Archive for April, 2008

Hillary Clinton had a great story to tell over and over again in her stump speech: An uninsured Ohio pregnant woman lost her baby and died because she could not afford a $100 up-front fee.

What a tale! What an indictment. What government bureaucracy could be worse than a health care system where stuff like that is permitted to happen?

But last week the Athens, Ohio, hospital where the incident allegedly happened poked a few holes in the fable: Yes, a woman died two weeks after her baby was stillborn. That much is true. But according to hospital administrators, everything else is fiction: The woman was under the care of obstetricians, she was never refused treatment by the hospital, and oops!, she was, in fact, insured.

“We implore the Clinton campaign to immediately desist from repeating this story,” said Rick Castrop, chief executive officer of the O’Bleness Health System.

To anyone with a passing acquaintance with how our health care system works, the story was always unlikely in the extreme: Hospitals in most states cannot refuse lifesaving emergency care, and pregnant women are covered by Medicaid anyway if they have no insurance and can’t afford $100.

But why ruin a good story by checking it out? You lose so many of them that way, as we journalists say.

Two more recent New York Times stories highlight the potential costs for all of us in putting health care into the hands of government bureaucrats. Take Great Britain, for example, home of the vaunted “single-payer” National Health Service. “Free health care for all” is its model, but since health care costs money, the result is the rationing of health care by government bureaucrats for whom cost-efficiency trumps patient autonomy and even human life itself.

Perhaps Hillary should start telling the tale of Debbie Hirst, a British breast cancer patient whose cancer had metastasized. Her oncologist suggested a drug, Avastin, which is widely used in the U.S. and other European nations to prolong the life of cancer patients like her. But bureaucrats had decided that at $120,000 a year, prolonging Debbie Hirst’s life would cost just too much money to be worth it. That’s bad enough, but because the government is committed to “equal care” for all its patients, the bureaucrats went even further: They told Debbie Hirst that she had to choose between buying Avastin on her own, and receiving any health care from the government at all. She could not, in other words, mortgage her own home to buy a drug to save her own life without being penalized by the loss of all her other cancer care and drugs.

Permitting patients to purchase care the government refused to provide would undermine the system, the bureacrats said. “That way lies the end of the founding principles of the NHS,” health secretary Alan Johnson told Parliament. And the system and its founding principles were more important than Debbie Hirst’s life.

Meanwhile in Massachussetts, the predictable effects of a more modest universal health insurance mandate is beginning to be seen: huge cost overruns coupled with dramatic increases in wait times for care. Only half of all internists in that state now accept new patients; between 2006 and 2007 the wait for an appointment almost doubled from 33 to 52 days.

“It’s a recipe for disaster,” Dr. Patricia A. Sereno, state president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told The New York Times, speaking of the combination of 340,000 newly insured patients with low-reimbursement formulas for primary care physicians.

It’s a predictable disaster, of course, seen over and over again around the world: Government-financed health care means government rationing of health care, in a system where the prestige, status, freedom and pay of doctors who care for patients plummets over time.

But don’t expect Hillary or Barack to tell that truth any time soon.

By Maggie Gallagher


Read Full Post »

(Politico) – Hillary Rodham Clinton wants voters to decide the nomination based on who can coolly and competently run the country. She had better hope they don’t study her recent campaign too closely for the answer.

Clinton has overseen two major staff shake-ups in two months. She has left a trail of unpaid bills and unhappy vendors and had to loan her own campaign $5 million to keep it afloat in January. Her campaign badly underestimated her main adversary, Barack Obama, miscalculated the importance of organizing caucus states and was caught flat-footed after failing to lock up the nomination on Super Tuesday.

It would be easy to dismiss all of this as fairly conventional political stumbling — if she hadn’t made her supreme readiness and managerial competence the central issue of her presidential campaign.

But since she has, a growing number of Democrats are comparing the Clinton and Obama campaigns — their first real exercise in executive leadership — and rendering harsh assessments of her stewardship.

In twin columns in Tuesday’s Washington Post, left-of-center columnists Peter Beinart and E.J. Dionne Jr. condemned Clinton’s overall management of the campaign and inability to build a durable message and infrastructure. It’s a common theme in Democratic circles these days.

