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Starting Gate: Our Politics, They Are A Changing?

3618384The funny thing about "change" is that it's always an option. The tricky part about it is that it's much easier said than done. Barack Obama today will deliver a speech, billed as a closing argument, aimed at locking down a victory in Iowa that could well catapult him to the Democratic nomination.

In a speech in Mason City yesterday, Obama delivered a preview, focusing on change. He recalled his announcement, last February, in Springfield, Illinois, standing in the steps of Abraham Lincoln. "We felt that we might be able to not just change political parties in the White House," Obama said about the effort launched that day, "but that we might be able to change our politics. That was our bet and now 10 months later that faith has been vindicated, 10 months later what people said couldn't be done, we might do."

Nobody would argue that Obama has brought something unique into the campaign. Aside from the obvious issue of race, Obama has the kind of insurgent persona that has been mostly missing in presidential politics in recent decades. And if "change" is defined simply by the emergence of a fresh face, Obama certainly qualifies. But it's less clear how, as he claims, our politics have changed in any fundamental way and it remains doubtful that his party is truly seeking such a shift.

About the most radical policy shift Obama has proposed thus far in the campaign has been his stated willingness to sit down face-to-face with adversarial foreign leaders from nations like North Korea and Iran. He talks about throwing the lobbyist money changers out of the national temple (or at least scooting them down the table) and proposes stiffer lobbying restrictions for his administration.

But after decades of tit-for-tat retributions and bitter partisanship, are activists in either party ready to lay down their arms and just get along? Do Democrats want to elect a president who will work with Republicans or are they looking more for someone who will throw themselves into correcting the wrongs they perceive to have been perpetrated by eight years of Republican rule? Is the change they seek more a change in policy than a change of "our politics?" And wouldn't any of the Democratic candidates deliver it?

It's unclear just how much "our politics" can change in the present environment. Real divisions exist on real issues – foreign policy, the makeup of the judiciary, taxes, national security, immigration and social values to name just a few. Not all of them break down strictly along party lines but most are fodder for the talk shows, blogs and shouting matches that have come to dominate American political discussion. And none will be decided without a fight.

Ronald Reagan promised a new "morning in America," George H.W. Bush imagined a "kinder, gentler" nation, Bill Clinton pledged a "bridge to the 21st Century" and George W. Bush vowed to "change the tone" of Washington. Now, Obama touts his ability to "change our politics." In his closing argument, will he say how?

Unfriendly Neighbors: Mitt Romney's taking a beating from some of New Hampshire's biggest newspapers. The former Massachusetts governor was excoriated in an editorial by the Concord Monitor, which wrote: "When New Hampshire partisans are asked to defend the state's first-in-the-nation primary, we talk about our ability to see the candidates up close, ask tough questions and see through the baloney. If a candidate is a phony, we assure ourselves and the rest of the world, we'll know it. Mitt Romney is such a candidate. New Hampshire Republicans and independents must vote no."
The Romney campaign shoved aside the blast, noting that the paper has an ideological edge. "The Monitor's editorial board is regarded as a liberal one on many issues, so it is not surprising that they would criticize Governor Romney for his conservative views and platform," campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said.

Today, the Manchester Union-Leader, a decidedly non-liberal newspaper, followed up with an editorial of its own: "In this primary, the more Mitt Romney speaks, the less believable he becomes. That is why Granite Staters who have listened attentively are now returning to John McCain. They might not agree with McCain on everything, as we don't, but like us, they judge him to be a man of integrity and conviction, a man who won't sell them out, who won't break his promises, and who won't lie to get elected."

The Union-Leader has endorsed McCain – as have the two major Boston newspapers.

Some Details Finally Emerge On Rudy's Health: Rudy Giuliani's personal physician, Dr. Valentin Fuster, yesterday vouched for the former mayor's health after a week of questions surrounding Giuliani spent a night in the hospital with "flu-like symptoms." In a statement released by the campaign, Fuster said Giuliani was sent to the hospital complaining of a severe headache and that the decision was made in order to "err on the side of caution." Fuster said Giuliani was given a CT-MRI of the brain, an ultrasound of the carotid arteries, and spinal fluid evaluation. "These tests all came back normal," he said. Fuster also said that a recent PSA test given to the prostate cancer survivor was normal and that after returning to New York Giuliani underwent a transesophageal echocardiogram which was normal. "It is my medical opinion that Rudy Giuliani is in very good health," Fuster concluded.

Around The Track

  • The New York Times reports John Edwards' campaign might have had an inkling of independent "527" advertising efforts on his behalf. Edwards has called on the SEIU to stop running TV ads in Iowa, but the Times reports: "The Edwards campaign may have expected the support of the group, Alliance for a New America, set up by a local of the Service Employees International Union. An Oct. 8 e-mail message circulated among the union leaders who created the group suggests that they were talking with Edwards campaign officials about 'what specific kinds of support they would like to see from us' just as they were planning to create an outside group to advertise in early primary states with 'a serious 527 legal structure.'"
  • Hillary Clinton says perceptions that she can't work with Republicans are false. "There were a lot of people who said ... I would never be able to work with the Republicans and certainly the Republicans wouldn't work with me," she said in Iowa yesterday. "But that's not how I see public service. I believe you have a job to do and that job required finding common ground wherever possible, standing your ground when you must." To jump-start that search for common ground, Clinton added, "it has been embarrassing to see what has happened under the George Bush presidency." Republicans must be lining up to join hands.
  • One of the lessons candidates are drawing from Howard Dean's 2004 Iowa meltdown is reducing the visibility of those out-of-state volunteers reports the Boston Globe.
  • The Clinton camp is up with a new ad in Iowa and New Hampshire with images and words on the screen but nothing spoken except the "I approve this message" tag line. Under soft music and shifting images, the words read: ""A nation at war, troubles at home, America at a crossroads demands a leader with a steady hand who will weather the storms, solve our problems, rebuild our middle class and renew our greatness. Hillary Clinton - a new beginning."