Friday, February 29, 2008

"Sometimes, I really wonder how dumb the Clinton campaign thinks we are."

Me too. Well, not really. I've always taken a very jaundiced view of the whole "expectations game" theory of politics, because I just don't think that you can manage expectations, which are largely set by externalities, and you certainly cannot do so twice. Hillary Clinton was the one who raised the stakes for March 4 by insisting that Texas and Ohio were do-or-die states. Now, she wants to reduce expectations of them because it's beginning to look like she's not going to win either. Texas is already lost, according to the polls, and Ohio is virtually tied. So, it's time to downplay expectations. But that can't work because the media swallowed her first batch of medicine and has declared these primaries the make-or-break event for the Clintons. So, as one might expect, it's time for the Clintons to resort to cheating by trying to sue Texas over their delegate selection rules, even though those rules didn't seem to bother her until she was in danger of losing the Texas primary.

Enough already! Stop with all this legal bullshit and try to convince some people to vote for you!

Obama's Democrat Problem

Ross Douthat (and others) discuss Barack Obama's potential weakness among self-identified Democrats. I'm not sure I agree. He attracts fewer Democrats now, but I find it likely they'll return home before the general election. Elderly voters might have some affection for John McCain, but he seems to have the sorts of ideas about elderly entitlements (privatizing social security) that might make the elderly think twice. And I'm not convinced I should worry about a few ultra-conservative-on-Israel Jews defecting to McCain. Most Democrats (and most Jews) seem to recognize that a sensible Israel policy need not include fighting quixotic wars against Israel's enemies. The ones that disagree belong in the GOP anyway, as they're the party of that stuff these days.

I suppose I'm not too worried about this phenomenon because it seems to happen and it seems to happen among Democrats more than Republicans. In 2000, Bradley supporters claimed they would never vote for Gore. They wound up, largely, voting for Gore. In 2004 (and I recall this clearly) there were many Deaniacs who insisted they would never, never, vote for that sellout John Kerry. They voted for Kerry. Now, admittedly, having a faux-moderate that a lot of Democrats kind of like as an option against Obama might siphon off a few more fence-sitting Democrats than one might otherwise see happen, but in the end I find this argument to be not entirely convincing. I could, of course, be wrong. We'll just have to see.

Yes and No

Much as I appreciate Kevin Drum's point that Democrats shouldn't fear to compete with Republicans on national security issues (I totally agree!) I have to say I find this ad by Hillary Clinton to be more than a little bit despicable. Hillary Clinton is simply providing John McCain with more ammunition to use against Barack Obama in the general election, should Obama become the nominee (as is now quite likely). McCain will be able to use this line attack in the general, and he'll be able to say that even Hillary Clinton agrees with him. That will only underscore its effectiveness.

Now obviously, the issue of "readiness" is not going to be the one issue in the general election, and it's entirely possible that Obama will be able to deflect it. But this ad is sort of the entire Clinton campaign in a nutshell: if a message doesn't work, keep on using it? This comes only a few days after Clinton was making a big (and welcome) push on poverty. I'm beginning to think that the Clintons may be a little too rigid and inflexible with respect to tactics to lead the country. And their campaign is beginning to feel more and more like a vindictive scorched earth campaign to try to weaken and delegitimize Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee (see their recent bullshit lawsuit to try to challenge the delegate selection rules in Texas and downplay expectations there, only about ten days since the state was declared "must win"). Enough already.

Update: I find this Obama response to be reasonably effective...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

McCain and experience

Andrew is right about this, but he seems to misunderstand the fundamental temperament of the Republican party. For one thing, most Republicans don't yet think that their party is wrong on the issues. For another, the Republican response, over and over again, has been to say that their policies are failing because they have not been applied enough. Tax cuts didn't revive the economy? Well, we need more of 'em. War on drugs not fixing inner city problems? Well, we need to redouble our efforts there. And so on. They don't believe they can possibly be wrong, so failure of their policy is merely the result of an insufficient devotion to the ideology. Hence the only acceptable line of criticism of Bush by Republicans being that he's insufficiently conservative. So, it makes sense that the GOP would look at Hillary Clinton's campaign for president and decide that it wasn't that she didn't co-opt her opponent's message that did her in, but rather an insufficient devotion to her own message. The only real unforgivable Republican failure at this point would seem to be a failure of will.

Why Bush wants Clinton

Yes. And this gets at one of the most unbearable aspects of George W. Bush's character--his unbelievable obsession with how he's thought of by others. This obsession, however, does not include modern-day Americans, who he evidently feels are too stupid and shortsighted to grasp the expansive wisdom of his plans. Instead, he is obsessed 1) with how future generations view him and 2) how afraid the terrorists are of him. Is he the worst president we've ever had? Maybe. But he really is the most vain president we've ever had. Clinton certainly had a fair amount of self-love, though it certainly didn't stop him from, you know, actually running the country reasonably well. Clinton still felt the pull of public opinion, Bush does not. This man needs a self-esteem drop.

An obvious rehash of Hillary + experience

A nice, quick summary of where the Clinton campaign went off the rails. I'd add that experience didn't really work as an argument for her as far as I am concerned--she simply didn't get that much stuff done in the Senate. Not that that's her fault--what sorts of major liberal achievements have we seen in the past few years?--so much as just an inevitable consequence of a closely divided, polarized Senate. And her "experience" failed her in 2002, which she failed to wrap into her experience narrative in such a way that it could have been effective. Had she said something like, "Yeah, Iraq was a mistake. I blew it. But I learnt from it, and I won't let that happen again," I would have been more receptive to her experience argument.

The Next Vice President of the United States

Couldn't Ralph Nader do better than this? It's, like, one or two steps above president of your building's condo board, isn't it? I suppose Frasier Crane was unavailable.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Penn gets $7 million for latest bomb

That refers not to the talented (though intensely irritating) Sean Penn but rather to the untalented (and similarly intensely irritating) Mark Penn, also known as the guy with a seeming fetish for "archery moms" and the guy who torpedoed Hillary Clinton's campaign. This Wonkette piece is worth checking out:
Tragically misunderstood Mark Penn might seem like an unctuous creep whose “microtrends” strategy is the lamest pop-culture approach to statistics since The Tipping Point. But that’s only half the story.

In defense of Hillary Clinton

I tend to agree with Andrew Sullivan on most things Obama (though not necessarily on most things Clinton) but this seems kind of flimsy to me. I tend to be less than sympathetic to stories on how someone "refuses to condemn" someone or something else, perhaps because they have been deployed so often against liberals in recent memory ("Democrats refuse to condemn ad", and so on). And isn't "I don't agree with this person, and I don't think skin color should be an issue" kind of a condemnation anyway?

My view of Hillary Clinton has gotten rather jaundiced in the past few weeks, but what's fair is fair. Perhaps Clinton could have denounced this racist old woman with a bit more fervor, I'll grant that. But, as an Obama supporter, I am satisfied with her response at this point. I'm sure she'll have used up this small amount of goodwill by tomorrow, when she decides to release a photo of Obama in African clothing to Matt Drudge or something of that nature.

Obama/Hagel 2008

Bad idea, right? Right?

Really bad idea.

Or is it? I'm wondering if Obama ought to consider it. What better incentive to centrists than to put a Republican with a lifetime American Conservative Union Rating of 86 on a Democratic-led ticket? If Iraq is going to be front and center, then Hagel is uniquely positioned to help Obama push a new consensus about ending the Iraq occupation as another element of Obama's post-partisan philosophy. This is all not to mention that Hagel, unlike his old pal McCain, really is an expert on the military and foreign affairs (no matter how often McCain touts his expertise, his statements on Iraq tend to contradict each other daily), but because of the unique properties of such a ticket, it might be possible for Hagel to add some experience, etc., to the ticket while the meme about how he reinforces Obama's lack of experience on these issues gets lost in the shuffle. Or something like that.

