Old Mitt better than New Mitt


I like the Old Mitt Romney, the one who governed Massachusetts as a moderate Republican.

The New Mitt Romney – the one running for president of the United States – has become a creature of what must be called the Whack Job Wing of the Republican Party. The link above, taken from the New York Times, points out how Old Mitt used to think a lot about energy conservation. The New Mitt has blown it off as a sop to those who say it’s OK to “drill baby, drill.”

Old Mitt hired true-blue environmentalists to his gubernatorial cabinet. New Mitt seemingly would hire true-blue industrialists to his presidential cabinet.

Old Mitt used to extol the virtues of making cars that drove incredibly long distances on a single tank of gasoline. New Mitt never mentions it.

All this shows how candidates must appeal to their base to win their party’s presidential nomination. Mitt Romney is just the latest example, perhaps just as Barack Obama has sought to curry favor with his base while campaigning for re-election.

But this Old vs. New Mitt should be troublesome to those who want to see Romney elected president. They don’t know who they’ll get if he’s elected. Is it the Old Mitt who once thought reasonably about the need to conserve our nation’s finite energy supply? Or is it the New Mitt who hues to the dictates of the tea party faithful who dislike government spending on programs to develop clean alternate energy sources – solar and wind for example – in addition to drilling for fossil fuels.

As the NY Times article attached to this post notes, Old Mitt produced “Nixon goes to China” moments on occasion. To my ears, New Mitt sounds like a panderer.

Debate No. 1: Do or die?

I’m having trouble remembering when a presidential campaign face-off generated as much pre-event buzz as the Wednesday encounter between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

I was a bit young to recall the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate, although I do remember it vaguely as a not-quite-11-year-old. The next debate occurred in 1976 and we’ve had them every election year since.

They’ve all produced sound bite legacies. There’ve been a vice-presidential debate or two worthy of the history books. But the expectations for this latest one are a bit different, perhaps owing to the apparent closeness of the contest between an incumbent Democratic president and his Republican challenger.

My take on it is this: Romney might be able to wipe much of his recent stumble-bum record with a solid performance. He doesn’t need to hit it out of the park; he just needs to avoid the kind of careless utterances that give the president an opening – although the POTUS has plenty of ammunition in his arsenal already to fire at Mitt.

Yes, Romney has his own cache of weapons to fire at Obama. The issue for Romney, though, will be whether he can make them stick against a very nimble and quick-thinking opponent. Romney, nice fellow he he seems to be, has provided ample evidence that he isn’t nearly as quick on his feet as the president.

Is nimble-mindedness alone a reason to elect someone Leader of the Free World? No. But this trait does provide a gauge as to whether someone can negotiate clearly with friends and foes around the world and can articulate a cogent policy. I see Romney’s challenge in that regard as steeper than the one facing the president.

This first encounter has the potential of bringing Romney back into the game (which appears to be slipping away from him). It also could seal the deal for Obama, no matter what happens in either of the two remaining debates.

And what if it’s a tie? Think of it as a championship boxing match. The champ keeps his title in the event of a draw … yes?

Truckers taking a detour


Texas transportation officials had this bright idea: Let’s build a toll road and then post the fastest speed limits in the country.

Fine. The speed demons among us love the idea of being able to drive 85 mph – or faster – on this new road between Austin and San Antonio.

Ah, but wait. Some of the more reasonable among us are deciding they just might stay away. And in the case of Texas 130 – the aforementioned toll road – it’s going to cost the state money in lost toll-road revenue. Seems that Texas trucking outfits don’t like the high speed and their long-haul drivers are going to stay away from Texas 130. And given that toll road authorities charge more for trucks than they do, say, for family vehicles, the state is going to lose some revenue.

The 85-mph speed limit is a nutty idea on its face. Everyone in America knows that speed limits generally are ignored by many millions of drivers – maybe even most of them. Tell them to drive 70 and they’ll go 75, maybe 80. Put up an 85-mph speed limit sign and God only knows how fast some of these motor-driven idiots will go.

Truckers think the Texas Department of Transportation has created a monster with this toll road, which is designed to relieve traffic congestion on the perpetually crowded Interstate 35 demolition derby track.

The highway is going to open very soon. Truckers are trying to persuade TxDOT to change its mind on the breakneck speed limit.

