Thursday, August 31, 2006

GOP focus on national security could help Bayh

GOP focus on national security could help Bayh

For Howey Political Report Aug. 31, 2006

He may be on vacation through the end of this week, but the coming days will be crucial if Evan Bayh intends to convince voters he can be "tough and smart" on national security issues.

Less than two weeks before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, President Bush will address the American Legion today in an effort to strengthen support for the Iraq war amid calls from some Democrats and even some Republicans for a timetable to withdraw.

"While most eyes have been focused on the still-recovering Gulf Coast during the first half of this week, the Bush Administration has been dispatching some of its biggest names in national security to test September 11 anniversary messages," according to an item in yesterday's MSNBC political blog, First Read.

The barrage began on Tuesday when Vice President Cheney told a Republican audience in Nebraska some Democratic leaders want to weaken the tools the administration uses to identify and track terrorists while others would "give up the fight (and) retreat" from Iraq, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. Cheney called on voters in this year's national congressional elections to "reject resignation and defeatism."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was more blunt when he said the war's critics "seem not to have learned history's lessons" and suggested some are attempting to appease "a new type of fascism." "Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?" he said (Associated Press). Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice offered a speech at the American Legion convention warning of severe consequences if the U.S. leaves Iraq before the mission is finished.

Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, told AP's Devlin Barrett the Democratic candidates' strategy is to criticize Republican efforts to win the war on terror, while elected Democrats are "committed to a strategy that will weaken our ability to defend America and make us less safe at home and abroad."

Democrats expressed outrage at such comments. "All we get is rhetoric and no solutions," Don Fowler, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a conference call with reporters (Army Times).

Such talk points to a difficult and potentially divisive run-up to the November mid-terms, but it also creates problems for many politicians from both parties considered potential candidates for the White House in 2008, especially a moderate like Evan Bayh.

Bayh supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A steadfast supporter of Israel and author of a resolution calling for sanctions on Iran, Indiana's former governor is considered one of the most hawkish Democrats in the U.S. Senate. In the past year he has spearheaded a party effort to assure Americans that Democrats will protect the national interests, often noting in speeches "if they don't trust us with their lives, they're not going to trust us with anything else."

While he has been quick to criticize the administration's handling of the war, calling for Rumsfeld's resignation in December of 2004, he also slams Democrats for failing to convincingly confront the issue of national security.

"Too often, members of our party...try and change the subject when the subject of national security comes up," Bayh said at a May news conference where he endorsed a progressive strategy for defeating jihadism. "They kind of - there's almost a - almost a perceptible cringe in some ways. They know we have some ground to make up, but we can't do that. Neither events nor the other party will allow that."

"[W]e need parties and leaders who are prepared and capable of dealing with it, not a world as we wish it is - as we wish it was, even though we work toward that objective - but a world as it is that regrettably has evil people in it who wish us ill, and we have to be prepared to do - to deal with that."

Bayh endorses a plan put forth by the Progressive Policy Institute in a book entitled "With All Our Might." The institute is a Washington, D.C., based research group that believes "America is ill-served by an obsolete left-right debate that is out of step with the powerful forces re-shaping our society and economy."

Editor Will Marshall and contributor Jeremy Rosner explain, "Progressive internationalism stresses the responsibilities that come with our enormous power: to use force with restraint but not to hesitate to use it when necessary; to show what the Declaration of Independence called 'a decent respect for the opinions of mankind'; to exercise leadership primarily through persuasion rather than coercion; to reduce human suffering where we can, and to bolster alliances and global institutions committed to upholding an increasingly democratic world order."

Over more than 200 pages, the authors lay out the details of a five-part plan "to combat the sources and consequences of jihadist terrorism":

• "marshal all of America's manifold strengths, starting with our military power but going well beyond it"
• "rebuild America's alliances"
• "champion liberal democracy in deed"
• "renew U.S. leadership in the international economy and rise to the challenge of global competition"
• "summon from the American people a new spirit of national unity and shared sacrifice"

Bayh briefly described his own strategy for defeating the terror threat during the May news conference to promote the book's release.

