Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Crystal Ball, Take II

By Shawn Healy
As Lou Dobbs prepares to go live at the Freedom Museum tonight, CNN is ready for the second edition of the YouTube debates immediately following his show. I promised a reading on the Democratic field today, but must revise Monday's posting as Massachusetts has discarded its March 4th primary date and joined the Tsunami Tuesday crowd on February 5th. I still contend that this proves problematic for Romney, as he'll be forced to devote attention to the Bay State to avoid an embarrassing defeat, opening the door for Rudy's success elsewhere.

Now, back to the Democrats...

I woke up this morning with the feeling that the nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton is no longer inevitable. I've made this contention for months, but will offer two blueprints of the more simplistic Democratic race. One has Hillary winning Iowa narrowly, steamrolling her opponents in New Hampshire, besting Barack Obama narrowly in South Carolina, by a wide margin in Florida, and clinching the nomination on Tsunami Tuesday. This is the blueprint I have consulted for the last several months, but recent developments urge caution and suggest a plausible alternative.

Notice how I mention only two candidates in the first scenario. My second narrative doesn't involve a broader field with the exception of John Edwards. For all intents and purposes, this is a two-horse race, and Edwards is a mere sideshow who provides a significant opening for Obama in Iowa. Bill Richardson boasts an impressive resume, but his message fails to resonate on the trail given the rock star status of his opponents, and Biden and Dodd, the savvy Senate veterans, have yet to find any traction in Iowa or elsewhere. It is in the heartland where the second scenario takes root.

According to recent polls, Obama has taken the lead in the Hawkeye State, eclipsing Clinton and Edwards, although in a statistical dead heat. Edwards' presence is critical here. He finished second in the 2004 caucuses, and led in the polls for most of this year. Yes, his $400 haircuts was his downfall, but his bevy of support remains in tact, and many of these folks actually caucused for him four years ago. A top-three finish is virtually guaranteed, and it seems as if he hurts Hillary more than Obama, as the former VP candidate polls in single digits in other states where Clinton has 20-point leads.

Edwards could win Iowa, and Hillary is prepared for this with New Hampshire as her firewall. Edwards lacks the financial resources to compete elsewhere short of a resounding victory in the caucuses, and he must abide by federal spending standards as he agreed to accept matching funds, limiting state-by-state spending, New Hampshire included. An Obama victory is more threatening, for it convinces voters elsewhere that the amateur is a viable candidate.

Assuming Obama wins Iowa, New Hampshire voters, particularly the independents who can vote in either party primary, are known to shun establishment figures (see the Clinton dynasty) and search for mavericks (McCarthy, McCain...Obama?). A Granite State surprise sets Obama up for South Carolina, where half of the Democratic electorate is African-American. If the Illinois Senator runs the table here, he'll close the gap with Clinton in Florida, and be well-positioned for success on Tsunami Tuesday. Indeed, in some ways he is already more organized in the February 5th states, the Prairie State included. Moreover, only Obama has the financial wherewithal to compete with the Clinton machine in what is essentially a national primary.

Obama probably doesn't clinch the nomination on Tsunami Tuesday, but I could see the contest concluding on February 19th when Wisconsin and Washington voters flock to the polls. These states have a similar affinity for anti-establishment mavericks, and Obama may be their man.

I know, I'm taking the easy way out here with separate scenarios, and my refusal to pick a winner. If I were a betting man I'd stick with Clinton, but the NY Senator let her guard down in the Democratic debate last month and provided the opening the upstart Obama has been searching for all along. Regardless, the narrative will have real-life authenticity in five short weeks...


Crystal Ball, Take I

By Shawn Healy
Time once again to take the temperature of the nation, or should I say the early primary and caucus states, with CNN's second edition of the YouTube Debates only two days away, this time staged in St. Petersburg, FL, and featuring the remaining eight Republican presidential candidates. I'll focus on the right side of the aisle in this post, and will return with my take on the Democratic field on Wednesday.