“Any time you are involved in a long campaign, there are going to be major substantive and procedural gaffes,” says former Democratic Rep. David Bonior, an uncommitted superdelegate who served as the campaign manager to John Edwards. “The question is how a campaign handles those gaffes and how a candidate handles them. And I think it’s fair to say that Sen. Obama has handled [his] problems better than Sen. Clinton.”

Obama can rightly claim he has run a more consistent, disciplined and technologically savvy campaign. While Clinton has blown though nearly a half-dozen campaign slogans and failed to put concerns about her credibility to rest, he has clung to essentially the same leadership and governing message he outlined in his 2004 speech at the Democratic convention. There has been little drama inside his operation — or at least if there was, it has been kept largely concealed.

“In every campaign, the strategy is important and the day-to-day management is important. And in Obama’s case, it’s hard not to argue that they have run a great campaign,” said Steve Elmendorf, deputy campaign manager for Kerry’s 2004 bid and a Clinton supporter. “It’s been one of the best-run presidential campaigns in the last 20 years. I think they are focused and disciplined and on message. … The test of a good campaign is having a plan and keeping an operation on track to execute a plan.”

Put simply, Obama has shown he can offer a compelling vision, execute a complicated strategy to convey it and, all the while, keep the ledger in the black. That’s not a bad first step to becoming a strong leader.

There is no question he has stumbled in ways that will haunt him in the general election. His handling of the Tony Rezko affair was exceptionally clumsy. It’s still puzzling why he was so cozy with a known influence-peddler and why it took so long to make all of the details clear and public.

His relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — his pastor who railed against America and accused the government of purposely spreading AIDS to kill blacks — is a ticking general election time bomb. For now, though, many are praising his efforts to defuse it and move forward.

“Under different circumstances, that would wreck a campaign if not handled right. And so far, it’s not been a mortal wound,” said Dennis Johnson, professor of political management at George Washington University. “It seems to me it’s been a much smarter-run campaign.”

The Clinton campaign, by contrast, has been marked by strategic missteps, financial uncertainty and personnel drama. Its strengths — a supremely disciplined candidate and remarkable fundraising — have been undermined by other aspects of the enterprise, such as a headstrong, factionalized staff and a spendthrift approach. The conventional wisdom once held that it was Bill Clinton who was chronically improvisational and unable to run a tight ship. That flaw, it seems, runs in the family.

Strategist Mark Penn’s ouster was the latest staff dispute to unfold in the media, accompanied by a surplus of finger-pointing and a divulging of private details by aggrieved insiders. The pattern was a familiar one, having surfaced after Clinton’s Iowa loss and right before Clinton jettisoned Patti Solis Doyle as campaign manager.

Howard Wolfson, a top Clinton aide, acknowledges that in a campaign, blame ultimately resides at the top. But he also contends that it’s important to appreciate the value of a candidate who has the self-confidence to allow dissenting voices within the leadership structure and who accepts responsibility for tough choices — such as ousting longtime friends and advisers when they become ineffective.

“It is fair to say that every candidate is ultimately responsible for what his campaign does or doesn’t do,” said Wolfson. But, he noted, “The number of times that I’ve read [of] Sen. Obama blaming his staff for problems in his campaign, I can’t even count.”

In interviews, several veteran Democratic strategists said the business of running a campaign offers limited insight into a candidate’s performance in the White House.

And Clinton’s defenders argue that the relatively smooth-running Obama operation obscures the reality that the first-term Illinois senator is an untested, naive politician who showed little spine or genius during his unremarkable four years in the U.S. Senate. Clinton loyalists think the Obama story has a predictable conclusion: He gets torn apart by a ruthless GOP and crushed in the general election.

All of this could be true. But it is also true that a fair measurement of the candidates’ leadership skills is their management of their campaign. Easily the largest enterprise they have run in their lives — in February alone, Obama had 1,280 paid employees, at a cost of $2.61 million; Clinton had 935 employees and a monthly payroll of $1.63 million — the campaign reveals flaws and strengths that will only be magnified in the Oval Office.

