February 28, 2008

Crunch Time for the Democrats

After the American Century

Now that we have heard perhaps the last primary debate, the psychology of the Democratic presidential campaign has reached a decisive point. If Obama wins either Ohio or Texas, Clinton is expected to drop out. Many stories in the media are saying this. Symbolically, Senator Dodd has just endorsed Obama, saying that the campaign should not go on too long. Dodd hopefully put himself forward as a candidate, but was one of the early casualties in the primaries. I believe he is the only former candidate to endorse either Clinton or Obama. Even Bill Clinton has said that Hillary must win both Ohio and Texas if she is to go on. Admittedly, he said it a while ago when she had comfortable leads in both states. The latest polls now show that - as has happened in so many other states - Obama has overhauled her in Texas. Two weeks ago Clinton had more than a 10 point advantage, but now she trails by as much as 4 points.

The Obama team smells victory in Texas, and so do the Move.on activists. They are putting together a gigantic nationwide phone-a-thon, getting members to gather on Sunday, bringing their cell phones along, for a massive effort to get out the Texas vote. In the past phoning voters was usually done from a central location, but Move.on is getting people together in smaller groups in their home towns. This demands a high level of organization, getting lists of phone numbers in Texas to each of these calling groups, and organizing tens of thousands of volunteers through Internet communications. If they can pull that off, Obama will get quite a boost. I think it likely he will win Texas. He will also win Vermont, but probably not tiny Rhode Island, where Hillary has been more.

Obama can easily afford to lose Rhode Island, but Ohio is another matter. Hillary still has a lead there of 4 to 6 points, depending on what poll you look at. He has been chiseling away at her, but the shift toward him is more gradual than in Texas. Averaging all the polls together, his momentum might push him into the lead in a couple of weeks, but five days may not be long enough. Today, I note that he has left Ohio for Texas, while she remains in the Buckeye State a bit longer. Still, the difference between them is about the same as the margin of error, so he has an outside chance to win there, too.

Ohio is suffering economically more than Texas. Cleveland has been especially hard hit by teh mortgage crisis, and thousands of homes have been foreclosed there, and neighborhoods are dotted with For Sale signs. There are not likely to be many buyers in Cleveland. That city looked pretty depressed in 2003 when I visited there twice, and it has gotten much worse since then. Judging by the still weakening national economy, Ohio will likely suffer more during the spring and summer. Clinton has appealed to struggling blue-collar areas throughout her campaign, so it is appropriate that she makes what may be her last stand in Ohio. Back in the 1970s Ohio was the heart of the "rust belt" and some parts of the state never entirely came back to full prosperity. The steel mills are mostly gone from Youngstown, for example, and Clinton seems popular with the voters there. Should Obama be the nominee, he will need to find a way to appeal more strongly in such places, because it is a vital swing state. Kerry would have been president had he carried Ohio.

John McCain has a chance to win Ohio in the national election, especially if he can convince blue-collar voters that national security is the central issue of the campaign. He is there now, of course, ostensibly running against Huckabee and Paul, but focusing most of his attacks on the Democrats. Polls show him narrowly defeating Clinton, but trailing Obama by as much as 6 percentage points. McCain surely would prefer to face Clinton, whom the Republicans love to hate, so he spends much more energy running down Obama. (Yesterday he accused him of having a weak, naive approach to Al Qaeda.) I would not be amazed to hear that some Republicans were even giving Hillary contributions now, in hopes of derailing the mesmerizing Senator from Illinois.

With McCain sniping away every day, it is becoming essential for Obama to wrap up the primaries and shift attention to a full scale challenge of the Republicans. If it is crunch time for Obama, however, it is do-or-die for Hillary. She is becoming more shrill and aggressive, but I sense that she becomes unappealing in the process. One has to admire her grit and determination, but the hectoring tone and tired voice begin to wear on the nerves. Worse, the "shame on you" tone may have worked for Bill Clinton, but when she uses the same phrase it does not sound "presidential," but more like an angry mother.

It is not (yet) easy for any woman to run for president. Should Hillary bow out next week, she will have done far more than any previous female candidate, pushing open the White House door for other women. She will remain a force in the Democratic Party and the Senate, and she could also run again in four years time. Then again, this race is not yet over. It's crunch time.

February 24, 2008

Enter the Spoiler: Ralph Nadar, Again

After the American Century

Just when it looked like the election might soon become focused on two candidates, a familiar Wild Card has appeared in the political deck. Ralph Nadar, admirable crusader for consumer causes, and perennial candidate for president, has declared himself a candidate. This will have little or no effect on the primaries, but it might become extremely important in the national election. Al Gore certainly remembers him, because Nadar did not siphon off many votes from the Republican Party. Nadar's 2.7% of the vote came almost entirely from the liberal side of the electorate. Gore would have won Florida and the presidency had Nadar stuck to fighting consumer issues. Nadar had far less effect on the 2004 campaign, getting less that 0.5% of the votes, although he certainly did not help John Kerry.

I heard Nadar speak in the spring of 2003 at Notre Dame University. To be accurate, no lecture room was big enough for the student crowd, and I ended up seeing him on a closed-circuit TV screen down the hall. But in any case there was not much back and forth with the audience. Nadar spoke long and well, but without much humor, and one often could agree with a what he said. Nadar is a lawyer, and he presents an argument for the prosecution, detailing the sins of the defendant - not just the current president but both political parties - and offering prescriptions for change. He is, after all, the man who wrote Unsafe at Any Speed that led to greatly improved automobiles and undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives. Nadar is also an Arab-American, which may give him an extra reason to join the political fray, though neither Iraq nor the Palestinians are even mentioned on page one of his homepage. There, he attacks the "corporate Democrats" and the "corporate Republicans" and their domination by the lobbyists. His homepage slogan is "Corporate Greed, Corporate Power, Corporate Control." The targets of his wrath are "the health insurance industry, agribusinss grants, corporate criminals, nuclear power, big banks, drug companies, polluters, union busters, war profiteers, credit card companies, Wall Street, and big oil." Nadar reportedly liked John Edwards' message, and he might have supported Obama. After all, the Democratic front-runner has accepted no money at all from the lobbyists. However, Nadar's psychology is combative and adversarial. His idea of a dialogue takes place in court. Obama is more pragmatic and looks for negotiation.