For a political geek like myself, one could not ask for more on the GOP side of the equation with a scattered field of contenders, and results that could break an infinite number of ways to weed out the eventual party nominee. The potential for a split delegation at the convention in St. Paul next September is a distinct possibility, with a floor fight, an unlikely echo from the past, determining the Republican standard-bearer.

If this election shapes up like those in years past, Mitt Romney, not Rudy Giuliani, should be considered the presumptive frontrunner. Romney leads in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, the three defining contests of the early primary season. True, Huckabee is on his heels in Iowa, and Rudy has pulled close in New Hampshire and remains in a dead heat in the Palmetto State, but Romney has run the superior, textbook campaign to date and is a force to be reckoned with given his disciplined approach on the trail, sound organization building, and vast personal financial resources.

Giuliani is running an unconventional big state campaign. His hope is for solid second or third place finishes in the early states, a resounding win in Florida, and a proverbial "tsunami" on Super Tuesday when the delegate-rich prizes of California, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey (plus more than 16 other states) head to the polls on the same day. Should Rudy win the nomination, he will rewrite the presidential campaigning playbook at the same time.

If Romney and Rudy are the leaders of the pack, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul are forces to be reckoned with. True, the wheels fell off the Straight Talk Express last summer, but McCain has directed the bulk of his attention toward New Hampshire in an effort to revive the magic of 2000 when he trounced then-Governor George W. Bush. He has climbed even with Giuliani in the Granite State, and a victory there isn't out of the question. This will singularly keep the Happy Warrior in the race through at least February 5th.

Fred Thompson's popularity peaked when he entered the race after Labor Day. His rather lethargic campaign tendencies and lackluster fundraising have contributed to plummeting poll numbers. Like Giuliani, Thompson is barely contesting Iowa and New Hampshire, instead staking his claim as the "Son of the South," hopeful for victory in South Carolina and a series of successes on Tsunami Tuesday.

Mike Huckabee is the media's darling of the moment, and recent polling data has him within mere percentage points of Romney in Iowa and rising elsewhere. His second-place finish in August at the Ames Straw Poll is a sign of his campaign's organizational capacity, but he remains underfunded and thus lacks a multi-state operation. Moreover, his rise will be coupled with scrutiny by both the media and his opponents, and the shining star will be inevitably tarnished. That said, his social conservative credentials pose a direct challenge to Romney's chameleon-like tendencies, with both fighting to stand as Rudy's foil (pro-choice, pro-civil unions, pro-gun control, thrice-married).

Ron Paul is the phenomenon that leaves pundits like myself struggling to explain his undeniable success. He raised $4.2 million in a single day and hopes to secure $12 million in the 4th quarter alone, so the resources and capacity for more are in place. His poll numbers remain in the single digits, but the contenders should watch out on their left flanks as this anti-war, libertarian candidate heads to fiscally-conservative, and socially-liberal New Hampshire. Independents there flocked to McCain in 2000 (see above), but his pro-war stance places their allegiance in limbo and is ripe for the picking by Paul.

After all of this pontificating, I'm afraid that I only further muddied the picture. I wouldn't be a pundit without predictions, so I'll construct a straw man for inevitable destruction when voters grab the reigns in six short weeks.

Romney wins Iowa, with Huckabee finishing a close second, and Giuliani a distant third.

The Massachusetts Governor keeps the "big mo'" rolling with a narrow win over McCain in New Hampshire, with Rudy again in third.

Romney is a force to be reckoned with at this point, winning his boyhood state of Michigan narrowly, then proceeding to nip Giulaini once more in South Carolina. Fred Thompson exits, stage left.

Florida remains Rudy's firewall, and he staves off Romney by a whisker, setting up a Tsunami Tuesday showdown where the former NYC Mayor rakes in a Big Apple-size share of delegates, but not enough to clinch the nomination. John McCain bows for one final time, and proceeds to deliver an endorsement of Giuliani. Huckabee follows suit, seeking the VP position, and endorses the man he thinks has the best shot at the nomination.

