Bill Whalen

What’s The President Gunning For?


Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe the flu season has finally arrived on my doorstep, but I find myself agreeing with much of what President Obama had to say earlier today about gun control – words not written much in this space.

Requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales? Seems reasonable enough. You apply for a job, there may be a background check (I have friends whose prospective fathers-in-law did the same — good thing for the bride they did). Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines and reinstate the assault weapons ban? Again, why not? When a troubled young man can walk into a classroom with more rifle firepower than a Marine infantryman had on Guadalcanal, we have a disconnect.

What I didn’t like about the President’s talk: federal research dollars to study, in Mr. Obama’s words, “the effects violent video games have on young minds.” Like forcing rhesus monkeys to smoke three packs a day, it doesn’t take an advanced degree to know the answer: it’s not good (at best, it’s time kids could better spend studying or exercising; at worse, it’s part of the desensitization of our youth). Besides, it smacks of Mr. Obama trying to avoid offending one of his constituencies: the entertainment industry.

Now that the President has spoken, what next?

First, there’s Congress – but not the chamber you’re thinking.

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Bill Whalen

2012 – Crystal Ball Edition


For years, my favorite column was the late William Safire’s annual “office pool” – the columnist, former speechwriter and language sage predicting twists and turns in politics, economics, world affairs and pop culture.

What Safire produced each year was, as his surname suggested, a gem – often replicated, never quite duplicated.

In that spirit, here’s my effort to lure you into the crystal ball:


1. By the end of 2013, President Obama’s approval rating (over 50% since the election) will be:

a. About the same, the 2nd-term honeymoon lasts

b. Better, Obama benefitting from GOP turmoil

c. Worse, the honeymoon soon over;

d. Worse – dramatically so, buyer’s remorse


2. The most significant Congressional achievement in 2013:

a. Assault weapons ban

b. Immigration reform

c. Entitlement reform.

d. Kicking the can into 2014

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Bill Whalen


Soon, Susan Rice’s announced decision to take herself out of the running for U.S. Secretary of State will recede from the spotlight. More pressing matters – the fiscal cliff, international drama, President Obama preparing for a new term and a new agenda – will see to that.

But before the story goes away, brace yourself for some ugliness. Some will say it’s the fault of obstructionist Senate Republicans that Rice wasn’t promoted from her current post as U.N. Ambassador. Others will play the race card (MSBNC’s Andrea Mitchell wasting no time), as Rice would have been America’s third consecutive African-American Secretary of State.

Here are three reasons why, in my estimation, President Obama chose not the go through with the Rice nomination – and it has less to do with Republican machinations (like John McCain joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and thus awaiting Rice as a nomination roadblock) – than it does political realities at the year’s-end:

1)  The Cliff Dwellers. At some (eventually, maybe not so soon), President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner will announce a tentative agreement to avoid the federal fiscal cliff. But turning that framework into legislation that can actually reach the President’s desk requires harmony in Congress. Nominating Susan Rice for Foggy Bottom would have put a serious dent in said harmony.

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Bill Whalen

For all the talk of an impasse between President Obama and congressional Republicans and the specter of the federal government soon going over a “fiscal cliff” of higher taxes and draconian spending cuts, there’s a better metaphor for Washington’s present struggles:

A mule-ride down the Grand Canyon.

If you’ve ever made the trek, it’s a memory not soon forgotten – in large part, for how the mules make the descent. The beasts of burden choose to walk as close as they can to the edge of the canyon’s rim. Sure, the view’s breathtaking. Perhaps more pulse-racing is the thought of the mule, sick and tired of making the same passage, choosing your ride as the time to take the plunge into the abyss.

Such is the drama in Washington: we don’t know what’s on the mule’s mind (please forgive the mixed metaphor of Republicans as mules). Some say keep marching down the path to compromise. Others advise: take the plunge – or at least, test the President’s willingness to do so.

There may be a way out of Washington’s mess – a distinctly California solution to the impasse. It’s what Hollywood would do in this kind of bind: halt production, retool the storyline, recast the players, and then re-launch the show.

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Bill Whalen

Barack’s Win, Bubba’s Handiwork

This won’t be a discussion about what happened to Republicans’ national aspirations in this election. With well 1,450+ days until Election Day 2016, there’s plenty of time for talk of how to put Humpty back together.

Meanwhile, imagine what it was to be Bill Clinton on the morning after Election Night.

On the one hand, you woke up to the reality that the man who deep, deep down you maybe don’t like because took the job your wife covets, kept it – thanks in part to your campaigning in swing starts, plus whatever advice you offered on the golf course. Small wonder the re-elected president placed a phone call to you after the results were official – even if he didn’t mention your name in his acceptance speech (oops).

