Saturday, April 28, 2007

Transcript of the MSNBC Democratic Debate

The commentary on the Democratic debate by most TV and some print pundits earning seven figures continues to be irrelevant and embarrassing. The solution is to read what the candidates said themselves. If the reader hunts around, there are videos available of the debate. Here's a transcript of what the candidates actually said which is more interesting than all those pundits who gave George W. Bush a free pass for six years.

If young people want a future, it's time to pay attention. If parents and grandparents want a future for their children and grandchildren, it's time to be politically active. Our nation is in bad need of political reform.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Democratic Debate on MSNBC

I listened to the debate and read some commentary on various blogs. I don't know what people were expecting, but, given the format and number of candidates, I thought it was a reasonably good debate. Given their performance Thursday night, I have no doubt whatsoever that John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Christopher Dodd can handle the presidency.

The same is true of Bill Richardson but he seemed a little underprepared for the debate style; I excuse him because he is, after all, a working governor. Joe Biden is brilliant but one can see how he would need a full team of damage control specialists who would have to explain away his verbal gaffes; Biden won't change, he's used to letting it all hang out, warts and all, this late in his life, but he's still brilliant and gave some of the best answers of the night. Kucinich surprised me by being more articulate and thoughtful than I remember him being in 2004—I just have trouble taking him seriously as a presidential candidate. The next time a senate seat opens up in Ohio, though, it may be time for Kucinich to move up—the country needs more of him, not less, though I'm not sure Ohio voters can quite cross that bridge.

Actually, all the candidates save one, would be a considerable improvement over the current occupant of the White House and his paranoid vice president. The exception is the former senator from Alaska. The last time I saw Mike Gravel, he seemed less cranky and eccentric than he did tonight; it was one of the worst performances I've seen by a candidate but I have to say it also seems the moderators were giving him short shrift. I'd like to see the minutes for the debate because it seemed Hillary Clinton was given more opportunities to speak than anyone else but that may have been the rebuttal option that was offered.

I thought Hillary Clinton was probably the most prepared and probably gave the best performance of the candidates; I'm not sure she had the best answers. And I'm still puzzled by the funny way she handles her vote on Iraq. Dodd and Edwards simply say the vote was a mistake. Biden came close to taking what may be Hillary Clinton's position which seems to be nothing more than that Bush turned out to do an incompetent job. The Iraq debacle is about far more than just Bush's incompetence; there were willful lies and sheer arrogance in the way that Bush conceived and continues to conceive foreign policy. I want to hear Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden disavow the preemptive strike principle (at least they seem to be against unilateralism).

John Edwards gave the best answers of anyone in terms of details and what he's driving at but I found him to be somewhat subdued; it wouldn't hurt him for his answers to be a little more emphatic with some fresh material thrown in. I forget the exact wording but near the end of the debate, Edwards was asked who he looked to for moral guidance. The question seemed to surprise him, but he thought about it for a few seconds and gave a brilliant answer and pointed out that there really couldn't be just one source for moral guidance. I have to add something further here. A couple of blogs criticized him for taking so long to answer. But I remember when George W. Bush was asked a similar question about whether there was a philosopher he knew that gave him guidance and he quickly and glibly answered: Jesus Christ. It wasn't a bad answer, but there was a smugness and lack of thoughtfulness to the answer that seems so George W. Bush. Give me a president who actually thinks about things instead of simply shooting from the hip and not really understanding what it means to provide real leadership and not just some right wing Hollywood version suitable for photo ops.

The person who may have helped himself the most was Barack Obama. Although I didn't like his answers on Iran and on health care which I believe are issues he still catching up to, he did very well on most issues. I was impressed at how quickly Barack Obama could think on his feet. He's not just a lot of prepared statements and talking points with a literary flair; there's presidential material there and he'll do fine if he wins the nomination (still, think what a better candidate he would be in eight years!).