It's down to Rudy and Romney, and I predict that March 4th will be pivotal for the GOP. Rudy has Texas Governor Rick Perry's endorsement, and this will serve him well in the Lone Star State. But wait, Romney's home state of Massachusetts is also en tow. Talk about having to eat crow, for Mitt has run against the People's Republic from Day One of his campaign, and now must rely on his favorite son status to fend off a Yankee fan of all people. Rudy dons a Red Sox cap, wins the Bay State, and clinches the nomination.

Now back to those YouTube debates...


From My Cold, Dead Hands...

By Shawn Healy
The words of former National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston.

This spring the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the utility of the argument that non-state militias members have an individual right to keep and bear arms. At issue is a District of Columbia ordinance that prohibits private handgun ownership. The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in March that the 31-year old ordinance was unconstitutional because it infringed on the individual right to keep and bear arms. The 2-1 ruling did permit less restrictive gun control measures, but the decision stands counter to the age-old collective rights interpretation of the amendment.

Let's parse the prospects of the Supreme Court's ultimate decision due next June. Revisiting the text of the Second Amendment is an ideal starting point. It reads, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The introductory clause refers to the state militias that existed during the nation's founding period for fear of a permanent standing army. Many states required citizens to own guns for the purposes of national defense as threats emerged. Given the size and strength of today's U.S. Armed Forces, such a notion is indisputably outdated. As a result, some suggest that gun ownership should be permitted only to members of the state national guards.

On the other hand, the second clause does reference the people's right to keep and bear arms, thus the emergence of claims suggesting an individual right. Moreover, gun ownership was and is justified by some as the citizenry's ultimate recourse against a corrupt government. After all, it was guns propelled a revolution against the British Crown.

To date, the Supreme Court has only acknowledged a collective right. This precedent is extrapolated from a 1939 case upholding a federal law requiring the registration of sawed-off shotguns. Separate 2001 and the aforementioned 2007 appellate court decisions contest this notion, suggesting an individual right.

The facts of this case are most interesting because the District of Columbia is not a state. The Second Amendment is one of the few provisions of the Bill of Rights to never be incorporated, meaning it does not apply to state laws and local ordinances. A decision to uphold the DC decision thus would not likely result in incorporation, at least not immediately.

The question the Court is considering reads as follows: Does the statute “violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes.” An affirmative answer would be applied rather narrowly to the District given its governance by Congress, but would seemingly open the door for challenges to similar ordinances like that employed in Chicago since 1983.

If an individual right to keep and bear arms does exist, then why is the Second Amendment not incorporated alongside other individual rights specified and those not enumerated (example: privacy) in the Bill of Rights? If incorporated, Chicago's ordinance would predictably be deemed unconstitutional, along with others enacted by municipalities across the country.

Not one of the existing nine members of the Court has ever considered a Second Amendment case, so I'll stray from predicting the outcome here. That said, I anticipate the conservative bloc (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito) to side with the DC Circuit, and the liberal bloc (Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg and Breyer) to vote to uphold the local ordinance. The swing vote, as usual on the Roberts Court, is Justice Kennedy. In his hands, far from "cold" or "dead," rests the fate of local ordinances and the individual right to keep and bear arms.


Readers, R.I.P.?

By Shawn Healy
James Vesely of the Seattle Times penned a provocative piece that ran in yesterday's edition of the paper tackling the question that is wracking news rooms across the country: how to perpetuate professional journalism when the age-old model is outdated, and arguably, broken? His answers are by no means simple, but he does offer an affirmative solution, namely to maintain reporting with integrity, verifying sources, and standing as the "enemy of rumor and a citizen of its place." Blogs, by the way, are newspapers' foil (this one excepted).

