Posts Tagged ‘Hillary Clinton’

The Thinker

Election 2016 preview

You need quite a long scorecard to keep track of the people running for president these days. As in 2012, the number is disproportionately high on the Republican side. This time around the number of Republicans running is even higher. As of today there are eleven officially declared candidates: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush. Unannounced candidates will likely include Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and John Kasich. Fox News and CNN get to figure out how to put them all on a debate stage. As a practical matter they should have two or three debates with subsets of the candidates at each. That way at least there is some chance of a debate.

But will any of them say anything that truly distinguished them from the other candidates? With the exceptions of Rand Paul (who recently tried to kill the Patriot Act) and George Pataki (a suspiciously moderate former governor of New York state) the answer is pretty much “no”. The rest are all cut from the same cloth; they accept the same orthodoxy and thus all kind of blend into the debate stage together. Some are slightly more socially conservative than others, but even Republicans will have a hard time finding any meaningful differences between them.

Some of these candidates could at least be laughed off the stage as simply not credible or for suffering from terminal foot in mouth disease. It appears that shame is no barrier to running for president:

  • Carly Fiorina made a mess during her tenure as Hewlett Packard’s CEO. Despite this and never having held a political office, but she thinks she can lead the country.
  • Shortly after the death of his son Beau to brain cancer recently, Ted Cruz joked about the Vice President.
  • Ben Carson opined that prison makes men gay, as if being a victim of rape in prison makes someone gay. He also said that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen since slavery. Presumably it is worse than two world wars and the Holocaust.
  • Mike Huckabee, referencing Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner, says it would have been convenient to pretend to be a woman when he was growing up so he could have gone into the women’s showers.
  • Rick Santorum, supposedly a devout Catholic, said the pope should shut up about climate change because he’s not a scientist, presumably ignorant that the pope worked as a chemist before joining the priesthood.

So far at least Democratic candidates haven’t suffered much from this problem. Hillary Clinton has learned the hazards of opening her mouth to the press from past campaigns and largely ignores them with listening tours. The closest crazy candidate is not the “Democratic socialist” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, whose opinions are actually mainstream. No, it’s Lincoln Chafee, former Rhode Island senator, governor and Republican whose announcement the other day at least managed to draw some attention for some controversial opinions. These included proposals that we should negotiate with the Islamic State and that we should embrace the metric system. (Those of us who remember the 1970s remember how popular moving to the metric system made politicians.) Martin O’Malley is running to Hillary’s left. The exception, if he decides to run, is Jim Webb, the only candidate in either party that could be considered a genuine moderate.

How all this will play out at this time is anyone’s guess. Republican candidates figure they can increase their odds of success with affiliated PACs stuffed full of cash, or by quietly getting the endorsement of well funded billionaires like the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson. At the other end is Bernie Sanders, whose campaign is funded through lots of small donations, principally from committed liberal activists. While the effect of money on campaigns will doubtless be an issue in the campaign, every candidate will be doing their best to rake in obscenely large campaign contributions, if they can get them.

Eventually though one or more candidates has to break through somehow. Hillary Clinton arguably has already broken through with her wide name recognition and her wide approval among women of all parties. On the Republican side it’s much less clear who will break through. One strategy is to see who can hold on the longest and generally that means the candidate with the most money, i.e. the Jeb Bush strategy. Occasionally a distinct personality will emerge that tickles Republicans. All bets though are off on who this will be. Already sure things (Chris Christie and Jeb Bush) look like has beens. Last time Mitt Romney won in part because he looked like he could bring in non-Republicans. Fewer Republicans are willing to try what they see as a failed strategy. If I had to place my money on a Republican candidate right now, I’d probably go with Scott Walker, who’s not even announced yet.

The general election dynamics are in great flush as well, with much riding on who wins the nomination and the extent to which they excite both their base and moderates. Obama won in 2008 because he was seen as very different and thus exciting. Hillary won’t seem at all fresh but she can draw excitement from women, who comprise a majority of voters anyhow. If so 2016 could be a wave election favoring Democrats. Lacking a wave election much will depend on how enthusiastic voters are in general. Also voter disenfranchisement is a considerable factor and will tend to tilt things toward Republican states where it exists.

What’s unknown is what the sleeper issues, if any, will be. Bernie Sanders seems to speak for a lot of people. He is dragging the Democratic Party in general to the left, which could be dangerous in a general election. But many of his issues are issues most Americans feel strongly about but candidates aren’t seriously addressing, such as a living wage. If voter apathy can be harvested, the political dynamics might move sharply toward the left, at least in the Senate and in presidential races. Gerrymandering has made it unlikely that Democrats can regain the house before 2022.

So who eventually wins really depends on whom we choose to focus on and why. Will we choose to be dazzled by showmanship and money, or will we vote based on common values? Few candidates are speaking to the political moderates. The candidate that can do this and win their party’s nomination is the one likeliest to be our next president.

 
The Thinker

Not quite ready for Hillary

To no one’s surprise, Hillary Clinton is planning to finally confirm that yes, she is running for president in 2016. This will happen probably via a Twitter post tomorrow that will link to a video of her announcement. Officially she’s been undecided, but given all the backstage machinations going on within the Clinton camp it’s been obvious for months if not years that she was going to run. Thence she will be off on a listening tour. She has learned from previous campaigns that she does better when she is not giving speeches and when she is seen as relatable.

I hope I am not the only one out there feeling underwhelmed. It’s not that I can’t support her for president, particularly since there is not a sane Republican running for president. Hillary for President sounds about as exciting to me as a bowl of mushy oatmeal for breakfast. Maybe it’s good for me but most mornings I don’t want to eat it. I’m not sure who I am looking for, but it’s not Hillary Clinton.

For most on the Democratic left, the choice would be Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), who will soon be my senator. I could get behind her of course if she were going to run, which she is not, even though I doubt she would be an effective president. She has been quite clear about not wanting to run for president. Hillary is not quite without competition. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is running, some say in the hope to end up on her ticket. Former Republican governor of Rhode Island and Democratic senator Lincoln Chafee sounds like he will be running. And former Virginia senator Jim Webb sounds like he might do the same.

