The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Democrats make rules, then gripe about them

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Bad-loser Democrats, who have endlessly crabbed about Republicans "stealing" the last two presidential elections, are at it again, bellyaching about being "disenfranchised" anew, but this time by their own party.

How refreshing.

Their gripe is that the Democratic Party has "disenfranchised" its voters in Florida and Michigan by decreeing that their primary elections won't count at the convention in the selection of the party's presidential nominee.

The reason? The two states violated the party's rules by holding their primaries before the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday vote. The party had warned the states against it, but the states, knowing the consequences, went ahead anyway. Likewise, hundreds of thousands knew their votes wouldn't count, but they voted anyway. Laughably, many now are whining about being disenfranchised.

The irony, of course, is that if the two states had not been so pigheaded and held their primaries later, they now could be playing the role of kingmaker in the closely fought battle between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.

So, some Democrats, being Democrats, now insist that the rules shouldn't count, and that the two states' delegates should be seated at the convention anyway. If that happens, Clinton, who won both states, would scoop up the majority of their 366 delegates, perhaps enough to tip the nomination to her. Never mind that Obama didn't campaign there and wasn't on the Michigan ballot. Clinton's gusty delegate grab is contemptible.

The word "disenfranchise" also is being thrown around loosely in regard to how the party's 796 superdelegates will vote. As "insiders" -- senators, congressmen, governors and party bigwigs -- superdelegates can vote any way they please. Now some Democrats are saying nuts to the rules, demanding that the only role of superdelegates is to rubber stamp the popular vote. If not, the critics say, the insiders will be disenfranchising the millions who voted for the top vote-getter. Ain't it grand?

The word "disenfranchise" was popularly used when Jim Crow laws denied black Americans the right to vote, so it is particularly ironic that Democrats -- the self-described champions of civil rights -- now are accusing one another of the sin. But the party isn't interested in irony; it's worried about disintegrating. It should. It may already be too late to reverse the perception that insiders, by picking the nominee, will shove aside the voters.

Consider: Without a wholesale shift of superdelegates to Obama, the convention could open with neither candidate having a winning majority. There could be a gigantic, ugly and destructive floor fight over whether the Florida and Michigan delegates should be seated and over changing the superdelegate rules.

The damage might be avoided, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean suggested, if Clinton and Obama could work out a deal before the convention, but that wouldn't placate progressive activists who already are furious that the convention might be "brokered" in violation of their "power to the people" orthodoxy. Other damage-control schemes that have been floated include: an appeal to a special convention committee to settle the dispute; a deal by the two states to split their delegates according to some make-up-the-rule-as-you-go-along formula, or convening special caucuses in the two states to, in effect, redo the primary.

None of them will work because the aggrieved can challenge them on the convention floor. Perhaps party dealmakers think they could avoid a public fight by coming up with a rule beforehand designed to prevent a floor challenge, but that would only further inflame dissidents -- an honored appellation among Democrats (except when dissidents are divisive). I can see it now: network TV anchors high in their booths dramatizing the "struggle" by the sainted against wicked party insiders. Never mind that the insiders were elected to their jobs by Democratic voters, who got what they deserve. Like superdelegate and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Democrats have only themselves to blame for letting their nomination process turn into a rhubarb, with their goofy, complicated and utopian delegate rules designed to give "voice" to every possible demographic slice. Here's a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences: Rules designed to give power to the people wind up handing more power to insiders.

Looking at the muddle, one senior party member told me that helping to craft those "inclusive" delegate rules decades ago was one of his life's great regrets.

Maybe he should become a Republican. That party, with its straightforward, winner-take-all delegate formula, is picking a nominee without the self-destructive nonsense about disenfranchisement.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Finding an answer for the NIU shootings

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Well before we even knew the name of the gunman in the Northern Illinois University killing spree, some people already knew why he did it. Guns. Or, not guns.

