Monday, March 31, 2008

Bunker Mentality

[Updated to clarify final paragraph.]

Big Tent Democrat of TalkLeft posted this morning a not entirely rhetorical question asking if the A-list Blogger Boyz (poster child – Josh Marshall of TPM) hate Hillary Clinton so much that they would destroy the party to guarantee her defeat. Well, duh, of course they would. It’s what they are doing right now. Then they will deploy the excuse used by domestic abusers around the world – you made me treat you like this - to justify the violence done to both.

But this is not an interesting question. I have written for years (since before the 2006 elections) that the “netroots” is not that liberal nor is it a trustworthy political partner to Democrats, so I am 100% unsurprised by what I’m seeing now. If you had been reading my blog all along, you would have known this as well. These guys are easy to explain. They are made up of the demographic most likely to support Obama (young, white, male, college educated, usually with some graduate school, and with enormous upper-middle class earnings/earning potential). These are people for whom political choices rarely have immediate life altering consequences for them. In the case of the Blogger Boyz, they have hitched their wagons to Obama’s star in a very public way. If he fails, he takes them and their credibility with him. Their problems with powerful women I have discussed in greater depth elsewhere.

The interesting question is why people like Howard Dean appear willing to destroy the Democratic Party rather than permit a Clinton victory. What’s up with the party power brokers? There is nothing I have said as a point of analysis on my blog that Howard Dean doesn’t already know. He’s a smart guy even if you hate what he’s doing. What I’m going to talk about is mostly speculation on my part. I’m not trying to address the horse race going on (Simple – count Michigan and Florida and let the chips fall where they may, or else lose by a landslide in November.) , but instead try to understand why we are in this situation without reducing it to individual personalities or the power mad fantasies of this or that individual. Parties do not engage in internal battles like this for simple reasons.

This is also part of my long term thinking about politics in America, and relates to my shifting views of “The South” in the liberal imagination.

I think we are seeing the North/South split among party power brokers, but not so much physical geography as much as “North” and “South” as modes of political thought, clans of political actors, and styles of political strategy. As articulated by outstanding liberal thinkers like Paul Krugman, Mark Schmitt and Rick Perlstein, the major parties have gone through a tectonic realignment starting with FDR and due almost entirely to a reversal in their stances about race and their pursuit of white Southern votes. The Republicans took advantage of the racist exodus from the Democrats and incorporated it almost without modification, whereas the Democrats have declared that mentality as “not us” and engaged in a simple but absolutely necessary rejection of that legacy. However, what the Democrats have yet to do is to articulate the ways and conditions under which we will say “us” and include the South. This is the third act of our multi-generational political drama. Act one was from FDR to LBJ. Act two was from LBJ to WJC. How will the Democrats handle their Southern problem?

The other part of this internal battle (and it is no mistake that we tend to deal with these two issues in tandem), is the tension between the “elite” and the “lunch-bucket” Democratic partisans. The terminology is misleading, of course, and engages in some unhelpful stereotypes. Anyone who is a high-ranking member of the Democratic Party leadership these days could only be considered an “elite” – college educated, professional class, with a higher likelihood than the general Democratic population of coming from that kind of background and of being part of a political family. The dynastic and multi-generational upper class affiliation would be greater in the Republican Party, but it is still present in the Democrats. Perhaps we can call these broad and often over-lapping groups within the party the Truman contingent and the Stevenson contingent. Perhaps we can call it class. As much as North and South look askance at each other, these constituents of the Democratic coalition do not always see eye to eye.

FDR was supremely successful at bridging the class division, bringing workers and eggheads, unions and academia, to mutual advantage in the New Deal, though he did so to a saddening degree by leaving race untouched. The bigotry of the base (and even more so the bigotry of the elite) was left unchallenged in tacit exchange for their support at the ballot box. Paul Krugman goes into a good amount of detail about this festering sore upon the New Deal, and the way in which everyone knew it was going to have to be addressed. Then, LBJ brought down the curtain on that act with the Voting Rights Act. It took a Southerner to do that, someone for whom the experience of racial privilege was not alien or academic and who knew in the depths of his soul why it was so appealing to its beneficiaries. It kept you from the bottom, no matter how low you were, if you had even a sliver of that privilege in your favor. The Republicans’ electoral brilliance stems from the way in which they tied loss of that privilege with liberal policies as such, and held out the (not entirely empty) promise to defend the Southern status quo.

In the minds of the liberal elite, the problems and failures of the progressive agenda could be laid at the feet of bigoted whites, the “Archie Bunkers” of the North, and the “Bubbas” of the South. And there lies the strategic fault line of the Democratic Party, the willingness of a significant portion of the party, and I’m willing to wager the majority of the party power brokers, to see the electoral problem as how to minimize the damage of the Bunkers. The nadir of this strategy was under Reagan with the rise of the Reagan Democrat, when Democratic Party leaders simply could not speak to this socio-economic constituency, and believed the worst of it. Nor were they entirely wrong. The Republicans rewarded this constituency for acting out their worst, most selfish and hateful impulses in culture wars and through Darwinist economic policies. At the same time, the lack of powerful Southerners in the Democratic Party leadership helped to preserve the Stevenson contingent’s dominance of the party. There may have been people like Sam Nunn or Al Gore, but you did not see any LBJ.

Onto the scene came Bill Clinton, equal parts Bubba and Rhodes Scholar, the walking, talking embodiment of where the South, as geography, as history, as cultural imagination, could go. He was the New South. He had the Elvis. He liked fried food and NASCAR and wonkish policy papers in German. He made being “Bubba” OK, even something to be proud of, in a way that called upon culture constructively. I’m not talking about Clinton’s policy accomplishments, as they are a mixed bag, though more good than not, as much as the psychological effect he had on working class America. More than anything, Bill Clinton was an immediate and powerful threat to the power elites of both major parties because he made the South an unapologetic player in Democratic Party politics again.

This scrambled a lot of socio-political narratives, not to mention upsetting various power-broker apple carts. The opposition to him within the party, it always seemed to me, came more from his effect on the balance of power than any policy or even any scandal he brought about. It is important that political cartoonists who hate Clinton, especially those on the left, emphasize him being a Bubba – a hillbilly, a hick, an untutored rube, someone who can’t speak good English, who dresses in overalls, chews on grass stems, and eats varmints for food. Oh, yeah, and he fucks a lot. Can’t forget that. Hillary becomes the foil, an uptight shrew who hates the slob she married and throws things at him. These two brilliant, educated, well-traveled, scary-smart people denigrated as Southerners. Pundits who write critically about the Clintons have no compunction against speaking of them as coming from a lower class than the deserving DC politicos. “Bubba” is used derogatorily, just as the Obama campaign dismissed Ohio voters as “Archie Bunkers.” My point here is not to promote the Clintons (though I think they deserve it), but to emphasize the way in which they are demonized by their own party. They become the embodiment of the old South, the unrepentant, segregationist South, just as northern blue collar voters who challenge the party orthodoxy are labeled Archie Bunkers. Working class Democrats know that those terms are meant as put-downs, shorthand code for “stupid racist we have to cajole through Election Day and can then ignore.”

This is why the current campaign reminds me of 1968 all over again, except that the targets of the high-minded ire are so unlike the caricatures being painted that I’m left going “WTF?” From Hillary herself as some kind of crypto-racist to Hispanic women Ohioans being compared to a 70’s era ethnic white male bigot, it just boggles the mind. The Stevenson contingent has no narrative, no political frame adequate to address the coalition that has formed around Hillary. They are left grasping at what this person represents to people who do not fall into the educated (male) wine-track or the uneducated (male) beer-track. On the other hand, I’m not sure anyone else has a clear concept of this new constituency either. What does it mean that an upper Midwest born, New England educated white woman who lived for several decades in Arkansas and now calls New York home is sweeping border state primaries and also cleaning up in Florida, California and Massachusetts? What part of the Democratic imagination is she setting on fire?

She is creating a new coalition of voters, more diverse than the pundits are really aware of. It is different than the powerfully Southern draw that Bill had, but, given her strength in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, southern Ohio, roughly the Appalachian areas plus Oklahoma and Texas, there is definitely a Southern component. It is too easy to write it off as race due to the tremendous appeal that Obama has for AA voters, because it assumes only “Bunker” and “Bubba” stereotypical motivations (race hatred) for her supporters, and not that a large portion of people who would otherwise gladly be counted on her side are motivated by salutary racial pride to support another. Racism and ethnic prejudice exist in this country, but I refuse to reduce the political decisions of the majority of my fellow Democrats to destructive racist motives, whether in Hillary’s favor or in Obama’s.

Stepping back from the current campaign and refocusing on the power plays that must be happening, I get this weird sense of déjà vu all over again. The northeast liberal elite with the help of the Chicago Daley machine is battling against a wily Southern populist who carries a lot of baggage, but is immensely popular with “jus’ folks.” There is no picking between these two constituencies if the party is to remain the majority party in the country. The question is where the balance of power will lie. And I think we’ll have a better answer to that question after the convention, though probably not a final answer until after the general.

What I do know is that to the degree that the base of the party is equated with "The South" in the minds of the Democratic Party leadership and the leftist punditocracy, and that "The South" means Archie Bunker and Bubba, there is no future for the Democratic Party.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Distilling Democratic Legitimacy - Updated

Bloggers who are not in the tank for Obama, even those who support him, are converging on the very real legitimacy crisis that the Obama campaign is forcing on the Democratic Party. I am not talking here so much about the party officials as many of them are complicit in this crisis, but about the Democratic Party as an organization necessary for succssful promotion and defense of liberal democracy as such in this country.

A party in power must have legitimacy in the eyes of the voters if it is to act. In order to perform its role, the party must achieve sustained electoral success over time and across geographic regions. It must be able to speak credibly as being authorized by the majority of citizens to enact policies, promote programs, draw up legislation, staff bureaucracies, and utilize public funds in ways that a significant minority of the population does not like. Legitimacy, and thus the authority to take action in the name of the public, must have formal grounds (all procedures have been followed) but it requires something more and somewhat ephemeral - the perception that the procedures were performed correctly and that the outcome is valid. While office can be taken on purely formal grounds, the lack of a consensus that the procedures are valid will obviate legitimacy.