Nadar's candidacy is good news for John McCain for several reasons. Nadar is 73, a year older, so McCain is no longer be the oldest one running for president. More importantly, when Nadar attacks McCain it will help to consolidate the Republican base. Even better, when he attacks the Democratic candidate, some voters will be drawn away to the Green Party.

Nadar has no chance to win, but he can be the spoiler. Should the race be close, count on the Republicans to donate a little money, quietly, to his campaign. They want Nadar to have a large megaphone. McCain might conceivably attack Nadar in a few speeches, but more likely he will ignore him and hope a brawl breaks out between Democrats and Greens. To make this a fair fight, we need a comparable figure on the far right to run to take some support away from McCain. Will someone please call Ross Perot?

February 19, 2008

What is at Stake in November?

After the American Century

The race between Clinton and Obama should not distract from the fundamental oppositions between McCain and the two Democratic candidates. Party divergences are so fundamental that this election seems to be a defining national moment. Count on the Republicans to try to find some symbolic controversy to distract the voters, such as respect for the flag, prayer in schools, gay marriage, and the like. One can only hope the American people will not be easily distracted. Here is what they should be thinking about.

One. The Bench. Will a conservative, strict-construction of the Constitution be cemented more firmly in place, with four more years of Republican judicial appointments? This concerns not only the Supreme Court but the many appointments to the other Federal courts as well. It is not just about whether abortion will continue to be legal, but whether the courts will agree to hear cases dealing with social inequality, racial discrimination, and free speech, broadly defined. In a worse-case scenario, conservative judges (whose terms to not expire until they decide to retire) could become the dominant force for a generation. A conservative bench is potentially dangerous after eight years of Bush's attacks on civil liberties, along with continual attempts to place both the President and the Vice-President above scrutiny and the rule of law.

Two. Will the destabilizing tax cuts that Bush enacted become permanent, or will more progressive taxation return? Under the Bush plan, the rich keep getting richer and the national debt grows, the middle class and the poor lose ground, and the next generation gets the bill. McCain has pledged to keep the Bush cuts, while the Democrats want to return to the system that served the nation so well in the 1990s. Recall that from 1992 until 2000 the economy grew, the middle class did not lose ground, and the national debt was rapidly paid off. The Republicans have evolved into a party of fiscal irresponsibility. Under both Reagan and the Bushes, they have run up huge deficits and given the wealthy tax breaks. In effect, they keep imposing a tax on the next generation. That was the central issue that got Ross Perot to run in the election of 1992, siphoning off enough Republican votes to get Clinton elected. However, the Republicans shamelessly keep calling the Democrats "tax and spend liberals". This rhetoric worked a generation ago, but since 1980 have become "tax and spend conservatives." The difference is that their spending is for the military rather than for social programs.

Three. Will the Iraq war continue without any end in sight (McCain) or will the US seek to negotiate its way out of the mess Bush created there (Clinton and Obama). Back in 1968 and again in 1972 the Republicans railed at any suggestion that Vietnam could not be won, and they stuck to their guns for six years after Nixon came in. The Republican "plan" for Iraq now seems like "deja vu all over again." Remember "Vietnamization?" The US is now spending billions on building up a new Iraq army and police force with the same idea in mind. The Democrats want to end the conflict and put the money saved into social programs, notably medical care. How much is Iraq costing? About $15 million an hour.

Four. Will the US fix its medical system? Costs are out of control, malpractice insurance drives some doctors out of business, patients in rural areas are underserved, employers have begun to eliminate health care from worker benefits - the list could go on, but this is a national emergency must be solved. It is a terrible problem at the personal level, but failing health care also makes the US less competitive in the world. The Detroit automobile companies spend as much money on health care for their workers than they do for steel. In many other nations health care is paid by the state, and corporations do not have that expense.

Five. Will corporations be regulated? The 9/11 attacks saved Bush from a major investigation of his close financial and political ties to ENRON. Its executives were frequent guests at the White House and advised Bush and Cheney on energy policy. Yet that corporation's rapacious and illegal activities cost California billions of dollars, and such predatory behavior emerged again in the behavior of the mortgage industry. Likewise, this government cut back funding for inspectors in many areas, making actual enforcement of the laws difficult. The Republicans are so in thrall to the special interests that they no longer protect the public. Only a few Enron executives were punished even lightly for their felonies. If the Republicans stay in the White House, they will continue to resist government oversight of corporations and environmental inspections will be under-funded.

Six. Energy policy. The Bush government has squandered eight years when the US could have moved toward sustainable energy use. With two former oil executives in the White House, the nation fell behind Europe and Japan in creating the next generation of energy systems, notably wind and solar power. For those curious about what is possible, see Scientific American's article on how solar power alone could supply most of the US electricity needs. ("A Solar Grand Plan," January 2008). Such creative thinking has been anathema in Washington. Republicans have resolutely hung on to a national energy model from c. 1950. For example, they have resisted for 25 years higher mpg requirements for cars, and Detroit makes gas-guzzling automobiles that are not competitive in the rest of the world. The Republicans should accept responsibility for those thousands of jobs lost in Michigan and Ohio. (There is a silver lining for some Republicans personally: Exxon-Mobile's profits for the last quarter topped §100 billion.) This election will determine whether the oil industry will continue to hold back economic development and have an undue influence on foreign policy, and whether the US will actually do anything about global warming.

