Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Inevitability Game

Or how rules, assumptions and disparities are fueling an unwarranted claim of inevitability in the Obama campaign. I think that Obama's political tactics are undermining his claim to legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of Democrats. The basis for my opinion is the simple fact that Hillary is not losing the campaign, but is, when all voting preferences are taken into account, slightly ahead.

Big Tent Democrat doesn't like it when I mock Obama. Fair enough. I can't stand BTD's continued assertions that Obama being a "media darling" should carry any weight in politics. To me, asserting that we should get behind a candidate because some morons in the press may or may not be marginally less brutal to him than to Hillary is obscenely wrong-headed. It ignores the real and meaningful institutions of political authority, undermines the foundations for social and political reform, and rewards the press for attempting to subvert elections.

Instead, let me put on my political scientist hat and talk about elections, delegates and political judgment critically, ditching mockery for truth, which may be less palatable because more difficult to dismiss.

Obama and his supporters are, ironically, trying to float the meme that his nomination is inevitable because HRC cannot possibly get the requisite number of delegates to win the nomination outright. Therefore, they argue, she must step aside and let history happen. To refuse to do so is a mark of her illegitimacy and willingness to "do anything" to win. It is why they can get away with calling her a monster. However, as I pointed out in my last post, Obama can't win on delegate count, either. There is nothing inevitable to his pursuit of the nomination. Instead, there are some specious arguments about rules and more than a few misleading assertions about super delegates that do not withstand scrutiny.

One of the problems with touting pledged delegate counts, as I alluded to in the last post, is that it refuses to acknowledge that there are substantive differences between those delegates, if only because of the disparate ways in which the delegates were selected. Increasing numbers of Democrats are looking at caucus selected delegates as suspect because of strong-arm tactics documented in videos and relayed through anecdotal accounts. Others, like me, see the caucus system itself as inherently undemocratic exactly in the way the Electoral College is - they are intended to dampen the effect of popular votes. They over-represent the number of actual voters in a state or region. One of the reasons to have super delegates is to provide a balance to unrepresentative voting systems. Democratic voters, particularly HRC supporters, are keenly aware that Obama's advantage is coming from his ability to leverage the caucuses, and that this undermines his legitimacy.

Another talking point is that Florida and Michigan broke the rules and so we can't discuss them, they can't be counted, they don't exist, will you stop mentioning those states!?! The problem comes that there are two sets of rules, one of which deals with the conduct of the primary and another set that deals with the conduct of the convention. MI and FL have had 100% of delegates stripped. In Florida the early primary was the result of Republican actions to move it forward. Now, let's be real and note that the Dem officials didn't exactly fight tooth and nail to prevent it, but the decision wasn't theirs. Also, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina also pushed their contests forward, yet none of them was penalized, only warned. The point here is that the rules were applied in a disparate manner.

The odd thing is that FL & MI were allowed to have their primaries, but they couldn't get the side benefits of the media circus because candidates were forbidden to campaign. They could, however, remain on the ballot. What this says to me is that the threat to not seat the delegates was toothless from the start. The DNC presumed that either there would be a front-runner or else there would be parity. The shell game was to make the states lose money and national exposure, but not really interfere with expression of voter preference.

Then Edwards and Obama decided to play politics with Michigan, seeking to damage Hillary in IA, NH and SC. They very publicly withdrew from the MI ballot and made it part of their campaigns. HRC and the other Dems did not. I think this was a risky but understandable strategy, and that it hurt Edwards very, very badly. Had he stayed on the Michigan ballot, he probably would have polled about 20%, which would have raised his viability profile in later states. As it was, the "Uncommitted" voters have all been presumed to be Obama supporters, robbing Edwards of a claim to support. My real point here is that their lack of presence on the MI ballot was by their own choice. Just as HRC didn't plan well enough to contest the caucus states, they failed to contest well enough in the big primary states. Obama also pledged to fight for Florida's right to be seated, but only if they voted for him. Hillary said she would fight regardless of the victor, and this went over well. You win some, you lose some.

The second set of rules governs the convention itself, and those rules explicitly allow the credential committee to seat any, some or none of those delegates as they see fit. There is no rule breaking going on. The convention itself may reverse, and thus repair, the damage done by the initial DNC ruling. Thus, there is an existing mechanism for resolving the barred delegate conundrum. The trouble, of course is that any type of decision they make will materially affect the outcome of the delegate count, and thus no ruling will satisfy both candidates. To allow less than the full count of both states in will diminish HRC's power and anger her supporters. To let them all in means Hillary takes a slight lead in pledged delegates.

That's the fact. Taking Michigan and Florida into account, the majority of voters have selected Hillary over Obama. It is a very slender lead, and even with it, she does not have enough delegates to win outright. Remember - neither does Obama. To refuse to seat MI & FL will anger more than just the voters of those states. It will anger the majority of HRC supporters nationwide who can point to the voters cast and say "She's ahead." Let's say this really clearly:

Hillary Clinton has won both the majority of popular votes and the majority of pledged delegates.

