English Class: Charting Change, from Worcestershire to Wisconsin

May 6, 2010 7:45am

By Rick Klein A big one has been felled in Wisconsin. (By a lumberjack.) And now we look across the pond (no, not the Gulf) for more action and clues of what’s to come. It’s a new dose of hope and change, with different political cuts but maybe just as many lessons on this end of the special relationship. From the pundits to the markets, this week’s British elections offer glimpses of the American past and future. It’s not that forces at play are ready to jump the Atlantic; it’s that politics are globalized, too, these days, in this era of bailouts and foreign commitments and generalized angst. (Back home, meanwhile, there may be no better summation of Democrats’ broad woes and worries than that voiced by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., in announcing his retirement: “I feel used up.” And yes, the retirements are roughly even on both sides, but it’s where they come — and what’s behind them — that matters.) Looking to the UK — Democratic pollster Mark Penn: “Thursday’s elections in Britain could be a harbinger of what is likely to come to America in the not-too-distant future: new movements and even parties that shake up the political system,” Penn writes in a Washington Post op-ed. “Cleggmania shows that even the most tradition-bound electoral systems are facing the pressures of rapid change made possible by modern communications. These movements may not win out of the gate, but they will become significant political factors. … It may not happen in 2012, but one of the next three presidential elections is likely to feature a major new player under a new banner. The conditions are simply too ripe.” From the Times of London: “David Cameron has the keys to No 10 almost within his grasp, with the final poll of the campaign for The Times indicating that the Conservatives will make sweeping gains from Labour. But the Conservatives cannot yet be sure of winning an overall Commons majority unless they perform even better in key Labour marginals to compensate for the likelihood of a strong Liberal Democrat showing.” Sounding familiar yet? “The race for No. 10 Downing St. could shift in any number of directions, potentially being decided by backroom deals that could take days to hash out. In a country defined by tribal politics — where Labor or Conservative affiliations are as important as one’s soccer team — the political future also appeared to depend on whether millions of Labor voters fed up with Brown would switch their votes or simply stay home,” The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola and Dan Balz write. “All three party leaders have centered their campaigns on vague pledges to cut government spending, which has caused deficits on a scale not seen since World War II,” The New York Times’ John F. Burns writes. “The immediate political liability for this lies with Mr. Brown and the Labour Party, which engaged in a spree of epic proportions after taking power in 1997, spending at a rate that has outstripped inflation by 41 percent.” More ripples … “A hung parliament this Friday, which is a distinct possibility, would make it significantly more difficult to bring about much needed economic reform in Britain, and would have an immediately negative effect on the world’s two biggest financial markets in London and New York,” The Heritage Foundation’s Nile Gardiner writes. And: “If the Liberals play a key role in the next government, especially on national security, there may be significant, negative implications for Britain’s intelligence services and their ability to collaborate with their American counterparts.” About … what, exactly? “If an election is a battle for the soul of a country, the question one’s left asking after this election is whether Britain in 2010 has a soul to battle over. Where were the big ideas? Where was the conviction of high purpose? Where was the heart?” Howard Jacobson writes for The New Republic. Back home — Rep. Obey leaves as a chairman, retiring from a House seat he’s held since 1969. This may work out as a more problematic dynamic for Democrats than having to defend votes or legislation: Veteran lawmakers calculating that it’s not worth their time and energies, not when they face the prospect of returning to Washington as ranking members, or maybe not at all. “Obey, the third-most-senior member of the House, has served in the House longer than anyone in Wisconsin history and said he hated to step down from a seat he first ran for in a special election in 1969. He denied that he was retiring from the House because he feared a tough re-election campaign,” writes Diana Marrero of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The news of Obey’s retirement came as a shock to many Democrats in Washington and Wisconsin. But it also brought delight to Republicans across the country who have come to see Obey as the poster child for runaway federal spending.” ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “For Obey, every one of those elections has been a cakewalk with the exception of two:  1) In 1969, when, in his first race for Congress, he narrowly won a special election to replace Rep. Melvin Laird, who had just been appointed Defense Secretary by Richard Nixon; and, 2) in 1994, when the Republican revolution gave him a bit of a scare. Although, even in 1994, Obey won by an 8-point margin.” “His decision reverberated in the House because he was the most prominent lawmaker to decide to retire so far this year. It caught Democrats on Capitol Hill and in Wisconsin by surprise, since he has often in the past vacillated before ultimately placing his name on the ballot,” Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. “Even with Mr. Obey’s decision to retire, Democrats still have one less open House seat to defend this year than Republicans. But more departures by senior members of such stature could undermine Democratic claims to confidence about retaining the House majority.”  “More Democrats than Republicans are leaving seats considered vulnerable to challenges from the opposing party,” Susan Davis and Naftali Bendavid write in The Wall Street Journal. “Mr. Obey’s retirement also means the departure of one of Congress’s most high-profile figures.” Context — from Politico’s David Rogers, who broke the retirement news Wednesday: “His unhappiness with the Obama White House has grown with the increased military commitment to Afghanistan at a time of high unemployment at home. Obey stands out as one Democrat who believes the great flaw of the stimulus bill last year was that it was not big enough, and as much as he knows the supplemental funding must move sometime, he won’t commit even now to do so by Memorial Day.”  Not-so-secret secret plans: “The Republican Party’s best-connected political operatives have quietly built a massive fundraising, organizing and advertising machine based on the model assembled by Democrats early in the decade, and with the same ambitious goal — to recapture Congress and the White House,” Politico’s Mike Allen and Kenneth P. Vogel report. “The new groups could give Republicans and their allies a powerful campaign apparatus separate from the Republican National Committee. Karl Rove, political architect of the Bush presidency, and Ed Gillespie, former Republican Party chairman, are the most prominent forces behind what is, in effect, a network of five overlapping groups, three of which were started in the past few months.” Still unfolding, out of New York — and getting broader: “American officials said Wednesday that it was very likely that a radical group once thought unable to attack the United States had played a role in the bombing attempt in Times Square, elevating concerns about whether other militant groups could deliver at least a glancing blow on American soil,” Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane report in The New York Times. “Officials said that after two days of intense questioning of the bombing suspect, Faisal Shahzad, evidence was mounting that the group, the Pakistani Taliban, had helped inspire and train Mr. Shahzad in the months before he is alleged to have parked an explosives-filled sport utility vehicle in a busy Manhattan intersection on Saturday night.” On the fly: “The federal government began requiring airlines Wednesday to recheck no-fly lists every two hours, an effort to patch a hole in the security net that allowed the man suspected of putting a bomb in Times Square to board a jetliner hours after being barred from air travel,” Tribune Co.’s Ken Dilanian and Richard A. Serrano report. “The new rules were designed to correct a glitch that marred an otherwise successful law enforcement operation that caught Faisal Shahzad 53 hours after authorities say he drove a bomb-laden SUV into one of the world’s major tourist centers.” OJT: “Call it the terrorism tutorial,” The Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut writes. “Almost every week, often on a Tuesday, Obama heads into the White House Situation Room for a meeting that explores terrorism-related subjects in depth. Rarely discussed in public, the hour-long briefings have become one of the most significant gatherings in the West Wing, bringing together Cabinet-level intelligence and security officials ‘to make sure everybody hears the same information and is updated on the threats,’ one participant said.” Careful, now: “Even as Senate Republicans move to target Democrats and exploit national security on the campaign trail, they are stepping cautiously on Capitol Hill as they seek to raise the issue without appearing overtly political,” Roll Call’s David M. Drucker reports. “In contrast to their handling of health care, financial regulatory reform and other controversial issues, Senate Republicans are making a deliberate effort to keep the focus on the substance of their disagreements and avoid political gamesmanship.” In the Gulf — haunted by the K-word: “The Obama administration is trying to head off criticism over its handling of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with a two-pronged strategy: Showcasing every move in its response and pinning blame squarely on BP