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Friday, May 30, 2008

Haddad: A Michigander on the Delegates...

Who’s to Blame for the Cockamamie Michigan Primary

By Angela Haddad

Apparently, the fate of the free world hangs on the seating the full Michigan delegation at the Democratic Primary Convention. At least this is what we would think if we listened to Clinton, her surrogates, and the state party “leaders” that orchestrated this mess. While these players are now exorcised about Michigan voters being represented and the democratic process, they were unconcerned and uninterested in counting the votes of anyone other than Hillary Clinton when they set off on this ill-advised venture.

Party insiders such as Mark Brewer, Debbie Dingle, Granholm, and Carl Levin got together and made this decision to supposedly raise Michigan’s profile in the primary process. As Sen. Levin put it, these Democratic state party leaders defied the party to put an end to New Hampshire’s “cockamamie” first-in-the nation role (Politico Oct 24, 2007). At the time, the party insiders neither consulted Michigan’s democratic voters nor considered the sanctity of our votes when they moved the democratic primary before February 5 in defiance of the party rules.

In complete disregard for the votes of democrats who did not want to vote for Clinton or Dodd, Michigan’s Democratic Party “leadership” scheduled a primary on January 15. Much like the uncontested elections of totalitarian states like Cuba and Saddam’s Iraq, only the name of one notable candidate appeared on the ballot, Clinton. Unlike the citizens of these undemocratic states, Michigan’s voters did not acquiesce and give the notable and inevitable candidate 99 percent of the vote. Instead, a grassroots movement encouraged Obama’s and Edwards’s supporters to vote uncommitted. “Uncommitted” garnered 40 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 55 percent.

What is really, truly “cockamamie” about all of this, is that Clinton and the likes of Dingell, and Brewer now claim that they only want all the votes to count.

I know many voters in Michigan who did not show-up to vote in the primary because they were told their vote did not count. As Clinton herself said while campaigning in Iowa in January everyone knows “those votes don’t count for anything.”

It is neither fair nor democratic for the national party to seat delegates that were selected through a sham election. It would be even more unfair to reward the behavior of a few bad actors by awarding Clinton the proportion of committed delegates she would have received if this were a real Democratic election.

While it is not fair that we the Democratic voters of Michigan may not receive our full allocation of delegates for the Democratic Convention, it is also not fair to blame the Democratic National Party, or the Obama campaign for this fiasco. Blame should be placed squarely where it belongs: at the feet of those who orchestrated this mess. I suspect that Michigan voters will make sure that the so-called “leadership” of the state’s Democratic party knows they do not like to be played.

Ron Walters: Open Letter to Obama

Open Letter to Barack Obama

By Ron Walters

I write this “open letter” to Barack Obama, because I am concerned about one recently written by Harold Ford, Jr. urging Obama to try harder to connect with white blue-collar voters by engaging them in states like Kentucky and Indiana in the Fall Elections. And while I would not argue that he should ignore these states, I worry that the agenda he would use to attract conservative voters could weaken the force of change.

To begin with, worry about the blue collar vote is based on the perception of their strength as a part of the Democratic base, but this year will probably not reflect the 1980s when they went over to the Republican party en masse or in 1992 when they were a large part of the Ross Perot vote. This year, blue collar whites are hurting more than any other time in recent memory and more than any other part of the political demographic with: significant job losses, high prices for everything from milk to gas, the loss of their homes and disaffection with the war policies of the Bush administration. They have been let down by Republicans on both domestic and foreign policy and although about 20 percent in recent polls have said they would vote McCain if Obama were the choice in the Fall, the issue is what would happen to the rest.

I think this year the blue collar constituency is likely to split. One group could go with McCain; another group may buy in to Obama’s promise of change to an agenda that favors lower income citizens; and still another group, frustrated by the choices, is likely to stay home. This means that while the split in their votes may be a threat to the Democratic base it could be neutralized by the dynamism created by the Obama campaign.

There is the distinct possibility that a great deal of the loss of blue collar whites could be made up by the new coalition that Obama promises to bring into the Fall election. Estimates by the Associated Press are that the new voters Democrats have attracted in the primaries thus far amount to 3.5 to 4 million. If this proportion holds up in the Fall elections, one would have to triple the number of new voters to about 10-12 million. This substantial number of change voters should be the focus of the campaign rather than lavishing resources on voters in the conservative heartland of the nation that will most likely not vote for Barack Obama in any case.

The other path to increasing the change constituency is to focus on enhancing the turnout of those groups that have shown they are more likely to vote for a Democratic ticket, blacks and Hispanics. To be sure, some of the increase in new primary election voters is reflected in the increase in blacks and Hispanics, but more could be done in the general election to increase these numbers, especially among the youth who are trending away from the Republican party by astounding numbers. In 2004, 35% of blacks and 66% of Hispanics were not registered and 44% of blacks and 72% of Hispanics that were eligible did not vote. The addition of new voters to the Democratic base should put into perspective much of the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s strength in so-called swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania by considering the new states such voters might deliver.

Finally, some of Obama’s perceived weaknesses are based on head-to-head polls during the primary season, but the tradition is that these numbers do not necessarily hold up in the fall. For example, in 1998 Michael Dukakis was ahead of George H. W. Bush but Bush won; in 1992 Bill Clinton trailed him in the Primary elections but Clinton won; and in 2000 Al Gore was ahead of George Bush but Bush was given the election.

Therefore, the moderate wing of the Democratic party and the punditry that seems obsessed with blue collar voters should not dictate to the Obama campaign a strategy that both feeds into Obama’s weakness among blue collar whites, and challenges the strength of a change oriented campaign and administration if he wins the presidency. Such a strategy is disrespectful of Blacks by suggesting that they would stand still while Obama pursues conservative interests to their detriment, in effect, exchanging the progressive substance of change for race.

I think this is a dangerous course the Obama campaign should avoid

Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership Center and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. One of his latest books is Freedom is Not Enough: Black Voters, Black Candidates and American Presidential Politics (Rowman and Littlefield).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Landslide: But Not McCain!!!!

All of this talk about how strong McCain will be as a candidate will soon wither away when the campaign moves from name recognition to issues. With John McCain running as the third Bush term, it will prove to be deadly for him. McCain is playing to Barack's strength -- the need for change. With 80% saying the country is going in the wrong direction, the landslide will be Barack's. The analysis by Bob Beckel supports a big win for Barack. 50 states?

May 29, 2008
The McCain Blowout Fallacy
By Bob Beckel

Last weekend David Paul Kuhn on Politico wrote about the possibility that John McCain could beat Barack Obama by as many as 50 electoral votes this November. Kuhn cited several GOP strategists, Democrats and an anonymous RNC source who agreed with the "blowout" scenario, which is what a 50+ electoral victory would be.

To the contrary, I'm willing to go on the record saying that, barring an unforeseen scandal, a far more likely scenario is that John McCain will lose by at least 50 electoral votes in November - and possibly as many as 150.

The foundation of the McCain "blowout" scenario rests on the 286 electoral votes George Bush received in 2004. It assumes McCain would win New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota - all states won by John Kerry in 2004. I'll concede the possibility of New Hampshire going red this year. John McCain has a unique relationship with the Granite State which has given him two sizable primary victories in 2000 and 2008. But, at best, McCain's chances there are 51-49.

Let's take the rest state-by-state:

Pennsylvania: If anything, the Keystone State has become much more Democratic since 2004 when Kerry won there. In 2008, 170,000+ Republicans switched their registration to Democrat; Bucks and Montgomery Counties in suburban Philadelphia (once the most reliable of Republican counties) for the first time have more registered Democrats than Republicans. Pennsylvania has 200,000 unregistered black voters and we should count on a minimum of 100,000 to register and vote. By November, 250,000 new voters will turn 18, a group that has voted 60% + nationally for Obama. The fastest growing Pennsylvania demographic group is college-educated, white-collar suburbanites. We know who this group supports. Don't count on a massive disaffected rural blue-collar vote against Obama. They are the smallest and lowest turnout demographic in the state.

Bottom line? McCain is going to be a heavy underdog in Pennsylvania this year.

Michigan: The most devastated economic state in the Bush years is a McCain target? Let me get off the floor and stop laughing. Michigan has 1.4 million blacks with 300,000 yet to be (but will be) registered. It has one of the largest populations of college students in the country, and 150,000 new voters will turn 18 by Election Day. Any bets how they will vote?Michigan is highly unionized in a year where unions will spend more and be more active for Democrats than at any time since the halcyon days of the 1950s. "Uncommitted" in the Democratic primary almost beat McCain's total vote - and that's when no Democrat campaigned in the state.

The truth is that McCain has very little chance of winning Michigan.

Minnesota: Let's be clear, in 1984 Minnesota voted for my boss Walter Mondale. Suffice it to say, it was unique in that regard. More importantly, the state's growth is virtually all in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, which is full of young, upscale voters who aren't known for their GOP sympathies.

The GOP could have a convention there every two weeks and still would have trouble winning Minnesota.

Now for a real view of the landscape. Start by giving Obama all the states Kerry won in 2004 (except maybe New Hampshire) and look at a few states Bush won that year:
Iowa: This state is Obama's spiritual home. It is prosperous and has the largest number of colleges by population than any state in the union.

Iowa is a lock for Obama in November.