To claim otherwise is to presume that that her supporters are irrelevant and that support for her is illegitimate. Whether or not Dr. Dean & Ms. Brazile want to count those votes, whether or not anyone can get them seated and counted, they exist and they will only grow in importance as the campaign goes on and pressure increases to seat the delegates. This is part of Hillary's political strategy and like the move by Edwards and Obama to leave the Michigan ballot; it is both risky and potentially highly rewarding.

This leads us back to the argument Obama supporters, particularly the A-List Blogger Boyz, like to make, which is that pledged delegates are the express will of the voters and thus super delegates should just go with the majority. There are a few problems with this argument, the biggest being that they make this argument at the same time as they refuse to recognize the will of FL and MI voters. They fall back on the "Rules say they don't count," even as the truly democratic stance is to insist that they be counted. The second problem is that this is contrary to the point of the super delegates. Dr. Dean himself has emphatically said that the SDs are bound to one thing only - voting for the good of the party. They are themselves elected officials (either public office holders or elected party officials) and they are as representative as any other delegate. One of their purposes is to evaluate and smooth out the disparity of the delegate selection process, such as that caused by unrepresentative caucuses. They are supposed to exercise political judgment.

And what might that judgment be? Well, for starters, looking at the candidates and making some hard-nosed decisions about who really would be the most competitive in the general election. Who really has the largest block of support. Who really will best promote and defend the party's policies and objectives. Who will be a leader of the party. It matters that Hillary wins big in states with large and diverse populations. It matters that she was the overwhelming choice in Ohio and Florida, and that she also captured border states like Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. She'll make McCain spend resources in places where he hopes not to. It matters that exit polls consistently show her supporters (who are greater in number than Obama supporters) are less likely to turn out for him than his supporters are to do so for her, no matter what spin he tries to put on the matter. It matters that she is so incredibly popular with the Hispanic population, which could easily go with a Republican candidate, and not just for her own success. A big turnout in Texas could help grind down the stranglehold the Republicans have on the state apparatus.

Obama has been a "media darling" from Day One, and has been provided with every advantage a politician could dream of having. He has money, outrageously gentle and fawning press coverage, the full-throated support of the largest leftwing blogs and most of the highly regarded pundits, and a fantastic run of electoral success in certain states. It was not enough to put him ahead of HRC in the must-win states or to give him a substantial lead in any kind of count. Again, his delegate count only holds if you refuse to acknowledge the express opinions of FL and MI. Increasingly, the polls show him weakening as a general election candidate against McCain. There is plenty of room for his negatives to go up.

Hillary, on the other hand, has been blasted, reviled, threatened, dissed, shit on and treated in the worst possible way for months. Heck, let's really rack up the negative on her and say her campaign was mismanaged and she should never have fallen behind in fund raising the way she did. Put every negative on her you want and we come back to the simple truth - she wins. Rank and file voters prefer her to Obama. Not by a lot, but by enough of a margin that, given all of her handicaps and all of his allowances, she is shown to be the more substantial and indomitable candidate. Any deals cut need to be with her because she has the support of the core Dem voters. To dismiss her, and thereby dismiss the majority of participants in the primary process, will have serious repercussions, which is why Dean is backing down from his original opposition to seating FL and MI.

There is no inevitability to either candidate, but the candidate who will have to compromise the most is Obama. HRC has already let it be known that she will be reasonable. Can Mr. Uniter act for the good of the party and for his own long term political prospects?



Anonymous said...

Great post. I've been trying to articulate those ideas for weeks and haven't been able to make the points.

One other thought -- the argument that FL and MI votes are somehow "unfair" because no one campaigned there is absurd. It supposes that without television ads, negative mailers and the likes that people don't know anything about the candidates for whom they are voting. It's as though BO doesn't trust the citizens of FL and MI to turn on the news or read the paper or search the net to find out about the people they were nominating.

It's the same kind of thinking that had Samantha Power calling Ohioians "obsessed" and and Hillary a "monster," while BO referred to Ohioians as Archie Bunkers.

Progressives derided Bush for saying "If you aren't with us you're against us." and now some are saying, "If you aren't for BO there's something seriously wrong with you."

Anonymous said...

Amazingly articulated. I think you showed exactly why we clinton supporters think she has the ability to win this nomination. Not that she absolutely will, but I believe it is just pompous to call for her to withdraw and act like she is already beaten, when the truth is, neither of them will get to 2025. anyway, thank you for laying this out so well.

Anonymous said...

Just point that MI was a democratic decision but FL was indeed a republican decision. Just wanted to make that distinction.

ccp said...

