Friday, May 22, 2015

Should politicians be allowed to relax?

By Richard Barry

I've been to a number of those off-the-record media roasts in which skits and songs are performed and politicians mix it up with members of the press, frequently making fun of themselves in a way that resonates with the tenor of media coverage of them.

Though I doubt any of these events are ever really off the record these days, which is too bad because a lot fun can be had if those involved feel safe for an evening.

On Wednesday, at an annual New Jersey media roast, Gov. Christie took the stage and gave what Bloomberg Politics called "an expletive-laced speech . . aimed at reporters who mocked him for the George Washington Bridge scandal, his travel, and state finances."
“We don’t give a s--- about this or any of you,” Christie, a 52-year-old Republican who is considering a run for president, said to laughter and applause from about 350 people at a Hamilton banquet hall. He told one journalist to “open your eyes” and “clean the s--- out of your ears.”

“This is a guy who says he doesn’t know what I’m doing every day,” Christie said of the New Jersey Legislative Correspondents Club president. “Then just get the f--- away from me then if you don’t know what I’m doing.”

As well, a parody of the song, “If I Were a Rich Man” from Broadway’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” was reworked: “I’m not Sheldon Adelson’s boy/I’ll tell him I’m another hopeless goy.”

In 2012, Christie and Cory Booker, the former Newark mayor who now is a Democratic U.S. senator, collaborated on a video for the show that parodied the governor’s potential as a vice president and the mayor’s heroism after saving a neighbor from a fire. Posted on Christie’s YouTube page, it’s been viewed more than 400,000 times.

I don't know what Kevin Roberts a Christie spokesman, was referring to when he said in an e-mail, “That anyone would misrepresent the traditional lighthearted nature of the event is a disservice everyone involved." I'm sure some people would love to take Christie's remarks out of context.

I'm no fan of Chris Christie, though he does seem to have a good sense of humour, and a lot of very funny people are from New Jersery. But the point is that it would be a shame if these time-honoured events didn't happen anymore because the 24-hour news cycle is so desperate for content that it will take what are obvious jokes and try to turn them into something else.

In other words, the lack of authenticity in politicians is not entirely their fault. 

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jeb Bush's bad conscience on climate change

By Richard Barry

Just as we saw Mitt Romney do a 180 on policies he had previously championed in order to appeal to the "activist base" of the Republican Party, I have to wonder if Jeb Bush is similarly conflicted, at least in terms of what he thinks and what he has to say. I mean, aren't we always being told how smart Jeb is?

I'm probably giving him too much credit, but it seems that the way he is talking about climate change is a hedge against a bad conscience. So, for example, Jeb says "it's not clear what percentage of climate change is man-made," but he thinks the "government should provide incentives for methods like hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling."

Then again, there's this gem:
"For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you," he continued. "It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it, even. The climate is changing. We need to adapt to that reality." 

Yes, it's really arrogant for 97% of scientists to use science to empirically prove what the oil and gas industry doesn't want to acknowledge because it would damage their bottom line.
Jeb Bush hit back against President Obama's claim that climate change runs an immediate risk, saying Wednesday that while it shouldn't be ignored, it's still not "the highest priority."

As he has before, Bush acknowledged "the climate is changing" but stressed that it's unknown why. "I don't think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted," he said at a house party in Bedford, New Hampshire.

But here's the hedge:
"The President's approach is, effectively, reduce economic activity to lower our carbon footprint," he said. "That's not what he says, of course, but that's the result of his policies."

Rather than focusing on carbon emissions, Bush said, the federal government should provide more incentives for lower carbon-producing forms of energy, like hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling.

"I don't think it's the highest priority. I don't think we should ignore it, either," Bush said of climate change. "Just generally I think as conservatives we should embrace innovation, embrace technology, embrace science. ... Sometimes I sense that we pull back from the embrace of these things. We shouldn't.

For a Republican, that's a pretty nuanced view on climate change, one that I am sure will be robustly attacked by Jeb Bush's opponents in the GOP presidential nomination race. 

The question is, which Fox News personality will be the first to ask Republican candidates, yes or no, if climate change is man made?

Try to nuance that, Jeb.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mandatory same-sex marriage? Really?

By Richard Barry

Who wants sex? Raise your hand.

