Thoughts about...Presidential Politics

USA Today op-ed on 3rd parties
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oped Washington Times

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libertarian Democrat rogue for Romney
See whole article here:
A Libertarian Democrat Considers Mitt Romney
So much for the hope that Obama would move the party
in a back-to-the-future Jeffersonian liberal direction.

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Pastor Perry--Godsend
to Mormon Mitt?

by Terry Michael

09/01/11 - 07:00 AM EDT
WASHINGTON, D.C. (TheStreet) -- Though he's now flavor-of-the-month in Republican polls, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R-Methodist) may be a godsend to the presidential prospects of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mormon).

If he gets past Romney for the nomination, Perry's Bible-thumping may be the diversion from a hell-ish economy President Barack Obama needs to fire up a secularist Democratic base and appeal to younger, less religious independent voters -- especially as Perry's "job-producing" record is increasingly revealed as that of a tax-revenue-bestowing, special-interest corporatist, rather than a free-market conservative.

In a 2007 survey of 35,000 adults, Pew Research found a quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds had no religious affiliation. And one in 10 Americans self-identified as either agnostic, atheist or "secular unaffiliated." In both the Republican Party and the general electorate, God doesn't have the influence he used to, four decades after religious conservatives began pushing back through politics against abortion and the sexual revolution.

Arguing that Perry's candidacy helps Romney will seem counterintuitive if you believe bowing before TV preachers is key to a Republican nomination. In a few early contests, evangelicals dominate, starting with Iowa where Southern Baptist preacher, Gov. Mike Huckabee, won in 2008, but with only 9% more than Mormon Romney (34% to 25%). Huckabee quickly fizzled, unable to parlay Iowa victory into South Carolina success two weeks later.

Perry is making a mistake of first-time presidential candidates, pandering to perceived power brokers in his party's base -- forgetting others are tuned in, including independents essential to November victory. Introducing religion at a high decibel level, as he did with his Aug. 6 seven-hour God-a-thon, Perry offers Romney the opportunity to underscore an important defensive message about his Mormon faith: "I'll keep my religion out of my politics." Romney could invade Perry's home court and make a Kennedy-style speech to Texas Protestant preachers to drive home the point.

Religious conservatives' influence peaked in 1994, when Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition turned out believers to win the U.S. House for Republicans, rejecting not just HillaryCare but the '60s lifestyle they believed Bill and Hillary Clinton embodied. But move forward to 2010, and the surge that reclaimed the House for the GOP was all about the economy stupid, not social issues. It was a Democratic defeat by Tea Partiers distressed about crashing home equity and 401(k) values, with ObamaCare iconic for spending they felt was killing the economy.

The "social issues" frame has undergone seismic change in the 21st century, with significant Republican and independent support for same-sex marriage, or at least civil unions, as well as gay military service.

The religious pandering mistake Perry is making is like Romney's in 2008, when he ran away from libertarian-ish views on gay rights and abortion, opening himself to a flip-flop charge that still hounds him. Romney could have sold "family values" by showcasing his big attractive family, and noting he was one of the few monogamists in the oft-divorced Republican field.

Romney learned his lesson (it can take a trial run) and now stays away from cultural issues, focusing on three themes: jobs, jobs and jobs. He knows after Iowa comes not only South Carolina, but New Hampshire (which he is almost sure to win) and mega-states with big delegate prizes, like his birth place Michigan; or Florida, where he came close to McCain in 2008; and delegate-rich New York and California, where Republicans are more secular.

Perceived inordinate influence of religious conservatives ignores they are concentrated in the South, where Republicans already have a near-electoral college lock. Obama won the presidency with only 55 Old Confederacy electors from Virginia, North Carolina and Florida (with its huge influx of Northerners). But he still would have won, with 310 electoral votes, without a single Southern state.

Republicans and GOP-leaning independents in the rest of the country have more moderate-to-libertarian views on social issues. Example: Only a third of Republicans, according to a May 2011 Gallup poll, believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

The 2012 voters won't be your mother's electorate when it comes to religion. Independents hold the key to presidential elections in our equally partisan-divided country. They may not be partial to another swaggering, born-again Texas governor who seems to be suggesting God talked him into running. They may be more receptive to a free-market-friendly candidate like Romney, or even the incumbent -- rather than a Texas career politician for the past 27 years, with lots of ties to lobbyists. link    PDF version


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Too Cute to fail?
Surveying the 2012 GOP
presidential field

by Terry Michael | July 29, 2011

The 2012 Republican presidential wannabes may not have Mount Rushmore-ready leadership skills, but they're an unusually fine-looking bunch of politicians.

And that’s not even counting two of the hottest, but as yet undeclared candidates: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the not-gay caballero on the Rio Grande, and former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, the not-Tina Fey, briefly employed as Alaska’s chief executive.

Observing this mind-numbing, made for cable-babble political pageant, those in the business of reporting politics as a spectator sport might ask, “Are these future commanders-in-chief just too cute to fail?”

At least in my 64-year-old memory (a brain area not usually employed by the modern electorate), we have the most physically attractive line-up of potential presidents any political party has ever produced. Not just Perry and Palin, but Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Jon Huntsman, too.

The rest of the field, unfortunately, look more like those science and math club members who couldn’t find a date to the prom. There’s the very white ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the clearly black pizza mogul Herman Cain, and veteran congressman and weird uncle-look-alike Ron Paul, plus the thoughtful, tri-athletic former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who smokes nothing more than salmon, but doesn’t mind if you do. Oops! I almost forgot former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who resembles the Pillsbury dough boy and whose politics are just as malleable.

Voters have always considered physical attributes when selecting a chief executive. For example, tall has always been in. An instructive Wikipedia article on presidential stature reveals that the average American male was slightly over five feet nine inches in 2005, but only 14 of our 43 presidents have been under five feet 10 inches while 18 have been 6 feet tall or more. We’ve always wanted to look up to our leaders, beginning with the father of our country, 6-foot-tall George Washington, the seventh-tallest president in history. Honest Abe Lincoln was an impressive six feet four inches, tied for tallest with overbearing Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Imposing height was easy to convey, even in the non-visual, print-mediated political discourse of the first one and one-half centuries of the Republic, when leaders were nominated mostly by peers who had seen them in-person, and who then touted them in newspapers to the unwashed masses.

It could be just coincidence that the first television era, mass-communicated leader was a man with Hollywood good looks, the six-foot-tall John Fitzgerald Kennedy, with the lovely Jackie at his side. But it's probably more than likely a handsome, beautiful, or otherwise attractive face will become increasingly useful to would-be presidents, when we are digitally assaulted nearly every moment of our sleepless lives with youthful beauty. How much time do tens of millions of voters spend each day looking at the appropriately-named Facebook?

That doesn’t mean that a pretty face is the only thing that matters to the electorate. Most presidents have also been able to string seven words together to form a complete sentence (George W. Bush notwithstanding.) But since video killed both the print and radio stars of American politics in the late 1970's, no real dogs—other than actual cute puppies—have inhabited the White House.

So how will the top five real and potential candidates for the GOP nomination in 2012 fare in the upcoming beauty contest?

Romney and Perry both have square jaws and industrial-strength hair. Bachmann and Palin are cougar babes in anybody’s book. And Huntsman has the lean features and silver highlights of an aging rock star. That’s about as far as I wanna’ go with that, so you fill in the blanks.

Of course, a plain face with a brain could theoretically emerge as the Republican nominee. But it’s doubtful the Party of Lincoln will make the mistake they did in 2008, and nominate another short, pasty-faced old geezer. Not when the GOP has to run against the Jack-and-Jackie fashionistas now occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Terry Michael is director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. His writing is collected at his "thoughts from a libertarian Democrat" website,

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Obama Don't Bash Chamber

Obama: Don't Bash the Chamber of Commerce
It's Bad History and Bad Politics

by Terry Michael | October 15, 2010

As a former press spokesman for the Democratic National Committee now teaching college journalists about politics, I find shameless, maybe even shameful, my party’s tarring of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - a Washington, D.C. neighbor of President Barack Obama, a block from The White House across Lafayette Park.

That’s saying a lot in a cabble-babble and net-nutty environment, where shame no longer seems to inhibit even the worst behavior.  But trying to paint the business lobby as a Chamber of Horrors that's using dirty money from foreigners, is worse than shameful for this former operative. It’s stupid politics.

Ever since the Republican-inspired Progressive Era morphed into Wilsonian Democrat social-engineering progressivism 100 years ago, the Democratic Party has tried to portray itself as a little bit holier than the party of Mammon.  We have liked to think of ourselves as the tribune of the “little guy,” standing against those fat cat Republicans who live on George Babbitt’s Main Street or reside on that greedy, seedy Wall Street.

So it’s not surprising Obama’s political advisors would attempt to boost the spirits of a sagging Democratic base with a little pre-Halloween, pre-election demonizing of the lobby that President William Howard Taft inspired.  A human symbol for detractors of big business, the elephant-sized Taft used his annual message to Congress in December 1911 to encourage creation of what became the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, so business could speak to him in a single voice.

With a little help from Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt in the 1920s, the negative image of the Chamber is almost in the DNA of liberal Democrats.  In the fictional Zenith, Ohio Chamber of Commerce bulletin, Lewis' George Babbit writes:

...and as it's the best way of fighting the unions, every business man ought to belong to....the Chamber of Commerce. So any selfish hog who doesn't join the Chamber of Commerce ought to be forced to."

In the Republican genome, Big Labor is encoded as their bête noire, and they periodically try to pump up the GOP base with images of cigar-chomping labor goons at the AFL-CIO, the umbrella group of international unions headquartered just a block down the street from the Chamber and White House in the Capital.

When you see vilification of Big Labor or Big Business, with the Chamber and the AFL-CIO as icons, you can pretty much guess a political party is admitting, like a stand-up comedian, “I got nuthin’.”  And with that historical context in mind, let me explain why Democrats have nothing with this attack on Main Street.

The simplest way to understand why demonizing the Chamber is a fruitless tactic might be to think of the 2006 mid-term election.  The Republican base was demoralized with an increasingly unpopular president, who had embraced a budget-busting, big government piece of health legislation - more pharmaceuticals for old people.  Democrats hated Bush and abhorred his war.  And independents leaned left, also hating on Bush and the war.

Does any of that sound familiar in 2010?  Now Democrats are demoralized with an increasingly unpopular president, who has burdened our psyches with more endless war to replace the one we elected Obama to end.  Republicans hate Obama and his budget-busting piece of health legislation - corporate welfare for insurance and drug companies.  And independents now lean right, also hating on Obama and his health care “reform.”

The old lawyer joke applies.  If you don’t have the law, pound away at the facts.  If you don’t have the facts, pound away at the law. If you have neither, pound on the table.

But no amount of pounding on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going to save Democrats from the self-inflicted wounds of endless war and over-reaching social legislation.  As a libertarian Democrat (about six of us), I have a formula that might help Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders re-connect with our base and reach out to independents of the 21st Century, to replace the spent ideology of progressivism. The short version goes something like this:

The government should assure liberty by staying as far away as possible from our bank accounts, our bedrooms, and our bodies. Spread pluralistic democracy and free markets by example, understanding that neither can be planted by force on political real estate lacking indigenous cultivators for their growth. Restore the moral authority of mid-20th century civil rights, fashioning public policy around individuals, not tribal identity groups.

 You can read the full version of the formula here.

