation for that near-total Clinton dominance.
Philadelphia: The last six weeks have not been Hillary Clinton's best. Ever since her first bad debate performance of 2007 in this city in late October, she has spent most of the time on the defensive - forced to answer questions about her own positions, her husband's statements and her campaign's tactics. She has seen her lead in national polls shrink and in some Iowa surveys disappear completely.
There are days when you realize you have the best job in the world. One of those days, for me, was March 29, 1995, when I sat in the House press gallery and heard a Republican congressman, respected on both sides of the aisle, speak in opposition to his party's popular proposed constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress.
It probably doesn't surprise you to learn that one half of all individual gifts to U.S. charities are made in the few weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's. It is, after all, the season of giving, and there is also that before-the-end-of-the year tax-deduction incentive to encourage us. Like most people probably, I like to think that I'm a fairly generous person and am sure that I make at least half of my annual donations in the month of December.
Here in late 2007, Democratic voters must confront an unpleasant truth (one which "offends" many of them): In 2000, and again in 2004, George W. Bush defeated two Democratic nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom were judged by the nation's voters to be more knowledgeable and intelligent - and in Gore's case to be vastly more experienced - than Bush. But these very same voters found Bush to be more honest and trustworthy, and more personally likable than either Democrat.
Richmond, Va. - Here in the onetime capital city of the Confederacy, a city I once flippantly referred to as "a hotbed of social rest," a dozen solidly Republican voters spent more than two hours on a Thursday night pessimistically assessing their party and their children's future in a session moderated by pollster Peter Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
"Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?" asked humorist Bob Orben. And one year before the 2008 presidential election, you have to wonder if the alleged political wise-guys, the ones who have declared the Democratic presidential nominating contest all but over, even think it's necessary to make those frosty trips to Des Moines, Iowa, and Nashua, N.H.
Every presidential nominee in choosing his or her vice presidential running mate follows either micro-politics or macro-politics. Practicing micro-politics would mean the 2008 Democratic nominee picks a popular governor or senator from a battleground home state, which could put that state in the party's column. Under macro-politics, the VP candidate might not personally deliver the electoral votes of a key state, but instead that selection could send a larger message about the presidential nominee.
As Professor Robert Schmuhl reminds us, since 1952, seven of the 14 presidential elections have been won by sitting presidents or by the incumbent vice president (George H.W. Bush), and in the other seven, the winners included: a former general (Dwight Eisenhower), a former vice president (Richard Nixon), two former governors (Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan), two sitting governors (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) and only one sitting senator (John F. Kennedy).