He suggests that media consolidation will continue, but maintains a place for local papers without competition. Movement away from corporate control and toward private ownership may represent another step in the right direction, especially if profit margin is not at the top of these new owners' lists. Newspapers are nothing less than bulwarks of democracy, and the hope is that wealthy philanthropists will make investments in dailies for the sake our very civic fabric.

Vesely is right to note that the "First Amendment will not provide (reporters) with a paycheck," nor is it an effective "business model." However, his hypothesis that readers are merely shifting to online sources may be a bit optimistic.

The National Endowment for the Arts released a 99-page study today suggesting that Americans are reading less and less on a daily basis. Among the troublesome findings were a 7% drop in voluntary book reading in the vital 18-24 demographic, meaning nearly half of this age group never reads for fun. The average person between the ages of 15 and 24 spends 2.5 hours before the TV, but a mere 7 minutes reading! Overall, despite the explosive growth of Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, book sales have declined 14% since 1985.

This correlates with a dramatic drop in reading comprehension even among college graduates. Proficiency is equivalent to reading a daily newspaper, the reason I decided to tie these two developments together. Lack of proficiency impedes one's abilities to perform daily tasks at the workplace, not to mention participate in our democracy. The study finds that those who read for pleasure are more apt to have extensive social lives, to vote and be politically active, participate in the arts and cultural affairs, and volunteer.

In the end, the things that we continually lament about, namely low voter turnout and the decline of political awareness and more general civic engagement can be attributed to a culture and educational system that is failing to teach our young people the reading habits they need to thrive in the adult world. The key is to find a hook where kids are introduced to reading through a subject of interest to them. Daily, or at least weekly attention to current events in the classroom is also important, and their remains no better purveyor of this information than a local or national newspaper, many of them available free of charge as newspapers flair desperately for new readers.

I am admittedly more of an online newspaper reader myself, for it enables me to peruse the major dailies across the country at once, and to select articles more interesting to me personally. I concur with Vesely that there remains a place for good journalism, even as its print form fades to the dustbin of history. Moreover, I am confident that the business model will adapt to changing times, so longer as willing readers remain. The key is to find a way to focus young people on the task at hand, for reading is often impeded by television watching, video games, instant messages, and other computer usage. I, too, am guilty of this charge, and in this case, am left without an answer to the "noise" that surrounds us from every angle.


Loose Ends

By Shawn Healy
Turns out that Illinois' Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act isn't mandatory after all, seeing that the legislation lacked punitive mechanisms for school districts who failed to implement its mandates. US District Judge Robert Gettleman made this determination in a case concerning Buffalo Grove High School, stifling further practice at this school even though it proceeds elsewhere. The Judge has yet to rule on the constitutionality of the mandate, but the defendants promise a class-action suit to force the issue.

Two legislators are already pushing for an amendment to remove the mandate altogether. Since a similar statute has already been on the books since 2002 allowing districts to hold a moment of silence at their own discretion, we're apparently back to square one. Stay tuned.

Out in the Rockies, Colorado State's Board of Student Communications, composed of both students and faculty, acted to cement their status as publisher of the student newspaper, the Collegian. Given the Board's relationship with the university, free press concerns of potential censorship emerge.

Remember, this is the paper where Editor Michael McSwane invoked a four letter word critical of President Bush and the unrelated tasering incident at the University of Florida. The Collegian is independently funded, but does rent office space from the university, and is subject to supervision from the BSC, partially composed of professors employed by a public university, thus implicating the First Amendment.

McSwane, as expected, sides decisively on the side of press freedom. "Punishment for speech is punishment for speech. How is that not censorship?"

The BSC is set to meet on November 27th for final consideration of the proposed policy, and if adopted, hold tight, for more litigation may be in the works.


The Silencing of the Sitters

By Shawn Healy
I know that I'm late wading into the waters of the free speech controversy that erupted at Morton West High School in Berwyn, IL, on November 1st, and was apparently resolved as of yesterday, but like the general public, I too was trying to get a grip on a series of developments that attracted national media attention. Let's examine the facts of the case, then determine whether or not administrators were in the right to stifle a student protest.