Director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, Terry Michael is a former Democratic National Committee press secretary (1983-1987). His opinion writing is collected at his “libertarian Democrat” web site,

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Don't Eat the Rich, President Obama

 July 31 , 2010

WASHINGTON -- Keeping the Bush tax cuts from expiring at the end of the year would be both good policy and good politics for President Barack Obama.

If he wants to avoid a double-dip recession, fend off double-digit unemployment and retain a Democratic majority in at least one house of Congress, the president needs to embrace tax policy focused on the political center. He can throw out a little populist red meat to his demoralized base, but he'd better not taunt the middle-class Tea Party monster ready to devour left-liberal congressmen. The president can skewer Wall Street, but not eat the rich.

There may be a good time to raise taxes on the super-wealthy, but Dec. 31, 2010, when the Bush tax cuts expire, sure as hell isn't one of them. Obama's market-savvy fellow Democrat and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D, N.D.) acknowledges that. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner understands it, even if he can't say it. Job-producing investment demands it.

Anybody with a lick of political economic sense knows the Great Recession was not caused by low tax rates. It was the mortgage meltdown, stupid! Housing-bust-driven loss of home equity and mutual-fund retirement savings are the caffeine that stimulated the aging Baby Boomer, vote-rich, amorphous Tea Party.

If Obama and congressional Democrats believe they can seduce independents by defining the rich as individuals and couples with incomes of over $200,000 and $250,000, they are using a stimulant stronger than that found in either conservative tea or liberal lattes. Upper-middle class, home-owning taxpayers are the motivated voters in this mid-term election, just as Clinton-hating Christian-and-economic conservatives were the righteous army in 1994 that overturned decades of Democratic control of the House. Recall the part health-care "reform" played in defining the Clintons as the Gingrich Revolution's enemy that year. The religious right was populated with economic conservatives, not just those who hated the sex, drugs and rock 'n roll lifestyle they imagined were embodied by Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Some Beltway Democrats think they can inspire their working-class base by beating up on those $250,000 rich couples. That's an aging Democratic populist political consultant's hallucination. The most reliable voters in the Democratic base are not the declining number of union members who can be rolled out by the AFL-CIO political action committee. Just look at not-so-big labor's disastrous wasting of members' dues trying to oust Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Arkansas Democratic primary this year. The Democratic base is increasingly the well-heeled Baby Boomers, more moved by Obama's elective war in Afghanistan and failure to move faster on the liberal and libertarian cultural agenda than they are with the rich not being taxed more.

So what are the smart political and policy options for Obama and congressional Democrats? Pretty simple. Aim liberal demagogic fire not at The Rich, but against those "greedy Wall Street bankers who destroyed our economy ... blah, blah, blah" (you guys are tough enough to take the flak) while quietly giving Republicans enough Blue Dog Democrat votes to extend the tax cuts. On the flip side, House Republican Leader John Boehner and his band of free marketeers should restrain themselves and avoid dumb rhetoric that sounds like they believe the only good marginal tax rate is zero.

Full disclosure here. Our present president lost much of the love of this libertarian Democrat (about six of us) with his Lyndon W. Obama war in Afghanistan and his consultant-driven health-care "reform." I am not here to help a politician, but to add my small voice to others who want to keep us from driving over a tax-policy cliff. Some of us who just read, write and teach for a living have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines, asking the best of our politicians. At 63, I'd just like to have enough to semi-retire, without burdening my political-journalism students and their children in my old age. link    PDF version


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A Nanny State Assault on Internship Programs
The trouble with the Labor Department's
one-size-fits-all agenda.

Terry Michael | April 14, 2010

As if I didn’t have enough to worry about raising money for my non-profit college journalism education program in this lousy economy, the nanny state is now threatening my Politics & Journalism Semester with one-size-fits-all regulations written for the blue collar employment era.

Twenty-one years ago, I founded, and still run, a semester-in-Washington effort to teach real world politics (maybe an oxymoron) to college journalists who want to be political reporters. In spring and fall classes of 16 weeks each, I give my dozen students a twice-weekly seminar series featuring top political practitioners and political journalists. The rest of the week, they work in news bureaus as interns, usually unpaid. Few of them receive college credit, and many have already graduated. I guarantee each a $3000 living expense stipend if they aren’t paid, and don’t charge any tuition or fees. Generally, my “graduates” have nothing but praise for the experience, reflected in hundreds of them making personal donations to our 501(c)(3) non-profit, which has a budget of about $250,000 per year.

As an educational entrepreneur, what I have built is now threatened by an Obama Labor Department bureaucrat who wants to crack down on employers who don’t pay interns, using rule-making powers that date to a Supreme Court decision from the 1940s that is mostly applicable to blue collar apprenticeships, and hasn't been updated since.

As reported by The New York Times, M. Patricia Smith, now Labor’s top law enforcement official and previously New York’s labor commissioner, is using her left-liberal imagination to conjure up a 21st century version of 19th century sweat shops that exploit young slave labor.

One of my regular news bureaus pays its intern from my program several times the minimum wage. Several other participating organizations have paid the minimum wage. Most donate at least $3000 to my non-profit to fund the stipends. Some give as much as twice that amount, to help with other program costs. And a few contribute nothing at all, and I have to pick up the stipend expense from other donors. In all, about a fourth to a third of my quarter-million dollar budget comes from the news organizations that host my students and give them useful work to do.

In other words, there is no one size that fits the situation for each student. I have had to cobble together funding to allow lower and middle income students to take advantage of this opportunity, which they are not only willing, but eager, to do. If Smith gets her way, I will now have to shoehorn my program into her restrictive concept of the public good.

Ms. Smith: Why don’t you leave your hands off my program and hundreds like it, and let students decide whether or not they are being exploited? No employer or program like mine is forcing any 20-something to apply to, or accept, an internship.

How will the federal government’s apparatchik mind justify this additional assault on individual liberty and choice? Well, consider this paragraph from The Times story: “Kathyrn Edwards, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute [EPI] and co-author of a new study on internships, told of a female intern who brought a sexual harassment complaint that was dismissed because the intern was not an employee.” Yes, they’ll tout the biggest, scariest, most anti-feminist anecdotal horror story they can conjure up. EPI, by the way, is a labor union-funded think tank.

In a perfect world, it would be great if all interns were paid. But in a perfect world, M. Patricia Smith’s job wouldn’t exist. Her Wikipedia biography indicates she has spent her  "entire career in public service." It comes as no surprise that she has never held a real-economy job. Please, Ms. Smith, go find something worthwhile to do with your taxpayer-paid time, and let me and my students and the benefactors who fund our program decide what is best for us.

Terry Michael is director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. His other writing is collected at his “thoughts from a libertarian Democrat” web site,

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Change Bereave Dover
(Terry Michael Picto-Graphic)

published at.... logo

in which we can bereave.
December 2, 2009

by Terry Michael

A year ago, some of us believed we were electing an anti-war president. Complete with a George W. Bush-style speech at West Point, we got the opposite--change in which we can bereave, as the bodies of more American boys will be flown home in boxes from the tribal hills of a non-nation, a graveyard of foolish imperial powers, a geographic entity, a sort-of-country called Afghanistan.

Nominated because he opposed an elective war and elected because he opposed an old warrior, a young president has been unable to resist the lure of the military industrial complex, about which we were warned the year Barack Obama was born by retiring soldier-President Dwight David Eisenhower.

Even sadder, President Obama has been unable to stand up to the war hawk “liberal internationalists,” as they like to call themselves, in his own party--who more accurately can be described as “Neo-Con Lites.” I know them well. They are from my generation of Democratic operatives. Political careerist baby boomers with draft deferments, who raged against the Vietnam madness in the 1960's, but as they approached their own sixties forgot the lessons of that tragedy as they devised political strategies to make us look tougher, so we could win presidential elections by wooing back the Nixon and Reagan Democrats, the World War II “good war” voters, who are now mostly not voters....because they are mostly dead.

President Obama, half-Kenyan, half-Kansan, from an apostate Muslim father, and himself now a Christian dad, is a fascinating study in human compromise. Like the larger-than-life Superman action figure in front of which he once posed for a picture in Metropolis, Illinois, he is able, with great speeches, to leap tall differences in a single bound. It’s why we elected him. But a politician’s strength can be a policy-maker’s weakness, as he succumbs to the drum beats of American exceptionalist war-makers in both of our political parties.

Assembling a team of rivals, Obama learned too much from history--or at least too much from a popular historical biography of a fellow Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln. Making Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State, he all but chained himself to a mid-1980's Democratic Party foreign policy/national security political strategy, which prescribed “tough on defense” as the key to keeping Democrats in The White House. And by retaining George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, the new president sealed his fate, tethering himself to what is now his own elective war, without an American purpose.

America has “The Power Problem,” as Chris Preble of the Cato Institute has explained in a book with that title. It is a field of defense industry dreams, military dominance built over a Cold War half century, demanding to be used because it’s there, not because it makes us more safe, more prosperous, or more free. And we have developed “The Cult of the Presidency,” defined in a work of that name by another Cato scholar, Gene Healy, a grandiose vision that mis-leads Leaders of the Free World to believe their place in history comes from projecting all that hard power.

All this comes at a time when the nation is sick and afraid, with unemployment of the young in double digits, with retirement plans of the old on hold, with fathers and mothers wondering whether they can hang onto their homes. How would we even pay for another elective power projection?

It is time for Congress to accept its Constitutional responsibility to impede Executive war-making. Are you listening, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are you ready to speak against this disaster from the House floor? Are you willing, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, to call back from the Afghan abyss the youthful fellow Illinois colleague you touted to lead us?

This is not the highway appropriations bill, health care re-structuring, or bailing out banks and auto companies. It’s life and death.

An Illinois native and former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Terry Michael is founder and director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. link


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Obama and the Afghan Abyss
Why it's time for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan

Terry Michael | September 26, 2009

As President Barack Obama ponders the moral case against tossing more young American soldiers into the Afghan abyss, he faces several political obstacles, including some of his own making.

In a classic primary gaffe to fix a verbal stumble, Obama opted to sound tough on Afghanistan and Pakistan after asserting he'd talk to dictators. His chief opponent—and current Secretary of State—Hillary Clinton, pounced. So in the next news cycle he sounded tough as nails. Compounding the error early this year, Obama sent more troops and a new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but left the mission open-ended, thus appearing to fill an implied campaign promise.

Now Republicans are painting the young president as naive for suggesting he might downgrade the mission. And the GOP war hawks are setting McChrystal up for hero status in the same way they elevated David Patraeus in Iraq, implying that control over mission, strategy, and tactics should be in professional military hands, instead of those of the Commander-in-Chief—who has that constitutional obligation.

The second dilemma Obama faces in trying to alter course is a gotcha press corps, especially the talking air heads of cable babble, who are always ready to hold an official to every word he uttered in the silly season of a campaign. As someone who teaches college journalists about politics, I take the watchdog role of the press seriously. But I also worked in electoral politics, including a presidential primary, plus 8 years on Capitol Hill. The heat of a primary race is no place to formulate sound policy.

Candidates are pulled every which way by operatives and consultants, not to mention the press pack, who see no farther than the next news cycle. An often young and inexperienced press corps, especially talking-points babblers on ideologically polarized cable networks, make it excessively difficult for an elected official to change course in office—even when it makes infinite good sense to do.

Third, finally, and most importantly, Obama faces the intra-party impediment of a Democratic foreign policy establishment, which thinks the party still looks like a bunch of Cold War era, national security weaklings compared to the toughness of "Reagan Democrats." Never mind that the Cold War is over, and the Reagan Democrats are mostly dead! Replacing the "good war" (WWII) and Depression era center of the 1980s' electorate are the 21st century sex, drugs, and rock & roll non-interventionist Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers.