I hereby join them in that call. Slow it down, TxDOT.

Perry steps in it … again


Paul Burka has it exactly right. Rick Perry’s latest pronouncement about church/state separation will doom any future bid he might launch for the presidency.

The Republican Texas governor calls the notion of such separation as the work of the devil. He sounds so much like those on the far right who keep positing a goofy notion about what the Constitution says about the separation of church and state.

A former colleague of mine is fond of saying that the U.S. Constitution does not contain the words “church and state separation.” He’s right about that very narrow point. But the Constitution does say in its very first amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” And virtually every legal scholar – including some of those “strict constructionists” – since has affirmed that the First Amendment means that the state and the church must be separate. I’m no legal scholar, but I do understand fully what the framers meant when they wrote that amendment.

Were they the spawns of Satan? No, they sought to create a secular nation that governs a people who are free to worship – or not worship – as they please.

Ohio, Ohio, Ohio

Back to the polls.

They’re beginning to show a trend, which is that President Obama is looking more like a lock for re-election. I harken back again to the RealClearPolitics poll average. Today, Obama ticked up to 4 percent over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Let’s look ahead to next week, to the first of three presidential joint appearances. Romney’s must score a “There you go again” moment against Obama if he expects a shot at capturing this election. Don’t look for the president to expose himself to such a thing the way Jimmy Carter did against Ronald Reagan back in 1980.

If the president fends off Romney and scores some hits of his own – and he’ll have plenty of ammo to fire at the challenger – then we might see the beginning of the end of Romney’s White House quest.

Oh, and what about Ohio? Remember how the late Tim Russert declared “Florida, Florida, Florida” when handicapping how the 2000 race would go down? I think the Buckeye State is this election’s Florida, meaning that it all turns right there. Republicans need it to win; Democrats can win without it. Polls are showing Obama with a lead of as much as 10 points in the Buckeye State, give or take a point or two.

Here’s what I think might occur Election Night. If the TV networks call Ohio early for the president, we might be looking at a blowout. Ohio will be among the first states to close its polling places, giving the networks time to consider whether it’s too close to call or whether they can declare it for either candidate. If it’s a nail-biter, look for a long night of suspense.

But if it goes early for Obama – given his apparent lead in the polls and even more commanding lead in the Electoral College – then it’s lights out in a hurry.

But hey, it’s six weeks away. How many political lifetimes is that?

Polling under fire once more

I had to chuckle when I read the story about Republican officials questioning the polls that show President Obama with a widening lead over GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

They say the polls are “skewed” in favor of the Democratic incumbent.

Why did I chuckle? Because if the polls had shown Romney leading, it would be Democrats howling about skewed results.

But RealClearPolitics.com is a website I check daily to track the status of the campaign. RCP does something few political sites do: It averages out all the major polls. As of this morning, the RCP poll average had Obama with a nearly 4 percent lead over Romney, which might be just outside the margin of error for all the polls taken into consideration. And those error margins vary widely as well, with some polls declaring a 2 percent margin and others citing as much as a 5 percent margin of error. A 5-point margin of error could produce as much as a 10-point swing, meaning that a 50-50 race could end up 55-45 percent for either candidate.

The RCP average of all those major polls has been trending in the president’s favor for several weeks, owing mostly to the string of Romney verbal mistakes and, I should add, obvious signs of improvement in the nation’s economy.

Let’s also stipulate that the RCP average does include several traditionally Republican-leaning pollsters. The Rasmussen poll – which is the in-house polling firm used by the right-leaning Fox News Channel – generally tilts significantly in Romney’s favor. Rasmussen’s results tend to tighten the overall average. Without Rasmussen, the president would enjoy an even larger lead.

So, here’s the question of the day: Why the silly Republican complaints about the polls?

Memo to Bibi: Butt out


Jewish Democrats are sounding a bit riled up at the prospect of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu getting involved in our country’s presidential election.

I can’t blame them. Bibi is pals with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee. They go back a long way together, to when they were up and comers back east; Netanyahu spent many of his formative years in the U.S. and ran in the same circles as Romney back in the day.

Now Bibi’s pal is running for president against Democratic incumbent Barack Obama, with whom Netanyahu has a less-than-cuddly relationship – or so it’s been reported.