Those are all vital issues for any candidate. After winning ten straight states, it does seem that Obama is the more likely candidate. At his Tuesday night rally in Houston, attended by 20,000 people, tickets were free but in such short supply that some were scalped for $100. I don't think anyone is paying that kind of money to see Hillary. Yet whether the Democrats ultimately choose Obama or Clinton, both oppose John McCain on all these issues. Either would be far, far better than McCain.

For more on "The Bush Economy" see this blog for Dec. 12.


February 18, 2008

Can Clinton "Come back" in Wisconsin or Hawaii?

After the American Century

Tomorrow the last primaries in February take place in Wisconsin and Hawaii, with 74 and 20 delegates respectively. For Obama, it has been a spectacular month, starting with a strong showing on Super Tuesday, followed by victories in eight straight primaries. The polls suggest that he can make it ten in a row tomorrow, which would give him even more momentum. For Hillary this month was supposed to be a triumph and instead has bordered on disaster. Rather than being crowned as the nominee, she found herself nearly bankrupt, fired her campaign manager, and lost every primary after February 5. If she can win either election tomorrow she can claim it as a second comeback. In New Hampshire she made her first comeback, after coming in third in Iowa. 

In Wisconsin the economy is the main issue for 4 our of 10 voters, while only a quarter of them focus on the War in Iraq. This emphasis is good for Hillary, as voters seem to like her on economic issues. No doubt they remember the prosperous Clinton Presidency. The polls also indicate that the same pattern we have seen before recurs. She is leading Obama among women and older voters. He does better among men, younger voters, and African Americans. Overall, it appears to be a close race. Several different polls puts him ahead by just 4%, which borders on being statistically insignificant, as there is always a margin of error.  Moreover, in another pattern familiar from the previous primaries, 25% of the voters remain uncertain and say they might still change their minds. In short, Hillary might pull off an upset.

On the other hand, the trend in the polls over time suggests otherwise. Clinton consistently led in the Wisconsin polls until Super Tuesday, when she fell behind. Obama appears to have momentum, and he also tends to bring out marginal voters such as young people and African-Americans, who are both under-represented in polling samples, because they often do not vote. Another problem for pollsters is their data bases focus on land-line telephones, which means that voters under 30 - heavily for Obama - may also be under polled. So the margin of polling error may be greater than 4%, and it may favor him, not her.

Hawaii is less problematic, because Obama was born there. He represents the multiracial integration of Hawaii, which has been far in advance of the rest of the United States in developing multicultural harmony. There seem to be no polls for Hawaii, however, where 20 delegates are at stake in caucuses. The local newspapers predict that the turnout will be at least 50% higher than in 2004, and the Democratic Party there fears it will be overwhelmed. Obama has won every other caucus, and it seems hard to believe Hillary has a much of chance. She did send daughter Chelsea out to enjoy the good weather, however, while she slogged on through the heavy snows of Wisconsin. 

Of the 94 delegates at stake, Obama will likely get a few more than Clinton, but neither is likely to gain a decisive statistical advantage from these contests. More important, at this point, is the psychological victory for Obama, if he can make it ten in a row, or for Clinton, if she can make a second "comeback." 

February 17, 2008

Endorsements and Super Delegates

After the American Century


Perhaps it is appropriate that the US celebrity culture relies so much on endorsements for political candidates. It does not happen much in the Nordic countries, where a singer or actor's political views are seldom thought to be worth extensive coverage. I have never seen in Scandinavia anything like the "Yes We Can" video made by star supporters of Barack Obama. One might see it as a new genre, the political speech remade into a collective song. I saw it almost as soon as it appeared, and I was moved by it. However, some Europeans I have shown it to find it both attractive and unsettling. One woman took a strong dislike to it, feeling that such things had no place in a political campaign! I report this as it may interest the growing number of Americans who are reading this blog. With many months ahead in this campaign, one can only expect more inventive forms of endorsement, and even more extensive use of the Internet. 

At the same time, the ultimate result for the Democrats may depend on that more traditional technology, the personal telephone call. The press is saturated with reports of former President Clinton calling undecided super delegates, seeking their public endorsement of Hillary. Obama also has his surrogates on the line. Yet it appears that the super delegates are not easily swayed. Some of the most famous and influential want to hold out and let the popular contest run its course first. Notably, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter all refuse to make an endorsement yet, and seem to be holding others back as well. But each day a few do seem to decide. The New York Times, after consulting with both the Clinton and Obama camps, indicates that more than half of the 796 superdelegates have now made public endorsements. Apparently, something like 350 people remain on the increasingly uncomfortable fence.  

It is difficult to reconcile this spectacle with the idea of democracy. Whatever happened to the ideas of equality and "one person, one vote"? Another problem is that two of every three super delegates is male, and almost half are white males who were elected governor, senator or to the House. The Democratic Party might want to revise its rules (again) before the next presidential campaign. The Republicans seem to be better off without super delegates and letting the winner take all. But a back-of-the-envelope calculation strongly suggests that neither Obama nor Clinton would have much of a lead were the Democrats to give all the delegates to the one "first past the post." Perhaps there is no perfect voting system to help adjudicate between two equally strong candidates – which may make endorsements all the more important.

February 15, 2008

Obama and Clinton: Dangers of a Long Race

After the American Century

Obama has now won a string of impressive victories. Ahead for the first time in the race, however, he faces new kinds of problems. The front runner never gets a free ride. He has been the media's darling, but now they may begin to play a little rougher. Where before the Republicans were busy with their own race, McCain has now begun to attack him directly, by name. Obama has seen the advantage in that kind of attention, and is responding to McCain. It seems to say that Hillary is history. She is not, and Obama will now need to fight them both.