The "neo-con lite" wing of the Democratic Party, headquartered at the so-called Democratic Leadership Council, was started by the military-obsessed, Southern wing of the party way back in 1984. These self-styled "Democratic" foreign policy wizards colluded with George W. Bush and the neo-cons in promoting the Iraq tragedy, instead of saving us from it!

You can also find these neo-con lites on the editorial pages of the "liberal" Washington Post, which aggressively supported the Iraq madness and has tried ad nauseam to defend its discredited position. Now, the neo-con lites seek to compound their foolishness by working to maneuver Obama into sending more troops to the Graveyard of Empires.

Mr. President, your decision about Afghanistan is not a political choice. This isn't a highway appropriations bill or even your healthcare reform plan, open to tinkering here and marginally adjusting there.

There are potentially thousands of young lives at stake, individuals who you will send to die and be maimed. And the choice of stepping up this horror—rather than drawing it down—will engender bitter hatred from Afghans caught in the crossfire.

Do not listen to the Washington foreign policy establishment and its brother institution, the never-ceasing military industrial complex, which believe that America, because we have big hard power, has to intervene and use that power for nation-building and the hallucination that geographic entities like Iraq and Afghanistan can develop liberty-loving democracies. There have to be indigenous movements for that to happen, and there are no such movements in the tribal, theocratic cultures of the Middle East—with the possible exception of Iran, unless our war hawks drive the young people there into the nationalist arms of the loonies who now run their country.

Do the right thing, Mr. President. We kicked out the Taliban eight years ago. It is long-since time to hugely scale back our effort and troop commitment.

While many congressional Democrats are still afraid of their Cold War shadows, you have our party's base massively favoring withdrawal, and a majority of independents are solidly with you. Get us out now.

A former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Terry Michael is director of the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism.
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The Case for MichelleCare

Why Obama should let his wife
handle health care reform

Terry Michael | July 29, 2009

It didn't go so well the first time around, when a president assigned his wife to reform health care. But instead of mucking things up with intrusive, expensive health care "reform," President Barack Obama could do a lot worse than putting Michelle in charge of wellness promotion. Michelle Obama understands wellness, choosing to grow fruits and vegetables—not just roses—on the White House lawn.

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." That admonition, the first words of Michael Pollan's enlightening In Defense of Food, could be the bumper sticker promoting MichelleCare. Pollan makes it clear that America's high levels of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—which trigger the heavy medical care costs of late-life sickness—are the result of the "western diet," with its food-like processed products, much of which is synthesized from cheap corn and soybeans. We are obsessed with "nutritionism," but the sum of the unpronounceable substances on content labels don't equal the benefits of real food, like grains, nuts, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, Pollan counsels. I haven't done justice to the 200 pages of Pollan's cleverly-written wisdom. Read it yourself. In fact, a free copy to every American who wants it (or DVDs for those averse to books) should be a part of MichelleCare.

The political stand-off certain to develop between cost cutting on the one hand, and expanding coverage to the 47 million uninsured Americans on the other, will make reform a chimera sure to please no one. The resulting legislation is likely to be a grab bag of unfunded government goodies spawning bigger deficits, just as Medicare and Medicaid have done over the past four decades.

To understand why "reform" is more an exercise in political theater than a serious attempt to cut costs and improve care, consider how we got here. It started during World War II, when wage and price controls led to a labor union-government agreement allowing tax exempt employer-paid health care to act as a substitute for pay raises. That tax exemption was the genesis of much of the problem we now face; it divorced decisions about consuming care from consideration of price, making doctor and hospital visits appear free.

The next big step was Medicare and Medicaid, which have grown like fat kids, especially with George W. "LBJ" Bush's free prescription drug benefit, a Karl Rove legacy of big government conservatism.

But the most important development in the politicization of health care came in 1991 in the special election of Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Penn.), an interim appointee after the helicopter crash death of Sen. John Heinz. Two little-known consultants took charge of Wofford's seemingly hopeless challenge.

The fast-talking pair was Paul Begala and James Carville. When they signed on, Wofford was 40 points down—he won by 10. Begala and Carville became the geniuses-du-jour among hired political guns, landing them jobs as gurus to the faltering 1992 Clinton campaign. Their formula: Focus on "the economy, stupid" and create a populist clamor for "health care reform," tapping into resentment of big bad insurance companies, over-charging hospitals, rich doctors, and evil pharmaceutical companies.

This eventually came back to bite the Clintons after the election, leading to the "HillaryCare" that pegged Clinton—a "New Democrat"—as another big spending liberal. That begat Republican control of the House in 1994. The wily Clinton dropped health care and took up another issue from his campaign, welfare reform, signed a House GOP bill, and took credit for it.

Health care reared its head again in 2008, when initial presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton made it her signature issue, forcing competitors—including Obama—to come up with their own "reform" plans. The rest is (contemporary) history. With a disastrous recession and two wars to contend with, Obama still allowed himself to be maneuvered into "reforming" health care.

Like McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform," something called health care reform may pass Congress and get signed into law. But it won't be effective reform, anymore than attacks on free political speech managed to suppress the influence of political money. Whatever gets past the phalanx of insurance and provider lobbyists—not to mention liberal politicians ready to federalize more health care as another free lunch—will bloat the budget like the processed foods that have added tons to the American waistline.

So give Michelle Obama a bigger platform to promote health and wellness-producing meals. That's reform we can live with. And our lives will be longer, healthier, and we'll be billions richer, too.

Executive Director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism (WCPJ), Terry Michael writes from his perspective as a "libertarian Democrat." His opinions here and at his personal web site, , are his own, and not those of WCPJ or its board.

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Brain Graphic by Terry Michael

Voters from Venus, Press from Mars
Judging debates with lower brain amygdalae,
not the slower higher brain neocortex

Terry Michael | September 25, 2008

Voters are from Venus, political reporters are from Mars.

More precisely, the majority of those electing the next president will analyze the candidates mostly with the pattern recognition area partly centered in the amygdalae and other regions of the lower brain, gray matter that governs speedily-processed emotions quickly allowing us to flee the tiger, or stay and fight.

It's that high quality emotional intelligence to which Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain need to pay most attention as they prepare for debates, in which they'll be compared side-by-side for 90 minutes, instead of as 9-second sound-bites or 30-second "I approved this message(s)."

In contrast to voters, journalists who interpret politics seem to do most of their thinking with the neocortex, six layers of brain cells just below the top our skulls, where we slowly weigh complex options--like 61-point health care plans--to make "informed" decisions.

This is no politically incorrect argument that the "lower" brain is feminine and the "higher" male.  But what used to be called women's intuition and can now be termed Blink thinking (by Malcolm Gladwell) is a better guide to analyzing voters than the political press' apparent vision of citizens working their way through a checklist of The Issues published by the League of Women Voters.

That brings us to the puzzle facing about half of the electorate, political and media elites, who can't fathom why Obama, with domestic policies favored by solid majorities, isn't far ahead of Sen. John McCain, saddled with a nose-diving economy, a disastrous war, and one of the most unpopular GOP incumbents in history.

After McCain's selection of Gov. Sarah Palin, those who urged Obama to just get back to the issues were naive, even when it would seem that 2008 is once again the economy, stupid.

For years, liberal Democrats like John Kerry have deluded themselves into believing voters will flock to them if only the unwashed masses can be made to understand the party's wealth re-distributionist plans for the poor and middle class, instead of focusing on pesky values.  For a fuller understanding, see the left-liberal nonsense published as, "What's the Matter with Kansas."

In 2004, I asked my mother, then 84, if she had watched George Bush's acceptance speech.  "I can't stand to look at him."  Well, how about Kerry? "Oh, I can see right through him."  By which she meant a man trying to have everything every way.

My mother, who died this March, was a Hillary fan.  Some part of her emotional intelligence felt a kinship, though Mom had no knowledge of The Plans at I wish I could ask her what she thinks of Gov. Sarah Palin.  I don't have a clue, because Mom might have empathized with another mother of five--or she might have chastised a young mother for not staying home.  But I'm certain my mother wouldn't have cited either Palin's energy expertise or ignorance of policy wonkish blather that infatuates reporters.

The problem for Democrats is that Palin dramatically yielded an emotional connection for the GOP ticket with some conservative and populist leaning independents, albeit mostly with Republican base voters on the social-cultural right.

When that occurred, Obama's Achilles heel, a too cool persona, became more of a liability--though we really have no idea with how many among the ten percent of persuade-ables, in the 15 or 20 battleground states.

Of course, he now needs to talk about the economy, as does McCain.  But the cure for Obama is not to convince stupid voters to stop pushing back against their economic interests, though the Wall Street crisis will undoubtedly push a significant number of independents in his direction.  And McCain's challenge is not to develop a ten-point-plan for economic recovery.

Obama needs to make himself more of a regular guy, who shops at Safeway rather than Whole Foods--someone who seems to feel the pain of voters.  He needs to stop being so professorial, thinking out loud in carefully measured "um" and "uh" phrases; and get himself on as many basketball courts as possible, surrounded by NBA stars.

And McCain, through body and face language and effective sound-bites, must prove that he gets the economic crisis and isn't too old to handle the burden.

With the debates, both candidates actually get a second chance to make a first impression with voters, who'll think more like my mother did than do issue-obsessed editorial writers and policy pundits.


Sources Note: In addition to "Blink" by Gladwell, read Jeff Hawkins' "On Intelligence", another popular work dealing with the brain's pattern recognition.

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The Libertarian Case for Obama
Seven potential upsides to a hope-monger presidency

Terry Michael | September 19, 2008

For those who recognize that "libertarian Democrat" is no more oxymoronic than "libertarian Republican," a solid case can be made for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as a Leader of the Free World who won't take that American Exceptionalism conceit as seriously as "Country First" Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Sure, we'll have to endure four or even eight years of warbling by Barbra Streisand at White House dinners. And I am under no illusions: Obama has more Populist-Progressive than Madisonian inclinations. But, guys and gals, Ms. Wasilla is no less stomach-churning than Babs. And the actual Republican presidential candidate is even more authoritarian than his Progressive hero, Teddy Roosevelt. John McCain is no friend of Friedman.

Thus, seven reasons libertarians can hope for the best from Obama.

1. Sen. Obama has met at least one war he doesn't love. His early pronouncements against the criminal enterprise in Iraq are enough reason, in themselves, to vote his way on November 4. Anyone paying the least attention must conclude that Lt. McCain's "cause greater than self" always involves the Army, the Navy, and the United States Marines (not necessarily in that order.)

2. The election of an African-American will end liberal racism as we know it. If an overwhelmingly white nation chooses a black leader, the Jesse Jacksons and other Mau Mauers for identity-based group preferences will be put out of business, as I explained here.

3. One word: Osmosis. You couldn't live in Hyde Park or teach at the University of Chicago with the intellectual curiosity of a Barack Obama without gaining at least some understanding of libertarian economics. That can't be said for most of the reactionary left-liberal wing of the Democratic Party dominating Capitol Hill. But I believe Obama is educable on free markets and I'm convinced that Democrats are ripe for a return in the next decade to the liberalism of our party's founder, Thomas Jefferson (I made this case two years ago in my libertarian Democrat manifesto.)