And so, another tiresome argument over gun control was reignited, with both sides spilling their invective all over the Internet. The victims, their families and friends deserve better. If we have to discuss it, at least let the discussion be a little more intelligent and respectful.

Not that we needed another school shooting to begin the discussion. Mass shootings have been occurring with increasing frequency. Just a week ago at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge, a 23-year-old women killed two students, and then herself.

Continue reading in the Chicago Daily Observer

The governor of three states?

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

Mitt Romney should run for governor of Michigan in 2010.

Yeah sure, I, too, thought it was way out when a friend suggested it at lunch a few days ago, but after listening to his reasons and the more I thought about it, the more intriguing and rational it sounds. Besides, it would be great fun.

The deadly serious suggestion came from John Tillman, chairman of the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market and liberty-based think tank. He parried every objection I could think of, and some that I hadn’t.

Tillman—a dyed-in-the-wool conservative and speaking for himself—explained it would be a perfect opportunity for Romney to show that he could turn around not one, but two states. Using free-market and liberty-based principles to successfully govern, Tillman said, he could cement his conservative credentials. And set himself up for a run for the White House if the presumptive GOP nominee, John McCain, should lose.

Certainly, he couldn’t do worse than the current Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Just this yesterday, the tax and spend governor unveiled a proposed $44.8-billion budget that’s almost 3 percent higher than this year’s. She’s bragging that she can do it without a tax or fee increase, but it should be noted that she’s getting plenty of help from a big hike last year in the state income tax and from a surcharge on the state’s main business tax. It’s expected to bring in an extra $1.54 billion this year.

Tillman is a Michigan native who is saddened by how liberal policies have driven away business from a rust-belt state already hard-hit by a recession. He figures that voters are ready for a change (Granholm is prevented by the state’s term limit law from running for a third term, so Romney would have to face someone else.) Trying to be a governor of a second state shouldn’t be a problem with voters, since Romney was born in Michigan and he’s returning to the state he loves to straighten things out. That should inoculate him against carpet-bagging charges, especially when voters already have shown that they are perfectly willing to elect someone who was born out of the country—Canadian native Granholm.

A bigger hitch, however, might be the tired old charge that he’s using the governorship as a stepping-stone to be president. Voters don’t like it when someone runs for an office expressly to position himself for a run at a higher office. For some reason, just the perception can kill a candidacy. I’ve never minded it though; in business, it’s not held against you if on your way to becoming a vice president you have bigger things, such as CEO, in mind.

Go for it, Mitt.

This post also appears on PoliticalMavens

Monday, February 11, 2008

Show exit polls the door

Incessant analysis adds little value

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now that exit polls have confirmed that white men can bring themselves to vote for a black presidential candidate, can we dump the pollsters?

It was thanks to pollsters interviewing those who had cast votes that reporters-turned-sociologists could proclaim the startling fact that a significant percentage of white males could shrug off their supposedly deep-seated racism and vote for a black man, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). As if we needed a poll to tell us that.

CNN's "best political team" of commentators on Super Tuesday night told us. One team member, former presidential adviser David Gergen, was amazed that Obama could get 45 percent of the white male vote in a Southern state. It was, he said, historic. Host Lou Dobbs, reading my mind, cautioned against stereotyping white men, but Gergen, reminding everyone that he was from the South and, therefore, I suppose, an authority on white male racism, said it couldn't have happened as recently as two years ago.

Of course, Obama, an extraordinary candidate whatever his race, wasn't running two years ago. But, thanks to exit polls, we can keep the fight going over just how racist we all are.

Exit polls are poisonous. At least how they are used. Which is obsessively. They provide ammunition for those who ponder whether Hispanics are racist because they voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) instead of for a fellow "minority." Or conversely, whether black voters are racist because they voted for Obama in near "unanimous" numbers.

