Posts Tagged ‘Hillary Clinton’

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

187 (158)

57 (55)

90 (85)

43 (45)

68 (73)


9 (8)

50 (50)

4 (4)

50 (50)

4 (4)


85 (72)

50 (51)

37 (38)

50 (49)

35 (34)


134 (115)

45 (42)

52 (48)

55 (56)

63 (67)


39 (28)

65 (67)

18 (20)

35 (26)

10 (8)


60 (51)

58 (65)

30 (37)

42 (30)

21 (14)


65 (52)

50 (41)

26 (21)

50 (59)

26 (31)


63 (55)

50 (68)

28 (38)

50 (32)

27 (17)


25 (16)

45 (41)

7 (7)

55 (57)

9 (9)


23 (15)

40 (55)

6 (9)

60 (45)

9 (6)


690 (570)

298 (307)

272 (263)

Uncommitted Superdelegates






Committed + Super








Total Delegates at Convention


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.

The Thinker

The Fallacy of the Experience Argument

I am probably not the only one shaking their head over the arguments flying around in the 2008 presidential race. Each candidate has a host of reason on why I should prefer him or her to the other Joe. One of the arguments being bandied about by the Clinton campaign in particular is “the experience argument.” It asserts that because Hillary Clinton was First Lady for eight years and also spent four more years in the Senate than her rival Senator Barack Obama that she is more qualified to be president than he is. She repeatedly says that because of her experience she will be ready on day one to assume the complex job of the presidency. Therefore, we should vote for her.

Yeah, as if most of us vote using the left side of our brain. Most of us trust our guts when it comes to something as important as deciding who will be our next president. We may listen to the candidate’s arguments but what we are really tuning into is their body language, tone of voice, inflection and their ability to connect with people. Supposedly, more than eighty percent of communication is nonverbal. Perhaps some of us are studying a candidate’s credentials and position papers and are making our choices based on their stands on the issues. Most of us do not have that kind of time. I would argue this by itself is a lousy way to choose a president.

Granted that in many professions, experience is very valuable. I prefer mechanics with lots of experience to those just out of trade school. On the other hand, education is important too. A recently certified board-practicing physician is probably better equipped to understand the nuances of an advanced medical condition than a sixty-year-old doctor is. For most jobs, the value of experience crests after a couple years. I am an example. For much of my career I was a computer programmer. At some point, I realized I had hit a glass ceiling. I could keep learning new higher-level languages, but that merely kept me employed. It was not a good reason to prefer me as a programmer to someone half my age earning half my salary. I eventually leveraged my experience to become a technical leader. Now I am an IT manager. I have not had to write code to earn any part of my living for at least six years. This is just as well. It is likely that otherwise my lifestyle would be more moderate.

Yes, I do want a president with some relevant political experience, but I also recognize that it is not the deciding factor. If I were to vote solely on a candidate’s experience, I would be voting for Bill Richardson. Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Biden each have far more political experience than Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama combined. Yet they are at the back of the presidential candidate pack.

Clearly, voters are looking for something beyond just experience, which is why Hillary Clinton’s experience argument feels rather weak. While her husband was president, except for leading the health care task force (an activity that turned into a fiasco) she had no official duties. As for her time in the Senate, she is a fast learner as senators go, but she has yet to complete her second term. Her senate job is the only political office she has ever held.

Formal education is also of limited value to a politician. Obviously, it is better not to be an ignoramus. Having a master’s degree in a relevant field like public policy, while helpful, is also not the determining factor. The most crucial skill a president needs is the ability to persuade people. This is developed by having razor sharp people skills, a natural extroversion and sufficient personality so that you will be both heard and respected. Bill Clinton was often referred to by his enemies as Slick Willie. This was actually a complement because an effective president has to be slick. Effective presidents know that utilizing the veto pen is one of the worst ways to be effective. It is far better to have that certain something that turns your enemies, if not into your friends, then into temporarily allies. If a president is not continuously greasing the wheels of government, he is not doing his job.