4. Obama is the best hope for keeping government out of your bedroom and away from your body. As would any Democratic standard-bearer, the senator from Illinois represents the pro-choice, pro-gay rights side of the cultural divide. And he has at least made interesting soundings about reducing America's status as the world's number one jailer, much of which is tied to drug offenses and other crimes without victims. No libertarian can feel comfortable with a Republican candidate who doesn't echo the personal choices demanded by his supposed hero, Barry Goldwater.

5. The hidden hand did well this month punishing stupidity. But libertarians committed to free markets, not corporate oligarchs, must pause to consider the need for field-leveling regulation. More precisely, we should ask whether there was sufficient enforcement of reasonable restraints already in place. We need Republicans to stand against excessive tinkering in markets, of course. But my modest retirement fund may be safer with Democratic regulators in charge than rogue elephants.

6. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Yes, we need to restore America's reputation around the world. Anybody who's traveled beyond the Atlantic and Pacific in the past eight years knows America needs a makeover. Whatever you think of Barack Obama—unless, like the mindless U!S!A! crowd, you don't care what the world thinks—he will restore much of the goodwill we have lost when he raises his hand on January 20, 2009. That's significant for libertarians who believe in the importance of the nation most committed to free markets and free minds—ours—leading by example. More-of-the-McSame in foreign policy is something we can't afford.

7. Finally, Barack Obama is smart enough to follow the aspirations of the Gen Y, Millenials, and Echo Boomers next up on the American political stage. They want choices in both their bank accounts and their bedrooms. I don't have much empirical evidence for that, though the college students I teach suggest that such libertarian leanings are on the rise. After all, a generation growing up with an explosion of mega-data-informed choices literally at its keyboard fingertips will resemble the self-sufficient, liberty-loving founders of the Agrarian Age more than they'll resemble the social welfare liberals of the Industrial Era who gave us one-size-fits-all central authority mandates.

The oldest candidate in American history won't inspire such potentially libertarian change—but the senator from Illinois can. It's change in which you and I can believe, whether or not we believe in any candidate, including Barack Obama.

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Palin McCain

by Terry Michael
September 9, 2008

Onward Christianist Soldiers. USA!
Good news may be bad for the GOP.

The good news for Republicans now safely back in their homes away from the sinful temptations of St. Paul, Minnesota may be some really bad news for a great national political party. The scene at the Xcel Energy Center may have revealed to the broad center of the electorate that a once mighty conservative fusion has been reduced to a few brigades of Christianist Soldiers, backed by a Greek chorus of College Republicans bleating "USA!"

It takes nothing from the surface appeal of Gov. Sarah Palin (Pittbull-Alaska) to acknowledge the internal warfare plaguing Republicans. But not since anti-war Sen. Abraham Ribicoff blasted pro-authoritarian Mayor Richard Daley's police riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention has the nation seen so much self-loathing shouted from the podium of a quadrennial gathering.

The Republican nominee fumbled his septuagenarian way through a god-awful acceptance speech, asserting he'll clean up the mess made by...Republicans. It was fitting that the poster boy for wretched GOP excess, Jack Abramoff, was sentenced to four years on the last day of the party's meeting in Minnesota.

A party with four split personalities needs to be worried about what it revealed to the independents among those record-breaking 40 million viewers of the moose-a-palooza in St. Paul, Alaska.

Career Military Heroes and Unborn Life Lovers were certainly pumped for John McCain and his Brangelina bride, Cindy--who apparently wants to adopt the world. Witnessing her ethereal glow while cradling the Palin baby, those of us not awaiting the Rapture could only wonder, “Which of the 12 steps was that?” Indeed, VFW hats and evangelical bonnets bobbed in delight at the war-and-life-at-any-cost blather from speakers dwarfed before the JumboTronic-by-Sony American flag waving in the pixelated breeze.

But the third wing on the elephant, Goldwater libertarians, have got to be scared outa' their friggin' minds. They were pushed aside by the self-indulgent, authoritarian, Greater Purpose Than Thou Senator John Sidney McCain and his band of prime-enablers: the "compassionate conservatives," who comprise the fourth twig of the Republican Party. These Neo-Cons are the 21st Century version of the 19th Century "we'll run your life for you" Progressives, who came out of the Republican Party and later joined the Democrats--clueless that party founders Jefferson and Madison prized individual liberty and responsibility, not "social justice" distributed by elite experts.

Ms. Palin may have given libertarian Repubs some hope they can believe in, with her pistol-packin' homage to the Second Amendment and anti-tax bromides. But could they really warm to the no abortion, even with rape or incest, mantra? To her proud card-carrying United Steel Workers husband? Or populist attacks on Big Oil that could be voiced by Michael Moore? And what were non-interventionist libertarians to make of the infatuation of 1984's Miss Wasilla with The Bush-McCain War, to which she said she’d proudly send her son Track on September 11 (incredible timing there, Track.)

Of course, big problems face the Democrats in the next two months. Sen. Obama needs serious attitude adjustment in mannerisms that give many the impression he is more elite than street. That is undeserved for a son of a single working mother, but it's what voters seem to intuit more than they see race. A few appearances with some NBA all-stars (phone Michael, Oprah), and maybe a benefit concert by Willie Nelson might yield Barack a little more cred.

And Obama's running-mate, Sen. Joe Biden, could be an even worse choice than some of us imagined. Ms. Palin may serve the pompous windbag from Delaware his comeupance in debate, deflecting the likely condescension of Washington’s favorite “foreign policy expert” with a Reagan-esque, "There you go again, Joe."

However, November 4 is unlikely to be about the vice presidential nominees. The contest for the party faithful is going to turn not on hope or change or experience, but on the near dissolution of the GOP conservative coalition and a powerful desire for victory by the Democratic base, which, with no discernible informing ideology for several decades, has been glued together with personality politics.

No matter how much Republicans try to make the election about Obama, even cognitive dissonance among the undecided can’t submerge all the bad news: the economy, the war, the 8-year disaster at 1600 Pennsylvania.

For the swing voters, who'll ultimately decide the outcome, it will turn on three letters. Not U-S-A, but A-G-E. The final sprint for the undecided 10 percent favors Obama, because the Republican candidate lost his edge, as well as his mythical Maverick way, a very long time ago.

Director of the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism and former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Terry Michael writes at his "libertarian Democrat" blog,

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The Perils of
Hoping Against Hope
How Joe Biden undermines
Obama's campaign for "change"

Terry Michael | August 25, 2008

For free market and free mind types resigned to the political system we've got, not the one we want, Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) cynical choice of Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) as his number two sends a serious wake-up call. Never place much faith in a politician with no discernible political philosophy.

That may seem obvious to most libertarians, who are disposed to seeing career politicians as hacks representing a primal threat to liberty. But for pragmatists like me, who believe there's little choice but to use the give-and-take of a two-party system to squeeze as much personal freedom as possible from conventional politics, the decision by the ingenue from Illinois to choose the senior windbag from Delaware is a cold-water-in-the-face reminder that ideas, not men, are what matter most in determining whether the coercive power of the state constrains or allows individual liberty.

Strip away all the slogans about hope and change. Forget the youthful energy unleashed by a perfectly managed campaign. Set aside the historic opportunity to select a black man as leader of a majority white country. In the end, the single most important factor that moved Democrats to select Barack Obama was his claim that he had the judgment to oppose the war in Iraq from the outset, when his principal opponent, Hillary Clinton, had endorsed it.

In his first test of leadership, however, Sen. Obama tapped the man whose failure of judgment as the Democratic Party's front man on foreign affairs led congressional Democrats into collusion with, rather than principled opposition to, the neoconservatives and their criminal enterprise in Iraq. That decision reveals a politician without a compass.

Know thyself is a pretty good rule of thumb for judging leadership potential. By choosing Biden, Obama tells us he doesn't have much of a clue about himself. Obama's fumbling attempt to balance his perceived weakness on foreign policy demonstrates a pitiful failure of nerve from a candidate who claimed he had solid judgment while the rest of his party exhibited wrong-headed experience. Obama's own choice underscores the problem a large number of voters have with the junior (now apparently very junior) senator from Illinois.

The obvious pick for Obama would have been someone who brought synergy to his ticket, a new face, rather than an old Washington hack favored by the party establishment and by neocons like columnist David Brooks, who wrote glowing praise of Biden just a few days before he was selected. Which isn't surprising, since Biden heads the neocon-lite wing of congressional Democrats, yet tried to back-pedal from his war support in a vain attempt to win the presidential nomination.

Of course, pragmatist that I remain, the alternative to Obama in November is even worse news for the republic: A career militarist infatuated with war-making; the co-author of the massive assault on free political speech known as McCain-Feingold; and a septuagenarian whose mental acuity should be of real concern to voters.

At least Obama's election by a mostly white electorate would end racial politics as we know it, striking a death-blow to the victimology practiced by the affirmative action reparationists who focus their narrow minds on identity groups rather than celebrate individual rights and opportunity.

And, as the Not-George-Bush candidate, the glamorous young black man would doubtless help restore America's reputation around the world.

But can a jilted supporter like me hold his nose and actually vote for Obama? Anger—more like fury—seized me this past weekend and told me no, at least for the time being. In the meantime, my advice to less practical libertarians: ideas do matter. Go with a protest vote for Bob Barr or sit this one out, if that's where your heart and your head lead you.

A former DNC press secretary, Terry Michael directs the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism and writes opinion at his "libertarian Democrat" blog,

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June 30, 2008
libertarian Democrat's predictions...


Just wanted to get my predictions of the past several weeks on record. My April 2007 prognostication of Obama vs. Romney didn't quite make it, but that doesn't stop me from trying again. For the record, I made both the McCaskill and Romney veep predictions to a group of Univ. of Oklahoma summer Washington interns on June 13, had a piece touting McCaskill in Politico June 18, and last week told a senior Romney aide I ran into at the gym (you know who you are!) that he would be re-employed again soon. Just noticed that Mike Allen at Politico was claiming today that Mitt was at the top of the McCain list.

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Will libertarian Barr
be next Nader?

By: Terry Michael
June 26, 2008

The Republican Party and John McCain should be afraid, very afraid, of Bob Barr.

For only the second time since it began running presidential candidates in 1972, the Libertarian Party has a leader who has actually been elected to something (the first being Ron Paul, in 1988, then also a former Republican congressman).

A Republican congressman from Georgia for eight years, Barr has a real constituency in his home state. Combined with a heavy black turnout, the participation of Barr partisans could easily deprive McCain of Georgia’s usually Republican electoral votes.

But Barr goes beyond the one-key-state problem that megalomaniac Ralph Nader caused Democrats in 2000, when the self-righteous, self-styled consumer advocate deprived Al Gore of more than enough chads to lose Florida.

And Barr is a considerably more skilled, articulate campaigner than Paul. Like many children of the ’60s now in our 60s, he has traveled a circuitous route to his libertarian philosophy. He was a military brat, born in Iowa City; grew up in Malaysia, Pakistan, Panama and Iran; and became an anti-Vietnam War Young Democrat in the 1960s, when he studied at the University of Southern California. He then discovered the philosophy of Ayn Rand and joined the Young Trojan Republican Club at USC; he went on to embrace movement conservatism in the 1980s. He rekindled the libertarian side of his conservative inclinations after being involuntarily retired from the congressional Republican Party after his census-redistricted campaign for reelection in 2002.

Like a number of small-government Republicans who came to Washington in the Republican Revolution of 1994, Barr’s separation from the corrupting influences of K Street power led him to rediscover just how much liberty was being sucked out of our personal as well as economic lives in these — to use the well-earned cliché — 10 square miles, surrounded by reality, known as Washington, D.C.