O’Malley is definitely politically left but is otherwise uninspiring. Lincoln Chafee is virtually unknown outside his tiny home state. Jim Webb is an intriguing possibility. He was a decent if unconventional senator, without much in the way of accomplishments for his six years in the senate, but with lots of interesting ideas that succumbed to the usual partisanship. Webb seemed happy to leave after a single term. However, Webb likes to flit from thing to thing. Flitting with the presidency is his current thing. He would be the closest thing to a non-controversial and mainstream candidate that the Democrats could nominate. Hillary brings baggage.

With Hillary I think: Is this really the best we can do? Perhaps so. Hillary hits all the right demographics. She is broadly popular, particularly among women. She is well known and won’t surprise us. We know all her dirt and in particular we know all of her husband’s dirt. We have seen her as First Lady, senator, candidate and secretary of state. As First Lady she was seen as uppity and controversial. As a senator she learned to be toned down and conventional. She also made some really bad calls, such as voting for the Iraq War resolution. As a candidate in 2008 she ran an overly scripted, haughty and very flawed campaign that was as exciting as, well, my bowl of morning oatmeal. Her only real political success was as our Secretary of State. That’s not a bad asset to bring to the presidency. Like it or not, foreign policy will occupy much of the next president’s time. It’s not something that voters will care much about.

What does she bring to a campaign? She brings an I’m not one of those nutty Republicans, pretty much any of whom with the possible exception of Jeb Bush are unelectable. Mostly she brings the undeniable fact that she is a woman with a serious chance of winning her party’s nomination. Seeing the mess so many men have made of the presidency, we’d like to see a female in that post in the hopes that she would bring more pragmatism and common sense to the office. Certainly the tone would be different, wouldn’t it?

Perhaps but tone doesn’t change much. The power dynamics will not change much when Obama exits stage right and if Clinton enters stage left. The senate has a decent chance of returning to Democratic control in 2016, but unless there is a huge wave election for Hillary the House will stay with the GOP. Districts are too tightly gerrymandered for a switch there. Democrats really have to hope they can win sufficient power in key states in 2020 when the next census takes place. Any first term for Hillary Clinton would look a lot like Obama’s current term.

So electing Hillary certainly won’t solve the gridlock in Congress or change the overall political dynamics. It would not surprise me if Republican misogyny toward Hillary replaces their obvious racism toward Obama. Clinton would certainly do her best to keep the status quo in place: no major changes on the Supreme Court or changed to entitlements. In that sense her presidency would feel comfortable. The biggest political problem today is actually within the Republican Party. They don’t know what they stand for. The libertarians and Wall Street Republicans loathe the social conservatives and visa versa. The party refuses to come down to earth and wants to chase bogeymen and impossible goals. Just like modern Christianity bears no resemblance to the religion Jesus founded, today’s Republican party bears no resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s vision of the party. It’s become impossibly twisted and bizarrely out of the mainstream.

A vote for Hillary is really a vote for more of the same, which is not necessarily bad given that with the reigns of power Republicans would likely be doing insane things like turning over our national parks to the private sector. However, there is nothing compelling about her candidacy, nothing to inspire voters other than she is a woman, and no coherent and inspiring message to rally around. The power of such a message should not be discounted. It provided a mandate for Barack Obama in 2008 and both a Democratic House and Senate. Real change happens when people have a strong motivation to vote, not just for a candidate, but also for candidates supporting a distinct and credible platform.

Given Clinton’s cautious nature, we are likely to see more of her 2008 campaign. It is likely to be carefully scripted and stage-managed. It will be a cautious and focus group tested campaign rather than a bold one. If Hillary were a man instead of a woman, would any of us vote for her with the same interest and enthusiasm? I doubt it. She would be another milquetoast Martin O’Malley, but much more centrist and likely less inspiring.

So I’m not ready for Hillary. I probably never will be. I can’t see myself voting for any of the crazy Republican candidates. If she wins the nomination she will likely get my vote. Unless she can demonstrate a passion and a compelling vision I’ve never seen from her I’ll probably dutifully vote for her. I just won’t feel inspired doing so.

 
The Thinker

Hillary’s emails: what the critics are missing

The current kerfuffle over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private Blackberry and private email server for her official business while she was Secretary of State is mostly about making a mountain out of a molehill. Nonetheless the molehill makes for a pretty interesting discussion and analysis. I have some thoughts about this coming from my time as a civil servant as well as some technical perspectives from my career in information technology that I haven’t heard in the media. Hence I’m taking some time to blog about it.

There are many dimensions to the issue. You can look at it from either dimension and feel completely justified that your side is right. Let me advocate for both of them and you tell me which is right.

First, I’ll take the critical perspective. Records should be kept of official government business. The Secretary of State does a lot of official business and it impacts national and international policy. Moreover, the email threads of these historical events may provide useful lessons for the future. The Secretary of State is essentially a civil servant. She works for the taxpayers. So her email should be archived, not necessarily for instant critique, but for history and for congressional and criminal inquiries when they are needed.

However, she was not just anyone. She was the Secretary of State. I can think of few positions in the government, including the Director of the CIA, that are more sensitive. If I were trying to have a confidential back channel communication with the Prime Minister of Israel, would I really want him to communicate with me through [email protected], even if the email were highly encrypted? Or using any state.gov email address? Would any leader outside our country want anything less than innocuous content to go through such a system? There is always the telephone, of course, and the Blackberry includes a telephone. However, a telephone is synchronous. It’s a relatively inefficient way to work. It’s much better to reply with thought and nuance when you have the opportunity to do so, i.e. use email.

The reality is that the Secretary of State (and most high level government executives) has multiple channels of communications to do their business. Email is an important tool. Staff communications happens at another level and is also vital. In general, all sorts of lower level communications have likely happened before the Secretary picks up the phone or sends an email. If there are times when a confidential email is the best choice for the Secretary, an off the record email system makes a lot of pragmatic and business sense. It’s hard for me to think of myself as Secretary of State but if I was, it was lawful and I had the money I’d probably have done mostly what Clinton did, except I’d have a separate email for strictly personal use. A private email address though was pragmatic and necessary. We should trust implicitly anyone we pick for Secretary of State. If we didn’t trust her, the Senate should not have confirmed her.