Colorado: Once reliably GOP, the state is increasingly Democratic. It has a retiring GOP senator whose seat looks good for a Democratic pickup. It will also be home of the DNC convention and has a Hispanic population that has come to despise Republicans' immigration views. McCain showed guts bucking his party on comprehensive immigration reform but then ran from it like a scalded dog when conservatives cornered him on it last year.

Bottom line: Obama has a good shot at turning Colorado blue for only the second time since 1968.

New Mexico: Like Colorado, there is a vacant Senate seat with a favored Democrat. But more importantly, there's Bill Richardson, who will turn every screw he has (and there are many) for Obama and will be the attack dog against McCain among Hispanics. New Mexico also has a population that is becoming heavily Democratic with tens of thousands of Hispanics yet to
be registered.

New Mexico is as good a bet for Obama as Big Brown was in the Derby.

Ohio: In 2006, amid rampant Republican state corruption, Ohio elected a Democratic governor and a Democratic senator. Home foreclosures are equally as rampant and Ohio is bleeding good paying jobs daily. Ohio had a massive Democratic primary turnout, which is the strongest predictor of general election results. It has a large college population and 1.38 million blacks of which 300,000 are unregistered. Expect 225,000 new black voters in November. Over 600,000 Ohio residents have turned 18 since 2004. They are registering in record numbers and are overwhelmingly for Obama.

For a state Kerry lost by only 117,000 votes, I'd say Ohio leans strongly Obama in 2008. The RCP Average currently has Obama leading McCain in Ohio by 1.8%.

Virginia: The Commonwealth has been moving inexorably Democratic for the last decade. It has a Democratic governor and one Democratic senator, soon to be two. Twenty percent of the population is black, of which 200,000 are unregistered. If black turnout increases by 20% and Obama gets 90+% of their vote, as expected, it will constitute more votes than Kerry lost to Bush in 2004, and Kerry never contested the state. One third of the state vote is now from Democratic Northern Virginia where a huge increase in turnout is expected in 2008. Already 131,000 new voters have registered, half under the age of 25. Over 400,000 Virginians have turned 18 since 2004; expect Obama to win them in a walk.

Although McCain currently leads Obama in Virginia by 1.3% in the RCP Average, expect that to reverse when Obama becomes the nominee.

Other Bush states in play that McCain must protect include Florida, North Carolina, Montana, and even Georgia.

Ponder this: In 2004 the economy was strong, the Iraq war still marginally popular, Bush's favorability was near 50%, and voters were generally content. In 2008 the economy is in shambles, the war despised by most Americans, Bush has the highest negatives of any president since polling began, and the public, by an 80-20 margin, believes the country is on the wrong track.

Yes, there will be a blowout in November. But it won't be McCain's.

Bob Beckel managed Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign. He is a senior political analyst for the Fox News Channel and a columnist for USA Today. Beckel is the co-author with Cal Thomas of the book "Common Ground."

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Racism and White Voters

How Our Unconscious Votes

Key predictions of political psychology have held up pretty well on the campaign trail.

Sharon Begley
Updated: 2:00 PM ET May 17, 2008

Give the democrats of West Virginia points for honesty. As Hillary Clinton romped to a landslide of 67 to 26 percent over Barack Obama in the primary, 20 percent of voters in exit polls said that race was an important factor in their choice—triple the percentage of earlier primaries. Of those, 80 percent voted for Clinton, making clear what they meant by "important." Obama's "black supremacist" minister concerns her, one woman told my colleague Suzanne Smalley. Another found Obama's "background, his heritage" suspicious. Both said they'd vote for John McCain over Obama.

The 2008 campaign has been subjected to more psychological analysis than Woody Allen. The top Democratic candidates asked psychology researchers for input, as did the national party, several state parties and the House and Senate Democratic caucuses. The 2007 book "The Political Brain," by psychologist Drew Westen of Emory University, became a must-read for strategists, and so far it looks as though they got their money's worth: key predictions of political psychology have held up pretty well on the campaign trail. Voters are driven more by emotions than by a cold-eyed, logical analysis of a candidate's record and positions; witness the legions of anti-immigration Republicans who pulled the lever for McCain. Ten-point plans (Clinton) don't move voters as powerfully as inspirational oratory (Obama). And unconscious motivations are stronger than conscious ones. This last finding might explain the growing role of racism in the campaign as well as the persistent "happiness gap" between liberals and conservatives—both of which will matter in November.

In March, when I wrote about research showing that people ignore race if another salient trait is emphasized, scientists agreed that Obama had to convey that "he is one of us." That "us" could be Democrats, family men, opponents of the Iraq invasion, enemies of politics as usual. Instead, opponents (and the media) began playing up his "otherness"—not wearing a flag pin, belonging to a black church, having an exotic name. And Obama began slipping, losing support among blue-collar white voters in particular.

It may seem paradoxical, but to stop the bleeding Obama needs to talk about race more often and more explicitly. "Only 3 or 4 percent of people today consciously endorse racist sentiments," says Westen. "But there are residues of prejudice at the unconscious level, and they aren't difficult to activate if you know how to do it. Our better angels on race tend to be our conscious rather than our unconscious values and emotions." It is those conscious brain circuits that Obama needs to keep activating, says Westen, "by talking about racism openly and attacking those who say white America will never vote for a black for president. Appeal to people's conscious values." That has a good chance of keeping unconscious racism at bay, brain studies show. Even more effective, combine direct talk about racism with an "I am like you" message, which leads the brain to focus on categories other than race. "Make it about 'us'," says Westen. "Talk about how we feel angry if a black fireman gets promoted ahead of us for no reason but affirmative action. Talk about how it's natural to look at someone different from us and ask, does he share my values, can he understand me?"

Intelligent adults don't like being told that something as important as their vote is strongly shaped by emotions and the unconscious. But if "The Selling of the President" didn't prove the point 40 years ago, an upcoming study showing the tight embrace of ideology and emotion might.

In a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center, 47 percent of conservative Republicans described themselves as "very happy," but only 28 percent of liberal Democrats did. That led columnist George F. Will to write that "liberalism is a complicated and exacting, not to say grim and scolding, creed. And not one conducive to happiness." But political psychologist John Jost of New York University suspected that something else might explain the happiness gap. He and Jaime Napier analyzed data on people's self-reported level of contentment and their political views. The right-left happiness gap existed not only in the United States but in nine other countries, too. In part, that's because conservatives are more likely to be older, married and religious, all of which increase happiness.

But those traits explained only part of the gap. What accounted for the rest was how people viewed social and economic inequality, the scientists will report next month in the journal Psychological Science. People who agreed that "it is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others," for instance, and "this country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are," were happier than those who disagreed. The latter tend to be liberals, who are less likely than conservatives to see inequality as the result of a fair and legitimate system in which, say, people are losing their homes to foreclosure because they greedily got mortgages they couldn't afford/didn't deserve, not because they were misled by lenders. As foreclosures and gas prices rise between now and November, hitting have-nots harder than haves, the happiness gap will only grow. And if poli-psych teaches us anything, it is that profound unhappiness with the status quo leaves voters open to profound change.


Bob Herbert: The High Road and the Low Road

May 27, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Roads, High and Low

On Friday morning, Joe Biden gave us an example of a leading national politician exhibiting decency and class. Later in the day, Hillary Clinton gave us an example of something else.
Senator Biden, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. He spoke insightfully about the complexity of dealing with Iran, moving the discussion beyond the tedious and simplistic argument over whether to meet with certain foreign leaders.

He defended Barack Obama against the searing attacks by the Bush administration, John McCain and Joe Lieberman, and said:

“I refuse to sit back like we did in 2000 and 2004. This administration is the worst administration in American foreign policy in modern history — maybe ever. The idea that they are competent to continue to conduct our foreign policy, to make us more secure and make Israel secure, is preposterous. ... Every single thing they’ve touched has been a near-disaster.”
Mr. Biden was then asked about the dispute that Senator Obama and Senator McCain have been having over Senator Jim Webb’s proposal to increase college tuition benefits for men and women who have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001. Senator Obama supports the bill.
Senator McCain does not and has introduced a less-generous measure of his own.

When Senator Obama criticized Senator McCain’s position on this issue, Mr. McCain responded angrily and gratuitously mentioned that Mr. Obama had not served in the military. (This is especially weird when you consider that Senator McCain is a fierce supporter of the war in Iraq, which was fanatically promoted by an entire barnyard of chicken hawks.)
Said Senator McCain: “I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lecture on my regard for those who did.”

Dick Cheney never served in uniform. George W. Bush was assigned a uniform, but he spent a lot of time hiding from active duty. Bill Clinton never served in uniform. Hillary Clinton never served in uniform.

Senator Biden became emotional as he began his response to the question. “This is tough for me,” he said, “because John’s been my friend for 35 years, and I’m disappointed. Because, as you all know, there is a difference between an ad hominem argument and a logical response.”
Senator McCain had taken the ad hominem route, said Senator Biden, and he was saddened by it. That kind of behavior, he said, should be “beneath us.”

But Senator Biden went further. He spoke about the overall tone of the presidential campaign and expressed his dismay over the ugly currents being felt. “This whole campaign,” he said, “seems to be drifting toward, you know, a place that I’m not comfortable with in terms of how they’re going to respond to Barack.”

Later that day, Senator Clinton made her now infamous reference to Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. If you give her every benefit of the doubt, you still have a candidate making a tasteless and purely self-serving comment that she should have understood would send a shiver of dread through millions.