Read Full Post »

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton would eliminate the federal mandatory five-year sentence for crack cocaine users as part of a $4 billion-a-year anti-crime initiative designed, in part, to steer many nonviolent offenders away from prison.

Her plan also would revive several programs started by her husband’s administration, including federal funding of community-oriented prosecutors and police officers.

The New York senator outlined her proposal in a speech Friday in Philadelphia, a key city in her contest with Sen. Barack Obama for voters in Pennsylvania’s April 22 presidential primary.

At a second Philadelphia event, Clinton chastised Obama for reportedly telling a San Francisco audience that some Pennsylvanians are bitter because of their economic frustrations.

“Well, that’s not my experience,” she told a Drexel University crowd, describing the state’s residents as resilient, optimistic and hardworking.

“Pennsylvanians don’t need a president who looks down on them,” she said. “They need a president who stands up for them.”

The Web site Huffington Post reported that Obama, speaking of some Pennsylvanians’ economic anxieties, told supporters at a San Francisco fundraiser Sunday: “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years. … And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

In a written response to what it called “campaign attacks” by Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain, the Obama campaign made no direct reference to the San Francisco remarks. A McCain adviser accused Obama of “elitism and condescension.”

Following the rivals’ criticism, Obama revisited the subject while speaking Friday night at a high school in Terre Haute, Ind. “People don’t vote on economic issues because they don’t expect anybody is going to help them,” he said. “So people end up voting on issues like guns and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. They take refuge in their faith and their community, and their family, and the things they can count on. But they don’t believe they can count on Washington.”

Clinton, in describing her anti-crime plan, said she hopes to reduce homicide rates and the amount of prison space occupied by nonviolent offenders, many of them drug users.

The issue of crime has played a comparatively small role in this year’s presidential race, which is dominated by the economy and Iraq war. In introducing Clinton, however, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said many of his constituents “are more worried about Al Gangster than al-Qaida.” Philadelphia had 392 murders last year.

Clinton‘s position on minimum sentencing has drawn little notice, although she backs a Senate bill that would eliminate the five-year mandatory prison term for persons prosecuted in federal courts for possessing at least five grams of crack cocaine. The bill, and her initiative, would not affect state prosecutions.

Because black Americans are disproportionately higher users of crack than are whites, many groups want to end policies that punish crack users much more harshly than powder cocaine users, who are predominantly white.

Clinton said she would pay for the $4 billion initiative through a commission she will assign to “identify unnecessary and outdated corporate subsidies for elimination.” Critics of deficit spending generally urge campaigns to be more specific in saying how they will pay for new programs.

Under Clinton’s proposal, states would compete for $1 billion in annual grants to combat recidivism. It would “promote tough but fair” changes to probation practices and to existing programs meant to keep many nonviolent drug offenders out of prison.

The goal is to make punishment more certain for those who violate their probation, she said, while also enhancing efforts to help former drug users stay clean and thereby avoid prison. Clinton said the currently one-fourth of all former inmates who committed nonviolent crimes return to prison “as violent offenders.”

Clinton‘s plan would help local governments hire 100,000 new police officers to focus on high-crime locations. It would spend $250 million a year on “community-oriented prosecutors,” who also would work from, and focus on, specific neighborhoods.

Both programs were launched under her husband’s presidency, but the Bush administration eliminated or sharply reduced them.

“It is a sad day in America when the president can find hundreds of billions of dollars to police another country’s civil war,” Clinton said, “but cuts funds for police officers right here at home.”

Her plan calls for federal grants or special efforts by the Justice Department to help local governments battle gang violence, drug dealing and gun trafficking. Grants also would help cities and counties operate after-school programs, home visits by nurses and “early intervention mentoring programs” designed to steer “at-risk kids” away from crime.

Other provisions would target identity theft and online child exploitation. Clinton also renewed her call for reinstating the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

Hillary, you ass. You should be for legislation to legalize drugs – that would take care of the deficit, the prison overcrowding, would lessen the crime rate by leaps and bounds, and by doing this we could all have free or next to free health care with all the money the government would be bringing in. Have some stones, you pathetic miscreant.

