Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: RELIGION MARGINALIZED

Opinion William F. Buckley

Tue Oct 2, 7:58 PM ET

Pity John McCain, for whom everything has gone sour in the past period, taking him from lead candidate for the Republican nomination to the cellar. Some years ago, after hearing what John McCain withstood in North Vietnam, I pledged never to write a negative word about him, and over the years it has required very few beads of charity to stand by him. His latest difficulty started out sounding worthy of another medal of honor, to wear alongside the one he earned through the efforts of the North Vietnamese torturers.

What happened was that Sen. McCain was a guest on the Web site Beliefnet.com. He was there to answer questions about his religious beliefs, and his answers were recorded on video and are available for those who seek to examine the gods of presidential candidates.
The interviewer started off by asking: How important should religious belief be in a U.S. presidential contest?

Well, answered the senator, "I think the No. 1 issue people should make (in the) selection of the president of the United States is, 'Will this person carry on in the Judeo-Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?'"

When asked specifically about a Muslim candidate, he said: "I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles ... personally, I prefer someone who I know has a solid grounding in my faith."

Gasp. Within one day, poor Sen. McCain had called the Beliefnet people back and said he needed to amplify his answers to yesterday's questions. Now he added: "I would vote for a Muslim if he or she was the candidate best able to lead the country and defend our political values."
That was fast going but not fast enough.

What is happening is the reification of a civic conflict of the most fundamental order. We have for many years, in the talkative corners of the world, pretty much agreed not to emphasize in public the distinctive qualities of our own faith. The implication is that, just to begin with, there are no (important) differences between Protestants and Catholics. For reasons bloodily baptized in World War II, we threw in the Jews -- no differences, really. This didn't mean that there could not be a survival of Jewish theology, or seminaries devoted to explaining and glorifying the Dominican understanding of the deity. But it was saying something on the order of: We pledge the freedom of religious practice and admire those institutions working along similar lines to our own.

What John McCain said on the Beliefnet program was not quite in line with this orthodoxy. He recognized this almost immediately and took the opportunity to retrench. He resorted to the First Amendment parachute, which is that Congress shall make no law establishing religion, nor denying to anyone the free practice thereof.

Analyses have been written, but not I think pondered by civil servants, that one way to ignore religion is to deprive it of singular meaning. When the Mormons decided in the 19th century that polygamy was required by their religion, prosecutors in various places worked to stamp out the practice. But as time went on, interest in the remaining polygamists died down -- at least until a Mormon, Mitt Romney, declared for president.

It is all very well for Sen. McCain to say that he would have no problem voting for a Muslim for president if he or she was the best candidate. Surely qualifications need to be placed on such effusions of equality. Would it violate the First Amendment for a state to ordain that any Muslim running for public office would have to endorse votes for women? Would have to abjure the commandment that any Muslim defector be executed?

Christianity is supposed to be a way of life, and it was a way of life that Sen. McCain initially spoke of in his Beliefnet interview. Islam is a way of life -- there is nothing in Islam excepting a way of life. We're at about the point when Christians have to admit that we were there when they crucified Our Lord.

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: Giuliani Aide Tout Rudy's Electability

By PHILIP ELLIOTT – 3 hours ago
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Go home, Mitt Romney. Give it up, Fred Thompson. And John McCain, you missed your chance. In a memo and electoral maps — designed to show perceived strengths and play down others' potential — Republican Rudy Giuliani's campaign tells voters there is only one alternative to a second Clinton administration.
No surprise: It's Giuliani.

"There is no candidate that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats fear more in the general election than Rudy Giuliani," Giuliani strategist Brent Seaborn wrote to supporters Tuesday.

And he says recent poll numbers show Giuliani will be the strongest Republican candidate in the general election. A series of maps comparing how Giuliani would fare against Clinton, compared with his Republican rivals, support Giuliani's electability, he argues.

One hypothetical electoral map gives the former New York mayor a guaranteed 210 electoral votes against Clinton, 60 short of what's needed to become president.

Seaborn maintains that if Giuliani and Clinton go head-to-head in November 2008, Clinton will be guaranteed wins in only Massachusetts and Vermont, and will have to devote resources in traditionally Democratic-leaning state and less time in states like Nevada, Colorado and Iowa.
"If Rudy is the nominee, Democrats will be forced to spend money in California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Washington — states that they have spent almost no money in over the last few election cycles," Seaborn writes.
A Clinton spokeswoman dismissed the Giuliani campaign's analysis. Polls show Clinton leading Giuliani in many states in head-to-head contests, including their shared home state of New York.

"What we're seeing across the country and in New York is that Hillary Clinton continues to beat Rudy Giuliani because he continues to embrace the failed policies of the Bush administration," Clinton spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said.

