State of the Union Live Blogging

Using Facebook, rebelling against the Twitter trend. Who needs the 140 character limit? The live comments are here.

Update: An actual post discussing the speech is posted here.

Update II: Text of the Facebook live comments have been pasted under the fold.

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Chuck Todd To Have Weekend Political Show

After Tim Russert’s death Chuck Todd was my top pick to take over as moderator of Meet the Press assuming we were limited to people at NBC News. I didn’t really think that Todd would receive the post due to his relative inexperience, suspecting that Russert was grooming him for such a job at a later date. David Gregory got the post instead, but has not been very impressive. Perhaps NBC sees the need to rapidly prepare Todd for such a high profile spot. The New York Observer reports that MSNBC is preparing a weekend political show for him:

The new show on MSNBC, to debut in late spring, would give Mr. Todd more experience as a political moderator and provide him with a good opportunity to develop his long-form interviewing skills. At the same time, it would give MSNBC an original political program to show off on a weekend schedule that is currently dominated by crime documentaries and taped content.

According to sources, the specifics of the show—live vs. taped, one-on-one interview vs. a panel of guests, half-hour vs. an hour, Saturday vs. Sunday—are still being worked out. Presumably the show will originate out of NBC’s Washington D.C. bureau, where Mr. Todd is stationed. Staffing has yet to be determined.

The only problem is that there are now far too many political shows to even try to keep up with, unless someone wants to spend a big chunk of the weekend watching television. Besides the major interview shows from each network there is a growing number of additional shows. Chris Matthews has one Sunday show where he is generally calmer than he is on Hardball. Perhaps the best of the newer Sunday interview shows is Fareed Zakaria — GPS on CNN.

Update: On second thought, Todd has been disappointing in some of his questions since moving to White House correspondant (as I noted here). Hopefully he will improve on an interview show.

Obama’s Press Conference

Last night’s press conference (transcript here) was not terrifically newsworthy. What was most significant was that Obama is already on his second press conference  in office. In comparison, both Bill Clinton and George Bush each only had four news conferences  during eight years in office.

Another aspect of significance is that Obama allowed follow up questions. Many politicians avoid this as it makes it much more difficult to avoid answering a question. A consequence of this (along with keeping the press conference on time to limit network protests) was that only thirteen reporters got to ask questions:

Here’s the list of reporters in order: Jennifer Loven (AP), Chuck Todd (NBC), Jake Tapper (ABC), Chip Reid (CBS), Lourdes Meluza (Univision), Kevin Baron (Stars and Stripes), Ed Henry (CNN), Major Garrett (Fox News), Mike Allen (POLITICO), Kevin Chappell (Ebony), Ann Compton (ABC Radio), Jon Ward (Washington Times) and Stephen Collinson (AFP).

In a year in which the print media is already having serious problems, it is notable that reporters from  major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post did not get any questions. The most significant newspaper to get a question was the conservative Washington Times. Broadcast media did well, along with outlets which are often overlook such as Stars and Stripes and Ebony.

I might have to reconsider my support for Chuck Todd to take over as moderator of Meet the Press if he continues to ask questions as bad as the one he asked last night. Chuck Todd asked why Obama isn’t asking for more sacrifice from Americans as might be expected during a crisis such as a war. While it makes sense to question Bush’s attempt to pay for the Iraq war on credit and not have any sacrifices by Americans, this is hardly an analogous situation. The whole point of government action during difficult economic times is to try to reduce the suffering of those who are already suffering and making sacrifices.

Of course we cannot have Obama do anything without a repetition of some right wing memes. The Anonymous Liberal criticizes some of the questions along with the criticism of Obama for using a teleprompter his  prepared comments. Considering that Obama gave lengthy answers to unscreened questions, along with follow up questions, without a teleprompter, his use of a teleprompter to include a prepared statement is hardly an issue. Some opponents tried to make an issue of this during the campaign despite numerous appearances in which Obama  also did just fine without a teleprompter. I don’t think such attacks will get much traction. Most viewers are probably just happy to have a president who can answer questions intelligibly. James Fallows adds:

The important point with Obama is that the content, command of fact and concept, and overall intelligence of his extemporized answers matched that of the scripted presentation. That could not have been so if he were teleprompter-dependent. For example: by the end of his term, George W. Bush had become quite effective in delivering a formal speech. His interview- and press conference performance if anything deteriorated through his time in office.

The whole “Obama can’t talk on his own” concept is bizarre, given his performance through two years of stump speeches and debates during the campaign. But it seems to have gotten so much credence in the right-wing world that it is worth addressing head on.