Read Full Post »

(NYT) – In the summer of 1996, President Bill Clinton delivered on his pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” Despite howls of protest from some liberals, he signed into law a bill forcing recipients to work and imposing a five-year limit on cash assistance.

As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton supported her husband’s decision, drawing the wrath of old friends from her days as an advocate for poor children. Some accused the Clintons of throwing vulnerable families to the winds in pursuit of centrist votes as Mr. Clinton headed into the final stages of his re-election campaign.

Despite the criticism and anxiety from the left, the legislation came to be viewed as one of Mr. Clinton’s signature achievements. It won broad bipartisan praise, with some Democrats relieved that it took a politically difficult issue off the table for them, and many liberals came to accept if not embrace it.

Mrs. Clinton’s opponent in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Barack Obama, said in an interview that the welfare overhaul had been greatly beneficial in eliminating a divisive force in American politics.

Mrs. Clinton, now a senator from New York, rarely mentions the issue as she battles for the nomination, despite the emphasis she has placed on her experience in her husband’s White House.

But now the issue is back, pulled to the fore by an economy turning down more sharply than at any other time since the welfare changes were imposed. With low-income people especially threatened by a weakening labor market, some advocates for poor families are raising concerns about the adequacy of the remaining social safety net. Mrs. Clinton is now calling for the establishment of a cabinet-level position to fight poverty.

As social welfare policy returns to the political debate, it is providing a window into the ways in which Mrs. Clinton has navigated the legacy of her husband’s administration and the ideological crosscurrents of her party.

In an interview, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that “people who are more vulnerable” were going to suffer more than others as the economy turned down. But she put the blame squarely on the Bush administration and the Republicans who controlled Congress until last year. Mrs. Clinton said they blocked her efforts, and those of other Democrats, to buttress the safety net with increased financing for health insurance for impoverished children, child care for poor working mothers, and food stamps.

Mrs. Clinton expressed no misgivings about the 1996 legislation, saying that it was a needed — and enormously successful — first step toward making poor families self-sufficient.

“Welfare should have been a temporary way station for people who needed immediate assistance,” she said. “It should not be considered an anti-poverty program. It simply did not work.”

During the presidential campaign, she has faced little challenge on the issue, in large part because Mr. Obama has supported the 1996 law. “Before welfare reform, you had, in the minds of most Americans, a stark separation between the deserving working poor and the undeserving welfare poor,” Mr. Obama said in an interview. “What welfare reform did was desegregate those two groups. Now, everybody was poor, and everybody had to work.”

Mr. Obama called the resulting law “an imperfect reform.” Like Mrs. Clinton, he called for an expansion of government-provided health care, child care and job training to assist women making the transition from welfare to work — programs he says he helped expand in Illinois as a state senator.

Asked if he would have vetoed the 1996 law, Mr. Obama said, “I won’t second guess President Clinton for signing.”

Among some advocates for the poor, the growing prospect of a severe recession and evidence of backsliding from the initial successes of the policy shift have crystallized fresh concern. Many remain upset that Mrs. Clinton, once seemingly a stalwart member of their camp, supported a law that they contend left many people at risk.

“If there is no national controversy about welfare reform, we paid an awfully high price,” said Peter Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University who has known Mrs. Clinton since her college days, and who quit his post as assistant secretary of social services at the Department of Health and Human Services in protest after Mr. Clinton signed the measure.

“They don’t acknowledge the number of people who were hurt,” Mr. Edelman said. “It’s just not in their lens. It was predictably bad public policy.”

Forcing families to rely on work instead of government money went well from 1996 to 2000, when the economy was booming and paychecks were plentiful, economists say. Since then, however, job creation has slowed and poverty has risen. The current downturn could be the first serious test of how well the changes brought about by the 1996 law hold up under sharp economic stress.

“We should have enormous concern about the lack of a fully functioning safety net for families with children,” said Mark H. Greenberg, director of the Poverty and Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group.

In many ways, Mrs. Clinton has sought to moderate her liberal image since leaving the White House. But on welfare, she has faced the opposite problem: accusations from some liberals that she sold out their principles for a politically calculated centrism.

On the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton is largely focused on the middle class. Since the departure from the Democratic race of John Edwards, who had made poverty a centerpiece of his campaign, there has been little debate about social welfare policy. But in promising on Friday to establish a cabinet-rank poverty-fighting position if she is elected, Mrs. Clinton reintroduced the topic and the question of her record.

In the interview, conducted last month, Mrs. Clinton said she had followed through on her promise to address what she viewed as shortcomings in the welfare law after being elected to the Senate in 2000. She said she had pressed for legislation that would have increased financing for child care for poor mothers by up to $11 billion, seeking to expand food stamps, and allowing welfare recipients to draw cash aid while attending school.

Those provisions were blocked by the Republican leadership.

“We’ve had to mostly spend our time since President Bush came in to office preventing bad things from happening,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Many welfare advocates dispute Mrs. Clinton’s characterization. Since entering the Senate, they say, she has shown a predilection for compromise at the expense of the poor.

When the overhaul bill came up for reauthorization, Sandra Chapin, a former welfare recipient affiliated with a coalition called Welfare Made a Difference, lobbied Congress to allow more women to attend college while they received aid. Mrs. Clinton “wouldn’t have anything to do with it,” Ms. Chapin said.

Ms. Chapin, now program director of the Consumer Federation of California, posted an e-mail message to a discussion board in February accusing Mrs. Clinton of having “had a hand in devaluing motherwork in this country, and no doubt sending thousands of children and their families deeper into poverty.”

In the interview, and in her memoir, Mrs. Clinton said she had serious misgivings about some of the changes proposed to the welfare system as the issue percolated through Washington in the mid-1990s.

Her husband had taken office with a pledge to dismantle the old system. He embraced time limits for cash aid and allowing states to largely decide for themselves how to spend the money. He set out to expand job training, access to health care, child care and food stamps.

When the Republicans took over Congress after the 1994 elections, making Newt Gingrich the House speaker, they seized the initiative. Twice, they passed bills seeking to impose time limits on welfare benefits while cutting other aid. Twice, Mr. Clinton vetoed the bills, with the encouragement of Mrs. Clinton.

In August 1996, three months before Election Day, Congress sent the White House a third bill. This one imposed time limits on cash benefits and barred most legal immigrants from receiving welfare. But it maintained guarantees for Medicaid and food stamps and increased financing for child care. This time, Mr. Clinton signed.

“I agreed that he should sign it and worked hard to round up votes,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in her memoir.

Mrs. Clinton remained troubled by parts of the bill, she wrote in her memoir, particularly the provision barring welfare for legal immigrants. But “pragmatic politics” had to be considered. “If he vetoed welfare reform a third time,” she wrote, “Bill would be handing the Republicans a potential political windfall.”

Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of Children’s Defense Fund, an activist group that had given Mrs. Clinton her first job, blasted the Clintons as betraying the poor, opening a rift that Mrs. Clinton called “sad and painful.” Mrs. Edelman’s husband, Peter, quit his administration post.

In the years that followed, the number of those on welfare rolls plummeted by more than 60 percent. A study last year by the Congressional Budget Office found that from 1991 to 2005, poor families with children saw their inflation-adjusted incomes climb by 35 percent, as employment climbed.

In recent years, however, low-skilled women have struggled. The percentage of poor single mothers neither working nor drawing cash assistance surged from under 20 percent before the welfare overhaul to more than 30 percent in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service. During the same period, the number of children in poverty rose to 12.8 million from 11.6 million, according to census data.

Read Full Post »

(NYT) – VALPARAISO, Ind. – Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton managed to co-opt Mr. Obama’s message of hope and optimism, beginning a speech in Valparaiso, Ind., by talking about how positive and “fundamentally optimistic” Americans are.

“We don’t get bogged down and looking back – we’re always looking forward,” she said, as heavy applause nearly drowned out her words. “Whatever obstacle we see, we get over it. Whatever challenge we have, we meet it. We’re the problem-solvers, we’re the innovators, we’re the people who make the better future.”