I've listened to Bill Richardson in interviews and they interviewed him after the debate; he always does well in interviews; so I was surprised that he didn't seem to be on his game during the debate (it's possible he just doesn't handle the clock very well). He even came across as mildly eccentric on some issues. If one of the leading candidates stumbles, Richardson is in a position to move up but he needs to give a more solid performance in his next debate. He sounded like a candidate who walked in without preparing himself.

Christopher Dodd isn't a flashy presidential candidate but he has a very sharp mind and he gave some of the wittiest lines in the debate. He needs to shed his senatorial style a bit and get into the presidential mode and the simplest way to do that is to start off with some of his wittiest lines or end with them. And his staffers should go back through his statements and highlight Dodd's gems and make sure they work their way into speeches here and there. I like how his mind works; he sometimes does a very good job of getting to the heart of a matter.

What can one say about Biden? He's amazing, and like Dodd, he gets to the heart of matters but with far more bluntness. Biden has probably the biggest ego of the whole bunch and you feel like he's doing a highwire act and doing it very well except you suspect he'll get too cocky and do something that occassionally sends him verbally off the wire hanging by one hand with a sheepish grin on his face. As brilliant as he is, I don't think he can win and he needs to be careful that he doesn't diminish the possibility of becoming the next secretary of state. We need him more than his verbal fireworks. Nevertheless, if this nation needs a cocky and arrogant president, it ought to be Joe Biden and certainly not another George W. Bush (that Giuliani leads in some polls makes my skin crawl; he's not presidential material).

I found Kucinich more likeable than usual and more thoughtful. I just don't think he has the pragmatism to be president. But Kucinich is no longer the fringe candidate. That honor now belongs to Mike Gravel.

I didn't find the debate boring. There are differences among the Democratic candidates but they're more united on progressive issues and the need for real change than the media seems willing to acknowledge. The mainstream media still acts like right wing Republicans still have something to offer our country. They've got to be kidding. No one should forget that in 2000 the media helped perpetuate the myth that there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush except character. Bush lied to the American people about his real values and real political beliefs (I don't mean the dog and pony show the media drools over but the Bush as his terrible policies and reckless actions define him as). The reality is that we've got a good group of Democrats. Let's hope the voters agree in 2008.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Nation in Crisis: Media Focuses on Edwards' Haircut

It's enough to make you cry. Bush is a failing president. He's bungled two wars, one we absolutely did not need. He threatens at times to start a third. He was handed a blueprint by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and our president, a proven incompetent, decides on more of the same with some new packaging. And people want to talk about a haircut that Edwards got. Too many people in our nation do not have their priorities straight.

McCain talks openly about bombing Iran, then calls it a joke. He hires a guy who has specialized lately in denying global warming. McCain is yet another conservative Republican who is bungling and, although he no longer is doing well in the polls, he's still the darling of the media.

In these times, Americans have to do their own homework. They will not get the facts from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and especially Alberto Gonzales. Here's a link to a quick ranking of various websites by the presidential candidates. Go take a read.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

John Edwards on Don Imus

Our nation is at a crossroads. We either start moving forward again or we descend into the politics of self-justification, mediocrity and smallness. I can't emphasize enough looking at the first three words of the US Contitution: We, the People... Some of our founding fathers, though certainly not all, understood the full implications of those words from the first moment they appeared. We continue to debate the full meaning of our constitution but some issues have been settled: we are all Americans. Part of our debate on the constitution is the recognition by all sides that we have to be honest about what we're talking about. But even at this late date, more than two hundred years later, there are any number of people who forget that we are, after all, a diverse democracy.

Radio host, Don Imus, crossed the line with his racist comments, though his initial excuse and the excuse of others was that it was just a joke. Something that shouldn't be lost in the discussion is that Imus has been a repeat offender. Long before the latest incident, columnist Clarence Page, at one time, even got Imus to raise his hand and promise an end to racially insensitive language. MSNBC has a post on what John Edwards has to say on the Don Imus controversy:
According to advance excerpts of his speech tonight at Al Sharpton's National Action Network convention, John Edwards takes the issues of Don Imus and racial intolerance head on. "I find it astonishing that there was even a debate over whether Don Imus' comments crossed the line. And I know I don't have to tell anybody here: Don Imus' comments didn't just cross the line. They defined the line that divides this country like the blade of a knife. There can be no debate over how much bigotry is too much bigotry. Any bigotry is too much."