Great News For Bob Scheiffer and George Stephanopoulos

David Gregory is reportedly to take over as host of Meet the Press. He did have his good moments when pressing the Bush administration during press conferences, but he has all too often repeated lame Republican talking points. Are there also any political junkies who do not consider him one of the most boring hosts of network or cable newscasts?

Gregory’s credentials are summarized by Mike Allen:

Gregory, 38, celebrated his 30th birthday — complete with cake — aboard George W. Bush’s presidential campaign plane, the assignment that solidified his stature as a network rising star. Enjoying a gravitas boost from his prematurely salt-and-pepper mane and friendships with Tom Brokaw and other of the legendary figures of NBC News, the Los Angeles native quickly became one of the hottest personalities in network news.

Eating cake with Geroge Bush, being a friend of Tom Brokaw, and having premature gray hair does not make one a great journalist.

Since I did not think there was much hope that Jon Stewart would get picked, or even that NBC would go with Steve Benen’s top choice of Rachel Maddow, I was hoping that Chuck Todd would be chosen. I think that he was the only one now at NBC who could maintain the current position of Meet the Press as the top Sunday interview show.

Further Advances in The Red States and the Ron Paul Effect

Chuck Todd was just on NBC News explaining how Barack Obama has increased the playing field to the degree that he could still pick up 270 electoral votes even if he were to lose Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Of course many polls show Obama leading in all three, including by double digits in Pennsylvania. Obama even has a chance in states where he would previously have been considered a long shot such as Montana, Indiana, and Georgia.

Reason has some interesting numbers from this poll from Montana State University-Billings:

Barack Obama  44.4%
John McCain  40.2%
Ron Paul  4.2%
Ralph Nader  .7%
Bob Barr  1%
Undecided  9.5%

Obama leads by exactly the same margin of vote as is received by Ron Paul. Of course if the vote were to turn out this way we could not necessarily say that it was votes for Ron Paul which gave the state to Obama over McCain. Some people voting for Paul are motivated by opposition to the war and might vote for Obama or stay home if Paul was not on the ballot, and some might vote for Barr.

I recently noted that if black turn out is high enough Obama can win in Georgia. While most polls still show McCain winning in George, an Insider Advantage poll today shows Obama leading by one point.

There have already been a handful of polls showing Obama leading in Indiana. SurveyUSA adds another today with Obama leading 49% to 45%. Yesterday’s Big Ten poll showed an even greater lead.

Saddleback: The Cone of Silence, POW Honesty, and Pandering

Who would have guessed that the “cone of silence” would become a subject of conversation in political coverage? The New York Times reports that John McCain was not in a “cone of silence” while Barack Obama was answering questions prior to him at the Saddleback Church as Rick Warren had earlier stated. This has raised speculation as to whether McCain cheated and listening in, allowing him more time to prepare answers to the questions. The McCain campaign denied that he cheated:

Nicolle Wallace, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, said on Sunday night that Mr. McCain had not heard the broadcast of the event while in his motorcade and heard none of the questions.

“The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,” Ms. Wallace said.

I have no idea whether John McCain cheated and am making no accusations, but I do find something unseemly in this response. We are to take for granted that McCain could not have possibly cheated because he was a prisoner of war. Will that excuse be used to cover up any misdeed McCain might commit? It has already been established this year that John McCain is an unethical liar by the manner in which he has run a Rove/Clinton style dirty campaign in which he has repeatedly lied about Obama’s positions and record. He may or may not have cheated in this case, but having already demonstrated that he is a dishonest person he cannot expect to use having been a prisoner of war as evidence of honesty in other situations.

Mike Allen reports that both candidates actually knew some of the questions in advance:

A source close to Warren tells Playbook that the candidates knew in advance they would be asked their own greatest moral failure, America’s greatest moral failure, and the three wisest people in their lives.

The source said Obama also knew he would be asked if he’d be willing to commit to an emergency plan for orphans, like President Bush has for AIDS. GIVE OBAMA CREDIT FOR ANSWERING CANDIDLY: “I cheated a little bit. I actually looked at this idea ahead of time, and I think it is a great idea.”

I think it was a good idea to allow the candidates a chance to consider some of these questions ahead of time. There are some questions where we would expect a candidate to be prepared  to answer any time. Other questions, such as these, do require some thought and we could learn more about the candidate based upon an answer they have had time to consider rather than hearing the first thing that comes to mind.

