Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for the ‘Hillary Clinton’ Category

Obama on the brink

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I see Yglesias has been pondering the delegate math along the same lines as yours truly:

If it’s really true, as many people are saying, that Barack Obama has a “bank” of 2-3 dozen superdelegates prepared to endorse him then wouldn’t this weekend be a good time to start making withdrawals? The literal impact of him getting a bunch of superdelegate endorsements today and tomorrow in order to ensure that the primaries on Tuesday and Wednesday put him over the finish line, and him getting a bunch of superdelegate endorsements that put him over the line on Thursday and Friday is identical, but on a symbolic plane it seems to me that you want to clinch things with an election result rather than an endorsement announcement.

Matt’s entirely correct, of course. Such an unfolding of events would undercut any potential plans on the part of Hillary to mount a last stand, because the heart of any potential ressentiment strategy rests on branding the process as undemocratic. Several dozen party hacks formalizing your opponent’s presumptive status looks undemocratic in a way getting the same thing from thousands of ordinary voters does not.

So, the non-existence of the much talked about “bank” (a big pool of unannounced Obama-supporting SDs) seems clear; the real question is why doesn’t this bank exist, given Obama’s strength, and the near certitude of his eventual nomination. One supposes this points to the residual strength of the Clinton brand in Democratic circles — kind of a last vestige of their once ironclad hold on the party.

I’ve grown weary of the near impossible task of trying to keep up with intricacies (and changes) of the delegate math, but, given Obama’s likely haul today and Tuesday, he would probably need, what, not much more than a dozen or so SDs to put him over the top (right? does that jive with anybody else’s understanding?). So, maybe we will hear of a mediumish clutch of new SDs pledging for Obama tonight, tomorrow and Tuesday morning.

UPDATE: AP is reporting that, if Obama and Clinton split the delegate haul from Tuesday’s contests, Obama will be about thirty shy of going over the top. I’m guesstimating he’ll get more than 50% on Tuesday, so that likely means he needs about two dozen superdelegates to become the presumptive nominee.

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June 1, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Memo to Obama: Get them to commit NOW.

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Mark Ambinder writes:

Neither the Clinton nor the Obama campaign is clear what the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee will do on May 31; depending upon how or whether they re-allocate delegates, Obama could wind up within to 20 to 30 votes of the nomination — a situation rectifiable by a piddling performance in Puerto RIco, South Dakota and Montana — or more than 100 delegates short, requiring solid performances in those states plus a few dozen superdelegate endorsements to put him over the top. To prepare for that eventuality, the Obama campaign has, for the first time, really, begun to bank delegates. Sources close to the campaign estimate that as many as three dozen Democratic superdelegates have privately pledged to announce their support for Obama on June 4 or 5. The campaign is determined that Obama not end the first week in June without securing the support of delegates numbering 2026 — or 2210, as the case may be.

Um, okay, but, like, wouldn’t it be a lot better for Senator Obama were he to go over the top via a primary win? If one of your main goals is to convince the rest of the party (meaning the boatloads of Clintonistas) that you’re the legitimate nominee, and that the process has been eminently fair, it’s simply looks better if the networks are proclaiming you the nominee not as a result of a bunch of party officials coming out of the closet for you, but rather because thousands of Just Plain Folks in places like Billings and Sioux Falls pulled the lever for you.

In other words, Senator, get these superdelegates to pledge for you now, so that even modest victories in the June 3rd primaries will put you over the top.

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May 27, 2008 at 10:48 am

February is the cruelest month

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The caucus format has obviously been a huge headache for the Hillary Clinton campaign. The problem for her is that you can’t manufacture victories in caucus states out of thin air. You need a strong ground organization. Hillary just didn’t put such an organization together (they pretty clearly were planning, early on, to have the nomination wrapped up by Super Tuesday), and so Obama simply crushed her in all the February caucuses (and what were there, like, ten of them)? A huge miscalculation by team Clinton. I’m pretty sure they realized their peril after Super Tuesday, but by then it was too late to salvage any strong showing in the remaining February caucuses, because it takes time to build a ground organization.So, they realized their only plausible remaining path to the nomination was strong wins in the those post-February primaries where the demographics look favorable to her.