On November 1st, 38 students (although some sources claim up to 200!) gathered in the school cafeteria to protest the Iraq War and military recruiters who frequent campus. The "sit-in" was broken up by District 201 Superintendent Ben Nowakowski, who instructed the protesters to move to an alternative area. They complied, proceeding to a small hallway outside the principal's office, later locking arms, singing anti-war songs, and discussing the war's global impact. This instigated police intervention and interfered with the regular class schedule as their peers were held in classrooms until the protest was broken up.

The students were allegedly promised that they would face no disciplinary action if they moved, but lingering students were served ten-day suspensions at the end of the school day, and threatened with expulsion for "gross disobedience" and "mob action." One of the participants, junior Matt Heffernan, was shocked with the verdict: "We had the sit-in. So I had mixed feelings of confidence--of a job well done--and fright, because my whole educational career is at risk."

These students and their parents didn't go down without a fight, claiming that the punishment was excessive and unfairly allocated, as honor students and varsity athletes allegedly received shorter suspensions (5 days) without an expulsion threat.

Jonathon Acevedo, a student who faced expulsion, was defended by his aunt, Gladys Hansen-Guerra, who argued that he was singled out because he was an average student and Latino. She complicated her argument by suggesting that "the administration is giving harder punishments to students who won't tell them who organized the protest. It was a group effort. They are trying to offer leniency to those who can point out the organizers."

Yesterday, the district ceded to public pressure/came to its senses/concluded after a thorough investigation (take your pick), and removed the expulsion threat from the remaining 18 students still suspended. 14 of the 18 were cleared to return to classes today, while the remaining 4, who were the identified organizers, will return on Friday.

The case may be closed, but it is certainly worthy of constitutional scrutiny. I must admit that I stayed away from the controversy for the very reason that students' First Amendment rights are not absolute in a school environment.

Public schools may censor speech that occurs at school-sponsored events for "legitimate pedagogical reasons," and also punish students for speech that is "lewd," "vulgar," or promotes illegal drug use. These precedents don't apply here, but the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines does. The precedent relates to student-initiated speech and expression like that exercised by the Morton West students, and argues that students' First Amendment rights to not end "at the schoolhouse gate." The majority opinion did, however, include a caveat, allowing for curtailment of student speech that represents a "material or substantial disruption" to the educational environment.

I had a hard time sifting through the conflicting details of the Berwyn case as it unfolded, but it does appear as if the protest did "substantially" disrupt the learning environment, not just for the protesters, but also the other students who were stranded in classrooms as the school was in lockdown. The school district repeatedly suggested that this was not about students' First Amendment rights. There was partially accurate, at least in terms of their right to infringe upon them.

The more troubling issue is the punishments threatened and ultimately imposed by the district upon implicated students. The specifics of the case seem to suggest that expulsion was ludicrous, and even the ten-day suspensions border on excessive. Moreover, if the allegations are true about disproportionate punishment on the basis of GPA and athletic affiliation, the school may have a 14th Amendment equal protection case on their hands. We'll await the final verdict on that should a lawsuit surface.

On a larger level, just because the school can crack down on student speech does not mean they should. Edward D. Juillard of Morgan Park, IL, in a letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, summarized this frustration quite well in the passage that follows:
It is a very sad commentary on the state of our democracy that students exercising their constitutional rights are expelled. Recruiters are preying on our young, especially targeting the poor, and are allowed full access to public schools when the very war they are promoting is robbing our nation's schools of much-needed funding. If students have the audacity to speak out about this obvious injustice, they are told to shut up and get out. The real lesson they take away from this travesty of justice is that in this "land of the free," there is no free speech for those who are poor and without power. They've been told loud and clear: You are good enough to die for your country but not good enough to stand up for your rights.