They inform us which candidate has the support of "upper-income" voters, so we can fuel class warfare by voting for his opponent. They give us such "insights" as this from Jonathan Tilove in a Newhouse dispatch: For the first time "Caucasian men" will have to get used to the idea that one of their own might not be president. But, he points out, exit polls tell us that because women and blacks are voting for their own, the decision of whether a black or a woman will be nominated is left in the hands of white men. Apparently, no matter how we try, we just can't get white men out of the equation.

Super Tuesday analysts treated exit polls as sacred texts, droning on and on and on about which candidate most appealed to (or was disliked by) a particular racial, ethnic, religious or gender voting bloc.

Maybe it was because they had nothing else to jabber about until they could proclaim a winner the instant the polls closed in each state. Maybe it was because explaining the far more complex mechanics of delegate selection was too difficult. Or maybe it was because they thought that exit poll results are terribly interesting and important.

Important? For some, more important than the elections themselves. Recall that in the 2004 presidential election, the conspiracy theorists concluded that Republicans somehow had stolen the election from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and handed it to President Bush because the election results did not conform to the exit polls. The polls had "predicted an overwhelming victory" for Kerry, and a stolen election, for some, was the only plausible explanation.

Here's a plausible explanation: The polls were wrong; the elections were right. Legendary newspaper columnist Mike Royko, brimming with disgust for the polls, often advised his readers to lie to pollsters. Some voters, I'm sure, do. There also are many other ways for the polls to be "wrong." Sometimes the sample of voters polled does not accurately reflect the profile of the actual voters. For example, some experts suggest that conservatives are less willing to share their voter information with strangers, thus tilting the sample to the left. Who knows? Who cares?

Here I'll go out on a limb: Exit polls fail to serve any consequential purpose in the democratic scheme of things; they may even be inimical to the commonweal. No, I'm not suggesting that they should be banned or outlawed. But there's an irony in their compulsive use. When so much is made in this presidential campaign of "unifying" our country, the exit polls shove us into compartments with our "own kind." Exit polls, when they focus excessively on our sociology, magnify our differences. We shouldn't need exit polls to know that we've made significant progress in the last 50 years in coming together. Maybe when reporters and pundits stop hanging on to every detail of exit polls, we'll know that we, as a nation, have grown up.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Boo Hoo, Someone Edited My Copy

Sun-Times editorial page editor cries in her beer

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

In perhaps the shortest tenure of any editorial board editor in my memory, the Sun-Times’ chief opinion-maker, Cheryl Reed, has quit, and not without cause.

According to her, newspaper management inappropriately fiddled with the paper’s editorial endorsements of Barack Obama and John McCain, without telling her. I would have quit too (I served on the Sun-Times editorial board for 22 years), but not for the high-and-mighty, ego-inflating reason offered by Reed. To me, it would have been a clear signal by the publisher and owner that they had lost confidence in me, and it was time to go. The failure to collaborate on changes made in copy is something that’s done to rookie reporters, not editorial page editors. The message from management to Reed was simple and clear: You blew it.

But, instead of being embarrassed by this rebuke, she has turned this reproach into a badge of martyrdom.

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Choice for Illinois Democrats

By Dennis Byrne

Chicago Daily Observer

When Democratic partisans vote in the Illinois primary Tuesday, they’ll have a choice between two leading candidates, one of which doesn’t want to play by the rules and the other who likes to play hide and seek.

Astonishingly, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) wants to change the rules in the middle of the primaries in her favor. And her opponent, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) missed so many Senate votes, it would be hard to tell where he stands; except that one analysis of his voting record shows that he is the Senate’s biggest liberal.

Not much of a choice, if you ask me.

First, Clinton’s wanting to change the rules in midstream:

It involves her “wins” in Michigan and Florida, two states that were stripped of their voting delegates in the Democratic convention because they violated the Democratic National Committee’s orders not to hold their primaries before Super Tuesday.

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Handout is just that no matter its name

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Like the Boy Scout who insists on helping an old lady cross the street when she wants to stay put, everyone seems determined to help out seniors, whether we need to do so or whether everyone can afford it.