"[M]y a strategy of greater meet this threat; not sitting back in a defensive crouch and waiting for them to come and attack us, but instead, reaching out to embrace our allies and to try and increase our intelligence capability so that we can better identify who is out to harm us and how they intend to go about that, so we can strike them before it's too late. Working with other countries to dry up the financial sources of terrorist funding is vitally important these days. Having the military capability to fight the insurgents, to dry up the failed states, the collapsed places around the world where terrorists can foment their attacks, having those kinds of forces rather than the forces configured to fight a land war on the Northern European plain, which we still spend too much of our resources on to this day."

Time and again Bayh also has said the nation's ultimate security depends on strengthening the country's financial position and ending our dependence on foreign oil.

Staking out these positions has left Bayh vulnerable to attacks from the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party recently responsible for the primary defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman. Unlike the Connecticut Democrat, Evan Bayh has recanted his support of the invasion.

"I did what I thought was right at the time based on the facts as I understood them at the time," Bayh told the Washington Post Insider in February of this year (see HPR, April 13). "It turned out some of those facts weren't accurate, so of course you'd make different decisions."

By focusing voter attention on the war and national security, the Bush Administration's current public relations blitz creates both opportunity and challenge for the junior senator from Indiana. Democrats must respond to Republican efforts to shape the message on national security. Bayh's success or failure to claim a stake in the fight will indicate the viability of his attempt to win election to the highest office in the land.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bayh among Democrats who fault Wal-Mart's anti-labor policies

Bayh among Democrats who fault Wal-Mart's anti-labor policies

For Howey Political Report Aug. 24, 2006

Indiana's Evan Bayh stirred up controversy last week in Iowa when he jumped on the Democratic Party's anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon, proclaiming at a press conference that the big-box store "has become emblematic of the anxiety around the country, and the middle-class squeeze."

"We're not here today because we want to shut Wal-Mart down," Bayh said. "We're here today because we want them to treat their employees with dignity and respect. We are not anti-business, we are pro-Middle Class."

He appeared at the Aug. 15 media event in Cedar Rapids on behalf of a "Change Wal-Mart, Change America Tour." Organizers for sponsor Wakeup Wal-Mart said the event was part of "an exciting and unprecedented national bus tour going to 19 states, 35 cities in 35 days."

Several other Democrats considered among likely 2008 presidential candidates made news last week by criticizing the retail giant that is America's single largest private employer: Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack and John Edwards.

"We just came from a great press conference in Cedar Rapids with Senator Evan Bayh, who spoke eloquently about standing up for working and middle class Americans," according to a blog entry on the Wakeup Wal-Mart website. "He talked about how Wal-Mart can be 'both successful and respected' if they do the right thing."

The "About Us" page on the group's web site notes "We are 256,558 Americans and growing. We are grassroots leaders, community groups and activists who have woken up to the high costs of Wal-Mart and recognize Wal-Mart’s negative impact on our jobs, our wages, our health care and our communities."

The blog at Bayh's All America PAC website summed up the chief complaints:

"Wal-Mart as you may know, is notorious for not only paying low wages to its employees but is also well-known for its anti-union tactics as well as encouraging employees to sign up for public assistance programs such as Medicaid and food stamps rather than providing better benefits. In fact, in Alabama and other states, Wal-Mart employees are the #1 recipient of state health insurance."

The attacks were featured prominently by media outlets across the country including CNN, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC, Indianapolis Star and more.

"The focus on Wal-Mart is part of a broader strategy of addressing what Democrats say is general economic anxiety and a growing sense that economic gains of recent years have not benefited the middle class or the working poor," read a report in the Aug. 17 New York Times. The article noted that "what is striking about this campaign is the ideological breadth of the Democrats who have joined in, including some who in the past have warned the party against appearing hostile to business interests."

Wal-Mart and its defenders struck back with a public relations barrage that blamed politics and unions for the attacks.