In the end, it's fitting to turn to the boundless optimism of the young. Senior Joshua Rodriguez, a participant in the sit-in and recipient of a suspension, said, "I don't regret the protest because I brought a lot of people to this question--about Iraq and what it's doing to our country." Right or wrong, one has to admire his sense of purpose and resilience.


Unfinished Business

By Shawn Healy
I had the privilege of introducing author Michael J. Klarman at a Chicago Humanities Festival program yesterday at Alliance France de Chicago featuring his most recent book, Unfinished Business: Racial Equality in American History. This program, along with several Chicago Humanities Festival events, were underwritten by the McCormick Tribune Foundation. Klarman spoke for nearly an hour, and entertained a couple of questions afterward. His remarks were fluid and provided valuable insight into an issue well-documented, but widely misinterpreted. The book is equally thoughtful and a must-read for those interested in a historical view of race relations over the course of American history.

Klarman emphasized eight themes during his lecture, all documented in his concise 221-page volume. First, he contends that racial progress in the U.S. was by no means inevitable. In fact, there were definitive periods of regression, the repeal of Reconstruction in the South after 1876 standing as the most prominent example.

Second, racial progress is not a product of white leaders "doing the right thing." Rather, African-Americans had to fight for every inch of freedom that they attained along the way. For instance, A. Philip Randolph's threatened March on Washington during WWII convinced President Roosevelt to issue an executive order forbidding discrimination in the awarding of defense contracts. After the war, as African-Americans attained levels of education previously denied, elite, educated leaders of protest movements emerged, and their claims could no longer be denigrated on account of "black ignorance."

Third, racial progress is also dependent upon "ripe" conditions for change. The Great Migration precipitated by labor shortages during WWI enabled blacks who flocked to the North to vote for the first time. In the process, the two major parties were forced to compete for their allegiance by offering benefits that catered to the needs of their communities. Moreover, the formation of black newspapers like the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier furthered the cause throughout the country, and NAACP chapters found fertile ground to contest injustices via litigation.

Fourth, racial progress itself is often a product of unintended consequences. The Civil War was fought initially to save the Union, not end slavery. Furthermore, the 15th Amendment was passed not for the rightful extension of suffrage to former slaves, but to establish a southern base of support for the Republican Party controlling Congress during Reconstruction.

Fifth, in a point closely tied to the previous argument, white leaders often had ulterior motives for promoting racial progress. For example, the drafters of the Constitution pushed to end the slave trade in 20 years to preserve the value of slaves living in the Middle South. Later, the free soilers that became the Republican Party first contested slavery on the ground that they simply did not want to compete with the institution economically in the North, nor did they want free blacks in the region. Both actions led to the demise of slavery, but inadvertently.

Six, there is a continuous dynamic of racial progress that replicated itself across American history. Southern or congressional actions would infuriate northerners, making their southern counterparts even more defensive. The southern reaction was often so extreme that it lead to violence, breeding further northern outrage. The Fugitive Slave Act and the Birmingham beatings are pertinent examples prior to the Civil War, and during the Civil Rights Movement, respectively.

Seven, the Supreme Court has more often been a foe, rather than a friend, to racial minorities. By upholding the Fugitive Slave Act, overturning convictions for lynchings, and striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, the Court proved a formidable foe. The 2007 case limiting affirmative action by local school districts to promote desegregation is arguably another step in this direction.

Eighth, and finally, these Supreme Court decisions most often reflect, rather than shape, public opinion. Positive decisions like the reversal of death sentences for the Scottsboro Boys, the termination of the white primary, and the infamous Brown decision were reflective of the majority of public opinion at the time. Negative verdicts, like Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson were decided with similar popular backing.