He goes on to say, per the excerpts: "It's a shame we have to wait for the Don Imus' of the world to provoke a national conversation through bigotry - but we should jump at the chance to have this conversation, not just to look at whatever bigotry lies in our own hearts, but to finally engage on a problem that isn't going anywhere unless we do something about it."

We only rarely see leadership like this from President Bush and I can't recall a single case where Vice President Cheney has shown 'sensitivity' on civil rights issues. Leadership is calling a thing what it is: in this case, the language of racism on the public air waves. Imus is not the only one who does it and, frankly, there have been other radio hosts who have been slyer in the use of their language but with an intent more divisive and racist.

I noticed on the MSNBC site the first two comments reacting to Edwards. I know nothing about the commenters but the comments are common examples found on many message boards on the internet. Here's the first: "Tsk Johnny just upset that the I-Man didn't endorse him for president?"

Why would Edwards want the endorsement of someone who feels free to use racist language on the public airwaves? Racism is not a trivial subject and the snarkiness of the post suggests a lack of seriousness and interest on the part of the commenter. It contributes nothing to a real dialogue that needs to take place in our country.

Here's the second comment: "Nobody wants to talk about it because someone may have to explain why a white male is the only race or gender that can currently be considered a bigot, everyone else seems to have the right to say whatever they want." This is a common right wing mythology that has been surfacing more and more frequently in recent years. Generally, no group is free of bigotry and to claim others are bigoted does not excuse one's own bigotry. I might add that making excuses for one's own group has become a common dodge for far too many people across various groups.

I like the way that John Edwards talks about responsibility. When someone like George W. Bush talks about responsibility, it has a way of meaning that it's every man for himself. When Edwards talks about responsibility, it means that we're all in this together and that we have obligations to one another; it does not mean one set of rules for one group and another set of rules for other groups. I hope John Edwards continue the dialogue and that people start thinking more honestly about what they're saying and how they relate to other people no matter who they are.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Bill Richardson: Qualified Democrat

Whether Bill Richardson wins the Democratic nomination or not, he belong in the next administration. This guy has what it takes to make things happen. Here's the latest catch from Raw Story:
Former US envoy Bill Richardson said on Sunday he was optimistic North Korea will begin taking steps to shut down its nuclear program despite failing to meet a promised deadline at the weekend.

Richardson, who served as US ambassador to the United Nations during former president Bill Clinton's administration, said he believed North Korea would allow in UN inspectors and move to shut down a nuclear reactor as part of an international agreement.

"My prediction ... is that early this week, they will invite the inspectors. They will start the process of shutting down the reactor," said Richardson, governor of the US state of New Mexico, in an interview with ABC television.

Richardson, a Democratic presidential hopeful who has conducted negotiations in the past with North Korea, said he had received positive assurances during a visit to North Korea last week as part of a US delegation.

"They committed to me on April 12, my last day in North Korea with a bipartisan delegation, that they would shut down the reactor shortly, that they would also invite international inspectors to monitor that, shut down their reprocessing facility," Richardson said.

Let's hope Bill Richardson continues to have successful negotiations with the North Koreans.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hillary Clinton Calls for Government Reform

I don't doubt the intentions and ability of Hillary Clinton. And I don't doubt that she would do a fine job if elected president. Her call for government reform is certainly in the right direction as Philip Elliott of the AP reports in the North County Times:
Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday assailed a "culture of cronyism" in government as she vowed to streamline the federal bureaucracy and improve accountability.

In a speech in this early primary state, Clinton called for slashing 500,000 government contractors, potentially saving up to $18 billion a year, and promised to cut back on no-bid government contracts.

"It's not exactly the subject matter that gets people marching in the street, but if we don't restore the confidence and the competence of our government, we will see the steady erosion of our government's capacity," the New York senator said.