From the time that Barack Obama announced that he would run for president, the thought that he might be assassinated because of his race has been widespread.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 6 in 10 Americans said that they were worried that someone would try to harm Senator Obama if he became the Democratic nominee. More than 8 in 10 African-Americans expressed fear for his safety.

I’ve spoken with a number of black voters who wondered whether they might not be doing Mr. Obama harm by casting a ballot for him. Said one woman: “I fear for him, the closer he gets to his goal.”

Senator Clinton, her husband Bill and many of their supporters still seem to be tone deaf with regard to this controversy. One of the main talking points out of the Clinton camp is that the Obama people are responsible for the flare-up.

The Clinton campaign has made it clear that Senator Clinton remains in the race because anything can happen. That generally has been taken to mean that a scandal could erupt that would cause the Obama campaign to implode. Some Reverend Wright on steroids might burst into public view. Keep in mind what happened to Eliot Spitzer.

But it’s also understood that an unforeseen catastrophe could involve harm to Senator Obama. Comments that bring that fear to the forefront are incredibly cold-blooded and hurtful, more brutal even than Senator Clinton’s comment about “hard-working Americans, white Americans.”

Mr. Biden understands that the tone of a campaign is important, that it can make a difference. It’s a lesson Mrs. Clinton seems not to have learned.

The Clinton Legacy, Obama and Black Voters

The Revelation of Bill Clinton
May, 22 2008By Vijay Prashad

When Bill Clinton ran for the White House in 1992, I was deeply annoyed. He represented so much that we, on the left, despised: the reaction within the ranks of the Democratic Party's elite that wanted to "save" the party from what it saw as the excesses of a combination of the New Left, the already declining trade unions, and, most importantly, the Rainbow cultivated
and mobilized by Jesse Jackson's two runs for the presidency (1984 and 1988).

The Democratic Leadership Council, the "left-wing" of the Republican Party, wanted to be able to rely upon the mass base of the unionists and people of color, but it did not want the unions and the civil rights organizations dictating its agenda. Clinton was the DLC in 1992. He was despised by the rank and file trade unionists, most of whom turned out to vote for Jerry Brown and Paul Tsongas (who had already left the race) in the Connecticut primary. Brown opposed NAFTA and endorsed the concept of a living wage, both positions anathema to Clinton. Few of us on the left went into that general election, and into the Clinton years, with any illusions.

Indeed, Clinton was true to his word. On "free trade" (NAFTA), Clinton led the way, pushed by the Wall Street moguls who ran his cabinet. His assault on the working-class was brutal, with three bills in particular targeted to hem in the "disposable Americans" from being too rowdy or having any means to social democratic relief; the 1994 Crime Act, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act and the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. The Crime bill sent more police into the streets of a jobless urban America, and it sent those who should have been in school and in jobs to a vastly expanded penitentiary.

The welfare reform bill threw families to the wolves, breaking down the already modest social welfare system in place that helped, in particular, single mothers. There was no compassionate liberalism for this section of the working class. The Glass-Steagall bill was decimated in cahoots with the repellent Phil Gramm; the walls that separated the divisions of finance, real estate and insurance, and between commercial retail and investment banks crumbled and set the stage for the current banking crisis. The victims here are the working-class, who are going to pay the largest share of the skyrocketing national debt.
Ralph Nader's run for the presidency in 1996 was perhaps his most important gesture, although he did not earn even a million votes. Against the dyspeptic Bob Dole, Clinton had to win (the only primary challenge, briefly, came from the late Bob Casey of Pennsylvania). What protected Clinton were two features: (1) he was an incredibly charismatic person. I saw him in Hartford during his second term, and was surprised by his ability to connect to people even in the superficial way of modern retail politics. (2) the massive attack from the right over his sexual relations with an intern had liberals, and even some on the left, circling the wagons to defend him. The braying of the right was so abhorrent and hypocritical that Clinton gained some measure of forgiveness from those who were otherwise livid with him. It was in this context that Toni Morrison said that he was being treated like a black man: given no quarter, shown no mercy, but treated as guilty as charged without any consideration or process (the O. J. Simpson affair ran from 1994 to 1997, and is the fore-runner of the impeachment proceeding which began in 1998).

But now, finally, Clinton has given us some honesty. He has opened his heart during this primary season, joining Hilary Clinton in pandering to the Old South, the hard-core racist white bloc that was never reconciled to Civil Rights, that continues to blame blacks for the vivisection of their economic fortunes. It is this bloc that handed Hilary Clinton the primaries of Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky. Knowing full well that the world has changed, West Virginia's senator, Robert Byrd, hastened to endorse Obama even as his state went to Clinton by 40 percentage points.

Byrd is the arch segregationist [and former KKK member] who filibustered the Civil Rights Act for fourteen hours. The New South, energized by the enfranchised black vote, is in formation, but it has not yet made it to West Virginia and Kentucky (black population is 3.3% and 7% respectively). Bill Clinton strode through these white towns, which have voted Republican in the general election since at least 2000. He used coded racist language, that Obama does not speak for "people like you," and suggested that Obama is defined by his race whereas Hilary Clinton is not. These suggestions played well in the electorate, a substantial number of whom said that they would never vote for a black man. This is Clinton's final legacy: the intensified racism of his policies in office are now openly declared in his gambit against Obama for Hilary Clinton. A man who lied about and then admitted that he had betrayed the trust of a young intern now says that Hilary Clinton has been a victim of "moments of gender bias." Nothing said about his own sexist behavior with women like Paula Jones or his racist and sexist policies while in office.

In the current issue of the "New Yorker," George Packer has a useful article on the shambles that has befallen institutional conservatism. The subtitle of the article asks, "Have the Republicans run out of ideas?" Much the same kind of obituary is necessary for the DLC, which mirrored the Republican idea machine. Packer does not raise this issue. The DLC is equally marooned on ideas that are not so much anachronistic as failures (they were bad ten years ago as well). The Republicans have begun a period of rethinking, but most of their thinkers are allergic to revision. For them it is encore un effort! Much the same for the DLC, whose people are more interested, like Karl Rove, in winning elections than in the importance of governing (Mark Penn is Rove's DLC doppelganger). Will there be new ideas and policies to befit the structural problems that bedevil the world population, or even just the US population? Will Barack Obama revive a mild version of the New Deal, a green capitalism, or will he too become entangled in yesterday's bad ideas? This is not on the table. What we have is the enduring racism of the Clintons and their DLC legacy shaping the next Democratic presidency.

If Obama has done one thing that is already monumental it is that his campaign has brought out vast numbers of black voters, inspired by his presence and his message of hope, and they, in their numbers, have offered both a sterling critique of Diebold and a redemption of the hollowed Voting Rights Act. Their numbers made the difference in the special elections in Louisiana and in Mississippi, and it will make all the difference in the general election. This black voting bloc is a standing rebuke to Clinton's presidency and to the racism of the Clintons. Obama has done this much. What more he can do is to be seen.

Keith Oberman: Commentary on Hillary's Gaffe

Friday 23 May 2008

by: Keith Olbermann, MSNBC Countdown

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) recently referred to RFK's assassination as a reason for staying in the race. (Photo: Matt Mahurin / WDCPix) Olbermann: Referencing RFK's assassination as a reason for staying in the race is unforgiveable.

Asked if her continuing fight for the nomination against Senator Obama hurts the Democratic party, Sen. Hillary Clinton replied, "I don't. Because again, I've been around long enough. You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.You know, I just don't understand it. You know, there's lots of speculation about why it is. "

The comments were recorded and we showed them to you earlier and they are online as we speak.

She actually said those words.

Those words, Senator?

You actually invoked the nightmare of political assassination.

You actually invoked the specter of an inspirational leader, at the seeming moment of triumph, for himself and a battered nation yearning to breathe free, silenced forever.

You actually used the word "assassination" in the middle of a campaign with a loud undertone of racial hatred - and gender hatred - and political hatred.

You actually used the word "assassination" in a time when there is a fear, unspoken but vivid and terrible, that our again-troubled land and fractured political landscape might target a black man running for president.

Or a white man.

Or a white woman!

You actually used those words, in this America, Senator, while running against an African-American against whom the death threats started the moment he declared his campaign?

You actually used those words, in this America, Senator, while running to break your "greatest glass ceiling" and claiming there are people who would do anything to stop you?


Senator - never mind the implications of using the word "assassination" in any connection to Senator Obama...

What about you?

You cannot say this!

The references, said her spokesperson, were not, in any way, weighted.

The allusions, said Mo Uh-leathee, are, "...historical examples of the nominating process going well into the summer and any reading into it beyond that would be inaccurate and outrageous."

I'm sorry.

There is no inaccuracy.

Not for a moment does any rational person believe Senator Clinton is actually hoping for the worst of all political calamities.

Yet the outrage belongs, not to Senator Clinton or her supporters, but to every other American.

Firstly, she has previously bordered on the remarks she made today...

Then swerved back from them and the awful skid they represented.

She said, in an off-camera interview with Time on March 6, "Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn't wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June, also in California. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual. We will see how it unfolds as we go forward over the next three to four months."