Clinton will likely have trouble winning in either Wisconsin or Hawaii, but when the battle shifts to Texas and Ohio on March 4, she will be in states where polls show her well ahead. Texas has been a Republican stronghold since at least the 1980 presidential elections, and there is little chance that the Democrats can win there in November. But take away the Republican majority, and the voters left include a large Hispanic population that now votes more than in the past, plus a sizable number of working class southerners who are comfortable with the Clinton name. For Obama, it will be an uphill fight in Texas outside of the Black community and college towns. Since Hispanics greatly outnumber African Americans there, Hillary starts with an advantage. However, Obama has been doing better with the kinds of voters who earlier went for Clinton. In Virginia he drew more women voters and started to attract more Hispanics and older Democrats as well. Still, the game for Obama in Texas is probably not to lose by too much, getting as many delegates as possible so that Hillary does not catch up.

In the crucial state of Ohio, Obama needs a better showing. If he can wrest Ohio from Hillary, such a victory might convince super delegates that he is the best standard-bearer for the party. However, if he looses in both Texas and Ohio, then Hillary has a real chance to raise additional money and rally for a showdown in the Pennsylvania primary. Even more than Ohio, Pennsylvania is a place the Democrats must win in November to ensure safe passage back into the White House. But Pennsylvania has a conservative history. It went for Herbert Hoover in 1932, in what was otherwise a Roosevelt tidal wave. Pennsylvanians also liked Ike in the 1950s and Reagan in the 1980s. In recent times the Democrats have carried it (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004). With more than 12 million people, it is a crucial state, where polls now show Clinton in the lead. Bread and butter issues will be important there, particularly in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and among the remaining steel workers and coal miners.

In short, Obama has had all the momentum of late, but if Clinton holds on to her current leads in both Ohio and Texas, then it will stretch out the decision at least until at least April 22, and do possible damage to the Democratic Party. The super delegates may even wait it out to see who wins what in May.

Granted that neither candidate can attain the magic total of 2025 delegates through the primary process alone, the hope must be that one of them convinces the super delegates that he or she is the best choice. Ideally, whoever that is ought to have won a plurality of the pledged delegates as well. Unfortunately for the Democrats, however, it might not happen that way at all. Obama has the most delegates, but Clinton has the most super delegates. Roughly 390 of them have not made up their minds, and both candidates are wooing them non-stop.

Ominously, in the long gap between primaries from March 4 until April 22, other than vying for super delegates, the festering question will be: What to do about Florida and Michigan? There are no good choices. Playing strictly by the rules, these states held their primaries too early and were sanctioned for it: neither was to get any delegates. Abiding by this decision, Obama did not even get his name on the Michigan ballot. That made it easy for Clinton to win there, since she essentially ran unopposed. Now that she is behind, her camp has begun to call for giving Michigan delegates again. This seems grossly unfair. But if you are from Michigan, it no doubt seems just as unfair to be kept out of a close election. Florida offers almost the same connundrum, except that Obama at least was on the ballot there, though he did not campaign. Should Clinton win the nomination by getting Michigan and Florida seated - reversing the party's earlier decision - then Obama's camp would rightly feel aggrieved. But if they are not seated, Clinton's supporters will feel that two states where she was strong unjustly were excluded. I happen to side with Obama on this one. Don't change the rules in the middle of the game. But watch for unpleasantness on this issue.

Finally, because it is not likely to end soon, the campaigning, especially from Clinton's side, may get negative. That would also be a danger to the Party, not only because it will make it hard to unify for the fall campaign, but in October the Republicans will gleefully repeat whatever charges have the most destructive force. If it is not over, then, the Democrats will have to conduct themselves with some dignity. If it becomes a dogfight, they risk losing to McCain.

February 10, 2008

Democratic Deadlock: Expert Confirmation

After the American Century

Today, four political consultants said, in The Boston Globe, the same thing I wrote on 2 February - i.e. before Super Tuesday: that neither Clinton nor Obama is likely to amass enough delegates in the remaining primaries. You read it here first. They also agree with the analysis earlier presented here that Clinton has little chance to break through against Obama during the rest of this month, and that her best chance is to win over super delegates. On the other hand, Obama has an outside chance of defeating her if he can win on March 4 either in Texas, the more difficult challenge for him, or win in Ohio, the swing state that was crucial to Bush's victory i 2004.

If he wins either of these contests, Obama would still need to win Pennsylvania (April 22). That state at present is regarded as likely to go for Clinton. However, Obama has raised more campaign money, with more than 400,000 on-line contributors. He also has proved a powerful and persuasive presence, winning over voters who see or hear him. If he can work this magic again in Ohio and Pennsylvania, then the super delegates may turn away from Hillary. In the national election, the Republicans are likely to win Texas anyway, so her ability to carry it in a primary is ultimately not all that important, even if Texas does have a large block of delegates. In contrast, winning Pennsylvania and Ohio probably means getting the keys to the White House.



McCain, Yesterday's Man

After the American Century

As predicted in this Blog on 7 February, Obama won all three contests against Clinton yesterday. Taking Washington State, Nebraska, and Louisiana – all by wide margins – he has made the race even tighter. Without super delegate support, Hillary would now be behind. I will return to that race in my next Blog.

On the Republican side, the race is not quite over. Huckabee not only refuses to drop out, he won two contests yesterday. Compared to this evangelical Baptist minister with his extreme views, McCain can appear to be a centrist candidate. Indeed, a number of European newspapers are mistakenly reporting that Senator John McCain is a moderate. This is dangerous nonsense. McCain presents himself as a straight-talking maverick, and he refuses to embrace some of the issues of the rabid right. Huckabee would ban homosexual marriage, replace the Internal Revenue System with a flat tax, abolish abortion, and in general return to the United States of c. 1910, or perhaps 1880. Huckabee is so far to the right on these issues that he makes McCain look moderate by comparison. Furthermore, McCain does not want to deport all the illegal immigrants, but find a way for them to become lawful citizens. This is a sensible position. But forget about these issues. Realistically, there is little chance of the US adopting the flat tax, banning gay marriage, abolishing abortion, or evicting millions of illegal immigrants. This is the rhetorical grandstanding of the religious right that Reagan and Bush II would encourage in an election year and then pragmatically ignore afterwards.