In the end, Klarman's remarks were provocative and informative, forcing us all to re-digest many of the historical developments to which we have long been exposed, and in some cases experienced. Sadly, it is not an uplifting story, and the journey is not even close to completion. The impact of racial inequalities continues to stain our society as African-American men are more likely to go to prison than college, illegitimacy and unemployment rates dwarf those of their white counterparts, and nooses proliferate across the country in a stark reminder of the atrocities directed at an oppressed race for centuries. All Americans would be well-served by revisiting this history in the coherent form presented by Klarman, and to actively fight for the realization of the American promise still unfulfilled.


Table of Nations: North Korea

By Catherine Feerick
Last night the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum hosted the final quarterly Table of Nations program of 2007. Patrons gathered in the intimate ambiance of Jin Ju, enjoying hors d’ouvres and a traditional, family-style meal before listening to the speakers. The evening’s presentation took the form of a dialogue, with Jerome McDonnell of Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview posing questions on relevant topics to facilitate understanding of North Korea in terms of history and recent events.

Dr. Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago answered McDonnell’s questions with his years of study and experience. The overall tone of the dialogue was one of measured optimism. Too often in history has communication within the United States and in North and South Korea carved a diametric opposition between the two political and economic systems, but this tension has eased somewhat with the opening of limited, international trade in southwest North Korea. Cummings expounded repeatedly upon the benefit of trade as the safest catalyst to a neutralized North Korean threat.

Another theme in the night’s discussion was the improvement of U.S. relations with North Korea in the past few years. Not only has the recent Second Summit facilitated more benevolent feelings between the two Korean nations, but the United States has moved closer towards normal diplomatic relations with the regime. From October of 2006, when North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon, the United States has made a concerted effort in diplomacy (unfortunately, as Dr. Cummings pointed out, “rewarding bad behavior”) and the results are tangible. North Korea has promised to freeze its nuclear factories, allowing the international community to supervise the disarming and dismantling of the facilities.

Despite the attempts of Kim Jong-Il to isolate the effects of partially free borders, the results of international trade are beginning to be felt by the North Korean population. Although the sophisticated army of North Korea is still admittedly quite threatening, the state no longer constitutes as great a menace as it did even last year.

The food was excellent, the atmosphere inviting, and the speakers riveting. Overall, Table of Nations provided an excellent opportunity for patrons to experience the cuisine of a culture while learning about very real issues facing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the world at large. The next Table of Nations program will take place early next year and feature a South Asian menu as well as a frank discussion on current events in Pakistan.



By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum opens its latest temporary exhibit this Friday, November 9th, titled "Vote4Me!: Inside a Presidential Election." The exhibit is meant to lend clarity to an increasingly complex process by placing visitors in the shoes of candidates. The hope is that by better understanding the dynamics of the presidential race, voters will be able to sift through the smoke screen and select the candidate that best matches their political ideals.

The exhibit begins with a message from a party leader who provides an overview of the process and demands a candidate who can represent the party well and bring home a victory next November. The candidate then meets his or her staff, composed of a campaign manager, political director, press secretary, finance chair, and communications director. The staff surfaces throughout the balance of the exhibit to provide timely advice as the visitor as candidate navigates the precarious process.

An overview of the early primary season with a focus on the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary follows, along with a look at media relations from the perspective of both the press secretary and a reporter. The finance chair illuminates the need for a continuous flow of campaign cash to run a national contest, and the political director focuses on a dozen or so swing states that historically decide presidential races in the Electoral College.

The candidate is then welcomed into an inner sanctum called the "Briefing Room," where one is asked to hone their image using past candidates (Ike, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush 43) as models. The defensive aspect of campaigning is also detailed, and historic attacks such as LBJ's "Daisy Ad" are featured. Finally, candidates are asked to craft their issue positions and to use polling data to decide which planks to emphasize, and others to ignore or downplay.

"The Final Push" punctuated by the candidate's 72-hour plan is the final stop on the campaign before one's fate is placed in the hands of voters. Candidates are able to practice victory and concession speeches in case of either outcome.

