Monday, July 21, 2008


Last week’s column for The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly newspaper. Some additions since publication.

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—Until election day, I’ll post the latest electoral vote poll on the presidency: the only poll that counts.

As of today, according to the incomparably precise ratings which averages all state polls in the nation, Barack Obama has 238, John McCain 163. Tossups: 137.

Needed to elect: 270.

Other electoral vote studies show it closer but in all, McCain is being beaten decisively. Yet Republicans need not get unduly discouraged. The campaign has a long-long way to go. Remember my admonition of “events, my dear boy, events”? They have a way of tearing up the ordered political landscape—events nobody can predict that can change the standings overnight.

Dems Move DNC High Command to Chicago.

Chicago has officially become the sun in the Democratic party firmament around which all other planets orbit. After the party’s Denver convention, the entire party machinery will move to Chicago to run the campaign from here. Reasons: (1) without Mayor Richard M. Daley’s backing, Obama would not even be an asterisk among the candidates; (2) it is also the stamping grounds of David Axelrod, Obama’s top strategist, who is also Daley’s; (3) it is home to Valerie Jarrett, the most influential black in the city excluding Obama, who served as planning and development commissioner for Daley, is a top confidante of Obama and his wife (Jarrett conferred on Michelle Obama the $300,000 a year salary from the University of Chicago hospitals where Jarrett serves as board member; not coincidentally Sen. Obama secured many federal grants for the hospital.).

(4) Also it’s home base to Habitat, Inc. headed by Jarrett, which has drawn scrutiny for managing uninhabitable housing for the poor (but no one talks about that); (5) it is seen as a showcase for the city as it seeks the 2016 Olympics, a drive in which Obama and Jarrett have enlisted, Obama telling the local media here (with Daley by his side): “I have to let you know that in 2016 I’ll be wrapping up my second term as president—so I can’t think of a better way than to be marching alongside Mayor Daley as president of the United States and announcing to the world, `let the games begin!’”

Obama’s Choice of Vices.

Last week retired 4-star general Wesley Clark disqualified himself for the vice presidency by ridiculing John McCain’s service in Vietnam—a stupid move but the Obama people are glad it happened now than after Clark would get the nomination. And you read it here last week that Virginia Senator Jim Webb, 62, a Protestant, still would have been the best vice presidential pick for Barack Obama. Many reasons. (1) The highly decorated Marine hero would have given the presumptive Democratic nominee an opportunity to blur very liberal positions that are bedeviling Obama including the Illinoisan’s lack of military experience. (2) Webb and his family is strong with the Scots-Irish in the Appalachia region--Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia—where Obama lost heavily to Hillary Clinton in the primaries. These are largely conservative whites who have crossed over from Democratic instincts to vote Republican on occasion. (3) Webb would be a natural conduit to Republicans who want to vote Democratic—since Webb was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the navy. (4) While Obama is instinctively cautious and equivocating in his remarks, Webb is refreshing because he speaks his mind.

Yet last week the scrappy senator took himself out of consideration for veep—a distinct blow to centrists in the Obama camp who want to hype white voters for the ticket. Why? Liberal political correctness which infects the Democratic party. The first group of people to storm the office of Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod against Webb’s consideration, were pro-Hillary Clinton feminists who are threatening to sit out the election. They were brandishing copies of an article Webb wrote for The Washingtonian magazine 29 years ago under the headline “Women Can’t Fight.” It said “women’s presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation. By attempting to sexually sterilize the Naval Academy environment in the name of equality, this country has sterilized the whole process of combat leadership training and our military forces are doomed to suffer the consequences.”

Come on! said Webb supporters, that article was written almost 30 years ago! Since then, Webb has corrected himself. But the Hillary boosters had more. Remember the 1991 Naval Academy’s Tailhook convention where 83 women reported being harassed in drunken sprees in hotel rooms? When questioned about it, Webb dismissed it at first as a “witch hunt.” “This is a slap in the face to Hillary Clinton and the women of America!” said one outraged woman, citing a poll that shows that only 54% of the Hillary Clinton voters are ready to back Obama.