In retrospect, we failed her when we did not call her out, for that remark, dry and only disturbing, in a magazine's pages. But somebody obviously warned her of the danger of that rhetoric:

After the Indiana primary, on May 7, she told supporters at a Washington hotel:

"Sometimes you gotta calm people down a little bit. But if you look at successful presidential campaigns, my husband did not get the nomination until June of 1992. I remember tragically when Senator Kennedy won California near the end of that process."

And at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on the same day, she referenced it again:

"You know, I remember very well what happened in the California primary in 1968 as, you know, Senator Kennedy won that primary."

On March 6th she had said "assassinated."

By May 7 she had avoided it. Today... she went back to an awful well. There is no good time to recall the awful events of June 5th, 1968, of Senator Bobby Kennedy, happy and alive - perhaps, for the first time since his own brother's death in Dallas in 1963... Galvanized to try to lead this nation back from one of its darkest eras... Only to fall victim to the same surge that took that brother, and Martin Luther King... There is no good time to recall this. But certainly to invoke it, two weeks before the exact 40th anniversary of the assassination, is an insensitive and heartless thing.

And certainly to invoke it, three days after the awful diagnosis, and heart-breaking prognosis, for Senator Ted Kennedy, is just as insensitive, and just as heartless. And both actions, open a door wide into the soul of somebody who seeks the highest office in this country, and through that door shows something not merely troubling, but frightening. And politically inexplicable.

What, Senator, do you suppose would happen if you withdrew from the campaign, and Senator Obama formally became the presumptive nominee, and then suddenly left the scene? It doesn't even have to be the "dark curse upon the land" you mentioned today, Senator. Nor even an issue of health. He could simply change his mind... Or there could unfold that perfect-storm scandal your people have often referenced, even predicted. Maybe he could get a better offer from some other, wiser, country. What happens then, Senator? You are not allowed back into the race? Your delegates and your support vanish? The Democrats don't run anybody for President?

What happens, of course, is what happened when the Democrats' vice presidential choice, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, had to withdraw from the ticket, in 1972 after it proved he had not been forthcoming about previous mental health treatments. George McGovern simply got another vice president.

Senator, as late as the late summer of 1864 the Republicans were talking about having a second convention, to withdraw Abraham Lincoln's re-nomination and choose somebody else because until Sherman took Atlanta in September it looked like Lincoln was going to lose to George McClellan.

You could theoretically suspend your campaign, Senator.

There's plenty of time and plenty of historical precedent, Senator, in case you want to come
back in, if something bad should happen to Senator Obama. Nothing serious, mind you.

It's just like you said, "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in

Since those awful words in Sioux Falls, and after the condescending, buck-passing statement from her spokesperson, Senator Clinton has made something akin to an apology, without any evident recognition of the true trauma she has inflicted.

"I was discussing the Democratic primary history, and in the course of that discussion mentioned the campaigns both my husband and Senator Kennedy waged California in June in 1992 and 1968," she said in Brandon, South Dakota. "I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nomination primary contests that go into June. That's a historic fact.

"The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy. I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive, I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever."

"My view is that we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and give us a lot to live up to and I'm honored to hold Senator Kennedy's seat in the United States Senate in the state of New York and have the highest regard for the entire Kennedy family. Thanks. Not a word about the inappropriateness of referencing assassination.

Not a word about the inappropriateness of implying - whether it was intended or not - that she was hanging around waiting for somebody to try something terrible.

Not a word about Senator Obama.

Not a word about Senator McCain.

Not: I'm sorry...

Not: I apologize...

Not: I blew it...

Not: please forgive me.

God knows, Senator, in this campaign, this nation has had to forgive you, early and often...

And despite your now traditional position of the offended victim, the nation has forgiven you.

We have forgiven you your insistence that there have been widespread calls for you to end your campaign, when such calls had been few. We have forgiven you your misspeaking about Martin Luther King's relative importance to the Civil Rights movement.

We have forgiven you your misspeaking about your under-fire landing in Bosnia.

We have forgiven you insisting Michigan's vote wouldn't count and then claiming those who would not count it were Un-Democratic.

We have forgiven you pledging to not campaign in Florida and thus disenfranchise voters there, and then claim those who stuck to those rules were as wrong as those who defended slavery or denied women the vote.

We have forgiven you the photos of Osama Bin Laden in an anti-Obama ad...

We have forgiven you fawning over the fairness of Fox News while they were still calling you a murderer.

We have forgiven you accepting Richard Mellon Scaife's endorsement and then laughing as you described his "deathbed conversion."

We have forgiven you quoting the electoral predictions of Boss Karl Rove.

We have forgiven you the 3 a.m. Phone Call commercial.

We have forgiven you President Clinton's disparaging comparison of the Obama candidacy to Jesse Jackson's.

We have forgiven you Geraldine Ferraro's national radio interview suggesting Obama would not still be in the race had he been a white man.

We have forgiven you the dozen changing metrics and the endless self-contradictions of your insistence that your nomination is mathematically probable rather than a statistical impossibility.

We have forgiven you your declaration of some primary states as counting and some as not.

We have forgiven you exploiting Jeremiah Wright in front of the editorial board of the lunatic-fringe Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

We have forgiven you exploiting William Ayers in front of the debate on ABC.

We have forgiven you for boasting of your "support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans"...

We have even forgiven you repeatedly praising Senator McCain at Senator Obama's expense, and your own expense, and the Democratic ticket's expense.

But Senator, we cannot forgive you this.

"You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."

We cannot forgive you this - not because it is crass and low and unfeeling and brutal.

This is unforgivable, because this nation's deepest shame, its most enduring horror, its most terrifying legacy, is political assassination.





Martin Luther King.

Robert Kennedy.

And, but for the grace of the universe or the luck of the draw, Reagan, Ford, Truman, Nixon, Andrew Jackson, both Roosevelts, even George Wallace.

The politics of this nation is steeped enough in blood, Senator Clinton, you cannot and must not invoke that imagery! Anywhere! At any time!

And to not appreciate, immediately - to still not appreciate tonight - just what you have done... is to reveal an incomprehension of the America you seek to lead.

This, Senator, is too much.

Because a senator - a politician - a person - who can let hang in mid-air the prospect that she might just be sticking around in part, just in case the other guy gets shot - has no business being, and no capacity to be, the President of the United States.

Good night and good luck.
For the full blog exchange see: Oberman Commentary on Truthout

Monday, May 26, 2008

Buchanan-Nixon: Setting the Stage for Right-Wing Hegemony

Forgive the length of the piece but it is an important analysis for understanding today's politics.

The Fall of Conservatism
Monday 26 May 2008

by: George Packer, The New Yorker

From Nixon until now, conservatism has served to dominate US political discourse. (Photo: ABC News)

Have the Republicans run out of ideas?

The era of American politics that has been dying before our eyes was born in 1966. That January, a twenty-seven-year-old editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat named Patrick Buchanan went to work for Richard Nixon, who was just beginning the most improbable political comeback in American history. Having served as Vice-President in the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon had lost the Presidency by a whisker to John F. Kennedy, in 1960, and had been humiliated in a 1962 bid for the California governorship. But he saw that he could propel himself back to power on the strength of a new feeling among Americans who, appalled by the chaos of the cities, the moral heedlessness of the young, and the insults to national pride in Vietnam, were ready to blame it all on the liberalism of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Right-wing populism was bubbling up from below; it needed to be guided by a leader who understood its resentments because he felt them, too.

"From Day One, Nixon and I talked about creating a new majority," Buchanan told me recently, sitting in the library of his Greek-revival house in McLean, Virginia, on a secluded lane bordering the fenced grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency. "What we talked about, basically, was shearing off huge segments of F.D.R.'s New Deal coalition, which L.B.J. had held together: Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern Protestant conservatives - what we called the Daley-Rizzo Democrats in the North and, frankly, the Wallace Democrats in the South." Buchanan grew up in Washington, D.C., among the first group - men like his father, an accountant and a father of nine, who had supported Roosevelt but also revered Joseph McCarthy. The Southerners were the kind of men whom Nixon whipped into a frenzy one night in the fall of 1966, at the Wade Hampton Hotel, in Columbia, South Carolina. Nixon, who was then a partner in a New York law firm, had travelled there with Buchanan on behalf of Republican congressional candidates. Buchanan recalls that the room was full of sweat, cigar smoke, and rage; the rhetoric, which was about patriotism and law and order, "burned the paint off the walls." As they left the hotel, Nixon said, "This is the future of this Party, right here in the South."

Nixon and Buchanan visited thirty-five states that fall, and in November the Republicans won a midterm landslide. It was the end of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, the beginning of his fall from power. In order to seize the Presidency in 1968, Nixon had to live down his history of nasty politicking, and he ran that year as a uniter. But his Administration adopted an undercover strategy for building a Republican majority, working to create the impression that there were two Americas: the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few.

This strategy was put into action near the end of Nixon's first year in office, when antiwar demonstrators were becoming a disruptive presence in Washington. Buchanan recalls urging Nixon, "We've got to use the siege gun of the Presidency, and go right after these guys." On November 3, 1969, Nixon went on national television to speak about the need to avoid a shameful defeat in Vietnam. Looking benignly into the camera, he concluded, "And so tonight - to you, the great silent majority of Americans - I ask for your support." It was the most successful speech of his Presidency. Newscasters criticized him for being divisive and for offering no new vision on Vietnam, but tens of thousands of telegrams and letters expressing approval poured into the White House. It was Nixon's particular political genius to rouse simultaneously the contempt of the bien-pensants and the admiration of those who felt the sting of that contempt in their own lives.

