Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Big Picture

I had a lovely dinner with the spousal unit, where we toasted Hillary's most recent victory and talked over our impressions of the campaign so far. I'll have more to say about the exit polling (and also the NYT county by county analysis) another time, but I want to set down a few points from my thinking tonight.

First, as I pointed out in the post "Caught With Their Pants Down," it is abundantly clear that neither Edwards nor Obama have a national campaign strategy beyond the first four plus a mad dash to Super Tuesday, while HRC has been running a national (and general election) campaign from day 1. She pushed hard for the Florida vote for the role it will play in the nomination, of course, but, after listening to her speech tonight, what she did was the first part of her general election campaign to get Florida into the Democrat column in November. Over all, her speeches and appearances lately have been occasions for her to talk about winning in November. Those who bitch about Hillary trying to break the rules have to read the rules (these delegates cannot seat themselves, but the others may vote to allow them in) and are not thinking about party success in November.

On the other hand, Obama is clearly frantic to keep afloat on technicalities and delegate margins. His rejection of Florida tonight is probably a necessary campaign tactic, but it is also an example of cutting off your nose despite your face. It might or might not help him keep Florida from being seated and boost the relative strength of his delegates, but he has just alienated one of the biggest block of voters (and not just Democratic voters) in the country.

What is also clear is that Obama's South Carolina strategy was very deliberate. He was trying to "energize" AA voters to get them out and give him a substantial delegate victory because he will need every delegate he can get. (Look for him and his surrogates to mess with Nevada county and state conventions to hold onto that one additional delegate.) Looking at Florida, you can see his campaign made a calculation, that negative campaigning and trash-talking the Clintons as racists would pay off in a high AA turnout and support in SC, and that it would have a negligible effect on the Florida results. I expect they calculated that Florida in percentages would end up looking a lot like New Hampshire, with him polling very well with Independents and Republicans and staying competitive with Democrats. In fact, it appears that a general "Tweety" effect was in play, where voters went strongly for a maligned candidate, in excess of poll numbers. Post-SC deciders fled him in droves.

Here is a very odd and really rather unfortunate phenomenon. John Edwards is the choice of conservative white men. Looking carefully at the exit polling, Edwards is clearly the recipient of the support of a fairly compact interest group - conservative white males who are often defectors from the Republican side of the aisle. This makes no sense, given Edwards' populist rhetoric and policy positions. All I can glean from this is that social identity trumps rational reflection on the candidate's actual stances. It is also darkly amusing that the constituency treated as normative by the press - conservative white males - is behaving far more like a special interest group than any other demographic, whose candidate choices have been flexible and fluid throughout the contests. Then again, they have the most to lose by diluting their vote, so they are the quintessential speical interest.

The ultimate lesson to draw from the larger picture is that the small strategic blunders on the part of Obama's campaign (believing their own hype from Iowa, being personally dismissive of and arrogant towards Hillary Clinton, waging excessively belligerant contests for a bare handful of delegates, getting seriously beaten in Michigan, Nevada and Florida because of trying to game the process, dismissing the efforts of over a million Floridians to cast a vote in defiance of the party Grand Poohbahs, trying to duck Rezko rather than simply get the pain over with at once, being too eager to play footsies with the MSM in attacks on Clinton, etc.) demonstrate a lack of larger strategic vision and objectives. This points to a very simple fact - he ran too soon. Golden Boy Barry's initial promise (and I well recall listening to his keynote address, enraptured, thinking "You got my vote, Dude!") is being squandered in a campaign where the inability to think four states ahead is steadily chipping away at what he has to offer. His frustration at not gliding to victory on the back of his own wonderfullness is surfacing more and more.

We all know that The Golden One wants to be preznit. We have yet to hear why we should give this to him, what it is, precisely, that he will do with this office. Hillary = Healthcare for all. Edwards = Empowerment of the ordianry citizen. Obama = support me, I'm cool. It is deeply ironic that Ted Kennedy endorsed Obama. When Kennedy challenged Carter, he gave a television interview where Roger Mudd asked him why he wanted to be president and Kennedy could not answer the question. It was clear he thought simply being a Kennedy was answer enough. Then, at the national convention, Kennedy refused to shake hands with Carter and congratulate him on being the Democratic nominee. Carter followed Kennedy around the stage, trying in vain to get a handshake. These two incidents - a vacuous answer to why he should be nominated and an act of petulance of staggering proportions - ended Kennedy's presidential ambitions.

Thinking about that, it's not so bad being compared to Jesse Jackson.



Anonymous said...

It's interesting how history repeats itself with similar mistakes made by Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama in terms of not having a plan nor having the grace to shake an opponent's hand.
Edwards is set to drop out so I'm wondering how this changes things. I'm guessing that most of his supporters go to Hillary but the white male vote can easily go to Obama or back to the Republican Party as well. Also interesting to see how many members of the establishment will end up endorsing Obama by Super Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

You have to check this video out. Obama praises Rumsfeld. Someone needs to call him out for this. Praising Reagan during a primary is bad enough. I cannot vote for a "Democrat" who finds anything praise worthy in the Reagan and Bush administrations.