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A Question of Bias

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 7:44 AM

Color me skeptical.

It would be nice to believe that, in a triumph of tolerance, an overwhelming majority of the country is ready to vote for a black or a woman for president, considering that the office has been held by white men for, what, 218 years? But this Newsweek survey I mentioned yesterday raises some doubts.

The simple fact is, people are reluctant to acknowledge their prejudices to pollsters. They are more likely, in a telephone interview, to respond with what they think is the "correct" position, even if they behave differently in the privacy of the voting booth.

If voters are so color-blind, why have only two African-Americans since Reconstruction won governor's offices? And only three been elected to the Senate?

And the poll contains a huge red flag: Many people saying they would have no problem voting for a black or female presidential candidate, but the rest of the country just isn't ready. That strikes me as a cop-out option for those who really have qualms but don't want to say so, or even acknowledge that to themselves.

On the surface, the findings should be good news for Hillary and Obama. I'm surprised, after Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel and Geena Davis, that the number of folks saying they'd vote for a woman is lower than those saying they're comfortable with an African-American, given the history of racial discrimination in this country. But maybe it's more socially acceptable to admit discomfort with voting for a female commander-in-chief than to risk charges of racism by ruling out a black candidate.

Here's the piece: "Although 92 percent of the NEWSWEEK Poll's respondents claim they would vote for a black candidate (up from 83 percent in 1991), only 59 percent believe the country is actually ready for an African-American president (an improvement over 37 percent in a 2000 CBS News poll). Similarly, 86 percent of voters say they would vote for a female commander in chief, but only 58 percent believe the country is ready for one (up from 40 percent in a 1996 CBS poll).

"Two thirds (66 percent) of voters said there was at least some chance they'd vote for Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (35 percent said there was a 'good' chance, up from 20 percent last November). About as many (62 percent) said there was some chance they'd vote for Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton (43 percent said good chance, up from 33 percent). In a head-to-head race, though, Clinton dominates Obama 56 to 33 percent.

"Experience appears to outweigh both race and gender in voters' minds, however. More than two-thirds (70 percent) of the poll's respondents feel Clinton, a former First Lady now in her second term as senator from New York, has enough experience in government to be a good president. For Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, the number drops to 40 percent (as many as 34 percent say he does not have enough experience). Both candidates are considered more qualified for office by nonwhites than by whites. Fifty-four percent of minorities say Obama is qualified; only 34 percent of whites agree. Eight in 10 (79 percent) minorities consider Clinton to be qualified enough, versus 67 percent of whites. More than half (55 percent) say former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards has enough experience to be president, while 25 percent say he does not . . .

"Although 81 percent of voters say they would cast their ballot for a Hispanic candidate if nominated by their party, only 39 percent of Americans feel the country is ready to elect one--a finding that comes as bad news for Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is seeking his party's nomination."

Reporting on a hardship assignment from Aspen, OpinionJournal columnist John Fund wonders whether Americans really want the Clintons back:

"There is clearly a great deal of Clinton nostalgia in the country, and the audience clearly agreed with Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson's assertion that Mr. Clinton had presided over a time of prosperity when 'American power and prestige was used only for good in the world,' The implication was that U.S. troops and influence are being used for ill today.

"But several people in the audience noted that there were still some shadows over the Clinton legacy. One leading liberal philanthropist told me he just couldn't imagine installing Hillary Clinton in the White House, given that it would mean the country would have alternated two dynastic families, the Bushes and the Clintons, in the White House for over 24 years or more.

" 'Did you notice the laughter the audience had when Clinton said he did a lot of his serious reading in bed, "among other things"?' a Clinton administration veteran noted. 'It was an innocent remark but some people couldn't help taking it a certain way.' Indeed, it doesn't take long to recall that the eight years of the Clintons in power represented a roller coaster ride of scandals and surprises that voters may prefer not to repeat."

Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody wishes Hillary had given him the scoop:

"Hillary and I need to have a chat. Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a great story about Hillary Clinton and the role faith plays in her life. She even talked about the 'Presence of the Holy Spirit'! Hey, that's my story! I've said for months now that Hillary Clinton would do herself a world of good if she would open up more about her faith and upbringing. She is clearly making an attempt to do that. But what better place to do that than The Brody File?"

Uh, the front page of the Times?

Roger Simon, who's admittedly bored, is already mulling Hillary's running mate:

"There would be enormous pressure within the party for her to select Barack Obama. It would be a unifying choice, an historic choice and she wouldn't do it in a million years. Her best bet would be to make a symbolic offer to Obama in the certain knowledge he would refuse . . .

"John Edwards? Forget it. He would never do it again and I don't think she would offer it to him.

"But what about another historic ticket - - Hillary and Bill Richardson, which would make it the first woman presidential nominee and the first Latino vice presidential nominee. Though Richardson would be pleased as punch to get the bid, though he would add geographic balance to the ticket and though he is a governor, which voters tend to like, somehow I don't think it is in the cards.

"Why? Richardson may be too close to Bill Clinton. Of all the guys Bill could have gone to in order to get Monica Lewinsky a job, why did he go to Richardson? And Richardson came through, offering her a job at the United Nations . . .

"Safer choices (we think) would be Mark Warner or Evan Bayh."

The less-than-scintillating Bayh has been on the VP list forever, and never gets picked. Plus, he's going to put Indiana in play?

Speaking of polls, USA Today has Bush at "a new low": 29 percent (even though other polls have the president lower, each news outlet trumpets its own math).

Well, it turns out that Deborah Jeane Palfrey had some big-name clients after all:

"Sen. David Vitter, R-La., apologized Monday night for 'a very serious sin in my past' after his telephone number appeared among those associated with an escort service operated by the so-called 'D.C. Madam.'