Never mind, of course, that President Obama has declared this nation’s unequivocal support of Israel, or that he has declared that Iran – Israel’s arch-enemy – must not not obtain nuclear weapons, or that our military alliance with Israel is as strong as it’s ever been. Romney is chastising the president for declining to meet with Netanyahu while the Israelis PM is here to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting in the Big Apple.

Netanyahu’s apparent desire to see Romney elected seems to have rattled some Democrats, who are suggesting that Netanyahu needs to keep his opinions to himself. Netanyahu knows enough about the American political system to understand that he has no role to play, any more than this country should dictate whom the Israelis want to see govern them.

My guess is that he’ll be circumspect from now until Election Day. He’d better, especially if the president’s lead in all the major polls holds up and he is re-elected. Netanyahu does not want to antagonize the leader of his nation’s major world ally and benefactor.

Amarillo assumes new role

It might be that Amarillo city commissioners’ decision to ban cellphone use while driving is going to start a trend across the state.

Who’da thunk it? Amarillo isn’t known as a municipal trendsetter. That title usually goes to bigger cities with more progressive reputations than little ol’ Amarillo, this outpost on the Caprock. But there might be other cities that follow suit. Could it be Lubbock just down the road, as my pal Enrique Rangel reported today?

State Sen. Kel Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, calls the city’s decision to enact the ordinance a matter of “local control,” which he and other legislative Republicans say they favor. But history shows that their passion for local control has its limits, such as whether to allow cities complete autonomy on the issue of red-light cameras.

But the issue of local control is an important matter here. Amarillo city commissioner have acted because they perceive a problem on city streets with motorists operating handheld cellphones while driving their motor vehicles.

Good for them. And good for any city that decides to follow Amarillo’s lead.

Ticket drag not always true


Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson can be excused for over-generalization.

He blames Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s poor performance on the campaign trail for dragging down the rest of the GOP slate in the State of the Cheeseheads. He also says it’s inevitable that when the top of the ticket is faltering that it has an impact on the down-ballot races.

It’s too bad Lloyd Bentsen isn’t around to refute that contention.

The late, great Texas U.S. senator had the high honor of running for vice president in 1988 on a ticket led by another guy from Massachusetts, then-Gov. Michael Dukakis. Bentsen also was running for re-election to the Senate that year against Republican hopeful Beau Boulter, a congressman from Amarillo.

Bentsen faced the same “drag” in Texas that Thompson is facing up yonder in Wisconsin. The Dukakis-Bentsen ticket didn’t fare too well in that election, losing big to George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle. The Republicans carried Texas handily en route to their Electoral College landslide.

Bentsen, though, fared much better against Boulter, thumping the Senate challenger by an even bigger margin than the one run up by Bush-Quayle in the Lone Star State.

Thus, maybe it isn’t all Mitt’s fault. Besides, doesn’t Romney have a guy from Wisconsin running with him at the top of the ticket? Thompson’s sliding poll numbers might have as much to do with his own candidacy … you know?

Casino gambling: a sucker’s bet


A friend of mine just returned from a vacation in the Bahamas and brought back an interesting view of what he saw there.

He and his wife saw lots of casino gambling activity in the island nation … right next to some dirt-poor poverty. His takeaway? He doesn’t think casino gambling is much of an economic tool.

I mention this today because of a Texas Tribune interview with former Democratic state Sen. John Montford, who believes casino gambling ought to come to Texas. Funny. I always thought a lot of the ex-Lubbock lawmaker-turned Texas Tech chancellor-turned AT&T executive. I still do. But I also think casino gambling is a bummer of an idea for Texas.

My friend’s observation of what he saw in the Bahamas illustrates a point I’ve tried to make many times.

My family and I spent a number of years at the other end of Texas, in Beaumont, which is about an hour’s drive from Lake Charles, La., where riverboat gambling has been active for years. We haven’t been back there in quite a long time, but I remember distinctly the sight of the gambling boats moored on the Calcasieu River, just blocks from decimated neighborhoods. What I saw was little economic ripple from the riverboats. Downtown “Lake Chuck” didn’t have much to commend it to visitors.

And we ought to have the same concerns in Texas. Gambling – and I refuse to call it “gaming” – preys on people’s weakness. That’s why I dislike the lottery. I’m just not sure that casino gambling is going to be the panacea that some of its proponents – such as John Montford – say it is.

It’ll make money for casino owners … but who else?