Using the same email account for both personal and public use even though it offers convenience is stupid. Personal systems are likely to be less secure as government systems, although government email systems are hardly perfectly secure. One could make the business case that overall her public emails would have been more secure being hidden on a private server inside the government technical enclave. Ideally she would use a hidden government-managed email server that was patched and highly secured.

However, those who think that she should have done all of her email using a [email protected] email address clearly don’t have much of an understanding of how impractical this is. If this was her only government email address, it would be inundated with thousands of emails every day, even after the spam filter removed the obvious garbage. She would depend on staff to sift through it and flag the ones that she would read. Staff are not perfect though and might potentially not flag the important ones. In addition, there are times when you really don’t want staff reading certain emails but you need to communicate asynchronously. So you need a channel for that. And the open nature of email means anyone can send email to anyone. In short, this approach is not the least bit practical for someone at her position. She needed an email system that only let in those that she needed to let in, and this could not be done through the technology of the time.

What she did was not unlawful at the time, but certainly gave out a bad odor. It feeds into conspiracy theories that the Clintons always attract. It suggests a need for rigorous control and confidentiality; something I argue is not unreasonable for someone in her position. Mostly though I think the problem here is that the technology did not exist that allowed her to do her work pragmatically. It still doesn’t exist. Email is not quite the right medium for what she needed, but it was a tool everyone had. A private email address and mail server was a pragmatic solution to a difficult problem.

It may well be that Hillary Clinton is as paranoid as Republicans believe she is, and that all their theories about her are true. If so she has plenty of company among Republicans. I strongly suspect that she is guilty of being pragmatic and efficient, and using these somewhat unorthodox means allowed her to be the highly productive Secretary of State that most historians agree that she was. And given the unique sensitivity and nature of her work, I think the ends largely justified the means here. I also believe that if there were a technical solution available that would have met her requirements, she would have used it.

 
The Thinker

Future errata on the news

No special topic for today’s post, just some quick thoughts about the news of the day and what I believe the story behind the story will be. With luck my precognition will be proven by subsequent events, and these will be errata indeed:

  • On the invitation by Speaker John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress: This isn’t about the supposed threat that Iraq’s nuclear weapon program poses to Israel’s existence. Congress doesn’t need additional convincing on that. This is about Republicans, and House Republicans in particular, having a snit with President Obama because basically they loathe him and can’t figure out any other way to kick him in the balls. They don’t respect him or his administration, even before he came to office. In short, this is institutional passive aggressive behavior. It is also very unwise as it sets a new and dangerous precedence that our country will speak on foreign policy with multiple voices. (Executing foreign policy is constitutionally the responsibility of the Executive branch.) This is also about Speaker Boehner trying to gain some leverage with his mostly out of control Tea Party wing. It helps shows that he is manly and serious in ways that they can appreciate. If I were a Democrat in Congress, I’d boycott attending. However, I don’t expect a critical mass of Democrats will do this, as they proved in the 2014 election that they are quite spineless.
  • On the allegation in David Alexrod’s new book that President Obama hid his support for gay marriage in the 2008 campaign: no duh! It was clear to us Democrats that he was for gay marriage, but he felt it was too dangerous to say so publicly at the time as it would have adversely affected his campaign. What was evolving was not his opinions, but the American people’s opinions. He was waiting for us to catch up. So, yes, he was being disingenuous, but no more than most politicians. In fact, most of the Republicans who claim to be upset about gay marriage really don’t care too much about it either; they just don’t want to upset their base, or really what the think is their base, i.e. the noisy (i.e. politically active) ones.
  • On funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out at the end of February: in the end Republicans will cave, probably sooner rather than later. Even if the House bill gets out of the Senate, which won’t happen, the President will veto it. The egg won’t be on Obama’s face as it plays out, because Americans overwhelmingly support his interim steps for immigration reform. So this is a losing issue for Republicans. Republicans will probably go for a series of 30 day funding mechanisms, until enough of them realize it just makes them look stupid, and then they’ll capitulate.
  • On the Obama Administration’s hope that a reinvigorated Iraqi army — with plenty of American advisors safely out of firing range to act as coaches –will retake Mosul from ISIS: it ain’t going to happen. The Iraqi army is a joke because there is no country called Iraq and because more desertions happen monthly than recruits coming in. What there is is a marginally governable country that should be called Shi’ite Iraq. To the extent that they will retake land it will be in traditionally Shi’ite dominated areas of that former country. What’s really happening is what I predicted in 2006: Iraq is being fractured into a number of religiously orthodox and ethnically pure countries: Shi’ite Iraq, Kurdistan and the Islamic State. It won’t be external forces that kill the Islamic State. It will be resistance from within when residents get sick of the overwhelming terror and (worse) the paucity of first world services like satellite TV. Neighboring countries will try to nudge this to happen sooner rather than later by making living in the IS more undesirable. The IS will either have to adopt into something marginally politically acceptable in the Middle East or it will eventually die a natural death. A state that does not operate like a state, i.e. with some uniformity and ability to provide basic services, is not a real state. I doubt it will be around five years from now regardless of what is done or not done.
  • On the reemergence of diseases like measles because certain parents can’t or won’t get their children immunized: never underestimate the power of shame and conformity. Americans are all for freedom until someone else’s freedom hurts their kids. If just one kid dies in America because someone kid’s parent refused to get their kid immunized, the remaining states will quickly fall in line and require all children to be inoculated against preventable diseases. The only question is where the set point is these days, as most Americans have no living memory of mass diseases like the measles. Smart Republican politicians are already walking back their talking points because disease knows no political boundaries. The parents of a Republican kid who comes down with the measles will be just as pissed-off Democratic parents in this situation, once they get over their own shame. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, particularly when we are certain that immunizations are safe and effective.
  • On the inevitability of Hillary Clinton as our next president: I am not convinced. The more I study her, the more things I find to dislike about her. The more Americans focus on her and the more they study her, the more that have second thoughts as well. If Republicans were smart, they would nominate a mainstream woman to run against her, perhaps Carly Fiorina to help negate the frustration by women that we never had a female president. Fortunately for Democrats, Republicans usually go stupid when picking a nominee. Still, a convincing mainstream Republican like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush or Indiana Governor Mike Pence could win in 2016. That’s what the sensible establishment Republicans are figuring, which is why they are throwing money into PACs for Jeb and trying to make him the likely nominee. If Clinton stumbles, right now the Democrats best bet is former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, because he is known for crossing the aisles and for taking unpopular positions, assuming Webb does not try a third party route. That’s credibility, and it’s what Americans are desperately looking for. I don’t expect though that Democrats will be in the mood to go with a mainstream candidate.
 