Giuliani's prediction in a Romney-Clinton match assures Republicans a failure even if Romney turns every swing state projected in that scenario, the Giuliani memo maintains.
A Romney spokeswoman said voters will turn away from Giuliani when they look at the mayor's complete record.

"We're going to make the case to voters that Governor Romney is the best candidate who can unite the party with a focus on fiscal conservatism, strong national security policies and strong families," said," said Romney spokeswoman Sarah Pompei.

Giuliani continues to see strong national name identification. He appears about even with Romney in key voting states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire. But Seaborn focuses on a general-election strategy.

The strategist goes on to predict Sen. John McCain's recent uptick has reached its end after a disastrous stretch of lackluster fundraising and staff departures.
"Senator McCain has rebounded from his summer lows but seems to have a limited potential for growth," Seaborn writes, despite a new poll in New Hampshire that shows a close, three-way race for the nomination.

A McCain spokeswoman said Giuliani misunderstands the electoral map.
"John McCain's strong grassroots campaign is clearly gaining momentum," said spokeswoman Crystal Benton. "His consistent conservative record, unmatched experience and demonstrated broad appeal make John McCain the best candidate to win in the general election."
Seaborn was less kind to another GOP rival.

"We have yet to see if Fred Thompson will try to compete as a regional or a national candidate," he writes. A Thompson spokesman did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: Tension Between Legislature, State School Board Grows

Last Edited: Tuesday, 02 Oct 2007, 7:11 PM MDT
Created: Tuesday, 02 Oct 2007, 7:11 PM MDT

Associated Press Writer

A lawmaker seems even more committed to getting school districts to consider a year-round calendar, after a state school board member said the proposed remedy to Utah's teacher shortage is "a little bit in dreamland."

The rift highlights the growing tension between the Republican-dominated Legislature and the nonpartisan state Board of Education, a conflict that erupted when the board refused to implement private-school vouchers while the legality of the program was uncertain.

The latest dispute comes over a plan designed to increase teacher salaries, attract more people into the profession and send high-school graduates out earlier -- all without raising taxes.

The proposal by a Washington School District official in southwestern Utah is embraced by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, co-chairman of a committee that focuses on teacher shortages and compensation.

Under Lyle Cox's plan, schools would create a school calendar with three semesters. High-school students would pick at least two, but some could attend all three and graduate early. At the elementary level, students would attend three semesters but for half a day.

Teachers would earn about 60 percent more because they would be working more, Cox said.

Schools would be able to afford higher salaries because they would need fewer teachers. Classes would be smaller. In growing districts, money would be saved by using buildings all year instead of building new schools, Cox said.

"It seems to me to be a no-brainer," Stephenson said during a committee meeting last week.

But the details make the plan more difficult.

Cox's proposal depends on an equal number of high-school students in each semester. Some might be forced to attend during a semester they don't want. Students who take Advanced Placement courses could go months between the end of class and their national exams.

Parents of younger children would have to give up traditional summer breaks, and teachers would have to be willing to work more hours.

"The Lyle Cox model is a little bit in dreamland. We need to use realism," school board member Debra Roberts said. "Yes, it might be very good for five districts, but we have 40 districts. ... I think even Lyle himself would say there are problems with this model."

Cox doesn't dispute that more work needs to be done with his proposal. It also needs a public-relations campaign, he said Tuesday.

"The only way you can really do it is to change a mindset that's been around for years and look at this in a totally different way -- and that's not easy," he said.

Stephenson and committee co-chairman Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, are livid with Roberts for her comments during the hearing.

"What I'm learning is that the die-hard education advocates have a different goal than the public. Their goal seems to be simply to get more money as opposed to using that money efficiently," Stephenson said.

"When a proposal will improve teacher pay, improve productivity, increase the use of our school buildings and actually reduce the need for additional buildings, the education community is suddenly cold to the idea and instead pushes proposals to raise taxes and increase spending," he said.

Roberts, however, didn't propose higher taxes and didn't say she was opposed to testing the year-round calendar.

She said she didn't think it was a good statewide model, particularly in low-growth, rural districts where cost savings would be difficult to achieve. Roberts said there would be additional costs, such as air conditioning in the summer and maintenance work at night.

Phone messages left for Roberts were not returned Tuesday.

Hughes said he didn't know if Roberts' comments were the result of bad blood between the school board and Legislature.

"I thought some of her comments were inappropriate for constructive dialogue," he said. "Reform in public education does not come easily. When you even explore radical changes or different ideas, there's an inherent opposition to that."