Through the miracle of the Internet, I found myself reading an article about Sen. Ted Cruz in a publication called the Texas Tribune. They first reported on his stump speech and the usual platitudes involving loving the Constitution, hating Obama's foreign policy agenda, and then there was something about economic growth.

Later in a private meeting with Beaumont county officials he mixed it up with reporters saying things like that the left and the media are obsessed with sex presumably based on the importance they place on reporting or defending civil rights like same-sex marriage.

That's Ted Cruz. I don't really care. 

But one statement of his that went by quickly and about which others have commented involved what he called the expansion of "mandatory same-sex marriage." That's what he called it.

The odd thing is that for some time those supporting same-sex marriage have made a bit of a joke out of the fact that extending the right to marry to same-sex couples doesn't mean straight couples will be forced to take up the practice. Ha, ha.

It was a joke with a meaning, which was that same-sex couples getting married really won't effect those not directly involved.

When confronted with this line, conservatives typically make the argument that allowing gays to marry would destroy out culture or our American way of life, or whatever. The problem is that this argument is weak tea and Ted Cruz knows it.

So, he's begun to go around slipping in the nonsensical term "mandatory same-sex marriage," which, if he was pressed, would probably cause him to invoke the right of Christians to violate his beloved Constitution by denying the rights of those they disapprove of. 

But really, what he's doing at, I would say, an unconscious level (sorry Sigmund) is implying that people will be forced to, well, you know. And, gosh golly, if the government went around forcing straight men to marry other men, and straight women to marry other women, well, that wouldn't be right.

I wouldn't suggest you take this too literally, but neither do I think Ted Cruz is unaware of the power of the words "mandatory same-sex marriage."

Vote Ted Cruz so that won't happen.

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Gov. Christie has left his senses, now if he would only leave New Jersey


So what you're saying is that it isn't because you
want me to stay?

A lot of people think politics is boring and not at all fun. But how can they think that? Perhaps it's because they've never been to New Jersey.

As the political equivalent of a hanging curve ball, Gov. Christie told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that the reason 65 percent of New Jersey voters don't think he'd make a good president is that they love him so much in the Garden State that they want him to stay. What he actually said was,  "A lot of those people in that 65 percent want me to stay. And I've heard that from lots of people at town hall meetings."

Well, the state's largest newspaper, the Newark Star-Ledger, would like to take issue with that assessment, and not in a very nice way.

They say that if Gov. Christie believes this, which is possible, he has lost touch with reality.

They think the reason people in New Jersey don't believe Christie would make a very good president is because he has been a disaster as governor. 

And why is that?
It could be the rotten job market. Or the high property taxes. Or the crumbling transit system. Or the broken promise on pensions. Or the private jets. Or the Bridgegate indictments. And so on.

They offer the advice to Gov. Christie that he ought to reacquaint himself with reality, "pour himself a drink and ask himself the tough question: Why don't people love me?

Because, sorry, Governor, they don't love you.

Hey, the next time your boss gives you a really bad job evaluation, ask him if it's because he thinks you'd be great for that promotion you've been coveting.

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When criticizing Hillary Clinton becomes a sport

By Richard Barry

Yeah, I came for the 50 bucks and a place to nap.

Focus groups are very important. They can give us a deeper dive on voters' thought processes, maybe help us better understand which impressions are sticking and which are more ephemeral, perhaps even give us some insight into the emotions behind people's preference. But a focus group is not a poll, and to headline a story, as Bloomberg Politics does, by saying Iowa Democrats believe a "flawed Hillary Clinton" is their "only hope" is just a little misleading considering only 10 people were spoken to and, in any case, that's not at all what they said.

In fact, as I read the responses from the focus group participants, which you can do for yourself, I find that the most consistent impression is that Hillary Clinton is a very accomplished and capable individual who has been around a long time and, as a result, has some baggage.

For elected officials, incumbency is usually seen as a great strength on the path to reelection. But having been around a while also means you have had more chances to screw up or annoy people. In any case, a high profile is a double edged sword, and we are seeing that in aces with Mrs. Clinton.

Is she perfect? No. Is she going to be attacked relentlessly by her political enemies. Yes. Will she always handle those attacks well? No. Are there some real problems with her past? Yes. But to read this headline you would think that this group of 10 Iowans are mortified that Hillary is the only credible candidate running for the Democratic nomination, which couldn't be less true. 

Overall, they seem pleased.

And, oh yeah. At the very end of the story is this gem: "Qualitative research results cannot be statistically analyzed or projected onto the broader population at large." 