He may be proof that political wisdom can grow when not polluted by the mindless partisanship and seductive careerism that contaminates Capitol Hill.

An anti-drug warrior in the Reagan Department of Justice as well as in Congress, Barr now supports medical marijuana rights and questions neo-Prohibition. The author of the Defense of Marriage Act while in the House, he now opposes the federal constitutional amendment against gay marriage and advocates states’ rights on the issue. A supporter of the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act, Barr now publicly regrets that vote.

Perhaps most remarkable for a man made famous as one of the House managers in the Clinton impeachment, the anti-Iraq-war-Republican-turned-Libertarian recently gave this answer to interviewer Lindsay Campbell when she asked him to choose between George W. Bush and Bill Clinton: “Why you doin’ that to me?” he sighed. But he quickly answered, “I’d have to go with Bill Clinton. Bush has done such damage to freedom, liberty and privacy.” Wow.

As a libertarian Democrat (there are about six of us, I think), but also an Obamamaniac, I certainly appreciate all the support Barr can provide in helping to thwart a third Bush term.

But as a small “l” libertarian, I welcome Barr’s contribution to explaining what the philosophy of free markets and free minds means to voters, who got little sense of it from the personality- and rhetorically challenged Paul.

To be sure, the bespectacled and mustachioed Barr may be too dour for prime time — though not necessarily boring, for those who recall his licking whipped cream off the chest of a woman at a fundraising event several years ago. But he speaks in complete thoughts and succinct sound bites, with occasional flashes of humor. There may be enough gravitas in him to rescue the Libertarian label from the potpourri of wackery that keeps its candidates from breaking the 1.1 percent of the presidential electorate that was its zenith of national vote-getting. That happened in 1980, when Republicans had a self-described libertarian candidate running for president, Ronald Reagan.

With a statist conservative as the GOP standard-bearer this year, Republicans who can’t hold their noses and vote Democratic may find Barr an appealing place to plant their protests against a party that has sold out to a Rove-ing band of “compassionate” big-government “conservatives,” more interested in the perks of power than in principle.

And that has to be welcome news for Barack Obama in several other Southern states and the Rockies and Intermountain West. But good also for those of us who would like to see a contest of ideas in the next five months that goes beyond a silly left/right food fight.

Go, Bob, go!


Terry Michael, director of the nonpartisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, is a former Democratic National Committee press secretary and writes on his blog,

© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC

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McCaskill: Obama's 'Wonder Woman'?

By: Terry Michael
June 18, 2008

Why is no one in the punditocracy talking about Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill as a possible running mate for Barack Obama?

A self-made, 54-year-old Catholic female professional (hmm — sounds like Hillary Rodham Clinton voters), she has won statewide office three times in the fiercely independent Show Me State, without the benefit of a spouse’s coattails.

A former state legislator and state auditor, she is one of only a handful of United States senators who refuse to pander to their constituents by padding the federal budget with those tax-wasting, bridge-to-nowhere earmarks. A tough but reasonable former county prosecutor, she had the guts to take on a sitting Democratic governor for her party’s nomination for that office — and she defeated him, only very narrowly losing the general election in 2004. She then bounced back from that one loss in her career to win her Senate seat in 2006 against Republican incumbent Jim Talent.

A former cheerleader and homecoming queen, a divorced and remarried mother of three, and a stepmother of three more children, McCaskill comes off almost as an Everywoman. And as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, perhaps a Wonder Woman.

Sure, the idea of her as Obama’s running mate is counterintuitive. She’s another senator with little federal experience, and she’s from the Illinois senator’s neighboring Midwestern state.

Oh, but wait. Wasn’t Al Gore a fellow baby-boom-generation Southerner from a neighboring state when Bill Clinton tapped him for the No. 2 spot in 1992? Clinton got synergy, not balance, and it worked.

But I have saved the best argument for last. As someone who for several decades has both practiced and taught the skills needed for effective political communication, I am struck by McCaskill’s huge talent as a thoroughly authentic communicator. She has been showcasing that ability for several months now — ever since, prodded by her 18-year-old daughter, she exhibited the political courage to step out front for Obama when other Democratic women in the Senate took the safe route and endorsed Hillary Clinton.

View some YouTube clips of this woman speaking on Obama’s behalf. Start with her Bill Maher interview, perhaps. Though I realize it’s not good for my emotional or intellectual health, I have watched countless hours of cable babble this past winter and spring, and McCaskill has been one of the rare voices of sanity and reason among the talking-points-scripted verbal food fighters.

She is unflappable, genuine, likable, feminine, strong, warm, articulate, tough. The list of pleasing human attributes could go on and on.

If I were Obama, I’d think seriously about having this former cheerleader boost me in the big campaign pep rally that’s about to begin. She sounds like real change to me.

And she has the depth and breadth of experience to provide the most important quality we should always seek in someone a heartbeat away from the presidency: good judgment. (Would you prefer as a Supreme Court justice a brilliant law professor or an intelligent lawyer who served a term as county sheriff or state’s attorney? The first Cold War president, McCaskill’s fellow Missourian Harry Truman, was served well by a high school diploma and autodidactic knowledge of world and American history.)

Two candidates on the same ticket with good judgment. If I can take a little license with Nirvana’s lyrics, smells like team spirit to me.

Go, Claire, go!

Terry Michael, director of the nonpartisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, is a former Democratic National Committee press secretary and writes for his blog,

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Obama as the
End of Identity Politics
as We've Known It
(And I Feel Fine)

Terry Michael | June 10, 2008

We are nearing the end of American identity politics as we know it.

Bearing that gift to those who prize the individual over the tribal is a messenger who shared a Hyde Park neighborhood with Milton Friedman, though with a public record that suggests he is more statist than classical liberal.

But Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), can’t be categorized that simply. He is, rather, an intellectual and ideological work in progress. Not stuck in cable-babble caricatured time, he may be traveling the circuitous path many “liberal-tarians”--or libertarian Democrats like me--treaded as we grew and found our way back to the self-reliant values that informed our pluralistic democracy.

We lost those values in the Industrial and Progressive eras, when advocates of centralized planning prized society’s perfection over individual liberty. While Obama’s positions don’t exactly channel the Cato Institute, his departure from usual Democratic Party left-liberalism is reflected in the left’s suspicion of him for not having all the 162-point plans of Sen. Hillary Clinton, or spewing the syrupy populism of trial lawyer to the underclass, Sen. John Edwards.

To me, this suggests the beginnings of a journey away from the Great Society mind-set of the Democratic Party. I was a 1960s teenage political junkie who wanted to complete the New Deal, with wealth redistribution and “social justice” managed from Washington. I morphed into a 1980s DLC centrist, embracing mushy “progressive” politics as a halfway house from statist liberalism. Now in my own sixties, I have rediscovered the founder of my party, Thomas Jefferson, in an information era in which we are desktop-empowered to seek our own way and make our own choices, much like the agrarian age inventors of our political system.

I can’t claim to know exactly where Obama is on this ideological continuum. He may not even know. But in his personal evolution, he has moved from the white world of boy Barry in Hawaii and Indonesia, to left-liberal enclaves at Ivy League colleges engaging with young conservatives, to a kind of noblesse oblige organizer bearing the white man's burden (half, in his case) on the streets of Chicago.

He went from a young state legislator too aloof, in too much of a hurry for his colleagues in Springfield, to a failed U.S. House candidacy against former Black Panther Bobby Rush, hobbled by an inability to translate the language of the Harvard Law Review to the vernacular of the street. From that latter experience, he drew lessons allowing him to grow as a politician, hearing and incorporating some of the style of the black preacher—including the one who was to later cause him so much grief. He returned to Springfield after that failed congressional bid a different man.

He seems to be a grounded but still searching, an intellectually curious 46-year-old, with a breadth and depth of life experience that will help him make informed choices in a pluralistic democracy that demands its leaders split a lot of differences.

Compromise is a word doctrinaire libertarians find more appalling than appealing. But there's a lot that is appealing in Barack Obama.

Look at his health care plan. While it certainly won’t satisfy free-market purists, it relies on private insurance coverage, encourages portability and choice, promotes competition, and allows purchase of prescription drugs from other countries. It wasn’t by accident he proposed fewer government mandates for purchasing coverage—and was pummeled for it in every debate by the politician who, back in 1993, seemed to seek personal control of a big chunk of our economy. Though drugs and crime can be political minefields for an urban black candidate who has acknowledged marijuana and cocaine use, Obama has no hard line positions in favor of neo-prohibition and has made promising comments about pulling back from America’s status as one of the world’s most prolific jailers. Immediately, his election will restore America's reputation around the world as an opponent of interventionist elective wars.

But perhaps most important to libertarians, his election will put the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons, and the white identity politics liberals out of business. No longer will they be able to peddle victimology or mau-mau their way through the political landscape, demanding diversity training, minority contracts, or other tribal reparations from bigots they find behind every bush. The myth of unassimilable “minorities” dies when a majority white nation selects a leader “of color,” just as religious social distance was diminished when a majority Protestant country chose a Catholic a half-century before.

There is no perfect leader in the wings. I'll settle for one whose election will signal the end of the world of racial politics as we know it. And, with a nod to R.E.M., I'll feel fine about it.

Terry Michael is director of the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. He came to Washington in 1975 as press secretary to newly elected progressive Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), was a press spokesman (1983-87) for the Democratic National Committee, and now offers “thoughts from a libertarian Democrat” at his blog.

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Self-defeating myths
Democrats must dispel

(it wasn't Willie or the Swift Boat Vets
that defeated us, Barack)

By: Terry Michael

June 2, 2008

As Democrats prepare to do battle with John McCain this fall, we need to dispel two comforting but self-defeating myths about recent failed White House campaigns.

These canards are also shared by many editorial page pontificators, who ascribe 1988 and 2004 losses to crafty Republicans working their negative-advertising black magic, Willie Hortonizing Michael Dukakis and swift-boating John F. Kerry, who were either excessively noble or maybe too slow or too wimpy to fight back.

Evil may have lurked in the souls of those GOP operatives, and Democratic consultants may have been constrained by nominees unwilling to dirty their hands. But it wasn’t why we lost.

What the Republicans really did was to rope a couple of dopes. That’s the lesson Barack Obama should learn from the fate of Dukakis and Kerry. Engage with McCain on things voters care about and talk honestly about what they don’t like about Republicans. But don’t make excuses about dirty GOP tactics to explain why the electorate rejects Democratic candidates, when what voters really eschew then and now is failure of judgment, lack of common sense and intellectual dishonesty.

The 1980s saw a bigger than usual glut of aggressive young males. Motivated by profits from the black market created by a brainless drug war, urban gangbangers were scaring aging children of the Depression known as Reagan Democrats.

So Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, aided by minions in the basement of the Republican National Committee, dredged up a resonant metaphor for everything Reagan Democrats loved to hate about crime-coddling liberals: Willie Horton, the murderer sentenced to life in prison, who pillaged his way through Maryland on a weekend prison pass.

Yet that’s not what really happened.

The Massachusetts program, a rehabilitation effort signed into law in 1972, was applied to convicted murderers by the commonwealth’s Supreme Court, and Dukakis, in his first term as Massachusetts governor, vetoed an attempt to overturn the court. After scores of Pulitzer Prize-winning stories by the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune, the law that allowed Horton his pass was overturned in a bill signed by Dukakis himself on April 28, 1988, after the issue was raised in presidential politics at a Democratic debate April 12 in New York by ... Al Gore! Yes, the same Nobel laureate Hollywood liberals adore, not some fire-breathing, right-wing nut.