For the third time since Mr. Obama’s remarks were made public Friday night, Mrs. Clinton criticized him at length, saying his comments seemed “kind of elitist and out of touch.”

“I disagree with Senator Obama’s assertion that people in our country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration,” she said.

She described herself as a pro-gun churchgoer, recalling that her father taught her how to shoot a gun when she was a young girl and said that her faith “is the faith of my parents and my grandparents.”

She better go to church, get down on her knees and pray that God doesn’t hit her with a bolt of lightning for all the lies she’s been telling all her life!

Read Full Post »

May 9, 1999, New York Times

Stepping up the Clinton Administration’s campaign against gun violence, Hillary Rodham Clinton used an emotional White House ceremony today to call on Americans to press Congress to ”buck the gun lobby” and pass several gun control measures.

Today’s event, pegged to Mother’s Day, which is Sunday, was held in the formal East Room of the White House and featured three parents of children killed or wounded by gunfire. They included Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed last month in the shooting rampage in Littleton, Colo. His story of waiting for word about his son’s fate brought Mrs. Clinton nearly to tears as she took the podium and gravely addressed an audience of other parents who had lost their children in shootings.

The Senate is to begin debate next week on a number of gun control measures, some of which mirror proposals offered recently by President Clinton. ”The senators need to hear from all of us,” Mrs. Clinton said. She urged voters ”to give them the encouragement to do what they know is right and to remind them that there are many, many millions of American voters and citizens who will stand behind political leaders who are brave enough to buck the gun lobby, wherever that may take us, so that they will vote for the measures that we know will save lives.”

Mrs. Clinton was as careful as her husband has been to say that there are many causes of violence and that parents need to take responsibility for their children’s behavior. But Mrs. Clinton, who is considering running for the Senate from New York, where gun control is popular, has also been more forceful than the President in directly taking on the powerful gun lobby in the aftermath of the Littleton killings.

In contrast with her remarks today, for example, the President, speaking at a fund-raiser in Houston Friday night, said that while he was pressing for more gun control laws, ”I hope we can avoid yet another big fight in Washington between the N.R.A. and others.” He has said in the past that the association’s campaign against certain lawmakers who supported his gun control measures had cost Democrats control of the House in 1994.

Still, a split between the National Rifle Association and ”others” — including its traditional allies — is looming. Spokesmen for the American Shooting Sports Council and the National Shooting Sports Council, which represent gun manufacturers, say they have agreed in principle to back five of President Clinton’s proposals to clamp down on access to guns, although they are waiting to see the exact language.

The five proposals would: raise the age limit for possessing a handgun to 21 from 18, while still allowing exemptions for hunting, employment and ranching; extend background checks to those who buy guns at gun shows, provided that the records are eventually expunged; ban juveniles who are convicted of violent felonies from ever owning a gun; prosecute parents if they recklessly or negligently allow a gun to fall into the hands of children who use it to commit a crime, and expand the Government’s gun tracing program, underway in 35 cities, to 75 cities.

The move signals a breach within the powerful firearms community over tactics as the manufacturers take steps to try to appease public officials and tamp down the trend among cities to sue gun makers to recover the medical and social costs of gun violence.

Such a split within the pro-gun community could isolate the rifle association and help gun opponents portray it as an extremist organization, although whether it undermines the association’s political hold on lawmakers remains to be seen. The White House seems to be trying to take advantage of that possible opening, scheduling a conference on violence for Monday and inviting the gun makers but not the high-profile officials of the rifle association.

The five proposals emerged from discussions last year between the gun industry and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The industry has been working with several of the mayors, notably Ed Rendell of Philadelphia, to try to show a good-faith effort to reduce youth access to firearms. So far, Philadelphia has held off from joining seven other cities in filing potentially expensive law suits against the gun manufacturers.

After the rampage in Littleton, the largest mass murder in an American school, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, called for a White House summit on youth violence. Robert A. Ricker, executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, wrote to Mr. Lieberman saying his group wanted to participate in such a summit and would support certain restrictions.