Plc,” Bloomberg’s Julianna Goldman writes. “In the background are memories of Hurricane Katrina and the bungled reaction that dogged President George W. Bush.” Heckuva sense of timing: “Though his agency was charged with coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “Strickland, who also serves as Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, was in the Grand Canyon with his wife Beth for a total of three days, including one day of rafting.” From the basketball-fan-in-chief, on Cinco de Mayo: “The Spurs against Los Suns from Phoenix,” President Obama said Thursday, per ABC’s Jake Tapper. “I want to begin work [on immigration reform] this year, and I want Democrats and Republicans to work with me. Because we’ve got to stay true to who we are. A nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.” As financial regulatory reform makes its way forward — there’s such a thing as too much reform: “Federal Reserve officials are becoming increasingly concerned that challenges to their authority and independence are gaining momentum in the Senate as it considers financial overhaul legislation,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jon Hilsenrath and Michael Crittenden report. “Presidents of four regional Fed banks went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to personally make their case against several proposals in the legislation, including one that would strip them of authority to oversee thousands of small, state-chartered banks and one that would make the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York a presidential appointee.” On audits of the Fed — getting personal: “When Tim Geithner says that he doesn’t want to see the Fed audited, what he’s really saying is he doesn’t want to see Tim Geithner audited,” Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., said Wednesday on ABC’s “Top Line.” “It’s one of the biggest conflicts of interest I’ve ever seen.” A shift, in unison now: “The Senate on Wednesday voted 93-5 to revamp how regulators can dissolve large financial firms that are dubbed ‘too big to fail,’ a rare bipartisan agreement that replaced a controversial proposed $50 billion bank-financed fund to help break up ailing companies,” McClatchy’s David Lightman reports. Ax on SCOTUS: “President Barack Obama will choose a Supreme Court nominee he thinks can provide the ;spark and leadership’ of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the lion of the court’s liberals and a respected, persuasive force for decades, one of Obama’s chief advisers said Wednesday,” the AP’s Ben Feller writes. David Axelrod: “He senses that responsibility … You can’t replace someone’s 34 years on the court, but you are mindful of the fact that he was a leader on the court, and you want someone who can provide that kind of spark and leadership – if not immediately, then over time.” Multi-tasking: “President Obama has sandwiched final interviews for a new Supreme Court justice in between meetings on the emergencies in New York and the Gulf of Mexico, and is poised to announce his decision any day,” The Washington Post’s Michael Shear and Robert Barnes report. “Next week appears to be likelier than this week. The White House is sure to want Biden — who was a longtime member of the Senate and the Judiciary Committee — to be around as the drama unfolds, and the vice president left Wednesday for Spain and Belgium.” Making headlines … Franklin Graham, to David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network: “Certainly, there seems to be, that Islam under this administration, gets a pass, and that’s very concerning to me and to a lot of evangelicals. And there were millions of Evangelical Christians that voted for Barack Obama in this last election. I don’t think they will be at the table next time. I think they’ve seen things from this administration that concern them, that worry them, but that’s up to them when the election comes.” In Hawaii — not budging, and not good news for Democrats: “We are in this to stay. I have the support of Hawaii’s people,” State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said Wednesday, the Star-Bulletin reports. Joe the … local Republican committeeman: “Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher, who was hailed by Republican John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, won one of nearly 400 seats on the local Republican Party committee in Ohio’s Lucas County,” the AP’s John Seewer reports. “But don’t call him Joe the Politician just yet. The group he’ll serve on meets only a few times a year to elect the county chairman and sets the party agenda. Wurzelbacher won the seat by a 38-24 vote Tuesday in his suburban Toledo precinct.”
The Kicker: “You can find the Republicans are having difficulty determining how they’re going to continue making love to Wall Street.” — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “It would be awesome.” — Bristol Palin, on the prospect of her mother running for president in 2012. For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:


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