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Archive for March 2011

In Today’s Manic Journalism World, What Would Lou Grant Do?

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In this manic age of journalism, what would Lou Grant do?

As some may have read in these pages and elsewhere, after two years Politics Daily has lost its lease with AOL and will be vacating this space soon. Some of the newspeople who work here will bring you news from other “verticals” at AOL, and some of them will report from new web addresses. I’ll still be reporting, as I always have, from various other outlets and chasing a new story sooner rather than later.
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It’s in my blood. As a kid, I was obsessed with “Lou Grant,” the CBS drama that ran from 1977 to 1982. While other kids loved Barbie dolls and GI Joe, I loved newspapers. (Yes, I was a geek.)

Crotchety Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, left a job as a television news producer (after being fired) and an ex-wife in Minnesota to return to the newspaper business at the fictional “Los Angeles Tribune” as its city editor. Newspapers were in troubled waters, and it was up to Grant, who got his journalism start in newspapers, to figure out how to increase circulation. Weekly, he had to battle a changing journalism world, the advertising department, and a bossy publisher while making sure his reporters told compelling stories.

Even the opening credits for the show that first season fascinated me. A bird chirps, a tree falls, that tree becomes newsprint, and that newsprint becomes liner in the bird cage. To me it symbolized there was another story to write the next day and the one after that.

So, if Grant was an editor these days, how would he deal with the rapid changes buffeting the industry?

First, he’d learn the lingo (while cussing under his breath) as to not look stupid. “Content” has become the new term for “copy.” “Clicks” replace “circulation.” “Content management system” is the new printing operation. “Unique visitors” is the equivalent of how many people buy or subscribe to a newspaper.

He would chortle and realize today’s news biz, even the digital aspect, is in many ways the same as it ever was. The clash between the advertising department, striving to control editorial content for dollars, and the editorial side still exists. The publications that thrive on tragedies, disasters, and juicy scandals are still out there, too, except they loom on your browser instead of at the grocery market check-out. Lazy reporters who plagiarize other reporters’ stories? Yep, they still exist, too.

One critical element remains most constant — readers’ craving for good stories.

In every episode of “Lou Grant,” Grant knew a compelling story was always worth seeking out, investigating and then clearly explaining to readers. Grant also realized that taking chances for a front-page — or these days, it would be called “viral” — story was worth the expense and the agony of dealing with higher-ups.

He was a harsh editor who put his reporters through long hours, challenging edits and tight deadlines. Journalists, cub reporters and veterans alike, all need that direction once in a while.

In the series premiere, Grant acknowledges he doesn’t know anything about the new-fangled machines — desktop computers — that have come into the newsroom since he left ten years earlier. But that doesn’t stop him from plunging in with gusto.

In the 1970s, television was newspapers’ biggest competitor. The competition was stiff. The medium could broadcast live from a breaking news story and reach thousands immediately. Radio, with the same immediacy, was a stiff competitor as were fully engaged wire services with countless reporters who moved fast to cover breaking stories with the basic who, what, when, where, why and how.

Lou Grant and his staff hardly acted like dinosaurs slugging around waiting for their extinction.

Instead, they reported the stories of their day, finding new angles on police corruption, spousal abuse and Nazi sympathizers long before it was vogue in mainstream television. Sure, “Lou Grant” was a TV show, but it won 13 Emmys, and I learned a lot about journalism from it.

My hero on the show was Billie Newman, an intrepid girl reporter with a heart. She started her career in the lifestyles pages where women were relegated back in the 1970s. But when she was sent on assignment to interview a famous author and he ended up dead, Newman took the story and ran with it. She scooped Joe Rossi, the star reporter in the all-boy newsroom, and won Grant’s heart.

Grant, Newman and Rossi would be unstoppable in the current Wild West frontier of journalism. Social media, search engine optimization, or whatever the next big technological advancement in journalism might be — it would not intimidate Grant’s newsroom. While Grant might not understand some of it fully, he would see it as a useful tool to reach more readers.