Considering how poorly Hagel has been treated by his party, I'm guessing he'd be willing to do it. Some might say that Hagel parallels Lieberman, although I'm not sure that fits entirely--Lieberman, after all, did retain some supporters in the Democratic Party, and there is certainly still a hawkish wing of the party, even though the differences have been smoothed over somewhat in the past few years. Hagel was effectively thrown to the wolves. And the transition from Joe Lieberman running for the opportunity to run against Bush in 2004 to his (literal) embrace of the man--and right-wing anti-anti-Bush talking points--within such a short time was just bizarre. And Lieberman was always iffy on a lot of issues. He's a quintessential New Democrat, which in my experience tends to mean a voting record much like a Republican's, but with a 100% NARAL rating. Not that the latter is necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but I'm glad that being liberal no longer just means "pro-choice".

Of course, while the benefits of Obama/Hagel are large, the risks are also large. Obama might very well manage to alienate, well, every shade of Democrat there is with such a move. Hagel is a conservative in pretty much every way except foreign policy (and, I suppose, immigration), and everyone from unions to pro-choice groups aren't going to be nuts about the idea of him just a single heartbeat away from the presidency. And they'd be right not to want that to happen. Then, there is the reality of Hagel's less-than-shining performance in the past few months--he's so passionately against the war that he's runnning for president running for reelection endorsing a Democrat doing something presumably still showing up to vote for bills and whatnot. Perhaps his behavior comes from a respect for his pro-war constituents, although were that the case, I have some Edmund Burke to quote him (it's the eighth one)...I haven't exactly convinced myself that this is a good idea, but I'm willing to entertain some further argument to that it might be.

Of course, Obama/Hagel would probably necessitate a McCain/Lieberman ticket, lest McCain fear being one-upped. Then Michael Bloomberg, who has finally, for the next time, said he's not running for president, changes his mind and picks Sam Waterston as a running mate. Then all hell breaks loose...

Vietnam forever!

Just a thought I had when writing my last post: I once saw Larry Sabato on TV talking about how war always kills reform movements--progressivism was ended by WWI, the New Deal by WWII, the Great Society by Vietnam, etc. Will Iraq be the war that kills the modern conservative movement? It seems eminently possible. I won't deny that there isn't an element of wish fulfillment in this--I don't hate small-c conservatism, and I'm willing to buy into the importance of tradition, history, culture, etc., up until a point. Movement conservatism, though, is not really a conservative philosophy at this point. It has become a movement that is still obsessed with re-fighting the culture wars of the 1960s and 1970s, and it is therefore unsurprising that people born after that era don't identify with the GOP's goals and ideals. And Iraq is Vietnam, redux. The same exact arguments about dominoes falling, the importance of training soldiers, the need for a vaguely-defined "victory", and so on (watch this YouTube clip to see how similar Lyndon Johnson's rhetoric w.r.t. Vietnam resembles that of George Bush). This time, though, conservatives seem determined not to lose it, although I sometimes get the feeling that they care less about winning the war than having another turn of accusing liberals of hating America and spitting on the troops after the inevitable pullout occurs. If they actually wanted to win the war, surely something more impressive than a temporary, 30k troop enhancement would have been in order last year? Then again, using this issue as the GOP has makes sense if you think of the Iraq War as essentially cynical vote-grabbing enterprise (which it was, along with a cynical oil-grabbing exercise). Got to keep the 70s counterculture-hating wheel turning. It's a paradigm that we see very often these days from the right--create a mess, have the other side fix it, then blame the other side for fixing it. I'm not sure when it happened that the right decided that embracing irresponsibility was the quickest road to power, but nowadays it's not even news anymore.

I agree with Karl Rove

Carpetbagger's take on Karl Rove not wanting the GOP to use Barack Obama's middle name contains a rather good summarizing line:
Rove, for a change, seems to be offering his party some sound advice. That Republicans will probably ignore it is fitting.
It is worth remembering that Rove, for all his talents, tends not to have a long-term view of politics. It always seems to be about the next election with old Karl. Sure, scheduling the Iraq War Vote one month before the 2002 midterm elections meant they managed to get the outcome they wanted, but it also meant that meaningful criticism was stifled--criticism that might have been much better for the long-term prospects of the Republican Party. It's hard to know how history might have turned out had the GOP embraced the reach-across-the-aisle style centrism that predominated American politics immediately after 9/11, although my instinct is to say that they might very well have built a GOP majority for a generation. Of course, it wouldn't have been a right-wing GOP majority. I guess we can see where the hearts of the Bush team were really at...

To be fair, Rove has had some long-term political strategies, such as Bush's prescription drug benefit and the ill-fated amnesty bill. Still, doubling down on economic royalism and terror scare tactics might have let the Republicans win two elections, but the administration squandered a once-in-a-generation chance to lead because of Karl Rove's myopia. He's good at winning a single election here and there, but if I were a Republican I wouldn't be too thrilled about these missed opportunities. I'll be very interested to see if conservatives still like George W. Bush in eight years, especially if we've had a popular Democratic President and Democratic control of congress for that entire time.

"A conservative seeks to be grounded in reality"

With the death of William F. Buckley, I thought I'd post one of my favorite clips of him that I found on YouTube some time ago, about his "inconsistent" view of the drug war:

Buckley was the sort of conservative that, in my childhood, I was taught all conservatives were like--intelligent, good-natured, unwilling to put up with "liberal propaganda", free-thinking, and so on. I grew up in a heavily conservative area--Roseville, California, home of the infamous Rep. John Doolittle, against whom I had the chance to vote twice before relocating to the Central Coast. The last time the Democrats carried the Fourth District of California in a presidential election was 1968, and despite being a poor representative with one hand in Jack Abramoff's pocket and another in Jack Abramoff's other pocket, Doolittle usually won re-election by landslide margins. This is all by way of saying that virtually everyone I knew growing up--the adults, anyway, and most of the kids--were conservative Republicans. I heard about the Great Reagan more often than I can remember, I heard about "the liberals" and their pathological attempts to destroy Christianity and all the rest and wondered how people could just not get it. I started to doubt the orthodoxy about the time I entered high school, in small ways at first--it was actually the subject of the death penalty that bothered me initially. I found it impossible to square with a pro-life worldview (yes, I was pro-life at the time) and intuitively I just didn't find the arguments in favor of it too compelling. Gun control was next--it seemed to make sense to me that less guns simply meant less violence. I found myself becoming more liberal, although the watershed event was when I went on a church-sponsored trip to inner-city New Orleans (pre-Katrina, of course) in which I learned that many of the "truths" I had been taught, especially in terms of poverty and African-Americans, were so untrue. I met people who worked hard but still struggled to make a living and get ahead, which just seemed unfair to me, and not at all in keeping with my conception of America. This turned out to be one of the seminal events in my life, and then the Iraq War came, which I opposed for a very good reason: I was highly attracted to a liberal girl who had me sign a petition against the war. I never actually wound up getting together with that girl, but at least I can credibly claim to have been a principled opponent of Iraq since the invasion--I just don't mention what those motivating principles actually were. And the Bush years, with all of the cronyism, the needless secrecy, extreme hard-line views, the self-righteousness and the bilious rage and anger for which the modern right has become known has made things come into focus for me. In essence, I have become a proud liberal, although the conservatism in which I was raised shows through in various places.