Thanks for the warning. Now if you could have a chat with your headline writer...

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On the Hustings


National Journal: "Hillary Clinton finally takes reporters' questions in Iowa" (Emily Schultheis)

ABC News: "How the State Department is tackling 55000 pages of Hillary Clinton emails" (Justin Fishel)

Politico: "Florida quietly sets up an epic 2016 primary clash" (Eli Stoklos)

CBS News: "How the Iraq war question could shape 2016 campaign"

Voice of America: "Foreign policy dominates early stage of 2016 campaign" (Jim Malone)

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Fox New's 24-hour outrage cycle and how it hurts Republicans

By Richard Barry

James Fallows at The Atlantic cites a new study by Bruce Bartlett called "How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics."

He draws attention to two aspects of the study he finds particularly noteworthy.

The first is its source—for those who don’t know, Barlett is a veteran of the Reagan and Bush-41 administrations and was an influential early proponent of supply-side / tax-cut economics. He also worked for Ron Paul. Since then he’s harshly criticized the Bush-43 administration, but in no sense does he come at this as a Democratic party operative.

The second and more important reason is Bartlett’s accumulation of detail showing (a) that Fox’s core viewers are factually worse-informed than people who follow other sources, and even those who don’t follow news at all, and (b) that the mode of perpetual outrage that is Fox’s goal and effect has become a serious problem for the Republican party, in that it pushes its candidates to sound always-outraged themselves.

As it was written by a relatively high profile Republican, I suppose that means it can't be so easily dismissed as a piece of partisan tripe, although Fox News watchers have a name for those putatively on the inside who question their world view and the politics that flow from it: RINO.

That Fox News viewers are poorly informed, well knock me over with a feather.

On Fox's goal of perpetual outrage and how that pushes Republican candidates to "sound always outraged themselves," that's interesting. 

This approach works when preaching to the choir but not all that well when the goal is to expand one's reach, which is something the GOP would need to do to, say, win the presidency. 

Most voters don't live their lives in a state of high agitation and quickly grow weary of being around and listening to people who do. 

Criticizing the state of affairs as they are is always a part of electoral politics, but so is providing a plan to move things in a positive direction, usually the greatest part. 

If Ronald Reagan had just been about bemoaning the sad state of America due to liberal malfeasance and not also about a bright and shiny future, however unrealistic, he wouldn't have gotten very far.

Yes, positive works, and is in fact necessary. Fox News doesn't really do positive, and to the extent that conservative politicians tailor their message to be in sync with Fox's 24-hour outrage cycle, they are setting themselves up for failure.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Is Scott Walker ready for this?

By Richard Barry

In a series of short items of campaign news, the New York Times notes: "[Scott] Walker Team Has Experience but No Clear Leader."

Scott Walker has been in elected office since the age of 26 and is known to act as his own political strategist. His organization seems to reflect as much. While several operatives on Mr. Walker’s team have presidential campaign experience — including David Polyansky, Ed Goeas, Rick Wiley, Gary Marx and Gregg Keller — it is unclear who will oversee the strategy.

It's early yet. Walker may well already know who is going to lead his team. But it would be a rookie mistake for him to act as his own chief-of-staff very far into the campaign as all candidates need someone they trust to tell them when they are screwing up or that hard decisions need to be made when, left on their own, the candidate might be more comfortable letting things ride.

We don't know how Walker will campaign on the much bigger stage, and the staffing thing may not be an issue at all, but I have a feeling he is not up to this and will be a huge disappointment to those who are hoping otherwise.

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Bernie Sanders is popular on social media because he is actually saying something

By Richard Barry


Nick Corasaniti at the New York Times begins a profile of Bernie Sanders and his surprisingly effective use of social media like this:
The quotations he posts, rarely pithy, are often sayings he thinks up in the shower. The photographs he puts up sometimes show him frowning, while others show him gazing oddly into the horizon. And he does not seem to care about the importance of videos.

Corasaniti writes that the 73-year old Sanders (as if even using a computer at that age is a miracle) has  "emerged as a king of social media early in the 2016 presidential campaign, amid a field of tech-savvy contenders."

He continues:
Mr. Sanders, an independent who describes himself as a socialist, has stuck to an idiosyncratic method: posting images that share a quotation, which he has either written himself or dug up from a historical figure and then burned onto a photograph. (President Theodore Roosevelt and President Dwight D. Eisenhower are among those he has recently cited.)