But by winning re-election, Clinton also woke to a grimmer reality (from his standpoint): Barack Obama may have killed Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects, whatever they are.

Figure it this way: five times, since 1920, America has voted on what to do next after an eight-year presidency (this excludes Coolidge, Truman, Johnson, Ford who stepped in due to death or resignation). Only once, in 1988, did Americans “stay the course” with the same party. The other four times – 2008, 2000, 1960, 1920 – they changed course by switching party control. That’s not a good omen for Hillaryistas.

The one argument against this: deeper American history.

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Bill Whalen

An Election-Night Viewing Guide

Some would argue that there’s no mystery to the outcome of Tuesday’s election – not that it’s a scientific assumption.

Every four years, for example, 7-Eleven sponsors a 7-Election – an outcome driven by the sale of red Republican and blue Democratic coffee cups. In the past two elections, these spots of coffee have been spot-on. In 2008, the 7-Election had it as 52% for Barack Obama. Actually tally: 52.9% for Obama. In 2004, the 7-Election had George W. Bush winning with 51% of the vote. Actual result: Bush 50.7%.

So what’s the 7-Election calling for 2012? It’s Obama, in a caffeinated landslide (59%-41%).

Another predictor: professional football – specifically, the “Redskins Rule”. In 17 of the last 18 presidential elections, dating back to 1940, the following has held true: if the Washington Redskins win their last home before the election, the party that controls the White House stays in power; the Redskins lose, so too does the incumbent party (the lone exception being 2004 – the Redskins lost to the Steelers; Bush beat Kerry).

On Sunday, the Redskins hosted the Carolina Panthers, putting the “rule” to its 2012 test. Final score: Panthers 21, Redskins 13. Advantage: Romney.

If you think all of this is nuts, I’ll give you one more: Mr. Nuts, the San Francisco Bay Area tuxedo cat who makes his predictions by choosing from one of two litter boxes – the losing candidate literally getting the business. Bad news for Mitt Romney: nature called, and Mr. Nuts called on the Romney-labeled litter box (an apt metaphor for the media coverage of Romney, no?)

If you’re not convinced by what all of his means and actually want to watch the election returns, here’s a viewing guide.

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Tammy Frisby

One Week Remaining

In this podcast, three political scientists affiliated with the Hoover Institution, David Brady, Tammy Frisby, and Andrew Reeves, assess the state of the presidential race and their forecasts for Election night. Moderated by Hoover Institution Director of Public Affairs Eryn Witcher, the group discusses the “October Surprise” of natural disaster Hurricane Sandy, the last Jobs numbers on the Friday before the election, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, the role of the debates, and what they think the commentariat has said about the election that might make sense and what should be doubted.

Listen as Andrew Reeves, an expert on how presidential responses to natural disasters affect elections, explains what he expects based on his research – and engages in some expert diplomacy as he’s asked to cast the tie vote on the “Did the debates matter?” question. Tammy Frisby is skeptical that Friday’s Jobs numbers matter much at all for what happens next Tuesday. David Brady shares his thoughts on what he’s most interested to study once we have the election results. And the group pulls out their crystal balls (or, as Frisby says, their Magic Eight Balls) to call the election six days out.

Audio MP3

(Duration: 31:03)

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James Ceaser

Preeminent scholar of American politics and the presidency, James W. Ceaser, assess four scenarios for the national political situation on the day after the November election. Taking stock of what lies ahead after either an Obama or Romney win (and a wide or narrow margin victory for each candidate), Ceaser considers three main questions:

  • What is the larger meaning and significance of the election?
  • What can the winner reasonably claim about the election outcome?
  • What does the outcome augur for the defeated party?

With an introduction by Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution, John Raisian.

Audio MP3

(Duration : 30:13)

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Bill Whalen

The Third Time’s The Charm?

President Obama and Mitt Romney meet for a final time on Monday night – unless Romney prevails on Election Night, in which case there will be a fourth and decidedly frosty encounter at the White House late in the morning on January 20, 2013, when control of the executive branch of the federal government would change hands.

How to anticipate this third presidential debate?

You can argue that, in a forensic best-of-three series, we’re tied at one-apiece. However, that’s not quite accurate. Romney’s decisive win in Denver (he gained in the polls, sent Obama spiraling for the first time as a presidential candidate, and convinced the media the race was genuinely on) far outweighs the President’s marginal “win”at the Hofstra town-hall (Obama’s performance was indeed far-improved, but he didn’t change the campaign’s narrative; to the extent that anyone was doing damage control post-Hofstra, it was Candy Crowley’s employer).

Here’s what’s odd about this final debate: foreign policy and national security, thought to be an after-thought in an election dominated by a weak economy, is back with a vengeance.

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