The Thinker

Democrats are running on empty ideas

Writing on politics often feels like déjà vu. After the drubbing (or perhaps it’s more appropriately the shellacking, or maybe even the tar-and-feathering) Democrats took on Election Day, lots of lessons on how to do things differently were busy being debated. It’s 2004 all over again. Democrats beat themselves senseless in 2004 when President Bush won a second term. One thing that was done differently then was for Democratic leaders (primarily to placate the angry progressives) to appoint Howard Dean to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. Dean famously instituted a 50-state strategy, which meant deploying Democrats in all states, in all races, and putting people in the field to recruit candidates and knock on doors to put them on voter roles.

It’s hard to say if this was primarily responsible for Democrats doing so well in the 2006 midterms. In that election, we had the same dynamics Republicans had in this latest election and we won big. Namely, whatever party the president represents suffers in their 6th year. In Bush’s case though a lot of the animus was due to Bush’s failed strategy in the War in Iraq. Republicans were as demoralized then as Democrats were this time around. They knew their war strategy wasn’t working and it depressed their turnout. Democrats won control of the House and Senate in 2006, and leveraged their advantage to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Just as reactions about what Republicans should do now that they are in power are predictable, so I am sad to say were Democrats proposed “solutions”. Progressive Democrats like me largely spent the week after the election self-flagellating ourselves. Our solutions to rectify our situation were mostly a lot of finger pointing. Do any of these arguments sound familiar?

  • Democrats should have run on Obama’s record, not run away from it
  • Democrats should not have acted like wimps
  • Democrats needed a 50-state strategy
  • Democrats should have said what they would do differently
  • Democrats should have spent more time and money on anti-Koch ads

I didn’t give much in the way of money to campaigns this election cycle. It was in part because being retired I had less to give. But it was also due to a lot of milquetoast candidates, a lot of subprime Democrats simply trying to hold onto power, and a fundamental disagreement on how most candidates were running their campaigns. I was not inspired. In an earlier post, I mentioned my disgruntlement at fundraising strategies I was subjected to. The blistering emails were relentless and they all pretty much conveyed this message: their candidate would fail if I didn’t pony up more money right now. Not one of these emails from candidates and their fundraising managers tried to sell me on how they were going to effectively use the money I gave them.

Blanketing the airwaves with ads, if you have the money, is a time-honored means of getting your candidate’s message out. In truth though voters of both political stripes are inured to these campaign ads. We all think they contain doublespeak and don’t believe any of them are authentic. Mainly though these ads are a piss poor way to spend money. You might as well take that money and throw it down the drain. They speak of desperation.

Here’s what I really want to know about a candidate:

  • How do you stand on the issues I care about?
  • What is your plan for winning the election?
  • How are you going to engage Democrats and independent voters and bring them to your side?
  • What sort of campaign do you have to knock on doors of likely voters and get them to the polls?
  • In a short sentence, what best distinguishes not just from your competition, but also as a Democrat?
  • How will you be spending any money I give you?

Nationally, the Democratic Party has simply resumed bad habits. It quickly abandoned a 50-state strategy the moment Dean left the DNC and most of them were happy to show him the door. Dean changed the dynamics and ruffled feathers. He was not a comfy DNC chair. He tried to actually orchestrate the process of recruiting, promoting and electing Democrats. He worked to find and promote candidates that promised to do things that Democrats cared about and gave them a reason for voting. Once back in power Democrats resumed bad habits: mostly fighting with themselves. This resulted, among other things, in a watered down health care reform bill that principally rewarded the insurance industry. Individual senators became demanding and petulant instead of working cooperatively. It turned off voters and put the Republicans back in charge of the House in 2010, and now the Senate in 2014.

If you want more of the same, keep doing what you are doing. Democrats in Congress are busy doing just that. Harry Reid will keep his leadership post, but as minority leader. So will Nancy Pelosi. A corporation, which had so many years of “bad return on investment”, would toss these “leaders” out on their ears. House and Senate Democrats though simply cannot summon the nerve to do what’s in the best interest of their party. The predictable result will be the usual position papers and talk of new strategies with little in the way of follow through.

Defeat shows that the leadership cannot lead, so new blood is needed. Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, should be the new minority leader in the Senate because she can articulate a compelling message and has the focus and determination to change the dynamics. Her promotion is to help with the Democratic message. I guess that’s good but hardly sufficient.

Democrats are largely riding on electoral dynamics. The good news is that so are Republicans. With Republicans though you can see where the new energy comes from: its Tea Party wing. They are the ones that really care. For Democrats, the energy is in its progressive wing. Smart Democrats should be fostering progressive candidates. For 2016 though the savvy Democrats and Republicans understand the dynamics will favor Democrats, and Congressional Democrats will be glad to ride that wave. It probably won’t bring them back the House, as the seats are too gerrymandered, but there is a better than even chance that Democrats will reclaim the Senate. That is, unless they nominate more of the same uninspiring candidates they did this time.

I am not as convinced as some that should Hillary Clinton run for president that she will be a shoe in. I was not enthusiastic for her in 2008 and I doubt I will be any more enthusiastic in 2016. It would be nice to have a female president, but I see little likelihood that she could change the dynamics in congress anymore than Obama did.

Savvy Democrats should be looking at 2020 and investing time and money to switch governorships and state houses from Republican to Democrat. In 2020 a census will be held, and it will trigger reapportionment. It will be state legislatures that will redraw congressional districts. Without a power shift there, the 2020s will likely be a lot more of what we’ve seen so far in the 2010s: a general absence of government. If you consider yourself a true patriot, this is where you should invest your time and money.

