Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for January 2008

Pre Super Tuesday Thoughts

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Yes, I’m a shameless Hillary suck-up, but somebody’s gotta do it. Here are a few thoughts on why I see this race shaping up as Hillary’s to lose, despite Obama’s midas touch (and yes, I will eagerly support Barack if he’s the nominee, so there!).

1. Clinton and Obama have been close in national polls for a while now. This is nothing new.

2. Obama has yet to win the white vote in a single primary. Not a good sign. Also, one can’t rule out the influence of the Bradley effect. I’m not saying it’s as powerful as it may once have been, but I don’t think you can confidently state it doesn’t exist. Don’t be shocked if Obama underperforms relative to the polling on Tuesday.

3. Clinton is absolutely dominating the Latino vote, protestations by Obama surrogates to the contrary.

4. The worsening economy plays to Clinton’s strengths.

5.  Snubgate is hurting Obama with female voters. So, perhaps, may Teddy Kennedy’s endorsement.

6. Rezkogate is becoming a serious headache for Obama.

7. The seasoned Clinton campaign seems to have gotten the Bill eruptions under control. When he is under control, he’s a proven closer, as New Hampshire has shown.

8.  Obama is drawing huge crowds. But, in similar fashion to New Hampshire, people who can’t get away from their day jobs (much less shell out $500 checks to political campaigns) are more likely to show up and vote than college kids cutting class to attend rallies. Advantage: Clinton.

9. Obama has been sharpening his attacks. That’s a risky strategy, as it detracts from his pure-as-the-driven-snow image. Surely this shows their internal polling tells them they’re unlikely to emerge as the top delegate gainer on Tuesday. My guess is that John Edwards’s exit from the race has unsettled them.

10. John Edwards’s lack of an endorsement speaks volumes. Nobody expected him to endorse Clinton. But nobody expected him to refrain from endorsing Obama. I think we’ll be able to look back in a few months’ time and conclude Obama lost the nomination the day of his triumph in South Carolina. For by finishing third in the state of his birth, Edwards’s campaign came to an end, making it a two person race. And that, in turn, was a development hugely beneficial to Hillary.

11. McCain’s rapid emergence as the presumptive Republican nominee widens the experience gap between Clinton and Obama. Democrats are facing the sobering prospect of running against a titan of the foreign policy and defense establishment. Clinton is much better suited for such a race than Obama. Indeed, the “dual presidency” so many pundits have decried doesn’t look so bad when the extra constitutional portion of the presidency happens to be the country’s single most capable diplomat.

12. Contrary to Broderesque analysis, it’s not good enough for Obama to “keep it close” on Super Tuesday. He needs a win in the delegates sweepstakes. Why? Because it is the Obama campaign that has made momentum its calling card. Finishing second to Hillary Clinton will hurt that momentum — probably fatally so. Because, with the GOP settling on McCain, Democrats will understandably start to get antsy to settle on a candidate. If it is Hillary who has the momentum and delegate lead on February 6th, they’ll begin to close ranks behind her, just as the GOP is doing with McCain right now. By Valentine’s Day we should know what the November matchup looks like.

13.  Intrade still favors Hillary, and in fact has barely budged sensed South Carolina. The money, at least, is pretty skeptical of Obama’s chances.

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January 31, 2008 at 6:25 pm

Jasper’s endorsement: Mike Gravel

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Well, not, not really. But I’m a tad weirded out that this is not the first time I’ve taken one of these political matchmaker test thingies, only to have the Alaskan’s name come up high on my list of political matches.

Anyway, it’s rather a fun test as these things go. It gave me Kucinich as my second choice, and Richardson as number three.

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January 27, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Miscellania, Politics

Planes, trains and automobiles

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Ross reacts to Huckabee’s pander to suburban voters proposal to double the width of I-95:

…America’s transportation infrastructure simply hasn’t kept pace with our population growth, our average commuting time has tripled in the last twenty-five years, and our country needs those extra lanes of traffic. Families need them. Businesses need them. Suburban and exurban voters – the swing vote in elections these days – need them. I understand all the “bridge to nowhere”/Big Dig fears on the porkbusting right, but his is an issue that a sensible pro-business, pro-family Republican Party ought to own – particularly since transportation earmarks, which blossom in the absence of a concerted strategy for improving national infrastructure, are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Ross’s thoughts got the inevitable thread going on the evils of the automobile, and the superiority of trains. But I’ve tended to be of the opinion that choosing between the two is, well, a false choice.

I’m all for congestion pricing, carbon taxation, and sundry other schemes to account for externalities and reduce cost shifting. It seems to me however, that to a large extent, we need not choose between better highway infrastructure and more and faster trains. We can have both, given a sufficiently robust financial commitment.

Now, obviously not every part of the country is a suitable candidate for inter-city fast trains. And not every part of the country needs major highway improvements, either. But my sense is the denser parts of the country need and could make use of both. Because the thing is, in many of the parts of Europe that have excellent rail service (I’m thinking Germany, the Low Countries, Britain, France), they also have superb highways.

Given enough density, it makes economic sense to have both great highways and great trains. In America we’re simply too averse to a robust, well-funded public sector for there to be a realistic chance at emulating our across-the-pond cousins.

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January 25, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Vice President Obama

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Ross Douthat ponders the possibility of Obama as Clinton’s running mate, and concludes it’s not particularly likely, nor desirable (from the perspective of the former):

If Hillary’s first term is a disaster, one can almost imagine Obama attempting to challenge her for the nomination in 2012; more plausibly, though, if her administration runs for two relatively successful terms, he’ll be ideally positioned to run Sarkozy-style in 2016 as the candidate of continuity and change, without any of the baggage that a Vice President Bayh or Webb or Richardson will doubtless pick up over two terms in Clintonland. All of this assumes that a Clinton-Obama ticket for this fall is out of the question. I tend to think it is, for a variety of reasons; not least among them is the fact that even if Hillary offered him the Veep’s slot, Obama might well have a better chance of being President in the long run if he turned it down.

Not sure I agree with Ross’s logic here. I rather believe Obama’s chances are better if he becomes VP. I realize recent history is a bit of a mixed bag on the question of whether or not being number two helps your chances of one day gaining the White House, but, on balance, I’d say it helps more than it hurts.

Why? Because Obama’s fresh-faced, Kennedyesque appeal isn’t going to last indefinitely. He’ll need to replace it with something more substantial. Moreover, if he doesn’t become president this time around, his next best chance is very likely to be 2020 or 2024 — not 2016, for the simple reason that, if Hillary should go on to serve eight years, the country will likely want to give the Republicans a shot, and 2016 is therefore not likely to be a great year for Democratic presidential aspirants. Now, this is all extremely speculative, of course, and a lot can transpire over the next four or eight (or whatever number of) years. But my point is, serving as VP for a term or two will solidify Obama as the eminence grise of the Democratic party. Not serving in this capacity will mean he runs the risk of being Just Another Middle Aged Senator when he again decides to run.

There’s another major risk for Obama in not being HRC’s running mate should she prevail in the primaries: it gives some other Democrat (Bayh? Warner Webb?) the opportunity to raise his profile and eventually become a quasi heir apparent — whether or not the Democrats win (but especially if they do). Why give a potential future nomination rival such a head start? Of course, it’s entirely possible that a victorious Hillary Clinton won’t want Obama as her running mate, but I doubt she’d be able to keep him off the ticket if he wants the slot. There’s no chance whatsoever Obama won’t arrive in Denver without a lot of delegates, and a tremendous amount of support nationally — especially among African-American voters (and indeed among Obama-leaning independents vulnerable to the siren call of a McCain or even a Bloomberg candidacy). Hillary will need every vote she can muster.

Personally, it looks to me that Hillary is slowly but inexorably headed to the nomination. As a Democratic-leaning independent, I certainly hope she asks Obama to be her running mate. I suspect it would be a powerful ticket

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January 23, 2008 at 5:42 pm

And in other news…

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Average temperatures once again begin to increase in Boston starting tomorrow. This for me is a considerably more important day than the winter solstice. While I like light, I guess I like heat even more. Although, for what it’s worth we have, I think, already gained a good twenty minutes or so of late afternoon daylight (I guess the truth of the matter is I greatly value both the increase in daylight and the rise in temperatures). In another two or three weeks, not only will the longer afternoon daylight be a lot more noticeable, the aforementioned warm-up should become more apparent as well. Nothing dramatic, mind you, but the three or four degrees we’ll gain in terms of afternoon high temperatures by the mid-point in February is welcome, and recognizable if you’re want, as I am, to cherish every sign of spring no matter how subtle. Indeed, by, say, Saint Valentine’s day, the winter just seems less oppressive from a psychological perspective, because, by that juncture, one is able to say (or think) things like “Gee, a week from such and such is March X.” and “Hmm, a week from next we’ll return to daylight savings.” You didn’t remember that, did you? Daylight savings now returns in early March (second week?). By that time, it should start remaining fairly bright out until 6:30.

Yup. I can almost taste it. Winter is nearly over. And February, as you’ll recall, is the shortest of the twelve months (though unreasonably lengthened by a day due to the unadvisable actions of some long-dead pope).

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January 23, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Boston, Miscellania, Weather

Light posting

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Sorry for the lack of new content of late. Why I feel obliged to apologize to my seven regular readers, I’ll never know. But I do. Anyway, I opened my own office recently and, owing to budget shortfalls I had to canibalize the clunky old Dell desktop that passes for my computer by moving it from my apartment to the aforementioned office. Long story short, not having a computer at home, while amazingly positive for work productivity, pretty much sucks for blogging output.

I expect this state of affairs will be temporary, and already have my eye on a shiny new laptop.

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January 23, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Blogs, Miscellania

A non-angry black man vs. a New Dealer

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Matt Yglesias writes that Obama

…almost certainly feels that he can’t come anywhere near the level of outrage at economic injustice in America that you see from a John Edwards, or give voice to the anger that many of us feel about George W. Bush’s malgovernment without losing his status as “one of the good ones.” To be the most mainstream progressive black political figure ever, he’s crafted a relentlessly upbeat, uplifting message. And it’s a good message, but it is a bit out of step with how a lot of us really feel about the state of things.

Yes, but you don’t have to be angry or shrill or militant to push for things like universal healthcare, or to defend the status quo on Social Security, or indeed to stand up for working families or the middle class in general. You can do it in a sunny and optimistic manner. Obama has simply chosen not to make this sort of economic pitch much of a focus of his campaign rhetoric — at least not the speeches picked up by the media. I think this is a major tactical error. Sure, if you go to his website you can find policies dealing with the economic anxiety issue — amidst the ones you find about civil rights, foreign policy, political reform, and Iraq. Contrast that with Hillary’s site, where the first “issues” button you see is “strengthening the middle class” and the second one you see is “affordable healthcare.”

I think Obama’s campaign has made a big mistake by hitherto so relentlessly stressing the kumbaya factor. There’s a lot of economic anxiety out there. Rightly or wrongly, people associate Hillary Clinton with a New Deal style of Democratic politics that focuses on the economy. Obama they associate with political reform, civil rights, the environment, and foreign affairs. Not surprisingly, downscale Democrats in New Hampshire closed ranks for Clinton. I think this is a big advantage for Hillary in the primaries as the country trudges through a winter of economic discontent. Obama had better have a chokehold on the votes of African Americans in the primaries, because, if anything, downscale voters will make up a larger chunk of the remainder of the primary electorate than they did in New Hampshire.

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January 10, 2008 at 11:25 am

Obama and the race factor

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Mark Ambinder ponders the appeal of Barrack Obama:

I asked David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, to explain the Iowa victory, and he said, “People wanted change.” Well, yes. Maybe that’s where Axelrod’s curiosity ends, but mine goes deeper. For example: there is something about the Clinton brand that a younger generation of Democrats does not buy. Younger votes in Iowa did not choose Hillary Clinton. There is something about Obama’s appeal that eluded previous process-oriented reformers (Babbitt, Hart, Tsongas, Bradley). It’s not just his race — that seems to me to be a marker for liberals of generational change. It’s not just the amount of he’s raised. It’s not that he’s a man of the world.

Much of it is his race, let’s be honest. The moment Obama won his Senate seat, people were talking about his presidential prospects in an excited way they wouldn’t be were he white. Not that there’s anything unfair about this. I mean, for three centuries being black held you down in America. It’s only poetic justice that finally, being black helps you. Combine the race factor with his youth, charm, looks, beautiful family, and unequaled speaking style, and it all puts the sizzle back in politics in a way that hasn’t been done since Bobby Kennedy’s day.

When you put all this up against a candidate who is widely loathed by millions of Americans (unfairly in my view, but my view doesn’t change things), it’s no contest.

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January 6, 2008 at 2:39 pm


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I think reports of the death of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy are a tad premature. The polls are showing a mixed bag of results. A couple have Obama with decent leads in NH, a couple have them tied. Even if she only takes second, it’s entirely conceivable the margin will be tight.

And then she’s got Nevada — a state where she does extremely well with the hotel unions. I think she’s got the non-competitive Michigan situation in the bag, if I recall correctly. If I were her at that point I’d concede South Carolina, and begin immediately focusing on the Super Tuesday states. The ultra-concentrated fish bowl effect of Iowa and New Hampshire — where a single charismatic candidate can come in and sweep all before him with his personal magnetism — won’t be the same. The geographic spread is simply too wide. Super Tuesday is essentially a national primary, and Clinton still leads national surveys. A number of the contests moreover don’t allow Independents and Republicans to vote.

In the end, it’s still about delegate counts. If she can keep her head, make smart criticisms of her opponent, and convince Democrats that a rush to the nomination isn’t in their best interests (a perfectly reasonable position, I’d say), she could still yet wake up on February 6th leading or tied in the delegate count.

Clinton’s biggest problem is that she’s simply disliked by millions of people. And yet, I’d say in taking on the mantle of the underdog there’s an opportunity for her, because by being forced to be scrappy — rather than the regal überbitch the press makes her out to be — she has a chance to connect with voters in a more sympathetic fashion.

All this is predicated on having a decent financial situation. I have no idea what her burn rate is. If her money’s on the verge of running out, it probably really is all over. She can’t write her campaign a check like Mitt Romney. My guess is her national network and her husband’s connections can still be leveraged into significant campaign contributions, but that’s only a guess.

Oh, and Penn has gotta go.

UPDATE (1/23/08): The above post was pretty fucking prescient if I do say so myself.

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January 6, 2008 at 2:01 pm