But to this day, in the left-liberal imagination, it was Republican racists who did poor Dukakis in.
No. It was Michael Dukakis who did himself in, because he seemed more interested in the privileges of criminals than the rights of victims. If Horton had been a blond, blue-eyed Minnesotan, letting him out on a pass still would have struck voters as taking rehab theory to its illogical conclusion.

That first comforting myth attempts to mask Dukakis’ lack of judgment and common sense (not uncommon in über-rational, otherwise decent men) by demonizing motives of the opposition. The Swift Boat canard goes directly to Kerry’s intellectual dishonesty in trying to have it both ways on the fundamentals of war and peace.

The Beltway Democratic geniuses who gave us Kerry were convinced they needed a military hero to carry an anti-war banner against a war-making weekend warrior.

The best and the brightest among the party elders did their best to push Howard Dean off the stage and nominate Lt. Kerry, who reported for duty in Boston with a speech performance that told the nation everything it needed to know: He was for the war in Vietnam. He was against the war in Vietnam. Just as he voted for the war in Iraq but now he was against the war in Iraq.

Or was he? Because, just weeks later, Kerry said he would have voted for authorizing the war, even if he’d known there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Enter Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, with its smarmy TV spot asking whether Kerry deserved those medals. Hapless voters must have wondered: “If he’s trying to be on both sides of two war debates at the same time, is he really a hero? Is he any better than the dolt who got us into this mess?”

So, Obama, don’t you delude yourself into thinking you win just by being quick to defend yourself against nasty demagogues. Take it right to them. Show no fear. You were right in 2002; McCain is still wrong in 2008. You’ve got judgment. He’s a stubborn old man.

Nobody wins an election, or leads a nation, by talking down to the collective common sense of citizens or by trying to split every difference. Take no comfort in those myths.

Terry Michael, the director of the nonpartisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, is a former Democratic National Committee press secretary and writes for his blog,

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Let the games begin

[Burning Bush on Pennsy Turnpike

-- a sign for the superdelegates?]

By Terry Michael

Article published Apr 22, 2008

Aging stalwarts of America's more secular political party are seeking a sign to deliver us from the presidential primary wilderness, divine intervention to get us out of campaign hell.

The graying wing of the Democratic Party is tired of this marathon. We will encounter our burning bush somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike Tuesday night, even if we have to hallucinate it. Enough is enough. We've heard Sen. Hillary Clinton's claims about taking her fight to the last rodeo in Montana June 3. Yes, Sen. Barack Obama pays obligatory lip service to the right of every Democratic voice to be heard in all eight remaining states, plus Puerto Rico, Guam and galaxies far, far away. Stipulated, some "super delegates" are telling journalists everybody should get to weigh in, even if it takes until July.

Hey, we're Democrats, the inclusive party. That's how we talk.

But most of us want this damn thing over. Use whatever metaphor you like: a nuclear chain reaction reaching critical mass, or a tipping point at which buyers flock to the next new thing. But the Pennsylvania results will be embraced, by super delegates, party elders, average Democrats and an increasingly bored media, as the beginning of the end.

A rush toward Mr. Obama will get underway in the early morning hours of April 23, before we elitist Democrats grab our caramel macchiattos at Starbucks. By the time we reach Whole Foods in the late afternoon of the day after, and before we can put those French lentils with baby carrots into the microwave, the march of super delegates toward ObamaLand will be viewable on our 47-inch flat panel displays, presented by the best political teams in the cable babbling cosmos.

The mathematical impossibility for Mrs. Clinton to be victorious in popular votes, pledged delegates or states has been repeated ad nauseum, and needs no belaboring here. But it will take a miracle to reach the strong double digit victory predicted just weeks ago in Pennsylvania, which couldn't be more perfectly tailored for her focus-group-written biography and the poll-crafted neo-Clinton positions with which she has waged her quest for restoration of power.

Witness the evidence from Pennsylvania.

A blue collar, depressed, older electorate, "Ohio on steroids," and Mrs. Clinton's fourth home state. Has any American politician ever claimed more ancestral geography? To that mix, add incendiary language from Mr. Obama's silly old-guy pastor, cabled and YouTubed throughout cheese steak and Steelers land, along with the senator's poorly chosen, elitist-sounding words in San Francisco (though one should be skeptical of media elites interpreting elitism).

Yet, Mrs. Clinton's numbers have plummeted in the Keystone State, where her assets have been laser-focused and Mr. Obama's liabilities have been revealed since primary voters were last heard from March 11 in Mississippi. Just a week before Pennsylvanians were to vote, instead of a deficit of two dozen points, at least one poll showed Mr. Obama several digits ahead and two others calculated he was no more than 4 points behind (not that anyone should believe any polls this year). Obviously, if he ekes out even a one percent victory, the race is over. But if the former First Lady claims anything less than a 10-point lead, she should be regarded as toast.

The clear and present danger for Democrats allowing the battle to proceed past Pennsylvania was reflected in an amazing strategy memo — so off the wall it may have been written tongue-in-cheek — published in The Washington Post recently by Douglas Schoen, the estranged polling partner of former Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn.

Mr. Schoen asserted that Mrs. Clinton " needs to completely abandon her positive campaign and continue to hammer away at Obama," contending that "[though] Clinton is acutely conscious... too many personal attacks will hurt her party in November, a positive message is simply not enough to alter the race at this point." That cynical prescription appeared the same day the same newspaper released polling numbers revealing, "Today, more Americans have an unfavorable view of her than at any time since The Post and ABC began asking the question, in 1992."

It is over. The sign is upon us, flashing brightly. To put it bluntly, the Democratic Party is not going to thumb its nose at history and deny the nomination to a black candidate in favor of a woman with Mrs. Clinton's baggage. Get ready for Obamamania, Mr. McCain.

Terry Michael, a former press secretary at the Democratic National Committee, is director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. (

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Ms. Saturday Night

by Terry Michael
February 26, 2008

Ms. Saturday Night’s Desperation
Flailing Away with Bloodless Process Liberalism

A final flailing maneuver of losing Democratic candidates seems to be embracing bloodless Process Liberalism--non-substantive gruel ladled by operatives so addled by failure they start confusing the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and aging Baby Boom political reporters with actual participants in primaries and caucuses.

Like the sagging Billy Crystal character reduced to working nursing homes, Hillary Inc. has become “Ms. Saturday Night.” Failing to connect with voters on her “experience” and her “solutions,” Ms. Clinton has now been reduced to pushing the hot buttons of wrinkled left liberals in the Washington ethics industry, and fifty- and sixty-something journalists whose first big presidential campaign was circa 1988, or somewhere in that century.

So, the First Lady-in-Chief is now:

--Demanding more debates, which we’ve endured ad nauseam, and which have devolved into info-mercials for cable TV networks.

--Assaulting the Senator from Hope (expressed in verklempt, New York-ish mock disbelief) for not promising in February, to the Republican half of the McCain-Feingold attack on political speech, that he’ll agree to stick taxpayers with the bill for the November campaign.

--And claiming her opponent is copping speech phrases from another politician, as Joe Biden was charged with way back in 1987.

Some of us have seen this movie before.

Return to yesteryear, fellow old people, and you’ll recall how Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, being liberal-ly defined by the Bush 41 campaign, approved a 30-second spot he thought would be a bigger killer than Willie Horton. Selected from scores produced by dozens of frustrated media consultants, “They want to sell you a package. Wouldn't you rather choose a President?” was tapped by the Massachusetts process liberal as his idea of what would turn on the electorate. “Those unfair, nasty Republicans,” seemed to be Dukakis’ “message” to voters, who were more interested in urban crime and the last days of the cold war than the naughtiness of Bush’s message makers.

So, let’s de-construct Ms. Clinton’s attempts to pander to the goo-goo (=“good government”) process concerns of lefties and blurry memories of a geriatric press corps.

Obama wouldn’t debate for the entertainment of eat-cheese-or-die types. Correct. He was too busy talking directly to them, camping out in Wisconsin after the Potomac primaries, while Ms. Clinton’s only presence in the state was her 30-second spot claiming he wouldn’t debate in Velveeta-land. Refusing to debate for the 675th time? Workers of Madison unite!

He should be held to his “promise” to get the Senator from McCain-Feingold to act like...well, the Senator from McCain-Feingold, and practice virtuous campaigning at taxpayer expense. Hello! Is Hillary declaring the primaries over, advantage Barack, time to start general election negotiations? Absolute nonsense, it needs no further verbal bludgeoning here. (Disclosure: this libertarian Democrat writer despises McInsane-Feinbull, though he personally prefers Sen. Obama, who needs re-education on that subject.)

And, finally....

He is plagiarizing Deval Patrick. This is a silly attempt by the Clinton camp to jerk the chains of scribbling codgers who covered the first attempt of the Mouth of Wilmington to ascend to Leader of the Free World in 1987. If you’re under 35, Google it and you’ll learn that Irish-American Sen. Joseph Biden attempted to re-cycle lines from the “Welsh Windbag,” British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.

But, as Sen. Biden learned and Sen. Clinton is learning, it ain’t the meat, it’s the emotion that counts when orating and selling 10-point proposals. Leadership is not about making plans. It’s about creating followers.

And, if you think you just had an original thought or came up with a beautiful piece of language, Google that, too, and see how many other great minds think alike. As someone who spent 17 years as a press secretary, never once--shockingly!--was I credited publicly for a line I wrote. It’s called ghost-writing and doesn’t have a thing to do with plagiarism. It’s exactly what Sen. Clinton did in her tear-jerking close in the Texas debate, when she lifted a riff from both her husband and John Edwards.

“Mr. Saturday Night” certainly is not a perfect analogy for Bill and Hill’s big come-back attempt, but viewing the DVD may be more useful than spending too much of your time watching any of The Best Political Reporting Teams in the Cable Babble Universe, if you wish to understand why it is over for Ms. Saturday Night.
A former DNC press secretary, “libertarian Democrat” Terry Michael teaches journalism students about politics, and writes personal opinion at

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Article published Feb 8, 2008, Oped Page
McCain: The John Kerry of '08

Kerry McCain
PhotoGraphic by Terry Michael
(not published in Washington Times)

by Terry Michael

The deal wasn't completely sealed on Super Tuesday, but the Republican Party seems suicidally set on nominating its own John Kerry in 2008, further depressing a despondent base, while offering little to the center on the defining issues of this election, ending the war and reviving the economy.

In early January 2004, I ran into a reporter friend and lamented, as a partisan Democrat, that we were about to nominate the worst possible candidate for president, a have-it-every-way legislator who supported the war in Iraq.

"Oh no," my journalist friend protested. "He's got Vietnam War hero credentials, and foreign policy experience." It was a perfect reflection of received wisdom shared by the Democratic political establishment, which looked in the mirror and saw Mr. Kerry, and a capital-based press corps, living near and quoting the usual suspects.

It was not the ideological base of the party coming to the aid of John Kerry. The party's anti-war core had boosted Howard Dean to front-runner status. It was the Democrats' K Street wing, which, like Mr. Kerry, had supported the neo-cons' elective venture into Mesopotamia, and which was deluding itself into believing the center of American politics could be reached with a candidate simultaneously for and against the war.

A similar scenario is now playing itself out among the pragmatic, interest-group dominated, Beltway-based Republican Party establishment (not to be confused with the party's ideological base), desperately trying to hold onto power which has corrupted them. Gasping for four more years, their desperation came through clearly in this recent assault from the GOP establishment. "He doesn't play by the same rules the rest of us do," said Charlie Black, a senior McCain strategist, to The New York Times Jan. 24.