Unfortunately for Clinton, salvaging residual delegates in the remaining February contests (a tempting strategy, no doubt, when you desperately need every delegate you can win) would have required doing some fairly serious campaigning, and that raises expectations. It may be in the end we’ll look back and all conclude that it was the Potomac contests that finally killed her, but they almost certainly would have killed her had her campaign gone in with guns blazing — giving media the opportunity to portray Virginia as a winnable state Clinton really needed to capture.

Fortunately for her, she probably can do well in Wisconsin. But already you can see the validity of the situation I outline above, because, now that she’s putting a lot of emphasis on Wisconsin, not winning there will be a much bigger deal

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February 15, 2008 at 4:01 pm

It’s always 20/20

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Marc Ambinder wonders what type of advice would have been useful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last autumn, had they been aware they were facing a very serious threat in the candidacy of Barack Obama. I would have advised as follows:

i) She should have gotten a complete makeover. Seriously. She looks and (especially) dresses in an absolutely ghastly fashion. Her wardrobe is unimaginably unflattering to her figure. It just looks sloppy and unprofessional. This may be a bit unfair — a man can get by in a suit no matter what — but life isn’t fair, either. And the reality is she’s up against a trim, elegant and attractive opponent. I think this costs her votes all around. It makes her look stale and frumpy, and reinforces the perception in the eyes of the voting public that she’s yesterday’s news. The woman is a millionaire. There’s no excuse.

ii) She could have tweaked her healthcare plan a bit and marketed it as “optional single payer.” This is kinda what Edwards was doing, and she basically stole his plan. As it happens, her plan already allows people to opt for a single payer-style government option if they want to. Why not take advantage of this feature for political purposes? Perhaps set a percentage of income cap on premiums — and use this feature to sidestep the mandates issue — and loudly market it as “single payer for anybody who wants it.” This would have helped undercut some of Obama’s early, surging support on the left.

iii) Also, the huge, early success of Obama’s fundraising should have alerted them to the possibility that he enjoys very robust, grass roots support, and they should have foreseen the possibility he’d therefore be able to run roughshod in caucuses. She should have developed a detailed “caucus action plan” specifically charged with making sure they didn’t get badly outgunned in that kind of environment (they obviously did fine in Nevada, they just didn’t get it done anywhere else) — and tapped a very seasoned operative to run it. I mean, whatever happened to labor unions? Couldn’t she have courted the support of at least some segments of organized labor to act as organizing shock troops in caucuses? Even taking one or two of those caucuses away from Obama might have made a huge difference.

iv) Finally she should have seized upon Obama’s national media buy (which insured spots were running in Florida markets) as an excuse to campaign there. In other words, do it in the open. Have a press conference and say something to the effect of:

Senator Obama has chosen to violate the spirit of the DNC agreement with respect to Michigan and Florida by running hundreds of television commercials reaching millions of Floridians, and I am therefore going to be campaigning there starting tomorrow. The votes of the nation’s fourth largest state are too important to exclude from the process. I invite Senator Obama to campaign there as well in person, since he has already started doing so electronically. Let’s have an open debate, and let the chips fall where they may regarding the delegates.

This would have put pressure on Obama’s campaign to respond in kind, and the results of Florida would have been legitimized, and it would be very difficult under such circumstances not to seat them (Michigan, of course, would be a different story given the fact that only Hillary’s name was on the ballot).

Written by Jasper

February 13, 2008 at 7:44 pm

Hillary’s chances

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They’re not great, obviously, at this juncture. Virginia really hurt. Wisconsin may end up hurting even more. Still, all’s not sunlight and roses for the Obama camp, either. The problem for Obama is that Hillary has amassed nearly 1,000 delegates. That’s too big a number for her to go quietly into the night, and indeed too big a number for there not to exist the possibility of a momentum change. And even Hillary-basher-in-chief Andrew Sullivan is mentioning a recent Ohio poll giving Hillary a nearly twenty point lead there. Also, the Democrats’ proportional representation system means that Clinton continues to pick up delegates, and this keeps Obama’s lead from widening overly rapidly. He’s simply not going to be able to run away with it unless her campaign completely collapses. Obama would need to win something like 80% of the post February delegates to clinch the nomination without the use of superdelegates. That looks mathematically improbable if Clinton is still contesting the election.