"Vitter's spokesman, Joel Digrado, confirmed the statement in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press. 'This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible,' Vitter said in the statement. 'Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there -- with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.' "

Now we'll see whether the voters forgive him.

First, Villaraigosa's mistress. Now, another reporter getting too close to the story?

"WMAQ-Ch. 5 executives on Monday night were weighing what, if any, disciplinary action to take against reporter Amy Jacobson, seen on video tape with her children at a backyard pool-side get-together last week at the home of Craig Stebic, whose wife's disappearance Jacobson has been covering," the Chicago Tribune reports.

"Officials at rival station WBBM-Ch. 2 have been debating since Friday whether they should air the tape, which appears to show Jacobson and her children along with Stebic, whose wife, Lisa, 37, has been missing since April 30. The couple was in the process of divorcing and Lisa Stebic was moving to evict her husband from their Plainfield home on the day of her disappearance, the Chicago Tribune has previously reported.

"According to Channel 2 News Director Carol Fowler, the tape shows Jacobson in 'a swimming suit top,' but that could not be independently confirmed."

Ever notice that reporters are the first to say no comment when they get into trouble, even though they know better than anyone how that will be interpreted?

Okay, time to talk impeachment! A debate has been bubbling up on the liberal blogs in the wake of a recent poll. Here's Matthew Yglesias:

"With sentiment on the question of impeaching Bush running at a pretty strong 39 percent for giving him the boot (with 49 percent opposed), I think this needs to enter the mainstream conversation. And, insofar as Bush appears determined to use his constitutionally granted authority to shield his subordinates from the consequences of breaking the law, I would say that removing him from the office which grants that authority is something that should be discussed.

"The fact remains, however, that impeaching and convicting Bush means, in practice, only that Dick Cheney becomes President. In a weird way, it was the very trumped-up and trivial nature of the charges against Clinton that made impeachment plausible -- replacing Bill Clinton with Al Gore really would have had a material impact on the quantity of tomcatting in the executive branch. Removing Bush doesn't accomplish anything. I suppose you could impeach Cheney, and then impeach Bush before confirming a new vice president, and then Nancy Pelosi becomes president. And that, of course, is going to get 67 votes in the Senate sometime after they establish congressional representation for flying pigs."

In response, Ezra Klein:

"Impeachment proceedings, particularly in light of this poll (and we know how the media looooooves talking polls), should get some chattering class attention -- and not just in the 'those-crazy-liberals' sense. When it's 40 percent of the country, it ain't crazy. It's more than currently support the Iraq War, which the president insists on continuing, and given what a radical option impeachment is, such high rates of support deserve considerable examination.

"This is all different, to be sure, than whether we should actually impeach Bush. Unlike Matt, I'm actually more a fan of the Impeach Cheney option. Many of the worst abuses originated in his office, both polls and intuition suggest it's a more political appealing route, and the actual impacts of erasing Cheney would be considerably more positive than impeaching Bush and thus elevating Cheney."

Meteor Blades at Kos jumps in:

"Impeachment is the right remedy right now. But transforming it from blog-shriek into reality - if that can be done - will require a fresh approach. Those who want Richard Bruce Cheney and/or George Walker Bush (and possibly other high officials) impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate should stop pounding on Nancy Pelosi and concentrate on convincing the 23 people pictured below."

Those would be the members of the House Judiciary Committee.

When I see any sign that there is a glimmer of possibility this might happen, I'll let you know.

I confess I was unaware that there's a Man-Crush Primary going on, or that the Republicans are scoring big. American Prospect's J. Goodrich scores the action:

"Fred Thompson makes [Chris] Matthews . . . giddy. On a recent episode of Hardball, he wanted to know if his female guest found Thompson sexually attractive. This must be the case, given that Thompson looks 'seasoned and in charge of himself' and smells of English Leather, Aqua Velva or cigar smoke.

"Even Mitt Romney gets nods of approval from Matthews, who thinks he has a perfect chin and perfect hair, both apparently attributes of importance for a president . . .

"Who doesn't receive this kind of adulation? The Democratic candidates. Pundits don't laud John Edwards' perfect hair, they're still focused on a $400 haircut. Barack Obama, according to Maureen Dowd, is 'afraid of looking like a pretty boy,' and yet is 'drawing attention for his more superficial charms.' And Hillary Clinton, according to Chris Matthews, has a voice which reminds 'some men' of 'fingernails on a blackboard.' "

Remember Lisa Nowak, dubbed the "Astro-Nut" by the tabloids? Turns out, according to a newly released police interview, that she drove across the country to confront the other astronaut "because she wanted to know where she stood in the bizarre love triangle. So what if she was carrying pepper spray, a steel mallet, a 4-inch knife and a BB gun? It was all just a misunderstanding!"

Finally, I've noticed the last couple of times I've gone out on the trail that I'm wearing a tie--not my favorite article of clothing--and the presidential candidate isn't. Which brings me to BBC blogger Jeremy Paxman:

"Is it time for Newsnight men to stop wearing ties? It has always been an utterly useless part of the male wardrobe. But now, it seems to me, the only people who wear the things daily are male politicians, the male reporters who interview them - and dodgy estate agents . . .

"Increasingly, ties are simply bits of cloth which we hang around our necks when getting married, attending a funeral, or when called for a job interview. In the days when I used to be sent to report gory murder cases it was always easy to spot the defendant. He was the one picking at the unfamiliar constriction on his neck, in the belief that the judge would think a borrowed outfit made him incapable of malice aforethought."

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