But on other issues dear to the right wing, McCain is quite conservative. He would extend the so-called "Patriot Act" and continue the extensive use of wire-tapping. The NAACP gives him only a 7% rating on affirmative action. He believes that school prayer at the start of each day should be allowed, and also thinks religious symbols are acceptable in schools. He also has given strong support to the voucher system, which would undermine public education, and give state money to private (typically religious) schools. He strongly supports the death penalty, and would limit the number of appeals a prisoner can make, to speed up executions. Many of his Senate votes have tried to reduce the availability of abortion and cut funding for sex education. McCain can hardly be considered a moderate on any of these issues.

Likewise, to see the real McCain look at the war and the economy. He has voted for just about every free trade agreement, making him a strong proponent of economic globalization. He now wants to retain Bush's tax cuts for the rich, though he once voted against them. He is not about to put billions of dollars into welfare, and he would continue Bush's programs of pumping welfare aid through "faith based organizations" – in effect forcing the poor into the arms of the religious right. At times McCain has been a critic of the conduct of the Iraq war, but he has never been a critic of the war itself. To the contrary, McCain embraced the war from the beginning. He saw Saddam Hussein as "a threat of the first order," and he asserted that the UN program of weapon inspection had not worked. He voted to give Bush the power to go to war, and he championed the fallacious idea that a war would bring democracy to the Middle East. Two weeks before the invasion began, he declared that that the people of Iraq would welcome it as their liberation. [Speech to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2/13/03] 

While he had some differences with the Bush Administration over the conduct of the war, he embraced the neo-conservative idea that the invasion would "send the message throughout the Middle East that democracy can take hold in the Middle East." He also long supported Donald Rumsfeld. After the Abu Ghraib scandal he was asked if Rumsfeld should continue as secretary of defense. He replied, "I believe he's done a fine job. He's an honorable man." In Derry, New Hampshire Derry, (3 January 2008) McCain declared that the occupation of Iraq will continue, if necessary, for "100 years". McCain is an officer, however, and he has not always supported the veterans as much as the Administration. In 2006 he was one of 13 senators who voted against appropriating $430 million for inpatient and outpatient veteran care.

If McCain becomes president, the world can expect a leader who seeks military solutions to political problems, even those rooted in religious differences. His worldview is mostly black and white, with few shades of gray. Born in the middle of the 1920s, he came to adulthood during World War II and the McCarthy years. He embraced the military at the height of the Cold War. This Manichean worldview was further hardened when he was held as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. To his credit, this experience also made him a forceful critic of the Bush Administration's use of secret prisons and torture.

If McCain has been shaped by the military, at least it is a proud and principles military tradition. His grandfather, his father, and his son, like McCain himself, all attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis. For two reasons it is rare in the United States for four generations in a single family to send a son there. First, it is just as difficult to get into that elite school as it is to go to the army's West Point. Second, it is rare for one family to have sons for that many generations who want to go. This puts McCain in the super-patriot class of true believers in the United States. Attending Annapolis is like going to boot camp for four years, followed immediately by an obligatory four years of military service. Each graduate begins as a junior officer, and a preponderance of the generals and admirals come from West Point and Annapolis. Electing McCain would put the military establishment in the West House. He would raise military pay and appropriate more money to defense, while at the same time closing some bases to rationalize the use of funds.

Huckabee would go back a century, while McCain would go back "only" fifty years. Such a leader is more appropriate to the either/or psychology of Cold War than to the complexities of today's world. But he is ill suited to world where the US will decline as the world's most powerful nation, both economically and militarily. In the next twenty years, China and India each will rival or surpass the American economy in size. Even now, the Bush legacy is a weak economy, a weak dollar, and a huge imbalance of payments. As the global balance of power shifts, the United States will be best served by a leader who can maximize what Harvard's Professor Joseph Nye has called "soft power." The go-it-alone arrogance of the Bush years has eroded that soft power, which builds upon international respect for a nation's values, behavior, and culture.

During the Bush Administration the rest of the world instead has endured lies, bluster, arrogance, and ignorance. Recall Rumsfeld's nasty remarks about "old Europe," or Powell's speech at the United Nations, which turned out to be full of misinformation and lies. Recall Bush's refusal to sign many international treaties, notably that banning line mines. Recall the hubris of the neo-conservatives, certain that Iraq would quickly become a model democracy. Remember that for years Bush refused to believe global warming even existed, and tried to silence government scientists who disagreed. The Bush team has damaged the nation's credibility.

The next president needs to restore faith in the good intentions and the honesty of the United States, primarily by exercising soft power and serving as a useful leader. McCain might well be a more effective commander in chief, and let us assume he would be honest. But he will always be yesterday's man.


February 07, 2008

Money Talks: Why is Hillary Running Out Of It?

After the American Century

Remember all those news stories about Hillary Clinton amassing a huge campaign fund? More than anyone else? About $100 million. Well, she has used it up. She has had to give $5 million of her own money to keep the campaign going, and even so some members of her staff are not being paid this month. One reads in the press about "donor fatigue," because she has been hitting the same people for funds continually sine 2006.

But this is likely not "donor fatigue." This is money talking, and the smart money is now saying "Obama." Yes, Hillary has more delegates than Obama, if you count the super delegates. But without them (and they can change their minds), she is in a dead heat with Obama. Therefore, she really needs money right now, and the idea that rich donors suddenly are "fatigued" is almost silly. How better to create a political debt than to donate right now?

How bad is it? Until a few days ago Clinton had no campaign staff in the State of Washington, where the largest group of delegates is to be selected on Saturday. So the out-of-state professionals, who have rushed in now, must compete with Obama's office. It has been open for a long time, and it does not have any money problems. With almost 100 delegates at stake in a strange hybrid system that involved a caucus but also later voting, being on the ground early is crucial. Washington State is a likely place for Obama to gain on Hillary.

For Clinton, it gets worse. Louisiana also holds a primary on the same day. After the Bush Administration's flawed handling of the flooding from Katrina, the population there is angry at the Republicans and ready to vote for change. There is also a large Black population there, likely to vote overwhelming for Obama. In short, this state could also go against Clinton.

Finally, there is Nebraska, a Midwestern state that might vote the same way that neighboring Iowa and Kansas did, for Obama.

Is it not possible that Hillary's donors have begun to suspect that Obama can carry the most states, and therefore win the most electoral votes? Are some of her (former) donors also friends of Ted Kennedy? If one assumes that, regardless of who is the candidate, the Democrats will win California, New York, and Massachusetts, as all polls and past elections suggest, then which candidate can win elsewhere, particularly in the swing states? The voting this weekend could establish Obama is the one who can do that, making him the most viable candidate. This might give him the momentum needed to get the nomination.

Then again, even if Obama wins all three states it will only bring him a modest gain, because the Democratic Party rules divide the delegates up roughly proportionally. That is why there seems to be almost no chance that either Hillary or Obama can assemble 2025 delegates before the Pennsylvania Primary in April. One of the most important swing states, because of its 12.4 million population, Pennsylvania calls itself "the keystone state" - certainly an appropriate name in this election.

Hillary will need money for Pennsylvania, and so will Obama. But he has been phenomenally successful raising money from ordinary people. More than 100,000 individuals donated more than $30 million to him in January alone. It may seem a shallow way to compare the candidates, but the ability to raise money and organize an effective campaign might be one measure that helps us to decide who is the better candidate. As Americans say, "Money talks." At the moment, Hillary has to dig into her own pocketbook to be heard.

February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday


After the American Century, voting statistics updated 11:30 PM

For the Republicans, McCain was the winner on Super Tuesday. For the Democrats, there was no victor, but the results suggest Obama may be a stronger candidate than Clinton.

On the Republican side, McCain won the most delegates, but he did not win a majority of the states. Huckabee won all the Southern primaries yesterday (Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia), and no doubt he would be president of the Confederacy, had the Union not won the Civil War. To the North, reports of Mitt Romney's political death seem to have been announced prematurely. He won a number of western states, not just Massachusetts and Mormon Utah. Bishop Romney also took Colorado and three states along the Canadian border, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. With seven states in all, Romney kept himself in the race, especially considering that California, unlike most of the other Republican contests, is not a winner-take-all state.

Nevertheless, the Romney camp is a bit unhappy today, first because they know that McCain is far ahead in the only area that really matters: delegates. Second, because McCain and Huckabee ganged up on Romney in West Virginia in the caucus there. When the early ballot was inconclusive, McCain told his supporters to give their votes to Huckabee. Romney feels he got mugged. McCain won the four biggest prizes of the day, the populous states of California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. He also took Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Arizona,, Oklahoma and Missouri. It you plot the results on a map, Huckabee won the Old South, Romney the plains and Mountain West, and McCain the heavily populated more mainstream states in between.

In terms of delegates, it is too early to make a final count. CNN gives McCain about 680, putting him well ahead of Romney (270), Huckabee (176), and Paul (16). These figures (and those listed below for the Democrats) are still being revised as I write, and the final results will be somewhat different. However, the relative standing of the candidates will not change. McCain certainly looks like the winner, but even he has only about half the delegates needed. Huckabee and Romney insist that they are still in the race. Conceivably each of them hopes that McCain will not be able to sustain this campaign marathon. They would never say it directly, but a front-runner over 70 is vulnerable should any questions arise about his stamina, his heart, or any aspect of his physical condition. Huckabee makes a point of jogging in full view of the press, and Romney radiates good health. In short, McCain will probably win, but he needs to look vibrant and energetic. Apparently, he still has to fight for another month or so.

On the Democratic side, Obama can claim 14 states versus only 8 for Clinton. He can also point to impressive victories in states with virtually no African-American population: Alaska, Idaho, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Recall any African Americans in the film Fargo? A few weeks ago it would have seemed madness to think that a Black candidate could win in these places, but in each case he won by a landslide over Clinton. Obama received an astonishing 80% of the votes in Idaho, more than 70% in Alaska, and more than 60% in Minnesota and North Dakota. Obama also triumphed in Georgia and Alabama, receiving not just the Black vote but a sizable while vote as well, showing that the victory in neighboring South Carolina was no fluke. In Georgia, Obama had more than twice as many votes as Hillary. In addition to the South, Obama can claim victories in all parts of the nation, including New Mexico, Colorado, and Idaho in the West; Kansas, Illinois, and Missouri in the Midwestern heartland; and Connecticut and Delaware in the East. It was an impressive showing. His campaign staff did an excellent job in a complicated contest.

Hillary can also claim victory, even if she won fewer states, and even though she won them by smaller margins. She will get the most delegates because she took the two biggest prizes: her home state of New York and the most populous US state of all, California. Her two areas of strength were the Northeast and a clutch of states in the upper South, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, where Bill was governor. 

In terms of delegates, the precise results will not be worked out until 7 February at the earliest. But as of 5:30 PM (EST) on Wednesday, CNN estimates that Clinton has won 625 at the ballot box, plus 193 super delegates, and that Obama has won 624 delegates, plus 106 super delegates. There are still more than 100 delegates to be awarded, but the fact it is taking so long strongly suggests that they will be divided up pretty equally. Neither will be close to the 2025 needed to win the nomination. Note, too, that there are 75 uncommitted and some also remain formally committed to John Edwards. If the race stays tight, these votes, along with the other super delegates will become crucial.

Strategically, Obama's showing tells party professionals that he has the best chance to win against McCain in November. Hillary won states that the Democrats usually win, notably Massachusetts and New York. However, she showed little strength in the marginal states that must be won to beat the Republicans, such as New Mexico and Colorado. Bush and Cheney triumphed by carrying the South and West, and Obama poses a stronger challenge to the GOP in these areas than she does. The more analytical Democratic managers will read Super Tuesday as proof that Obama can threaten McCain in all areas of the nation, while Hillary is strongest in the areas of their traditional strength. If he is nominated, Obama can no doubt carry traditional Democratic strongholds such as California, New York, and Massachusetts, where Hillary won, but where he also did respectably. If Hillary is the nominee, however, she has less chance than he does of winning the swing states. That matters.

Obama challenges the Republicans in those swing states and even in places they long have taken for granted, like Alaska and Idaho. He has the potential to lead a landslide, fundamentally changing the contours of the Congress. In contrast, Clinton has the potential to win a hard fought, close contest. He is more likely to lead a fundamental change. She can bring a shift in power, but it would likely be a narrow triumph, bitterly won, that could only lead to more partisanship.

To see what such a close struggle might be like, no need to wait. Hillary and Obama will continue to battle for at least another month, probably more.

For an overview of future primaries, see Blog for 3 Feb.

February 05, 2008

How Moderate is McCain?


After the American Century

Writing on Super Tuesday before any votes have yet been cast, I shall say nothing about the exciting Democratic contest, except that Obama seems to have momentum, rising in the polls each day. He might surprise Hillary in California. But more about that tomorrow. Today it is time to think about the Republicans, who apparently will make John McCain their nominee. It may not happen in a formal sense on Super Tuesday, but all the polls suggest that his competition will fall so short that the race will effectively be over. Huckabee may win a state or two in the South, no more. Romney will apparently run second in many states, though he should win at least Massachusetts, his home state.

It is therefore time to look more closely at McCain, and ask what his positions are. Is he really a moderate? For my European readers, I should say that compared to the Scandinavian or German politicians, he is off the scale to the right on many issues. No one with his views would have a shadow of a chance of leading any of these nations.

The American media's image of McCain, however, is that he is a moderate compared to the other Republican candidates. He is also perceived as something of a maverick, unwilling to toe the party line. It is true that he has not been a knee-jerk supporter of Bush's foreign policy. He is not a Bible-thumping fundamentalist like Huckabee, and he does not quote the Book of Genesis on the campaign trail. He admits that climate change is real (though he argues that nuclear power is the remedy). And he has supported stem-cell research, along with that wild-eyed radical Nancy Reagan. But on most of the issues McCain is quite conservative. Consider the following examples.

Abortion. McCain consistently has called the Supreme Court decision that legalized avortion, Roe vs. Wade, a mistake. He said again in the California debate last week that he would appoint "strict constructionists" to the courts. In American political code, this means he wants judges to stay away from legislating from the bench, particularly on abortion. McCain considers the "right to life" to be a human rights issue, and he has voted consistently on this issue. For example, he supports punishing doctors who perform abortions.

Iraq. McCain wants to fight the war as long as it takes. As a Vietnam War veteran who was imprisoned by the North Vietnamese, he has strong feelings on this issue. He has said the United States should stay in Iraq for 100 years, if necessary. Note that McCain went to the Naval Academy for his education, as did his father, his grandfather, and his son. By comparison, Bush was not trained as an officer. He served briefly in the National Guard and never saw combat. McCain is a warrior by instinct. He is also reputed to have a fierce temper.

The Arts. McCain would eliminate Federal spending on the arts and humanities. This is a symbolic issue, as annual Federal arts funding is less than the Iraq War costs every single day.

Civil Rights. McCain wants to keep the Federal government out of rights issues and leave them to the states. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) consistently has rated McCain as hostile to civil rights. In 2002, for example, McCain had the lowest possible score (0%) in their annual rating of candidates on civil rights issues. Nevertheless, at times his conservatism can lead him to vote with liberals on specific issues. On gay marriage, for example, he has voted against a federal ban, saying that imposing this from Washington is inconsistent with Republican principles.

Evolution. McCain would allow the decision about teaching "Creationism" to be made in each school district. No Federal imposition of the teaching of Darwin would be allowed.

Death Penalty. McCain supports the death penalty, and would have it extend to drug dealers. He would increase spending for Federal prisons.

Drugs. McCain strongly opposes any legalization of marijuana, which he sees as an addictive, "gateway drug" that leads to more powerful drugs.

Energy. McCain has voted against achieving energy independence, even though he rhetorically supports that idea. He has opposed putting research money into alternative fuels, and he has opposed federally supported development of ethanol as a partial substitute for oil. The Campaign for America's Future (CAF) rates law-makers' voting records on bills dealing with energy independence, and they give McCain only a 17% rating. That is quite low compared to Clinton and Obama, both of whom CAF rated at 100%.

McCain's positions are what passes for "moderate" in the Republican Party, which suggests how far to the right the other candidates are. On all of these issues, the Democratic Party has a different stance. Internal party differences between Obama and Clinton pale to insignificance by contrast.

In short, do not be deceived by the assiduously cultivated "marverick" image of John McCain. On most issues, he is not a moderate. Rather, he is much like the George Bush that has emerged during his second term. Bush too now admits that global warming is real and that the US is "addicted to oil," while doing little about either of these problems. He too wants to stay in Iraq, pack the Supreme Court with strict constructionists, keep the death penalty, encourage the Creationists, and discourage those pressing for Civil Rights. McCain does smile more, but he is a real warrior and a real conservative.

The interesting question becomes, will this conservative McCain become visible to the voting public by November, or will he still be perceived as a moderate maverick?




February 03, 2008

Clinton vs Obama: How Long the Race?

After the American Century

As the candidates make their final appearances before Super Tuesday, it appears likely, judging by the polls, that John McCain will have an insurmountable lead over Romney, Huckabee, and Paul, after the Republican voting. In contrast, the polls also suggest that neither Clinton nor Obama will be anywhere near a majority on February 6. Whether selecting the nominee first is an advantage is the subject of an earlier blog. The question I will take up here is how long the Democrats may have to struggle.

In theory, the nomination process for the Democrats could last until their convention late in the summer. In recent posts I have pointed out that the Edwards delegates and the super delegates would then hold the balance of power. Together, these unpledged votes constitute one fifth of what either Obama or Clinton needs to reach the magic total of 2025. They might be fighting to get those votes all summer, culminating on the floor of the convention. This happened to the Republicans in 1976, when Ford and Reagan battled all the way to the last possible day, with Ford winning by a small margin. The same thing happened to the Democrats in 1960, and there are other examples from earlier decades.

In practice, convention cliffhangers are rare. Usually, the candidates have been chosen through the primary process, and the convention is scripted as a display of unity. That is what any nominee would prefer. However, there are simply not enough delegates being chosen on Super Tuesday to declare a winner to this contest, so, let us look at the contests after 5 February. Seen from a candidate's perspective, what lies ahead is going to be exhausting. It will be long and it will require a great deal of travel, because the states holding primaries on the same day are often far apart. It will also be ferociously expensive.

Here is a summary of what comes after Super Tuesday. Note particularly 4 March when more than 10% of all the delegates will be selected. This might close out the process, but even at this point there will be 650 more delegates to choose in the remaining primaries, plus the uncommitted super delegates. Should Clinton and Obama keep running neck and neck, this race could go all the way into June and still not have a certain winner.

One hopes, however, that either Obama or Clinton will manage to build a majority by 22 April (Pennsylvania) or 6 May (North Carolina and Indiana). By that time, conceivably, one of them will admit defeat and gracefully withdraw. But it might go all the way to the Convention.


Primaries after "Super Tuesday"

9 February, 194 delegates at stake in widely separated Washington, Louisiana, and Nebraska.

10 February, 34 delegates at stake in Maine, up on the Canadian border, as far from the previous three states as it is possible to get.

12 February, 238 delegates at stake in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC. Note that for once the three elections are in contiguous locations.

19 February, 121 delegates at stake in Wisconsin and Hawaii

4 March, perhaps a decisive day with 444 delegates at stake in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

8 March, just 48 delegates, in the widely separated Wyoming and Mississippi.

22 April. If the decision still has not been reached, the primary in Pennsylvania might well be the most important of the entire election, with 188 delegates at stake. The candidates will have ample time to campaign here - six weeks!

6 May. Two weeks later, even more delegates are at stake, 218 in North Carolina and Indiana.

13 May. If the candidate has not been chosen by this point, West Virginia may become an unlikely battleground for just 39 delegates.

20 May. With 125 delegates in Oregon and Kentucky, this is the last time a substantial number of delegates can be won

3 June, the end of the process, with just 47 delegates at stake, in the neighboring states of Montana and South Dakota.

February 02, 2008

"Super Delegates" May Hold Balance of Power in the Democratic Party

After the American Century

This nomination process is not the result of simple voting, where the nominee is selected directly by the voters. Rather, voters select delegates, and they do so by district. In Nevada, for example, Obama got fewer votes than Hillary Clinton but won in more districts and so has more delegates (13-12). The same sort of thing happened in New Hampshire, where Obama may have lost the popular vote but won one more delegate (12-11). In Iowa, Obama got more votes than she did, but both ended up with the same number of delegates (18).  In South Carolina, Obama won both the popular vote and the most delegates (26-14). Based on those four contests, it seems obvious that Obama should be winning the delegate battle, with 69, vs. 55 for Hillary. 

However, only three out of every four delegates are selected in primaries and caucuses. When the 4049 delegates arrive at the Democratic Convention to select their candidate, 796 of them will be "super delegates." That is, they will be there by virtue of their office or past service to the party. For example, former President Bill Clinton is a super delegate, and so are sitting Democratic governors, Senators, mayors of major cities, and party members who hold seats in the House of Representatives, plus various others. These "super delegates" define the party establishment. They tend to favor the known over the unknown. As politicians, they all have debts and obligations, and it is more likely that they owe a favor or two to the candidates who are well-established. In other words, these elected politicians all know the Clintons, and many are in their political debt. 

Super delegates do not necessarily pledge their support to any candidate in advance, and many wait for the race to develop before backing someone. CNN has prepared a list which shows that when pledged super delegates are included, Hillary Clinton is well ahead, with 232 delegates, vs. only 158 for Obama. By my count, that means he has picked up 89 super delegates, while Hillary has gained 177, almost twice as many. No less than 59 of Hillary's super delegates come from just New York State and California. Will Hillary easily win because of her super delegate support? Perhaps not. For there is another way to look at these numbers. More than half of the super delegates are still up for grabs, either sitting on the fence (368) or committed to Edwards (62), who has dropped out. These 430 super delegates may hold the balance of power, should the primaries fail to give either Obama or Clinton 2025 delegates, the minimum necessary for nomination. 

So much has already happened in this campaign that no one would have predicted. Yet, presumably it is certain that the nominee will need at least 2025 delegates. (Though even here, what about Michigan and Florida and their discounted primaries?) To prevail, Obama will need to do more than narrowly win the popular vote. He probably has to defeat Clinton resoundingly at the polls before he can swing those 430 super delegates (insiders all), to his side. He cannot do it without insider support of this own. Ted Kennedy, who knows most super delegates by their first names, can play a crucial role in getting them to ride the Obama wave.