All of this is just to say that I wish that the Buckleys of the world were still running the conservative movement, and I wonder if he didn't undergo some sort of similar process as I did when he thought about the Iraq mess or the drug war. He must have questioned himself, struggled with how this thing he wanted to believe simply wasn't supported by the evidence, and then he went ahead and boldly challenged the assumptions of his fellows. Despite not really agreeing with much of what he had to say I always felt a sort of kindred spirit in the man, and had I been born when he did, I might very well have wound up having a political trajectory closer to his. Who can say? Ultimately, though, I am convinced that the country would be better off with a conservative movement headed by a Buckley-type figure who was willing to speak out against the right's status quo when it was wrong instead of the current situation, in which the most influential members of the right seem to be the most cynical, the ones most willing to see cracks in the conservative worldview and to try to exploit them for the sake of divisiveness. I do believe that conservatism has a place in political life, though I do not like the current strain of reactionary conservatism that has become so dominant as of late. Conservatism ought to be lower-case "p" progressive, too, I think, and that is part of the reason why I don't like the term "progressive" as a euphemism for "liberal" (in addition to the negative aspects of early 1900's progressivism) Conservatism, as I understand it, accepts the idea of progress while insisting that it needs to occur within the context of existing institutions, traditions, and beliefs. I think that Buckley knew this, and when conservatives were wrong on something--even something that got them a lot of mileage, like the "War on Drugs" or the Iraq War for a while--he was going to be damned if he just let it slide. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between a bona fide intellectual and a hack, and Buckley was certainly in the former camp. Because of my youth I can't say that it brings back memories of an earlier time when people just got along--I was raised with Rush Limbaugh, after all--but it is somehow gratifying to know that such a time existed, since the corollary is that such a time could come again.

McCain's weakness

Ezra Klein looks at McCain's favorable poll numbers and concludes that he's going to be tough to beat. I'm a bit more optimistic. The major issue at hand is that John McCain's love among moderates and liberals is that they think that he secretly sympathizes with them. He did work to cultivate an image as being working with Democrats when they're right, and trying to lead his party to the sensible center on some issues. That's why a lot of people like the old guy, and not entirely without reason.

Ultimately, though, John McCain's embrace of the right will no doubt harm him with these groups, who will probably finally put it together that he isn't really one of them, and his hagiographical press coverage has made the public quite unaware of his stances on many issues, as well as the personal baggage he carries. In essence, most of the people who dislike McCain already aren't likely to change their minds, while the McCain fans will no doubt be presented with some new evidence to test their affection for him. The same might very well be true of Barack Obama, but Obama doesn't really have any damning stuff in his back yard that falls into the "secret to everyone" camp--unless anyone really thinks that all this Rezko business is really going to catch on after about fifty failed attempts.

All of which is not to say that I think there's no chance that John McCain will wind up winning in November--though most polls seem to give Obama the advantage for now--but McCain's "experience" argument is naturally going to involve more stories about the Keating Five, Vicki Iseman, etc. If he's running on his record, it's inevitable, because that stuff is his record. And his record is not hagiographical. That's why the Iseman stories from last week were such big news--the media has done such a thorough job of portraying John McCain as a man without warts that any story that shows a few is going to have a rather hefty impact.

Additionally, one also wonders if his shooting-from-the-hip style is going to get him in trouble at some point, which is more than just possible, I think.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dems and the Law

Good article from TNR about Supreme Court justice issues in a prospective Democratic administration.
The article basically makes the point that the current Democratic presence in the judicial system has atrophied under Bush, thus making it difficult to find credible Democrats for the high court. It is a problem, to be sure, but Obama seems to have solid organizational skills and I would imagine that he would be able to improve this situation quite a bit.

I'm not quite so sure that Hillary Clinton would be able to walk her way onto the Supremes. I wouldn't really have an issue with it, but there's still a strong portion of the GOP that considers her a radical feminist and that doesn't want the Clintons to hold any additional power at all. It would be a huge deal, in a way that Sonia Sotormanor would not be as big a deal. And the article, I think, overestimates the possibility of "John Edwards Democrats" making it tougher for a president of their party--after all, John Edwards didn't exactly get many votes, did he?

Monday, February 25, 2008


I thought about just leaving a blank post as a sort of meta-/Dada-type of statement about Ralph Nader--you know, like he isn't even worth talking about, even to mock. Still, I like this quote about him comparing his campaign to Jim Crow (!):
“One is based on race,” he said, “and the other is based on status. They are basically discriminating against us because they think we’re going take votes away from them.” He added, “Look at it from the voter point of view: They’re denying us a free choice of candidates.”
This so perfectly encapsulates not only what is wrong with Ralph Nader, but with the Green Party in general. Look, I'm all in favor of reworking elections to include instant runoff voting or some other such device to allow third parties a chance. But there is just something that's more annoying about the Green Party than, say, the Libertarian Party. And not just because I'm a Democrat. The Greens are sort of the typical too-cool-for-school types who will concede that they agree with the Democrats on virtually every issue. This is different from the Libertarians, who do not just agree with the GOP on every issue, and thus have a raison d'etre that goes beyond a hipster mentality. So the Greens throw elections to the Republicans so that they can get that heady insurgent feeling. If you think I'm wrong, take a look at Mr. Nader's most compelling issues that absolutely necessitated a presidential run:
But Mr. Nader said that issues like single-payer health insurance, labor law reform, the Iraq war and “cracking down on corporate crime” had been “taken off the table” by the major-party candidates.
Complete. Utter. Bullshit. Okay, so Obama isn't exactly proposing single payer. Fair point, although many, many Democrats support exactly that position--I'd say that a vast majority of liberals and most other groups, like unions, would prefer such a system if they had their 'druthers. So, it's difficult to say that there's no constituency for such ideas within the Democratic party. Regardless of this, Obama is definitely a supporter of card-check unionism, is definitely an opponent of the Iraq War, and I hardly think he's soft on corporate crime. Then again, corporate crime is not exactly an issue this election cycle, as it was in 2000 and 2004. Enron was almost a decade ago, after all. Geez, Ralph, don't hold that finger too close to the pulsing heartbeat of America! What is mystifying is that he says that these things have been taken off the table--what, did everybody just stop talking about Iraq all of a sudden? Is he addled?

Reading the article, it seems like he does nothing but bitch about how hard it is to get on the ballot. Yeah, Ralph, why is that? Any ideas? And is this man completely retarded or what? His argument about the great and good American people not getting their choice of candidates doesn't even pass the laugh test, as if the American people wanted this clown on the ballot they'd sign the petitions to get him on the ballot. This is how things are done, Ralph. You can't be put on the ballot everywhere just because you want to be. This is largely because I, like most people, don't want to go to my polling place to find a ballot the size of a phone book. Hell, it would probably be the phone book. But I'm sure Ralph Nader doesn't want that--he just wants himself on the ballot, because he's awesome (as I'm sure he'd tell you). I am speechless at his narcissism (and his stupidity).

The Smart Money

This is this cycle's electoral map, according to political betting. Not sure how likely Kansas is to flip, but the last time a Democrat had a "good" showing in the Sunflower State was in 1988, when Michael Dukakis got 42% of the vote there. That's an 18-point loss, and that was a miracle by Kansas Democratic standards! And that's the best the Democrats have done there since LBJ in '64. Needless to say, if McCain can't carry Kansas convincingly, it's a sign that he's probably weaker than is generally thought. What's next, a poll showing Nebraska is competitive? Wyoming? Idaho? I have yet to see a single blue state that could flip and turn red, but I like the idea of the Republicans having to ask what the matter is with Kansas this time.