Buchanan urged Nixon to enlist his Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, in a battle against the press. In November, Nixon sent Agnew - despised as dull-witted by the media - on the road, where he denounced "this small and unelected élite" of editors, anchormen, and analysts. Buchanan recalls watching a broadcast of one such speech - which he had written for Agnew - on a television in his White House office. Joining him was his colleague Kevin Phillips, who had just published "The Emerging Republican Majority," which marshalled electoral data to support a prophecy that Sun Belt conservatism - like Jacksonian Democracy, Republican industrialism, and New Deal liberalism - would dominate American politics for the next thirty-two or thirty-six years. (As it turns out, Phillips was slightly too modest.) When Agnew finished his diatribe, Phillips said two words: "Positive polarization."

Polarization is the theme of Rick Perlstein's new narrative history "Nixonland" (Scribners), which covers the years between two electoral landslides: Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1964 and George McGovern's in 1972. During that time, Nixon figured out that he could succeed politically "by using the angers, anxieties, and resentments produced by the cultural chaos of the 1960s," which were also his own. In Perlstein's terms, America in the sixties was divided, like the Sneetches on Dr. Seuss's beaches, into two social clubs: the Franklins, who were the in-crowd at Nixon's alma mater, Whittier College; and the Orthogonians, a rival group founded by Nixon after the Franklins rejected him, made up of "the strivers, those not to the manor born, the commuter students like him. He persuaded his fellows that reveling in one's unpolish was a nobility of its own." Orthogonians deeply resented Franklins, which, as Perlstein sees it, explains just about everything that happened between 1964 and 1972: Nixon resented the Kennedys and clawed his way back to power; construction workers resented John Lindsay and voted conservative; National Guardsmen resented student protesters and opened fire on them. Perlstein sustains these categories throughout the book, without quite noticing that his scheme breaks down under the pressure of his central historical insight - "America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which." In other words, by 1972 there were hardly any Franklins left - only former Franklins who had thrown off their dinner jackets, picked up a weapon, and joined the brawl. The sixties, which began in liberal consensus over the Cold War and civil rights, became a struggle between two apocalyptic politics that each saw the other as hellbent on the country's annihilation. The result was violence like nothing the country had seen since the Civil War, and Perlstein emphasizes that bombings, assaults, and murders committed by segregationists, hardhats, and vigilantes on the right were at least as numerous as those by radical students and black militants on the left. Nixon claimed to speak on behalf of "the nonshouters, the nondemonstrators," but the cigar smokers in that South Carolina hotel were intoxicated with hate.

Nixon was coldly mixing and pouring volatile passions. Although he was careful to renounce the extreme fringe of Birchites and racists, his means to power eventually became the end. Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum - "A little raw for today," he warned - that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading "Dividing the Democrats." Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in "the Old Roosevelt Coalition," it recommended that the White House "exacerbate the ideological division" between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon's policies; highlight "the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party"; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. "Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country," Buchanan wrote. "We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention." Such gambits, he added, could "cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

The Nixon White House didn't enact all of these recommendations, but it would be hard to find a more succinct and unapologetic blueprint for Republican success in the conservative era. "Positive polarization" helped the Republicans win one election after another - and insured that American politics would be an ugly, unredeemed business for decades to come.

Perlstein argues that the politics of "Nixonland" will endure for at least another generation. On his final page, he writes, "Do Americans not hate each other enough to fantasize about killing one another, in cold blood, over political and cultural disagreements? It would be hard to argue they do not." Yet the polarization of America, which we now call the "culture wars," has been dissipating for a long time. Because we can't anticipate what ideas and language will dominate the next cycle of American politics, the previous era's key words - "élite," "mainstream," "real," "values," "patriotic," "snob," "liberal" - seem as potent as ever. Indeed, they have shown up in the current campaign: North Carolina and Mississippi Republicans have produced ads linking local Democrats to Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's controversial former pastor. The right-wing group Citizens United has said that it will run ads portraying Obama as yet another "limousine liberal." But these are the spasms of nerve endings in an organism that's brain-dead. Among Republicans, there is no energy, no fresh thinking, no ability to capture the concerns and feelings of millions of people. In the past two months, Democratic targets of polarization attacks have won three special congressional elections, in solidly Republican districts in Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Political tactics have a way of outliving their ability to respond to the felt needs and aspirations of the electorate: Democrats continued to accuse Republicans of being like Herbert Hoover well into the nineteen-seventies; Republicans will no doubt accuse Democrats of being out of touch with real Americans long after George W. Bush retires to Crawford, Texas. But the 2006 and 2008 elections are the hinge on which America is entering a new political era.

This will be true whether or not John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, wins in November. He and his likely Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, "both embody a post-polarized, or anti-polarized, style of politics," the Times columnist David Brooks told me. "McCain, crucially, missed the sixties, and in some ways he's a pre-sixties figure. He and Obama don't resonate with the sixties at all." The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing - despite being despised by significant voices on the right - shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces. "The fact that there was no conventional, establishment, old-style conservative candidate was not an accident," Brooks said. "Mitt Romney pretended to be one for a while, but he wasn't. Rudy Giuliani sort of pretended, but he wasn't. McCain is certainly not. It's not only a lack of political talent - there's just no driving force, and it will soften up normal Republicans for change."

On May 6th, Newt Gingrich posted a message, "My Plea to Republicans: It's Time for Real Change to Avoid Real Disaster," on the Web site of the conservative magazine Human Events. The former House Speaker warned, "The Republican brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti-Reverend Wright, or (if Senator Clinton wins) anti-Clinton campaign, they are simply going to fail." Gingrich offered nine suggestions for restoring the Republican "brand" - among them "Overhaul the census and cut its budget radically" and "Implement a space-based, G.P.S.-style air-traffic control system" - which read like a wonkish parody of the Contract with America. By the next morning, the post had received almost three hundred comments, almost all predicting a long Republican winter.

Yuval Levin, a former Bush White House official, who is now a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, agrees with Gingrich's diagnosis. "There's an intellectual fatigue, even if it hasn't yet been made clear by defeat at the polls," he said. "The conservative idea factory is not producing as it did. You hear it from everybody, but nobody agrees what to do about it."

Pat Buchanan was less polite, paraphrasing the social critic Eric Hoffer: "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket."

Only a few years ago, on the night of Bush's victory in 2004, the conservative movement seemed indomitable. In fact, it was rapidly falling apart. Conservatives knew how to win elections; however, they turned out not to be very interested in governing. Throughout the decades since Nixon, conservatism has retained the essentially negative character of an insurgent movement.

Nixon himself was more interested in global grand strategy and partisan politics than in any conservative policy agenda. By today's standards, his achievements in office look like those of a moderate liberal: he eased the tensions of the Cold War, expanded the welfare state, and supported affirmative action (albeit in ways calculated to split the Democrats). "L.B.J. built the foundation and the first floor of the Great Society," Buchanan said. "We built the skyscraper. Nixon was not a Reaganite conservative."

Even Reagan, the Moses of the conservative movement, was more ideological in his rhetoric than in his governance. Conservatives have canonized him for cutting taxes and regulation, moving the courts to the right, and helping to vanquish the Soviet empire. But he proved less dogmatic than most of his opponents and some of his followers expected, especially on ending the Cold War. Reagan emphasized the first word in "positive polarization," turning the Nixon playbook into a kind of national celebration. Like F.D.R., he dominated an era by reconciling opposites through force of personality: just as Roosevelt the patrician became the tribune of the people, Reagan turned conservatism into a forward-looking, optimistic ideology. "We started in 1980 and played addition," Ed Rollins, Reagan's political director, recalls. " 'Let's go out and get Democrats.' We attracted a great many young people to the Party. Reagan made them feel good about the country again. After the '84 election, we did polling - Why did you vote for Reagan? They said, 'He's a winner.' "

The Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, in his new book, "The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008" (Harper), argues that Reagan "learned how to seize and keep control of the terms of public debate." On taxes, race, government spending, national security, crime, welfare, and "traditional values," he made mainstream what had been the positions of the right-wing fringe, and he kept Democrats on the defensive. He also brought a generation of doctrinaire conservatives into the bureaucracy and the courts, making appointments based on ideological tests that only a genuine movement leader would impose. The rightward turn of the judiciary will probably be the most lasting achievement of Reagan and his movement.

In retrospect, the Reagan Presidency was the high-water mark of conservatism. "In some respects, the conservative movement was a victim of success," Wilentz concludes. "With the Soviet Union dissolved, inflation reduced to virtually negligible levels, and the top tax rate cut to nearly half of what it was in 1980, all of Ronald Reagan's major stated goals when he took office had been achieved, leaving perplexed and fractious conservatives to fight over where they might now lead the country." Wilentz omits one important failure. According to Buchanan, who was the White House communications director in Reagan's second term, the President once told his barber, Milton Pitts, "You know, Milt, I came here to do five things, and four out of five ain't bad." He had succeeded in lowering taxes, raising morale, increasing defense spending, and facing down the Soviet Union; but he had failed to limit the size of government, which, besides anti-Communism, was the abiding passion of Reagan's political career and of the conservative movement. He didn't come close to achieving it and didn't try very hard, recognizing early that the public would be happy to have its taxes cut as long as its programs weren't touched. And Reagan was a poor steward of the unglamorous but necessary operations of the state. Wilentz notes that he presided over a period of corruption and favoritism, encouraging hostility toward government agencies and "a general disregard for oversight safeguards as among the evils of 'big government.' " In this, and in a notorious attempt to expand executive power outside the Constitution - the Iran-Contra affair - Reagan's Presidency presaged that of George W. Bush.

After Reagan and the end of the Cold War, conservatism lost the ties that had bound together its disparate factions - libertarians, evangelicals, neoconservatives, Wall Street, working-class traditionalists. Without the Gipper and the Evil Empire, what was the organizing principle? In 1994, the conservative journalist David Frum surveyed the landscape and published a book called "Dead Right." Reagan, he wrote, had offered his "Morning in America" vision, and the public had rewarded him enormously, but in failing to reduce government he had allowed the welfare state to continue infantilizing the public, weakening its moral fibre. That November, Republicans swept to power in Congress and imagined that they had been deputized by the voters to distill conservatism into its purest essence. Newt Gingrich declared, "On those things which are at the core of our philosophy and on those things where we believe we represent the vast majority of Americans, there will be no compromise." Instead of just limiting government, the Gingrich revolutionaries set out to disable it. Although the legislative reins were in their hands, these Republicans could find no governmental projects to organize their energy around. David Brooks said, "The only thing that held the coalition together was hostility to government." When the Times Magazine asked William Kristol what ideas he was for - in early 1995, high noon of the Gingrich Revolution - Kristol could think to mention only school choice and "shaping the culture."

At the end of that year, when the radical conservatives in the Gingrich Congress shut down the federal government, they learned that the American public was genuinely attached to the modern state. "An anti-government philosophy turned out to be politically unpopular and fundamentally un-American," Brooks said. "People want something melioristic, they want government to do things."

Instead of governing, the Republican majority in Congress - along with right-wing authors, journalists, talk-radio personalities, think tanks, and foundations - surrendered to the negative strain of modern conservatism. As political strategy, this strain went back to the Nixon era, but its philosophical roots were older and deeper. It extended back to William F. Buckley, Jr.,'s mission statement, in the inaugural issue of National Review, in 1955, that the new magazine "stands athwart history, yelling Stop"; and to Goldwater's seminal 1960 book, "The Conscience of a Conservative," in which he wrote, "I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones." By the end of the century, a movement inspired by sophisticated works such as Russell Kirk's 1953 "The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot" churned out degenerate descendants with titles like "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)." Shortly after engineering President Bill Clinton's impeachment on a narrow party-line basis, Gingrich was gone.

Though conservatives were not much interested in governing, they understood the art of politics. They hadn't made much of a dent in the bureaucracy, and they had done nothing to provide universal health-care coverage or arrest growing economic inequality, but they had created a political culture that was inhospitable to welfare, to an indulgent view of criminals, to high rates of taxation. They had controlled the language and moved the political parameters to the right. Back in November, 1967, Buckley wrote in an essay on Ronald Reagan, "They say that his accomplishments are few, that it is only the rhetoric that is conservative. But the rhetoric is the principal thing. It precedes all action. All thoughtful action."

In 2000, George W. Bush presented himself as Reagan's heir, but he didn't come into office with Reagan's ideological commitments or his public-policy goals. According to Frum, who worked as a White House speechwriter during Bush's first two years, Bush couldn't have won if he'd run as a real conservative, because the country was already moving in a new direction. Bush's goals, like Nixon's, were political. Nixon had set out to expand the Republican vote; Bush wanted to keep it from contracting. At his first meeting with Frum and other speechwriters, Bush declared, "I want to change the Party" - to soften its hard edge, and make the Party more hospitable to Hispanics. "It was all about positioning," Frum said, "not about confronting a new generation of problems." Frum wasn't happy; although he suspected that Bush might be right, he wanted him to govern along hard-line conservative principles.

The phrase that signalled Bush's approach was "compassionate conservatism," but it never amounted to a policy program. Within hours of the Supreme Court decision that ended the disputed Florida recount, Dick Cheney met with a group of moderate Republican senators, including Lincoln Chafee, of Rhode Island. According to Chafee's new book, "Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President" (Thomas Dunne), the Vice-President-elect gave the new order of battle: "We would seek confrontation on every front... . The new Administration would divide Americans into red and blue, and divide nations into those who stand with us or against us." Cheney's combative instincts and belief in an unfettered and secretive executive proved far more influential at the White House than Bush's campaign promise to be "a uniter, not a divider." Cheney behaved as if, notwithstanding the loss of the popular vote, conservative Republican domination could continue by sheer force of will. On domestic policy, the Administration made tax cuts and privatization its highest priority; and its conduct of the war on terror broke with sixty years of relatively bipartisan and multilateralist foreign policy.

The Administration's political operatives were moving in the same direction. The Republican strategist Matthew Dowd studied the 2000 results and concluded that the proportion of swing voters in America had declined from twenty-two to seven per cent over the previous two decades, which meant that mobilizing the Party's base would be more important in 2004 than attracting independents. The strategist Karl Rove's polarizing political tactics (which brought a new level of demographic sophistication to the old formula) buried any hope of a centrist Presidency before Bush's first term was half finished.

Ed Rollins said, "Rove knew his voters, he stuck to the message with consistency, he drove that base hard - and there's nothing left of it. Today, if you're not rich or Southern or born again, the chances of your being a Republican are not great." As long as Bush and his party kept winning elections, however slim the margins, Rove's declared ambition to create a "permanent majority" seemed like the vision of a tactical genius. But it was built on two illusions: that the conservative era would stretch on indefinitely, and that politics matters more than governing. The first illusion defied history; the second was blown up in Iraq and drowned in New Orleans. David Brooks argues that these disasters discredited both neo- and compassionate conservatism in the eyes of many Republicans. "You've got to learn from the failures," Brooks told me. "But Republicans have rejected the entire attempt. For example, after Katrina, House Republicans wanted nothing to do with New Orleans. They were, like, 'We don't care about those people.' "

In its final year, the Bush Administration is seen by many conservatives (along with seventy per cent of Americans) to be a failure. Among true believers, there are two explanations of why this happened and what it portends. One is the purist version: Bush expanded the size of government and created huge deficits; allowed Republicans in Congress to fatten lobbyists and stuff budgets full of earmarks; tried to foist democracy on a Muslim country; failed to secure the border; and thus won the justified wrath of the American people. This account - shared by Pat Buchanan, the columnist George F. Will, and many Republicans in Congress - has the appeal of asking relatively little of conservatives. They need only to repent of their sins, rid themselves of the neoconservatives who had agitated for the Iraq invasion, and return to first principles. Buchanan said, "The conservatives need to, in Maoist terms, go back to Yenan."

The second version - call it reformist - is more painful, because it's based on the recognition that, though Bush's fatal incompetence and Rove's shortsighted tactics hastened the conservative movement's demise, they didn't cause it. In this view, conservatism has a more serious problem than self-betrayal: a doctrinaire failure to adapt to new circumstances, new problems. Instead of heading back to Yenan to regroup, conservatives will have to spend some years or even decades wandering across a bleak political landscape of losing campaigns and rebranding efforts and earnest policy retreats, much as liberals did after 1968, before they can hope to reëstablish dominance.

Recently, I spoke with a number of conservatives about their movement. The younger ones - say, those under fifty - uniformly subscribe to the reformist version. They are in a state of glowing revulsion at the condition of their political party. Most of them predicted that Republicans will lose the Presidency this year and suffer a rout in Congress. They seemed to feel that these losses would be deserved, and suggested that, if the party wins, it will be - in the words of Rich Lowry, the thirty-nine-year-old editor of National Review - "by default."

On April 4th, a rainy day in New York, I attended Buckley's memorial Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral with some two thousand people, an unusually large number of them women in hats and men in bow ties. George W. Rutler, the presiding priest, declared that Buckley's words helped "crack the walls of an evil empire." Secular humanism, he said, "builds little hells for man on earth... . Communism was worse than a social tyranny because it was a theological heresy." The service reminded me of the movement's philosophical origins, in the forties and fifties, in a Catholic sense of alarm at the relativism that was rampant in American life, and an insistence on human frailty. The conservative movement began as a true counterculture; how unlikely that its gloomy creed took hold in America, the optimistic capital of modernity.

Later that day, the Manhattan Institute and National Review Institute held a forum on Buckley's legacy, at the Princeton Club. The panelists - mostly members of the Old Guard - remembered Buckley, traded Latin phrases, and exuded self-satisfaction. Roger Kimball, the co-editor of the dour cultural review The New Criterion, declared that conservatism imposes a philosophical duty on its adherents to enjoy life - to which George Will, not ebullient by disposition, later added, "Politics is fun, because politics involves inherently the celebration of America's first principles... . Politics is an inherently cheerful undertaking, so be of good cheer. That is what Bill left us with." Kimball continued to roll up the score in favor of conservatives. Their reputation for being "un-fun," he said, stems partly from the fact that they are "realists" who are "a wet blanket on people who talk about things like 'The Audacity of Hope' and 'It Takes a Village,' just to pick two terms arbitrarily." The country, he said, "is still suffering from that post-Romantic assault on humanity that is summarized by the term 'the sixties.' This, too, shall pass."

Once the principled levity had died down and it came time for questions, I asked whether the conservative movement was dead. "It would be a sign of maturity if conservatives would stop using the phrase 'conservative movement,' " Will said. "This is now a center-right country, and conservatism is the default position for, I think, a stable Presidential majority." Jay Nordlinger, an editor at National Review, added, "If it's no longer a movement, and really is mainstream, we owe a lot to Bill Buckley and Reagan." But Buckley himself had been more realistic than his eulogists. Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Times Book Review and the Week in Review section, who is working on a biography of Buckley, said that in his final years Buckley understood that his movement was cracking up. "He told me, 'The conservative movement lost its raison d'être with the end of Communism and never got it back.' "

Between the Mass and the forum, I had lunch with David Frum. His mood was elegiac and chastened. He now realized that, in 2001, Bush had been right and he had been wrong at their first meeting: the Party did need to change, but not in the way Bush went on to change it. "It wasn't a successful Presidency, and that's a painful thing," Frum said. "And I was a very small, unimportant part of it, but I was a part of it, and that implies responsibility." Frum has made his peace with the fact that smaller government is no longer a basis for conservative dominance. The thesis of his new book, "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again" (Doubleday), whose message Frum has been taking to Republican groups around the country, is that the Party has lost the middle class by ignoring its sense of economic insecurity and continuing to wage campaigns as if the year were 1980, or 1968.

"If Republican politicians quote Reagan, their political operatives study Nixon," Frum writes. "Republicans have been reprising Nixon's 1972 campaign against McGovern for a third of a century. As the excesses of the 1960s have dwindled into history, however, the 1972 campaign has worked less and less well." He adds, "How many more elections can conservatives win by campaigning against Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale? Voters want solutions to the problems of today." Polls reveal that Americans favor the Democratic side on nearly every domestic issue, from Social Security and health care to education and the environment. The all-purpose Republican solution of cutting taxes has run its course. Frum writes, "There are things only government can do, and if we conservatives wish to be entrusted with the management of government, we must prove that we care enough about government to manage it well."

This is a candid change of heart from a writer who, in "Dead Right," called Republican efforts to compete with Clinton's universal-health-coverage plan "cowardly." In the new book, Frum asks, "Who agreed that conservatives should defend the dysfunctional American health system from all criticism?" Well - he did! Frum now identifies health care as the chief anxiety of the middle class. But governing well, in conservative terms, doesn't mean spending more money. It means doing what neither Reagan nor Bush did: mastering details, knowing the options, using caution - that is, taking government seriously. The policy ideas in "Comeback" rely on the market more than on the state and are relatively small-bore, such as a government campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of obesity. As with most such books, the diagnosis is more convincing than the cure.

Frum believes that the Republicans need their own equivalent of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, to make it safe for Republican candidates to tell their interest groups, such as evangelical Christians, what they don't want to hear: that they need to mute their demands if the Party is to regain a majority. At lunch, he said, "The thing I worry about most is if the Republicans lose this election - and if you're a betting man you have to believe they will - there will be a fundamentalist reaction. Not religious - but the beaten party believes it just has to say it louder. Like the Democrats after 1968." He added, "A lot of the problems in the Republican Party will not be fixed."

I asked Frum if the movement still existed. "We'll have people formed by the conservative movement making decisions for the next thirty to forty years," he said. "But will they belong to a self-conscious and cohesive conservative movement? I don't think so. Because their movement did its work. The core task was to stop and reverse, to some degree, the drift of democratic countries after the Second World War toward social democracy. And that was done."

As we started to leave, Frum smiled. "One of Buckley's great gifts was the gift of timing," he said. "To be twenty-five at the beginning and eighty-two at the end! But I'm forty-seven at the end."

When I met David Brooks in Washington, he was even more scathing than Frum. Brooks had moved through every important conservative publication - National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard - "and now I feel estranged," he said. "I just don't feel it's exciting, I don't feel it's true, fundamentally true." In the eighties, when he was a young movement journalist, the attacks on regulation and the Soviet Union seemed "true." Now most conservatives seem incapable of even acknowledging the central issues of our moment: wage stagnation, inequality, health care, global warming. They are stuck in the past, in the dogma of limited government. Perhaps for that reason, Brooks left movement journalism and, in 2003, became a moderately conservative columnist for the Times. "American conservatives had one defeat, in 2006, but it wasn't a big one," he said. "The big defeat is probably coming, and then the thinking will happen. I have not yet seen the major think tanks reorient themselves, and I don't know if they can." He added, "You go to Capitol Hill - Republican senators know they're fucked. They have that sense. But they don't know what to do. There's a hunger for new policy ideas."

The Heritage Foundation Web site currently links to video presentations by Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, "challenging Americans to consider, What Would Reagan Do?" Brooks called the conservative think tanks "sclerotic," but much conservative journalism has become just as calcified and ingrown. Last year, writing in The New Republic, Sam Tanenhaus revealed a 1997 memo in which Buckley - who had originally hired Brooks at National Review on the strength of a brilliant undergraduate parody that he had written of Buckley - refused to anoint him as his heir because Brooks, a Jew, is not a "believing Christian." At Commentary, the neoconservative counterpart to National Review, the editorship was bequeathed by Norman Podhoretz, its longtime editor, to his son John, whose crude op-eds for the New York Post didn't measure up to Commentary's intellectual past. A conservative journalist familiar with both publications said that what mattered most at the Christian National Review was doctrinal purity, whereas at the Jewish Commentary it was blood relations: "It's a question of who can you trust, and it comes down to religious fundamentals."

The orthodoxy that accompanies this kind of insularity has had serious consequences: for years, neither National Review nor Commentary was able to admit that the Iraq war was being lost. Lowry, who received the editorship from Buckley before he turned thirty, told me that he particularly regretted a 2005 cover story he'd written with the headline "WE'RE WINNING." He said, "Most of the right was in lockstep with Donald Rumsfeld. We didn't want to admit we were losing and said anyone who said otherwise was a defeatist. One thing I've loved about conservatism is its keen sense of reality, and that was totally lost in 2006." Last year, National Review ran a cover article on global warming, which Lowry, like Brooks, Frum, and other conservatives, listed among the major issues of our time, along with wage stagnation and the breakdown of the family. Although the article, by Jim Manzi, proposed market solutions, the response among some readers, Lowry said, was " 'How dare you?' A bunch of people out there don't want to hear it - they believe it's a hoax. That's the head-in-the-sand response."

A similar battle looms between traditional supply-side tax cutters and younger writers like National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru, who has proposed greatly expanding the child tax credit - using tax policy not to reduce the tax burden across the board, in accord with conservative orthodoxy, but to help families. These challenges to dogma, however tentative, are being led by Republican constituencies that have begun to embrace formerly "Democratic issues." Evangelical churches are concerned about the environment; businesses worry about health care; white working-class voters are angry about income inequality. But nothing focusses the mind like the prospect of electoral disaster: last November, Lowry and Ponnuru co-wrote a cover story with the headline "THE COMING CATACLYSM."

It's probably not an accident that the most compelling account of the crisis was written by two conservatives who are still in their twenties and have made their careers outside movement institutions. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, editors at the Atlantic Monthly, are eager to cut loose the dead weight of the Gingrich and Bush years. In their forthcoming book, "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream" (Doubleday), Douthat and Salam are writing about, if not for, what they call "Sam's Club Republicans" - members of the white working class, who are the descendants of Nixon's "northern ethnics and southern Protestants" and the Reagan Democrats of the eighties. In their analysis, America is divided between the working class (defined as those without a college education) and a "mass upper class" of the college educated, who are culturally liberal and increasingly Democratic. The New Deal, the authors acknowledge, provided a sense of security to working-class families; the upheavals of the sixties and afterward broke it down. Their emphasis is on the disintegration of working-class cohesion, which they blame on "crime, contraception, and growing economic inequality." Douthat and Salam are cultural conservatives - Douthat became a Pentecostal and then a Catholic in his teens - but they readily acknowledge the economic forces that contribute to the breakdown of families lacking the "social capital" of a college degree. Their policy proposals are an unorthodox mixture of government interventions (wage subsidies for lower-income workers) and tax reforms (Ponnuru's increased child-credit idea, along with a revision of the tax code in favor of lower-income families). Their ultimate purpose is political: to turn as much of the working class into Sam's Club Republicans as possible. They don't acknowledge the corporate interests that are at least as Republican as Sam's Club shoppers, and that will put up a fight on many counts, potentially tearing the Party apart. Nor are they prepared to accept as large a role for government as required by the deep structural problems they identify. Douthat and Salam are as personally remote from working-class America as any élite liberal; Douthat described their work to me as "a data-driven attempt at political imagination." Still, any Republican politician worried about his party's eroding base and grim prospects should make a careful study of this book.

Frum's call for national-unity conservatism and Douthat and Salam's program for "Sam's Club Republicans" are efforts to shorten the lean years for conservatives, but political ideas don't materialize on command to solve the electoral problems of one party or another. They are generated over time by huge social transformations, on the scale of what took place in the sixties and seventies. "They're not real, they're ideological constructs," Buchanan said, "and you can write columns and things like that, but they don't engage the heart. The heart was engaged by law and order. You reached into people - there was feeling."

Sam Tanenhaus summed up the 2008 race with a simple formula: Goldwater was to Reagan as McGovern is to Obama. From the ruins of Goldwater's landslide defeat in 1964, conservatives began the march that brought them fully to power sixteen years later. If Obama wins in November, it will have taken liberals thirty-six years. Tanenhaus pointed out how much of Obama's rhetoric about a "new politics" is reminiscent of McGovern's campaign, which was also directed against a bloated, corrupt establishment. In "The Making of the President 1972," Theodore White quotes McGovern saying, "I can present liberal values in a conservative, restrained way... . I see myself as a politician of reconciliation." That was in 1970, before McGovern was defined as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion, and acid," and he defined himself as a rigid moralist more interested in hectoring middle Americans than in inspiring them.

Obama, of course, is an entirely different personality in a different time, but the interminable primary campaign has shown his coalition to look very much like McGovern's: educated, upper-income liberal voters; blacks; and the young. Nixon beat McGovern among the latter even after the Twenty-sixth Amendment lowered the voting age to eighteen; but times have changed so drastically that, according to Pew Research Center surveys, almost sixty per cent of voters under thirty now identify more strongly with the Democrats, doubling the Party's advantage among the young over Republicans since 2004. And the demographic work of John Judis and Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority," showed that the McGovern share of the electorate - minorities and educated professionals working in post-industrial jobs - is expanding far faster than the white working class. This was the original vision of a McGovern adviser named Fred Dutton, whose 1971 book, "Changing Sources of Power: American Politics in the 1970s," cited by Perlstein, foresaw a rising "coalition of conscience and decency" among baby boomers. The new politics was an electoral disaster in 1972, but it may finally triumph in 2008.

If not, it will be because Democrats still can't win the Presidency without the working-class Americans who remain the swing vote and, this year, are up for grabs more than ever. Hillary Clinton has denied Obama a lock on the nomination by securing large majorities of swing voters, beginning in New Hampshire and culminating last week in West Virginia. It took the Obama campaign months to realize that a 2008 version of the McGovern coalition will barely be sufficient to win the nomination, let alone the general election. The question is how Obama can do better with the crucial slice of the electorate that he hasn't been able to capture. Recently, he has gone from bowling in Pennsylvania and drinking Bud in Indiana to talking about his single mother, his wife's working-class roots, and his ardent patriotism on the night of his victory in North Carolina. But the problem can't be solved by symbols or rhetoric: for a forty-six-year-old black man in an expensive suit, with a Harvard law degree and a strange name, to walk into V.F.W. halls and retirement homes and say, "I'm one of you," seems both improbable and disingenuous.

The other extreme - to muse aloud among wealthy contributors, like a political anthropologist, about the values and behavior of the economically squeezed small-town voter - is even more self-defeating. Perhaps Obama's best hope is to play to his strength, which is a cool and eloquent candor, and address the question of liberal élitism as frontally as he spoke about race in Philadelphia two months ago. He would need to say, in effect, "I know I'm not exactly one of you," and then explain why this shouldn't matter - why he would be just as effective a leader for the working and middle class as his predecessors Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy, who were élites of a different kind. Above all, Obama should absorb what the most thoughtful conservatives already know: that these voters see the economic condition of the country as inextricable from its moral condition.

Last month, I saw John McCain speak in a tiny town, nestled among the Appalachian coal hills of eastern Kentucky, called Inez. He was in the middle of his Time for Action Tour of America's "forgotten places" (including Selma, Alabama; Youngstown, Ohio; and the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans). It was a transparent effort to stay in the media eye and also to say, as his speechwriter Mark Salter later told me, "I'm not going to run an election like the last couple have been run, trying to grind out a narrow win by increasing the turnout of the base. I don't want to run a campaign like that because I don't want to be a President like that. I want to be your President even if you don't vote for me." As every new conservative book points out, the Bush-Rove realignment strategy would fail miserably this year, anyway.

Inez is the place where Lyndon Johnson came to declare war on poverty, in 1964. He sat on the porch of a ramshackle, tin-roof house, which still stands (just barely) on a hillside above Route 3, looking a little like a museum of rural poverty in a county that has recently prospered because of coal. McCain was to appear in the county courthouse, on the short main street of Inez, and the middle-aged men I sat with in the second-floor courtroom all remembered Johnson's visit and had nothing but good things to say about his anti-poverty programs. Kennis Maynard, the county prosecutor, a cheerful, thickset man in a blue suit, had saved enough money for law school from a job in the mines that he got with the help of a federal work program. His family was so poor that they were happy to accept government handouts of pork, canned beans, and cheese. The courthouse in which we were sitting was a New Deal project, circa 1938. Maynard, like the other men, like most of nearly all-white Martin County, is Republican - mainly, he said, because of cultural issues like abortion. But Maynard and the others said that McCain had better talk about jobs and gas prices if he wanted to keep his audience.

John Preston, who is the county's circuit-court judge and also its amateur historian, Harvard-educated, with a flag pin on his lapel, said, "Obama is considered an élitist." He added, "There's a racial component, obviously, to it. Thousands of people won't publicly say it, but they won't vote for a black man - on both sides, Democrat and Republican. It won't show up in the polls, because they won't admit it. The elephant's in the room, but nobody will say it. Sad to say it, but it's true." Later, I spoke with half a dozen men eating lunch at the Pigeon Roost Dairy Bar outside town, and none of them had any trouble saying it. They announced their refusal to vote for a black man, without hesitation or apology. "He's a Muslim, isn't he?" an aging mine electrician asked. "I won't vote for a colored man. He'll put too many coloreds in jobs. Colored are O.K. - they've done well, good for them, look where they came from. But radical coloreds, no - like that Farrakhan, or that senator from New York, Rangel. There'd be riots in the streets, like the sixties." No speech, on race or élitism or anything else, would move them. Here was one part of the white working class - maybe not representative, but at least significant - and in an Obama-McCain race they would never be the swing vote. It is a brutal fact, and Obama probably shouldn't even mention it.

McCain appeared to a warm reception. I had seen him in New Hampshire, where he gave off-the-cuff remarks with vigor; when he is stuck with a script, however, he is a terrible campaigner. Looking pallid, he sounded flat, and stumbled over his lines - and yet they were effective lines, ones that Obama would do well to study. "I can't claim we come from the same background," McCain began. "I'm not the son of a coal miner. I wasn't raised by a family that made its living from the land or toiled in a mill or worked in the local schools or health clinic. I was raised in the United States Navy, and, after my own naval career, I became a politician. My work isn't as hard as yours - it isn't nearly as hard as yours. I had an easier start." He paused and went on, "But you are my compatriots, my fellow-Americans, and that kinship means more to me than almost any other association."

McCain mentioned Johnson's visit and the war on poverty, expressing admiration for its good intentions but rebuking its reliance on government to create jobs - rebuking it gently, without the contempt that Reagan would have used. He called for job-training partnerships between business and community colleges, tax deductions for companies bringing telecommunications to rural areas. It was a moderate, reform-minded Republicanism. He didn't use any of the red-meat language that made two generations of white voters switch parties.

"McCain is not a theme guy," David Brooks said. "He reacts - he has moral instinct, which I think is quite a good one." Other conservatives complained to me that he has no ideology at all. "Let's face it," Brooks said. "What McCain's going to do is say, 'I'm not George Bush. I'm not like the Republican Party you knew.' " Most Presidential candidates move to the center once they've locked up the nomination; McCain, however, still has to try to win over the suspicious Republican right, and he recently vowed to appoint only judges who "strictly interpret" the Constitution to the bench. But pledges of fealty to his party's ideological interest groups diminish what's appealing about McCain. "Feeling fraudulent is very debilitating to him," Mark Salter said.

When McCain opened the floor for questions, a woman asked about border security. He replied, to general laughter, "This meeting is adjourned." Another woman asked him to discuss his religious faith, and McCain told a story from his imprisonment, about a generous gesture by a North Vietnamese guard one Christmas Day. I'd heard him tell the same story in New Hampshire; it seemed to be his stock answer, and he hurried through it. Other questions came, about gas prices and jobs going overseas and foreclosures and education costs, and McCain's answers - a summer federal-gas-tax holiday, a cut in the capital-gains tax, charter schools, federal home loans, job-training programs - didn't seem to move either him or his audience very much.

Members of the audience began to appeal to McCain with the old polarizing language, but he refused to take the bait. A state senator asked what he thought about Obama's recent comments on rural voters, religion, and guns. McCain turned the question around. "Let me ask you: Do you think those remarks reflect the views of constituents?"

"I think they reflect the views of someone who doesn't understand this neck of the woods," the state senator replied, to the biggest ovation of the day.

"Yes, those were élitist remarks, to say the least," McCain said quickly, walking away.

Judge Preston had a question. McCain had mentioned Clinton's vote for a million-dollar earmark for a museum in Woodstock, New York. Had he attended the concert? It was an obvious setup for a standard McCain joke, and he seemed positively embarrassed by it. "I'll give my not-so-respectful answer," he said. "I was tied up at the time."

It was a remarkably subdued performance. McCain doesn't try to stir a crowd's darker passions or its higher aspirations. He doesn't present himself as a conservative leader; he is simply a leader. His favorite book, according to Salter, is "For Whom the Bell Tolls," because it's the story of a man who struggles nobly even though he knows the effort is doomed. McCain says to audiences, Here I am, a man in full, take me or leave me. This might be the only kind of Republican who could win in 2008.