This ability cannot be learned from a book. It is either something you have or do not have. It is not something you pick up as president; you acquired this is a skill long before you ran for the presidency. This is why presidents of the United States were often first class presidents. An effective president is a master persuader. The best presidents though do not persuade simply to have their own way. They persuade to move the country in a direction that is in the best long-term interests of the American people.

What is this form of persuasion called? It is called leadership. Leadership that demonstrates sound seasoned judgment, not experience, is the most crucial criterion for the presidency. It is why Hillary Clinton’s argument runs weak. Her husband was the lowest paid governor in the United States when he became president. He had zero foreign policy experience. While many disliked him as president, by the time he left office the American people overall felt otherwise. In spite of his impeachment, he left office with near record high approval ratings. This is because Bill Clinton, for all his faults, worked for the American people. It was borne out in our higher standard of living and the progressive government he engendered.

It is particularly curious that Bill Clinton is barnstorming Iowa using the hollow argument of his wife’s experience as a crucial reason to vote for her. He knows better. Perhaps he uses the experience argument because he knows her leadership credentials are too thin. If this is the best hand his wife can play before the caucuses on Thursday, she is likely to be playing a losing hand.

The Thinker

Betting on our next president

No, I am not calling our next presidential election in July 2007. We still have six months to go before the first presidential primary vote is cast. Moreover, history is replete with front-runners going to the back of the pack, and visa versa. Back in January I sized up the presidential candidates and warned that only fools would pick them that early. So, no, I am not picking our next president.

Nonetheless, if I were a bookie setting the odds, I know on whom I would place my money. Ladies and gentlemen, I award four out of five odds to our 44th (and first female) president: Hillary Rodham Clinton!

Hillary Clinton

Please understand that I am not placing odds on Senator Clinton because I am particularly enthusiastic about her candidacy. I am not particularly enthusiastic about any of the current lot. Unlike Howard Dean’s candidacy four years ago, for whom I was feverishly attending meet ups and emailing my friends, while I think most of the Democratic candidates running are pretty good, none of them has connected with me the way Howard did. (I did give John Edwards $50 last month, not because I am enthusiastic about him, but because he needed the money more than Senators Clinton and Obama did. I wanted to see him achieve rough fundraising parity.)

However, particularly after reading this Washington Post-ABC News Poll it is hard to escape the conclusion that barring some rather stupid screw up (which seems unlikely from the stage-managed Senator Clinton) that Hillary Clinton will probably win the Democratic presidential nomination and thus the general election.

My gut tells me that given the current political dynamics there is no way that any nominated Republican candidate can win the 2008 presidential election. Chuck Hagel, should he run as an independent could possibly alter the dynamics of the race and win or tip the election, but his odds are very long too. He has expressed zero interest in running for president in 2008. Even if he did the odds would be markedly against him, since he would start out far behind in both recognition and money.

Republicans have a four-letter word problem this time around and you know who he is. Back in March, I said the obvious: Bush was killing the Republican Party. Since that time, President Bush has exacerbated the Republican Party’s election problems to a degree even I did not anticipate. Virtually every action he takes makes his anemic poll numbers drop even further. While Congress’s poll numbers are equally bad, they are bad because Republicans have enough votes to obstruct much the agenda of the Democratic Congress. This in turn is driving more animus toward Republicans in Congress. Voters took a swipe at Republicans in last fall’s elections. Now they are ready to go for the jugular. In a normal election, since Democrats picked up seats in 2006, they would lose seats in 2008. However, this will not be a normal election. I fully expect Democrats to pick up both House and Senate seats in 2008. Moreover, I suspect the margins will be similar to the 2006 midterms.

To me the likelihood that any Republican will win the presidential race in 2008 is about one in ten. One can get a sense of this by looking at hypothetical match up polls. Even in hypothetical races like Republican favorite Rudy Giuliani vs. back of the pack John Edwards, the Democratic candidate still comes out ahead. This could reflect the voters’ lack of enthusiasm for individual Republican candidates. Yet it is also likely indicative of a general bias to vote for change over voting for more of the same. Clearly, the Democrats are well positioned as the party of change.

Which leaves looking at the poll numbers among the Democratic candidates. Senator Obama continues to generate the most enthusiasm and money. However, at least so far, that does not seem to be enough to catapult him into the lead. Nor is it that he is not well known. At this point, he has excellent name recognition across the country. People have formed opinions about Senator Obama. Regardless, as the Washington Post poll measured, despite some narrowing of the race earlier in the year voters are not as enthusiastic about Obama as they were. Currently Senator Clinton leads Senator Obama by 15% among Democratic primary voters. John Edwards polls at a relatively anemic 12%.

In the money race, while Clinton is a bit behind Obama, they are close enough where the money factor should not matter too much. Both candidates will be able to tap and retap a reliable donor network. Given that most of those who are likely to vote have already formed their impressions, the number of minds that can be changed among primary voters is likely rather small. This leaves only major goof ups between now and the general election to substantially alter the dynamics. Senator Clinton, having studied at close range the way her husband ran his campaigns, is too smart and stage-managed to make any severe goofs. She knows how to stick to a message.

Senator Clinton herself if a formidable candidate. She is smart, articulate, attractive and well informed. She sounds convincing and plausible on the campaign trail. At one time men seemed less inclined to vote for her, but now men like women have a positive opinion of her overall. Senator Obama may not have the baggage of voting for the Iraq War Resolution but as the Washington Post poll demonstrates, Democrats do not seem to be holding that vote against her. While some in Republican circles see Senator Clinton as radical, in fact she is quite mainstream. For example, she is not calling for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq. She is not too public about it, but when pressed she thinks it will be necessary to keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops in and around Iraq to quickly react to events in the region. In short, when the general election rolls around, while she be in the center of the political arena. The closest Republican candidate who can run from the center is Rudy Giuliani. However, he is also very strongly in favor of continuing Bush’s disastrous foreign policies. He would need to change his positions rather strongly to overcome that perception. In doing so, he will likely be seen as insincere and pandering. Since elections are typically won from the center, Senator Clinton is the likely beneficiary.

So my money is on Hillary Clinton. I do think it is quite possible that John Edwards will win the Iowa Caucuses, simply because he has practically lived in Iowa the last few years. Yet I doubt unless there is a change in the political dynamics that he can sustain momentum much past Iowa. We will have a clearer picture in about six months.

If you disagree, please leave a comment telling me where my logic fails.

The Thinker

It’s the Bushes vs. the Clintons

I am sure I am not the only one intrigued by this USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll. For the first time this poll suggests that if Hillary Clinton were to run for president in 2008 a majority of Americans today would vote for her. Of course it’s a long way from 2008. The last we had heard from Hillary Clinton she had expressed no desire to run for the presidency in 2008. But Americans are clearly warming up to Hillary Clinton. Although she still commands high negatives from highly partisan Republicans she is increasingly embraced not just by Democrats but also by Independents.

And no wonder. For many of us Hillary Clinton is one classy, articulate, respected and balanced woman. Unlike our current bumbling and oafish president, Hillary, like her husband, is articulate. She connects with broad sections of America. She is poised and has a certain gravitas. Rather than being extreme, she is seen as mainstream. Although arguably she comes from a family of some wealth and privilege, politics were never her primary calling. In her case this plays to her advantage, and makes a plausible case that she is in politics to help people. The vast majority of politicians are far more into boosting their ego and strutting their power than helping ordinary Americans.

She has made a few political mistakes along the way. She was instrumental in her husband’s national health insurance task force. Pilloried at the time in that role her actions now seem foresighted. Twelve years later more Americans lack health insurance than ever. The costs for those of us fortunate enough to have it increasingly are going through the roof. She is also widely remembered for her remarks about a “vast right wing conspiracy” against her husband. While the conspiracy remark was likely hyperbole, in retrospect there were certainly lots of connected and partisan Republicans busy sharing notes and dirt about the Clintons. Particularly as we watched the triumph of neoconservatism in the last two presidential elections and the clearly bogus case for war against Iraq, her hyperbole no longer seems quite so fantastic. Politicians not beyond making a false case to take this nation into war would have no qualms about pushing lies about the Clintons.

As the junior senator from New York she has made a mark for herself in the Senate by being both tactful and assertive. It would be hard to find anything she has done in her five years as a senator that has hit an off note. She pushes for common sense progressive policies yet she is clearly for a solid national defense. She bends over backward to accommodate Israeli interests. In New York State she is very popular among her constituents, in spite of being a relative outsider. Even her archenemy Newt Gingrich has found many things to admire about Hillary Clinton.

Should Clinton try to run for the presidency we could expect the usual vitriol and dirty tricks from the Republican Party. However, it will be tough to find mud that will stick to Hillary. Unlike her husband, she isn’t a philanderer. She comes across as pragmatic and sincere: the real deal unlike her duplicitous husband. Republicans will likely be successful in whipping up their base. But their base is only so large and the number of independent voters are increasing. That still leave a fair number of Republican women who, if they don’t particularly like Clinton, at least respect her. Some of the progressive and moderate ones will even vote for her.

Democrats that have been polled about potential candidates for 2008 prefer Hillary more than two to one over other likely candidates. So should she choose to run for president it is likely that she would find a natural base of support within her party. Others have suggested that if she had a running mate like General Wesley Clark the ticket would be unbeatable.

The animosity toward the Clintons is easily understood in retrospect. Bill Clinton demonstrated that he could peel apart Southern states through a combination of a good old boy persona and middle of the road stances. This frustrated the Republican Party during a decade that was otherwise very good for them politically. In particular they were frustrated in their aspirations to fill the federal benches with conservatives. As the party of the black and white thinkers they could not deal with a politician who changed his opinions. But mostly, aside from Bill Clinton’s moral failings, he was an extremely deft politician. With a few exceptions Bill was able to dodge around every one of the traps laid for him by his opponents, and the traps were voluminous.

I think in retrospect the Clinton years will be seen with much nostalgia. They were prosperous years for most Americans. During the 1990s we had the longest peaceful expansion of the economy in history. We had nearly a decade of real wage growth and higher stock markets. That has not been the case during Bush’s tenure. While many would argue that September 11th changed everything, it is hard to argue with many other statistics that show overall employment barely changed from when Bush took office. Overall the stock market indices are still down considerably from where they stood 2000. If there was Clinton fatigue in 2000 it will be Bush fatigue, or anyone who sounds or acts like Bush, in 2008. Most likely the Republicans won’t be nimble enough to understand this. Rather than pick someone relatively mainstream like John McCain they are more likely to pick someone from the neoconservative and religious base of the party like Bill Frist. This makes Democratic prospects for recapturing the presidency in 2008 good regardless of the Republican candidate.

But on some other level Bush’s father’s defeat in 1992 by Bill Clinton wounded the pride of the Bush family. And since that election there has been the need to even scores. Bush’s second term win showed that he could do what his father could not. However Bill Clinton also won successive terms. At the end of Bush’s term there will be a total of two Clinton terms and three Bush terms, if you count Bush’s father. What to do for an encore?

Hillary’s successful run for the presidency would settle the score. Should she win a second term then it would be Clintons 4, Bushes 3. But it is likely that brother Jeb would want to try a run for the presidency himself at some point. Should Jeb succeed there is no real response, unless Chelsea decides to take up politics like her parents.

But should Hillary win the presidency, in addition to being the first woman to ever win the presidency, many would perceive her win as the triumph of Clinton progressivism over Bush neoconservatism. As I noted after the last election even though Bush won by the time his term is over he will have wished he had lost. Should Hillary run and win the presidency in 2008 then mainstream and clear thinking policies will have returned to the Oval Office. And hopefully after suffering the Bush and Reagan follies through 20 of the last 28 years, voters will finally understand the real value in electing progressives.


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