That map is striking, to be sure. If the money does what it does, the Democrats will get at least 293 electoral votes, not counting Nevada, Virginia, and Florida, which are quite close. I'm not sure how this will turn out, but I'm optimistic.

Why Clinton should stay in it (for a little while longer)

So, yeah, the Clinton camp, after earning some goodwill coming off a reasonably classy performance in the last debate (the Xerox line notwithstanding), goes right ahead and wastes it by once again playing off of racial and ethnic tensions with their most recent "Obama's kinda Muslim-y" stunt. I have simply lost patience with Hillary Clinton. I can no longer stomach her tactics, her limitless ambition, and her lack of decency. I do feel some sympathy for her--that's just who she is, after all, and she can't help clawing her way to the top, even (perhaps especially) after it has merely become an exercise in self-humiliation--but I'm looking forward to the day when she's not around and I can have new demons at which to glower.

I hate having to say it, but I'm beginning to think the right wing wasn't entirely wrong about the Clintons. They were just mostly wrong. All the conspiracy theories aside, it has become difficult to dispute the thesis that the Clintons are too eager to destroy adversaries, too eager to smear while playing fast and loose with the facts, and too focused on maintaining their own power. Now, if I believed that they disliked the Clintons for these reasons I'd grant them their point, but there's a difference between believing these things and believing that the Clintons whacked a bunch of people and were going to take away everyone's guns with black helicopters. In other words, these concepts were merely incidental to the Clinton-hating going on with the right wing. Still, the Limbaughs of the world did see this stuff (though they took it to ridiculous extremes) while we Democrats insisted they couldn't be right, since they were wrong about everything else. Well, they're still wrong about most things, but I simply can no longer in good conscience deny that Billary don't deserve to be anywhere near the White House in the near future.

All this aside, I think she should not only stay in the race, but I think she ought to get as negative as possible. Toss the kitchen sink at Obama, I say. And I say this as a strong supporter of Barack Obama. Clinton's progressively deranged attacks on Obama merely discredit these lines of attack for the Republicans later on, although it should be admitted that I doubt the GOP will be suffering from a lack of lines of attack. Toss out Rezko again, why don't you? These attacks have an added bonus, too--they will completely poison the well of support for the Clintons within the Democratic Party. Again, I hate to admit it, but I find myself agreeing more and more with Andrew Sullivan these days with respect to the Clintons. Some of the stuff they trotted out this election cycle has been enough to make even my own cynical head spin. And now another Clinton surrogate has compared Obama to Jesse Jackson? Enough already! You lost! Texas is even up, and Ohio is closing rapidly with a week to go. It's over. Life, of course, goes on. To the Clintons I say, good riddance.
This is the best evidence so far that the Democrats will win this year...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake...

I've written about experience before, and Kevin Drum's argument is similar to what I believe: as it's used now, experience seems to mean little more than how much time one has spent in the public eye as a major figure.

This being said, I just don't think experience matters a whole lot to voters. Think about it: in the last four elections, the major party candidate with more government experience lost. Sure, two of those times the winner actually had more experience as president, but my point is that this seems to often be a losing argument. Nixon lost on it in 1960, despite running on Ike's record and popularity. Carter lost on it in 1980, and that was one of the few points in his favor. Bush 41 lost on it in 1992. And Gore's loss in 2000 came despite a concerted effort to paint George Bush as inexperienced. Sure, other campaigns have utilized experience to one degree or another, but these are the major ones that I can recall.

It seems like there are two different trends here: in 1960 and 2000, the incumbent party was coming off of a reasonably popular two-term presidency and both times ran a candidate promising to continue the status quo and was simply out-gunned. In 1980 and 1992, we were in the midst of two unpopular administrations, in the midst of poor economies that the respective chief executives seemed incapable of fixing, and both times the opposition candidates were charismatic and talented. To the extent that McCain seems intent on adopting Bush conservatism in order to appeal to his "base", it seems like his campaign is the prototypical example of the second trend--an experience candidate swimming against the increasingly powerful waves of change running through the country. And modern history does not seem to be too kind to such candidates.

Generally, I tend to loathe historical trends, but I think the pattern is pretty inescapable. In any event, after getting his base locked down, I fully expect McCain to start running as a Sarkozy-style change and continuity-style presidential candidate.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Clinton Turnaround

Matt Yglesias goes all ironic about the Clinton ground rules on which states' primaries count and which ones don't. But I wonder just how impressive Hillary Clinton's campaign looks if those rules were applied to her own campaign?
  • Right off the bat, Oklahoma and Tennessee don't count--those are dark red states that no Democrat can carry in the general election (like numerous Obama states like Nebraska, Alaska, etc.).
  • New Mexico and New Hampshire don't count because they were really, really close (like Missouri, which went for Obama).
  • Arizona, Nevada and California don't count because of all the Latino voters in those states that drove Clinton to victory there (parallel to Alabama, Georgia, etc., with respect to Obama and Black voters). Plus, Nevada was a caucus. So it is double discounted.
  • Arkansas and New York don't count because Hillary Clinton lives (or lived) in those states (like Obama with Illinois and, presumably, Hawaii).
So, going by Hillary Clinton's rules, she's only won two primaries that matter: Massachusetts and New Jersey, plus Florida and Michigan. The last two don't count, legitimately, since nobody campaigned there. They count big time, though, in Hillaryland. They're swing states, after all! Her reasoning seems to be that these four states ought to decide the Democratic nominee, because--well, because that's what suits the realities of her campaign. Bad faith arguments for 1000, Alex!

Let me just say that it's more than a little ironic that Hillary argues at the same time that we should make sure that every vote should count in MI and FL, where nobody campaigned, but dismisses the importance of everywhere aside from where she won, and in fact actively took measures to suppress voter turnout in Nevada.

Clinton's vetting

This seems sensible to me. Obama hasn't really gone after Clinton on this sort of stuff--the Kazakh guy, the tax returns, and so on--and he is the frontrunner at this point, so it doesn't make much sense for him to do so. Some might say that Obama's not playing on this level is a point against him, and that he's not willing to do what it takes to win, but I'm not sure. Obama doesn't seem to be willing to play especially dirty because he probably doesn't want to see the eventual nominee dirtied up because of him. It could be because he's a team player and realizes that he would have to work with a President Hillary Clinton if she were elected, and maybe it's because he's got decades to get elected president and he figures that if it doesn't happen this year, he doesn't want to poison the well for later. Perhaps it's because he doesn't want to alienate the Clinton-loving Democrats in the primary and general elections. Or maybe he just believes that maintaining the progressive coalition is more important than him getting the nomination. In any event, it doesn't necessarily mean he'd refrain from being the first to throw an elbow at John McCain (which he has been doing as of late).

Contrast this with the Clinton campaign, which has tried to inject racial politics into the primary campaign, which has attacked Obama on issues where he and Clinton actually agree, and has made noises about wooing pledged delegates away from Obama that were later disavowed. Granted, it hasn't been that nasty, but I've gotten far less of a sense from the Clinton campaign that she's much of a team player. If she loses, I don't doubt that she'll make an effort to actually see Obama elected, but her attitude seems to be more along the lines of "I'm going to win any way I can, even if that means exploiting every loophole I can find," instead of "I'm going to make my pitch and let the people decide." I'd just like to see Clinton say something along the lines of the second message every now and then is all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Texas for Obama?