In the current Democratic primary, the campaign fails on both formal and perceptual grounds. The exclusion of Michigan and Florida votes from the candidate vote counts is not legitimate because the rules allow remedies, including revotes, and because one candidate will not participate in attempts to remedy the situation. Thus, growing numbers of voters, particularly those in the disenfranchised states, are protesting that they will not accept as legitimate any nomination that excludes these states' votes.

Whether you support Hillary or Obama, the legitimacy of the Democratic presidential nominee as such is in grave danger:
  • Opinion polls consistently show that the public regards the popular vote as the most legitimate measure of a candidate's victory. You win the vote, you win the election.
  • Super Delegate votes are no longer sufficient to decide this contest.
  • Obama and Clinton must meet the same two conditions: they must present themselves for judgment by the voters of Michigan and Florida and they must secure the popular vote. Hillary has met the former condition. Obama may have met the latter condition, but only through explicit exclusion of almost 10% of all primary voters.
  • Should either fail to meet both conditions, even should that person secure the formal nomination, that nominee will not be regarded as legitimate by a significant portion of the electorate, both Democratic and non-Democratic. Thus, just getting the super delegates isn't enough.
  • Clinton cannot win enough popular votes (barring some enormous upsets in the upcoming primaries) without Michigan and Florida to secure the nomination. Thus, she has every incentive to promote a resolution that is both in her favor and satifies legitimacy requirements.
  • Obama is ahead in popular votes at present, but holds a statistically significant lead only because the vote counts from Michigan and Florida are not included. Despite having a lead in popular votes, he will not be seen as the legitimate nominee unless Michigan and Florida votes are counted/revoted and recounted. He is in a bind because the resolution that would ensure his legitimacy may also result in his defeat if the majority of voters do not choose him.

It is by no means certain that even if Hillary could secure the votes of Florida and Michigan and do so with their current vote distribution she would win the nomination. It is certain that Obama's nomination will be rejected as illegitimate unless he accepts the judgment of Florida and Michigan voters on whether he should be the nominee. To repeat, at this point neither of them can be a legitimate nominee on super delegate votes alone.

Arguing the rules does you no good in the general election if the outcome of adherence to those rules is rejection by the voters.

Updated - In response to CognitiveDissonance in the comments - Even if Hillary drops out, Obama has not met the conditions for legitimacy. When he refused to agree to a revote which would have remedied the situation, that is when he put himself in opposition to the voters of those states. If he "wins" the nomination by forcing her out before those states are counted, he loses the general. In short, Obama has dealt himself a nearly unwinnable hand. At the same time, the only winning strategy for Hillary is to pursue a revote and to decisively win them by at least the margin she won the first time around.


Words and Deeds

Something that pundits and bloggers who are tepidly supporting Obama claim (probabaly to cover up their increasing embarrassment at having made the wrong choice) is that there really isn't that much difference between the candidates, so why is everyone getting exercized about the choice of one over the other? We'll get the same results no matter which one is elected. A stronger version of this, addressing campaign tactics, is that if their positions were reversed, Hillary would be acting the same way Obama is doing, right down to obstructing voting in Michigan and Florida.

Neither of these claims are true.

At the beginning of the campaign, if you didn't ask too many questions, you could say that the top three Dem contenders had roughly equivalent policy stances. Paul Krugman said this, for example. Since then, because he has looked closely, he has retracted this statement and said that HRC and Edwards have strongly progressive platforms, while Obama has a decidedly weaker one. Thus, while it may be true that, on paper, all Dems have better prospective policies than any Republican (Why should this be something to praise? That's a hell of a low bar.) , it matters whose policy actually advances Democratic positions. This is what Krugman was saying before the campaign began, in The Conscience of a Liberal, where he pushed for the Dem nominee to take advantage of the falling fortunes of the Movement Conservatives to get universal health care passed. It is what he said in his Friday opinion column on the candidates' positions on the economy and managing the coming fiscal crisis. Thus, even in formal policy statements, there are significant differences between Hillary and Obama, and not to Obama's advantage. At best, his policies are wishy-washy, milquetoast, poorly done copies of Clinton and Edwards much more progressive papers.

Moving beyond formal policy papers to actual performance, both in his actual legislative performance and even more in his speechees, Obama shows he is not in the same league as Hillary. What on the surface appeared to be a decent legislative record in Illinois is now being shown to be a sham. He is lauded for a single speech given at a local rally before a strongly anti-war audience, and himself claims that this one public statement is a stronger indicator of his political judgment than anything else either he or Hilalry have ever said or done. That he has distanced himself from these words, that he is on public record saying he could very well have voted for AUMF, that his recorded votes on Iraq are identical to hers, that he has a history of ducking controversial votes, seeing which way public opinion is trending, then claiming that he would have voted this way or that, all of this undermines any claim to judgment and even more so to having political courage.

Then there are his many, many statements praising Republicans, trashing Democrats (especially the Clintons), and comparing himself to Reagan. He has said he will consider Republicans in his cabinet and has made recent statements about how marvelously bipartisan he will be in foreign policy. Great, he puts himself on the side of the guys behind Iran-Contra, death squads, circumventing rule of law and expanding the imperial presidency. That's so reassuring.

As for the canard that Hillary would be running the same campaign were she in Obama's place, uh, no. She was in Obama's place, the front runner, earlier on and she did not try to prevent primaries from happening. She did not create training camps to to teach outsiders how to interfere with caucuses and intimidate voters. She did not go around speaking of her opponent as a monster. She did not tell him to drop out because she had it all sewn up. She did not say he was only driven by a lust for power, even as we who watch are increasingly seeing how accurate a description of Obama that is. Not at all. She praised him and all of her opponents. She urges all Democrats to this day to stay with the party, regardless of nominee. She speaks respectfully of Obama as a person even as she criticizes his policies and statements. She pledges to support him as nominee should she not be the voters choice. In short, she is running a strong, pro-Democrat and pro-Hillary campaign.

While she did not strongly support revoting Michigan and Florida at the start, it was not merely that she was ahead in those states. It was because those states had already held objectively valid elections. Michigan's incomplete candidate slate was due to the acts of the candidates who removed themselves, not because they were blocked. The prohibition on campaigning in those states applied equally to all candidates, and Obama broke that rule in Florida with cable ad buys. At no time did she ever say these states should be included because I'm ahead and not including them would change the outcome of the race. At this time, Hillary is strongly demanding either to revote the states or else seat them. She is not blocking the count of their votes.

Obama is campaigning on disenfranchising voters, leaning on an equivocal rule to cover his ass. This is a substantive difference between these candidates - one wants to win election by counting the votes, even if it means doing over the voting, and the other wants to win by disenfranchising voters who might not vote for him. These are not differences of degrees, or matters of opinion. Hillary will take her chances with the voters and abide by their decisons. Obama demands that we not count votes unless they are votes for him. He is arguing that we should not allow these Democrats to participate in anything to do with the party unless it is certain they will not endanger his front-runner status. That they have a right to vote and he has no right to win eludes him.

And then there is all that experience stuff where she's been an actor on the national scene for two decades, knows her stuff inside and out and is putting together teams and programs to address the biggest challenges to the nation, while Obama hasn't even convened his own sub-committee, is taking the cast-offs from previous Democratic administrations, and having losers from previous campaigns bitch about how Hillary is such a meeeaaaannniiieee to him. And then there is that 20 year association with someone who preaches hated of this country.

Words and deeds matter.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wonking the Vote, Take Two

Great comments, kids.
  • The votes per delegate ratio I tossed out was just for ease of calculation. It would probably be something more like 1 per 10,0000 votes or even lower. The ratio has to be low enough that small states can earn a decent amount of delegates, but large states won't have too many. The key is that it is based on actual Democratic Party voters. What we want to prevent is individual voters from being disenfranchised or have their vote be worth less per delegate compared to another voter.
  • Awarding extra delegates based on percentage of turnout could be good, too. The top ten turn out states get an extra ten delegates each, or some calculation. My point is to reward states for getting big turnouts, so that would go with the model.
  • The primary going to June is a feature, not a bug. Make the candidates work for it. If the nomination is based on total votes, well, every vote has to be counted. No shortcuts. No racking up delegates and cutting off competition. You win based on actual turn-out, not gaming some caucuses.
  • The purpose of creating voting blocks is to makes relatively equal blocks of votes available every two weeks, which also prevents front-loading and building up inevitability narratives so easily. A truly popular candidate will be consistently popular.
  • Spreading the voting out over a six month period allows plenty of time for vetting and plenty of time for minor pseudo-scandals to be smothered.

The one thing this model does not address, though I'm thinking about it, is how to deal with evenly split electorates based on true popular vote count. If you have two candidates, like this season, then there will be someone who is ahead, if only by a sliver. But what about a three person race, where each has below 40%? That's not so easy to decide because you do need a nominee who is clearly the choice of the majority of the party. Plurality winners are not necessarily strongly supported by the majority of the party. This is why I don't do away with the delegates entirely, because you may need some negotiation at the convention (or before) to achieve a clear and acceptable majority nominee.

One of the purposes of the current system is to exaggerate the voters' decisions specifically to ensure that there is a clear majority winner by the time of the convention so as to avoid the specter of a divided convention. The problem is that it leads to the campaign we see today, where you have one candidate trading in over-valued delegates (red state caucuses) to the detriment of the stronger GE candidate, who wins larger vote totals in key states. The reason you want the latter type of candidate to be the nominee is because the Electoral Colelge is winner-take-all in most states, and thus the person who can rack up large volumes of votes in those places is more likely to continue to do so in the General, where is it always a head-to-head contest. Of course, proportional representation and closed primaries/caucuses would have prevented this situation, too.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Wonk the (Primary) Vote

OK, I fully admit up front that this is kind of geeky, but the spousal unit and I spent dinner discussing voting procedures to try to make the Democratic primaries more representative and providing more opportunities to more kinds of candidates. What else do two former political science graduate students discuss? And it was really interesting! Well, maybe if you were there it would have been interesting. Anyway, here's a modestly wonky proposal to try to bring some order to the primaries.

First, what are the structural/organizational problems of the current primaries? They are too dissimilar in nature (caucus vs. primary, open vs. closed, multi-stage vs. single vote, etc.). They over represent small states, older voters, and caucuses. They are not equally open to participation. They are decidedly stacked against non-establishment candidates with the Super Tuesday blow out. They tend to clump regionally which distorts perspectives. They tend to clump chronologically which causes rushes of contests followed by long lulls. The lack of order encourages larger, well funded states to shove to the front of the line. Voters in states that vote late in the primary usually (though not this year) have no functional say in who gets chosen.

What are ways to address these various issues in a way that will still result in a fair, transparent, democratic election, giving people enough time to view and judge candidates?
  1. Close the contests. Unless you are a registered Democrat, you cannot vote. On this, I am adamant. This is choosing our party's nominee. Republicans can stick to their own sorry group of losers. Independents can shit or get off the pot. You want to pick the Dem candidate? Commit to the party.
  2. Allow day of election party registration. But we don't want to suppress turnout, so make it easy to become a Democrat. This one is trickier because of the rules different states have about voter registration. My opinion is get 'em in the door and have them put their name on the dotted line. Then hit them up for donations.
  3. Establish electoral blocks of states that are distributed geographically and are created based on their Electoral College weight. There are 538 total Electoral College votes. The smallest indivisible EC voting unit is California, with 55 EC votes. Place Califonia as a voting block on its own, then take the remaining 483 and divide them into eight or nine other blocks. Divided by 8 means blocks of about 60 EC votes (there would be a little variation) while nine voting blocks gives you about 54 C votes per, both comparable to California. The idea is to make each round of voting worth approximately the same in tems of general election outcome as possible. Also, states would need to be allocated to represent different regions to reflect the nation's population divesity and to provide opportunities for different candidates to excel.
  4. The electoral blocks rotate their position each presidential election season. First year order is chosen by lot, then the first block from this cycle goes to the end of the line on the next cycle. This prevents permanent campaigns in places like Iowa and gives all states opportunities to set the tone, make the difference, and have a good chance of being heard. It also makes the state parties more important in relation to the national party as it will never be clear which state may be the decider.
  5. Elections should be held every other week, starting the second week in January. Though it would be preferable to have all the block vote on the same day, as long as they all voted within the week, that would be sufficient. Even with 10 voting blocks, it would be wrapped up before June 1. Besides, we're seeing the phenomenon that the longer the contest goes on, the more excited people are getting and the higher the turn out. I can see voting blocks contesting with each other to see who can claim bragging rights for the biggest turn out.
  6. Now, the big decision here is what to do about the primary vs. caucus and small state vs. big state which diminishes the votes of people who are in big state primaries. Rule one is you must have a single contest. No Texas Two-step or Washington Waffling. The next part will take a bit of explaining:

Allocate delegates on the basis of proportional turn out. This means that a delgate is granted for every 100,000 or 15,000 or 250,000 or whatever the threshold number is no matter what state you are in. No gerrymandered districts with the voter in precint 1 counting for more than those in precinct 4. States that want to hold caucuses can do so, but the low turnouts for caucuses will result in a lower delegate count and thuis voice at the national convention. Want more voice at a national level? GET OUT YOUR VOTE.

This offers a poweful incentive to state parties to get people in the door. Candidates will find it tougher to game a system by suppressing votes or trying to appeal to only their own consitutencies. A small state that has a big Democratic presence and a strong GOTV operation, can increase its influence in the national party in relation to a large state, yet big states are guaranteed of having their larger populations be accurately represented. States that are traditionally Republican are made to get off their asses and pump up their communications efforts or be ignored. Less prominent candidates can make inroads in smaller states because it takes the same number of voters to get a delegate as in a large state, where they may not be able to do the big media buys or get the attention of the more popular candidate. Finally, it behooves a candidate to run strongly in every state, as poor turnout and low votes means fewer delegates even if you win. You can't win except by increasing participation.

States have every incentive to engage in massive get out the vote efforts. They begin to contest with each other for delegate representation based on turn out. And, well, that also means you don't know who gets how many delegates until all the votes are in, the total turn-out is tallied, and the delegates apportioned in accord with that. A candidate then gets the the number of delegates in a given state based on what percentage of that state's vote she garnered.

If state X turns out 2,000,000 voters, and they are apportioned 1 delegate per 25,000 voters, there's 80 delegates. Candidate 1 got 45% of the vote, candidate 2 got 35%, and candidates 3 & 4 each got 10%. The delegates are apportioned 36 to #1, 28 to #2, and 8 each to #3 & #4. State Z who decided to hold a caucus the same day only turned out 250,000 voters, so only gets 10 delegates. Caucus states have to report total number and actual vote counts at the end of the caucus, and delegates are allocated to candidates proportionally. In the case of fractional delegates, overall vote allocation in the voting block will determine who gets to claim the delegate. A candidate who is a bigger vote getter across states will pick up the extra delegates as a reward for being more competitive in more contests.

So, that's how I spent my Friday night dinner. What were you up to?


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Krugman Reads His Hillary

Paul Krugman, perhaps the last major columnist with both feet firmly in reality, has a post up today about the candidates. First, he reminds us that he was right about Bush from the start, when other people were wrong:

When George W. Bush first ran for the White House, political reporters assured us that he came across as a reasonable, moderate guy.

Yet those of us who looked at his policy proposals — big tax cuts for the rich and Social Security privatization — had a very different impression. And we were right.

The moral is that it’s important to take a hard look at what candidates say about policy. It’s true that past promises are no guarantee of future performance. But policy proposals offer a window into candidates’ political souls — a much better window, if you ask me, than a bunch of supposedly revealing anecdotes and out-of-context quotes.
Words are not just words. They matter because they will tell us what is buzzing around the inside of that person's brain. Krugman continues, handing out the hardest knocks to McCain, but not sparing the Democrats, either (my emphasis):

Which brings me to the latest big debate: how should we respond to the mortgage crisis? In the last few days John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have all weighed in. And their proposals arguably say a lot about the kind of president each would be.

Mr. McCain is often referred to as a “maverick” and a “moderate,” assessments based mainly on his engaging manner. But his speech on the economy was that of an orthodox, hard-line right-winger. ... These days, even free-market enthusiasts are talking about increased regulation of securities firms now that the Fed has shown that it will rush to their rescue if they get into trouble. But Mr. McCain is selling the same old snake oil, claiming that deregulation and tax cuts cure all ills.

Hillary Clinton’s speech could not have been more different.

True, Mrs. Clinton’s suggestion that she might convene a high-level commission, including Alan Greenspan — who bears a lot of responsibility for this crisis — had echoes of the excessively comfortable relationship her husband’s administration developed with the investment industry. But the substance of her policy proposals on mortgages, like that of her health care plan, suggests a strong progressive sensibility. ... Mrs. Clinton wants a modern version of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, the New Deal institution that acquired the mortgages of people whose homes were worth less than their debts, then reduced payments to a level the homeowners could afford.

Finally, Barack Obama’s speech on the economy on Thursday followed the cautious pattern of his earlier statements on economic issues.

I was pleased that Mr. Obama came out strongly for broader financial regulation, which might help avert future crises. But his proposals for aid to the victims of the current crisis, though significant, are less sweeping than Mrs. Clinton’s: he wants to nudge private lenders into restructuring mortgages rather than having the government simply step in and get the job done.

Mr. Obama also continues to make permanent tax cuts — middle-class tax cuts, to be sure — a centerpiece of his economic plan. It’s not clear how he would pay both for these tax cuts and for initiatives like health care reform, so his tax-cut promises raise questions about how determined he really is to pursue a strongly progressive agenda.

Shorter Paul - McCain's a whacko, Hillary knows what's she's doing and is using the power of government to help ordinary people, and Obama is still trying to decide if he's a progressive or just playing one on the blogs.

Paul Krugman is not into currying favor with any administration. He has a day job as one of the most respected economists in the world, and is deeply concerned about ensuring that a progressive get elected. He was an Edwards supporter and I don't think he's happy that his preferred candidate has dropped out. However, he's also very clear that there is only one person left in the race who has a solidly progressive agenda. Now, if only the Blogger Boyz could get over their CDS long enough to be as honest as the person they all claim to admire.
Mr. McCain, we’re told, is a straight-talking maverick. But on domestic policy, he offers neither straight talk nor originality; instead, he panders shamelessly to right-wing ideologues.

Mrs. Clinton, we’re assured by sources right and left, tortures puppies and eats babies. But her policy proposals continue to be surprisingly bold and progressive.

Finally, Mr. Obama is widely portrayed, not least by himself, as a transformational figure who will usher in a new era. But his actual policy proposals, though liberal, tend to be cautious and relatively orthodox.
Krugman not so subtly slaps the elite punditocracy for their disparate treatment of Hillary, not even being willing to engage what this person offers the country on the merits of her positions and policies. I'm sure he will be assailed by the Blogger Boyz for being on a personal vendetta against The Precious for saying the simple truth.

It's the economy, stupid, and what the candidates have to say about how they will fix it.


Democrats on Every Day

A central claim of Obama and his cheering squad is that he would be the stronger general election candidate than Hillary because he would be more attractive to Independents and Republicans than she would be, and that elections are decided on the margins. The unspoken part of the claim is that all Democrats would vote for him without question.

It wasn't a bad argument, per se, and there was some plausibility to it. Independent voters are a notoriously fickle lot, prizing their faux "independence" above political effectiveness and noted more for impulse voting than for supporting a consistent platform. For every Obamacan you can find a Paultard. They don't tend to go for conventional candidates - witness the Independent vote for Ralph Nader over Al Gore. Given that Republicans are the party of racist bigots (Read your Krugman), it was not very palusible that he would draw a significant enough number of Republicans to have an electoral impact. I also thought Clinton was far more popular with the Democratic loyalists than anyone gave her credit for. A Gallup poll back in November (sorry, can't find link) showed that Hillary had a larger group of fully committed supporters than any other candidate. Even so, there were some persuasive points to the claim because of the apepal to Independents.

What was clear from the start of the Obama campaign was that he took the Democratic base for granted. He did not think there could be any defections from it that would make a difference, and so he hasn't spent much time asking for thier support. He has been courting not just weird left-leaning Independents, but aggressively going after right-leaners and Republicans. He has signaled that he won't push for universal health care, that he's willing to revisit Social Security and open it up for changes, that he will have Republicans as cabinet members and senior advisors. He is even refusing to count Florida votes as a way to prevent losing a tenuous lead among delegates. (Ahem...) Amid all the racism calumny thrown at Hillary, it's easy to forget the blatent sucking up to the rightwing in his Reno newspaper interview, bashing Bill Clinton, praising the Republicans as the party of ideas, and admiring Reagan. It is this behavior that makes regular Democrats feel taken for granted if not simply disdained. Whoever is the nominee gets the spoils, as it is assumed even today, so the trick was to pack the primaries with non-Democrats who were recruited to vote against Hillary.

The Democrat for a Day promotion really showed the true face of the Obama campaign. It began in Florida, explicitly trying to bring people in to vote against HRC, but to leverage their CDS in Obama's favor. It became significantly more crude in Nevada, where people were told to change party registration specifically to vote against Hillary. This brought about a backlash, but the measure has continued wherever there was a closed primary. It is being run in Pennsylvania right now, and it is clearly aimed at getting Republicans to cross over and vote their CDS. The key in all of this is the assurance that the party-switcher can easily go back to being a Republican, Liberatarian, Independent, etc., the minute the primary is over. These people were never intended to remain Democrats - they were Obamacans, unconnected to our party.

Party building is not done by gaming elections for a particular candidate (though gaming elections is something parties need to know how to do), it is about increasing voter identity with a party, because the party is what enables policies and programs to be enacted over time. Individuals do not manage governments, parties do, and the chilling effectiveness of the Republicans is due to the party apparatus that supports the candidates. The most simple, long lasting way to build party identification is by presenting and then delivering upon something the voter sees as being in their self-interest. This can be something as reprehensible as segregation, which moved millions of southern whites into the Republican column, or something as empowering as FDR's New Deal, which moved millions of AA's from "the party of Lincoln" to the Democrats.

The recent Gallup poll that is giving the Blogger Boyz the vapors over those evil, back-stabbing Hillary supporters actually puts to rest Obama's claim to be the stronger candidate in the general election. While people are framing this information as showing that HRC's supporters are "more divisive", what it actually shows is that voters of all kinds are more satisfied with HRC as the Democratic nominee than they are with Obama - including AA voters. If Hillary is the nominee more people will vote Democratic, including more Independents.

Contrary to the frothing, CDS-afflicted pundits, Hillary holds on to the constituencies most prone to defection within the Democratic Party (Regan Democrats, male voters) better than Obama and she will retain a higher number of Independents. These are the largest parts of the Demoratic electorate. While I have no doubt there are a non-trivial number of Obama supporters who will not vote for Hillary, especially after the pounding alleged leftists have been giving her, she starts by retaining larger portions of the parts of his constituencies likely to vote Democratic (and thus whose defections would erase possible gains among Independents), which means she has less ground to make up among Democrats themselves.

When this factored into the clear advantage she enjoys over him with states that can deliver the electoral votes, the general election argument no longer holds any water. The reason she does this is because she is running as a Democrat on every day, not simply an opportunist looking for a way to fiangle his way to a questionable nomination. Her devotion to the party, her willingness to fight for it just as strongly as she fights for herself, is what gives her supporters confidence that she in unafraid to take on the tough battles for us - universal health care, shoring up the economy, restoring the honor of our nation around the world, protecting civil liberties, and improving the lives of ordinary people.

Who knows? If Obama had not been so eager to fellate the corpse of Regan in exchange for a few cross-over primary votes, maybe Democrats would be more inclined to give him their votes in the general.


No to Republicans, Too

First, thank you to the many people who have commented recently. I enjoy reading your stories and thoughts. For those who are new to the blog, please be aware that I almost never respond directly to anything in comments. To a few questions about linking or quoting:
  • Link away. Try to use the permanent link if directing readers to a specific post.
  • Quote in context and provide a link back

You don't have to agree with me, but use a link so your readers can make up their own minds.

Topic of the day - friends don't let friends vote Republican.

The Republicans are leading the charge against progressive politics, wanting to reduce this nation to late 19th-century conditions. They are clearly supporting Obama in the primaries to try to take out Hillary, as anyone who has been paying attention well knows. It tickles me pink that we are beginning to see rank and file Republican defections to Hillary in the primaries as, unlike the Dem for a Day crapola (and there is a post brewing on that topic), these appear to be good old Rockafeller Republicans, fiscal conservatives but socially liberal. A rare breed, these days, and clearly people we want to bringinto the Democratic fold.

There is no reason for any thinking citizen to vote for this band of thugs and criminals. NONE. Hillary herself tells you do not vote Republican. Ever.

The difficulty here is that Obama has run a shitty, nasty, fuck-the-bitch-over campaign, actively trading in elite pundit hatred (It's not just for wingnuts anymore!) and demonization of the Clintons to curry favor with the MSM. His delegate count overrepresents his actual support, particularly as his less than illustrious Chicago connections are exposed to the light of day. He has treated Hillary and the majority of Democratic voters who support her as beneath contmept, impediments to be swept away, rather than valid opposition deserving of respect. For crying out loud, the guy ran oppo research on Paul Krugman.

So, what's a good loyal Dem to do?

First and foremost, I do not give up, anymore than Hillary does. She can win this because no one has done so yet. The longer the campaign goes on, the more likely it is that she can pull it out. I talk about polls, perspectives, and political legitimacy to make clear to prospective voters what is at stake in this primary contest and to keep past voters engaged. If it can influence a super delegate or two, all to the good.

Second, should the nomination go to Obama through anything less than full representation of all the states and clear voting (hint - not under death threats) by the super delegates, you can cast a protest vote in November by writing in HRC. Some states do not have the ability to do this on touch screen machines, so be sure to talk to your country registrar of voters NOW and figure out how it can be done.

Finally, if Obama can clean up his sewer of a campaign, apologize for and retract all accusations of racism against the Clintons, fire every person from his campaign who has spoken derogatorily of Hillary and her supporters, unequivocally state that he will whole-heartedly support Hillary should she be the nominee, adopt a clear Democratic platform, present himself for full and fair primary revotes in FL and MI, win a clear majority of Democratic voters, and participate honorably in a clean convention, then I will do as Hillary asks and vote for the Democratic nominee. In short, Obama has to be no less dedicated and honorable a Democrat than Hillary herself if he wants to earn my vote.

Under no circumstances will I cast a vote for John McCain or any other Republican. Period.

So, Dr. Dean, how much of a game of chicken do you want to play with the general election? You need my vote. Earn it.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Gathering Storm

My post yesterday called out the degree of violence, particularly misogynistic violence, present in the current Democratic contest. However, the characterization of Democrats who would not support the Democratic nominee in the general as "infantile" has stuck with me. I'm dropping the snark for a post and really looking at what blind spots are demonstrated through this stance. My point is not to criticize a particular blogger (richly though he may deserve it), but to get into the center of some profound self-deceptions going on with people all over the Left over the nature of political legitimacy.

Declaring people unwilling to support the nominee "infantile" is a very poor way of looking at the emerging dynamic of the race, though it would have been an appropriate chastisement prior to any of the caucuses or primaries. At that time, both Edwards and Obama publically refused to commit to supporting Hillary (which equates to telling their supporters not to vote for her) should she be the nominee. That was the point at which a slap should have been administered and not to HRC. I do not remember the Blogger Boyz complaining about this language when it was assumed the person being penalized by such threats was Hillary.

The fundamental problem with categorically labeling Hillary voters as infantile is that it takes as true the elite pundit meme that she and her supporters are illegitimate participants in the process, the equivalent of Ralph Nader and his adherents. This initial error is further compounded by assuming that those who will refuse to vote for Obama are simply a small group of delusional HRC supporters, though the vehemence with which the prospect of voter defections is being met belies that public stance. There are two increasingly overlapping groups of voters who are likely to defect from the Democratic column in November, and they illustrate two ways in which Obama has lost political legitimacy.

Taking up the first issue, the presumption of the punditocracy that we all know that a Hillary victory cannot be for real, has ironically enough become the foundation of Obama’s lack of legitimacy, but has expanded to include the Democratic Party itself. This crisis brewed for some time, but took form when HRC was not permitted a level playing field in the campaign. The refusal to grant her equal footing may have begun with the MSM, which has always hated her, but they were soon joined by progressive blogs and the other campaigns, producing a phalanx of elite opinion trying to delegitimize her at every step. The signature moment was the Drexel debate where Obama and Edwards took up Russert’s invitation to batter her in front of the cameras and then played the victims afterwards by claiming that Hillary was playing a “gender card”.

To those several million people who support Hillary or who at least regarded her favorably, this pointed attack upon her as a person as well as a candidate, coupled with the relatively gentle treatment granted the other candidates, had the effect of solidifying a great deal of our support. To declare her unworthy of participating, a monster who would “do anything to win,” was seen for what it was, straightforward demonization of a perfectly acceptable candidate, one with a deep well of support and an enviable record of public service. We simply don’t accept the elite framing of our candidate.

When A-list bloggers begin to lecture HRC supporters about having to grow up and not be infantile, they just dig themselves into a deeper hole, because they trivialize and mock our considered support for her. The arguments they offer up about her – duplicitous, hateful, cold, power-mad, disliked, criminal – are straight out of the Rightwing sewer, do little save undermine the validity of their own stances.

Then, there was the comment from Obama that he knew all the Hillary supporters would vote for him, but he didn’t think she could get his. What incredible offensiveness, to claim that he could take my vote for granted. It dismissed the fact that, were he to become the nominee, he would then have to ask for the support of those who had not selected him the first time around, and thus put in a position of providing reasons to vote for him to the people he casually dismissed.

Thus, among HRC supporters, the effect of this particular campaign has been to erode the legitimacy not of our candidate but of Obama. As polling shows, his presumption that he automatically inherited her supporters has been proved untrue, in great part because he assumed that no one could really support that “monster”.

The second issue, which is interwoven with the first and is, in my opinion, a far greater problem for the party as such, has to do with the treatment of rank and file Democrats who vote for Hillary. As shown in exit polls, these voters are the bulk of the Democrats who voted (as opposed to all who participate), people for whom being a Democrat is a part of their personal as well as political identity. Falling support for Obama among this group is a more recent phenomenon, one that he might have been reversing in mid-February but which is trending down with every poll. There is some anger here over the treatment of Hillary, but even more it is rejection of Obama himself as a candidate due to his own actions and statements. At a slightly deeper level, it is an upsurge of the latent resentment and distrust between the so-called “tracks” in the party – beer and wine – the shorthand way of identifying the significant social and economic and increasingly gender stratification of the Democratic Party.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post (can’t remember which one), the sour note that Obama has struck with this constituency is the sore spot of anti-Americanism, the constant attack point of Republicans on the Democrats, and the way in which Obama simply is not able to credibly counter that threat. It is also the case after the Wright disaster that these Democrats don’t believe that Obama is patriotic enough. It wasn’t Wright’s racism but his cursing of the nation that has gone down sideways. On top of this is the perception that he does not care much for “the little guy” (the NAFTA waffling, the lack of serious legislative achievements), and the foundation for his own legitimacy becomes narrow and unstable.

There is a deep irony here. In Obama’s set piece speeches he excels at tapping into the leftwing version of the patriotic narrative, about equality, justice and opportunity. This was the power of his keynote speech in 2004. But the promise of that speech has not been present in the candidate. The spousal unit sums it up in a single sentence – he ran too soon. He did not give himself the time to distance himself from the Chicago mess (political, financial, religious) and put some substantive national level public service under his belt. In some ways, the Chicago power base has insulated Obama from the conundrums of running a Democratic campaign in a centrist nation.

This is a lesson both Bill and Hillary Clinton have learned. Big Dog got his ass handed to him his first reelection bid in Arkansas because he came across as too elite and alien to the population, too eager to push his agenda and not inclined to listen to what people told him. In a word, arrogance. You don’t run as a member of the liberal elite in middle America. You cannot be perceived as having contempt for the people whose votes you need. Hillary faced this in upstate New York, plus even more baggage – carpetbagger, outsider, Billary monster, favorite punching bag of the right – and some real Republican opponents. She did it the hard way, by demonstrating her work for the voters of the state, won the first election, then busted her chops for her constituents, and had a blow-out reelection. She certainly has legitimacy in New York.

Back to the race. The rank and file Democrats who have favorable attitudes towards the Clintons and also for McCain look at Obama and see someone running a negative campaign and who appears to disdain the nation. The mix of pocketbook issues with a straightforward and direct love of country is not favoring him with these voters. The more they hear, the less they are inclined to support.

Then we get into the recent events of the campaign. Florida and Michigan are the contests where actual legitimacy for the candidates and thus the eventual nominee will be founded. A 48 state strategy is not viable if those two are not part of the 48. In these places, Hillary voters are being written off, dismissed as illegitimate voices in the process. The insistence on only one aspect of the rules, the penalty, while ignoring the full set of rules that could be used to manage the situation is eroding Obama’s claims to legitimacy because people don’t care about arcane party rules. They want their votes to count. The acts by Obama to prevent a revote have done nothing to increase his standing with ordinary voters, let alone strong Clinton partisans. This does not make him attractive to people who will have to switch their allegiance should Hillary not be the nominee. Conversely, her insistence on having votes counted will earn her greater legitimacy as well as benefit her with extra delegates.

In Ohio and Texas, the lack of respect for the opposition combined with a lack of legislative track record has cost Obama the victories he needed to shore up his legitimacy as a credible general election candidate and to counterbalance the problems raised by not counting Florida and Michigan. The sneer about Ohio voters who failed to vote for him as “Archie Bunkers” was a slur that every solid Democrat understands. He was calling those voters stupid racist bigots. Then we got the Wright controversy, which has simply added more fuel to the perception of Obama as an elitist liberal who does not honor his country or respect his countrymen.

Obama has rudely lost the good regard of Democrats like me. The hysteria and hate of the elite punditocracy who have declared me and my candidate to be illegitimate in an attempt to bully her supporters, while giving him a free ride, cannot be rewarded. The Democratic Party is choosing to declare Hillary voters to be expendable (can’t count your vote if it would change the outcome of the race) and of lesser worth than Obama supporters. And all of this is being viewed with increasing disgust by a growing number of Democratic voters.

The candidate with the legitimacy problem in this campaign is Obama, not Hillary.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Domestic Violence

Courtesy of Chinaberry Turtle in a comment on an earlier post, I found out that one of the Blogger Boyz whose site I no longer visit characterized the battle between the Hillary and Barry factions of the party as some kind of "lover's quarrel", where, once the Hillary side realizes it can't win, they will kiss and make up with the winner. We wimminz (because we all know Hillary supporters are just typical old white wimmin) will come around and vote for The Precious and if we don't, well then we're infantile.

I hardly know where to start with this alleged analysis.

What gets described in popular culture as lover's quarrels has a more clinical name - domestic violence. It is the use of physical force and/or psychological manipulation against an intimate partner, most often done for the sake of exercizing power over that person. While mostly a behavior performed by males upon females, it can be the other way around and it occurs in same-sex relationships as well. Regardless of the actual genders of the people involved, the person inflicting the harm is in the masculinized position and the recipeint of the violence in the feminized stance, reflecting the society's gendered psychology of domination.

To describe the unrelentingly savage and misogynistic assaults on Hillary Clinton over the course of this campaign as some kind of lover's quarrel that her (feminized) supporters will "get over" is deliberately overlooking the strand of violence that has been present in this campaign season in a way that I have not seen since the bourgeois "riot" at the Florida recount. Domestic violence is a better description. Gang rape begins to come close, too. I have already deemed the attack on Hillary herself an honor killing. Hillary must surrender, and her supporters had best learn to lean back and enjoy it, or else we just can't tell what these wild young 'uns might take it into their heads to do.

Death threats called in to Black super delegates. Caucus goers threatend and forcibly blocked from entering the caucus location. Encouragement on major blogs to find out real life information about Hillary supporters and harras them in their place of work and in their homes. Threats of riots at the Denver convention If delegates fail to vote for The Golden One. Under the veneer of Hope and Change, this is a campaign that traffics in intimidation. You better do what we say... or else.

If this blogger actually used the term "infantile," then there is another level of offensiveness to the characterization, but the greater problem is an inability to truly grasp the gathering political storm. First off, to name principled opposition to the tactics of the Obama campaign "infantile" is simply an attempt to delegitimize the grounds of the opposition, much in the way women's protests against male privilege or minority opposition to white privilege is declared inconsequential, childish, irrational, overly personal, emotional, and other descriptors intended to demean and disempower. This is a time honored (if moronic) way to try to discredit an opponent, but the difficulty here is that it is candidate-centric (You silly Hillary supporters saying you don't like Barack!) and overlooks the legitimacy crisis that is driving the increasing rejection of Golden Boy Barry by party loyalists.

I think it is hardly infantile that people are upset the party is disenfranchising voters in two major states. It is not infantile to require the nominee to have been judged by all 50 states. It is not infantile that candidates' poor performance and questionable judgement be a matter of debate in an election. It is not infantile to be dismayed by reports of voting fraud and voter intimidation in caucuses. It is not infantile to say that the current electoral cycle has been manipulated by the main stream media and by the Republicans (forcing early voting, cross over voting in open primaries, interfering with the attmepts to revote MI and FL), and that the DNC itself has been putting its hand on the scale in favor of one candidate for reasons that have little to do with policy, legislation or even winning in November.

With the refusal to allow a revote in Florida and Michigan and to clarify the will of the voters in those two states, what could once have been characterized as the contest between partisans has moved into a whole new level of political upheaval, one where the party itself is at risk.

The blithe dismissal by a major blogger of the disenfranchisement of millions of voters as the voters having taken "one for the team" is seriously, deeply disturbed. Taking one for the team means being killed to prevent more harm to your fellows, like the Marine recently written up in the news who threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of his squad members. This blogger has characterized a candidate loved by millions, a public servant of the highest caliber, as nothing more than an enemy. He has decided that it is right and just that millions of voters will die politically (not have their votes counted or thir voices heard) to prevent his enemy from winning. He arrogantly sweeps those voters into his army, front rank privates to be sacrificed for the sake of his candidate's victory.

Another top name is currently being lambasted for his anger at Hillary for not getting out of the way of Golden Boy Barry's cakewalk to the nomination. He doesn't seem to notice that it is not, in fact Hillary who is preventing Barry from sweeping up the delegates, but the voters who are registering their lack of faith in The Precious at the ballot box. He imperiously demands that Hillary just stop all this nonsense, dismissing not just the candidate herself but the millions who have made their will known. All of those millions of voices are worth nothing to the media star, opinions that he can dismiss because they are simply delusional votes for Her, the enemy, silly little voters who should know to suck it up and let fate - or force - take its course.

There is throughout this campaign season a disturbing comfort with violence (verbal and physical) to force opponents to acquiesce to a candidate who does not hold a commanding lead in anything, only a marginal one obtained under questionable circumstances. It is domestic violence in a political realm.

How can legitimacy and authority be found under such circumstances?


Monday, March 24, 2008

Hillary Reads Her Krugman

Paul Krugman's article today takes all the Presidential candidates to task for not being both aggressive and inventive enough about the huge and grim economic crisis staring us all in the face:
We’re now in the midst of an epic financial crisis, which ought to be at the center of the election debate. But it isn’t.

Now, I don’t expect presidential campaigns to have all the answers to our current crisis — even financial experts are scrambling to keep up with events. But I do think we’re entitled to more answers, and in particular a clearer commitment to financial reform, than we’re getting so far.

Taming the Beast
This article follows up on Krugman's series of blog posts on the weird behavior of the market and the increasingly limited options the Federal Reserve has to address the matter. (Oh, just go read him. If you aren't, you should.) In Weird Interest Rates, he specifically notes the way in which manipulation of interest rates is coming to an end in its effect on the crisis.

Building off that post and citing a Vlog by Prof. Brad DeLong, the Orange County economics blogger Calculated Risk (And you should just go read him and his co-blogger, Tanta, too, to keep up with housing markt news.) notes that with standard market manipulation mechanisms (try saying that five times fast) losing their effective power, the federal government needs to be ready to step in with something more substantive and radical, DeLong Sounds the Alarm. CR notes:
I do not believe we've reached what Professor DeLong calls Stage III of a financial crisis - and I don't think the Fed is out of ammunition - but I think DeLong is correct that we should be planning ahead. The Fed can only do so much, and DeLong is arguing we should be prepared if it becomes clear the Fed is ineffective.
So, Krugman, DeLong and Calculated Risk are all noting that we need someone to offer up some leadership on the ecopnomic front.

Hillary made a major economic speech today in Philadelphia, tying preserving housing with stabilizing the economy. As much as I dislike the outrageous housing bubble, especially as it drove up house prices in San Diego to the point where it was only two financial accidents that I could buy my current house, the abrupt deflation of that bubble is what is driving the economic crisis. There needs to be a way to temper the downturn, keep the prices deflating in a controllable way, keep people in homes where possible to prevent other market dislocations, and manage to do so in a way that is not yet another taxpayer bailout of Wall Street speculators.

Hillary's on top of it:
"Over the past week, we’ve seen unprecedented action to maintain confidence in our credit markets and head off a crisis for Wall Street Banks. It’s now time for equally aggressive action to help families avoid foreclosure and keep communities across this country from spiraling into recession," said Clinton. "The solution I’ve proposed is a sensible way for everyone - lenders, investors, mortgage companies and borrowers - to share responsibility, keep families in their homes, and stabilize our communities and our economy."

Hillary Clinton believes that immediate, bold action is required to unfreeze our mortgage markets and help keep millions of families in their homes. The four-part plan to protect American homeowners and address the housing crisis is as follows:

  • New Action to Help Millions of At-Risk Homeowners Restructure their Mortgages and Stay in Their Homes. Senator Clinton believes we should extend the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) capacity to guarantee restructured mortgages as proposed by Rep. Frank and Sen. Dodd. She believes that using an FHA guarantee to encourage private sector auctions of large mortgage pools is the preferable way of unfreezing our struggling mortgage market. However, she announced today that the government should stand ready to play a more proactive role in purchasing, restructuring, and reselling underwater mortgages.
  • A High-Level Emergency Working Group on Foreclosures to Investigate How to Achieve Broad Restructuring of At-Risk Mortgages. Hillary believes we cannot afford to wait until Congress passes legislation to determine the viability of the Dodd/Frank auction mechanism, or whether it will be necessary for the FHA or a similar entity to act as a temporary intermediary purchaser of mortgages. Therefore, she is calling on President Bush to appoint an Emergency Working Group on Foreclosures to address this question within the next three weeks. The group could be headed by eminent leaders like Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker, and Bob Rubin - each of whom supports one of the remaining candidates in the Presidential race.
  • Clarifying Legal Liability for Mortgage Servicers to Help Unfreeze the Mortgage Market. Many mortgage servicers who want to work with families are deterred out of fear of litigation. Senator Clinton is introducing legislation to provide them with legal protection when they act to help struggling homeowners to modify mortgages.
  • A New Housing Stimulus Package With at Least $30 Billion for States and Localities to Fight Concentrated Foreclosures. After passing a $168 billion stimulus package with virtually no action to address the housing crisis that is driving down our economy, Senator Clinton is calling for a second, housing-focused stimulus package. She believes that if we can extend a $30 billion lifeline to avoid a crisis for Wall Street banks, we should extend at least $30 billion to help states and localities fight foreclosures in their communities.
Now, you can be cynical about what this will accomplish, or you can acknowledge that this is more than we've heard from anyone else on the campaign trail and pretty much anyone in Congress. Hillary is working with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd (Gracious as always, she does not hold Dodd's support of Obama against him when the people's business needs attention) on mortgage restructuring, advocates a high-level working group to figure out how to use existing federal agencies to take on at-risk mortgages, preferably in a self-financing way, removes liability excuses (and the blackmail potential for Wall Street) from large serviciers who are trying to avoid sensible loan restructuring, and finishes up with ways to ameliorate the effect of te inevitable wave of foreclosures on municipalities to help them shore up tax bases (which they need after Republican mismangement. San Diego is a poster child for this.) and prevent urban and suburban blight. Thsi will encourage a faster recovery.

This is what being Presidential looks like. It is going out and making major speeches on wonkish topics in a way that is accessbile to ordinary people and shows that you have a freaking clue of what it means to be working class and over-extended. It is proposing new ideas and strategies when the old measures aren't working.

This is why I support Hillary for President. She's talking about things that will materially affect MY life. I may have a good mortgage and not be in any danger of being upsidedown, but my house is already valued at less than the purchase price. I can see houses in my neighborhood going into foreclosure. I can see the way in which tight credit and economic inflexibility will impact the business improvements in my area - the business district has lost all of the funding it used to get from the City and is having to ask for assessments from local businesses and homeowners.

I support the person who studies Krugman to find out his ideas on economics and finance in order to improve her domestic policies, not the one who digs up dirt on the professor to run self-serving smear campaigns.


When Wishes Come True

The DNC leadership has put itself into a jam. After fighting tooth and nail to defeat the most popular candidate running, Hillary Clinton, it has found that it has only succeeded in delegitimizing itself and its preferred candidate with a growing number of Hillary supporters.

Unlike the Obamacans, these voters are lifelong Democratic stalwarts, like me. I'm willing to bet that the majority of us were very favorably disposed to The Precious a little over a year ago, and looked forward to a contest of great ideas on progressive programs for the next President. (Hell, I wrote several blog posts defending the guy from attacks on MyDD and FDL (among many places), back when Left Blogistan said Obama was a "DLC shill".) Then we hit primary season, which has become open season on Hillary. I said long before the Iowa caucuses that Hillary was running for president and all the others were running tro beat her. We watched, slack-jawed as Golden Boy Barry and Mr. Goodhair joined forces with Tim Russert and Chris Matthews to trash her with right-wing talking points, as the A-List Blogger Boyz cheered from the peanut gallery.

The decision to disenfranchise Michigan and Florida in favor of Iowa should have set off more warning bells. The Precious has nothing to stand on from a policy perspective, having stolen it all from Hillary and Edwards, only the argument that he is the white knight (ahem) to defend us agains the evil Hillary Mommy Monster. His gutter tactics are justified because "we all know" she'll do anything to be elected, including getting the votes, that bitch! How dare she win New Hampshire and upset the coronation! Time to take her out. When Barry's campaign, with the tacit approval of the DNC, went out in force trashing the Clintons as racists to drive up margins in southern states, HRC supporters knew the fix was in.

A funny thing happend on the way to the honor killing, though. Hillary kept winning the big states and kept garnering the majority of Democratic votes. The Democrats for Life are strongly behind her, and she is drawing an increasing number of Republicans and Independents who appear to actually be voting for her, rather than voting against an opponent. In contrast, the Democrats for a Day TM tactic was never anything other than Vote Your Hillary Hatred, and has done nothing to build the party. It was purely strategic and it has run out of steam.

The interesting number to me is the steady increase in the number of Hillary Democrats who are taking the brutal treatment of their preferred candidate and the deliberate and cynical disenfranchisement of Michigan and Florida very seriously, enough that they will not vote Democrat in November. It is the combination of the two that has created the backlash conditions, I think. If The Golden One was simply getting more votes in the same contests, then, yeah, sucks to be on the losing team, but the votes are the votes. However, the fact that the inclusion of these two states changes the math completely and that the votes are being blocked by Obama and that the press is brutalizing Hillary and making shit up and that we need both those states in our column come November and, well, yeah, we're getting pissed.

As I have also said time and again, it all comes down to political legitimacy. A nominee who will not willingly face the voters in all 50 states is not considered the legitimate nominee by a substantial (and growing) portion of the party. As long as The Golden One prevents the revotes, he is the one responsible for delegitimizing the process and will not win in the GE, even if he can bully his way to the nomination.

Thus, Dean has painted himself and the party into a corner. The only solution that will be seen as legitimate is a revote of Michigan and Florida, and Dean is allowing his preferred candidate to block that option. As I've said before (dang, but I'm prescient...) if Obama has popular support, he would welcome the revotes. The fact that he is fighting hammer and tongs to prevent this from happening, despite the support of the party leaders, the pundits, the MSM and an alleged huge advantage in cash, tells me that he knows he will bomb. The frontrunner is on his way to being a has been.

To keep from losing everything in November (and I'm beginning to think we may lose control of the Seante at our current rate), Dean and the DNC leadership are trying to beg/cajole/threaten Hillary into conceding the nomination before she becomes any stronger.

Somehow, I don't think she will.

I want her to make The Precious fight every step of the way in order to teach Howard Dean that a 50 state strategy includes all the voters of all the states, not just those who support Howie's favorite. I want her to continue to stand up for the millions of voters Golden Boy Barry has declared to be untrustworthy and undeserving of a vote because they may not vote for him. And, after Obama's forces descend on the Denver convention in buses chartered by Obama to haul half of Chicago accross the plains, and hold a made-for-the-media "riot" (kind of like 1968 crossed with the Florida recount), and threaten the super delegates into voting for The Precious, I will grimly watch the crushing defeat of Obama, Dean, Pelosi, Brazile, Richardson and all the other idiots who succumbed to Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

This is what the DNC deserves for having turned a campaign to promote our party into a witch hunt to politically murder the person most popular with the Democratic rank and file and the most qualified to lead the nation in a time of growing crisis.

Be careful what you wish for. You may just get it.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Real 'bots

Enough with politics, this site is FUN!


Look for the tennis ball throwing machine and for "BigDog".

Note to Commenters

A few people aren't reading very carefully.
  1. I have no idea if Obama is racist. That's not my claim and, at some level, I really don't give a shit what he thinks. He claims as mentor and advisor a person whose public statements and acts meet my criteria for being racist, but who offends me far more for being dismissive of four decades of social, economic and poilitical work done by the Left. This is Obama's problem, not mine. I look at observable events and draw political conclusions.
  2. His campaign is deliberately using false and incendiary accusations of racism as a campaign strategy. This is proved by the campaign memo he confirmed was true (Nevada debate) directing his staff to try to cast everything possible as racist attacks and smears. There is also the fact that he and his campaign are doing just that. Obamacan refusal to acknowledge facts is not the same as refuting them.
  3. Obama's deliberate deployment of false claims of racism is going to affect politics long after the campaign is over, no matter the outcome. My arguments are about the tactic, the effect it is having on this specific campaign and what the longer term effects of instrumentalizing race will be on the Democratic Party. It is part of my long term interest in analyzing and theorizing progressive/Left politics in America.
  4. I apply Hillary rules to Obama. Anything controversial said by anyone in his campaign at any level is as good as said by him unless followed immediately by a swift and unequivocal firing. Any tactics used by the campaign are authorized by him. Any lie that comes out of his campaign was concocted by him. Anything any of his surrogates says (however unconnected that "surrogate" to the campaign) is something they were directed to say by him. It's his campaign. He sets chooses the tactics and sets the tone. Sauce, goose, gander.
  5. Whatever strategy Obama uses, this does not justify criticism of AA votes for him. As I keep repeating, I see nothing wrong or even unusual in strong turn-out by African Americans for a competitive black candidate. I compare it directly to the strong turnout of women voters for Hillary because it is done for much the same reason - a constructive, party-strengthening, joyful identification with an historic candidate. I see the massive turnout in the primaries as a completely salutory phenomenon for the Democratic Party and for the nation. People who want to criticize AAs for voting for Obama can keep their opinions to themselves. I am not a sympathetic audience. I am looking at the effect of the campaign on voting patterns, and have no interest in condemning voters. Party leaders are whole 'nuther kettle of fish...
  6. Nothing personal, but don't assume I am on your side or agree with you because I say something you want to hear. This is my jaundiced opinion of the world and the current campaign. People who think I'm great right now will probably be upset with things I say down the road. People offended by what I am saying may find themselves in agreement at another time.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Back to 1968

The more I think on the Obama campaign, the less I think of my preferred candidate and the more I think about the party and the course of American politics in my life. My intended post on "the South" in the liberal political imagination is changing on an almost daily basis as a result of this electoral season. What I had once seen as a mostly academic argument between two sets of political thinkers and strategists has taken on a life within the primaries. Knowing I am being too reductionistic here, the anti-Southern faction regards the legacy of slavery and racism an intolerable stain upon the nation, one that prevents progressive governance, and so must be spurned as irredeemable. "F*ck the South!" you can read in blog after blog when the topic comes up. With this primary campaign, I think we are getting a picture o what that stance concretely means when used as political strategy. It means campaigning on racism.

With every electoral victory of his opponent, Obama has intensified his cries of racism and increased his own overtly racialized claims. Casting common phrases, such as a roll of the dice, as racist code. Claiming that his opponent did not shed a tear for the black victims of Hurricane Katrina. Sneering that his opponents supports were Archie Bunkers. Sampling Malcolm X's anti-white rhetoric in Mississippi. The more he is challenged on basic issues such as economic policy and electability, the more he escalates his rhetoric of race.

His speech the other day had a peculiar theme: America's racist past can only be laid to rest by voting for Obama, which would prove that his accusations aren't true. What Obama does with his rhetorical strategy is turn something salutary - a proud vote by the African American population for a competitive AA candidate - into something corrupting - that a failure to vote for him is nothing less than an expression of (white) racism. The fundamental reason you typical white folks aren't voting for me is because you are driven by racism. He presented a peculiarly bastardized version of John Edwards' Two Americas; the enlightened one who will vote for him and the retrograde one which will not. And, by virtue of this speech being made in a primary campaign, the division is one that runs through the Democratic Party, not a marker of distinction between Democrats and Republicans.

This argument reversese forty years of principled, painful, exhausting battles done by the Left to overcome the crippling bigotry that once was ubiquitous. These very battles are the ones he disdainfully dismissed in his interview with the Republican paper in Reno. He returns the Democratic Party to the state it was after LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act, as though nothing had happened in the party or in Democratic politics since 1968.

Why is his rhetoric so corrosive to the Democratic Party? He has crossed the line from condemning racism as such to declaring individual Democrats to be racists, making this the core of his campaign strategy. Rather than praise the successes of the party in combatting bigotry, he flings reckless smears that his opponent is nothing but a racist, foregrounding that as the common ground for AA support of him and deliberately fanning the flames by casting a possible defeat as white machinations to deny the just rewards of a black candidate. As I said in my earlier post about his legitimacy problem, Obama won't admit that there is any legitimate way to defeat him (perhaps because he himself does not utilize legitimate means and thus projects his own questionable tactics onto others) and, thus, any defeat must have been a dirty trick engineered by the racists in the party.

It is an incredibly incendiary assault. To fail to vote for him is to be racist, an "Archie Bunker." That image is invoked not because Archie was dumb but because he is the American cultural icon of racial bigotry. The growing fury at Obama for placing the party in this position gets turned again as racist backlash, deliberately using the fear of AA anger instrumentally for his own gain - gimme the nomination or your convention will be 1968 combined with the Rodney King riots. The MSM, bless their evil little hearts, are salivating at the thought.

This corrosive narrative is a cold and brutal campaign calculation in accord with Obama's continually demonstrated contempt for anything or anyone who denies him what he wants. He has accomplished what the Republicans alone could not do, split the party itself on race. The Republicans peeled away those who were racist - read your Krugman - and Obama has declared any who oppose him to also be part of that group, rejecting the innocence of any act (she'll do anything to get elected, it's all calculation) that can be twisted into a racialized mode.

Looking at this from a party standpoint, there is political need for acknowledging foolish but not ill-intentioned trespasses, such as Obama's own moronic words about his grandmother, so that errors may be forgiven and cooperation secured. Such a space must also be established so that we can clearly identify what is too much, too far, too destructive, too deliberate, to be forgiven. Finally, there has to be political room in which there can be legitimate disagreement about policies and approaches. If your opponent is not simply someone who holds a different opinion or who has come to an incorrect stance, but is in truth a "monster," beyond the pale of the civic community, then there are no grounds upon which you can cooperate. There is only capitulation. You make enemies of people who should be allies.

Political judgment is missing from the Obama campaign (and the DNC stance) in their calculation that "we" all know the rhetoric and strategy is "just politics," except that you have just declared that I am the moral equivalent of George Wallace in 1968.

The Democrats have already fought those battles and have nothing left to prove.


No Relation

Rev. Wright is not like some crazy uncle that eveyone in the family tolerates with a wince and a "What can you do about him?" shrug. This isn't Obama's grandmother to whom he is tied by blood and long years of dependence, where he had to come to terms with her very human failings and take lessons from her very human successes. Oddly enough, I am not as offended by his bumbling description of her as a typical white person as others are. She does strike me as a type of person, a white, midwestern woman of a certain era, a type I know pretty well because I have so many in my family.

I understand what he means about Grandma. Both of my grandmothers were dear, frustrating, hateful, generous, racist, liberal, totally maddening and utterly indespensible participants in my youth. It is mostly with a backwards glance that I can appreciate their better qualities and not turn away from their less pleasant aspects. As I get older and grumpier, I find myself saying and doing things that echo them. [And, it's official, I have become my mother...] I cannot disavow these women, or my other relatives, even as I wish that they could somehow have been more perfect versions of themselves. I want for them to not have been so petty or to have held needless fears, as much for my own selfish reasons as for their sake. I can be kind of petty, too, having learned it from them.

But Rev. Wright is a different matter. You can't call upon family ties to excuse a relationship established with a mentor after you have reached adulthood. This isn't a childhood pastor or family friend. This was a relationship chosen by an adult for intellectual and political as well as spiritual reasons. You can and must disavow a person when he says something beyond the pale of civil discourse in such a public manner, and you must do so for the sake of our common world. Anyone can shoot their mouth off in private, or say something untoward in a public venue, but someone who proudly promulgates an entire philosophy of a people divided into the saved and the damned based upon biological characteristics over which they have no control has placed himself outside the civil polity. This is not about manners or being nice-nice. It is about the substance of the arguments themselves. They are powerful words and such words, like acts, have consequences. This is why I shun the Republican Party, for it has allied itself with purveyors of hate, absorbing that creed deep into its damaged heart.

Someone who deliberately joins an organization whose leader and members celebrate their own superiority and scorn their fellow citizens as less than fully human has no relation to me.


The Rulz and the Rules

From a link on Riverdaughter which she got from Jawbone, here is a fascinating article about the origin of Democratic Super Delegates. Be still my little poli sci heart!

What I find most fascinating are the excerpts of the reasons presented by the Hunt Commission on why the party should have super delegates:
We must also give our convention more flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and, in cases where the voters’ mandate is less than clear, to make a reasoned choice. One step in this direction would be to loosen the much-disputed “binding” Rule 11 (H) as it applies to all delegates. An equally important step would be to permit a substantial number of party leader and elected official delegates to be selected without requiring a prior declaration of preference. We would then return a measure of decision-making power and discretion to the organized party and increase the incentive it has to offer elected officials for serious involvement.” (Remarks of Governor Jim Hunt, Institute of Politics, JFK School of Government, December 15, 1981)
Changing circumstances. Where the voters' mandate is less than clear. Hmm, these don't sound like Blogger Boyz Rulz at all.

The purpose of the super delegates is to be free to act in the party's best interests when there is no unequivocal decision from the primary voters. They must be free to respond to changing circumstances where a decision made four months ago may no longer reflect the will of the voters.

The changing circumstances here are first Hillary's clear support by the majority of Democrats voting in the primaries. Next, it is her clear dominance of swing states that the Democrats must win in November, most especially Florida. Third is Obama's refusal to put himself up for an unequivocal vote by Democrats in Florida and Michigan so that the will of the voters can be known. Fourth, Obama's dirty laundry and the Republicans' glee over what they can do with it seriously damages any claims he can make to being a "media darling" or being innoculated from rightwing smears. Finally and most telling, the opposition to the front-runner-by-an-eyelash within the party itselof is growing in size and determination with every smear, attack and lie he spews about his opponent.

The role of the super delegates is to prevent Howard Dean and Donna Brazile from taking the entire party over the cliff with them in their insane quest to defeat Hillary Clinton. These two pretty obviously don't give a damn about the party or rank and file Democrats, and it now appears that they really aren't that concerned with taking back the White House or even getting other Democrats elected. It's all about beating HER, and the Devil take the hindmost.

The super delegates arose, as Elaine Karmack writes in the article linked above, because of Teddy Kennedy's arrogant campaign against a sitting president and the way he relentlessly hounded and pursued delegates to get them to vote for him rather than Carter. It is very liekly that Carter lost to Reagan (the election was that close) because of Kennedy's nasty campaign. Ironically enough, Kennedy's battle was against a rule that bound delegates to the candidate, and tried create a situation where all delegates are up for grabs. Rule 11 (H) was changed to make the pledge of the pledged delegates a little less strict, providing wiggle-room to deviate from the votes that selected the delegate: "Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.”

Kennedy, who is now arguing for strict adherence to the voters' sentiments, was for allowing the delegates to vote as they pleased. Wouldn't Teddy rules be fun today? Geraldine Ferraro created the compromise that allowed for the acceptance of unpledged super delegates. I find this all deeply ironic.