President Clinton then announced a package of anti-gun measures, many of which had been advanced by the mayors. In bits and pieces, Mr. Ricker and Robert Delfay, president of the National Shooting Sports Council, backed some of those proposals, although they, with the rifle association, still oppose two that the Administration considers vital — restricting handgun sales to one a month per person and reinstituting a waiting period before a gun can be bought.

The White House then set a summit for Monday on youth and violence. In preparation, Bruce Reed, Mr. Clinton’s domestic policy adviser, invited Mr. Ricker and Mr. Delfay to the White House, and they met for 90 minutes last Tuesday to discuss the legislative proposals. Also at the meeting was Paul Jannuzzo, general counsel for Glock Inc., the pistol maker.

”For purposes of the Monday meeting, we are concentrating on just those issues where we have been able to potentially agree,” Mr. Ricker said today.

Pointedly not invited to Monday’s seminar were the figures most identified with the National Rifle Association — Charlton Heston, the association’s president, and Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president. Instead, the White Hosue invited a member of the association’s board, Bill Brewster, a former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma and now a lobbyist in Washington. Mr. Reed described Mr. Brewster, who has gone duck hunting with Mr. Clinton, as ”an old friend of the President’s.”

The rifle association is planning its own event on Monday to discuss its legislative agenda. This consists primarily of calling for better enforcement of existing laws.

Read Full Post »

Campaign Tries to Mix Hope, Concrete Plans

(WP) – READING, Pa. — James P. Hoffa stood outside the brick Hershey candy factory here one day last week and tried to sell Sen. Barack Obama to a cluster of Teamsters who are losing their jobs because the company is going to start making the York peppermint pattie in Mexico.

Obama would “change all the bad things” about the North American Free Trade Agreement, said Hoffa, the Teamsters union president, brandishing a peppermint pattie for emphasis. “I don’t know if we’re here in time for this [factory]. . . . Everybody got sold this [expletive] about free trade. But we’ve got to start somewhere. So let’s vote for Barack Obama. Let’s not have any more victims.”

Then, as if just remembering Obama’s signature message, Hoffa added: “You can’t give up. There’s got to be hope. We’ve got to have hope in the system.”

As Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton head into next Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, the reeling economy is looming as a major focus of the upcoming general election contest against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a development that opinion polls suggest will play strongly to the Democrats’ benefit. But the focus on the economy also presents a challenge for Obama and his labor allies.

After losing the Ohio primary to Clinton (N.Y.) last month, in part because of the difficulty he had connecting with Rust Belt voters worried about their jobs, Obama (Ill.) has been talking in greater detail about what he would do to repair the economy and contrasting that with McCain’s proposals. But this has sometimes come at the expense of Obama’s more abstract and inspiring message about rising above partisan pettiness to unite the country, the central call of his campaign.

At the same time, McCain and Clinton have begun a combined assault on Obama’s working-class outreach, pouncing on his remarks at a recent San Francisco fundraiser — about how many small-town Americans have grown “bitter” about their economic situation — as evidence of elitism and lack of empathy for average Americans.

The mixed reception Hoffa got during his tour through Pennsylvania last week suggests that party and union surrogates are still learning how to yoke Obama’s larger themes of reconciliation and uplift to the more concrete pocketbook issues that Democrats traditionally emphasize. In Obama, they have someone whose background as an African American is unique among candidates and whose strengths and weaknesses are different than those of the conventional Democrats they have supported in the past.

Riding through Pennsylvania in a caravan of three tractor-trailers, occasionally shouting “Obama!” to people he passed, Hoffa acknowledged the challenge. But he expressed confidence in his ability to turn out many of the union’s 83,000 members in the state.

Hoffa, son of legendary Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975, said that since the 1.4 million-member union’s February endorsement, he has encountered little resistance to Obama on racial grounds, adding that he sees Obama as the Tiger Woods of politics. As “unusual” as Obama is, Hoffa said, he offers a huge opportunity because of his ability to draw millions of new voters and thousands of new donors.

“The Democratic Party has to adjust to it,” said Hoffa, 66. “You can’t change what he is. . . . He’s a new phenomenon, and we have to basically say: We have a star and we have to play to a star like this. It’s like having a great running back, and you change the offense so you can maximize him.”