And the thing is that Sanders is using social media "all wrong" by putting up longish posts and avoiding buzzwords that might drive traffic and using corny graphics and not sharing meaningless details about his personal life, and still the traffic comes.

How could that be?

Personally, I love the historical quotations because it has all been said before, though we sometimes need to be reminded of that fact.

Sorry for sounding like a ideologue here, but some time ago people with all the money, access to power, and political clout decided that a whole range of ideas were simply crazy and only entertained by foolish and "unserious" people. Most of these "crazy" ideas aren't new, they simply have no mainstream legitimacy. It would therefore be unwise for anyone seeking office to rely too much on them in a campaign.

A guy like Sanders comes along and starts talking about the military-industrial complex, single-payer healthcare, taking care of veterans, effective climate change action, tuition-free college, bad trade deals, serious Wall Street reform, real progressive tax policy, doing something about the wealth gap (instead of just talking about it), changes to campaign finance laws, social democracy, and on and on.

Just maybe Bernie Sanders is doing well with social media because a lot of people (younger people?) are sick to death of politicians trying to figure out every angle on every issue so they can grab the biggest chunk of voters sitting in the middle. I think they call that triangulation.

Maybe it has nothing to do with how well Bernie Sanders is using the accepted rules of social media and more to do with people who think it's time we started to believe, and have leadership who believe, that so many of the things that would truly improve our society, though they may not be new ideas, can be done.

Can I get a "like" for that?

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Julian Castro at the top of Clinton's VP list?

By Richard Barry


The Republican Party is no doubt proud of itself for having Hispanic candidates like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz running for the GOP presidential nomination, as it should be. And then there's Jeb Bush and however it is he positions himself as Hispanic-friendly. Republicans needed to do something about their woeful performance among Hispanic voters in 2102, and perhaps they have, although in my mind a candidate's heritage is less important than whether they will actually support policies that aid those they are trying to court. But that's me.

With this in mind, it was interesting to read that a former Clinton administration official is going around saying "Hillary Clinton will pick Julian Castro as her running mate if she wins the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination."
"What I am hearing in Washington, including from people in Hillary Clinton's campaign, is that the first person on their lists is Julian Castro, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who used to be the Mayor of San Antonio," Henry Cisneros, the Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Bill Clinton, said Sunday on Univision's "Al Punto" program.

"They don't have a second option, because he is the superior candidate considering his record, personality, demeanor and Latin heritage," Cisneros added.

"I think there is a very high possibility that Hillary Clinton may choose Julian Castro,” he said.

Castro has been the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development since July 28, 2014 and served three terms as the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, from 2009 to 2014.

You may recall that he was widely praised for his keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

His name has been out there for a while as a potential Clinton pick, so this is no great surprise. It's just amusing to think that the Republicans could be trumped in this way with an Hispanic candidate a "heart beat away from the presidency," unless of course Rubio or Cruz win the GOP nomination, a long shot at best.

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Will the media let Bernie Sanders talk about real issues?

By Richard Barry

In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders expressed concern about the way the media is likely to cover his nomination contest against Hillary Clinton and potentially others.

"Are you in the media prepared to allow us to engage in that serious debate?" he said. "Or do I have to get media attention by simply making reckless attacks on Hillary Clinton or anybody else? I don't believe in that. I believe in serious debates on serious issues."

Sanders said he personally likes Clinton. He said he's willing to challenger her on policy issues -- but that he hopes media will cover those differences without Sanders having to launch "reckless attacks."

As for that serious debate, Sanders raised the left's fight against income inequality and took an unfortunately reckless shot at Clinton for being late to the struggle.
"It's one thing to talk about it. It's one thing to act on it," the Vermont senator said during an interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar aired Sunday on "State of the Union."

Sanders also discussed his own efforts to challenge Wall Street, his advocacy of universal health care, and his opposition to "disastrous trade agreements" like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

He was particularly critical of Clinton's unwillingness to take a position on the trade deal, which has been pushed hard by President Obama.

"You can't be on the fence of this one," he said. "You're either for it or you're against it. No fence-sitting on this one."

So, of all the substantive issues Sanders noted, what do you suppose CNN Politics picked as its headline? It was "Sanders Casts Clinton as Newcomer in Income Fight." It was his least substantial comment, and admittedly a somewhat petty remark, but also the one most likely to stoke resentment instead of promote debate on the part of Hillary Clinton.