Indeed, Mitt Romney doesn't play by the rules of the GOP power brokers, which Mr. Black, a quintessential Washington lobbyist, so perfectly embodies. Mr. Romney is a governor, the breed of politician, along with generals and some vice presidents and cabinet members, who Americans have almost always elected president.

Only three times in history have we selected someone directly out of Congress: James Garfield in 1880; Warren Harding in 1920; and, the only time in the candidate-centered, media-driven political era, Kennedy in 1960.

That last time is instructive to the 2008 race, because Democrats now have a better than even chance of nominating JFK-like Barack Obama, who can transcend the baggage that comes with being a split-every-difference legislator without executive experience.

Republicans understood clearly in 1996 how much burden comes with sitting-senator credentials when they talked the ultimate creature of Congress, Bob Dole, into resigning his seat before the party convention.

The collective groan of the Republican status quo, a noise inflated by a McCain-loving media, is now rushing to the aid of one of their own, his press-driven "independent" image not withstanding.

Of course, Mr. Romney has to live with the media narrative (left over from 2004) into which his "flip flops" played. He hired some of the same Rove-ing band of GOP operatives whose minds were stuck in the 1980s, when the religious right was more appealing to a Depression Era center and was entering its love-hate relationship with the libertarian and Main Street-Wall Street wings of the GOP.

Had Mr. Romney used his status as the monogamist in the race, with five vibrant sons, to reflect "family values," he could have focused from the beginning on his strengths, executive leadership and free-market prowess.

But he committed the ultimate press sin of apparent hypocrisy, changing his mind on gay rights, abortion and the 2nd Amendment, issues that matter most to cable-babbling talking heads. Never mind that the press favorite, the senator from The Daily Show, had blasted Jerry Falwell and then went to Liberty University to grovel before him.

No, the media's favorite "maverick" was the co-author of their beloved McCain-Feingold, an assault on free political speech that should be an embarrassment to anyone in the press corps who takes the First Amendment seriously.

The psycho-graphic landscape of the 2008 campaign is increasingly being defined by the Barack Obama Movement, not Clinton, Inc., energizing the Democratic base and appealing to the center with demands to end the war and revive the economy, move into a hopeful future and change politics as usual. In that environment, the other party seems to be preparing to nominate a standard bearer who: (1) appears to be satisfied with 100 more years of war, (2) lacks any significant free-market economic plans, and (3) at 71 is all about the past.

And he is someone whose libertarian and socially and culturally conservative party base literally can't stand him.

Go figure.


Terry Michael, who served as press secretary to the Democratic National Committee, is director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism.

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by Terry Michael
January 28, 2008 (revised, 6:55 pm EST)

Play the dynasty card now, Barack.
The presidency is not a family business
(as Teddy learned in 1980)

Any smart sixty-year-old woman with “35 years of experience” living with a man as self-obsessed as Bill Clinton is certainly entitled to some kind of compensation for bearing that burden.

But inheriting leadership of the free world?

That seems a bit much to many of us with old fashioned ideas about power belonging to the people, rather than being mere chattel handed down by divine right of old world kings or their modern pretenders to power on this side of the Atlantic, who wear Kennebunkport and Little Rock coats of arms.

I’m no Constitutional expert, but I feel safe asserting the presidency was never intended to be a family business. And it’s certainly not a stage on which the American people should have to suffer a sequel to that 1990's psycho drama acted out by a dysfunctional Arkansan family--especially after enduring the troubles Bush 43 got us into with his “higher father”-directed attempt to emerge from the shadow of 41.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, who endorsed Barack Obama today, learned the hard way in 1980 that he couldn't pass a family torch to himself. The voters wanted something very new that year, a major new direction, which they got with the Reagan revolution.

So, Barack, it’s time to play the dynasty card.

Nobody’s going to fault you for saying it outright. Obviously, you were not to the manner born. You are leading a movement--white, black, brown and more, male and female, gay and straight--which sees the worth of each liberty loving individual as the inspiration for, and strength of our pluralistic democracy.

Courtesans attending the regents Bill and Hillary are seeking a restoration of power for themselves. They demand it. They believe they deserve it. You represent the rest of us, Senator Obama, and you need not be shy about making your charge clear–-no matter how down ‘n dirty our First Black President wants to get in order to restore himself to that real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This election isn’t a black thing or an ethnic thing or a woman thing for the millions of us who share the political party legacy of Jefferson and his focus on individuals rather than groups. As you know so well, as the Tiger Woods of American politics, this is about seeing ourselves in each other and giving us common hope in which to believe again, not with a restoration of an old order, or elevation of a new tribe, but with a very American, we’re-all-in-this-together sense of renewal.

Kick our old baby boomer asses off the stage Barack, and consign those dynasty pretenders and identity politics offenders to the dust bins of history.

Thanks to Bill Clinton's desperation to return to 1600 Pennsylvania, the psycho-geography of the Democratic primary campaign landscape is now prepared to receive the message that America doesn't need another four or eight years of dynastic politics.

Director of the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, Terry Michael writes personal opinion at his "thoughts from a libertarian Democrat" blog,

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TigerObama MittCleaver
Terry Michael picto-graphic

Tenacity of Hope, Failure of Fear
(post-Iowa, it's still
Obama vs. Romney in November)

by Terry Michael
January 5, 2008

All victories are not created equal.

Barack Obama’s thundering triumph in Iowa, capped with one of the most inspirational speeches in the modern history of presidential primary politics, is being undervalued by a media that collectively wants a continuing death match with the vaunted Clinton, Inc.

And a press corps that has never understood the ultimate appeal of Mitt Romney as a general election candidate is way over-stating the modest success of Mike Huckabee’s one-hit-wonder in Iowa.

Not only was Obama a giant slayer.  His victory makes it clear 2008 will be even more about hope than it already is about change.  Democrats won’t nominate a cold, well-financed set of calculated issue positions, literally married to the past.  Voters seek in a national leader either a strong father figure, or, in a feminist 21st Century political era, a warm mothering president.  Hillary Clinton is neither.  Barack Obama is both.  The race for the Democratic nomination is over.

Hardly worth a footnote is the second place finish of the self-styled trial lawyer for the middle, and sometimes underclass.  John Edwards got as good as he’s going to get in Iowa, for a tired populist message about one-size-fits-all, industrial era, central government wealth re-distribution.  That has no traction with a 21st century information age electorate that seeks desktop-empowered choice in both their bedrooms and bank accounts.

The Illinois senator’s victory both settles the Democratic contest and informs the Republicans’.

Romney now fills the press’s come-back-kid narrative, a successful businessman with appeal to anti-tax Republicans in neighboring New Hampshire, where the lagging indicator of the Republican Party, evangelical Christians, have no influence.  Christian conservatives are a heavy weight for the previously plump preacher from Arkansas, not a divine blessing.

Now that Obama has defined the November election, there’s no way Republicans can nominate the fear-mongering antithesis of hope, Mayor Mussolini-in-drag, Rudy Giuliani.  Nor will they embrace the stubborn stasis of John McCain, when the war in Iraq will still be at center stage this Fall.

Mitt Romney, with a hopeful Reagan-esque smile show-cased with his Olympic game face Thursday night in Iowa, will be the last man left standing -- even if he loses narrowly in New Hampshire -- in a party with no choice but to nominate its own best bet for hope and renewal.

Director of the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, Terry Michael writes personal opinion at his “libertarian Democrat” blog,

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Tiger Woods Ward Cleaver
(picture-graphic by Terry Michael)

2008 prediction....
Tiger Obama vs. Mitt Cleaver

by Terry Michael
January 1, 2008

Hope and heritage.

Those two words suggest why the 2008 finalists in the race for Leader of the Free World, after the early caucus and primary dust settles, are likely to be Tiger Woods and Ward Cleaver--though you may know them as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Too much has been made this year of “change” as the quality sought in candidates for president. It is to state the obvious that voters want out of the boxes, both foreign and domestic, into which an under-qualified president has put the country.

To be sure, stasis, no matter how comforting it may be to those unable to admit a mistake, is not an option for the swing voters of 2008, no matter how hard the stubbornly independent John McCain argues for staying the course, or how much the authoritarian Mayor Mussolini-in-drag attempts to verbally strong arm us (“The Terrorists! The Terrorists! The Terr....") into believing only he can stay the curse of the evil do-ers (just like he did in his own City of New York?)

Southern hucksters like Sen. Trial Lawyer to the Underclass Edwards and Gov. Music But Not Evolution Huckabee cleverly talk about change, with slick language reminiscent of the ever-beguiling William Jefferson Clinton, who can seduce women, men, pets and perhaps even inanimate objects, but to whom truth remains a stranger. (He was against the war from the beginning? Sure he was.)

But change, like “experience,” is just a chilly buzz word, a bloodless message-oid peddled by political consultants advising calculated candidacies like that of Hillary, Inc., at a time in our political history when anxious, data-pummeled voters need a warm, comfortable human connection to the past, and a safe passage to a better future for the kids.

And that’s where Tiger and Ward come in.

Obama, like Tiger Woods, is Everyman. Literally. Some DNA from column A, and some from column B. A little of you, and some of me. Seeking a connection to a mixed race past, and experiencing a solid grounding in the present, with a strong, successful partner. And audaciously hoping for a better future not only for his two little girls, but for a tribe of Americans whose time doesn’t have to be later, but can be here and now.

Romney, like wholesome Leave It to Beaver TV father Ward Cleaver, is grounded in a stable “get-married, get-kids, get-a-bank-account, and then, give something back” American style of noblesse oblige. It’s advice he took from his everyman father, anchored in a personal belief system that is all about connecting generations, with five vibrant sons from a woman with rather remarkable courage and strength.

Dismiss, if you will, a perhaps too saccharine psycho-graphic case for the outcome of a very imperfect national leadership selection process, which (none-too-soon) will see prognostication displaced by actual caucusing in the living rooms of Des Moines and real voting in fire houses that serve as polling places in Manchester.

But I would submit that something unusual is about to happen in a political environment in which voters are weary of calculation and artifice, satirized so well on those cable comedy fake news shows. Americans, particularly younger ones, are craving the real deal--witness the phenomenon of the flawed-but-authentic messenger, Dr. Ron Paul.

Both of our political parties may be about to nominate two warm, likeable humans, each of whom at least seems to possess most of the qualities of leadership we should always be seeking. Enough history-informed intelligence to make good judgments. The moral authority to command follower-ship. A level of personal happiness that can sustain a president through burdens placed on any White House occupant. The ability to articulate and mass communicate a vision to the rest of us. And--most important--the WILL to lead, to spend political capital for a larger-than-self national purpose.

It’s been awhile since both Democrats and Republicans nominated candidates with that whole package of leadership qualities, in the same election.

I believe it’s about to happen, regardless of what those mis-leading national polls would lead you to believe. And such an outcome offers hope to those of us who were dazzled by the transition from the old to the new in 1960, but who find ourselves a little cynical about politics as we begin to experience our own sixties.


A former Democratic National Committee press secretary, Terry Michael is executive director of the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism and writes personal opinion at his “libertarian Democrat” blog,

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by Terry Michael
July 31, 2007

Clinton won battle. Obama will win war.

The dust-up over junior Sen. Barack Obama's big slip on the foreign policy banana peel in the CNN/YouTube marketing venture "debate" and former first lady in chief Hillary Rodham Clinton's faux shock at Obama's comparing her to George W. Bush for her vote in favor of the Iraq war may have scored Clinton first-round points on who is best equipped to face off against the world's bad guys. But it might be Obama who is going to rope-a-dope in round three or four.