Great post as usual Anglachel.
anonymous #1 (we should start using names on here, especially if you are a regular visitor): When I first came out for Hillary on my facebook page in early January I was immediately bombarded with postings and messages asking me why I "hate Obama" and that my decision to support her was "surprising" considering my very liberal viewpoints. It's only gotten worse since then. It's EXACTLY the Bush way of thinking and viewing the world. "Either you're with us or against us". Now Obama has made this election into either you're with me or you're a: racist, race traitor, uneducated, an Archie Bunker, not really a progressive...the list goes on. These folks just cannot understand how in the world there are people like us who actually like Hillary Clinton. I'm glad Samantha Powers came out and said what she and the Obamabots have been thinking all along: Hillary Clinton is a monster and there is NO WAY millions of people support her on their own accord so she's a monster who has been bamboozling and lying to voters all along to get their vote. Because that's the only explanation as to why she won all of these big states with over a million people voting for her in the TX and FL primaries! They really think we're so uneducated and trashy that we are unable to use our brains and figure out the best candidate for ourselves when in actuality it's been Obama who has the cult following and people fainting at his rallies, spending the entire day online just to negate any positive Hillary news that might appear on the A-list blogs, making sure Clinton supporters are being intimidated and locked out of caucuses, and believing whatever plagiarized bullshit their messiah puts into their heads. Makes you really think who is really being bamboozled here. Hey, I like Hillary but I don't worship her. I won't "pick up paper cups to clear his path" as Halle Berry said about her new savior.
They've carried this thinking into their analysis of FL and MI. It's unfathomable to Obamabots that Clinton could've won 1.5 million people alone in the FL primary. It MUST be because Obama didn't campaign down there. Because if he had gone down their and wowed them with his magical speeches he would've definitely won!!! Same with MI because hope and change is definitely on the minds of laid-off Michiganders losing their homes.
Obamabots have an explanation for everything yet everything they say doesn't add up and isn't substantiated by the evidence we're seeing in the national polls and the voter turnout in these large primaries.

Nic said...

Wonderful post. Well thought and very articulate. I will be sharing it w/friends.

SH said...

Well put, Anglachel. This growing Obama- and media-driven contempt for half the progressive movement is the most polarizing force we've endured within our party in decades.

This powerful and undemocratic partnership among a campaign, netroots, and the mainstream media has created a new culture which finds perfectly acceptable a shocking dismissal of all appearance of fairness and a level of disdain for whole segments of the American population, the likes of which we have not seen in the media or in our party in my lifetime.

The resulting voter alienation may indeed snatch defeat from the jaws of victory come November. It's great that certain populations segments feel more empowered and unified (younger men and AAs)and are enjoying a strengthened voice through the A-list blogs and the blogs' increasing synergy with the MSM. But the wielding of this new newfound power to generate disdain for and suppression of other groups violates everything our party stands for.

It is frightening that Obama supporters refuse to acknowledge ANY hints that their "unity movement" has become fractious, elitist, small-minded and tyrannical. Like a fundamental religion, to acknowledge the slightest fault and the need for repair apparently feels to them like blasphemy. This is an increasingly dangerous trend. They see "identity politics" everywhere but in themselves.

Similarly, for the MSM to truly acknowledge they've played far too large a role in selecting our candidate for us would be to lose face and influence, and that, apparently, we cannot have.

I would think we all are losing our minds if it weren't that I recently read "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts," by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Tavris and Aronson are highly respected behavioral psychologists who show how humans' primeval need to reduce cognitive dissonance leads us into unwavering memes such as "Saddam has WMDs and is responsible for 9/11."

But biology, say the authors, is not destiny. By understanding our proclivity to self-delusion and exposing it whenever it crops up, we can free ourselves to stay on our progressive

Sebastian said...

Great post as always. And I still have not heard a sound argument from Obama supporters explaining how Samantha Powers remarks, in the capacity of senior foreign policy advisor to Obama, reconcile with his "politics of Hope" message.

Canaan said...

I note bloggers trying to scare Clinton's base with a McCain presidency, despite John Kerry trying to recruit McCain as Vice President in 2004. They pretend we didn't hear Dick Morris and Rush Limbaugh publicly debating how Reps can best game the Texas Democratic primary. (Unlike Obama bloggers, I have no illusion that Repubs who followed Rush's advice will vote for Hil in November.) Clinton's base is made up of Reagan Democrats, many of whom supported the Iraq War in 2003, who won't be swayed by hyper-partisan scare tactics aimed at McCain -- now or in November.

I'm not taking any lectures on party unity from people who blogged that Hillary is anti-abortion because she wants to reduce unwanted pregnancies. And I'm certainly not taking any lectures on party unity from Ted Kennedy, who ambushed Jimmy Carter despite his Chappaquiddick problem.

Obama's only chance in November would be if he continued to get his ass kissed round the clock by the media. A G-rated Presidential campaign? That's so boring, it's not likely to happen.

MaxUS said...

This is such an amazingly insightful post. In it, you clearly articulate what has been rattling around in my brain for a while now.

This campaign season has been incredibly eye-opening in that it has exposed the fact that there are a huge number of us who have no place to share our ideas. Please, is there anyone out there who has the desire or inclination to develop a forum that represents the demographic that favors Hillary?

It seems obvious that we will need one when Hillary takes office. There's really no reason to believe that the current crop of BloggerBoys will be firmly behind our next President.