If Sen. Sanders really thinks the media is interested in a serious debate between himself and Mrs. Clinton, he should prepare himself for disappointment.

And a note to Bernie Sanders. If you make a crack like saying Clinton is a latecomer to the income equality issue, that will always be the headline. Political professionals always know what the headline will be. This is the big leagues.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

But can Scott Walker see Russia from his house?



Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he would make his intentions known in June about a presidential run. 

Walker said he believes, if he were to run, he’d have strong foreign policy experience, given his work on trade issues in his state, as well as his travel to China, Japan, Germany, France, Spain and Great Britain.

On defense issues, Walker said, his leadership experience would be a strong asset.

 [. . .]

“I gotta tell you, one of the areas people talk to me the most about is the safety and security of this country,” he said. “If I choose to get into this race, I’m going to lay out a very clear plan.”

I recognize that Scott Walker wouldn't be the first presidential contender without much real foreign policy experience. I also realize that a candidate has got to make the best of what they have to offer. But no, dealing with a few trade issues in Wisconsin, some trips abroad, and "leadership experience" focused on staring down public sector unions doesn't cut it. 

It's particularly pathetic considering he would likely be running against a well-respected former Secretary of State (and he can say Benghazi all he wants). 

If Republicans do intend to make 2016 a foreign policy election by arguing that Clinton's tenure at State was problematic, they might want to offer up a candidate who is actually in position to say something intelligent about foreign affairs.


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The GOP presidential nomination: A crowded stage and many reasons for being there

By Richard Barry

As it is becoming increasingly clear that Jeb Bush's path to the GOP presidential nomination is anything but certain, party officials are growing concerned that the process could continue on well into the spring of 2016, with all the problems that prolonged internal snipping could bring.
This could cost presidential aspirants tens of millions of dollars; pull them far to the right ideologically, from hot-button social issues to foreign policy; and jeopardize their general-election chances. And in such a muddled lineup — officials are planning to squeeze 10 or more contenders onto the debate stage — candidates will be rewarded for finding creative ways to gain notice.

“We’re in a danger zone,” said Doug Gross, a top Republican establishment figure in Iowa. “When the party poobahs put this process together, they thought they could telescope this to get us a nominee who could appeal to a broad cross-section of people. What we’ve got instead is a confederation of a lot of candidates who aren’t standing out — and in order to stand out, you need to scream the loudest.”

This is not news, but it does put a couple of observations in play. There will be candidates on that stage who are not there because they think they can win. Mike Huckabee's lucrative Fox career can only be furthered by saying the kinds of things from the perspective of the religious right that have made him famous. Ted Cruz, already loathed by his more mainstream Republican colleagues, will be focused on setting himself up as the leader in Congress and beyond of a radical right-wing movement, sort of like Sarah Palin with a brain. It's not Rand Paul's time, but he's young and will be looking at this election cycle to set himself up for the future. Fiorina, Carson, and on and on depending on who gets asked to participate are there for their own reasons.

So, yes, candidates will be looking to get noticed on a crowded stage, but not just those who are in a position to win the nomination, but others with various agendas not necessarily in tune with the needs of the GOP, which will make things even more dangerous for the eventual nominee and the party.

If "softening their image and expanding their appeal" is how Republicans win the White House in 2016, this is not how to do it.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hillary Clinton: A traitor to her class?

By Richard Barry

These guys, too.

I've been trying to figure out what point Republicans are attempting to make as they criticize the recent disclosure that the Clintons make a shipload of money giving speeches. If you missed it, based on a filing with the Federal Elections Commission, it was reported recently by various news organizations that  "Bill and Hillary Clinton have earned more than $25 million in paid speeches since early January 2014."

And don't forget the $5 million Hillary got for her book, which, I will admit, confuses me, having read the thing.

Yes, the Commission report "underscores how much wealth the Clintons continued to amass as the former Secretary of State prepared to launch her second bid for the presidency."
The 20-page report, describing her income, assets and liabilities in broad ranges, shows the former secretary of State gave 51 speeches since Jan. 6, 2014 — each with a six-figure paycheck. The last occurred on March 19, just weeks before she announced her candidacy.

They ranged from a $100,000 payment on April 11, 2014, for a speech delivered via satellite to the California Medical Association to a $325,000 appearance at a Cisco gathering in Las Vegas last August.