Naturally much of the media has been looking at this from the perspective of who won. Such horse race coverage means little here. John McCain should have won as this forum was held before people who agreed with him on most of the issues and have voted heavily Republican in the past. McCain’s goal was simply to reduce reservations about him so that people who already agree with him will vote for him. Obama had to convince people who disagree with him to vote for him. Obama might convince a handful to look beyond issues such as abortion and vote for him, but this event was McCain’s to win or lose. That is partially why Chuck Todd’s evaluation of the event was so wrong.

The problem is not that Chuck Todd declared McCain the winner but the manner in which he did so:

Obama spent more time trying to impress Warren (or to put another away) not offend Warren while McCain seemingly ignored Warren and decided he was talking to folks watching on TV. The McCain way of handling this forum is usually the winning way. Obama may have had more authentic moments but McCain was impressively on message…

Take the VERY first question Warren posed to both candidates: who are three people you’ll depend on for wisdom in the presidency. Obama seemed to answer this in a very personal way, talking about his wife and grandmother. McCain went right to this message, checking boxes on Iraq (Patraeus) and the economy (Whitman) for instance. Now, I’m betting Obama’s answer came across as more authentic but McCain’s was probably more effective with undecided swing voters.

The two answered the Supreme Court justice question VERY differently, with Obama seemingly trying to say a nice thing or two about justices he disagreed with, while McCain went right to pander mode in his answer. And yet, McCain’s straightforward answer easily penetrated while Obama’s did not.

Every Obama answer was certainly thoughtful enough but he seemed to want to explain himself too much and went out of his way not to offend folks who disagree with him.

For those who support the views held by most of the evangelical voters, McCain did win, with this being the only possible outcome. For others looking at the overall character of the candidates, we have Obama who was “authentic” and who tried to consider the views of those who disagree with him versus McCain who “went right to pander mode.” Which man has the character to be president based upon these descriptions? Certainly not the guy who panders. Andrew Sullivan agrees:

Chuck basically says that unless you pander in soundbites, you lose. If you show respect for your opponent’s views, you lose. However defensible this is as analysis, it isn’t part of the solution, is it?

Obama loses based upon not being a traditional candidate in the Bush/Clinton mode. That is the whole point of much of Obama’s support. We don’t want another Bush or Clinton.

Chuck Todd on Clinton’s Chances Without Edwards in Race

A top Clinton aide has suggested that, if John Edwards had been forced from the race early because of the Rielle Hunter scandal, Clinton woud have won in Iowa and gone on to win the nomination. I previously noted the absurdity of this belief here, with Chuck Todd showing agreement with this view in a column today.  He also presents compelling arguments that without Edwards in the race Obama might have clinched the nomination more easily. Todd wrote:

There are so many reasons why this theory is off, I don’t know where to begin.

As network entrance polls pointed out, Barack Obama topped Clinton nearly two-to-one when it came to second choice picks by Edwards backers.

Assuming this is the actual breakdown of how things would have split among Edwards’ thirty percent, this scenario would have given a little more than 50 percent to Obama and a little less than 40 percent to Clinton, guaranteeing him a double-digit Iowa win.

It’s also likely that Obama may have snatched somewhere closer to 60 percent, given that Iowa had already turned into a two-person contest. But maybe Joe Biden or Bill Richardson would have popped up on the radar in an Edwards-less field.

The idea that Clinton’s standing would have somehow improved in Iowa without Edwards is just not supported by data or observation.

Both Edwards and Obama were running as populist change agents. They pigeon-holed Clinton as the status quo politician.

If anything, Edwards’ relative strength with labor unions kept Obama from getting key early endorsements — backing that could have secured an Iowa blowout and possibly a victory in New Hampshire.

If anything, Edwards was the reason why Obama didn’t rule the roost pre-Super Tuesday.

But I want to touch on another aspect of the Edwards story that no one seems to be paying attention to in Clintonland.

Had this affair come to light during the Democratic primary process, it could have potentially destroyed Hillary’s candidacy.

Why? A smooth-talking Southern politician getting caught having an affair with an eccentric “blonde” woman? Sound familiar? Exactly.

An Edwards revelation in late 2007 or early 2008 would have forced Hillary and her campaign to relive all things Monica and Gennifer and Paula.

How helpful would that have been? You think the cable pundits were tough on Hillary because of her gender? Imagine a world where Bill’s paramours were front and center once again.

Libertarian Vote Shifts West To Democrats

Chuck Todd recently discussed how many western states have moved from the Republicans to the Democrats on Meet the Press. He attributed this shift to more libertarian-minded and secular Republicans who have voted Democratic in response to the domination of the Republican Party by the religious right.