The bottom line is that the Obama rulz that all delegates pledged to him must vote for him and that all super delegates from states that he won must vote for him, and that no super delegate from a state Hillary won is required to vote for her (cough - KennedyKerryRichardson cough), and that all other super delegates should also vote for him because he has won the popular vote (not counting MI, FL and the states yet to vote), are in violation of the actual party rules about how delegates - super and otherwise - should exercize their convention vote.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's Not About Race- It's About Judgment

I have sat and thought for some time about my own reaction to Rev. Wright and the larger controversy. It is mixed. I had heard about Wright before, when wingnuts tried to make hay out of an award the newsletter from Wright’s church had bestowed upon Louis Farrakhan. I did not poke very deeply into it, considering it nothing more than rightwing racist demagoguery. Farrakhan is a revolting person in many ways, but he is also a commanding one and is not to be dismissed out of hand. Giving him an award is not ipso facto agreement with everything he’s ever said. I condemned the smears and thought no more about them. With the videos that have come out, however, I have reconsidered that initial dismissal. An email exchange with another blogger and several conversations with the spousal unit have helped me sharpen my thought.

While the main focus in the MSM and most blogs has been on the race angle, this has served more to deflect attention away from more substantive issues, much in the way Obama has used race throughout his campaign, casting opponents, critics and even the voters as racists should they fail to capitulate to him. Obama, on paper, is little different than any of the other Democratic candidates, but his public acts continuously demonstrate the gap between his words and his deeds. With his months’ long accusations of racism upended by the incendiary bombast of his self-described father figure, we begin to see it is a tactic to deflect criticism about his lack of judgment. Not experience – judgment. His big speech about racism is another attempt by Obama to create a moral onus and place it upon those who call him into question. This time, it’s not working so well.

It simply is not the case that suddenly America, and particularly the Left, has turned into Trent Lott because Obama is running, nor is it the case that his poll numbers are dropping because the voters woke up and realized, by gosh, Martha, the guy’s black! People who would not have voted for him for President due to race have always held that position, and are far more likely to be found among the Republican “Democrats for a Day” crossovers than among rank and file Democrats.

Yes, there is a legacy of racial crime in the nation, starting well before slavery was enforced in the Constitution and continuing to this day. Bill Clinton made the case well when he spoke of Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March:

The rift we see before us that is tearing at the heart of America exists in spite of the remarkable progress black Americans have made in the last generation, since Martin Luther King swept America up in his dream, and President Johnson spoke so powerfully for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy in demanding that Congress guarantee full voting rights to blacks. The rift between blacks and whites exists still in a very special way in America, in spite of the fact that we have become much more racially and ethnically diverse, and that Hispanic Americans -- themselves no strangers to discrimination -- are now almost 10 percent of our national population.

The reasons for this divide are many. Some are rooted in the awful history and stubborn persistence of racism. Some are rooted in the different ways we experience the threats of modern life to personal security, family values, and strong communities. Some are rooted in the fact that we still haven't learned to talk frankly, to listen carefully, and to work together across racial lines.

The two worlds we see now each contain both truth and distortion. Both black and white Americans must face this, for honesty is the only gateway to the many acts of reconciliation that will unite our worlds at last into one America.

White America must understand and acknowledge the roots of black pain. It began with unequal treatment first in law and later in fact. African Americans indeed have lived too long with a justice system that in too many cases has been and continues to be less than just. The record of abuses extends from lynchings and trumped up charges to false arrests and police brutality. The tragedies of Emmett Till and Rodney King are bloody markers on the very same road.

Still today too many of our police officers play by the rules of the bad old days. It is beyond wrong when law-abiding black parents have to tell their law-abiding children to fear the police whose salaries are paid by their own taxes.

And blacks are right to think something is terribly wrong when African American men are many times more likely to be victims of homicide than any other group in this country; when there are more African American men in our corrections system than in our colleges; when almost one in three African American men in their 20s are either in jail, on parole or otherwise under the supervision of the criminal justice system -- nearly one in three. And that is a disproportionate percentage in comparison to the percentage of blacks who use drugs in our society. Now, I would like every white person here and in America to take a moment to think how he or she would feel if one in three white men were in similar circumstances.

And there is still unacceptable economic disparity between blacks and whites. It is so fashionable to talk today about African Americans as if they have been some sort of protected class. Many whites think blacks are getting more than their fair share in terms of jobs and promotions. That is not true. That is not true.

The truth is that African Americans still make on average about 60 percent of what white people do; that more than half of African American children live in poverty. And at the very time our young Americans need access to college more than ever before, black college enrollment is dropping in America.

One of the examples cited by Rev. Wright in the videos, the Tuskegee Experiment, is nothing less than a crime against humanity. I believe it to be as foul and inhumane as any war crime perpetuated in the 20th – or 21st – century. That it was done in a time of peace upon our own citizens should make all Americans hang their heads in shame. As Bill Clinton said in his formal apology on behalf of the nation for the wrongs inflicted upon these men:

The eight men who are survivors of the syphilis study at Tuskegee are a living link to a time not so very long ago that many Americans would prefer not to remember, but we dare not forget. It was a time when our nation failed to live up to its ideals, when our nation broke the trust with our people that is the very foundation of our democracy. It is not only in remembering that shameful past that we can make amends and repair our nation, but it is in remembering that past that we can build a better present and a better future. And without remembering it, we cannot make amends and we cannot go forward.

So today America does remember the hundreds of men used in research without their knowledge and consent. We remember them and their family members. Men who were poor and African American, without resources and with few alternatives, they believed they had found hope when they were offered free medical care by the United States Public Health Service. They were betrayed.

The United States government did something that was wrong -- deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens.

To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know: No power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry.

The American people are sorry -- for the loss, for the years of hurt. You did nothing wrong, but you were grievously wronged. I apologize and I am sorry that this apology has been so long in coming.

To Macon County, to Tuskegee, to the doctors who have been wrongly associated with the events there, you have our apology, as well. To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist. That can never be allowed to happen again. It is against everything our country stands for and what we must stand against is what it was.

So let us resolve to hold forever in our hearts and minds the memory of a time not long ago in Macon County, Alabama, so that we can always see how adrift we can become when the rights of any citizens are neglected, ignored and betrayed. And let us resolve here and now to move forward together.

The legacy of the study at Tuskegee has reached far and deep, in ways that hurt our progress and divide our nation. We cannot be one America when a whole segment of our nation has no trust in America. An apology is the first step, and we take it with a commitment to rebuild that broken trust. We can begin by making sure there is never again another episode like this one. We need to do more to ensure that medical research practices are sound and ethical, and that researchers work more closely with communities.

The people who ran the study at Tuskegee diminished the stature of man by abandoning the most basic ethical precepts. They forgot their pledge to heal and repair. They had the power to heal the survivors and all the others and they did not. Today, all we can do is apologize. But you have the power, for only you -- Mr. Shaw, the others who are here, the family members who are with us in Tuskegee -- only you have the power to forgive. Your presence here shows us that you have chosen a better path than your government did so long ago. You have not withheld the power to forgive. I hope today and tomorrow every American will remember your lesson and live by it.

I provided the long quotes from Bill Clinton both to present what the man has actually said and done on the matter of racism in America, and also to make clear from the start how Democrats have spoken about race in the recent past and what the tenor of that conversation has been.

Rev. Wright’s preaching on race is not wrong, for it is grounded in the reality of our nation’s acts towards the black population. It is harshly, unrelentingly right on the way in which racial privilege corrupts and destroys. It also is, however, profoundly lacking in judgment and moral suasion for those outside of Wright’s beloved community. It is adolescent in its resentment against the nation and spiteful in its refusal to admit of the complexity in the relations between races, classes and sexes. It lacks the basic insight (however stupidly put) of Obama’s attempt to explain his maternal grandmother’s thoughts and acts – that the world does not divide so neatly into the saved and the damned.

But it is not race that has so many people inflamed about the preacher’s words. Grant us the sense that God gave geese that most Democrats can see and understand the pernicious and unacceptable effects of racism. Most people I know acknowledge the validity of anger over the racist crimes of this nation, and show a willingness to accept some pretty inflammatory rhetoric on that subject.

What Wright said that has people like me angry is his radical and categorical condemnation of America as such and his hatefully personal derogation of the Clintons.

This man of God called upon his deity to damn the nation. This is what I condemn in the demagogic preachers of the Right, the arrogance and ruthlessness to use the name of God in vain, playing the bully to attract other bullies and cow their opponents. Then there is Wright’s glee in saying how 9/11 is God’s punishment upon the nation – chickens coming home to roost, which is what Malcolm X said upon the news of JFK’s assassination. How is this different than Falwell and Robertson? Wright, as with his like-minded counterparts on the Right, has reduced God to a thuggish enforcer. It is the voice of arrogance, too eager to dole out death and destruction upon his foes, as though God’s judgment is his to proclaim.

This isn’t a religious argument. It is a political one about legitimacy and the rule of law. Wright’s argument is that the nation has no claim upon him and those who follow him, it can place no boundaries that he will acknowledge as just, that its entire existence is illegitimate, and that there is nothing in it worth redemption. Even Lincoln’s terrifying invocation of a blow by the sword for every one inflicted by the lash found an end and a point at which the nation could redeem itself from its crimes. But, in Wright’s vision, the nation as such is damned and thus can be treated with contempt and scorn.

This is a position most of us wine track liberals (even those of us smart enough to eschew the kool-aide and stick with a nice vino verde) know very well, one of the hangovers from our Marxist infatuation days and dorm rooms plastered with posters of Che Guevara. It was so hip and cool (not to mention it pissed off our parents) to be moralistic about America, that terrible place of racist imperialism and oppression of the workers. We hung out in coffee shops and spouted off like Ward Churchill wannabes. We were the Jacobins all over again, except cooler.

It’s the voice of someone who has the same answer, no matter the question. It’s the voice of someone who has found their unified theory of life, the universe and everything, and they dare not relinquish it lest they lose themselves to the ambiguity of compassion – the willingness to put yourself in the place of another and allow your being to be changed. This is what offends me most deeply about Rev. Wright.

On a more practical level, it is also simple minded straight up anti-Americanism, and it’s going over like, if you will, a fart in church. It raises questions for me about Obama’s association with the former Weather Underground people who are unrepentant for murdering their countrymen. It makes me think that the refusal to wear a flag pin (something Bill Moyers has discussed in great detail) or to place a hand over his heart has less charitable explanations than I had heretofore allowed. It makes me think twice about the arrogance of the man, the way in which he publically disdains his opponent and thinks nothing of spreading calumny by calling the Clintons racists. It makes me wonder how he judges and where exactly his moral compass points.

Others on the Left are swift to assure us that they don’t think Obama subscribes to his pastor’s views. Me, I think he would not have remained in that congregation, especially given his political ambitions, had he not found Wright’s thought congenial and believed the words preached under that roof.