Monday, December 03, 2007

'Time For A Change' Counts In Venezuela And U.S.

The results of the constitutional plebiscite in Venezuela, where, by a very narrow majority, the voters rejected the attempt of the demagogic president, Hugo Chavez, to be elected for life, demonstrate once again that electorates often want change, they don't want some one person or family to dominate the political scene too long.

"It's time for a change," is a powerful slogan in politics. We saw it overpower Chavez last night, and we may well see it at work in the United States in the 2008 election.

The Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote recently that an issue over whether Bushes and Clintons have governed in the U.S. too long, since George H. Bush was elected president in 1988, could be a powerful impediment to Sen. Hillary Clinton's election next year.

And just since Broder wrote of a widespread perception that Mrs. Clinton's election might lead to a "dual presidency," with her husband, former President Bill Clinton occupying a powerful position, living in the White House, it has seemed that Mr. Clinton has injected himself even more into the presidential primary campaign. He caused controversy last week in Iowa when he declared that he had opposed President George W. Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq from the start.

This immediately aroused much comment, because (1) it did not appear to be true, since no one could find a quote from Mr. Clinton in 2002-03 clearly opposing the war and (2) Mrs. Clinton had voted for a resolution in the Congress authorizing the war, and has, even in this campaign, refused to say it was a mistake, saying instead that if she knew then what she has learned since, she might have voted differently.

In Iowa, with the campaign very tight on the Democratic side, between Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, it is striking that what Mr. Clinton says gets almost as much attention as what Mrs. Clinton says, and it provokes the observation that if there is not a "dual presidency" issue, perhaps there should be.

A new poll released today on the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, this time from Pew and the Associated Press, puts Clinton in the lead with 31%, Obama in second with 26% and Edwards third with 19%.

This contradicts the Des Moines Register poll, released yesterday, which showed Obama in the lead with 28%, Clinton at 25% and Edwards at 23%. The contradiction demonstrates once again that polls don't always agree with one another. Often, the discrepancy results either from a volatile electorate or questions asked a little differently, or a different weighting of the sample depending on an assessment from the pollster as to who in the electorate is likely to turn out for the election.

Although the Pew finding prompted Time magazine's political expert Mark Halperin to observe this morning that maybe there is no new front runner in Iowa, Mrs. Clinton staying on top, the fact that Mrs. Clinton has gone into an attack mode, for the first time questioning Obama's integrity, is a strong indication that she feels threatened by the situation in the Hawkeye state. It may mean that her private polls are closer to the Register's than to Pew-AP.

Sometimes in politics, it's said that the first candidate to adopt negative tactics is the one who realizes he or she is behind.

In an article in the New York Times today, Adam Nagourney raises the possibility that Mrs. Clinton could run third in Iowa and says this could "shatter" her biggest single argument for the Democratic nomination, namely that she is the most electable Democrat, and change the momentum for the New Hampshire primary, where Clinton has been running stronger in the polls than she is in Iowa.

Also using the word "shatter" to describe perceptions of Clinton inevitability, if she loses in Iowa, were Peter Nicholas and Peter Wallsten, reporting from Iowa for the L.A. Times.

In Venezuela, it wasn't until right at the end that the opposition to a Presidency-For-Life for Chavez gained the ascendancy. With a month to go in Iowa, we also may see a last surge by the Obama cnadidacy that will be difficult to Clinton to withstand. If a 'Time For A Change' mentality is strong in Iowa, she may not win there, and if it's strong in the rest of the country, she may not, in the end, prevail nationwide.

--

Welcome words come from the Sudan today that Gillian Gibbons, the British school teacher jailed for "insulting Islam" because she allowed seven-year-old pupils in a Khartoum private school to name a teddy bear after the Prophet Muhammed, is being pardoned and released early. In the company of two British Muslim peers who flew to Khartoum to seek her freedom, she is scheduled to fly home to Britain tonight. (Ms. Gibbons arrived safely in Dubai, enroute home, at the end of the day, accompanied by British Embassy officials and the two Muslim peers who courageously flew to the Sudan and argued forcefully and successfully for her early release).

This is the very least the Sudanese government could do, as the pressure mounted from Britain and other countries against the ridiculous prosecution. The New York Times today has an editorial pointing out that neither in the Sudan, nor in Saudi Arabia, where a young woman who was raped is still threatened with 200 lashes and a six-month-jail term, is such religious fanaticism at all acceptable in most of the world.

Incidents of the sort we have seen in the two Arab countries show once again that fundamentalist Islam is beyond the pale and has to be resisted. Congratulations to the British government, and also to the Muslim community in Britain, for standing up for Ms. Gibbons. Britain owes a debt of gratitude to the two peers, members of the House of Lords, who went to the Sudan, Lord Nazir Ahmed and the Baroness Sayeeda Warsa. It shows that naming Muslim peers, bringing Muslims who are British citizens more into the life of Great Britain, can pay great dividends. The understanding and common sense displayed by the two peers, and many other British Muslims in this episode are very heartening.

Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, meanwhile, wrote an article in the Guardian today lamenting the Gibbons case, but saying its denouement points the way to greater understanding between Islam and the West.

Finally, this was a triumph for British Moderate Muslims. Thank goodness!

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