"The paid critics and the politicians who join them at these publicity stops are attacking the wrong company and should stop telling working families where to shop and work," Wal-Mart vice president of corporate communications, Bob McAdam, stated in a news release dated Aug. 15. "We're disappointed that these politicians are speaking out without paying attention to the facts and will be sure to inform our associates across Iowa and in other key states that these candidates are not telling the truth about Wal-Mart."

The press release noted the company mailed a letter to its 18,000 employees in Iowa to make them "aware of the misguided attacks aimed at scoring special-interest political points by playing politics with our company."

"We would never suggest to you how to vote, but we have an obligation to tell you when politicians are saying something about your company that isn’t true," the letter read in part. "After all, you are Wal-Mart. We know you take pride in your company and the work you do every day to generate the economic opportunities that so many working families in this country need right now."

A few days later the company announced it was sending similar letters to 27,000 employees in South Carolina, which, like Iowa, is considered a key state in the Democratic presidential candidate vetting process. According to an article in The State, Wal-Mart said the campaign is a union-funded attack that seeks to distort the good the company does.

"It’s really about politics," said Dan Fogleman, a senior public relations manager for Wal-Mart told the newspaper. "They are attacking the wrong company."

In a letter addressed to Bayh that was made available to the press, the company wrote that it saves the average American household more than $2,300 per year.

"We believe strongly that our company is a positive force for the working men and women of this country," the letter read.

Several opinion writers voiced support for the Wal-Mart cause, including the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, which stated "Most Americans do not want their politicians ganging up on one company. Wal-Mart may be a behemoth that employs 1.3 million people in this country and earned $11 billion in profit last year, but it still looks like bullying when politicians single out one business to scapegoat for larger societal ills."

Bloomberg News columnist Caroline Baum cited Wal-Mart statistics supporting the company's assertion that the critics are wrong.

"The bottom line is that Wal-Mart isn't holding a gun to anyone's head, forcing him or her to work under onerous terms," Baum wrote. "Employment at Wal-Mart is voluntary. In January, 25,000 people applied for 325 available jobs at a store opening in the Chicago area, according to the company. Not everyone thinks it's such a bad place to work."

Another widely published article was written by Ann McFeatters, the Scripps Howard columnist who has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.

"Biden, Bayh, Richardson and Vilsack need to get off the bus and do the math," she wrote. "If 127 million people each week feel Wal-Mart makes their life better, how many of them will run to the polls to support a candidate who shakes his fist at their beloved Supercenter?"

The controversy was further fueled this week by the writings of Georgia businessman Herman Cain when he labeled Wal-Mart's critics "Hezbocrats." The former president of Godfather's Pizza is a member of the steering committee for Working Families for Wal-Mart which supports the retailer's fight against the unions.

"The Hezbocrats, armed with nothing more than Katyusha-grade class warfare rhetoric, descended upon Iowa earlier this month determined to take down Wal-Mart, a company they consider the nation’s largest capitalistic oppressor of the proletariat," Cain wrote in an 800-word article published Tuesday on

Yesterday, Wake Up Wal-Mart issued a news release with the headline " Calls On Wal-Mart to Renounce Latest Attacks Describing Democrats As Hezbollah Terrorists," and this morning's Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted a Wake Up Wal-Mart spokesman who said Cain's statements were "some of the most outrageous and disgusting comments ever to be used to describe patriotic Democrats. Wal-Mart should apologize considering he made these comments on their behalf."

The Atlanta newspaper also reported John Kerry accused Cain of "'swiftboating' people who ask tough questions of big business."

"Make no mistake, those who push and prod Wal-Mart to be a decent corporate citizen are standing up for the American worker," Kerry told the newspaper. "Decent wages and affordable health care aren't too much to ask for from the largest employer in the United States."

As noted in the article, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young resigned last week from the pro-Wal-Mart organization after he made controversial remarks about Jewish, Korean and Arab business owners.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Where's the buzz? 100 days until Bayh's big announcement

Where's the buzz?
100 days until Bayh's big announcement

For Howey Political Report Aug. 17, 2006

For the past year or so Evan Bayh has bounced non-stop around the country like a senatorial version of the Energizer Bunny.