He would tell his reporters not to miss a tweet or a Facebook post by a possible corrupt politician or news figure. He would press them to excel at multimedia (360-degree photographs, audio and video) and realize that media now work across a cross-platform system that allows readers to read their stories almost anywhere (in the newspaper, on an iPad, through an app). But most of all, he would tell them not to just report, but dig deeper, investigate a story. With deadlines looming, he would stress to them to balance the brave new world while adhering to the tried-and-true rules of old-school journalism — ethics, original reporting (in the field), and fairness.

And he would see — even now — journalism as an honorable profession.

Without a doubt, over a stiff drink at his local watering hole with his staff, Lou Grant would seize the 21st century challenge. (Today, colleagues in virtual newsrooms like ours kick back in closed Facebook groups.) Hell no, Lou would say, this technology won’t beat us. We’re reporters. We tell stories. Now get to it.

[Originally posted on Politics Daily March 12, 2011]

Written by suziparker1313

March 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Sarah Palin: Could She Run as an Independent or Third Party Candidate?

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Sarah Palin talks a lot about the tea party.

On Fox News last week, she said, “I find inspiration in tea party patriots [and] those with common sense who aren’t playing a lot of games.”

She could be considered the tea party’s godmother. With her Sarah PAC and support for 2010 tea party candidates, Palin has generated a lot of good will, not to mention publicity, for a movement that began only two years ago. She also isn’t afraid to attack popular Republicans such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Further proof that Palin isn’t always a GOP team player: She is skipping the first GOP primary debate on May 2 to give a keynote address, “Tribute to the Troops with Sarah Palin,” at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colo. Some take this as a sure sign, along with her tanking poll numbers in key places like Iowa, that Palin will not seek the White House in 2012.

Could Palin, ever the rogue, be concocting a different plan?

What if Palin is building a grassroots army of patriots to help her undertake this mission? Palin, unlike any failed vice presidential candidate before her, has taken an opportunity and spun it into a gold mine. But to remain relevant in a crowded 2012 field of attention-seeking veteran politicians, Palin may have to make an unconventional move.

Although third-party candidates seldom win in America’s two-party system, they can certainly rain on political parades. At the same time, they can help down-ballot candidates by getting voters to the polls who might otherwise stay at home.

Palin certainly has many of the qualities of a third-party candidate – charismatic and passionate, with a status as an outsider intent on storming the barricades of the establishment.

Consider previous candidates with engaging and controversial personalities who attempted to carve their own path to the Oval Office.

Larger-than-life Theodore Roosevelt ran on his Bull Moose Party ticket in 1912. He won 27.4 percent of the popular vote and carried six states, totaling 88 electoral votes. Roosevelt’s candidacy split the Republican vote, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election.

In 1948, Strom Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat segregationist, a major draw in Southern states. Former Democratic governor George Wallace of Alabama ran in 1968 on the American Independent Party line. He remains the only third-party candidate since 1948 to win a state.

Ronald Reagan didn’t face just Jimmy Carter. He also had to run against John Anderson, who had run in the crowded Republican primary. When it looked certain that Reagan would win, Anderson jumped to an independent candidacy. He received support from Rockefeller Republicans, author Gore Vidal, television sitcom creator Norman Lear and even the editors of “The New Republic.”

One of the most prominent third-party candidates, perhaps, is Ross Perot. With his charts and nasal voice, he became a household name and the star of many “Saturday Night Live” skits, with Dana Carvey playing Perot. The billionaire Texan threw a wrench into George H.W. Bush’s re-election bid against Bill Clinton. He finished second in two states – Utah, ahead of Clinton, and Maine, ahead of Bush. Perot won 18.9 percent of the popular vote but no electoral votes.

He gave it another shot in 1996, but with lesser impact, on the Reform Party ticket. He garnered 8 percent of the popular vote.

Ralph Nader has run four times for president – twice as a Green Party candidate in 1996 and 2000 and twice as an independent, in 2004 and 2008.

For Palin to run as a tea party candidate, it would require money and keen organization. To become a legitimate third party, as opposed to its current status as a movement, the tea party would face a series of steep obstacles it likely could not scale by 2012.

For example, each state has its own ballot-access laws. Some states simply require a filing fee, but others have complex petition-gathering requirements for a party to become established, purposely aimed at keeping third parties off the ballot and protecting the elevated status of the major parties.

And the tea party isn’t showing any effort to become established.

That’s because the Republicans have figured out, for now, how to please the tea party.