But angry Hillary supporters, called “Hillraisers,” who raised money for her and are now being wooed to do the same for Obama, are greatly influential. Next to pound on Axelrod’s office door were blacks who up to now have been beatifically happy with Obama since he became the putative nominee. But they were furious at the suggestion of Webb on the ticket, citingWebb’s written statement in 2000 that affirmative action is “state-sponsored racism.”

Then came a delegation of liberal 1960s-style peaceniks, also regarded as safe supporters of Obama. They were kicking about Webb’s laudatory review of a book Triumph Forsaken [Cambridge: 2006] by Mark Moyar which claimed the U. S. lost the Vietnam war because of a stab in the back to the nation from liberal journalists i.e. David Halberstam and Walter Cronkite, poisoning the well of public opinion. “I know of no scholar more dedicated to bringing a thorough and accurate portrayal of America’s involvement in Vietnam than Mark Moyar. Everyone who is interested in a full picture of that oft-misunderstood war should be grateful for this effort.”

Finally Massachusetts liberals weighed in. In a 2004 Op Ed, Webb wrote that Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, “deserves condemnation for his opposition to the Vietnam war.” Even so Webb was in the finals for the vice presidency when he decided he would have to backtrack on many views to take the job—so he opted out.

Webb’s departure leaves quite a few contenders still standing but if Obama’s people are going to continue to exert politically correct litmus tests, no centrist will pass. One major candidate is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a popular ex-Philly mayor who returned the city to solvency in what urban experts agree was one of the most stunning achievements in state history. He is now a second-term governor who delivered a 10-point win for Hillary Clinton in the primary, a friendly, huge bear of a man with a Kojak-style bald head whose infectious Jewish humor has won him huge popularity even in the Republican suburbs of Philadelphia which McCain has to carry to win the state. But Rendell has a disturbing tendency to be candid, as when he declared that some Pennsylvanians would simply not vote for Obama because he’s black. And scatological, too as when he told the unions “I don’t want to be a s—t and I don’t want to be anti-labor but I can’t grow hair and I can’t grow money!”

But probably he will get tied up in knots by the liberals as well because of his statement about the entrenchment of racial politics in Philadelphia when he was mayor, saying “Everything that goes on is a power struggle between black politicians and white politicians and it isn’t because of what’s good for the citizens. It’s about who controls what project. I’m so fed up with this blackmail stuff that goes on, I could just scream. I could just take a machine gun and shoot `em all!” Can you imagine Barack Obama explaining that one away in a news conference announcing Rendell’s selection? Maybe—but I cannot.

The fall-back candidate for Obama and the one whom many people now believe is the safest is a dull bespectacled ex-senator who could probably star in a movie entitled The Revenge of the Nerds. He is Sam Nunn of Georgia, a Protestant, who will be 70 when the convention is held. For one thing, he looks like vice presidents did before Dick Cheney—quiet, unassuming, easily forgotten in the shuffle of things. He superbly fills out the gap in Obama’s national security background, having served eight of his 24 Senate years as chairman of armed services where he became one of Washington’s most recognized military experts.

Liberals like him, because he is on record as having opposed both Iraq War excursions, Iraq I under George H. W. Bush and II under George W. His prime Senate accomplishment was a U.S.-Soviet agreement to reduce nuclear stockpiles. Nunn doesn’t supply Obama with what Webb or Rendell would—the Appalachians and Pennsylvania—but being a southerner he wouldn’t hurt in Florida or Virginia.

But in such a automaton-like ideologically liberal party, Nunn also has one disadvantage. His selection could get the gays and lesbians aroused since he quashed Bill Clinton’s initial attempt to encourage gays to serve openly in the military, forcing Clinton to resort to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” So adamant was Nunn that he circulated photos of close quarters in the military including cramped submarine bunking arrangements that led to cries of bigotry from gays. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Hillary Clinton contingent doesn’t object strenuously at all to Nunn—the reason probably being that if something happens to Obama…not wishing, just mentioning… and Nunn succeeds to the presidency, he would likely be too old to run, allowing Hillary one more try. See how the Clintons think of every contingency?