He's visited 24 states at least once and some, like New Hampshire, several times. Earlier this week Indiana's former governor made his fifth appearance in Iowa for 2006, this time to tout his renewable energy plan among state fair goers, attend a series of fundraisers and appear at a "Wake Up Wal-Mart" press conference in Cedar Rapids.

Afterward he was slated to begin a much overdue two-week vacation with Susan and the twins. Hope he has plenty of time to rest and recharge: Only about 100 days remain before Thanksgiving when the senator is expected to announce he will indeed make a run for the White House in 2008.

So far Bayh and his supporters have spent millions of dollars and dedicated thousands of hours to develop a presidential-grade campaign organization. As previously noted on these pages, several respected analysts have been impressed with the resulting infrastructure. But some, like Chuck Todd of National Journal, hedge their praise with questions about the Bayh persona.

"...Bayh has to find a base-rousing issue that he can call his own," Todd wrote in an article ranking the 2008 Democratic contenders. Bayh was listed as fourth, behind Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Mark Warner. "Maybe it'll come from his union friends, or show up as a radical (but practical) health insurance proposal. Will it be enough to differentiate him from the top three?"

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post political blog, The Fix, is among Bayh's most influential supporters in the media. He repeatedly ranks the senator among the five Democrats most likely to win the party's presidential nomination. In a recent article the pundit noted the value of the senator's organizational strength in Iowa, but concluded with this paragraph:

"Bayh's biggest hurdle is his perceived charisma deficit. In his speech yesterday Bayh was competent and engaging but not inspiring or overwhelming. His advisers say - and we agree - that he has made progress in his speaking and stump skills, but much work remains to be done. The question is whether Bayh's low-key charisma will hurt his ability to generate a spark in Iowa."

Well-paid reporters aren't the only ones to wonder if and when a Bayh campaign will be able to create that spark, a buzz, some sort of sizzle that will positively sear his name in the voter consciousness. Naysayers at either fringe eagerly cite lack of such as evidence when proclaiming Bayh's centrist brand will fail. Even some friends are worried - just two weeks ago this writer sat down with an outright Bayh fanatic at an ice cream shop south of Indy who asked much the same question.

But these things must be handled delicately. It's all a matter of timing: The next Iowa presidential caucuses are 15 months out. Peak too soon in today's broadband world and you're a has-been by the end of the week. Too late and you're a never-was. Bayh's competitors are a smart bunch with a variety of assets. Hillary is popular, Edwards portrays charm, John Kerry has name recognition, even Warner emits a neophyte appeal. Bayh faces the seemingly indomitable task of piercing through the media clutter inspired by current events and the rest of the field. His campaign must effectively deliver an incisive message to convince a good number of persuadable moderates that this Hoosier is the real deal.

Supporters may find comfort in the innovative organizational plan implemented last week with Bayh's send-off of 50 paid and trained staffers to the key states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Indiana. And, the senator has demonstrated he knows how to stay on message. He repeatedly touts the substance of a successful public career - a former red-state governor, author of a viable energy proposal, smart and tough on security, possesses labor and education credentials, and so on. Again and again, in speech after speech, the senator pounds home these achievements. Any one or combination of events, aided by dumb luck or abetted by extensive foresight and hard work, could create the right setting for Bayh's grand entrance into - or exit from - the country's political psyche.

Evan Bayh was born to politics. He has a significant record as governor and senator. He demonstrates a winning work ethic. He's assembled a staff considered by many to be among the best. He's in the top tier in fundraising. He has a following, and it's growing. Everything is in place for a hard charge at the tape, but sooner or later Bayh must seize our attention, if only for a moment to demonstrate he possesses the ability to inspire and motivate and lead the nation through the good and bad that lay ahead. If he doesn't another candidate certainly will and Bayh's moment will be gone, possibly forever.