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: Vouchers may boost turnout, upset races

Vouchers may boost turnout, upset races
By Steve Gehrke The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 10/02/2007 01:19:34 AM MDT

This could have been a boring election year. No presidential vote. No gubernatorial chase. No congressional clash. Not even a legislative duel. Sure, there is a mayor's race in Salt Lake City, but no Rocky Anderson on the ballot. On its face, the Nov. 6 election - focused mainly on low-profile, nonpartisan city runoffs - would seem like a time voters might stay home in droves and wait for 2008. But then there is that whole education thing: the statewide voucher skirmish and the potential breakup of Utah's largest school district. How might those big issues - with big money behind them and potentially even bigger impacts on the future of schools - affect council contests in, say, Herriman or Holladay? "The good news about the vouchers, and all the money going into it, is that it will absolutely increase voter turnout," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "Odd election years are always difficult to get people out, as opposed to a presidential election year like 2008, which should be an exciting year. "So the real question is: Who does it turn out?" Help or hurt incumbents?

Some voters could show up at the polls determined to cast their "yea" or "nay" on vouchers or the proposed east-side split of the Jordan School District only to be surprised by a list of no-name council candidates. These voters could leave those ballot spots blank or, more likely, they could make random selections. That, in theory, could hand challengers a boost over incumbents. "It may be marginal," Jowers said, "but I think the lesser-known candidates are much more likely to be inadvertently impacted by the voucher turnout." Jowers said incumbents especially could falter if too many voucher-focused voters cast ballots in council races. "Sure, the incumbents should have an advantage on name ID, but, the truth is, a lot of these new voters may not even recognize the incumbent candidates below the office of mayor," he said. "The less known the candidates, the more possibility for surprise." Brigham Young University political scientist Kelly Patterson isn't so sure. "Incumbents possess a great deal of advantages in these elections," he said. "Even with this kind of issue [vouchers] on the ballot, it's still hard for challengers to break through. It shouldn't dramatically alter that dynamic." So, added Patterson, whether turnout is 25 percent or 35 percent, the results would tend to favor the same kinds of candidates. Weighty side issues won't necessarily change the winners, just the number of votes they get. "Generally speaking," Patterson said, "the individuals most likely to vote in off-year elections . . . would have a higher level of education, higher level of income, more leisure time and a higher level of political interest and knowledge." University of Utah political scientist Matthew Burbank said it is difficult to predict how vouchers and the proposed district split will affect the fall balloting since both issues were absent from the Sept. 11 primary. "I'm not sure it has a clear, decided impact on any candidate," he said. "There's no partisan campaign, so indeed there is an advantage to incumbents due to name recognition. But, on the other hand, there won't be a huge effect because if you're motivated to go vote, it's probably because you really feel strongly about vouchers. And that's an indication you're pretty well informed." Grass-roots campaigning Jowers noted most council candidates don't have the money to microtarget specific populations, so their strategies probably will come down to the basics: knocking on doors. "Candidates are going to want that favorable name ID," he said, "when these new voters start marking the ballot on things other than the vouchers." And that's exactly what the candidates are doing - at least in West Jordan, where voters will say whether they want vouchers and whether they want to establish their own citywide school district. While District 4 council candidates Clive Killpack and incumbent Lyle Summers aren't taking formal positions on the district split, both are welcoming an expected influx of voters and using their normal strategies to maximize their name recognition. "I've been using door hangers and have made sure people who vote on every election get a mailer or two from me," Killpack said. "I guess being listed first on the ballot does have its advantages, but I'm just hoping the people will have the chance to read the material they get and vote intelligently." Summers agreed - the more voters the merrier. "I have name recognition, and there's the fact that I've got a good campaign planned for the rest of the season," Summers said. "It'll reach a lot of people, and I think the more that come, the better chances I will have." Ballot drop-off In the past, Jowers said, political strategists have taken advantage of headline-grabbing referendums to demand attention, diverting it from controversial politicians who get re-elected by a burst of single-minded voters. "Both parties know there are certain issues that motivate certain segments of the public to get out and vote and become active in elections," he said. "And a lot of these issues hit more of the fringes of their parties, but these are people who are typically pretty reliable to vote straight ticket for one party or another." Patterson said some council races could be affected, but usually "one-issue voters are single-issue voters - they often don't participate where they don't have a lot of information." That, he said, could lead to hefty "ballot drop-off," leaving a large gap in the number of voters who speak up on the voucher issue versus those who weigh in on down-ballot council races. Burbank says the idea of single-issue voters is misleading. ''People who vote are almost never motivated solely by a single issue," he said. ''But this could motivate people who are not that interested in the candidate elections, but would be very interested in the voucher issue or school-district split.'' He said committed voters typically show up in off-year elections. But this fall could see a surge in sporadic voters, casting ballots in races they know little or nothing about.

''They'll figure, 'I might as well vote for them while I'm here,' '' Burbank said. ''But it's not clear who that will benefit.'' sgehrke@sltrib.com