The list of all the entitlements, benefits and freebies larded onto the elderly is way too long to publish here, other than to mention they include, according to AARP, deals on travel, financial services, entertainment, computers, gifts and insurance.

As if that weren't enough, Gov. Rod Blagojevich blackmails the Illinois legislature into giving seniors free bus and train rides. Seniors already get deeply discounted fares, but paying less than the price of a coffee latte for a bus ride apparently is asking too much of seniors.

Now comes Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) who wants to make 20 million seniors eligible for a handout under the $150 billion economic stimulus package working its way through Congress. The House, earlier passing its version of the bill, cruelly -- we're supposed to think -- excluded these seniors from receiving any largess.

Of course, that's a vast oversimplification. Here is the reality: The House-passed version would give rebates of $600 (individual) and $1,200 (couples) to all but the wealthiest taxpayers. People who don't pay taxes wouldn't get the rebates, which is why they are called rebates. Among those getting rebates are seniors whose taxable income isn't high enough to pay any taxes. One reason their income isn't high enough is that some or all of the Social Security payments that they receive are not taxable.

So, here come the oily politicians making it sound like the rebates discriminate against poor seniors.

Baucus' response is devious: Allow Social Security payments to be counted when determining whether a senior is receiving enough income for a rebate. Of course, the Social Security payments still won't be taxed fully or at all, because we don't want to "punish" seniors for receiving Social Security.

If this is confusing, look at it this way: Baucus wants to return to 20 million seniors the taxes that they never paid. My point is: As a senior, I'd gladly accept whatever you want to give me. But don't call it a rebate. Be honest; call it a gift, or a handout.

To carry out this self-serving charade, Baucus and his Senate cohorts unconscionably risk stalling or killing a rare, bipartisan House-Bush administration agreement that many Americans (but not necessarily I) believe is a desperately needed economic stimulus package. Baucus explains it all with a cliche: "America's seniors have worked hard all their lives, paid taxes all their lives, and they contribute to our economy today." To which an appropriate answer is: "Yeah, so what?" Plenty of Americans are working hard, paying their taxes and contributing to the economy.

In reality, this handout is the work of politicians of both parties who want to appear to be fair and compassionate, but who are afraid of offending a large bloc of voters who believe that they've got something coming to them.

As a senior, I invite Baucus to pander to someone else. Some seniors don't need or want this charity. Yes, seniors who actually need help should get help. But blanket handouts, like Blagojevich's free rides for every senior regardless of need, make no more sense than subsidizing left-handed golfers because they're, left-handed. The wrongness of Blagojevich's unwarranted generosity is so obvious that even the most politically savvy can't figure out what he thinks he gains by it.

By giving another freebie to seniors, Baucus and his pals are reinforcing the idea that seniors, simply because they have survived 65 or more years, deserve a cash gratuity. This is especially insidious as we approach a crisis in the funding of Medicare and Social Security. Seniors and would-be seniors have to know that some changes will have to be made. Medicare costs are so out of control that it's hard to imagine how the solution could not include some castor oil. So, what we don't need right now are the likes of Blagojevich and Baucus reinforcing the idea that seniors are entitled to every handout that wanders through our politicians' demagogic minds.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Flummoxed in Illinois, A Guide to Super Tuesday.

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

For a change, the Super Tuesday presidential primary in Illinois is important.

In recent history, Illinois, like so many other states, has been the tail, waged by the dog when it comes to picking each party’s nominee. After Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and a few other early state primaries and caucuses, the media were wont to bestow the “Big Mo” crown on one candidate or another. By the time the tail-end states got around to their primaries, the other candidates, if they had not already dropped out, were swamped by an electorate that didn’t want to “waste a vote” on a Slo Mo candidate.

But this time, no clear winner has emerged in either party, in popular vote or in delegate count. As a result, Super Tuesday has enfranchised the 70 million registered voters in the 22 states that are selecting Democratic delegates and the 21 picking Republican delegates. Suddenly, your vote counts

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer