Friday, February 29, 2008

War: Still "Fan-tastic"?
I've written before on this site about how I think America's political establishment has a structural bias toward the aggressive use of force. The reasons for this include the volunteer nature of the military--the Princeling of Wales aside, few sons and daughters of the rich and powerful find themselves in harm's way--the political adrenaline shot of state-sanctioned violence, and the ongoing fear on the part of Democrats to be labeled weak on defense or anti-military. These factors all pushed the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party in particular to support every potential war that's come down the pike, most notoriously Iraq. And it informs a fear-mongering mindset that the Hillary Clinton campaign evidently has seized upon as its last, best chance to wrest the nomination away from Barack Obama.

Putting aside the dubious merits of the argument (and the quick, and to my biased eye effective, response of the Obama campaign), I'm most interested in seeing whether or not this works and what it means for the general election race. John McCain, whatever his other merits and demerits, has an approach toward war that makes Hillary Clinton look like Dennis Kucinich. He's already starting to advance an argument that, boiled down, Obama is a wimp. Coming from McCain, famously a prisoner of war in Vietnam and the father of an active combat veteran, this attack has an obvious emotional resonance--as do the appeals to "honor" that I think he will start advancing.

But both logic and recent history much favor Obama's side of the argument. Considering Iraq through the realist's prism--national interest and opportunity costs--the engagement there ties us down in the region and around the world, it doesn't allow us to get past the severe damage done to our international prestige by Abu Ghraib, it strengthens Ahmadinnerjacket in Iran, and it cripples our leverage to solve Israel/Palestine--which remains the pivot point of security issues and politics in that part of the world. (Take Israel off the table and suddenly it's a lot harder for the repressive Arab regimes to justify or divert attention from their internal governance practices.) Of course, our occupation of Iraq also remains the best recruiting tool for Al Qaeda--while, in terms of those opportunity costs, keeping bin Laden off the hook for what he did to us. And in human terms, it's brutal on the too-small military and their families--perhaps explaining why they've given more money to the neo-isolationist Ron Paul and to Obama than any other candidates.

I'm fairly confident that Obama has the independence of mind (and the rational advisers) to resist the institutional pull toward a more pro-war stance, and the communication skills to cut through the media's pro-war bias and make these points to the electorate. But we won't know until he does it, and if nothing else this late attack from the Clinton campaign should give a hint as to how this will play out.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Erasing Myths
On the all-too-short vacation, I read David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter," a superb history of the Korean War. As he generally did, Halberstam tells a hell of a story in this one, blending in gripping anecdotes of nightmarish combat with full and balanced consideration of the geopolitical context and sharp character sketches of the key military and political personalities. But beyond the powerful narrative, the book was terrifically enlightening for me as a reminder that the general sense we have today of "the postwar period"--that policy differences were mostly small and politics were relatively civil, that the "vital center" held--is far, far off the mark from how things were perceived at the time.

Halberstam details a vicious and irrational political climate in which many, probably most, Republicans assailed the Democrats for "losing" China and the conduct of the Korean conflict yet simultaneously called for a return to pre-World War II isolationism, and supported the mad and ultimately disastrous tactics of Douglas MacArthur but refused to see that his vision of wider conflict against communist China would likely lead to a third world war. These were the Taft-McCarthy Republicans who hated Dwight Eisenhower almost as much as Harry Truman, and who nursed their resentments at having the 1952 nomination stolen from Robert Taft through Ike's two terms and backed Barry Goldwater twelve years later. But it wasn't just those on the right; as Halberstam tells it, most of the country--and no small number within the government--was very unhappy with the burdens of the Cold War. The public outpouring of support for MacArthur after Truman fired him might have reflected this; certainly Eisenhower's easy presidential win in 1952 did. It's not that they embraced isolationism or were soft on the Communists; far from it. But the national view of the Cold War that I remember from my childhood--stoic acceptance and resolute commitment, more or less--did not immediately take.

In an odd way, I find this very reassuring. I think like a lot of people, I worry that the country no longer has the stomach to take on the great challenges of our time--not the Communist Menace anymore, obviously, but global warming and violent religious extremism abroad, and the shift to an information economy and really creating equality of opportunity at home. But "The Coldest Winter," among its many other virtues, reminds us that our predecessors didn't immediately embrace their historical task either. Under the mostly solid, if not always applauded, leadership of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, they came to it gradually. Terrible mistakes were made (and worse ones narrowly avoided) and moral lines were blurred if not erased, but ultimately the efforts met with success: the Cold War never erupted into global conflict, and the better side won.

From an initial moment of uncertainty, resentment, anger and division, great things eventually resulted. Maybe it can happen again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bullets and Links
I'm out of town on vacation for a few days starting tomorrow and probably won't add anything while gone, but here's some reading material I've come across the last few days and found worthwhile:

  • The internal incoherence of John McCain's "economic team" (be warned: this is a Weekly Standard piece. It's also damn good, so shut your yap.)

  • Two views of inequality in the U.S. economy and what to do about them: from the left, Harold Meyerson, in recent testimony to a House committee; and from the right, a software CEO named Jim Manzi, writing in the National Review. (Scared yet?) Meyerson nails the diagnosis, and I basically agree with his prescriptions, but the "hollowing out" hypothesis is significantly overstated, as this recent study of labor market projections by labor market analysts Harry Holzer and Robert Lerman details. The Manzi piece is totally fascinating: he tells the best story I've heard about Reagan-era supply-side economics and how they exacerbated inequality as a negative externality of economic growth, but then shoehorns weird right-wing "solutions" (destroy public education?) that would do nothing to solve the problem he's ostensibly addressing. Still, an A for effort.

  • New York magazine's John Heileman offers one explanation for what went wrong in the Clinton campaign: through a combination of bad fortune and bad strategy, she is losing--or already has lost--a war of narratives. Here's another "pre-post-mortem," focusing more on tactics.

  • And the Obama campaign, meanwhile, is closing in on their millionth donor. They really should give the lucky guy/girl a prize--shots with Michelle Obama or something like that. I think Obama is both symptom and cause here: he's clearly an inspiring guy and has run a tactically superb campaign, but the Democrats also just have an edge at this sort of thing. And it doesn't necessarily mean much for November success: Barry Goldwater broke all kinds of ground in terms of grass-roots activity and donations in 1964, but still got crushed.

  • Finally, I remembered something on the way home tonight that had bugged and mystified me: during the Super Bowl, a Fox bumper into commercial featured the Arcade Fire song "No Cars Go." It's a dramatic piece of music and was well suited for the occasion... but Arcade Fire is famously unwilling to license their music for any commercial purpose. A Google search revealed that Fox didn't get permission--which strikes me as a pretty big freakin' deal. To my surprise, though, it seems they have little shot to make Fox pay big-time. Hey, at least the Giants won.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Kitchen Sink
Sometimes style can tell you a lot. A day before the Wisconsin primary. the Clinton campaign evidently has decided to empty out the fecal arsenal: today's charges against Barack Obama include that he plagiarized a speech from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a friend and supporter, and that Obama is a hypocrite for his indecision on whether or not to take public financing for the general election, should he win the nomination. (Clinton also probably would opt out of public financing... but then, nobody expects her to do the "right" thing.) This follows on the heels of last week's Clinton attack--that Obama was ducking his opponent because he didn't want to debate in Wisconsin, even though the candidates are slated to face off Thursday in Texas and next Tuesday in Ohio.

Obama responded to the debate attack with an ad of his own, blasting the charge as "the same old politics." Of course it is; that's how the game is played, and that's certainly how the Clintons play. At best, one can sympathize with their frustration that Sen. Clinton's previous line of attack--that her health care plan is universal, while Obama's isn't, necessarily--didn't take. Then again, their internal polling might have yielded the finding that people don't take well to mandates that would include having their wages garnisheed; maybe Obama's more incremental and consensual approach, a nod to the "politics of the possible," is preferable on PR if not policy grounds. So it's back to the distortion and slander game.

It might work. Clinton is still well ahead in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, all states where down-market Democrats continue to favor brand loyalty. But the swing-state polls, one of which I mentioned the other day in Colorado, keep coming--and the evidence continues to mount that, surprise, nominating the most hated woman in American politics seriously hurts Democrats' chances of victory in November:

WI-Pres Feb 18 SurveyUSA: McCain (R) 49%, Clinton (D) 42%
WI-Pres Feb 18 SurveyUSA: Obama (D) 52%, McCain (R) 42%

OR-Pres Feb 17 Rasmussen: McCain (R) 45%, Clinton (D) 42%
OR-Pres Feb 17 Rasmussen: Obama (D) 49%, McCain (R) 40%

PA-Pres Feb 17 Rasmussen: McCain (R) 44%, Clinton (D) 42%
PA-Pres Feb 17 Rasmussen: Obama (D) 49%, McCain (R) 39%

But it's not like the Democrats need to hang on to Wisconsin, Oregon, or Pennsylvania, right?

Whether they were being serious or just typically disingenuous, the Clinton campaign stated last year that they figured it would be more difficult to win the Democratic nomination than the general election. From the vantage point of mid-2007, when Iraq was still the single biggest issue, there's a logic behind that statement: they probably assumed the senator's war vote would be a bigger obstacle amongst Democratic primary voters than the entire electorate. Mark Penn's "inevitability" approach was supposed to render resistance futile within the party, and Clinton would be able to bring recalcitrant liberals in line by wrapping up the nomination with wins in Iowa and New Hampshire and then spending six months becoming more "likable." The Republicans, meanwhile, would nominate some slavish Bush disciple or an easily caricatured buffoon like Giuliani; given the choice between a third Bush term or an unbalanced sociopath on the one hand, and steady Hillary Clinton on the other, the Clintons would leverage their tactical expertise into a fairly easy victory.

Like so many plans, though, this one didn't survive contact with reality. In fact, every facet of it failed to come true. Obama planted the Not-HIllary flag early, and his tactical moves--organizing on the ground, raising money online, peeling off just enough institutional support early to avoid getting frozen out, emphasizing caucus wins in smaller states to poach delegates--proved much better than hers. And now, far from working to smooth out her rough edges, Clinton is trying to tear down Obama and climb over his political corpse to the nomination. Meanwhile, it's John McCain, perhaps the one Republican of national stature who's somewhat inoculated from Bush's miserable political legacy, who is looking ahead to November.

Any Clinton victory now--and she still could win it--would be entirely pyrrhic. Millions of Obama supporters would back her reluctantly or not at all; independent voters who'd pull the lever for virtually any other Democrat, particularly a charismatic figure like Obama, would back McCain by overwhelming margins against Clinton. It's almost impossible to see how she gets from where she is today to a general election victory in November.

Yet she continues to fight, because that's what the Clintons do: it's always and forever about them, with the party--and certainly its principles--somewhere way back in the mists. They'd rather lose with Hillary, and leave the country to whatever consequences result, than win with anyone else. The latest attacks on Obama--this collection of irrelevant minutiae far from the "solutions" Senator Clinton claims to present--is just more of the same.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two Strikes
As the Democratic campaign shifts into its possible endgame, some numbers to ponder from a swing state:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows that Barack Obama (D) currently holds a seven-point advantage over John McCain (R), 46% to 39%. However, if the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, McCain will begin the race with a fourteen point advantage, 49% to 35%. National polling, updated daily, currently shows the same general trend with Obama currently performing better than Clinton in match-ups with McCain.

Sixty percent (60%) of Colorado voters currently have a favorable opinion of Obama while just 36% hold an unfavorable view.

McCain earns favorable reviews from 55% and less flattering assessments from 42%

Clinton is viewed favorably by 44% and unfavorably by 54%.

Emphasis mine. Think about this a minute: not only is that a mammoth 21 point swing for the Democrats--in a blue-trending swing state where they're holding the convention this summer--but the last set of numbers, Clinton's favorables and unfavorables, are probably impossible to move. This is an individual who's been on the national stage for the better part of two decades. That majority of Coloradans who dislike her, know exactly who it is they dislike and why.

It's certainly possible, perhaps likely, that Obama's favorables will come down; what's unlikely in the extreme is that Clinton's favorables would go up. Nominate her, and you write off the state, seriously imperil Democrats down the ballot (including a candidate for an open Senate seat), and allow Republicans to take money they'd otherwise have to spend trying to buck the tide in that state and redirect it to places like Wisconsin and Minnesota. And I find it very hard to believe that Colorado is the only state that fits this description.

Then there's the disturbing facts that have come to light about the one endeavor where Senator Clinton's claims of strength, experience, managerial acumen and judgment can be said with certainty to have been tested: her presidential campaign. As the backstory behind the firing of former campaign manager Patty Solis Doyle shows, the signs aren't particularly favorable:

Concerns about Solis Doyle have preoccupied many in the campaign for several years. Clinton insiders say that her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, launched an unsuccessful bid to remove Solis Doyle while on vacation with the Clintons two years ago. Two top campaign officials told me that Maggie Williams, Hillary’s former chief of staff (and, as of Sunday, her campaign manager), also sought and failed to have Solis Doyle removed two years ago. Last year, some of Bill Clinton’s former advisers, known as the “White Boys,” lobbied to oust her, too.

But because of Solis Doyle’s proximity to Hillary Clinton, because she demonstrated the loyalty and discretion Clinton so prized, and because no one appeared capable of challenging Clinton’s presumed status as the Democratic nominee-in-waiting, nothing was done. “What Patti has that is real power is the unquestioned trust and confidence of the candidate,” Paul Begala, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s campaigns, explained in an on-the-record interview last year. “That makes her bulletproof.”
Rather than punish Solis Doyle or raise questions about her fitness to lead, Clinton chose her to manage the presidential campaign for reasons that should now be obvious: above all, Clinton prizes loyalty and discipline, and Solis Doyle demonstrated both traits, if little else. This suggests to me that for all the emphasis Clinton has placed on executive leadership in this campaign, her own approach is a lot closer to the current president’s than her supporters might like to admit.

Comparing any Democrat to George W. Bush isn't entirely fair. Whatever her flaws as a manager, I'm pretty certain Patty Solis Doyle has a lot more on the ball than, say, Alberto Gonzalez; if she didn't, I can't imagine anyone as smart as Hillary Clinton would have brought her into the inner circle to start with. But while loyalty in the abstract can be a plus, loyalty that blinds is not. (I might add that this kind of loyalty is probably seen more in dynastic groupings like the Clintons and Bushes--if for no other reason than that they persist over time, and sub-networks form within them--than fully merit-based political circles.) If Sen. Clinton truly were the cool-eyed, ready-on-Day-One manager she's presented herself as, I have trouble believing she could be in as much political trouble as she is today.

So the Democrats have an increasingly clear choice between a candidate who expands their electoral reach and has run a brilliant campaign, and another who alienates half the electorate--more, in key states like Colorado--from the jump, and has squandered what just a few months ago seemed like insurmountable advantages. All the Clintons have left, ironically enough, is faith in the loyalty of Democrats to a brand they remember with fondness. Here's hoping it isn't enough to save them this time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Obama's Coalition
When I used to read book after book about Democratic politics in the late 1960s (at first for my senior honors thesis in college, subsequently solely because I'm a big nerd), contemporary supporters of Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy and writers looking back with hindsight both would cite the dream of a transformational liberal coalition comprised of students, non-whites, and union voters--groups notable variously for their enthusiasm and their loyalty. But in the 40 years since an assassin's bullet took RFK, it's never quite come together: culturally moderate-to-conservative unionists first were drawn away by Richard Nixon and (to a much greater extent) Ronald Reagan, and then their numbers began to shrink. Students saw Hubert Humphrey as part of the problem, and I don't think Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale did a whole lot for them. Non-whites remained loyal to the Democrats, though in the last two presidential elections Hispanics began to drift back to the Republicans (both Al Gore and John Kerry drew about 10 percent fewer Hispanic voters than the Democrat did in the previous cycle). Eventually I think observers began to believe that these groups were to some extent mutually exclusive: union voters looked warily at non-whites, students and intellectuals disdained the culturally retrograde hard-hats, non-whites didn't trust anyone.

Only Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 really managed to come close to putting this dream coalition together--and even he needed Ross Perot's help to win. As white men and middle-income voters drifted away from the Democrats, Republicans won again and again; even the Democrats' growing success among college-educated voters and professionals, which continued through 2004, generally wasn't enough to win the White House.

But for Democrats who believe in the adage of "better late than never," Barack Obama's coalition through the Democratic primary season--the young, African-Americans, professionals and upper-middle class and wealthier Democrats--could represent good news indeed. Obama is expected to win today's "Potomac Primary" by virtue of his overwhelming support from black voters and his robust draw among the "knowledge workers" and college graduates who dot the communities surrounding Washington, DC. The same groups should help him in Wisconsin next week.

Now the question is whether he can unite what's left of organized labor, and start drawing the lower-income, less-educated white Democrats and Latino voters who have backed John Edwards and Hillary Clinton through the campaign. Some are skeptical, to say the least.

And here's where the Clintons, should they fail to reverse Obama's momentum in the next handful of contests and see their March 4 firewall eroded or even breached, will have a legacy-impacting choice to make. If they keep fighting to the convention, they could dig in the antipathy of these supporters for Obama and create an opening for John McCain in the same states--New Hampshire, Ohio, even New Jersey--where Clinton has staked her nomination hopes. But if they concede, and were Bill Clinton in particular to make a strong effort to sell these less well-heeled constituencies on Obama as an authentic champion for their economic interests, he'd have a chance to score the realigning November victory we all hope for.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Hillary Clinton, "Goldwater Girl"
I'll admit at the outset that I'm not sure what I'm doing in this post. It's of interest to me mainly because, one, I'm currently reading Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm, a history of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign and American conservatism's subsequent rise to political dominance, and two, because it simply doesn't make sense to me.

Here are the facts as I understand them:

  • Hillary Rodham was born in 1947, and grew up in suburban Chicago as the daughter of a Republican dad, Hugh Rodham, and a (much more low-key) Democratic mom, Dorothy Rodham. She experienced a fairly typical middle-class upbringing for the time, and from her early years demonstrated both exceptional intelligence and unusual interest in politics and public affairs.

  • Hillary initially self-identified as a Republican. In 1960 as a 13 year-old, she volunteered going door-to-door for Richard Nixon in Chicago. In 1964 as a senior in high school, she and her best friend became "Goldwater Girls."

  • In her freshman year at Wellesley College, Hillary was an active Young Republican, but by 1968 had left the Republican Party and was involved in Gene McCarthy's presidential campaign.

I'm not writing about this as any kind of "gotcha" exercise, as Robert Novak evidently did last March. Novak noted the seeming contradiction between Sen. Clinton's claim that she was deeply influenced by seeing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in 1963 and her Goldwaterite leanings the following year, and implied that she had made up the King story. It's unknowable for sure, but I think it's almost certain that she was there and that it moved her. Media Matters notes that she included the story in her 2003 memoir, and enough other people must have been there as she describes it in the excerpt that someone would have come forward if she hadn't been.

The same Media Matters link has another excerpt from Sen. Clinton's memoir in which she recounts the thought process that drew her to Goldwater:
I liked Senator Goldwater because he was a rugged individualist who swam against the political tide. Years later, I admired his outspoken support of individual rights, which he considered consistent with his old-fashioned conservative principles: "Don't raise hell about the gays, the blacks and the Mexicans. Free people have a right to do as they damn well please."

But this is contradicted by something else Senator Clinton has said about why she supported Goldwater in 1964. Maybe this is presented out of context--in fact I think it must be, because the highly intelligent and well-informed 17 year-old she was wouldn't have so badly mischaracterized Goldwater's position:

"My best friend and I became quote 'Goldwater Girls,' Clinton said. "We got to wear cowboy hats. We had a sash that said, you know, I voted AUH2O. I mean, it was really a lot of fun."

But it was more than fun that drove Clinton to the Republican camp.

"Medicare and Medicaid was a big part of [Goldwater's] platform, or the civil rights law -- maybe it's not such a bad idea, to kind of require that people treat each other in a civil way," Clinton said of her thinking and political leanings as a teenager.

This makes absolutely no sense. Goldwater deplored the "socialism" of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs and, while Goldwater himself wasn't a bigot, the entire rationale of his conservatism was that it was both unfeasible and immoral for government to "require that people treat each other in a civil way."

Even stranger is that young Hillary's conservative-leaning libertarianism is about 180 degrees from her mature politics of liberal statism. As she evidently describes how her politics evolved, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were the crucial factors.

I found one more statement of the senator's about her early political evolution, from a 2003 interview with Katie Couric after the release of her memoir. Unfortunately, this doesn't help all that much either, since if I have the chronology right it happened before she went to college--where she was still a Republican.

Couric: “Well, you were a Goldwater girl…”

Clinton: “That’s right. ”

Couric: “…all the way down to the cowgirl outfit. ”

Clinton: “That’s right. I was a Goldwater girl. ”

Couric: “And you were elected president of the Young Republicans. But then found yourself leaning in another direction. I guess, as a result of your participation in the mock election debate. ”

Clinton: “That’s right. Well, in the 1964 election, I, certainly, was a Goldwater girl. That was, you know, my father’s candidate. That’s what I believed. And I had a very smart senior high school government teacher who took me aside and said, ‘I want you to play the role of Lyndon Johnson in the mock election debate.’ And he went to about the only girl who considered herself a Democrat in our school and said, ‘And I want you to play the role of Senator Goldwater.’

I was really upset at first because I was such a Goldwater fan. But it forced to me to have to look at and rethink that which would not have otherwise come my way. So, that by the time I got to college I really had to start thinking about what I believed, you know, not my father’s or my mother’s or my teacher’s or anyone else’s beliefs. And as a result, I concluded that I was more independent than I had originally thought I was. And I began to look more closely at political ideas and evolved my own convictions and values.

Again, I'm not implying anything sinister here--I just don't understand, one, how the well-informed Hillary Rodham could have misunderstood or overlooked what Barry Goldwater stood for in 1964, and two, what happened to turn her politics around so substantially by the end of the 1960s, and so completely by the mid-'70s when she was calling for some fairly radical state interventions on behalf of at-risk children as a young lawyer. It's purely academic interest; I already cast my vote in the primary, and if Clinton's the Democratic nominee, it won't affect whether or not I cast my meaningless vote for her in November.

But I'd like to know.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Monitor vs. the Merrimack
If you're following the Democratic presidential nomination contest, it might be time to make yourself comfortable:

[I]t is now basically mathematically impossible for either Clinton or Obama to win the nomination through the regular voting process (meaning the super-delegates decide this one, baby!).

Here's the math. There are 3,253 pledged delegates, those doled out based on actual voting in primaries and caucuses. And you need 2,025 to win the nomination.

To date, about 55% of those 3,253 delegates have been pledged in the voting process -- with Clinton and Obamb roughly splitting them at about 900 delegates a piece.

That means there are now only about 1,400 delegates left up for grabs in the remaining states and territories voting.

So, do the math. If they both have about 900 pledged delegates so far, they need to win more than 1,100 of the remaining 1,400 delegates to win the nomination through actual voting.

Ain't gonna happen, barring a stunning scandal or some new crazy revelation. So, they'll keep fighting this thing out, each accumulating their chunk of delegates, one of them holding a slight edge and bothing finishing the voting process with 1,600 or so delegates.

And then the super delegates decide this thing.

A couple questions suggest themselves. First of all, why exactly is this so tough to describe? This guy, a Washington Post political reporter, explained it just fine. My cynical side wonders if the issue is that declaring the next three-plus months of contests "meaningless" would depress newspaper sales--which of course is the point of their business. (My inner hosanna guy says that if this is what it takes to spur democratic participation, that's fine.)

But we've already seen the usually hyperbolic press be relatively ho-hum about some fairly big news: Clinton's win in California wasn't played up nearly as much as I thought it would be. Maybe this is because everyone realized John Zogby was characteristically full of shit; maybe it was yet another application of the anti-Clinton bias in the press--though, while I recognize that bias, I also think the only story they love even more than her falling short is her as "comeback kid"... so I'm forced to conclude that the media actually is telling the story right, e.g. on the Democratic side, it's been about the delegate count rather than who "wins" states.

So the second question is, what's at stake if a knockout blow is all but out of the question? I guess it's possible that if either candidate tears off a bunch of wins in a row--which hasn't happened at all in the cycle yet--the public and private pressure will mount for the other one to withdraw "for the good of the party." Maybe the most likely scenario here is that Obama wins most or all the contests between now and early March, Clinton starts running out of money again--though she's evidently reaped a windfall since Tuesday--and with that in mind, she bows out.

I don't think this will happen; whether you see it as an admirable quality or a character flaw, she's a stubborn lady. And the Clintons, in their usual spin-addled way, likely would hang in at least through Texas and Ohio on March 5 out of the usual mixture of ostensible principle and actual self-interest. (Listen closely and you can almost hear one of their spokesweasels: "Don't Buckeyes and Lone Star Staters deserve a choice, and a voice?") But I think it's even tougher for the "movement candidate," Obama, to pull out because so many of us are literally invested in him. To raise $8 million in 48 hours, basically without lifting a finger, and then walk away even a month later, would represent really bad form and hurt him for years to come.

So this is probably going on for awhile. There's some risk, though not I think huge risk, that it hurts the Democrats later on; hopefully this can be avoided by back-channel injunctions from Howard Dean and others to keep the blows above the belt. The Monitor and the Merrimack blasted away at each other for a long time too, ultimately to no outcome.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Push-Button Politics
Interesting news today in the aftermath of the Democratic draw on Ginormous Tuesday. Hillary Clinton loaned her campaign $5 million dollars late last month, an investment that might have helped her stave off potential disaster in the big coastal states where she scored big victories.

Meanwhile, Obama raised more than that much today, and is on pace to have his second straight month of more than $30 million in campaign contributions.

There are a couple ways to think about this. One, the preferred spin of the Obama forces, is that their man has a much broader donor pool to draw upon, and almost all of them have yet to "max out" the term for those who have already sent $2,300 for the primary campaign. This is true. Another is that a lot of them--and here I have to admit "us" is a better term--are more willing to part with money than time.

I've gone through one of those navel-gazing extravaganzas on this: am I a bad American or a moral cretin because I'm much more willing to key in some numbers and hit "send" than phone-bank, leaflet or otherwise volunteer? I'm pretty busy these days, but I could find the time. Frankly, though, I don't think I'd be much help. If I could write something for them, or advise on policy (as if that would sway many primary voters at this point), I'd happily do so. But they just need either time or money, and of those two commodities, I'd rather part with (a little bit of) money.

At any rate, I guess for the campaign it's a nice problem for me to be faced with.

Meanwhile, some recommended reading:

-->Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Clintons' Shadiest Donors

Think John McCain, of sainted campaign-finance reform fame, won't bash the Clintons over the head with these fine folks in a general election where he'll have precious few other substance appeals to independents? Yeah, he's come a long way--in the wrong direction--from the days of McCain/Feingold. But his media worshippers will happily put that aside to root around yet again in the voluminous Clinton garbage.

-->The Democrats' Choice: Manager or Visionary

A very well argued summary of how Clinton and Obama would likely differ in their approaches to policymaking... an important comparison for voters, given that the policies themselves are pretty similar between the two.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Tuesday Eve (a/k/a Monday)
New York is in some sense--a political sense, I guess--Hillary Clinton's home state, and all the polls agree she's going to win here. But in the subways, on the street corners, and even on TV, all the energy and momentum seems to be with Obama. I've gotten recorded message calls from our moronic Congresswoman, Yvette Clarke (herself a scion of a local corrupt political dynasty, so it makes sense), and Hillary Clinton Herself. But that's about the only pro-Clinton activity I've seen, less a bumper sticker here and there.

The polls are all over the map. Zogby seems to have the most favorable numbers for Obama; my recollection is that as pollsters go, Zogby su-hucks. Yet he also seems to have the momentum nationally. A win in California tomorrow night potentially could be decisive, as it would drive the narrative and hurl Obama into a rest-of-the-month schedule that would seem to favor him, with primaries in states with large numbers of African-American voters like Maryland and Virginia, and solid red states like Nebraska where the local Democratic establishment dreads running with (or rather, from) Clinton in the fall. On the other hand, if Clinton wins California by ten points or more, she's in great shape to take the large bulk of delegate and minimize the damage that can be done through the rest of February, with the reasonable expectation that she'll essentially lock things up in a month's time with big wins in Ohio and Texas.

This horse race stuff isn't really what's on my mind tonight, though. At last week's Democratic debate, and in the weekend blab fest coverage, the biggest applause line and most compelling notion was of a combined Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton "dream ticket." Both candidates seemed to indulge the notion, though most expert opinion (and mine, for whatever that's worth) is that it'll never happen. If Clinton wins, she probably wouldn't want to bring in Obama who might upstage her, though she'd have to consider making the offer just in hopes of retaining his enthusiastic Democratic-leaning new voters. For his part, though, I doubt he'd take it; Obama either will return to the Senate or run for governor of Illinois, and in any event I doubt he'd want to risk being marginalized by both Clintons in a surely ceremonial vice-presidential role. Were Obama to win, I don't think he'd gain anything by asking Clinton; she wouldn't help win any states, and while her "experience" impresses some, were Obama to go that route he'd be better served tapping someone like Joe Biden or Tom Daschle. Even if he wants to go for the "double history" of a female running mate, Arizona Governor Napolitano, Kansas Governor Sebelius or Missouri Senator McCaskill (all supporters of his) offer more political value than Clinton.

I think the excitement over the "dream ticket" comes from something else, though: a realization on the part of supporters in both camps that each leading Democrat offers something the other lacks. The concerns with Obama, of course, have to do with his alleged lack of experience and policy substance. I don't think either is valid, and Clinton's experience has been vastly overstated in any event. But nobody can deny that she's a policy wonk, and a grind in the best sense of the word--she works hard at governing. For her part, what she sorely lacks is inspirational power and capacity to unify the country--the great strengths of Obama's campaign. The notion seems to be that pairing the two of them up would address the shortcomings of each. Psychologically for supporters, it makes sense, but unless we've very quietly perfected mind-meld technology, the solution doesn't really match the problem.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

At last, at last, at last...
Every year, I wonder why the TV rights-holders don't broadcast the movie "Groundhog Day" on Groundhog Day. In keeping with the story, I really think they should broadcast it continuously for 24 hours, as they do with that Christmas movie from the early '80s showing that little blond kid... but any showing would be fine.

Today they did it. TBS showed "Groundhog Day" late last night, a second airing is about finished now, and I think it's on again in a few hours. They classify it as a "Romance," which seems like an almost-complete miscategorization: "Groundhog Day" is a bloodless horror film and the pitch-blackest of comedies.

Of course it's also a self-improvement fable, and as such has been embraced by some relatively relaxed religious leaders. I guess that's nice, even though my personal identification with the movie tends to end around when Bill Murray reluctantly accepts that he can neither kill himself nor otherwise "escape" from the repeating day. "Heartwarming" generally gets dull after around the eighth viewing; the darker stuff (and the comedy--Murray punching out, then later coming on to, Stephen Tobolowsky is an indelible classic) stays fresh for me, for whatever reason.