“The tea party potentially forming a third-party movement would happen if they become completely disgusted with the Republicans,” said Dr. Jim Broussard, professor of history at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa.”That doesn’t seem likely now. Both in Washington and at the state level, most Republicans have figured out what people sent them to do.”

But what if the 2012 Republican nominee, maybe Mitt Romney or outgoing China ambassador Jon Huntsman, isn’t a tea party darling? Palin could emerge as the conservative populist alternative. Her best bet then would be to align with an established third party such as the Reform Party, like Pat Buchanan did in 2000, or run as an independent.

One downside of running as an independent? Absolutely no structure to rely on for support. But Palin already has a built-in voter, and fan, base. She has more than 2.7 million Facebook fans and 439,000 Twitter followers. She raises millions through her PAC, and gets massive media coverage from one tweet. She would likely have no problem covering the filing fees to get on the ballots in various states. Palin could use her social media tentacles to gather signatures on petitions in states that require such.

Politico has reported that she could set up a presidential base in Arizona. That might be the perfect spot to launch an independent bid. The tea party recently held a summit in the state, which Palin did not attend but endorsed. It’s also the state where Barry Goldwater revamped the modern-day conservative movement in the 1960s. Palin, in turn, could revolutionize the status of the independent candidate in Sen. John McCain’s back yard without playing by the Iowa and New Hampshire game.

Matthew Kerbel, professor of political science at Villanova University, said, “Her history suggests she would relish the opportunity to run without having to do the heavy lifting of campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, and she would certainly want her supporters to come to her and demand that she run.”

Then again, Kerbel says, “She may be the first candidate in history to run for president in order to preserve their place as a pop culture figure.”

[Originally published on Politics Daily, March 9, 2011]

Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Sarah Palin’s India Trip: Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela Have Made Same Journey

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The jokes are already flying as Sarah Palin prepares to embark on a trip to India later this month, and more are surely to come. Will she rock a sari? Perhaps guest star in a Bollywood movie? Or bathe in the Ganges for a photo op?

Palin has been invited to give the keynote address, “My Vision of America,” at the two-day India Today conclave in New Delhi, an event hosted annually by the magazine since 2002. The March 18-19 event is sponsored by global business heavyweight Aditya Birla Group, a billion-dollar metals company, along with a bevy of industry co-sponsors.

The news came in late February via her cybermessenger, Rebecca Mansour, who tweeted: “Governor Palin will be travelling to India next month.” Neither Palin nor Mansour has expounded on the details of trip.

Representatives for India Today did not return e-mails about Palin’s trip. India Today is the country’s most diversified media group, with interests in magazines, newspaper, television, radio, Internet, books and music.

It is unclear if she is getting paid to appear, but Palin usually charges upwards of $100,000 for such speaking engagements, according to various news accounts.

Palin has traveled outside the United States only a few times since Sen. John McCain chose her as his running mate in 2008. At that point, she had only traveled to the Middle East to visit U.S. troops. Since then, she has given a speech in Hong Kong and visited Haiti alongside Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.

An article by the magazine on the conclave website states: “Her visit to India has generated immense buzz in U.S. political circles over if she will run for president in 2012. Palin is reportedly shy of traveling abroad but her keynote address at the India Today Conclave 2011 is seen as an attempt to articulate foreign policy where she was found wanting in her 2008 bid for V-P, say some experts.”

New York Sun columnist Pranay Gupte describes the gathering as the “biggest private-sector megaphone in the world’s largest democracy.”

Palin will certainly have plush accommodations and the chance to mingle among international intelligentsia.

The event will be at the Taj Palace Hotel New Delhi, which sits on “six acres of lush greens in the exclusive Diplomatic Enclave of the city,” and is only 10 minutes from the airport, “well equipped, offering simultaneous translation in five languages.”

India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, will deliver the opening keynote address at the event themed “The Changing Balance of Power.” Other speakers include feminist writer Germaine Greer speaking on a panel titled “Can the Burqa Co-Exist With the Bikini?” and Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who gives a dinner keynote on “The New Middle East.”

For a governor who served only 31 months in office, Palin is in fairly auspicious company.

In the event’s inaugural year, Al Gore spoke, and the next year Bill Clinton appeared. Since then, special guests have included Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Colin Powell, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Afghanistan President H. E. Hamid Karzai, and Hillary Clinton, who spoke when she was senator of New York.

Some Palin critics have said that her trip is a slap in the face to key 2012 states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, and her absence from those venues signals that she is not running for president.

“I know, presidential candidates like to travel abroad to boost their foreign policy credentials. And Palin needs those credentials badly,” wrote Andrew Cline, the editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. “But I find it hard to believe that, presumably less than a year from the primary, someone who makes a trip to India a higher priority than a trip to New Hampshire is a serious presidential candidate.”

But hold on, say some political watchers, who argue Palin has time to go to India and still be a powerful 2012 player.

Dr. Lara Brown, assistant professor of political science at Villanova University, tells Politics Daily: “The first thing that comes to mind is that she is preparing for a presidential run. Presidential aspirants typically travel internationally before the invisible primary season gets under way.”

Brown notes that Nixon was one of the first to do this after losing his 1960 presidential bid against John F. Kennedy and his 1962 loss to Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial race. He traveled to Europe, Japan and Vietnam where he hosted press conferences and met with leaders.

“Foreign travel gives the candidates a broader perspective on the world and allows them to talk in a more informed way about foreign policy,” Brown said.

While it is unclear whether Palin lobbied for a spot on the conclave ticket or the group reached out to invite her, India is an interesting choice of country for her to visit. The Obama administration has given keen attention to the South Asia republic. The first White House state dinner the Obamas hosted was in honor of the Indian prime minister and they visited India just three months ago.

It’s also a smart trip politically because Indian-Americans have increasing clout in the American political process. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who Palin supported, is the daughter of Indian immigrant parents as is Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, also a Republican.

The Indian American Conservative Council (IACC), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that supports conservative, pro-business values, has praised her visit. “It is only fitting that Palin travel to New Delhi since India is an economic partner with the United States, with both nations benefiting from $50 billion in annual trade, along with mutual cooperation in the global war on terrorism,” IACC chairman Dino Teppara said in a statement.

Palin could use the conclave platform to counter many of Obama’s viewpoints, and she is going into friendly territory. India likes female leaders, such as the powerful Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, the lead party in India’s coalition. Gandhi is the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1984.

India media reports frequently on Palin and her family. A Google search covering the period from Jan. 1, 2010, to Jan. 1, 2011, turns up 2.4 million hits pairing Sarah Palin and India, most of them from Indian media. Palin’s trip to India could be just political curiosity on both her part and the country’s movers and shakers. But it could be a diplomatic springboard into the 2012 presidential waters.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated how long Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska. She was governor for 31 months, not 18 months.

Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 4:14 am

Posted in 2012 President, Sarah Palin

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Sarah Palin’s Triple Whammy: Chris Christie, Barack Obama and Bill O’Reilly

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In front of an Alaskan backdrop of mountains and a lake, Sarah Palin had a busy, busy night on television Friday. She found time to tweak a fellow Republican, dismiss the president, and scold a top-rated Fox News talk show host.

Palin opened by questioning New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie‘s toughness and attacking President Barack Obama for naivete. After that, she preached about cutting various government programs to Bill O’Reilly before advising him not to interrupt her. All in a night’s work.

On America’s Nightly Scoreboard, host David Asman informed Palin that Christie had told Fox Business News that he didn’t see any politician as inspiring. “Do you?” Asman asked Palin.

“Heck yeah, I am so thankful for all these common sense conservative politicians to serve and cut for the right reasons,” she said. “And with all due respect to Governor Christie, you know he has no choice but to cut budgets because he’s broke, his state is broke. What courage really is, is in the face of having a surplus when you have opportunity to spend, spend, spend other people’s money, and you still choose to rein in government to let the private sector soar.”

Palin said as governor she trimmed Alaska’s budget, although it had a surplus. She put a hiring freeze in place, reduced earmarks by 86 percent and vetoed the largest amounts of spending in the state’s history, she said.

Without mentioning potential 2012 Republican candidates by name, Palin said, “I find inspiration in tea party patriots [and] those with common sense who aren’t playing a lot of games.”

On the same show, she said President Obama didn’t understand the labor situation in Wisconsin because he is “so inexperienced in the private sector and in goverment, and in actually running anything and making any kind of budget.”

She added that Obama has a “naive and destructive and terrifying anti-oil agenda” that “is going to bring our nation to our knees — and his agenda must be stopped.”

Wearing the same fleece and faux fur jacket, Palin appeared later on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” to discuss future plans for government entitlements such as Social Security. “Yeah, entitlement programs have to be reformed,” she told the host. “They are going to eat our lunch. They will certainly consume our entire federal budget by 2035. unless we reform.”

Palin cited Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan, “A Roadmap for American’s Future” as one way restrain Social Security costs. She said his proposal “can nail it quite accurately, as when he talks about age 55 being a cut-off age” in the future for traditional Social Security payments.

Ryan’s plan would preserve the existing Social Security program for those 55 or older but offer workers younger than 55 the option of investing more than one-third of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts.

Palin chastised the hard-charging O’Reilly for interrupting her: “I really apologize that up here in Alaska we have this four-second delay so it’s not an easy exchange to try and get my point across to you if you interrupt.” O’Reilly let her make points on raising the retirement age and the possibility that safety net programs for the poor will have to be reduced.

“If we had a robust economy here and all across the country then we wouldn’t have to be looking at these insolvent entitlement programs that, yeah, when we start pulling the plug on some of them there is going to be a shared burden across the country,” she said.

Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 4:11 am

RIP Jane Russell: Lifelong Republican and Straight Shooter

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I met Jane Russell once.

It was in my hometown, Pine Bluff, Ark., a faded Southern place that hosted a film festival in hopes of raising enough money to restore the Saenger Theater, a once palatial movie house. Each year, the festival invited former famous starlets – Tippi Hedren, Carol Channing, Shirley Jones, Celeste Holm – to talk about Hollywood’s Golden Age. In 2002, Russell came to town.

Statuesque, with silver hair and a still-to-be-envied figure, Russell possessed no celebrity air about her. She talked like a good old Western gal who had seen a lot, and done a lot, but no longer was wowed by sweet-talking fans or bright lights. Dr. Foster Hirsch, host of the American Film institute’s “Tributes,” interviewed her and afterward, she met fans. Russell shook my hand and was unfailingly polite. She even gave my mom a hug.

Russell, 89, died Monday in Santa Maria, Calif., from respiratory failure.

The vampy sex symbol was born in Minnesota, but her family moved to California when she was 11. She blasted onto to the Hollywood scene in the 1943 Howard Hughes film, “The Outlaw,” wearing a low-cut blouse and reclining against a stack of hay bales. Hughes used sexist language and pure exploitation to promote the film – and Russell’s breasts – with posters that said, “How Would You Like to Tussle With Russell?”

Overnight, the busty brunette became a GI fantasy as the country reeled from war. During the Korean War, troops named two embattled hills in her honor.

As one commenter said on the Los Angeles Times website, “My dad was in the army during WWII and had lunch with Jane during a tour she made. He commented that she was a very nice girl. He felt she was just a normal, down to earth girl that just happened to be a movie star. That was a great compliment to her character coming from him.”

Never considered a fantastic actress, or one who accumulated awards, Russell played Calamity Jane in “The Paleface” with Bob Hope and starred with another sex goddess, Marilyn Monroe, in the musical, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” As she aged, she faded out of films and found new fans in nightclubs, on stage and in live appearances.

For many who grew up in the 1970s watching daytime television, Russell is known as the “bra lady.” Playtex hired Russell to be its spokeswoman for bras for “full-figured women.”

But for all her sexiness, Russell’s personal life didn’t necessarily reflect the glamorous one she played onscreen. She was conservative when conservative wasn’t cool.

In the 1950s, Russell, who considered herself evangelical or Pentecostal without belonging to a specific denomination, formed a female gospel quartet called the “Hollywood Christian Group” that came together after they met at a church social. Even as her star was rising, Russell held fast to her Christian faith, creating a weekly Bible study at her home for Christians in the film industry.

Russell was also blunt. She told the Associated Press in 1960: “I’ve no trouble getting in to see senators and congressmen.”