Her proposals echoed "Reinventing Government," or REGO, a program launched during her husband's administration and run by Vice President Al Gore. REGO was credited with saving taxpayers more than $136 billion over eight years by cutting the federal work force, trimming layers of management and cutting subsidies for items like mohair and wool.

Senator Clinton is in the ballpark but the mere mention of Al Gore and his successful leadership of the "Reinventing Government" program makes me wish he were in the running for the presidency in 2008. In 2000, the media thought it was cute to undercut Gore and they gave us George W. Bush. I wouldn't mind seeing what Gore can really do.

I'm all for government reform and George W. Bush's incompetence and cronyism makes the case for the need for reform better than any Democratic candidate. But there's another area of reform that's needed if government reform is to be meaningful. Bush's corruption goes hand in hand with corrupt businesses. The North County Times, for example, helped to break the story on Duke Cunningham and the cozy business relationship he had with businesses looking for favors. There are still honest corporations in America but they're under attack by the crooked types looking for favors and a wink from the government. Big Business also needs serious reform. No other candidate has done a better job in real life terms of taking on businesses unwilling to live up to their responsibilities than John Edwards. That was what his law business was about: holding business accountable.

Democrats need to be pro-business but that makes sense only if they are also pro-workers and in favor of real competition. The three can go hand in hand. Bill Clinton did a terrific job of creating jobs during his eight years. But he stumbled in the long run on globalization. He allowed businesses to define what globalization would mean and it has not gone well for many American workers. And Clinton's policies could not protect workers from the damage a right wing conservative like Bush could do to the wages of average Americans. This time around, we need deeper, long-lasting reforms that ensure workers the best economy for everyone and not just riches for a rapidly developing privileged class that is increasingly dominating our public life to the detriment of our democracy and the deteriment of a broad-based middle class. Hillary Clinton is definitely touching the right bases but I would like to see more before I'm convinced she understands just how much damage Bush and his fellow conservatives have done to our country and how much needs to change.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Wide Open Democratic Race

Competition is good. An honest debate among reasonably capable people is a generally a good sign in a democracy (I said debate, not right wing Republican sophistry where a signing statement is sometimes considered more important than the U.S. Constitution or the opinion of a right wing comedian with a cigar is taken as fact). We have an open race on the Democratic side and it's not just about Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Even some of the other candidates benefit as well.

Here's a story that explains the benefit to both Bill Richardson and Christopher Dodd:
Sen. Barack Obama scored big in fundraising this week but the two happiest candidates may be New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, two second-tier Democratic presidential hopefuls who now see an opening since Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has not run away with the nomination.

As the two candidates with arguably the longest official resumes, Mr. Richardson, in his second term as New Mexico's governor, and Mr. Dodd, in his fifth term as senator from Connecticut, say they can compete for the long haul. This week both spent time in New Hampshire, trying to persuade voters in the first-in-the-nation primary to choose deep experience over deep pockets.

"All I want is for you to keep your powder dry," Mr. Richardson told several hundred voters at a town hall meeting at New England College in Henniker, N.H., on Wednesday. "Wait until you see all the candidates, wait until we have debates. ... Don't get swayed by rock-star status or polls or how much money you raised."


That's exactly what Mr. Dodd is banking on.

"People in this state don't want to be told by the national media the outcome of their primaries and caucuses 10 months out. In fact, they've had a history of trying to prove you wrong," Mr. Dodd told reporters this week. "So I'll take the news here on the ground, and I'll take the receptions I'm getting in these states as better evidence of how I'm doing than whether or not I've got a bank account equal to some of the other candidates."

No one should ever forget that our greatest president was a guy who wasn't even in the top three spots in the early running. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was running fourth but he had a knack of talking people into thinking of him as their second choice if their favorite candidate didn't make it.

We should all keep in mind that part of George W. Bush's failed presidency can be traced to his father's campaign contributors who guaranteed Bush $200 million before the first primary vote was cast. And Bush almost lost to McCain and he decisively lost the national popular vote to Gore. Despite what the Bush family may think, money can't buy everything. It certainly can't buy competence or a successful presidency this late in the day.