The troubles facing average Americans had been a staple of Obama’s stump speech for months, but his discussion of health-care costs and flat wages had been cast in the broader framework of his call for a new kind of politics that puts candor and results over gamesmanship, a message that resonated most with higher-income voters. And his attempts to project empathy by describing the plight of voters he met often came across as tentative, lacking the punch that Bill Clinton, for one, could summon.

Obama has since reverted to the town hall format he relied on in Iowa, talking more in high school gymnasiums instead of big arenas and truncating his stump speech to allow time for questions.

On a recent visit to Fort Wayne, Ind., he gave an in-depth answer to a United Auto Workers member, explaining his plan to curb foreclosures and make it easier to organize workers. While he said he “can’t promise to bring back all the manufacturing jobs” lost by Indiana, since many of the losses were caused by automation, he said he would create many new jobs with investments in infrastructure and renewable energy.

And when given a closing question that seemed perfectly suited to his trademark riff about hope and change — “What inspired you to run for president?” — Obama instead gave a rundown of his plans for expanding health care, taxing energy profits and closing tax loopholes for offshore companies, concluding with a promise to “wake up every single day thinking about how to make your life a little better.”

“He did a nice job of speaking directly to us. That was one of my biggest concerns . . . if he knew what he was talking about with respect to” the economy, said Marianne Deitche, a high school teacher. “There are so many ways you can gloss over it, but he didn’t gloss.”

Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, which endorsed Obama in February, said the candidate has to spend more time talking about pocketbook issues, even if it means cutting back on his usual uplift. Voters in Pennsylvania, she said, “need to connect first, and then they can be inspired.”

“At the beginning of the campaign, he was able to inspire people to lift themselves above their problems to think of a better America,” Burger added. “In Pennsylvania, they want to know, ‘Yes, but how are we going to do it?’ “

It was this question that Obama seemed to be addressing at the San Francisco fundraiser when he said that skeptical voters in distressed areas demand more specific proposals for how their situation could be improved. Yet he also argued that such planks must be combined with a more transformational message if voters are going to overcome their lack of trust in Washington.

“So the questions you’re most likely to get about me [are], ‘Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What is the concrete thing?’ ” Obama said, in remarks recorded by the Huffington Post. “But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives.”

David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, sounded a similar note Saturday, saying Obama’s lofty message is linked with the meat-and-potatoes issues he is increasingly focusing on. “Solving real problems in people’s lives is of a piece with ending the polarization of the country,” he said.

Some Obama supporters dismiss questions about his ability to connect on economic issues by pointing to his biography: He has lived in far more modest circumstances than either Clinton or McCain, and he began his career as a community organizer in a South Side Chicago neighborhood hit hard by steel plant closings. The campaign recently launched an ad highlighting that part of Obama’s résumé, with the candidate standing in front of an abandoned steel plant in a black leather jacket. But his Chicago work was in a largely African American community, and whether mentions of it can translate into support among white workers remains to be seen.

Campaigning for Obama last week, Hoffa started his pitch by talking about the union’s recent organizing successes and the weak economy, and only then brought up his candidate, saying Obama would make it harder for companies to ship jobs overseas and would pass legislation making it easier for unions to organize.

And, over and over, Hoffa tacked on his own version of Obama’s message, minus any soaring rhetoric. “There’s a saying that if you don’t believe in something, then you don’t believe in anything,” he told drivers at a truck depot outside Reading.

Several union members responded with catcalls and tough questions, and some said afterward they were still undecided, partly because of concern over reports of the incendiary comments of Obama’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But others said they were coming around to Obama and starting to view him as the most clued-in on the economy.

In Reading, Dale Pszczolkowski, 55, said he does not expect any candidate to be able to prevent the closing of the factory where candy has been made for more than a century, where he has repaired machines for the past 29 years and where 350 people will lose their jobs this year. But he said he is warming up to Obama, even though he knows that Obama’s target audience tends to be younger and more cosmopolitan.

“I relate to him,” he said. “I have nothing against him.”

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »