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Friday, February 29, 2008
Does Sen. Obama Have Momentum?

An interesting, and thoroughly convincing analysis of why the automatic/ super- delegates of the party shouldn't force Clinton out of the campaign early. His argument is basically: " Obama has picked up 196 of his delegates with a total of 5.8 million votes in ten caucuses, a number that Clinton chews up and nearly swallows with her margin of victory in California alone."

Washington state obligingly provided a demonstration with its recent "beauty contest" primary. On February 9th, Washington held a caucus that Obama won by nearly 40 points with 250,000 voters (a relatively small turnout). Two weeks later, the state held a primary that didn't count. The state didn't have any other major issues on the ballot. Voters were forced to sign a declaration swearing they belonged to the party whose primary they were voting in. Finally, the vote occurred after several weeks of solid Obama victories, which would presumably serve to inspire Obama and depress the Clinton vote. All these factors suggest that only the most dedicated voters would turn up, and that any undecided voters would be likely to be swayed towards Obama by the momentum he has built up.

A million voters showed up for the "meaningless" primary. Obama’s margin of victory shrunk to just 5 points. Without exit polls, demographic popularity can’t be assessed with certainty, but many of Washington's counties have nice clean demographic splits. Yakima County, which is 40% Hispanic, went 53-43 for Clinton. Cowlitz County, a white working class county, went 58-39 for Clinton. Overall, Clinton won or tied in 17 counties, which means that the delegate apportioning would have had very different results with a primary--particularly if voters had thought it counted.

Thus, examined closely, Obama's seemingly overwhelming victories show no certain momentum and no measurable progress in the key demographic groups. Democrat voters have now been subjected to a month or more of overwhelming media onslaught about Obama's victories. Yet the Washington primary, held just last week, strongly suggests that white and Hispanic Democrat voters have remained unconvinced....

If the Democratic nomination were the end result of the process, we could all marvel at the Obama campaign's genius at effectively making use of the party's delegate apportionment system and liberal caucuses. However, the nominee in this case only gets the opportunity--and the responsibility--to take on a popular maverick moderate in the general election.

The consistency of the exit polls strongly suggests that a pledged delegate count is almost meaningless as an indicator of the most viable candidate. Whether the Democrats opt for Clinton or Obama, the demographic tradeoffs have thus far proved so unyielding that they should be paramount in the final decision, rendering delegate counts irrelevant.

Any practical assessment of the primary results reveals that Hillary Clinton has won the usually essential demographics consistently and by wide margins. Obama’s coalition of blacks and highly educated voters will not be enough on their own. Against Hillary's demographic support, Obama can offer his strong showing among white independents and Republicans and argue that his support will carry over to the general. However, Clinton has won the independent vote in primaries nearly as often as Obama has, many states by equally large margins, although Obama has won the majority of these voters....

The combination of caucus primaries and strong independent/Republican presence has already overridden the voter will. The candidate who has lost California, New York, Florida, New Jersey, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Okalahoma by substantial margins is ahead on the strength of caucus wins in Kansas, Nebraska, and Idaho, coupled with a combination of white independent/Republican and an understandably skewed black vote in South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and Virginia primaries. Currently, even if caucus votes are added in, Clinton appears to be ahead in total Democat votes. If the entire primary season were to run its course with no significant demographic change, Clinton will win the Democrat vote overall, even assuming all caucus voters are Democrats. It's hard to argue that the party’s popular will hasn't been clearly expressed in favor of Hillary Clinton.

It's a very powerful argument, I think, and one that should give voters a pause about bringing the process to an early close. Moreover, it suggests the importance of a Clinton-Obama unity ticket. And yes, I have been saying this for a while now.

Sunday, February 24, 2008
Good News For the Dartmouth Observer

ChienWen and I wanted to extend a hearty welcome to our newest co-blogger: Kwame Holmes. Kwame is also an intellectual based in Chicago. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in History at the University of Illinois. Soon, he'll send me his "blurb" and I'll put it on the side with the rest of us.

In addition to his impressive command of many subjects social, cultural, and historical, Kwame is a proud part of the Obama demographic and is here to "balance" Observer coverage (read: opining) about the upcoming American presidential and congressional elections. I doubt, however, that his contributions will be limited to jousting over the best leader for the 'free world' and will include many of his reflections on social power, social movements, and politically-salient and ordering identities (in America).

And, in other positive news, Tina Fey (of SNL) has a great skit about Sen. Hillary Clinton, "Bitch is the New Black."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More of the same for and from Clinton while Obama sharpens his message:

Did Hillary pick up staffers from the Giuliani campaign or something? I don't get this new version of "win it in Florida." that her campaign seems to be going for. It's the like the Heroes (trademark) version of presidential politicis, "Win Texas. Win the world." (duh-duh-duuuuh)

In all seriousness, things are looking particularly bad for the Clinton campaign and it's getting closer to the point where the true origins of increasing voter malaise towards Hillary need to be uncovered. Not only because it will be intellectually interesting to see how so spectacularly a major front runner can come crashing down to earth in a Presidential campaign, but also because her campaign needs to prescribe solutions for what has become a serious threat to her presidential bid.

The recent staffing changes at high levels of the Clinton campaign have done nothing to alter her message, change her speaking style or reach out to new constituencies. Why didn’t the introduction of a new campaign manager also introduce a shift in Clinton’s message? It’s not unreasonable to assume that both Hillary and Bill are less willing to delegate campaign strategy than earlier reports indicated. Whether my speculation is valid or not, her unwillingness or inability to change the tone of her campaign illustrates to Americans that she doesn't have the ability to offer "change" in Washington.

And no longer can Clinton strategists make backroom jokes about the potentially amorphous interpretation of the meaning of "change." In his nearly 45 minute victory speech in Texas, Obama explicitly reached to the left and proposed some of the most sweeping federal social policy the country has seen since the Second New Deal. While keeping the crowd energized with mini bursts of inspirational rhetoric, he began the critical process of melding images of American patriotism and nationalism with socially progressive ideas. (more on Barack’s attempt to model the U.S. on Western European Democratic Socialist states in a later entry)

Some might note that this was, in general, a comparatively reserved Obama crowd, they were presented with quite a lot to think about. The parts of the speech where specific policy proposal and rhetorical energy collided will be an important gauge for Obama's ability to wrap progressive ideas into a message of "service, honor and patriotism." His best moment dealt with his promise to give every college student a $4,000 credit for tuition. That’s a big chunk of change and, very easily, the kind of thing that the right wing could pounce on as “tax and spend” liberalism. But he brilliant countered with the requirement that students who received these grants will have to complete a certain number of hours of community service in order to receive the funds. The implications for this program are transformative and every left leaning person who supports the Clinton campaign, yes even you, needs to take a serious gander at it.

Currently, most college students survive on a combination of parental funds, student loans and a second job. Student loans are the biggest economic burden on students as high interest rates means that the larger their initial bill is, the longer their loans will be a drag on their economic future. By offering to cut the initial tuition bill by $4,000 Obama’s plan will lower the amount of interest they accrue each year, making the debt easier to pay off quickly. I also suspect this legislation will have a provision for lowered interests rates on Federal student loans.

Even more important, Obama is laying out a practical way to enact the feel good, “yay unity!” portions of his speeches. By requiring community service in hospitals, retirement homes, community gardens and so forth, Obama will put young people to work fulfilling the emotional infrastructure that can make living in poverty less psychological damaging. Enforced or not, by when community service becomes part of what America does via a mandate in federal legislation, that sends a signal to everyone. For middle class college students, close contact with economically disadvantaged people will break down some of the false cultural barriers that allow most Americans to remain apathetic about poverty and to understand poor people as suckers of the government teat. It will help to erode the physical and social distances between the suburbs and the inner city. The very thing he has been talking about throughout his campaign.

It will be interesting to see what the Clinton campaign will do to counter Obama. Exit polls indicate that nearly every one of her talking points of the last week were rejected by voters. Most notably, voters were seriously turned off by the negative attacks orchestrated by the Clinton campaign in the days leading up to the campaign. If anyone was concerned that Obama’s failure to “cite” a personal friend during an effective portion of a speech would hurt his support among Democrats, they are no longer. The next few weeks are going to be critical for Clinton, let’s she if “yes she can” enact “change” within her campaign that Americans can “believe in.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Media Double Standards

From a great article about how Clinton's narrative about the race are trapping her, whereas Obama's are freeing him.

Divergence in tone is one thing, double standards [in the are another. And it’s the latter that most galls the former advisers to the other, now-departed, Democratic candidates. “Obama has been able to get away with a stunning amount of hypocrisy that would get called on her,” says one such operative. “They’ve run the nastiest, most deceptive pieces of paid media: the mailer they did lying about her health-care plan, with the Harry and Louise look-alikes. The idea that it took Hillary growling Tony Rezko’s name in a debate to get any national coverage. How he complained in Iowa about 527s and then had them supporting him like crazy in Nevada and California. And nobody says a peep about it. It’s fucking comical!”

There are countless other examples of this syndrome, both large and small. The way that Clinton’s famous fumbling of a question about whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to have driver’s licenses in a debate last fall was hammered on for weeks—whereas Obama’s flubbing of the same question in the next debate was essentially let slide. The way that Obama’s evisceration of his rival in his stump speeches was applauded by the media—whereas Clinton’s plunge into negative territory was widely condemned. The way that Clinton was roundly criticized for being inaccessible, and thus unaccountable, to the press—when Obama has since January been even less available for questioning than she.

The Questioning Leads to the Thinking

And so a great philosopher, Martin Heidegger, has said.

Recently, on the campaign trail, the Democratic Party's "workhorse", Sen. Hillary Clinton, has been saying, "When the lights are out, when the campaigns are done, and when everyone has gone home, who can you count on?" At first, Democrats were behind her, moved slowly, and then more swiftly to Sen. Barak Obama. The party sentiment seemed to be: when the lights were out, the Clintons would look out for themselves, but Sen. Obama would remain true to his pledges and beliefs.

After some magnificent, though expected wins from Maine to the Washington Caucus to the Potomac primaries in the Super Tuesday aftermath, Sen. Obama has become the front runner. With that status has also come heightened scrutiny, with more voters and pundits asking, "What's this show all about anyway?" After the next few weeks I predict: Republicans and conservatives are going to get off the Obama bandwagon soon, with Democrats who want to win shortly behind them.

David Brook's column, I think, accurate portrays what many of us less starry-eyed youth have been saying all along:

The afflicted had already been through the phases of Obama-mania — fainting at rallies, weeping over their touch screens while watching Obama videos, spending hours making folk crafts featuring Michelle Obama’s face. These patients had experienced intense surges of hope-amine, the brain chemical that fuels euphoric sensations of historic change and personal salvation.

But they found that as the weeks went on, they needed more and purer hope-injections just to preserve the rush. They wound up craving more hope than even the Hope Pope could provide, and they began experiencing brooding moments of suboptimal hopefulness. Anxious posts began to appear on the Yes We Can! Facebook pages. A sense of ennui began to creep through the nation’s Ian McEwan-centered book clubs...

Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he’s waffling on his promise. Why does he need to check with his campaign staff members when deciding whether to keep his word?

Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?

If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate? A People for the American Way computer program would cast the same votes for cheaper.

And should we be worried about Obama’s mountainous self-confidence?

These doubts lead O.C.S. sufferers down the path to the question that is the Unholy of the Unholies for Obama-maniacs: How exactly would all this unity he talks about come to pass?

How is a 47-year-old novice going to unify highly polarized 70-something committee chairs? What will happen if the nation’s 261,000 lobbyists don’t see the light, even after the laying on of hands? Does The Changemaker have the guts to take on the special interests in his own party — the trial lawyers, the teachers’ unions, the AARP?

The Gang of 14 created bipartisan unity on judges, but Obama sat it out. Kennedy and McCain created a bipartisan deal on immigration. Obama opted out of the parts that displeased the unions. Sixty-eight senators supported a bipartisan deal on FISA. Obama voted no. And if he were president now, how would the High Deacon of Unity heal the breach that split the House last week?

What will a politics of hope look like if it's worse and more nasty than anything the Clintonites or the McCain team has engaged in (e.g. trying to intimate black superdelegates in support of Clinton)?

Saturday, February 16, 2008
Wounded in the House of Friends

One of Sen. Clinton's rallying cries is that she can withstand the Republican machine, and that she won't go down without a fight. The HuffPo has an interesting piece on how it was her party, the Dems, and not the Republicans, who seem intent on doing her in.

Every time I hear a Democrat argue for Barack Obama's candidacy by saying that we don't want to go back to the partisanship of the '90s, I realize that while the Clintons may have won the battle back then, the conservatives won the war. A decade after Bill Clinton's impeachment for trying to cover up a bit of extramarital nookie, the common wisdom -- at both ends of the political spectrum -- seems to be that Bill and Hill somehow encouraged all the insanity thrown at them from the far right, that they brought it on themselves.

What's even crazier is that people truly believe Obama, with his boyish good looks and vague platitudes of amorphous "change" and "yes we can," will somehow defuse the haters on the right. In Yes We Can Land, the Republican attack machine that's already spit-shined and ready to roll will back down in the face of that winning smile and polished speaking style, inaugurating an era of love, peace and non-partisanship. And for the topper, maybe Dick Cheney will spontaneously burst into flames!

Hillary offers change -- certainly a huge change from the last eight years. And the title of first female president of the United States is no small taters. But Democrats say sorry, you're not changey enough. Knowing how to work with Republicans and actually get legislation passed becomes that old slur "Washington insider." Knowing her policy shit inside out, and talking about it on the stump, becomes "Not inspiring enough." I feel like it's only a matter of time before her universal health care plan becomes "socialized medicine."

Unlike Mr. Sach's, however, I'll never count a Clinton out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008
Is Senator Clinton the Most Electable Democrat?

There's been a lot of chatter lately on the polls that show Sen. Clinton narrowly ahead (48-47) of Sen. McCain in a match-up poll, and Sen. Obama with a slightly large gap over McCain (49-47). This has led to the meme that Sen. Obama is more electable and the Hillary is not.

However, what most laymen who read polls fail to understand is the snapshot nature of polls, when public opinion, in fact, is quite dynamic. If you look at the (mostly exit poll) data, you would note several statistical regularities that hold up in the match-up polls: (a) currently independents favor McCain, (b) men favor McCain, and (c) Republicans are itching to run against Clinton.

Three pieces of evidence, however, should turn us away from the naive "Obama is more electable" narrative.

(i) In the current polls, Obama-McCain, and Clinton-McCain are in a statistical tie. The margin of error is four points, and both candidates are always within 2 of McCain, which has not changed for a few weeks. Moreover, in three way races between Obama-McCain-Clinton, which would never happen in reality, Clinton beats Obama handily and loses to McCain narrowly.

(ii) As late as early January, Clinton, according to polls, had the support of 40% of the Democratic black community.

(iii) McCain, after supposedly wrapping up the nomination, continues to lose states to Mike Huckabee, and requires prominent conservatives to assure everyone that he is a "real conservative. Even in states McCain wins, he splits the independent vote with Governor Huckabee, and looses the evangelicals in droves.

Looking at (ii), we now know that this black support has dropped to 10-15%. Why is that? Mostly the bad news that came out of South Carolina. That suggests that even a poll that was stable through the fall, summer, and last winter can dramatically change in the course of campaigning. In short, support is dynamic and responds to campaigning. Let's keep that in the back of our minds.

In light of (i), a large function of Obama's appeal to independents and the disaffected is that so far no record of politicking has come to light. For many Democrats, he is an unknown quantity, and they tend to support Clinton. More importantly, when Obama and Clinton divide the electorate, McCain has a larger plurality. If Obama was so popular among disaffected Republicans, and we have evidence that McCain does not appeal to the disaffected conservatives in particular, then Obama, and not McCain, should have the largest plurality of voters. Yet McCain continues to receive the potential votes of Republicans--some of whom may like Obama and hate Hillary--who vote straight Republican tickets.

This piece of evidence suggests that Clinton is more electable because the Democratic base likes her, and she can spend more of our resources in outreach, and making a competent case for Democratic policies, than Obama who would likely need to introduce himself to the voters. We know that voters who tend to meet Clinton late in the game (within the last week and on the day of voting) tend to break toward her.

Moreover, this is why recently, the center-left and the rightists have been comparing Obamania to a cult and attacking Sen. Obama rather than Sen. Clinton. Because the voters don't know him, the sooner his opponents can define the narrative (establishing him a media phenomena, a rich liberal, a campaign built on platitudes, an inexperienced politician whose never finished a term i office, a timid politician who votes present, doesn't report for Senate duty, isn't prepared to deal with the terrorist threat, surrounded by liberal law professors when two Supreme Court vacancies are up--in short treating him like they treated Edwards last election), the easier he'll be able to beat in the general election.

Yet, one could say that precisely because Clinton is known, the independents won't move toward her. This is where (iii) and political independents come into play.

The conventional wisdom is that McCain will have to go to his right to win his party over, which includes choosing a rightist governor as his running mate. Moving to his right, however, pushes McCain away from independents in two ways. (a) What independents value is his maverick
streak; pandering to the right is the opposite of maverick. (b) What the right-wing loves is to attack Hillary, and what independents hate are smear campaigns. Precisely because Hillary is learning how to campaign non-negatively, and precisely because her only hope of keeping Obama-supporters in the general election is to continue doing so, the right-wing will look absolutely nuts and drive the independents away in droves.

The alternative, that McCain doesn't placate his base, is that the united Democratic-base, feminist independents, and Hillary-leaning independents turn out for Hillary in the election and the Republicans don't. Giving Clinton the election handily.

This doesn't even factor is the Latino and Asian voters, which Bush won in 2000 and increased his margins in 2004, or the percentage of women in the electorate and how they seem to dislike the politics of pile-on.

Basically, we Clinton wins either way. If only she and her team were making the case.

Monday, February 11, 2008
Is Senator Obama The Most Electable Democrat?

You didn't hear it from me:

It's not a pretty picture for the Democrats. But the main thing is that Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska account for only 25 electoral votes between them, fewer than the state of Florida all by itself, and two of them (Nebraska and Louisiana) voted solidly for George Bush in 2005 -- meaning they are hardly bellweathers for Democratic candidates.

Nobody would be better pleased than me to see Obama showing great strength (in a prior post I said I hope he gets the nomination as he seems like a softer target for McCain), but it's simply stupid to say he's doing that, and in fact all Obama really accomplished over the weekend was just to win largely insignificant Washington State, which voted Democratic in 2004. As the map clearly shows, the states that really matter to Democrats in the actual election contest against the Republicans are California, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan. Clinton has prevailed in every single one of these states to have been contested so far except for Illinois -- and that's Obama's home turf. The only one left is Pennsylvania, which doesn't hold its primary until April 22.

In other words, if Obama does somehow manage to become the nominee, the Democrats may well turn out to have pulled a Dukakis (Mondale, McGovern) once again. They'll be sending the candidate who lost in their primaries all the states they must win in the general election, and the one utterly without a resume, to do battle against the party that has dominated presidential election contests since World War II and a candidate who is a legitimate national hero.

Vis a vis the electoral map, here are the additional states that Clinton puts into play that Bush won in 2004: New Mexico*, Arizona+, Arkansas, Iowa*, Florida+, Missouri* and Nevada
(*indicate states that Obama also puts into play)

So, to sum it up: Sen. Clinton, assuming that all of the blue states stay blue, puts the following states into play at the presidential level (electoral votes in parentheses): New Mexico (5), Arkansas (6), Iowa (7), Florida (27), Missouri (11), and Nevada (5). Given the slim margins of the 2000 and 2004 races, this represents a significant amount of votes. Regarding the House of Representatives and the Senate, Clinton's coattails should put the following states in play: New Mexico, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, and Nevada. (I can get a list of vacant seats in the House and Senate from somewhere as well.) We don't yet know about Ohio or Pennsylvania yet, but Gov. Ed Rendell (PA) has endorsed her.

