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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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October 30, 2008
If you’re fed up with political news and commentary, let me warn you that today’s column, with election day only five days away, is heavy with political news (some things you may not have read before) and comments. If that prospect turns you off, I encourage you to proceed to today’s last item, dealing with the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ prospects for at least a sixth win and a trip to a post-season bowl.
I hope you will work your way through the column to that non-political ending concentrating on the Huskers. My political comments, for example, raise the question of whether the Democratic Party can buy an electoral vote and a Congressional seat in the Second Congressional District (Douglas and Sarpy Counties). There is also an evaluation of Gen. Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama.
In any case, thanks for calling me up on your computer and stay in touch.
* * *
In five days the nation and the world will know whether the pollsters are right, with the result being that Americans have entrusted the Presidency to a bright, articulate, good-looking liberal Democrat who has the least leadership experience and/or experience in Congress of any president since the hapless Republican Warren Gamaliel Harding of Ohio, elected in 1920 with the largest percentage vote margin in history. (More on the experience subject later in today’s column.)
In Nebraska, there will be particular interest in the answer to the question of whether the Democratic Party can buy an electoral vote and a seat in Congress by pouring Obama campaign workers and hundreds of thousands of dollars of negative advertising into the Omaha-dominated Second Congressional District.
The Democratic effort focusing on the Second Congressional District (Douglas and Sarpy Counties) started with the decision to try to take advantage of Nebraska’s bizarre law which allows a presidential candidate, despite losing the statewide vote, to pick up electoral votes in any congressional district where he or she receives a majority of the votes. Fifteen—that’s right, 15—Obama campaign workers were sent into Omaha. (One of the three Obama campaign offices was predictably located in North Omaha where the majority of the city’s black population resides.)
Then followed the decision to try for a double-header win, targeting the Second Congressional District seat in Congress in addition to an electoral vote. The result has been an eleventh-hour blitz of advertising (financed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) in support of Democratic candidate Jim Esch’s effort to unseat Terry.
The advertising blitz for Esch repeats over and over a charge that Republican Terry wants to “privatize” Social Security by replacing it with a system which would benefit the villain of the moment, Wall Street, by investing Social Security tax dollars in stocks and bonds.
One anti-Terry flyer mailed to Second District homes says “We simply can’t risk it all [Social Security] in the stock market.” It should be pointed out that there is “simply” no proposal—there never has been, to my knowledge—to risk “all” of Social Security tax revenues in the stock market.
The farthest any proposal has gone—and I stress that these have been possibilities discussed over a long period of time—would be to allow individuals covered by Social Security to voluntarily choose that a percentage of their Social Security taxes be invested in stock and bonds. Terry has indicated support for this proposition which was first given wide attention by a liberal icon of the Democratic Party, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York City and at one time was endorsed by another of Jim Esch’s fellow Democrats, then Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.
(Kerrey, who now lives in New York City, injected himself into the Terry-Esch campaign with a charge falsely implying that Terry is opposed to the GI Bill of Rights for veterans.)
The impact of the Democratic effort to, in effect, buy a House seat for Esch has been very clear in the closing days of the campaign. There has been a flood of anti-Terry television ads, Esch campaign signs seem to have sprouted up everywhere and now a 16 x 10-1/2 inch multi-colored slick paper flyer has been mailed to Second District households.
The Democratic focus on Nebraska’s Second Congressional District intensified a week before the election with a visit from Senator Hillary Clinton, who attended a breakfast fundraiser aimed at major donors and addressed an Obama rally at the Qwest Center. Continued emphasis on fund-raising—with Obama outspending Republican John McCain 4 to 1—leads me to ask what the fund-raising target now is—financing a re-election campaign in 2012?
If Terry is unseated by the Democratic big-bucks campaign in the Second Congressional District (Republicans are responding with big-bucks ads targeting Esch), the results will be that Omaha and the rest of the Second Congressional District will be represented by one of the more unusual successful candidates in recent Nebraska political history.
Jim Esch two years ago started out as a sort of dilettante politician, apparently deciding to dip into politics since managing for himself and his siblings the wealth which their father had left them gave him time to pursue other interests.
Two years ago, Esch ran a low-key campaign, which included support of embryonic stem cell research and a vow not to accept help from political action committees.
He surprised some people by running within nine percentage points of veteran Congressman Terry. This time around, he says he opposes the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research and is willing to accept more than $500,000 in campaign support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
* * *
Let me expand briefly on my earlier statement that an Obama victory means Americans will have elected a president who comes to office with the least leadership experience and/or Washington experience in a line of 13 presidents dating back to 1920.
Every president in that succession of 13 had some kind of leadership or Congressional experience beyond anything that Obama has to offer—everything from governorships and cabinet posts to vice presidential and extensive Congressional service.
If some would argue that serving as vice president doesn’t involve leadership experience, I would reply that serving as vice president is better preparation for the presidency than anything Senator Obama has done. (Consider the records of Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush when they moved from the vice presidency to the presidency.)
* * *
As one would have expected, The New York Times took a very sympathetic view of Senator Barack Obama’s decision, with election day less than two weeks away, to take time to fly to Hawaii to visit the ailing grandmother who raised him.
The headline read: “Obama Takes Time For A Woman Dear To Him.”
The Times story said the grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, 85, has a broken hip “and other ailments,” and Obama’s campaign staff has described her condition as “very serious.”
