Yesterday, I drove up to Dover, Massachusetts where Boston College has a retreat center. I was invited to attend the second meeting of what is now known as the Catholic Conversation Project. The retreat center’s old stone walls kept my phone from getting a signal, which is normally a blessing but with a flooding basement back home in Connecticut and my Dad charged with taking care of my three dogs, this was a challenge. But, the day was extraordinary nonetheless.
Over at Commonweal, Santiago Ramos has a review of a new biography, the first in English, of Maurice Blondel. I have not read the biography yet, but Ramos's fine essay makes me want to. As he rightly argues, the relative obscurity of Blondel in American circles is a thing to be regretted, so Ramos' essay and the new biography will hopefully begin bringing him to light.
Norm Ornstein has a very smart article at TNR comparing President Obama's re-election predicament - running during tough economic times with an ideologically driven and recalcitrant Congress - to that faced by Harry Truman in 1948. Ornstein's makes some of the same arguments I have been making for months, especially the fact that Obama needs to be a little less willing to find Common Ground and a little more willing to draw distinctions. And, as Ornstein points out, Truman faced Democratic opponents - in the general election - to his left (Henry Wallace) and his right (Strom Thurmond). But, Truman had two things that saved his presidency. First, he had pluck. He was a scrapper. Obama does his best when his back is against the wall, but he needs to show a little bit more fight and a little less professorial detachment, actually a lot less professorial detachment. Second, Truman was the only twentieth century president to lack a college degree but he was, arguably, the most well prepared president because he was deeply read in history. He had a wisdom that was uncanny and canny.
No one should think that the results of the Ames, Iowa straw poll are necessarily predictive of that state’s caucus results: Four years ago, Mitt Romney shelled out tons of money and effort to win the straw poll, which he did, only to lose the caucuses in January. But, something else happened four years ago. Seemingly out of nowhere, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee came in second in the straw poll and it was he who went on to win the Iowa caucus.
This year, Michele Bachmann won the straw poll and, more importantly, she won the day after. She had some competition for the day after contest from Texas Governor Rick Perry, who tried to upstage the Iowa straw poll by announcing his own candidacy the same day in South Carolina. But, while his announcement succeeded in sharing the news cycle during the day on Saturday, Sunday was dominated by the news that Governor Tim Pawlenty was dropping out of the race and by the related coverage of Bachmann’s victory. I say “related” because Pawlenty had made a point of attacking Bachmann during last Thursday’s debate. The results of that strategy are now in: She won and he lost.
There are many nice things about taking a couple of weeks in Connecticut. Unlike the oppressive heat and humidity of DC, last night I needed a sweater when sitting outside on the porch.
Local newspapers, on the other hand, are a mixed blessing. They are trying valiantly to carve out a niche in an internet age, and that niche is, perforce, going to be a parochial one. Still, this morning's headline in "The Bulletin" out of Norwich, CT, was almost a caricature. I kid you not: "Unopened deli already a hit."
This brought to mind a contest held at the Times of London in the early part of the century in which editors competed to see who could get the most boring headline into the paper. The winner: "Earthquake in Chile Kills Few." The New Republic had a similar contest in the 1980s. I do not recall the gold medal winner - it was banal and had something about reality in the title. But, my fav was the title of a Flora Lewis column: "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative."
Should any newspaper or magazine entertain the idea of having another such contest, I now have my entry: Unopened deli already a hit.
The Catholic News Service is an indispenible provider of news pertinent to Catholics in the U.S. But, what possessed them to reprint an unsigned editorial from the Tennessee Register that was sloppily argued and brazenly partisan.
The entire text reads as if it was written by the Republican National Committee in its unrelenting indictment of President Obama from his pro-choice stance to his inability to defend programs that harm the poor and te vulnerable from congressional budget cuts. Mind, I do not share the president's pro-choice stance and I, too, have been critical of his inability to defend programs that are the proud legacy of the Democratic Party. But, surely the author of this piece might have noticed that it was the Republicans in Congress who were trying to eviscerate domestic programs that help the poor.
Who won last night’s debate in Iowa? In part, we will need to wait until the results of tomorrow’s straw poll in Ames to find out. As I mentioned yesterday, one of the principal objectives of the participants last night was to rile up their base to get to Ames and vote. More significantly, at this stage of the campaign, with so many candidates jockeying for position, what really matters is how the candidates performed relative to each other in the eyes of fundraisers and pundits.
During the health care debate, E. J. Dionne published a column entitled, "Listen to the Sisters" a reference to the women religious, many of whom work in hospitals, who were supporting the health care reform bill.
This morning, in the Des Moines Register, Sr. Paulette Skiba takes on the "Values Voters" bus tour, run by conservative Christian groups that is currently making its way around Iowa.
Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Reserach Institute, is the nation's foremost pollster when it comes to the role of religion in politics. He has a post up at Huffington Post that explains why religion will matter, in the small picture and the big picture, in the 2012 election.
Tonight’s Iowa debate on Fox will serve two purposes, which, in the event, are at cross-purposes with each other, one for those participating and one for the Obama campaign. The Republican candidates need to fire up their base in advance of the Ames straw poll this weekend. But, in an age when everything is videotaped, the candidates risk firing up the base by staking out extreme positions – it is the way you stand out on a stage with seven other people – and their statements could easily become campaign fodder for Democratic ads next year.