WASHINGTON (CNN) - There’s nothing wrong with people changing their minds. We all do it – all the time. But as Luke Russert reminded us at his father’s funeral this week, politicians have a hard time admitting that they ever change their minds. They are apparently afraid that they will be accused of flip-flopping, which supposedly is bad for a politician.
Luke said that Tim Russert would also point out that the Americans are a very forgiving people. They will certainly accept politicians changing their minds as long as they are up front about it. What’s wrong with political leaders simply saying they’ve had a change of heart? “I used to think one way, but now think another.”
I was reminded of this when Barack Obama announced this week that he was opting out of the public financing of his general election campaign despite earlier expressing support for the public finance system. His decision certainly made financial sense, given that he could probably raise at least $300 million for the campaign compared to the roughly $85 million available in public financing.
In explaining his decision, Obama insisted the current presidential general election finance system was “broken,” something Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, a leader in campaign finance reform, denied. Would it have been so bad politically for Obama if he would have just said: “The country needs me in the White House and this decision will help make that happen. We can’t take any chances. As a result, I changed my mind”?
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Bill and Hillary Clinton attended the memorial service for Tim Russert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington on Thursday. That was the first time I have seen them since Senator Clinton dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed Barack Obama. She was very enthusiastic that day. It dawned on me yesterday that we still haven’t heard the former President formally endorse Senator Obama. I am sure he will be on the Obama bandwagon openly and energetically fairly soon. But I wonder what’s taking so long. Then again, is it really all that long?
As our CNN contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville has pointed out, it was only the other day when Al Gore endorsed Obama. We shouldn’t be surprised that Bill Clinton is waiting for the right moment to deliver his big endorsement speech. And having covered the Clinton White House, I can predict that it will be a major media event when he does. Bill Clinton is just one of those remarkable political figures. When he wants to do something, he has a knack of doing it in a spectacular way.
But after that big endorsement is made, how active will the former President be on the campaign trail?
Watch CNN's Wolf Blitzer and David Bohrman discuss what transpired between Sens. Obama and McCain at Tim Russert's funeral mass Wednesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - It was a pretty amazing sight. John McCain and Barack Obama came to Tim Russert’s funeral mass today here in Washington. The fact that they took time out from their campaigns to do so was already impressive, and certainly a lovely tribute to Tim. But they also did more. They wound up sitting right next to each other during the 90 minute service.
Before the service started, they were chatting rather amiably and intensely for 15-20 minutes. Those of us who were invited to the Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown were impressed that Tim, even in his tragic and untimely death, was able to bring these two presidential candidates together.
It was a powerful statement of Tim’s unique role here in Washington.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who presided over the gathering, warmly welcomed McCain and Obama. He spoke eloquently about Tim’s faith, family and journalistic profession.
So did Tim’s remarkable 22-year-old son, Luke, who delivered some beautiful Words of Remembrance. He told them what his dad would have told them: the American public wants their presidential candidates to discuss the most important issues of the day and not get bogged down with trivial personal attacks.
Luke also said that his dad was often so irritated when politicians refused to acknowledge they had changed their minds on important policy issues. There’s nothing wrong, Luke said, in someone’s changing his or her mind. He’s right of course. Obama and McCain were clearly paying attention.
I suspect those strong words will have an impact on these two presidential candidates in the coming weeks and months.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - When it comes to tax policy, John McCain and Barack Obama have very different views.
Take the matter of corporate tax rates. McCain wants to reduce that rate. He says that would make American companies more competitive around the world since the U.S. has one of the highest corporate rates. He notes that Ireland used to be an economic basket case until it reduced its corporate rates. As a result, investors from around the world began to flock to Ireland for business deals. That created lots of jobs in Ireland, which now has a strong economy.
Obama wants a windfall profits tax on Exxon-Mobil and the other big oil companies. They have been making record profits as the price of oil has skyrocketed. According to recent polls, most Americans blame big oil for their pain at the pump. McCain opposes such a windfall profits tax. But he goes one step further. Under McCain’s proposed corporate tax rate cut, Exxon-Mobil and other big oil companies would have even larger profits. That’s because McCain has no exemption for the big oil companies.
This is but one tax issue on the table right now. The two presidential candidates disagree on several others. Obama has proposed a $1,000 tax cut for middle class workers.
But the big issue for both will be whether to roll back the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. McCain originally voted against them but now supports them. Obama wants the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year eliminated. He wants to go back to the tax rates that existed during the Clinton administration. This will be a huge fight in the campaign.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The debate between John McCain and Barack Obama over the war in Iraq boils down to a few critical differences.
In a nutshell, McCain says the military surge in Iraq finally is working and insists Obama was totally wrong to oppose it. He says Obama also has been wrong in not visiting Iraq in more than two years and in not sitting down with Gen. David Petraeus, the outgoing U.S. military commander in Iraq, for a private briefing.
Obama says McCain’s judgment is flawed because he was among those who voted to authorize the war back in 2002 and pushed for the invasion. Obama, an Illinois state senator at the time, opposed the war from the start. Obama also says McCain doesn’t discuss the approximately $10 billion a month that the U.S. is spending on the war – money, Obama says, could be better spent here at home.