Yeah, ARG hasn't exactly had a stellar record this cycle, so maybe I should take this with a grain of salt. What is striking to me is that Obama is nearly even with Latinos in Texas. Latinos are one of the few remaining groups with which Clinton has any real strength. If Obama's cracked that code, then the race truly is over. It would appear that the other recent polls of the state disagree...

I do find myself wondering just why Obama is not doing so well in Ohio. He's even with Clinton in the national polls, and Ohio should be reasonably favorable ground for him...he has done quite well in the Midwest, after all, and Ohio doesn't seem to have much of a history of bitterly polarized racial politics. The numbers worry me, but there's time yet.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


One of the reasons I love Wonkette so much is because, at its best, it rises to an almost Menckenesque level of wit. This is one of my favorite posts of all time (about John McCain):

Do you have special heroes who help you decide what to do in your life or whatever? John McCain sure does! And they tend to be fictional characters from ridiculous juvenile books and movies, generally about how romantic it is to get shot down or blown up for some pointless bullshit cause that was always a losing proposition that wasn’t even wanted by the people it would ostensibly benefit.

But it's this brief summation that makes it art: "In other words, McCain is a 70-year-old man who still reads Hemingway books." That is such a brilliant encapsulation of the man that it seems pointless to add anything to it. But there is more to him than just that. One interesting thing to note about John McCain is that he's never held a job outside of the government for very long. Between his army service and his congressional service he's been drawing a government paycheck for ages. His father was a powerful Naval officer. The sad thing isn't that McCain reads Hemingway books, but that he has so little life experience outside of the cocoon of the very powerful that he actually thinks that life is like that. And why shouldn't he? After all, he's got nothing with which to compare it. The worries of average folks are things that are to be looked down upon with contempt. It's all about honor and glory, which evidently comes to mean that middle class people should shut up about their mortgages and stuff, and just let the government give more money back to rich people.

The exodus begins? Plus the Edwards endorsement

One of Hillary's superdelegates bolts to Obama.

For some reason surpassing human comprehension, the media keeps playing up John Edwards's possible endorsement. Evidently, he might be leaning toward Clinton, but maybe not. I don't think he's likely to endorse her--he probably just wants to make it seem like a bigger story when he endorses Obama. He's shown a greater proclivity to help Obama in the past, and since I don't think HRC would offer him anything it doesn't really make sense politically.

In a greater sense, however, I find it hard to shake the belief that this endorsement is largely irrelevant. Had Edwards endorsed immediately upon exiting the race, he might (might!) have been able to divert his supporters into either the Clinton camp or the Obama camp. But, for whatever reason, he chose not to do so. It doesn't really make much sense to me unless Edwards is trying to keep his moment in the limelight from ending quite so quickly. Now that Edwards's supporters have migrated to the two remaining candidates, it seems unlikely that Edwards will be able to persuade the ones who went to the one he didn't choose to go to the one he did, especially if he keeps talking about how much he likes them both, how hard a decision it is, etc. Why would an ex-Edwards now-Clinton supporter switch sides because John Edwards says that he prefers Obama but still likes Clinton a lot? It's hardly a persuasive argument.

In essence, Edwards had a chance to impact the race, but he lost it because he wanted desperately to keep his candle burning a little longer. If I had to speculate, I would guess that even though Edwards's moment really has come and gone, he is probably not done running for things. He just likes the attention, and I can see a sort of Senator Moonbat thing happening in the future: he just seems like the sort of personality that would keep running for president with ever-diminishing returns. I could be wrong: who knows? I'm not a huge fan--I think he's a bit annoying, personally, and Wonkette aptly described his voice as a cross between Al Gore and Kermit the Frong. As for the present, his endorsement will have no effect on the race, as both sides have some former Edwards supporters and both sides have some progressive champions. Now, if Al Gore were to endorse someone--well, that would be far more significant. I don't think he will, because he really doesn't have anything to gain from doing it and he has a lot to lose if he picks the wrong pony.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vice President Rice

This article on why Condi makes some sense as a GOP VP makes, well, some sense--she adds some starpower, for sure. But the argument for why she'd assuage the religious right is less than laughable--they'd forgive McCain because Rice goes to church? Jimmy Carter is a regular churchgoer, as is Obama, but I would worry that Rice's firm pro-choice stance would actually cause McCain far more grief with religious conservatives, not to mention the amount of traction that Democrats could get out of playing that clip of Condi saying "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Within U.S."

And, ultimately, such a pairing just doesn't make much sense in another way: McCain's wingery on war is not in question. His wingery on social issues very much is. And picking a social liberal isn't going to cut it with that crowd. Sure, putting an ultra-hawk on the ticket might go over well with the "hell yeahs", but it isn't going to be enough. He's going to want to pick a "complete" conservative, and probably someone that the religious right in particular loves. Republicans like Condoleeza Rice, sure, but they probably don't want a pro-choicer a heartbeat away, especially with the elderly McCain in office.

This being said, the Iraq War really is the litmus test for today's GOP, even more than abortion, maybe even more than immigration. Or so we're led to believe. But while Condi on the ticket might have some upsides, it's a pretty risky proposition, and it would be just as likely to antagonize the Christianists as to please them. They might love her as SecState, but that's because they like her foreign policy. There's more to a VP, and less, than just foreign policy.

The McCain Train

This post by Ross got me thinking--why is McCain running a campaign based on the opposite of what the polls say, what common sense says, and what McCain himself has said on any number of issues? I don't think it's impossible for the GOP to win this election, but McCain's frame on the Iraq issue is terrible. By presenting the Iraq War as a choice between a summary withdrawal and staying in there for 10,000 years, he's making the summary withdrawal option much, much more attractive. Hell, even Bush has avoided saying stuff like that, even though he probably feels it. And most people, of course, want to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy.

Is it that McCain, despite (or perhaps because of) his favorable press coverage every time he voted against a Republican cloture motion, is convinced that being as against the conventional wisdom as possible is a ticket to victory? Has he started to believe the "Maverick" BS? Most people don't care about national honor in the same sense that McCain does--his conquest-oriented honor is more suited to the era of Napoleon than today. Most people don't think a failed invasion will be the end of America. I do suspect that he thinks that, deep down in his gut, most Americans don't want to lose this war. And maybe they would prefer not to. But most just don't care any more because they realize that it never had anything to do with protecting us, and the calculations to get into this war were less than honorable to begin with.

This is why I don't think McCain is a very good politician. He's gotten lots of favorable press, but surely he could come up with a better frame than this, and especially a frame that targets people other than himself? There's a very strange solipsism to John McCain--he seems to think that deep down, most people are like him--which manages the singular feat of being more simplistic than the Bush worldview. He's never really been in a close race for anything, so he lacks that experience. On the other hand, he has a lot of experience with getting beaucoup press for voting against the GOP caucus for kitten immunization or whatever, so he probably thinks that people really want to hear what they don't want to hear. He's made a name off of doing it, after all. Evidently getting beaten in Kansas and Louisiana and very nearly getting beaten in such religious right enclaves as Washington State and Virginia hasn't taught him that not all people like being told how to feel and how to be. McCain is a lecturer. A solipsistic lecturer. Plus a bad campaigner and all the rest. And I'm reasonably sure that he's not going to win this year. But we'll see.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Big Pimpin'

I agree with frere Kaus:

Either Chelsea is a political actor or she is not. If she can give speeches on her own and can call superdelegates, she is fair game, period.

I think that this whole dustup was a little silly. I'm not defending this Shuster fellow, but the Clinton campaign can't both put Chelsea out there to campaign and still try to protect her like they did in the 1990s.