If the specter of years 2009 to 2017 of the Bush-Clinton dynasties continues to scare voters away from the inevitability of Clinton II, the stubbornness similarity between Hillary and Lil' Bush could add serious fuel to that fire while reminding Democrats of Clinton's pro-war vote.

Just a few months ago, the Achilles high heel of the senator from New York was her refusal to apologize to anti-war lefties for voting to authorize Bush's elective misadventure into Mesopotamia.

Like the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the former resident just couldn't bring herself to admit she had ever done anything stupid with regard to authorizing the geographically misplaced attack on The Terrorists. She acted on the best intelligence she had at the time, the apparently brainwashed but über-intelligent, foreign-policy-experienced Clinton protested in her unapologetic reaction to the Daily Kos-acks and others in the noninterventionist wing of the Democratic Party base.

Let's just move on, Sen. Clinton conveniently insisted, as she attempted to recast herself from tough Armed Services Committee warrior princess in 2003 to strong, have-it-both-ways feminist peacemaker in time to claim her rightful crown in 2008. (If you thought Annie Leibovitz had problems with Elizabeth of Windsor and her outfits, just picture poor Annie trying to deal with Her Majesty from Westchester and all the ideological wardrobe changes she's gone through.)

If I were Obama consultant David Axelrod -- or even the water boy in that corner of this slugfest -- I would be pounding away at Sen. Clinton's obstinacy as the best way to question the awesomely poor judgment she and so many other neo-con-lite Democrats in the Senate showed in writing a blank check for this misprojection of American military power.

I'm no foreign policy expert, just a humble teacher of college journalists, but I knew a WMD marketing ploy when I saw one. I recognized that Saddam Hussein was a two-bit thug like Charles Taylor of Liberia, not Osama bin Laden. And without a day in the United States -- or even the Illinois state -- Senate and having never attended a single World Affairs Council luncheon, I had read enough about the tribal culture of the Arab world to understand we couldn't spread individual-liberty-loving pluralistic democracy in a state where Islamists demand a rigid theocracy.

So why didn't a woman with all of that self-proclaimed international affairs wisdom know enough not to vote for this war? And why can't she bring herself to say she was wrong?

Were I Obama, who opposed the madness from the beginning, I would hammer Clinton from Manchester, N.H., to Des Moines, Iowa, and from Columbia, S.C., to Reno, Nev., with a demand to know why she isn't woman enough to humbly express regret for such amazing misjudgment.

Obama made a stupid mistake in not qualifying an otherwise sane acknowledgment that he'd be willing to talk with our enemies. But that error of omission in the heat of a piece of cable TV theater pales in comparison to Clinton's complicity in sending thousands of young Americans to their deaths in the desert.

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July 25, 2007

John Edwards:
Trial Lawyer to the Underclass

By Terry Michael

Just when I thought I was about to lose my lunch over recent gushing reviews of John Edwards' anti-poverty agenda, first by The Economist and then by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, the ONION came to the rescue.

"John Edwards Vows to End All Bad Things by 2011," America's self-described "finest news source" reported in its lead story. In an imaginary dispatch from Ames, Iowa, the ONION revealed the North Carolina presidential candidate is trying to jump-start his faltering campaign with "a promise to eliminate all unpleasant, disagreeable, or otherwise bad things from all aspects of American life by the end of his second year in office."....

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[Hope springs electoral in 2008. Fear fails.]

July 19, 2007, Page A21

Presidential Hopefuls
by Terry Michael

In the summer silly season of presidential politics, it doesn't seem unreasonable to consult dead English poets for campaign message strategy.

I can only imagine the fees, but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. Barack Obama have wisely engaged Alexander Pope. And the bard is soundly advising them that hope springs eternal in the breasts of voters.

Common sense, yes. But when citizens across these fruited plains express collective wisdom in the caucuses, primaries and general election next year, they're more apt to be guided by hopeful aspirations than they are to be enchanted with September 11 fear-mongers, Little Rock dynasty pretenders, uber-ambitious trial lawyers and increasingly pathetic Straight Talk Express re-treads. (Why doesn't he just take a well-deserved hero's rest, with occasional appearances on "The Daily Show"?)......
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Pious Democrats, meet your maker
(Mr. Thomas Jefferson, who would advise you to keep that church-state wall intact)

by Terry Michael
June 6, 2007 -

If you publicly pious candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination could look up from your talking points for a moment, I'd like to introduce you to the founder of our party -- our earthly father, if you will, Thomas Jefferson. Consider some of President Jefferson's views on religion and politics, which he expressed in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence ... a wall of separation between church and state."

Apparently, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) all decided they did, indeed, owe an accounting of their personal religious beliefs -- a televised recitation, in fact -- to an audience assembled Monday at George Washington University by the left-liberal-worthy Rev. Jim Wallis and channeled through a television anchor aptly (or at least euphoniously) named Soledad O'Brien.

The front-runners' pandering to "people of faith" is the latest expression of Religion Lite advocated by the consultant wing of the Democratic Party.....

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Aging Boomers

Face-to-face with mortality and 2008

by Terry Michael
April 5, 2007, Page A17

    Many of us who came of age in the baby-booming, youth culture-obsessed, politically charged 1960s have been hectored by recent headlines to face another inconvenient truth: our own mortality.

    Possible first lady Elizabeth Edwards, born in 1949, and presidential press secretary Tony Snow, delivered for his first briefing in 1955, remind us that no one gets off this planet alive.

     About to enter my own 60s in June, I regularly bore my twenty-something political journalism students with hallucinations about uploading the contents of my brain to the nano-engineered youthful body of my choice, as soon as the singularity is here. (I read a lot of Ray Kurzweil.) So, it's more than a little disconcerting for us health fanatic, wrinkled-and-Botoxed flower children to be confronted in political news with the specter of our final days....
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Unplug Your
Mitt-Wit Advisers, Governor!
by Terry Michael, February 22, 2007

How can Gov. William Jefferson Clinton Romney get out of the flip-flop box his Mitt-wit advisers have consulted him into?

Asking myself that simple question, I was fortunate to run into a pollster friend, Tom Riehle, who had part of the answer. “He needs to collapse.”

“Yes!” I said, abandoning the Life Cycle VersaTrainer on which I planned my usual 30 minutes of cardio. “And follow that with a redemptive epiphany worthy of Joseph Smith on magic mushrooms!”....
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Published February 15, 2007 in
Washington's newest crack for political junkies....

Smitten with Mitt TV

by Terry Michael

To experience why former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may be a better than even bet for next Leader of the Free World, point your web browser toward “Mitt TV,” the streaming video site of Mitt Romney's presidential exploratory committee.

“Experience” is key here, because you won’t get an understanding of his appeal from the print journalism caricature of telegenic (but Mormon) family values conservative (but Mormon) elected in liberal Massachusetts (in spite of being Mormon).

No one else in either party’s field of presidential wannabes comes close to Romney’s communication skill and executive presence.......
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by Terry Michael
Monday, November 6, 2006

When the results are in Tuesday....
GOP Evangelicals to Render Unto Caesar.
Democrats' Cold War Ghost Exorcized.

The results of the 2006 mid-term election, if they’re anything close to predictions, will suggest two near-seismic changes in the national political landscape.

Evangelical Christians, after three decades of dabbling in politics, are ready--perhaps even eager--to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are not the Republican Party’s.

And the Democrats’ Cold War “soft-on-defense” ghost will be exorcized, a scarecrow image that has been propped up in the fields of American politics for years, not only by Republicans but by the foreign policy neo-conservative Democratic minority, which colluded in the Iraq War.......

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Immigration Reform Stumbles as Inarticulate President Bumbles
(Bush's "‘splain yourself, Lucy" problem)

Inarticulate on Immigration
Bush fails to gain the lead in the debate

By Terry Michael
May 18, 2006

There are many reasons President Bush’s approval ratings have sunk to Carter and Nixonian depths, but not least is his “‘splain yourself, Lucy” problem with English as his first language.

Mass-mediated politics demands that a leader be able to articulate, in simple and evocative terms, both policy and vision. Think FDR’s radio chats with the country, Kennedy’s televised press conferences and Reagan’s masterful State of the Union performances.

Mr. Bush is paying a political price for this deficit of leadership on one of the few things he’s gotten almost right lately, immigration reform. He can’t seem to explain himself any better than could the hapless, but well-intentioned, TV wife to her 1950s Latino immigrant husband. Instead of broadening public support with a clear, principled, history-informed case for liberal immigration policy, Mr. Bush’s poll-driven address Monday night muddled the debate even more by introducing the specter of a militarized border......

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by Terry Michael, December 21, 2005
Beltway Rap on Romney: Wrong!

The Beltway rap on the presidential prospects of retiring Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was predictable.

The Washington Post’s report on Romney’s announcement last week that he wouldn’t seek a second term concluded with these observations, which probably would be echoed by nine out of ten members of the Washington political class, and the media types who reflect their conventional wisdom:

“On his side,” the Post reporter concluded, “Romney does have good looks, charisma and a proven ability to win in the bluest of states. But he would face significant political hurdles, including his lack of foreign policy experience and a resume that includes just one term in elected office.” read the complete text, choose either:
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Americans Don't Elect
Sitting Legislators President

Published on, October 26, 2004
By Terry Michael

Forget the tracking polls and micro-analysis of a handful of targeted states. Our political history provides a pretty clear clue as to why conflicted voters will break for Bush in the closing days of the 2004 campaign.

Americans almost never choose a sitting legislator as leader of the free world. We've done it just three times: James A. Garfield in 1880, Warren G. Harding in 1920 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. They all died in office and combined served only five of 216 years of the presidency..... read the complete text, choose either:
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Nieman Reports / Spring 2004
Why Political Journalism Fails
at Handicapping the Race

By Terry Michael
Money, ads, staff and calendar. Those themes dominate much of political journalism in the months before a presidential election cycle really kicks in. And they are pushed by reporters acting as horserace handicappers, trying to determine the main contenders and which candidates have what it takes to win the nomination and even the fall election.

It’s a kind of “supply-side” approach to political reporting. Figure out who has the most money, the cleverest commercials,the most seasoned operatives, the advantages of early caucus and primary dates—and reporters have the data they think they need to predict likely winners.... read the complete text:
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The Democratic Party's
Presidential Nominating Process

The following paper was written for the Democratic National Committee (where I worked as press secretary in the mid-1980's) as a public information document, beginning with the 1988 nominating process, and revised for 1992, 1996, and (the revision below) 2000. While it focuses on Democrats, the first part of it (the first few paragraph are presented below) -- "Notes on the history of... The Democratic Party's Presidential Nominating Process" -- is an overview applicable to the historic and modern nominating processes for both major parties. The long section that follows -- "Delegate Selection Rules" -- is a detailed look at the history of national Democratic Party nominating rules that have evolved since the beginning of the party's "reform era," which began after the 1968 convention . Anyone making use of this information should contact the Democratic National Committee Rules & By-Laws office for changes in the process that have occurred since the 2000 cycle.

Notes on the history of...
The Democratic Party's
Presidential Nominating Process

By Terry Michael

The U.S. Constitution says nothing about partisan nomination of presidential candidates or even political parties, which developed—despite the low esteem in which they were held by many of the founding fathers—from the constitutional philosophy, issue, personality, and geography-based factions that materialized in Congress and in state legislatures during the country’s first decades.... read the complete text:
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