After Wisconsin, the reality is it will still be a fairly close race in total delegates, and most superdelegates (I suspect) will wait until after the March 4th contests before making further decisions. Superdelegates are professional politicians who want to win in November, after all, and waiting another couple of weeks to commit hardly hurts the eventual nominee’s chances. But rushing the process may hurt the party’s chances, if it creates irresistible momentum for the wrong (i.e, weaker in a general election) candidate. I’m not stating here that Obama is the weaker candidate against McCain, but taking our time with the process is one way to help insure we get it right.

Hillary will have two whole weeks after Wisconsin to mount a stand, and try to blunt Obama’s momentum. During that time there will be a debate or two. She’ll have an opportunity to sharpen her criticisms. Also, being (finally! at long last!) the undeniable underdog, it will make sense for her to throw a Hail Mary or two. She’s also made major campaign changes, and, while people rightly assume that’s a sign of trouble, they should also consider the possibility that such changes might indeed help her campaign (I mean, could it possibly perform any worse?).

There’s also the probability that the media will finally begin to scrutinize Obama’s record now that he’s on the verge of an historic nomination. There’s been very little coverage of issues, or reportage looking in a more in-depth fashion at what an Obama administration will actually look like. That’s bound to increase — even given the media’s understandable infatuation with the senator. After all, they like a fight, and an early wrap up deprives them of a very dramatic story. Momentum is a very fickle mistress.

If Hillary can use the two weeks between Wisconsin and Texas/Ohio to blunt his momentum, and she can pick up convincing wins that day (which means taking Rhode Island as well; I’m assuming Obama easily takes Vermont), the race will look a lot different. After that, there are at least five more states where the demographics may be more favorable to HRC (Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvannia), and where she can make up for February’s lost ground (again this is assuming a momentum shift driven by an HRC win in Ohio and Texas).

Also, the Rezko trial gets under way early in March. And there’s still the unresolved issue of Florida and Michigan.

If HRC loses Texas and Ohio, it really is all over, and, the cynical prognostications of others aside, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hillary concedes not long thereafter. People say she’ll do whatever it takes to win, but she’s not an idiot, and if victory is a virtual impossibility, the smart move for her will be to get out with some dignity. She could still live to fight another day if Obama loses the general election, and heck, she might even have a shot at becoming Vice President this year (and in 2016 she’d be younger than McCain is now).

But if she does manage a solid win on March 4th, Hillary’s still in decent shape, and she could yet finish up with more popular votes than Obama, and with only a very narrow deficit in pledged delegates (I think coming out ahead of Obama in total pledged delegates is an impossibility for Hillary at this point absent some sort of major scandal erupting for her opponent; the best she can do, I reckon, is to make the difference statistically trivial, and attain a virtual tie).

At the end of the day, there’s nothing in the rule book requiring the party to give the nod to a candidate with, say, a net lead of only thirty pledged delegates, especially if he hasn’t won a majority of said delegates (John Edwards won a few, after all), and even more so if he’s lost the popular vote, and two major states haven’t been able to get their delegates seated.

Anyway, this summarizes my thoughts on the Hilary’s still feasible (if not overly likely) path to the nomination.

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February 12, 2008 at 11:45 pm

Obama, Clinton, and The Electoral College

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I recently heard someone say that the Clinton’s campaign’s potential efforts to grab Florida delegates rested on a “weak argument,” because the state wasn’t contested. But I must say I don’t think that’s right at all. Florida saw about the same number of voters participate in its Democratic primary as New York — a slightly larger, significantly more Democratic state. Which strongly implies the vigorous surrogate campaigning (and Obama’s television advertising) did have an effect, because, proportionally, voter turnout in the Florida Democratic primary was heavier than in New York.