Mountains into Mole-Hills

I know Andrew Sullivan is sort of a persona non grata among liberals these days, and not for no reason. And I know that the media's self-serving justification for covering horserace rather than policy is that a candidate's skill at running a campaign is predictive at how they'd perform as president (which is wholly untrue, by the way, as George W. Bush's campaigns were rather masterfully handled!). Still, I find Sullivan's post here to be rather accurate. Clinton's campaign was horribly run from the beginning, but it used to be the case that she had so much goodwill and institutional advantages that it didn't matter. Even if she does manage to pull this out, at least her campaign's weaknesses will be better known and will be improvable.

Does this necessarily mean that she would be a worse president? I'm unsure. I do think that the Obama campaign's success does speak well of his political abilities. But what I'd really be worried about is Hillary getting the nomination and running another terrible general election campaign, like she has in the primary. I'd be worried that, in the event of a win, she wouldn't learn the right lessons. I'd be worried that, despite all her talk about how she knows how to win, she has not exactly exhibited a tremendous amount of skill in that department. To some extent she overpromised things she couldn't deliver, but as I've said, frontrunners don't just give away delegates, even if they don't live in the right zip code. And the less said about Bill's role on the campaign, the better. Paul Krugman might like me to believe that the Jesse Jackson remark might open to multiple interpretations, but here's how it reads to me, "Barack Obama won South Carolina because he's Black. So did Jesse Jackson. And neither one will be elected president because of these facts." If anything, that's a reading that's overly charitable to Bill.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Obama Derangement Syndrome

Patient Zero: Paul Krugman. His article brings up some good points, but I'm not sure what he's getting at here:
I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.
That seems like a pretty venomous comment in and of itself--comparing Barack Obama to George Bush is a pretty low blow, and the connection here is tenuous at best. Does he mean to say that Obama will begin to show George Bush's narcissism because many people love him? Maybe that will happen, but the point is not proven in any way. Not to mention that, in a lot of ways, the Clintons' supporters could be considered a cult of personality as well. And why, exactly, is this comparison made? Because Obama has some fanatical supporters? I'll admit the point. Notice how this is all generalized, though: no specific examples, no statistics, no acknowledgment of some of the also-ravenous anti-Obama voices that have popped up on comment boards on blogs everywhere. At least he's honest about not being evenhanded.

The article does make some good points about the need to not just let unjust anti-Clinton smears stand, but Krugman is evincing a disturbing pattern here. For ages, he criticized Obama for being insufficiently left-wing, or something. Then that National Journal piece said that Obama was the liberal senator. So Krugman continues attacking Obama, but this time he starts using some new Beltway-tailored CW about the "cultlike" Obama campaign. Well, Obama inspires strong emotions in people. It's true. So what? The most charitable reading of his article is that he's worried that some Obama fans might sit out November if Obama is not the nominee, thus depriving Democrats of a victory. This is worrisome, I'll admit. But he cites no statistics or polls to back this up, it's just something he intuits. A more realistic reading is that Krugman has developed an intense, personal aversion to Barack Obama, most likely because the senator offered some muted criticism of Krugman months ago, and since then Krugman has been on the attack. Since he can no longer creditably attack him as insufficiently liberal he's now going to town against the guy on whatever he can find, even if the argument is riddled with generalities and conventional wisdom. I don't mind hearing criticism of Obama if it's correct (I suppose I'm not part of the cult), and I think that Krugman could be in a position to impact the campaign in a positive direction. Krugman, however, doesn't seem to get that he's destroying his reputation by writing these kinds of poorly-supported hit pieces. Let's reverse his hypothetical: what if Obama becomes the nominee? Then right-wingers will be able to quote "left-wing New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman" on how they're right to say that Obama's support is cultlike. He doesn't get it--he's committing the very sin he's condemning. Do as I say, eh...

Ultimately, I'm not sure this is even a good faith argument from Krugman--didn't Dean supporters say that they would bolt the party if Dean didn't get the nomination in 2004? And didn't they wind up being drawn back into the fold in the end? This is getting a little tiresome. If you don't want to be an Obama fan, that's fine. All I'm asking is that he adheres to his (usually) high standards.

The inevitable candidate, ladies and gentlemen...

Hillary Clinton's odds of winning the nomination: 3 in 10, according to Intrade.

Hillary is now pursuing the Giuliani Strategy, v. 2.0, and betting it all on Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio. She has just lost Maine. She isn't favored to win a primary or caucus for a month. Not only that, but her team is bragging about how little effort they put into these states that Obama recently won. I guess that's the only way they can go, but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence, now, does it?

As Obama wins more and more "blue" states, the meme that Hillary gets the vote of "blue state" Democrats loses coherence for her supporters. Illinois, Delaware, Connecticut, Washington, and now Maine--soon, Maryland, Virginia and D.C., and then Hawaii and Wisconsin. This thing is for real.

For the candidate that has doubled down on "experience" this isn't exactly confidence-inspiring. She doesn't seem to have a clue on how to go up against Obama in these contests--indeed, she seems to still be a step behind Obama instead of the other way around. Did she never even envision the possibility of the campaign going beyond Super Tuesday? Rookie mistake, that. At least her red-faced, finger-wagging husband is keeping out of things now.

Hillary lost her shot to knock Obama out of the race. Nobody is going to save her if she has a lower amount of pledged delegates at the end of primary season, and if she thinks she can snatch this thing with superdelegates she's crazy. At least half the Democratic Party would sit home on election night. The election is over. She lost.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Super Saturday! Thoughts

Andrew Sullivan:
Two words come to mind when assessing Clinton's apparent strategy to wait the primaries out till bigger, more fertile states: Rudy. Giuliani.
Indeed. I made the same exact comparison in my preceding post. But Sullivan's wrong: if this is Clinton's strategy, it's actually way, way stupider than Rudy's strategy. Rudy's strategy presupposed that Romney, Huckabee, McCain, Thompson, and Paul would all be fighting each other for delegates and that none would have a clear advantage going into Florida. And it wasn't just that the central premise of his strategy failed him--McCain did emerge as a plausible choice--but even if a frontrunner had not emerged, there was really no reason to expect Giuliani to be able to win the states he wanted to. Not getting news cycles for a long time just makes it seem like you're out of the race.

But Hillary isn't the frontrunner facing off against a half-dozen or so also-rans. She's facing one person who has had some incredible momentum in the past few weeks (and she isn't even the frontrunner, according to recent polls). Intrade now gives her about a 38% chance of winning the nomination. Now, she's literally giving away delegates. In other words, she doesn't seem like a candidate going full steam ahead on the way to victory in November--she seems like a candidate that has resigned herself to being beaten. She's going to make a good show of it, and she might win a primary or two along the way--West Virginia, perhaps Oregon, maybe Texas--before bowing out in June after Obama's lead in pledged delegates (and maybe even superdelegates, by that point) forces her to leave. But anything can happen, and in this race, it frequently has.


By the way, what in God's name is going on with the Republicans? It seems that they've not gotten the memo about John McCain being the nominee, and so far Kansas and Louisiana have both gone for Mike Huckabee, and Washington State is still very close. If McCain were to be swept five days after seemingly clinching the nomination--if he still cannot win anything in the South--he's in a spot of trouble. I just wonder what Huck's game is. He's not bleeding off votes from Romney any more. Is he trying to prove himself further to McCain for the VP slot? Maybe he's trying to get enough delegates to force McCain to give him the VP spot because he doesn't trust McCain to do it on his own, which is rather devious and potentially dangerous if he doesn't succeed. Or maybe Huckabee's just crazy? That cannot be discounted.