 
The Thinker

The audacity of stupidity

I have been trying to understand the rage of Hillary Clinton supporters now that she is out of the Democratic presidential race. Naturally, none of their rage seems to be directed against her personally for failing to win the nomination. Unsurprisingly, much of it is instead directed at Barack Obama who had the audacity to run a better campaign, present a better pitch to voters and, yes, sorry to dash your illusions Hillary fans, but also win the Democratic popular vote.

There are also many passionate Obama supporters out there. Had he lost and Clinton won, which I argued was what should have happened, I suspect many Obama supporters would be upset too. Perhaps they too would threaten to do what a quarter of Clinton supporters tell pollsters they will do: either sit out this election or vote for John McCain. The fact that some of Clinton’s supporters would actually vote for John McCain tells me how strongly they were vested in Clinton’s campaign. That they would actually vote for a candidate who is against almost all the interests that Clinton stood for strikes me as exercising the Audacity of Stupidity. Dogbert would have a field day with this line of reasoning.

As readers know, I support Barack Obama for president. However, I never was one of those Obama fanatics. I liked all the candidates and could have happily voted for any of them. I only narrowly chose Obama over Clinton. I could have happily voted for Clinton in the general election, despite her statements during the Pennsylvania and West Virginia primaries that sure sounded racist to me. I could vote for her because she is smart, personable, has values that are similar to mine, has a fair amount of political experience and also because I would have liked to see a woman in the Oval Office. Those obliquely racist comments about being best able to represent the values of the downsized, lower income white middle class were, I realized, mostly a desperate attempt to change the dynamics. (Moreover, it was probably untrue, given that Obama grew up living on food stamps, and she grew up in a comfortable Republican household.) This was clear to many others and me that by the end of March she just wasn’t going to be the nominee. Obama speaks of the Audacity of Hope. Hope though is predicated on at least something tangible. By the end of March, Clinton’s best hope was that some racist nut would assassinate her opponent. You do not plan a win based on such a strategy.

History will be the ultimate judge of why Obama won the nomination and Clinton lost. A few things are already clear. Obama ran a much better campaign. It is not that Obama’s advisors were all that cleverer, but that Clinton’s advisers were running her husband’s campaign. They never spent much time looking past Super Tuesday, which they assumed would set dynamics in play to seal the nomination. They raised money the old-fashioned way, on the rubber chicken dinner circuit and by networking their well moneyed friends, instead of the tapping the power of the Netroots and the Internet. Bill Clinton certainly did not help her. His own vaguely racist comments solidified the African American vote for Obama, which polls suggest she actually led at the end of 2007.

Mostly Clinton lost because when Democrats pondered it long enough she was not quite the candidate the majority of Democrats were looking for. As much as many of us wanted a woman president, she came with known baggage. Her negatives were well known and overall she was as unpopular a political figure as a popular one. Obama understood that this would be a change election. Clinton did not represent a clean break with the past and a fresh face. Given this dynamic, it is remarkable that she did as well as she did. It is doubtless cold comfort, but she came very close and split the last two primaries with Obama. She was not trounced. She set an excellent example of how to a woman should run for president. I am sure she inspired the woman who will someday hold the job.

Her claim to be the more experienced candidate struck me as rather strange. Like with her dubious claim of having won the popular vote, one can also play the numbers with experience claim. If one counts only time in elective office, sorry, Obama wins. Obama spent eight years in the Illinois senate and is closing in on his fourth year as a U.S. senator. Let us call his political experience a dozen years. By the same yardstick, Clinton’s political experience is eight years, all of it as a U.S. senator. Clinton of course wishes to discount Obama’s time in the Illinois state senate, but it was certainly a political office. She also wants to count her time as First Lady. The position is of course an honorary one and not a political one, although she did manage (and ultimately bungled) an attempt at national health insurance. Yes, she worked on other political campaigns, but Obama also spent many years as a community organizer making $12,000 a year. Personally, I think it is a wash. I do not think either candidate could credibly claim more experience. Clinton could legitimately claim the experience of being in the White House and understanding its unique political culture. There is a big difference though between observing it as First Lady and actually having the responsibility that her husband assumed.

So what drives the animus against Obama by a sizable number of her supporters? I have been reading blogs, news stories and asking Clinton supporters personally trying to find out. Clinton supporters cannot credibly claim that Obama is a misogynist. Quite the contrary, he arguably has as good if not a better record on women’s issues than Clinton. Throughout the campaign, he has been uniformly polite and deferential with Clinton. I will grant you that many commentators showed their misogyny, as this will attest. Mostly they represented forces that already disliked her, and were principally on the right. Remarks about her cleavage, for example, irritated me as much as it did millions of women.

Obviously, given their passion Clinton partisans saw more in her than I saw. Even so, I was overall impressed with her as a politician and as a candidate. While not the perfect woman to run for this office, she was at least eighty percent there. I actually did shake Hillary’s hand once when her husband was running for president. This was in Atlanta in 1992. The brief time I spent in her presence convinced me that she was a woman of substance.

Clearly, I am not a woman. However, I think I can put myself briefly into the minds of her supporters. I think women who supported her felt at last here was a woman who could truly be elected president. She had the right set of political and personal skills to pull it off. Many women also feel victimized by life. This is likely because most of them have been repeatedly victimized. (Men get victimized too, but that’s for another blog post.) They get crass come-ons from horny coworkers, bosses and construction workers. They earn on average 70% of what men earn. They are stuck with the majority of the childrearing business. They have people anxious to tell them what they can do with their own bodies. They were denied the vote until the 1920s. It is our time, it is our turn, I suspect is what they were thinking. Then out of nowhere comes this mixed race African American, another damn man, and snatches away her victory in an incredibly close contest with what looks like unearned charisma and smoke and mirrors. If this is how Clinton women feel, I can understand their anger and exasperation.

I am sorry that this election will mean that we will have another damn man in the Oval Office. I am sorry that no male president can think like a woman because he has a sex organ hanging between his legs. Nonetheless, it would be a profoundly stupid thing for any Clinton devotee to sit this election out or vote for John McCain. It is counterproductive to the values Clinton supporters claim to stand for. A vote for John McCain is a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is that simple. I hope their anger can be redirected before November where it belongs: on McCain and Republicans in general.

No, we will not have a woman president this go around. But it looks likely that we will have a distinguished and energetic man of mixed color who has fought for women’s issues all of his adult life and whose wife is a die hard feminist. It may be half a loaf, but it is at least half a loaf. Sit tight, American women. I think you will find America will have a woman president much sooner than you think. Read the rest of this entry »

 
The Thinker

Do the delegate math and the outcome is no longer hazy

It is probably just as well that I did not bet any money on Hillary Clinton being our next president. Last summer I gave her 4 out of 5 odds that she would be our next president. I certainly was not calling the election more than a year in advance but I pointed out that the dynamics were heavily in her favor. More recently around Super Tuesday, I said I still had confidence that she would be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. No longer. What happened? Clearly, Barack Obama proved to be a very formidable candidate but overall the primaries and caucuses have been quite close. While neither has enough delegates to claim the nomination yet, CNN calculates that Obama has a lead of 137 delegates. It gives Obama 1,622 delegates (1,413 pledged, 209 superdelegates) to Clinton’s 1,485 (1,242 pledged, 243 superdelegates).

2,024 delegates are needed to win the nomination. John Edwards also has 18 pledged delegates. So 3,125 delegates have been awarded. 692 delegates (566 pledged, 126 superdelegates) have yet to be selected in the remaining primaries and caucuses. By my calculations, this leaves 232 superdelegates uncommitted.

You can see the result of my math below. I used recent polling where available, and split the difference where unknown. Clinton has to rustle up 539 delegates to win the nomination. Obama needs 402. Hillary must win 59% of the remaining delegates and superdelegates to clinch the nomination. How likely is that? It is very unlikely. My estimate is that she will get 479 delegates, or fall 60 delegates short. I might add that I was being optimistic about many of her primary wins. I awarded committed superdelegates in proportion to those currently earned, where she has a 52% to 48% advantage.

State/Terr Delegates

Total (Pledged)

Clinton Obama
% Vote Delegates % Vote Delegates
PA

187 (158)

57 (55)

90 (85)

43 (45)

68 (73)

GU

9 (8)

50 (50)

4 (4)

50 (50)

4 (4)

IN

85 (72)

50 (51)

37 (38)

50 (49)

35 (34)

NC

134 (115)

45 (42)

52 (48)

55 (56)

63 (67)

WV

39 (28)

65 (67)

18 (20)

35 (26)

10 (8)

KY

60 (51)

58 (65)

30 (37)

42 (30)

21 (14)

OR

65 (52)

50 (41)

26 (21)

50 (59)

26 (31)

PR

63 (55)

50 (68)

28 (38)

50 (32)

27 (17)

MT

25 (16)

45 (41)

7 (7)

55 (57)

9 (9)

SD

23 (15)

40 (55)

6 (9)

60 (45)

9 (6)

Subtotal

690 (570)

298 (307)

272 (263)

Uncommitted Superdelegates

352

52

183

48

169

Committed + Super

1485

1622

3909

1966

2063

Edwards

18

Total Delegates at Convention

4047

It does not take a rocket scientist to say Hillary Clinton faces very long odds at winning the Democratic nomination at this point. I put her odds at 1 in 15. Moreover, I suspect I am being optimistic.

If somehow she does manage to eke out a win, it will be either because Barack Obama’s campaign imploded (which is very unlikely) or because she managed to convince a very large number of superdelegates to vote against the majority of the pledged delegates. The latter outcome, if it happens, would be the worst thing that could happen to the Democratic Party. It would likely tear it asunder. It would also make it very likely that John McCain will be our next president. Republicans praying for a miracle are praying for this one.

I doubt very much that either of these scenarios will happen. Hillary Clinton will not win this nomination but Barack Obama will. Despite Hillary’s claims that she is the more electable candidate, I strongly disagree. Unless the Democratic Party implodes, the dynamics are highly in the Democratic nominee’s favor.

As for Michigan and Florida’s delegates, it is clear that neither state will redo their primaries. In neither primary did candidates compete openly. Therefore, it is likely the DNC will split their delegates 50/50 between Obama and Clinton, effectively giving no candidate an advantage.

It is not clear to me why the media has not picked up on this story. Perhaps if they were to explain it the way I explained it to you, much of their revenue would dry up. Pretending there is suspense in the Democratic nomination when in reality there is little probably feeds their bottom line.

Barring some catastrophe, Barack Obama will be our 44th president.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
The Thinker

Brought down by Bill?

Does Bill Clinton have a passive-aggressive relationship with Hillary? I sometimes wonder. If Hillary Clinton does not become the Democratic presidential nominee this year, it can probably be traced to her husband. Before Bill Clinton said this in response to a reporter’s question, polls had put Hillary Clinton even with Barack Obama in the South Carolina primary. Indeed, prior to mid December 2007, polls showed Clinton holding a steady lead over Obama. While Bill Clinton’s remarks were not overtly racist, they were implicitly racist. When asked why it takes two Clintons to beat Barack Obama in South Carolina, Clinton drew attention to the fact that Jesse Jackson won the Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina twice in the 1980s. The implication was clear: if given a choice, blacks will vote for other blacks. What was more interesting than his words though was the little “Ha ha ha” he uttered after being asked the question. The tone was unmistakable.

When I heard it, I just cringed. Some part of me thought that if Hillary Clinton did not end up mortally wounded by his January 26th remark, Bill’s remark would definitely knock her out for at least a round. Unquestionably, that was achieved. Hillary has been down for three rounds so far. Since Super Tuesday, there have been eight more Democratic primaries and caucuses. Barack Obama has won all of them, in many cases winning by double digits or more. This week in the so-called Potomac Primary, my state, Virginia, picked him over Hillary Clinton by 29%, which was nearly the same margin that Obama won in his home state of Illinois (32%).

It was a spectacularly bad and ill-timed remark by Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is way too smart of a politician to say it without considering its likely the consequences. This made me wonder if he subconsciously wants Hillary to lose. His words, which were quickly broadcast and transmitted all over the country, caused South Carolinians of all races to reassess both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Many African Americans, who long thought of Bill Clinton as America’s first black president and consequently were inclined to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt, suddenly felt disillusioned. Perhaps they felt more used than disillusioned. Our 42nd president may have come from what many consider a trailer park trash household, but apparently, even trailer park trash households had their standards in Arkansas. I am left to conclude many in Arkansas like Bill had lingering racist feelings. Hey, at least they weren’t black.

I think African Americans across the country felt used and betrayed when they heard these comments. Moreover, by implication Hillary Clinton was slimed too. After all, she had married the man. She was still married to the man, in spite of his infidelities (perhaps because he promised the lure of a Senate seat for the price of staying in their marriage). It is nice to have white politicians who consistently vote to improve the lot of African Americans, but how do they really feel inside? Bill Clinton’s “ha ha ha” was a window into his soul. Consequently, almost overnight South Carolinians changed their mind. At least they knew that Barack Obama was a man of character. He grew up effectively in a single family home too, but he had never stepped out on Michele. His vision was uplifting. Bill Clinton’s vision was more political smoke and mirrors. South Carolina, which January polls suggested was a toss up, moved quickly into the Obama camp. The last poll taken near the end of January showed Obama with a 15% lead over Clinton. He actually won by 28%, winning more than twice the number of votes she received.

Barack Obama may be running a post racial campaign, but clearly, America remains racially sensitive. Many now seem inclined to make bigots pay a political price. Bill Clinton, the ultimate triangulator, was focused on what appeared to be short-term tactics to boost Hillary’s chances. The remark was a mistake. His wife’s campaign now feels like a balloon slowly deflating. It remains to be seen whether his remark will ultimately end it.

Many people, including myself, found much to admire about the Clinton presidency. Bill Clinton deftly navigated the 90’s surrounded by Republicans. Under the circumstances, his accomplishments were quite extraordinary. None of us voters though ever were disillusioned by Bill Clinton’s character. We always knew he was a Wile E. Coyote. Most of us liked what he did for the economy and loved what he did to our pocketbooks. It allowed us to overlook his moral transgressions.

This remark though reminded of us what we did not like about Bill. We hear remarks like “If you elect Hillary, you will get two Clintons for the price of one.” On the stump, Bill Clinton is talking about “our campaign”. These remarks just raise the question: just whom are we electing if we elect Hillary Clinton? Who will really be in charge? By having Hillary’s ear, are we in effect giving Bill Clinton a third term? Will he transform himself into the new Dick Cheney and be the secret power behind the throne? Is that how we want to remember the next Clinton presidency with a sixty something Bill Clinton holed up in Cheney’s old office on the phone working backdoor deals?

For many of us on the fence the answer is “No!” While it is generally better to go with the enemy you know than the one you do not know, Bill’s remarks on a Bill and Hill presidency feel more alarming than reassuring. This is probably why not just blacks, but white men and women, and increasingly Latinos are moving in the Barack Obama column. Given the realities of being president, offering hope may seem at times sophomoric. However, the Obama vision is at least a clean break from the past decades of endless political infighting and partisanship. It is a compelling vision, and one that Bill Clinton now makes look especially alluring.

Bill Clinton may have triangulated his wife right out of the presidency.

 
The Thinker

Still betting on Hillary

Last July, I weighed the odds and said if I had to place a bet, I would bet that Hillary Clinton would be our next president. I still believe she will be even though I am rooting for Barack Obama. Here is why.

First, I am calling the Republican nomination for John McCain. (I wisely did not place any wager on the Republican nominee.) This may seem a bit hasty prior to Super Tuesday. By picking McCain, I line up with the current conventional wisdom. I might add that I am one of many who are surprised by his sudden ascent. If you had asked me last autumn if he would be the nominee, I would have judged him as one of the least likely. Rudy Giuliani had the money and the momentum and Mitt Romney had an unlimited bank account. McCain was broke and took the desperate step of buying a life insurance policy, which he used as collateral, to keep his campaign going.

Then one of those political stumbles that I wrote about occurred. Namely, America got to know Rudy a little better and decided they did not want another arrogant prick in the Oval Office. His ship struck a fatal leak when word got out that the citizens of New York City had been subsidizing his immoral lifestyle when his current wife Judith Nathan (Wife #3) was just his mistress. Apparently, New York City’s finest provided her security (maybe from Wife #2?) and even walked her dog. It did not help that Giuliani’s choice for police commissioner, Bernard Kerik (whom he recommended as a new chief for the Department of Homeland Security) was indicted on multiple charges. More astute political observers knew all along that Giuliani was an extraordinarily vindictive and petty man. Like our current president, he had few qualms about breaking city ordinances in order to get his way. While he looked good in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, his actions prior to 9/11 contributed toward many deaths. For example, he centralized the city’s emergency response center within the World Trade Center. In addition, although brought to his attention he did not address the issue of incompatible communications devices between the city’s police and fire departments. Real leaders work to prevent tragedies from occurring in the first place. Giuliani offered only a lot of moral support after the tragedy happened.

So McCain is the fortunate beneficiary of an imploding Republican Party. The conservative wing of the Republican Party is having a hissy fit with McCain’s ascendancy. He represents something close to pragmatism and moderation, which is anathema to their ideology. Repressed moderate Republicans are emerging all over and many are running for president too.

Nonetheless, all the Republican candidates are paying homage to Ronald Reagan, but it is largely because they feel they must. The reality is there is virtually nothing left of the Reagan legacy left to run on. Reagan had one great idea that proved successful: end The Cold War by outspending the Soviet Union. Beyond that, his policies proved to be failures. Tax cuts only seemed to generate demand for more tax cuts, but never plugged the deficit. Our prosperity under George W. Bush has proven tenuous and was made possible due to the largess of foreign creditors. If these supply side policies had solid moorings, we would not be dealing with recession fears today.

The reality is that because its policies have failed so universally, the Republican Party is splintering, much like the Democrats in 1995. The social conservatives hate the green eye shade moneyed Republicans, who always treated them with condescension. Old guard Republicans want to go back to Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald Ford and be a party of sensible moderation, not a party enamored by extreme ideology, endless tax cuts and more debt. The Reagan Revolution is dead and George W. Bush put a stake through its heart. In a way, he did the Republicans a favor. Now they must reinvent themselves as a party with some grounding in reality. Currently, they have zero credibility.

Republicans who vote are more pragmatic than the ideologues running their party. They realize that if they want to have any chance of winning the general election they need a moderate who can draw a clear distinction between himself and President Bush. McCain can potentially win many independents so he is the sensible choice. The price is that McCain will return the Republican Party to its pre-Reagan pragmatism.

Therefore, John McCain will get the nomination, against the general wishes of the party leaders. However, he is still likely to lose the general election. I could say it is because his call to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely is a loser politically. I could add that his age (71) is part of the calculus too. Both are true but there is a more obvious reason. Look where the energy lies. In states that offer both Democratic and Republican primaries and caucuses, look at the numbers turning out. In South Carolina, for example, Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama, garnering only 27% of the vote. Yet she pulled in nearly as many votes (141,128) as John McCain, who won the Republican primary with 147,283 votes. Every candidate running is pitching change. Yet voters are dubious that Republicans can bring any meaningful change. If you are a Republican and want to embrace real change then your only choice is a radical like Ron Paul. This probably explains much of his appeal.

Yesterday I sent another hundred bucks to the Barack Obama for President Campaign. Obama is riding a lot of momentum. His rallies are packed to overflowing. Sometimes people are left outside unable to get a seat. I plan to vote for Obama the following Tuesday when Virginia has its primary. Do I think Obama will win the Democratic nomination? While I am hopeful, I am also realistic. Hillary Clinton has the advantages. Obama is closing the gap but depending on which polls you read he is about five points behind Clinton nationally. If you look at state polling in the Super Tuesday races though the outcome looks clear. It is possible that in the few remaining days that Obama can close the gap. However, Clinton remains comfortably ahead in the delegate rich states of California and New York, as well as most of the Super Tuesday states. She has the edge.

Moreover, Clinton has a likely secret weapon: superdelegates. These are delegates who are not apportioned based on primary or caucus votes, but who represent the political establishment. One of these superdelegates is Bill Clinton. Any guess which way he is going to vote? Roughly twenty percent of the delegates at the convention will be superdelegates. Currently Clinton has accumulated roughly twice the superdelegates that Obama has. Most likely, those who run the party will lean toward the more established candidate, so Clinton is likely to maintain a majority of the superdelegates. This in turn gives her an extra edge.

Therefore, I also predict that Hillary Clinton will be the eventual Democratic Party nominee. Republicans also prefer Hillary Clinton as their nominee because she has high negatives, which means she gives their nominee a fighting chance. Their dislike of Clinton will doubtless help the Republicans raise plenty of money to defeat her. I doubt very much that their attempts will succeed. The energy in this election remains with the Democrats. Polls indicate that Independents are leaning close to two to one toward Democratic candidates in general. It is hard for me to see how these dynamics can be changed, even though November is a long way off. Add in the likelihood of a recession and it is understandable why disproportionate numbers of Republicans in Congress are finding convenient reasons to retire.

While I root and work hard influencing friends, family and neighbors to vote for Obama, I am also realistic. As I predicted last year, I still expect Hillary Clinton to be our next president. I can be happy with Hillary Clinton as our party’s candidate, but my heart is with Obama. I hope I prove myself wrong.

 
The Thinker

Hoping for no clear winner

Since I announced that I will be voting for Barack Obama, you would think that I would be bummed by the result of last week’s New Hampshire primary, which was unexpectedly won by Hillary Clinton. Far from it. I am glad that Clinton won the primary. I hope she wins some more primaries. I hope Obama does too and I even hope (although it seems an unlikely hope) that John Edwards wins some state primaries.

I have many motivations. First, I am tired of not having my vote count. It is bad enough that since I live in conservative Virginia its electoral votes will go for the Republican candidate for president. (This year may be an exception, since Virginia may be becoming a swing state.) Since I live in Virginia, my primary falls after Super Tuesday. Typically, after Super Tuesday the party’s nominee is clear. This means that unless the remaining states suddenly breaks ranks and decide en masse that they prefer someone else, whoever is leading after Super Tuesday has a lock on the nomination. This year, when I vote on February 12th, my vote may actually be meaningful.

I also think that candidate competition is healthy for the election process. Granted that the nomination process is grueling on the candidates, but you learn a lot about a candidate when they are under stress. In some ways, running for president is far harder than actually being president. The stress of a campaign tends to expose flaws in our candidates, which is a good thing. How many of us Democrats, after John Kerry had locked up the nomination, subsequently had buyer’s remorse? I know I did, particularly after Kerry later said rather inept things. With the competition of a longer primary campaign, perhaps these sorts of statements would have come out earlier. Thus better informed, we could have selected another candidate.

Given that the presidency is such an important position and given that Obama, Edwards and Clinton are all excellent candidates, I could be happy with any of them as our nominee. While I intend to vote for Obama, who knows? Perhaps he will make a misstep or I will learn something new about Clinton or Edwards that changes my mind. Democrats in New Hampshire learned something new about Hillary Clinton when she choked up last week. They apparently learned that underneath her often-icy veneer was a vulnerable woman. Some found comfort and felt fraternity in the revelation. It may have made the difference that led to her win.

Therefore, I will keep my fingers crossed that Super Tuesday will leave the picture of whom our nominee will be muddled. Perhaps a few of the candidates will even deign to pay visits to Northern Virginia where I live, so I can hear them speak live and form my own impressions.

In fact, I did meet Hillary Clinton once, in 1992. I happened to be in Atlanta at a conference at the time. The Clintons and Gores were in town to be seen working with Jimmy Carter on a Habitat for Humanity project. It was also apparently an opportunity to do some fundraising. Bill, Hillary, Al and Tipper all came out the hotel where the fundraising was planned. I shook all of their hands. However briefly it was nice to meet the candidates in person. Why should the residents of New Hampshire and Iowa get all the face time? If I get anything, it will simply be campaign commercials.

It is unlikely but the result may be the first brokered Democratic convention in living memory. This would certainly make for an exciting convention. If so, I hope to be there to blog about it. In that unlikely event though, Hillary Clinton will have the edge. As I mentioned, superdelegates also get to vote. Presumably, they would favor the status quo, which would mean that Hillary Clinton would likely be the party’s nominee.

Meanwhile, let the campaign continue and may it remain murky for some time to come. Just once, I want my primary vote to mean something.

 

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