She was married three times, and admitted to having an abortion when she was young. Because of the botched procedure, she opted to adopt, became a mother to three children and was a strong pro-life advocate. (She asked that donations in her memory be given to Net Pregnancy & Resource Center in Santa Maria, Calif., where she lived.)

Russell founded World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), which placed children with adoptive families and pioneered adoptions from foreign countries by Americans.

“Jane Russell founded the very first international adoption organization, and because of her, our immigration laws were changed so that children from overseas, mostly with American fathers, were allowed to come here,” Gerald H. Cornez, executive director of WAIF, said in a 1999 Los Angeles profile of Russell.

The organization has since closed.

Russell, a lifelong Republican, attended Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration. She once said: “I have always been a Republican, and when I was in Hollywood long ago, most of the people there were Republican. The studio heads were all Republican, my boss Howard Hughes was a raving Republican, and we had a motion picture code in those days so they couldn’t do all this naughty stuff. We had John Wayne, we had Charlton Heston, we had man named Ronald Reagan, we had Robert Mitchum, James Stewart, Clark Gable.”

As she got older, Russell also got more outspoken. She said, “These days I am a tee-total, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist.”

Of liberal actors like George Clooney and Susan Sarandon, she said, “I think they’re not well.”

Today’s liberal Hollywood may not have offered Russell a welcoming role, but here’s a toast (a virgin cocktail, of course) to this uppity woman who never ceased calling it like she saw it.

Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 4:09 am

Herman Cain Wins Tea Party Straw Poll in Arizona

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The political long shot for 2012 – Herman Cain – is already a winner.

Cain, who is the first of the 2012 candidates to form a presidential exploratory committee, won the American Policy Summit’s presidential live straw poll on Sunday held by the Tea Party Patriots conference in Phoenix.

On Twitter, Cain wrote: “Honored to learn that I won the Tea Party Patriots’ presidential straw poll. Thanks for your support!”

According to the Cain camp, out of 14 options on the ballot and 1,600 votes, Cain came in first with 22 percent in the straw poll. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota was second with 16 percent of the vote. Both attended the summit. The summit also hosted an online poll, which Rep. Ron Paul of Texas won with nearly half the votes. More than 2,300 people voted online.

A conservative talk show host in Georgia and former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive, Cain has spent the last year attending more than 120 tea party events around the country. On Friday, he attended a summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Cain says the tea party movement will not weaken in 2012 but only gain strength as more people engage in the political process. On Sunday, he tweeted: “Today is 2nd anniversary of Tea Party. As a proud member, I’m here to tell you- movement isn’t dying out. It’s getting stronger!”

On Thursday, Politico reported that Cain had incorporated Friends of Herman Cain under a section of the tax code – 527. Such a designation would allow the group to accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations.

On Twitter, a movement is developing for a ticket of Cain and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey ticket in 2012.

Cain will appear on Monday in Washington at the Legacy Political Fund, which is hosting its two-day Washington DC Briefing 2011.

A host of popular Republicans, and possible 2012 candidates, are expected to speak on Monday including former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sen. Jim Dement of South Carolina.

Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 4:07 am

Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour: A Tale of Two Souths

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While greeting reporters last week in Washington, Mike Huckabee joked about New Hampshire and his Southern roots.

Huckabee is currently on a book tour to promote his new release, “A Simple Government.” He hits key 2012 states, like Iowa and South Carolina, but not New Hampshire. When asked why there were no New Hampshire stops on his book tour, he told reporters, including Politics Daily’s Walter Shapiro: “Have you ever been to New Hampshire in February? It’s cold up there. My Southern blood isn’t acclimated.”

Spoken like a true Southerner.

Huckabee has built a brand around his folksy, Southern roots that resonates with voters. He duck hunts, jokes about frying squirrel in his dorm room when he was in college and is building a multimillion-dollar beach house in the Redneck Riviera – as the panhandle of Florida is called by middle-class Southerners who vacation there.

As a Republican in a region that has been trending Reagan red since the 1980s, Huckabee could do very well in a 2012 presidential GOP Southern primary. In 2008, Huckabee came in second in the South Carolina Republican primary behind Sen. John McCain despite a lack of solid fundraising.

But Huckabee will certainly have some stiff competition for Southern votes if Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi chooses to run.