Here's what I think: if Huck really wants to be McCain's running mate, he'll drop out after the next major McCain victory. He can't very well do it tomorrow, not after winning, and theoretically he's got momentum from tonight. But after McCain's next big victory, he could pack it in without much controversy. So wait for McCain's next big night--presumably before he locks down the nomination for good, as then it would be too late for his dropping out to have any effect. As the movie says, "When the fall's all that's left, it matters." I have to believe that Huckabee realizes he's done and just wants to exit gracefully. Then again, if he gets a positive round of press coverage after this, and if he manages to get a nontrivial bump in the polls...maybe he'll start to believe he can become President. And he can't, but if he can win a couple of big winner-take-all primaries along the way, he can make life pretty miserable for McCain's campaign. Which is good news for Democrats. And maybe for Huckabee as well, if he wants to run for President again in 2012...

Yes Obama Can!

These guys still think Hillary Clinton's going to win the nomination, and they might be right. I'm not entirely convinced. To their credit, they both see it being a very narrow victory, which is possible. Hillary had her chance to knock Obama out of the race on Super Tuesday, and she couldn't. The race will never have conditions as favorable to her as it did on Super Tuesday. I just don't see another game-changing moment coming for Hillary--she's thrown everything she could at Obama, from Rezko to drug use, and he's only gotten stronger.

Matt's thesis seems to be that a press backlash against Obama, coupled with an odd Clinton win before the Ohio and Texas primaries, will ensure that she wins those and thus gets the nomination. I think a couple of assumptions are made here that aren't really warranted. Sure, we've seen some scattered articles on how the press is afraid of Obama's "messianistic" fan club, but that isn't necessarily a sign that the press is going to start treating him like Mitt Romney. This kind of thinking reminds me of how some pundits used to wonder aloud about whether the press would turn on John McCain after a single critical article of the man. Anything's possible, but John McCain is the token conservative that the media loves. And they might well decide to turn on Obama, but I'm not sure there's enough data at this point to support that thesis.

In any event, Clinton might win Texas, but I think Obama will in Ohio. He's done very well in the Midwest so far, and he'll have plenty of time to soften up the ground for a little retail politics. Texas will present a much greater challenge, admittedly, and it will be a test of Latino outreach. If he can win there, he wins it all, I think. I'm not sure that a single win will turn the whole game around, though--if Obama manages to put a bunch of victories together this month--say sweeping the contests this weekend, then the DC-area contests on Tuesday, then Wisconsin and Hawaii the week after--will Hillary start to recede into the background? As we saw with Rudy Giuliani's campaign, without the odd victory here and there, it's very difficult to get people to remember your name.

Matt is right to say that Hillary Clinton still does have a committed and large fanbase. However, at this point, it does not seem that they make up the bulk of the Democratic Party, as Obama has led in a couple of the new national polls. And I think Kevin's caveat is pretty likely to come to pass: if it eventually becomes clear that Obama will come out of the primaries with a victory with pledged delegates, you will probably begin to see a lot of pressure from party leaders for Hillary to exit for the sake of party unity. Whether she cares about party unity is an open question, but there will be defections if she doesn't drop out in this circumstance, which I do believe is likely to come to pass. And while the Clintons seem to be talented at trench warfare, as Kevin asserts, hasn't Obama shown some chops there as well? He excels at the back-and-forth and retail politics. Clinton does better with wholesale. And her base actually seems to be shrinking--she doesn't even hold her own against Obama with White folks anymore--it's basically just White women and Latinos at this point. Now, what she's got there is pretty damn near impregnable, but I'd say Obama has got some talents for this sort of game.

I still think Barack can win, and I think he can beat John McCain. Some Democrats might bemoan John McCain winning the nomination, but I don't. McCain is in a unique position in which he can stand up for the Bush worldview in its entirety while still claiming to be a war critic. He can pull off both continuity and change messages, in other words. Putting Hillary against McCain isn't going to work because of this--the two aren't as far apart on foreign policy as one might think, at least as far as their worldview seems to be concerned. A tie goes to the beloved straight-talker, in my estimation. Obama, on the other hand, has shown the willingness and the ability to engage that worldview and propose something different. Plus, the polls say he's more electable. So, it just makes sense to pick him. And as for those people who are worried about his political skills, let's not forget that if he pulls this off, he will have won the Democratic nomination for President by defeating Hillary Clinton! She had more advantages than most non-incumbents could ever have. I'd say he's got the acumen, and Hillary Clinton is actually pretty good on the attack, whereas one needs only recall McCain's Janet Reno joke to see what he's capable of in that department. John McCain is actually a very overrated politician--he is a terrible speaker, foot-in-mouth disease, so-so debater, messy personal history, not to mention his age, temper, and health.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

It occurs to me that when it comes to nominations, as in many things, the Democrats have got it figured out much more than the GOP. It occurred to me that, as the GOP largely loathes McCain, his victory would have been far less assured had they generally used a proportional awarding of delegates rather than a winner-take-all system for primary elections. McCain wouldn't have nearly the delegates he has now if they had been awarded in a proportional system--it seems bizarre that he's got nearly 80% of the delegates he needs despite breaking 50% in only a very few states. Now, the GOP is stuck with a nominee that many of its members cannot stand.

On a fundamental level, this sort of thing just seems silly to me. Why should a person win all of, say, Texas's electoral votes if, for example, they only squeaked by with a 38-36 victory? With the Democrats, it's all about the ground game, all about how well you do everywhere, and winning 80% is better than 60%, which is better than winning with 38% in a crowded field. How you win matters.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Democrats need to bring up Immigration

Democrats are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief that immigration will not likely be a major issue in this campaign. Since John McCain is the nominee, and since he's had his share of issues with this issue, the thinking goes, that we should just be grateful that he's the nominee and just shut the hell up about all that "comprehensive" stuff. Good for us, right?

Except that this isn't good politics. Sure, Democrats have something to lose on immigration, but there's something to lose on taking a bold stand on every issue. And all I know is that every time the words "immigration" and "McCain" appear in the same sentence, John McCain's conservative base--folks that generally like him otherwise--are going to remember that "amnesty" bill that he cosponsored with Ted Kennedy. They'll remember how Bush and his friends made subtle insinuations of racism about those who didn't support their bill, and they'll remember how the Senate almost passed an immigration bill that they, frankly, hated. And the fact that he has come pretty far from disavowing his earlier effort--"the people don't want it" is hardly a statement of changed principle--makes the issue still touchy for him. Put simply, every time immigration is in the news, it hurts John McCain. Simple.

So, why don't Democrats want to hurt John McCain?

It seems fairly obvious that Hillary Clinton is deathly afraid of this issue. These days, most issues tilt in favor of the Democrats by big margins, if the polls are to be believed. Immigration does, too, but not by much. Hillary believes, maybe rightly, that this is an issue on which conservatives have some juice, where the public generally agrees with them on a gut level, and where those with the "liberal" position are going to be endlessly smeared by the right-wing machine. At the risk of getting psychological, it is possible that Hillary Clinton is having flashbacks to her husband's disastrous health care fiasco, which seems to bear some similarities in terms of the reaction to that effort. Before Bush's plan, comprehensive reform was widely popular. Its popularity has greatly diminished, and Bush's immigration disaster was the last seminal moment in his presidency, in the sense that it effectively ended his presidency. The conservative grass-roots anger about immigration couldn't help but rattle the very same woman who saw health care go down in flames in a not dissimilar manner. Hence, the high-profile prevarications on driver's licenses and such. So, she's probably happy at just being able to ignore the issue if she becomes the nominee. Actually, this sort of pattern was pretty evident during Clinton's presidency on a whole host of issues. Conservatism was on the march, led by a grass-roots movement of angry people all too eager to rip the Clintons to shreds.