How George Bush Helped Barack Obama

Chuck Todd writes that Bush’s recent attack actually helped Obama:

Bush’s gift to Obama: When President Bush — thousands of miles away in Israel — decided to fire his thinly veiled shot at Obama yesterday, it was a giant gift to the Illinois senator and his campaign. Why? One, it essentially kept Clinton on the sidelines just two days after her big West Virginia victory. Two, Obama’s opponent was no longer Clinton or McCain, but the man with the 27% job-approval rating. And three, it rallied Democrats to Obama’s side. Even neutral Dems, like Joe Biden, Rahm Emanuel and Harry Reid, quickly leapt to Obama’s defense. Some Democrats might be deeply divided right now. Pro-choice women are angry at NARAL’s endorsement of Obama; Clinton supporters are upset that Obama is looking like the eventual nominee; and some African Americans are unhappy with the Clintons. But what’s the best way to unify them all? Give them an excuse to turn their attention to Bush. And this will all play out another day — and will likely extend into the weekend — as Obama will respond this afternoon to Bush at his rally with Tom Daschle in South Dakota, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports. Obama will react to both what he considers Bush’s politicization of foreign policy and the substance of Bush’s attack.

The power of Bush: Regardless of whether you believe Bush yesterday did the right thing or not as far as the unwritten rules of partisan politics, it is a reminder of how the president can toss an issue grenade into the middle of the campaign and change the narrative in a nanosecond. But we have to ask: Did anyone in McCain’s orbit get a head’s up on this? After all, Bush’s remarks — and then McCain’s response to them — overshadowed McCain’s big “2013” speech that he gave to put more room between himself and Bush. They also undercut that very speech after McCain essentially agreed with Bush’s assessment. As the Obama campaign pointed out, McCain delivered “a lofty speech about civility and bipartisanship in the morning, and then embrace[d] George Bush’s disgraceful political attack in the afternoon.” Now, McCain’s past (and possibly contradictory) statements on Hamas are gaining fresh scrutiny today with an op-ed by Jamie Rubin in today’s Washington Post.

Understanding the reality: Another example of how unifying Bush’s speech yesterday was: Clinton also leapt to Obama’s defense, even though she has disagreed with him on this issue of negotiating with unsavory world leaders without preconditions. “This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address, and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced,” Clinton said. But earlier in the day, as NBC’s Ron Allen pointed out, Clinton gave few hints that she’s still fighting for the nomination. “Maybe we’re getting a bit ahead of things, maybe its just the place and time, maybe its that we’re all looking for clues about her intentions, but the vibe feels different,” Allen wrote. And as a top Clinton aide told NBC’s Mitchell: “People understand the reality, but they are still loyal to her.” It’s striking how the Edwards endorsement, and then Bush’s volley from Israel, quickly changed the subject after Tuesday night’s contest in West Virginia.

I’ve been skeptical as to whether the Democrats can get away with campaigning against George Bush instead of John McCain. Mistakes like this on the part of the Republicans just might make it possible (but I still wouldn’t count on this as sole strategy).

The General Election Campaign Begins: Barack Obama vs. John McCain

After last night’s devastating loss for Hillary Clinton, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama can now begin the general election campaign against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. I previously noted how the media has begun declaring Obama the winner, beginning with Tim Russert, Chuck Todd, and Matt Drudge. This continued on the morning news shows, increasing the sense that the nomination battle is over. Even George Stephanopoulos managed to break free of Hillary Clinton’s grasp on his balls and say, “More superdelegates will come out today for Barack Obama –they will come three, four, five at a time, and this nomination will be locked up.”

For Hillary Clinton it now comes down to preparing the exit strategy. There are reports (along with denials) that she is canceling public appearances, perhaps to give her more time to come up with reasons to justify remaining in the race. She might want to continue a battle which has now come down to satisfying her ego, but the decision might be made based upon the money. After initial denials, it has become known that Hillary Clinton, the new hero of the common working man, has loaned herself another 6.4 million dollars on top of the earlier five million dollar loan. With contributions drying up, for all practical purposes she must resort to self-financing if she is to continue. At this point she might remain in the race a little longer only to attempt to raise a little money to offset her debts, or perhaps to make a deal with Obama to assume her campaign debts.

Update: The exodus of Clinton supporters has begun. Former Clinton backer George McGovern is calling the Clintons to urge Hillary to drop out of the race and inform them of his decision to now endorse Obama. I expect many more to switch in the next couple of weeks.