Normal inquisitive journalistic practice would, it seems to me, have called for a report from one of Mrs. Dunham’s doctors as to her condition and whether it has recently changed for the worse.
Otherwise, it seems to me, Obama runs the risk that voters may be skeptical of his motivation. With his campaign running full blast, outspending John McCain 4 to 1 and the polls showing an increasing lead over McCain, a visit to an ailing grandmother might be good campaign tactics as well as compassionate.
Towards the end of The New York Times story, the reporter does touch lightly on the matter of the visit being possibly helpful to Obama’s campaign. The Times story said: “Ms. Dunham’s illness may remind some voters of Mr. Obama’s white, Midwestern family at a time when Republicans are trying to create doubts about his identity.” But The Times story added, “Some supporters worry, however, that the visit to Hawaii will cost him precious time on the campaign trail.”
My guess is that any time lost from the campaign trail will be at least balanced by the image of a grateful grandson visiting an ailing grandmother. I’m sure they were glad to see each other, whatever the reason for the timing of the visit.
* * *
Some further musings on the national political scene:
--Instead of only the usual 30-second TV spots, the Obama advertising blitz includes advertisements up to two minutes long and “even advertisements in video games like ‘Guitar Hero’, ads which have helped ‘mask some of Mr. Obama’s rougher attacks on his rival,’” a New York Times story said.
--General Colin Powell’s unsurprising announcement of his endorsement of Senator Obama got, predictably, major news play. I would suggest that so far as the campaign result is concerned, Republican Powell’s entirely predictable endorsement of Democrat Obama will have all the impact of a falling leaf—maybe two or three falling leaves.
Powell signaled his liking for Obama weeks ago when he said how impressed he was with Obama. I would guess that the question of a Powell endorsement was mostly a matter of timing.
--Reading about the understandable controversy over inviting a former terrorist bomber, William Ayers, to speak on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, it occurred to me that one aspect of the Barack Obama-William Ayers relationship has not gotten enough attention.
Attempting to slide out from under criticism of having a friendly relationship with Ayers after Ayers had transitioned from terrorist to educator, Obama said: “Forty years ago, when I was eight, he engaged in some despicable acts with a radical domestic group, I roundly condemn these acts.”
But consider: In an interview in 2001, Ayers said: “I don’t regret setting bombs…I feel we didn’t do enough.”
In 2001 when Ayers said, in effect, that he believed he and his associates hadn’t set off enough bombs, Senator Obama had presumably grown up and was 40 years old, old enough to know he would be understandably subject to criticism for any association at all with an unrepentant former terrorist bomber.
* * *
Time out from subjects political. Let’s talk Nebraska Cornhusker football, starting with a question and some answers:
What’s so important about the Huskers winning a sixth victory, assuring at least a 6-6 regular season record?
In the first place, it assures the Huskers an invitation to a post-season bowl game (very possibly a bowl that a good many Husker fans had never heard of before). Then, too, it also helps wipe out the memory (barely helps wipe out the memory) of last season’s 5-7 record that resulted in Coach Bill Callahan being fired.
Third, a bowl invitation would help the popular new coach, Bo Pelini, off to a start which I think would be welcomed by most Nebraska fans—although, of course, a 7-5 or 8-4 regular season, followed by a bowl game victory, would be an even better start for the Pelini era.
Three of the Husker’s last regular season opponents—the Kansas Jayhawks at home, Kansas State at Manhattan and Colorado at home in a nationally televised game the day after Thanksgiving, would at this stage seem to be reasonably possible wins for the Huskers.
Kansas State at Manhattan should be beatable but consider what K-State quarterback Josh Freeman did last Saturday in K-State’s 35-58 loss to Oklahoma. Freeman, who broke his word to the Huskers and chose instead to attend Kansas State—passed for 478 yards—that’s right, 478—and three touchdowns in the loss to Oklahoma. A less impressive K-State statistic was a gain of only 64 yards on the ground.
The safest bet of all, of course, is that the 5-3 Huskers will still be looking for that sixth win after they play the Oklahoma Sooners in a nationally televised game in Norman Saturday night (ESPN @7 p.m. CDT). Husker supporters have to hope the Huskers play well before a national television audience. The early Las Vegas betting line had the Sooners favored by 21 ½ points.
Some perspective on talk of a 6-6 or even an 8-4 regular season record: As recently as 2005, the Huskers finished 8-4 after beating Michigan in the Alamo Bowl and in 2006 went 9-5 for the season after winning the North Division of the Big 12, losing 7-21 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game and 14-17 to Auburn in the Cotton Bowl.
Those 8-4 and 9-5 seasons were, as some fans may have chosen to forget, compiled by teams under the coaching of Bill Callahan who was fired the next year after a 5-7 season.
A 9-4 2008 season (I’d settle for less) would be true cause for rejoicing but hardly assurance of a return to that happy era when the Huskers won 9 or more games for 33 consecutive seasons until going 7-7 under Coach Frank Solich in 2002.
Final non-political thought for today: As was not pointed out in a newspaper account which I saw, the incomparable Johnny Rodgers compiled his record of 143 Cornhusker career pass receptions in three years, while Nate Swift (who is one of Marian’s and my favorite Huskers) surpassed Rodgers total last Saturday during his fourth season with the Huskers. I think it fair to point out that by my calculations, Swift would need 48 more receptions in the rest of this season to equal Johnny Rodgers three-year average of 47 2/3 receptions a year.
Go Big Red!
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