Disagree with this if you will, but I think it contains a certain amount of logic. Conservatives cannot call down on an angry, center-right populace any more. Bush has ruined that. But the immigration issue certainly has that kind of feel, doesn't it? Why bring up an issue that isn't going to help anyone?

What Hillary doesn't seem to realize is that the battle lines have effectively been drawn: the GOP base has already become largely anti-immigration, while the Dems are generally pro-comprehensive. Exceptions are rare. I doubt too many people are confused as to where the parties lie. The fact that the public is fairly evenly divided on this issue, then, ought to be a clue that the anti-immigration folks don't really have a stranglehold on this issue. And it can really work out for the Democrats. Consider these points:
  • During last year's immigration fiasco, anger at the Bush bill and calls to action were largely facilitated by conservative talk radio. Which, of course, McCain has already alienated. So, a couple attacks from the Democratic nominee on McCain that he's pro-amnesty would be unlikely to provoke a spirited defense from these elites. If anything, they'd be likely agree with Hillary/Obama. So, McCain would be fighting a two-front war, which is much harder to fight than just a single-front war. Just ask Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, etc.
  • But why would the Democrats want to say McCain's pro-amnesty? Aren't they pro-amnesty too? Well, since the word has largely become divorced of any real-world meaning, Clinton or Obama could just accuse McCain of supporting amnesty while saying that they don't support it. This would merely reinforce the pre-existing conceptions. For example, Hillary could just say in a debate, "Well, Senator McCain's solution to the immigration problem is amnesty. And I think that's a reasonable opinion to have. I just don't share it." All McCain would be able to say in response is that the Bush bill didn't support amnesty, which nobody is going to buy anyway, and maybe that Clinton really does support amnesty and that she's lying. But since her statement would actually be factually correct, according to most people, it would probably still hurt him more since calling Hillary Clinton a liar just seems played out, y'know?
  • Hillary could easily move to McCain's perceived right by talking about the need for border enforcement without mentioning earned citizenship or anything like that. At this point, I think that border absolutists so distrust John McCain that just hearing the other candidate make one or two of their arguments, even if it's that much-hated Hillary Clinton, would greatly increase their predisposition toward her. I'm sure this could be done without offending Latinos.
  • McCain's support among war enthusiasts who hate immigration on one hand and moderates who love it on the other is going to box him in pretty good in the general election--he'll keep talking about how he's learned his lesson or whatever. Clinton or Obama, on the other hand, would have a great deal of freedom to operate and try to drive apart his coalition. I mean, wouldn't an argument like, "Well, Senator McCain believes deeply in a multicultural America, as do I. And he believes in relatively loose immigration, just like I do. But he still believes in amnesty, which I don't agree with, and he also wants to militarize the border with Mexico, which I don't think is wise," hurt him with both groups pretty well? Clinton could probably pull this sort of thing off smartly, as she's already popular with Latinos and her muddled record is actually an asset here, as she can basically claim that she's on either side of the debate. McCain's stuck on one side. But Obama could probably do a pretty effective job of pointing out areas of agreement between himself and McCain, which would probably do a good job of disenchanting McCain voters.
In sort, John McCain doesn't want a campaign about immigration. He's got nowhere to go, and any mention of the issue hurts him. Which is why bringing it up is good for us.

Graphics! Analysis!

Here's something from the Los Angeles Times that shows how the primaries broke down geographically. It looks like Obama is very strong in the Plains, the Midwest, and the Deep South, plus a bit of strength in the Northeast. It is interesting to me that the "narrative" of Obama's support tends to be off: sure, he's very strong among Black voters, particularly in the Deep South, and has problems connecting with Whites in the South -- which can be seen in Clinton's big victories in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, states with smaller Black populations. So, the polarization can be seen there a bit. On the other hand, he destroyed Hillary in a whole mess of states where there isn't much diversity at all, as can be seen in the picture. And Missouri is a bit of a surprise, frankly -- did Claire McCaskill's endorsement make a difference? -- but so far Obama has won the all four primary contests held in the Midwest (Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa) and the latter three by wide margins (not counting Michigan, of course, since he wasn't on the ballot.) It bodes well for him with the upcoming Wisconsin and Ohio primaries, no? Indiana should be fertile ground as well, though that's far off at this point. And if the trends hold Obama should be able to walk away with the remaining plains primaries. So, if Obama manages to sweep through the Plains primaries, the Midwest, the rest of the Deep South (Texas will be tough, North Carolina ought to be more favorable, especially with a potential John Edwards endorsement?), and is able to pick off some more states in the Northeast and maybe Washington State -- he's got a pretty good chance of coming into Denver with a delegate lead. At this point, I'd say that Hillary has an advantage in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Vermont, Kentucky, Texas and Oregon.
The media is saying that the contest is about to get negative -- I'm not sure that's right, on the basis that the media has been wrong about pretty much everything this election cycle. Every time Hillary has really tried to go after Obama it's fallen flat or backfired, and Obama's numbers have only risen. Had Hillary kept Bill on the offensive (pun intended) and continued bringing up Obama and Rezko, etc., after South Carolina my guess is that she would have probably done far worse than she did yesterday. I guess the trajectory of her future campaign depends on how she sees her performance last night. One possibility is that she sees Super Tuesday as a victory, as a hard-won fight in which she managed to break Obama's momentum and win over blue state Democrats in big numbers, finishing with an advantage in the popular vote. If that's what she thinks, then she'll probably stick with the positive, issues-focused campaign that she's been running. The other possibility, of course, is that she interprets Super Tuesday as a night when she lost nearly 2/3 of the contests, lost most of the delegates, and lost a number of primaries which heavily favored her by huge margins. None of this was supposed to happen. This is not to mention that Obama has caught her in the national polls. If she starts to get worried that Obamentum is unstoppable, she might try to tear him down, on the logic that she has no other choice. To some extent, it depends on how the press reacts, and it seems like they're generally calling it a tie, or a slight Obama victory, which it probably is. But if Obama manages to win Washington, Louisiana, and Nebraska on Saturday, she would be right to feel threatened.

On the Republican side it broke down pretty simply. Huckabee got everything in the South, Romney won the Plains and Rocky Mountain States, and McCain won all the states that mattered. It's more or less official: McCain will be the GOP nominee. I'm not sure why conservative elites are treating this as a disaster rather than as an opportunity. I understand that the elites hate him for a variety of reasons, but the rank and file seem to like him, and going on a jihad against someone your flock likes seems like a losing proposition for you. Right now McCain could really use some establishment support, and Bob Dole ain't gonna hack it. I realize that the elites (rightfully) realize that McCain would rely on them far less heavily than Bush does, but if I were an influential conservative elite. I would figure that getting on board the Straight Talk Express now would be a good move. For one, going with McCain when everyone else is moving the other way would make me stand out. I'd be on the right side of GOP sentiment, and I'd be able to help burnish McCain's conservatism while he'd be indebted to me. The other conservative elites would probably despise me, but they'd be on the outside looking in while I'd be tight with President McCain. The net result would be an enhancement in my own power and influence with McCain and the conservative public, and I'd only have to give up the estimation of a bunch of paper tiger blowhards like Rush Limbaugh. Seems like a good trade.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.