The pattern is clear. In large primaries where the electorate mirrors that of the nation as a whole, Hillary wins going away. Obama’s continues mostly to be a boutique, niche campaign, heavily dependent on flooding caucuses with liberal activists and college students. When there’s a more even playing field for moderate income voters — his campaign is far less impressive. For all the talk about electability, his candidacy looks very much like a Gary Hart or Bill Bradley insurgency, with a classic emphasis on left-wing Democratic voter cohorts and students. It is actually Hillary Clinton’s campaign that has demonstrated far greater strength with the purple state swing voters who will decide this election. In Missouri, for instance, Obama’s victory was put together in blue counties the Democrats typically win even in bad years (ie., metro Saint Louis and KC), whereas Hillary’s 49% of the vote came heavily in the redder rural and exurban counties in which the Democrats must show strength if they’re to take such purple states in November. Louisiana was similar. And Obama, of course, lost heavily in two other purple state primaries, Tennessee and Arkansas. (actually, make that “three” other if you include Florida).

Those who say Illinois and Massachusetts don’t tell us much about the general election are right. Deep blue states will remain so. But caucuses don’t tell us much about the general election, either. Because when you reduce voter participation to, say, 20% of what it would be in a primary (I’m thinking of Washington State vs. Massachusetts, for example), you naturally get a subset of the voting population that is better educated, more affluent, and, yes, more likely to be heavy with Obama supporters. There’s nothing “unfair” about Obama’s wins here. Rules are rules. But you’ve really gotta be drinking the Obama-aid to infer anything about his potential strength in the Electoral College from such contests.

When you analyze the returns from purple state primaries, it is abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton represents the country’s best chance at taking back the White House from the Republicans. Obama’s is a classic but under the radar, left-liberal insurgency candidacy. He may have been temporarily able to deflect media scrutiny of his ideology by eschewing discussion of issues. But that situation will not hold indefinitely. It also may be the case that 2008 will be such a good year for Democrats that we can get a guy like Obama elected — and that’s an exciting prospect. But Hillary is really the safer bet to prevail in November.

I urge Clinton supporters to stand firm, to fight tenaciously for her candidacy, and to go on to help her take Texas and (purple state) Ohio. I also urge the Clinton campaign to strongly resist any proposals to caucus Florida and Michigan. We need to get the most electable candidate nominated this summer.

And for you Obama supporters, think about three little words: The. Electoral. College.

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February 11, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Caucuses Schmaucuses

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I’ve heard various Obama supporters make the argument that caucuses are “very democratic.” But I can’t agree.  Now, it’s true that Hillary has no cause to complain about the caucuses. She knew the rules going into this thing, and if she neglected to organize as carefully as Obama did, or couldn’t raise the kind of money he did, then too bad for her. Still, it’s pretty hard to say that caucuses are “very democratic.” The fact is they’re extremely exclusionary because of their limited hours and the limited availability of caucus places.

Washington State is illustrative: the Seattle PI  is reporting that a “record” number of people are expected to have participated in Washington’s Democratic caucuses (around 200,000). In Massachusetts something like 1.8 million people participated in the state’s primary last week. Let’s charitably give the GOP 40% of that participation. That would mean over one million voters turned out for Massachusetts’s Democratic primary against 200,000 for Washington state’s “record” Democratic caucuses. The two state’s populations are virtually identical as of early 2008. To put it another way, each Washington State voter will end up possessing several times the nominating power of each Massachusetts voter.

Make no mistake about it: Obama has brilliantly maximized his advantages, and his campaign has very savvily exploited the caucus format. But also make no mistake that it is a decidedly less inclusionary and less democratic way to choose delegates. And this less democratic style of contest is at the core of Obama’s strategy to win the nomination.

His strategy so far seems to pretty clearly be: win African-American-centric primaries; win big in his home state; win caucuses; and hang on for dear life every place else. It may be enough to get him over the hump, especially if the successes he seems likely to get in February’s post Super Tuesday contests generate enough momentum to increase his reach in March (and he then goes on to win big in some primaries). But if not — if he can’t create a Hillary collapse (and I’d say that’s less likely now that she seems to be getting her fundraising in order) — then there’s a non-trivial chance Obama could wind up with a plurality of pledged delegates, and behind Clinton in the popular vote. Not that this is in and of itself necessarily problematic. Rules are rules, after all, and it is delegates — not the popular vote — who choose the nominee. But such a scenario would make it a lot more difficult to fight Clintonian attempts to seat Florida’s delegates, or to complain if she ends up securing the nomination via the use of superdelegates

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February 9, 2008 at 11:01 pm

Predictions for Tuesday

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Some discussion over at Matt’s place about Super Tuesday. On the subject of California Matt writes:

The latest polling has things very close in California with some even showing a lead for Barack Obama. Exciting stuff. It is worth noting that given the vagaries of the delegate allocation process, the odds overwhelmingly favor the February 5 outcome being fairly indecisive.