McCain says the U.S. can win in Iraq and return home with honor if it keeps troops there. Obama says that that the only way the Iraqis themselves will step up to the plate is to give them a timetable for a troop withdrawal.
The polls show the state of the economy is the most pressing issue for most voters right now. I have no doubt about that. Still, what happens over the next five months on the ground in Iraq will have an enormous impact on the presidential election. I have no doubt about that either.
(CNN) - The latest five-to-four decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the status of terror suspects at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba once again underscores the deeply divided nature of the court and the huge stakes in the presidential election.
The court broke up largely along the liberal-conservative makeup – with the traditional swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy, once again breaking the tie.
In the majority were the liberals – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.
In the minority were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
The next president of the United States probably will be in a position to nominate at least one and maybe more Justices. John McCain says he would nominate conservatives like Roberts and Alito; Barack Obama says he prefers liberals like Ginsburg and Breyer.
So just as there are stark differences between the two candidates on foreign and domestic policy, there are also stark differences on the future of the Supreme Court. And placing new justices on the court will have an impact for a lot more than just four or eight years. It’s something to think about during this political season.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - One of the most awkward developments for Bush administration and McCain campaign officials to defend is the appearance of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iran, embracing and kissing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranians are widely accused by U.S. military and civilian officials of helping to kill American troops in Iraq. The Iranian leader is widely accused of supporting a covert nuclear weapons program. He has been quoted calling for Israel to be removed from the map. So why is the top U.S. ally in Iraq kissing him?
The Administration’s defense is that the Iraqis need to work out a good, long-term relationship with their Iranian neighbors. High-level discussions between the Iraqi and Iranian leadership, they say, will help – not hurt – the overall security situation in Iraq.
The Democrats, including Barack Obama, make the point that Iranians have in fact been the big winner in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Iran is a more influential player in the region now, especially since it no longer has to worry about its former Number One enemy, Saddam Hussein.
All this takes on a greater significance now that the U.S. and Iraqi governments are trying to negotiate what’s called a Status of Forces agreement in Iraq. That would spell out the terms for a prolonged U.S. military stay. The Iranians are telling the Iraqis that the U.S. must pull out. And some Iraqis agree.
“The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq,” Sami al-Askari, a senior Iraqi politician close to the Prime Minister told The Washington Post. “If we can’t reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say ‘Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don’t need you here anymore.’”
WASHINGTON (CNN) - If you had a chance to watch the John McCain and Barack Obama speeches this week laying out their respective economic strategies, you saw two very different approaches to dealing with what the American public sees as the top issue in the campaign. They strongly disagree on everything from tax cuts, health care, free trade, energy and the national debt.
If you had a chance to listen to their most recent pronouncements on national security, you saw two very different approaches when it comes to the war in Iraq and dealing with a potential nuclear threat from Iran. They strongly disagree on a timetable for a troop pullout from Iraq. They also disagree on how best to engage the Iranians diplomatically.
The same goes, by the way, on many other issues, including some of the major social divisions in the country. McCain, for example, opposes abortion rights; Obama supports abortion rights. They similarly disagree on gun rights, and the Constitution’s Second Amendment.
McCain says he would nominate U.S. Supreme Court candidates along the lines of conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Obama says he likes liberals like Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
All of which underlines that this coming general election campaign will enable the American voters to focus in on real issues where the two candidates strongly disagree. We will be learning a whole lot more about their positions in the coming weeks and months – and that is very good for the country. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - There is no doubt that many of Hillary Clinton’s most passionate supporters remain very angry right now. They are especially angry over the way they believe their candidate was treated by some of Barack Obama’s supporters and the news media.
I have received numerous e-mails suggesting that Clinton was the victim of a mean-spirited sexism that elements of the news media spread around, and that the Obama campaign never did enough to dispel - even though Senator Obama now goes out of his way to effusively praise her.
“I’m a better candidate because of the work she did and she deserves our honor and our respect and our gratitude,” he said the other day. “And my two daughters see themselves differently because she ran for President of the United States of America.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, was a strong Clinton supporter. “I think if you look at the pundits, if you read the columns and go back and read them, some of them were really in my view malicious, very personal and venal sometimes,” she told me. “And I have a hard time understanding why that was necessary.”
Feinstein, like so many other Clinton supporters, is now totally on board the Obama bandwagon. Still, there are very hard feelings. Obama will need many of those ardent Clinton supporters if he hopes to win the presidency against John McCain. His campaign knows that.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Can John McCain put California in play in the general election?
He does have Arnold Schwarzenegger - a popular twice-elected governor - in his corner.
McCain also has some support in the Latino community given his long-standing backing of comprehensive immigration reform - although since the collapse of the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform legislation, which was backed by President Bush, the Republican candidate has stressed the need for border security first.
The Republican National Committee has been reaching out to the Latino community for years, though with only mixed results. Now the McCain campaign is undertaking its own aggressive outreach.
I recently spoke with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who acknowledged that the Democrats will have their work cut out for them to make sure California remains solidly blue in November.
But the mayor, a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions, vowed to do whatever he could to help Barack Obama. And he predicted that the Latino voters will represent a major boost for the Democratic candidate. They did support Clinton in overwhelming numbers in the primaries, the mayor said. But that was because they knew and loved her and former President Bill Clinton, and didn’t really know Obama. That, he says, has now changed.