One candidate who has virtually no chance of landing vice president with Obama despite her energetic campaigning for it is Kathleen Sebelius, 60, the attractive, silver-haired two-term popular Democratic governor in solidly Republican Kansas. A pro-abort Catholic, she is the daughter of a one-time dark horse presidential candidate, Gov. John Gilligan of Ohio. She has touted the fact that with Hillary’s defeat, a woman running with Obama would be great, especially a woman Democratic governor of Kansas in the state of Obama’s mother’s birth. But the Hillary people say, “if the running-mate ain’t going to be Hillary, no dice.” Also, Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann has publicly told the governor she should not present herself for Communion because of her pro-abort views. Democrats dread escalation of the abortion issue in this general election, so the hopes of Vice President wannabe Kathleen Sebelius are gathering dust in the dead-letter office.

McCain’s Pick of Vices.

Since John McCain is a wild-card, imperious and impetuous all through his career, one can never really be sure that at the last minute he won’t pick one of his closest friends, Sen. Joe Lieberman, 66, the independent-Democrat from Connecticut, an observant Jew, who has traveled throughout the country with McCain extolling his virtues. But doing so would be disastrous for the fragile conservative GOP base since Lieberman is an ultra-liberal all the way…pro-abort, pro-gay, etc. with the exception of his support of the Iraq War. But with McCain, one cannot be totally sure that Lieberman won’t be on the ticket.

Despite the fact that McCain doesn’t care for Mitt Romney, 61, nor Romney for McCain, some strategists are urging the Arizonan to pick the pro-life Mormon former Massachusetts governor for three reasons: (1) McCain is not particularly fluent on the stump and Romney is a master communicator; (2) McCain’s strength is not the economy and self-made half-billionaire Romney’s is; and (3) Romney has the wherewithal to dump a sizable amount of personal dough into the McCain contest if he is the vice-presidential nominee. Besides, history is littered with hostile presidents and running-mates: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; Coolidge and Charles Dawes (who didn’t speak); FDR and John Garner, JFK and LBJ.

So powerful is the lure of becoming McCain’s vice president on Florida Gov. Charles (Charlie) Crist, Jr.,that he made the supreme sacrifice, according to some of his friends: he is getting married to his longtime fiancée in order to quash a rumor that has been dogging him throughout his political career that he is gay. A hugely popular governor of Greek extraction (73% favorable rating) in a state with 27 electoral votes that McCain must carry to win, Crist, 52, is a photographer’s dream: pencil-thin, spectacularly coiffed grey-haired male model Gentleman’s Quarterly type with a year-round tan and is known as the “Golden Greek.”

Beyond that , he has an unusual distinction: being attacked both for being gay and for fathering a child out of wedlock; normally one charge canceling the other. A bachelor, he was divorced in the early 1980s after a seven-month marriage. Political opponents pried open his divorce records and disclosed he had used drugs and committed adultery in the 1970s. Then they publicized an 18-year-old paternity claim where Crist had relinquished any rights to the child who was put up for adoption. But the viciousness of the charges had a backlash and Crist was elected governor by a landslide. Since then he has been an adroit politician—favoring the death penalty as well as oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, is pro-life but gained some criticism for his reluctance when he was attorney general to go the limit to keep Terri Schaivo on life support.

Another top candidate is Louisiana Gov. Putush (Bobby) Jindal, 36, the first non-white to be governor since Reconstruction. Jindal, who is in his first term, is of Indian extraction but was born here of Punjabi Indian parents which makes him eligible under the Constitution to serve as president if something happens to McCain. He is a prominent Catholic layman and former congressman. He had a 100% pro-life voting record in Congress and is a frequent writer on many topics—notably exorcism about which he held forth in The New Oxford Review. He has two strikes on him—possibly too young and too soon after having been elected governor in 2006, before he can advance his state goals.