I really doubt Tuesday will fail to be decisive. Half the fucking country is voting. I reckon the media really will begin to focus on the delegate total, since that’s what ultimately wins you the nomination (not the popular vote) and since, finally, truly meaningful numbers of delegates are up for grabs. That said, I think if Obama comes in behind Clinton in the delegate tally from Tuesday’s haul, but it really is close (say, 47-44, especially with a win for him in California), he’s probably got the momentum — as well as a slim overall lead in pledged (but not super) delegates, headed into an Obama-friendly schedule in February. Remember, Clinton already has a delegate deficit she needs to make up (if you don’t count superdelegates). Obviously if Obama wins outright on Tuesday, the scenario is set for him to begin to pull away and rapidly consolidate toward the nomination. Democrats, after all, will at some point want to coalesce around a strong candidate, so as not to give John McCain too much of a head start in defining the race. And the rest of February indeed looks quite favorable for Obama.

On the other hand, if Clinton pulls out a win on Tuesday, and it’s at least arguably a strongish victory (better than, say, five points or so in front of Obama in popular vote and/or delegate haul), the momentum probably shifts back toward her. One problem with running on momentum is that it’s not as solid or as consistent or as dependable as a long track record or high name recognition. Momentum is an incredibly powerful force in politics, but it can be fickle. I don’t see how Obama maintains it if his opponent manages a reasonably convincing victory on Tuesday.

For these reasons I suspect the winner in popular vote and delegate count (I realize the two don’t necessarily have to be the same, but they almost certainly will be) from Tuesday’s contests will go on to become the nominee. How’s that for going out on a limb?

UPDATE: I realize I didn’t offer much of a prediction with my words above, so, here goes: Clinton wins California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and seventeen states total to Obama’s five, and manages a solid, if not overwhelming victory in the popular vote, gaining 50% to Obama’s 44%, with, six percent of the vote going to dropouts. She’ll get slightly more than 50% of the delegates.

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February 3, 2008 at 2:41 pm

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

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

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.

Written by Jasper

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.

Written by Jasper

January 6, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Crook on Rodrik on Hillarytrade

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Clive Cook talks about Dani Rodrik’s calm reaction to Hillary Clinton’s recent embrace of protectionism:

Dani is right of course that having doubts about the current multilateral arrangements does not make you a protectionist. Raising trade barriers, or turning your face against opportunities to lower them, is what makes you a protectionist. I also agree with Dani that taking a breather on trade agreements does not mean that the global trade regime will collapse. But collapse is an extreme scenario. The danger is not collapse, but erosion.

Dani argues that to maintain the openness we have, we must improve the legitimacy of the existing arrangements and build political support for liberal trade. Yet again, we agree. The issue that divides us is whether Hillary Clinton’s call for a time-out on trade advances or retards those goals.

Acknowledging that there can be winners and losers from trade, and developing better kinds of social insurance to ease the strain, makes sense. I am very much for that. But those policies do not envisage restrictions on trade. It is very hard to maintain that (a) trade is good for us in the aggregate and (b) it makes sense to go slow on trade liberalisation. If you are going to argue (b), before long you will find yourself failing to mention (a). And once you have forgotten (a), or decided it might actually be wrong, good luck in trying to “maintain the openness we have”.

If liberal trade is not good for America in the aggregate, why even try to maintain it? Why not join forces with outright protectionists and pursue the “fair trade” agenda without inhibition?…Once the US decides that liberal trade does not serve its collective interest–and Hillary, in effect, is proposing a time-out to think about this–the openness we have is indeed at risk.

I suspect most of the “US” — that is, the American people — already think liberal trade is against its collective interest. That horse has already left the barn. It’s a most deplorable state of affairs, and it unfortunately means that, in the party of the left, at least, the path to power requires mouthing protectionist bromides to peel off at least some protectionist voters.