To many who do not live in the South, all Southerners may appear as if they are cut from the same Confederate cloth, but that is far from true. Huckabee and Barbour are representative of two different worlds.

Barbour is a product of the stiff, proper old South with a history of plantations, cotton, the Civil War and horrific race relations. He was born into a family with a legacy that can be traced to the state capitol in the early 1880s. Walter Leake, a Barbour ancestor, was the third governor of Mississippi as well as a U.S. senator. His paternal grandfather was a judge who held stock in the local bank and as a lawyer represented railroads. His father, who died when Barbour was 2, was a lawyer. The family was well known in Yazoo City, a town that both thrives on, and is haunted by, its Southern heritage.

Yazoo City didn’t integrate its schools until 1970 – long after Barbour, who attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, had graduated from high school. The town did not shy away from its connection to the Citizens Council movement, an organization that was founded on the basis of resistance to integration. Barbour, too, hasn’t shied away from the group.

In a December 2010 interview with The Weekly Standard, he said: “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up North they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

While Barbour took heat for that comment, many Southerners who grew up in the same time period as Barbour, especially in the Mississippi Delta, understood what he meant. During the Civil Rights movement, the South was a place that operated in black and white.

That South still resonates today with Southerners who attended country clubs that today are still segregated socially, if not legally, by race and private schools founded by wealthy white families.

Barbour, a former powerful lobbyist with a hefty resume filled with Washington connections, is Presbyterian – a religion that is far from fire and brimstone. When Barbour was the chair of the Republican National Committee, many reporters fell under his spell because of “a generous supply of Maker’s Mark in his handy RNC liquor cabinet.” His state of Mississippi has thrived with casino gambling and Barbour, too, has supported it.

If Barbour is a son of the Old South, where politicians prosper because of their ancestry and fraternity connections, Huckabee is the poster child for the emerging South.

Arkansas suffers from an identity crisis. The state never had the grand plantations that were prevalent in Mississippi or a legacy of Confederate millionaires. If anything, Arkansas was as a gateway to the Wild West, a place where those who fled the Civil War landed and stayed either because they ran out of money or feared Indian Territory. Because of that history, Arkansas neither connects whole-heartedly with the proper South or the scrappy West.

Huckabee, like Bill Clinton, grew up in Hope, Arkansas, in a middle-class family. His father was a mechanic and a fireman and his mother was a clerk at a gas company.

When he was governor, he often told a story that resonated with a lot of people who grew up in Arkansas. When he was 8 years old, his father told him, “Son, the governor is coming to dedicate the new lake and make a talk and I’m going to take you down to hear him because you might live your whole life and never see a governor in person,” Huckabee recalls.

“Huckabee has sneered at that Old South mentality,” says Dr. Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College “He has often resented those who are in positions because of their power. It’s very much indicative of the Arkansas experience and those who made their own wealth – the Tysons, Sam Walton.”

A strict Baptist, Huckabee worked his way through college at Ouachita Baptist University by working at a radio station and pastoring a small church. He continued his path in the ministry, preaching at various churches in the South. In the 1980s, he encouraged the all-white Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff to accept black members. He became the president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Huckabee doesn’t drink nor did he serve alcohol at events in the governor’s mansion during his term. He and his wife, Janet, renewed their vows in a convenant marriage ceremony while he was governor. And Huckabee is against gambling.

Unlike Barbour who worked for the Richard Nixon campaign in 1968, Huckabee had no legacy in politics – national or local. He built his following from scratch in the early 1990s when he decided to challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers – a brave move for a Republican pastor in a dyed-in-the-wool Democratic state.

Huckabee, a conservative populist, could resonate in 2012 among tea party supporters who have never dabbled in politics. He doesn’t shy away from his religion or the belief that the separation of church and state is impossible. He understands grassroots mobilizing, thanks to his church background and will be able to energize the religious-right base.

But Barbour brings something much more powerful to the table. His years of political wheeling and dealing and moneyed contacts are legendary — a plus in a crowded primary where money will make or break a candidate.

If Huckabee and Barbour choose to run, their campaigns will be a contrast of two Souths — the emerging one of self-made success with church at its center and the fading glory of the old Confederacy with legacy and ancestry at its core.

Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 4:07 am