Jindal is so thin he has been described as looking like an advance man for a famine. There was a slight dustup in Louisiana when it appeared he might endorse a pay raise for lawmakers which he had campaigned against—but in the end he vetoed it. He has called himself Bobby since childhood when he was a fan of the TV sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” picking the name from Bobby Brady, the eldest son.

Minnesota has never had a president although Harold Stassen, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale tried very hard to be the first. Now the conservative governor of the state, Tim Pawlenty, 46, a pro-lifer and fallen-away Catholic of Polish and German descent (born in South St. Paul near the stockyards) who was converted to the evangelical Baptist religion by his wife is very much in the running for the vice presidential nod. Pawlenty’s Teamster father belonged to the Eastern European blue collar class that worked South St. Paul’s once teeming slaughterhouses—but beginning in 1962 the meat-processing plants began to close and layoffs created huge unemployment (10,000 lost jobs in a town of 25,000). Pawlenty’s mother, dying of cancer, made his siblings promise to send this youngest child to college. They helped but he largely put himself through under-grad and law school, taking a partnership in a blue-chip law firm before running for the legislature.

Time was when just as it was a no-no for a Catholic to run for national office, being a fallen-away Catholic was equally verboten. FDR vetoed the bid of Sen. James M. Byrnes of South Carolina for vice president although Roosevelt really wanted him-- because Byrnes changed both the spelling of his name (from the Irish spelling, “Burns”) and his religion from Catholic to fashionable Episcopalian to correspond with the voting traits of heavily Protestant South Carolina. (“Sorry, Jim,” said FDR. “Being a fallen away Catholic won’t go over with the northern big city urban vote.” No problem now evidently.)

For a time it looked like Pawlenty would be forced out of the 2002 race for governor. All three candidates—Democratic, Republican and Independence party nominees—had agreed to accept public financing and limit their spending to $2.2 million. Then Pawlenty circumvented the rules, selling TV footage of himself to the state GOP whose chairman was his good friend. Pawlenty paid a $100,000 fine and was held to a minimum amount of expenditure but won anyhow. Then there was the case of the owner of a telecom company who paid Pawlenty $4,500 a month in unspecified consulting fees while Pawlenty was running for governor. Even today nobody knows what the payments were for. You will hear more about these things if Pawlenty is picked.

There has been some talk of McCain picking a woman for vice president since there is talk of women defecting from the Democrats because Hillary lost. But who? Republicans aren’t exactly overflowing with prospects. One is the governor of Alaska, Sara Palin, married, mother of five (the youngest a Down syndrome child) who is very popular in the state. She is Alaska’s youngest (42) and first woman governor who won office as a maverick reformer, a former beauty queen and TV sports anchor, a tax-cutter and down-the-line fiscal conservative. An evangelical Protestant, she is solidly pro-life. One disadvantage among the many pluses: she’s enthusiastic about drilling for oil in Anwar while McCain is not. For that reason she may well be placed on hold.

Finally, a familiar but sort of scary face. Baptist minister and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, 53, was for a time the taste-of-the-month in Republican primaries: a phrase-maker and stand-up comedian. But he’s unpolished and, though a favorite of evangelical voters, failed to make inroads with Catholic voters in any primary. Huckabee is a lot more liberal in social spending than many other candidates and coupled with wild-card McCain, might spell doom. Still it would be fun if he ran and got elected vice president…with for the first time since Thomas Riley Marshall of Indiana a flat-out Creationist a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

Alarmed at the possibility, how the ultra-liberal The New York Times owners would pray…for the good health of John McCain…and pray for probably the very first time since 1896 when the secular, non-observant Sulzberger family gained control of the paper!


  1. If I recall correctly, Bobby was the youngest Brady son, and Greg was the oldest.

  2. Can we not also thank Alan Keyes, without whom also "Obama would not even be an asterisk among the candidates"?