Visitors ultimately enter through a curtain into the voter resources section of the exhibit, where they can use a computer interactive that allows them to match their issue preferences with those of the 2008 field on five different issues. Other features provide links to a polling web site, another that tracks candidate travels, and a final site that helps local voters find polling locations. Candidate collateral is available for the taking (bumper stickers, fliers, pins, etc.), and visitors may pick up voter registration forms or register with our staff on site.

The exhibit is open through Election Day in 2008, and admission to the museum and the exhibit are free starting this Friday through the end of 2007.

To see CBS 2's preview of the exhibit, featuring an interview of your's truly, click here.


The "Invisible" Primary

By Shawn Healy
I've lamented before about the frontloaded 2008 presidential primary, a process that began shortly after George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term. In fact, I'm not certain that John Edwards ever left Iowa! As we begin the two-month countdown to the Caucuses and the kickoff of campaign season, the Project for Excellence in Journalism partnered with the Joan Shorenstein Center, to analyze media coverage of the race in 2007, concluding that the primary process is no longer invisible on account of the fact that the election has eclipsed the Iraq War as the top news story.

This early attention presents a conundrum. The vast majority of voters (in the ballpark of 75%) have yet to tune into the race, and for those who have, vast disparities in media coverage provide an arguably skewed picture of the field. The bulk of coverage centered on five candidates (Clinton, Obama, Giuliani, McCain and Romney, in that order), and the tone of coverage, with the exception of Obama, was decidedly negative. McCain fared the worst, with 47.9% of stories negative in tone, and only 12.4 positive.

Democrats received a disproportionate amount of coverage, besting the GOP field 49%-31%. They also received more positive coverage, 35% of stories to the GOP's 26%. The latter disparity is mostly a product of positive coverage for Obama, and negative press for McCain. Even topical differences surfaced. Coverage of the Democratic candidates has been more personal in nature, while coverage of the GOP field was more idea-centered.

Outside of partisan imbalances, the vast majority (86%) of campaign coverage is candidate-centered, namely assessing their prospects for winning. A mere 12% of stories focus on how the election of a particular candidate will impact individual voters. The overwhelming emphasis on the "inside baseball" aspect of politics centers on candidate viability and electability, essentially taking the winnowing process out of the hands of voters.

Although there is significant variation across media channels, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer stood out for the lower priority it placed on the 2008 election (not necessarily a good thing), its attention to lesser-known candidates (admirable), and its tendency to summarize stories by comparing multiple candidates (absolutely vital). The tone of coverage was also more neutral than its competitors.

The latter tendency across the media feeds the argument of the perceived liberal bias. This is probably overblown in my mind, particularly in light of the many conservative options now available (Wall Street Journal, Fox News, talk radio). Clinton and Obama are obvious centers of attention given their status as the most formidable female and African-American presidential candidates to date. Moreover, the GOP field is more atomized, and party stalwarts are less excited about their options, not to mention the fact that many of the candidates launched their campaigns at a later date (see Fred Thompson).

These caveats considered, the media does have a responsibility to provide "fair and balanced" coverage and to really mean it. Furthermore, they should cover as many of the candidates as possible and allow voters to decide who is and isn't viable. Does the ability to raise millions translate into effective leadership in the Oval Office? I think not. It is one sign of viability, but how then does one describe the blossoming campaign of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee?

Additionally, the press must move beyond the horse race aspect of the campaign, addressing the issues of our day, whether they be domestic or foreign policy. While 63% of stories have focused on the "inside baseball" scenarios of the campaign, only 7.2% have addressed domestic issues, and 7.5% of stories concentrate on foreign policy. A scant 1.4% of stories have examined the public records of candidates! Scary! Aren't we in the process of examining qualifications for office and what candidates would do if elected? Talk about dropping the ball.

My hope is that as the field winnows, substantive coverage emerges. My concern is that this race for party nominations will be over before a majority of Americans tune in, and those who have followed the race know little more than who leads in the polls and at the bank. Here's a wake-up call to both the media and the electorate. 2008 will be here before we blink.


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at