+If John McCain chooses Gov. Crist as his running mate, then Florida could be more of a toss-up and makes the Latino and African-American vote more important. (Bush took 40% of the Latino vote in 2004.) John McCain is also the Senator from Arizona.

Since everyone believes that blue states will stay blue, then Clinton's ability to peel off a few red states from Bush 2004 coalition gives her the election by a comfortable margin in the 2008 electoral college.

Thursday, February 07, 2008
An Amazing Political Journey

From the LA Times:

Mimi Vitello, a nurse who hosted a round table for Barack Obama in her backyard last month in Van Nuys, is on her way to vote.

But not necessarily for Obama....

"I've gotten more engaged than I have in the past, and this election is more important to me," says Vitello, who can't recall ever doing so much soul-searching before casting a vote.

Walking toward Burbank Boulevard as the sun burns through the morning chill, Vitello explains her political evolution. She used to think politicians were all alike, so why waste time following such a down and dirty, money-driven process? And besides, she thought, what difference could her vote make?

But that detachment ended after her vote for President Bush in the year 2000. Vitello, who grew up in a Republican home in Covina, came to believe she'd made a terrible mistake. She found both the march to war and the results of the invasion a huge turnoff. She switched parties, registered her pique in a letter to Republican Congressman David Dreier -- who had once paid a visit to the home of her politically active parents -- and voted for John Kerry in 2004.

So it felt like just one more step in her political evolution to find Barack Obama in her backyard.

"I did kind of get swept up in the 'Yes we can' movement," says Vitello, who found the Illinois senator a natural, inspirational speaker with his own manner of star power.

When I checked in with Vitello last week to ask if I could write about her ultimate choice and how she made it, she told me she was all but certain to vote for Obama.

Then came last Thursday's debate in Los Angeles, and Sunday's town hall meeting, and Vitello started wondering if she'd dismissed Clinton too hastily. She'd lost some of her senatorial distance, Vitello thought, and become more likable without losing any of her no-nonsense relationship with complex issues.

Crossing the boulevard Tuesday morning to get to her polling place, Vitello strides with purpose, comfortable with a decision she has worked through thoughtfully. At the Burbank Oaks Apartments, she takes her ballot and does her duty. And Hillary Clinton gets the vote of a woman who had Barack Obama in her backyard.

Yes, Vitello says, it helped that Clinton is female. But it was about more than either gender or race.

She decided Obama's inspirational call for change was no match for the trench work Clinton is capable of. As a nurse, Vitello has studied with interest the national healthcare reform proposals by the two candidates, and she's found Clinton's a bit more to her liking and more realistic.
I can really understand where she is coming from.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Immediate Reactions to the State of the Democratic Race

As any reader of this blog knows, I am a Clinton fan. I've been behind her for years and am excited by the progress that she has made as a candidate and a politician. As a political and registered independent, I've been proud to support her campaign.

When the Democratic race first started, I was excited that as long as John Edwards, Chris Dodd, or Joe Biden did not win, I would be happy no matter who took the nomination. This feeling of satisfaction continued even when the race effectively narrowed to Senators Obama and Clinton over the summer.

Recently, however, I've stopped feeling the Obama-love. I've always liked Clinton more on substance but watching the "feeling" that some affluent (and oftentimes jaded) liberals get from Obama has made me proud of his candidacy. Occasionally, when listening to his speeches, I've even felt moved. When the feeling wears off, I find myself irritated that his supporters don't demand more. Change is so very non-specific.

Part of my objection is that, in a nutshell, we're being asked to take it on faith that Obama will know what he's doing when he gets into the White House. (The irony that the Democracy may answer years of chafing under Bush with another young, ambitious (arrogant) male who wants to "learn on the job" strikes me as ironic and tragic.) It also makes me a little nervous.

This is probably why I am annoyed with the video, which has a lot to do with my revulsion at America's culture of celebrity.