I really doubt Hillary Rodham Clinton truly believes the fair trade nonsense. But she’s evidently concluded gaining the White House is going to require a certain amount of pandering. Nothing new there.  Pandering is as muc a part of the American political condition as baby kissing or chicken dinners. I now suspect however, that, perhaps ironically, free trade’s best bet is to put a Democrat in the White House. The Republicans certainly don’t appear interested in making safety net improvements (heck, they don’t appear very interested in making the case for trade, either).

Perhaps after eight years of a safety-net-repairing Democratic administration, it will once again be morning in America for free traders.

Written by Jasper

December 8, 2007 at 6:32 pm

Free advice to Mitt

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Huckabee’s rise in polls of Iowans may be just what the doctor ordered for Romney, in similar fashion to how Obama’s rise among Iowan Democrats benefits Hillary: in both cases expectations are helpfully adjusted downwards. It would probably be disastrous for Romney were he to lose by eight or nine points to Huckabee in Iowa if that’s not what the polls are predicting. But should Romney enter Iowa with the polls predicting a second place finish to Huckabee, the latter’s victory wouldn’t necessarily cause the Mittster huge problems.

My advice to Romney: ratchet up the TV spots in Iowa emphasizing your record for fiscal conservatism and your (new) hardline approach to immigration. The spots will be designed to hit Huckabee in his vulnerable areas, but don’t mention him by name (you might need him as a running mate, after all, and you don’t want to stoke up any more anti-Mormon animus amongst the fundies than you’re already dealing with). You might also want to consider tying your expertise in venture capital and business creation with a pitch to Iowans focusing on energy independence. Huck can’t match your new economy leadership bonafides. Also, don’t be afraid to feature your lovely, all-American looking family in your spots. Do your best to whittle Huck’s lead down as much as possible in Iowa. If you manage to prevail, Huck’s done. If you manage merely to exceed expectations, you’re still in pretty good shape. Meanwhile, starting in, say, mid-December, absolutely UNLOAD on Giuliani with negative ads in the NH/Boston media market. Focus on Kerrik and mistressgate. Make SURE you dispatch Rudy at the time of the NH primary. You can’t waste the opportunity to hit your most dangerous competitor hard in a battlefield where you have a decisive advantage: after all, the inevitable “back at ya” attacks Rudy will mount won’t be as effective as yours, because it won’t be possible for him to paint horns on you to voters (including lots of ex-Bay Staters) who feel they already know you quite well. Anyway, a (say) fourth or fifth place finish in Iowa for Rudy followed by a (say) third or fourth place finish in NH basically ends the New Yorker’s campaign, and effectively means its you against Huck for the nomination.

Written by Jasper

November 29, 2007 at 5:14 pm

Managing expectations in Iowa

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Matt Yglesias opines on Romney’s chances:

It seems to me, though, that this basically all comes down to what happens in Iowa. In particular, it comes down to what happens with the remaining Fred Thompson supporters once they realize that their man is in third place and slipping. At the moment, Huckabee and Romney are both trending upwards, but Huckabee is gaining on Romney because he’s trending upwards faster. If the bulk of Thompson’s remaining supporters (a not inconsiderable slice of the electorate) decide that Huckabee is the southern white Christian dude for them, then Huckabee stands a decent chance of pulling off an upset and Romney’s in big trouble. But if they decide that they need to do the pragmatic “Stop Rudy” thing and vote for Romney, then it really does seem like Mitt winds up sweeping the early primary table and Giuliani’s in big trouble.

I personally think it’s not so much about who “wins” Iowa (or NH, for that matter) but who does what in the expectations game.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that Huckabee continues to gain on Romney in the polls, and that, by the end of December, he’s built, say, an eight point lead among Iowans likely to vote. Under such circumstances if Romney loses by only two points, he might plausibly claim he’s “won” — and that the momentum is back on his side. A similar dynamic can be seen among the Democrats. Hillary Clinton obviously doesn’t want to finish second to Obama in Iowa. But it’s far better for her to come out behind Obama there if that’s what the polls are predicting (especially if she can “beat the spread”) than to do so when the polls are predicting a first place finish. Indeed, for Hillary, there may be something of a silver lining in her recent slippage in Iowa vis a vis Obama, as it lowers expectations for her.

It’s all about expectations and momentum in the early going

Written by Jasper

November 27, 2007 at 1:43 pm

Ezra on Obama

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Ezra articulates his disappointment with the candidacy of Barrack Obama. Not surprisingly, given the fact that Ezra is the progressive blogosphere’s eminence grise on matters related to healthcare,  he focuses on Senator Obama’s dismal healthcare plan:

I understand that he needs to defend his plan, but he’s making an argument that, I imagine, future Republicans will quote back at progressive reformers. To me, this is worse than the Social Security stuff. At least there, he’s advocating a progressive policy, if buying into a Republican frame. Here, he’s constructing a conservative frame to defend a bad policy, a policy I believe his campaign regards as a mistake. He talks a lot about honesty. He should be honest. The lack of a mandate was a mistake, born out of caution, and he should rectify it. Hell, he’s already said that, if he could go back to the country’s beginning, he’d choose single-payer. So if he doesn’t want to turn and mimic Clinton’s position, and if he instead wants to say that having thought it through, the individual mandate is the wrong way to guarantee universality, and we should simply make insurance a right, guaranteed by the government because that’s what sort of country we are, and he’s sorry for letting consultants constrain him, that would be great. But to see Obama, day after day, argue against collective action and universality, is deeply disappointing, almost heartbreaking. He had the capacity to elevate those ideals, to do for them what Reagan did for individualism. He’s letting that opportunity, that potential, slip away.

Preach it, Ezra.

A progressive economic agenda happens to be my biggest priority in 2008. It’s not my only priority. But it is number one. It’s too bad that Obama isn’t as strong as he could be in this department, because his candidacy has a lot to offer the country. But I’m tired of mucking about: The tea leaves strongly favor a Democrat in 2008, and I want to make sure the Democrat taking the oath shares my priorities. If he’s still viable when the Massachusetts primary comes around, I’ll strongly consider John Edwards. But as of right now, I’m a Clinton supporter. Should Obama heed Ezra’s advice and publicly resharpen some of his domestic policy plans (especially on healthcare), I may reconsider. Heaven forbid a politician change his mind about something he’s plainly wrong about, so that he can now be right.

By the way, Hillary Clinton’s plan, which, we all acknowledge, was basically right out of Edwards’s playbook (with one or two improvements), was politically very astutely written and presented. My own take on the Hillarycare fiasco of 1993 is that its biggest flaw was that it didn’t get the politics of healthcare right. So, her efforts this time around tell me that she has learned from her mistakes, and that having failed the first time around, Hillary Clinton is — as she claims, and contrary to her critics — more, not less, likely to succeed in giving every American meaningful healthcare coverage.

We are correct in avoiding people who make the same mistake again and again. But people who learn from their mistakes are usually some of the most effective people on offer.

Written by Jasper

November 26, 2007 at 5:58 pm

Obama v. Clinton: deciding factors

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Barrack Obama supporter Matt Yglesias has been fairly tough on Hillary Clinton lately. Foreign policy wonk that he is, Matt’s objections to Clinton, not surprisingly, focus on this area:

When I see a race between two politicians, one of whom got Iraq wrong and one of whom got it right, to me that establishes a presumption in favor of the candidate who got it right, no matter whose husband the wrong one is. When it turns out that the one who got it wrong also has a group of advisors heavily weighted toward the group of pro-war “experts” who helped push so many Democratic politicians into taking her wrong position on the war in 2002, that re-enforces my presumption. When the one who got it right is closer to a circle of people who were cast out of favor due to their opposition to the war or willingness to associate with Very Shrill Howard Dean, that re-enforces my presumption. Stuff like the Kyl-Lieberman vote, the funny business on nuclear weapons, the “naive and irresponsible” bit all further re-enforces my presumption. And I think once you look at it that way, the whole race looks different. There’s been a ton of commentary about how Barack Obama hasn’t said or done anything to debunk people’s presumption that Hillary Clinton should be the nominee. And that appears to be true. But what if you don’t start with that presumption? And I don’t think we should. To me, the presumption that a candidate who can say he has a record of sound foreign policy judgment that can be contrasted with Republican X’s record of support for Bush administration fiascos makes a lot more sense than the presumption that Clinton should get the nomination.

All good points by Matt; this line of thinking could certainly seal the deal in favor of Obama for a person favorably disposed toward either of the two Democratic frontrunners, if such a person is basing his/her vote primarily on foreign policy and national defense.

I know there’s an argument out there that foreign policy is exactly what you should base your decision on, given the executive branch’s primacy in this area, and Congress’s prominence in domestic affairs. But dammit, the country’s domestic political economy is might screwed up at the moment, and, personally, I’m really jonesing for sanity, competence and proper priorities in this area, too. And here — at least from the little I’ve gleaned about Senator Obama’s positions from following the campaign — his instincts really seem worryingly off-kilter. Especially for someone who cut his political teeth as a community organizer. Obama’s views on Social Security strike me as particularly ill-informed, and his proposal to remove millions of old people from the income tax rolls is just bizarre. And his health care proposal is frankly awful. In a word, Obama seems to me like a real rookie when it comes to bread and butter issues.

Anyway, none of this may make much difference if a President Obama allows a more heavily Democratic Congress to set the agenda on domestic affairs, and said Congress is lead by Democrats with sound principles. But I’d feel much more comfortable voting for Senator Obama in the primary were he to show more substance on kitchen table issues — even if that meant — heaven forbid — modifying some of his earlier positions and risking the dreaded charge of flip-floppery.

Written by Jasper

November 20, 2007 at 5:51 pm

The rumor mill, or, Jasper engages in sheer speculation

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By now you’ve no doubt heard about Robert Novak’s story regarding the Clinton/Obama rumor keffufle. Allegedly, Hillary’s campaign is threatening to spill the beans on dirt they possess on Barrack Obama, should the latter indulge in rumor mongering about the former president’s post-White House extramarital adventures. Yes, shockingly, there are rumors out there that the lusty lad hasn’t mended his ways.

Ross Douthat wants to know why, if the stories have any credibility, nobody has broken a story yet:

Is it credible that if there were sex scandals lurking out there, waiting to explode on the Clinton campaign, we wouldn’t know about them yet? I don’t care if Drudge is cozy with the Clintons now, or if Clinton-pal Ron Burkle gets control of every single supermarket tabloid in God’s creation – this is the age of TMZ and Gawker Stalker, and I find it hard to believe that someone like Clinton would be able to get away with his old tricks without some alternative, internet-age media outlet getting hold of the dirt. Mainstream outlets (like, say, the LA Times) might have qualms about running with a “Clinton commits adultery – again” story that doesn’t have a direct legal or political angle, but there are too many outlets devoted to full-time gossip now for journalistic high-mindedness to keep something like that out of the news. Aren’t there? Or am I being naive about the ability of someone as mobbed-up as Clinton to do what he pleases without it leaking online?

My guess: Bill has not been faithful to Hillary since leaving office, but his dalliances have been fairly discrete, quiet affairs — involving a woman (or women) who won’t talk. He’s probably gotten more careful. So there’s simply nothing but rumor and innuendo at this point — there’s no soiled dresses or photographs. He’s obviously not stupid enough to send his paramours emails, or be seen holding hands in a restaurant. And remember, he has Secret Service protection, and one happy side-benefit for him is it makes things more difficult for the papparazi. Anyway, this is my guess as to why no big story has yet broken. And yes, the Clintons are well-liked by a lot of media moguls, and have many friends in high places, so this doesn’t hurt, either.

I furthermore suspect the Clintons may very well have dirt on Obama. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve probably got dirt on Edwards, Richardson, Dodd, Biden, Giuliani, McCain, Huckabee, and Romney, too. Opposition research is pretty standards these days in American politics. Surely the Clintons possess expertise in this particular branch of the political black arts. So, yes, this, too, helps keep Bill’s skeletons in the closet, just as Novak reported. If such a strategy can buy the Clintons another twelve months, they’re home free. I don’t think anybody would be shocked if, not long after Hillary Clinton takes the oath of office, it is announced the president and first gentleman have agreed to “an amicable separation.”

Written by Jasper

November 19, 2007 at 3:00 pm