Bill Clinton has delivered 53, six-figure speeches since early January 2014, including three this week, according to the filing.

The former president has appeared before an array of audiences, from software giant Microsoft to Centurion Jewelry By Invitation Only LLC, which runs jewelry trade shows. He earned $500,000 in March 2014 for delivering the keynote speech at an international investors conference in Amsterdam, sponsored by the Pennsylvania-based law firm, Kessler Topaz.

But aside from Hillary's misstep about claiming to be broke when she and Bill left the While House, I don't quite see the concern, especially coming from Republicans who usually look favourably upon earning whatever the market will bear.

Unless it's the suggestion that making millions of dollars proves Hillary has no right to deliver a populist message. Unless, Republicans want to argue, the Clinton's one-percenter lifestyle means they are so out of step with the electorate that any attempt to speak on behalf of progressivism lacks credibility. Unless, they might say, possession of sizeable wealth is proof that one embraces capitalism to such an extent that claiming to be a Democrat is a lie on its face.

Maybe that's it.

At some level I can't help but believe that the Clintons, with their ability to make grand sums of money, their ties to international capital, and their cozy relationship to Wall Street are seen by establishment conservatives, much like FDR was, as a traitor to their class.

It's not that the Clintons are rich and hobnob with international decision-makers the world over that galls Republicans. It's that people like that should be Republicans.

But if Hillary Clinton insists on being a Democrat, I suppose all Republicans are left with is that she really doesn't mean it.

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Do Republicans read election issue polls, and does it matter?

By Richard Barry

A new Gallup poll places the economy as the top concern for Americans with 86% saying it is extremely or very important to their vote next year.  This compares with 74% saying the same of terrorism and 61% of foreign affairs.
How important will each of the following issues be to your vote for president next year -- will it be -- extremely important, very important, moderately important or not that important? [RANDOM ORDER]
As Gallup notes, this could change between now and the fall of 2016, but "the economy will likely persist at or near the top of the list as it has done historically in both presidential election years and midterm election years and when the economy was weak, as in 2008, but also when it was strong as in 2000."

International matters are certainly never far from the headlines with growing concerns arising from the influence of Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria, ever present conflict in the Middle East and whatever it is Putin is up to. And terrorism is always there as a concern.

Foreign affairs more broadly, however, ranks behind several issues, including the way government operates in Washington, healthcare policy and the distribution of wealth and income in the U.S. Race relations and immigration have also been major news stories in recent months, but on a relative basis, Americans are less likely to say these issues are important to their presidential vote.

Does this then mean that an improving economy helps Clinton on the heels of eight years of Democratic incumbency in the White House? And does it make her a less available target as a former secretary of state if Americans are marginally less worried about issues around the world?

Likely, but I'm still preparing myself for many months of Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.

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Will Gov. Perry be taken seriously?

By Richard Barry
No, really. The glasses look great.

In three weeks former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will officially declare his intention to run for the Republican presidential nomination. No great surprise. We knew this day was coming.

He has been making all the required stops in early contest states. He's been consulting experts on foreign affairs and economic policy. He's been busy recruiting a campaign team and, according to the Dallas Morning News, has even been taking public speaking lessons.

At the moment, however, he's polling in single digits and trailing the serious candidates by a wide margin, and I can't help but think Perry's troubles stem from the fact that he is not perceived as the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Unfair or not, the public perception of Perry's intellectual capacity was strongly influenced by his inability to remember the name of the third federal department he would abolish during one of the 2012 GOP nomination debates.

Since then we have heard that some of his mental lapses in that campaign may have been due to recent back surgery and medication. Sure, if he says so.

Objectively, Perry should be a formidable candidate with experience as Texas governor for 14 years. As he did in 2012, he will stress the state's economic record, especially on job creation, and Texas's welcoming business climate (lawsuit limits, minimum regulations on businesses and low taxes). He has also pointed to his own military service as rare among GOP hopefuls.

Yes, he should be formidable. I can't help wondering though if voters will give Perry a second chance to make a first impression. And those new black-framed glasses seem an obvious signal that Perry sure hopes people won't think he's as stupid as they might have previously thought.

Sure, people can be very forgiving, but the first time he screws something up, gets some fact really wrong or forgets something he should be able to remember, he's done. And that's not a particularly comfortable position from which to campaign.

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