This election, let the candidates show their quality, not the fat cats and their purchase of public relations illusions where candidates talk a good game but don't really understand what they're doing and aren't pragmatic enough to learn. Show me a candidate who can learn in six weeks, not six years. In 2008, we need to elect a competent president.

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In California, Bush Numbers Plummeting

Despite Orange County, John Wayne and Ronald Reagan, just to name a few conservative icons in my state, California has been trending Democratic in recent years. But even California Republicans are beginning to turn away from Bush for various reasons. The San Jose Mercury News carries the story by Steven Harmon of Media News:
California Republicans, increasingly disenchanted with the war in Iraq, are beginning to abandon President Bush, a development that may threaten the GOP's chances in the 2008 presidential race.

California on the whole trends Democratic, and Bush's approval numbers have always been lower here than elsewhere, but for the first time in his presidency, less than half of Republicans in the state approve of Bush's job performance, according to two statewide polls, driving overall support to all-time lows.

The GOP disaffection comes at a time when Bush's former top campaign strategist, Matthew Dowd, criticized Bush for losing his bond with voters and failing to heed the public's concerns on the war.

In the Field Poll, 49 percent of Republicans support Bush - down from 61 percent in September, while, in the San Jose State University Survey and Policy Research Institute poll, 46 percent approve of his performance - down from 58 percent only two months ago.

I think all Americans are bewildered by Bush. Usually, Republican or Democrat, a president who makes blunders and sags in the polls tries to get his act together and turn things around. Not Bush. For George W. Bush, it's full steam ahead, straight toward the edge of the cliff. Not only is it painful to watch, The Decider's behavior is damaging every one of us and it's going to take time to undo the damage when Bush is gone.

I think John Edwards is right: we can't wait two years for the next president. Every American needs to think of ways of repairing the damage right now, whether, just to name a few, it's cutting down on energy, cleaning up rivers, educating people about the need to reform healthcare, talking about the kind of stupid prejudices that are putting our country at risk, and maybe learning to think again as a community rather than thinking as millions of individuals wondering, "What's in it for me?" We've got to start doing better now.

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The Return of People Power

People really are tired of the corruption in Washington. Not only did the Democrats outraise the Republican Party and its deep pockets (don't forget Republican supporter Sam Fox and the $50,000 he donated to the dishonest Swift Boat group that smeared John Kerry; Bush just appointed him ambassador to Belgium), but they brought back the concept of people power. The Democrats can't compete with Republican billionaires and hucksters like Ralph Reed who manipulate good honest religious folks into donating for phony causes, but as the traditional party of the people, the Democrats can bring out the crowds. People want to do something to fix the corruption in Washington and waiting until November of 2008 isn't enough. So people are digging into their pockets and contributing to Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama and other Democrats.

Hillary Clinton, with her years of Washington experience and major fundraising experience raised the most of any Democrat but just barely. Progressive newcomer, Barack Obama, almost matched Hillary in dollar amounts but the real message of his campaign is that he's reaching people. Here's the story from Jeremy Pelofsky of Reuters:
Democratic presidential newcomer Barack Obama said on Wednesday he has raised $25 million this year, almost matching his higher profile opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton and solidifying his bid for the party nomination.

Obama, a fresh face on the national stage who has served just two years in the U.S. Senate, fell only $1 million short of the New York senator...

Obama, 45, reported receiving more than 100,000 donations totaling at least $25 million, $6.9 million generated through Internet donations.

Clinton, 59, who has led the early national polls for the Democratic nomination in 2008, reported tapping 50,000 donors to raise $26 million. She raised $4.2 million via the Internet and added $10 million more from her most recent Senate campaign.

Since Hillary Clinton considers herself the moderate Democratic candidate, one can argue that Barack Obama and John Edwards are the progressive candidates and their combined total of contributions and contributors far surpasses Hillary Clinton. A 100,000 for Barack Obama and 40,000 for Edwards comes to 140,000 contributors, almost three times the number of those contributing to Hillary Clinton. Clearly, we have a wide open race. Of course, campaigns wax and wane, but I suspect people are in the mood for real change, not modest bandaids.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

John Edwards Surging in New Hampshire

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are very fine presidential hopefuls but the media should remember that we have a wide open race. Clinton and Obama may be grabbing the headlines but Edwards has been working hard to build his numbers vote by vote. Here's the latest numbers from the Boston Globe:
A WMUR/CNN poll released this afternoon shows Edwards shooting into second place ahead of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, though within the margin of error.

The poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, showed support for New York Senator Hillary Clinton dropping eight percentage points from two months ago, to 27 percent. Edwards is at 21 percent and Obama at 20 percent. Former Vice President Al Gore, who is not a candidate, received 11 percent. All other Democrats running were in the single digits.

I would not be surprised if Edwards is getting a sympathy vote because of Elizabeth Edwards' recurrence of cancer but it would be a mistake to underestimate Edwards' nuts and bolts campaign that is geared to changing the business-as-usual way of doing politics in Washington.

The St. Petersburg Times carries an AP story on Elizabeth Edwards that does remind us, after all, of the quality of John and Elizabeth Edwards:
Elizabeth Edwards wants to be clear: She made the choice to stick with her husband's campaign for president after learning her cancer was back.

"I think that people who are critical like to think that John dragged me kicking and fighting the whole way, that I'm somehow disappointed in this. I'm not disappointed in this," she said.

Speaking to reporters after her husband's town hall meeting at Concord High School on Monday, she said that at decision time she went first.

"He let me make it first, I think, because he wanted to make certain it was mine and I wasn't just deferring to him," she said. "This is what I wanted to do."

As for criticism of their decision: "I don't worry for me because we've got tough skin. And, honestly, having been through the death of a child, it's just words. You want to hurt us, you're going to have to do a little better than that."

John Edwards may not win the nomination but he and his wife are showing us courage, strength and integrity. Given what we've seen for the last six years, those aren't bad qualities to have in a presidential candidate. John Edwards is clearly having an impact. I hope Edwards' numbers continue to climb: it would give the other candidates something to think about.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hillary Clinton Has All-Star Rebuttal Team

No matter who wins the Democratic nomination in 2008, each of the current candidates know they have to do a better job than Kerry of responding to the kind of bizarre right wing attacks that have become business as usual in the Republican Party, at least the party we keep seeing these days. Maybe if Hagel or even Huckabee win the Republican nomination, we'll see a clean race but no one is banking on that. Hillary Clinton has put together an all-star team to protect her back against right wing games and attack ads. Here's the story from Philip Sherwell of the British newspaper, the Telegraph:
The first woman to run on a US presidential ticket has promised her friend Hillary Clinton that she will help her fight Republican "dirty tricks" in the race for the White House.

"The only thing that can stop Hillary becoming the next president would be smears and dirty tricks," said Geraldine Ferraro, the Democrats' losing 1984 vice-presidential candidate. "I've told her I'll go anywhere and speak any time to make sure that doesn't happen."

She outlined her plans for a display of female solidarity with the Democratic presidential frontrunner last week in an interview in her office overlooking Ground Zero, where the World Trade Centre once stood in lower Manhattan.

Miss Ferraro, 71, ... has joined the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Billie Jean King, the former tennis star, in a "rapid rebuttal force" of well-known women on standby to defend and promote Sen Clinton's candidacy.

That's a great team. Ferraro, of course, is being a team player by saying that the only thing that can stop Hillary Clinton are smears and dirty tricks of the kind we've seen of late from Republicans. But here are the facts: Hillary Clinton is in a wide open race with at least three other contenders for the Democratic nomination. She should not assume that she has either a lock on the campaign money needed or on the votes. The Republicans decided to give George W. Bush a coronation simply for raising the most money before the first vote was cast in the 2000 primaries. It's up to the Democrats to show that ideas matter and that the average American voter matters.

If Hillary Clinton shows us that she has the total package and that she understands that a president taking office in 2009 will be facing a very different set of problems than the president who took office in 1993, she may very well go all the way. In any case, there are parts of her team I like very much and it is a good sign.

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