Tuesday, April 29, 2008

This is What a Democrat Sounds Like

Jeralyn at TalkLeft has linked to a long and fantastic interview Hillary did with the Indianapolis Star.

I'm not embedding it here, but I encourage everyone to go over and watch it and post some comments at TalkLeft. (watch out for funny play controls on the player. You have to click the "On Demand" button.) I rarely watch online videos, but I sat enraptured for the hour or so that it ran. I lost track of time. Good grief but this woman is impressive! Some take aways:
  • China. Holy shit. The US is in for some serious trouble if we don't get on the ball with regard to this country. Hillary's run down on the nature of our relations with China (political, economic, military) left me with my jaw on the floor. She really does know this stuff inside and out and knows exactly how to relate it to the specific audience she is addressing. When I read sneers about how she is just pandering to the audience, I have to reply, No, doofus, she is educating them. She is making them aware of things in the nation and the world that they may have wondered about but did not understand in context. She pointed out how our economic and national security are threatened by talking about a plant in Indiana that produced industrial magnets for the military - until it was purchased and moved to China. Hello? Why is anyone surprised that working class voters listen intently at her speeches and like what they hear?
  • The "young vote". She was challenged about how she's not attracting young voters. She pointed out that she has won the youth vote in California and Texas (thank you Latinas!) and has been on parity in other states. She also turned the question back on the reporter by identifying the class divisions within this group, talking about young working families, people who are not in college, and people who have joined the military often to save money for college. Not every youth" is a white male philosophy student from Notre Dame, y'know.
  • Bill's role in her administration. In this one, she did a subtle push back against the "serving tea" nonsense Obama tried throwing at her. She spoke about the ways in which presidential spouses have always been confidants and advisors to the office holder, a person whose opinion is valued and trusted above all others. She also said she would send him around the world to be an ambassador to repair the damage done by W and restore the nation's standing in the world. Yup, Big Dog's a rock star.
  • Party unity. Hillary gave an impassioned defense of unity, refusing to accept a reporter's challenge about the divisions in the party. She noted that she was a personal friend of John McCain's and respected the man greatly. Then she said, "His ideas are simply wrong." She honored the person while contesting the policies, which is the only way you can fight this guy - on substance. Then Hillary said what a true Democrat does:
    “Anyone, anyone, who voted for either of us should be absolutely committed to voting for the other” in the general election, Clinton said during an hour long meeting with The Indianapolis Star Editorial Board. “I’m going to shout that from the mountaintops and the valleys and everywhere I can, no matter what the outcome of the nominating process is.”

    ...“no matter what the differences are between Senator Obama and myself, they pale in comparison to the differences we have with Senator McCain and the Republicans.”
    Damn it, Hillary, you better win this thing because you are an incredibly persuasive speaker.
  • Policy differences. She reels off three broad areas of policy in which she differs from Obama (who she kept calling Barack throughout the interview. It was very sweet and big sisterish.) and why her positions were better for the country. What are they? You'll have to listen to the interview. ;-)
  • Iraq timeline. She was asked if she would change her timeline for withdrawal if the situation on the ground changed. She said "NO." and then explained why the the time for US involvement was through. This is a stance she got directly from Wes Clark, who was my choice in the last presidential round and whose name has been bandied about as a possible VP choice. I personally think he is aiming for head of the NSC.

So if you haven't seen the interview, head on over and settle in with some popcorn and scotch for a really impressive hour with one of the smartest, most on the ball, most qualified presidential candidates you will ever see.


Monday, April 28, 2008


I make no bones that I am a completely committed Clinton partisan, more strongly for her with every passing day and new attack. I'm also a committed Democrat, firmly entrenched on the liberal side of the political divide. The implosion of the Obama campaign saddens me because of the loss of what could have been a political figure as fully transformative as what we originally glimpsed in this person. The last few days of news for Obama mark the end of his political career. I think he still has an even chance to take the party's nomination, but that is the end of his rise.

I have been discussing Obama's campaign with the spousal unit the last few days, reflecting on what I wrote in Blowback Ahead, and we've pondered just what we have been watching unfold over the last year. Hubby does not believe that Obama (or most of his top campaign advisors) really believe he's losing votes due to racism or that working class white voters are doing anything except voting their class interest, and thinks it's not very productive to try to discern deep philosophical stances from the cut throat world of campaign politics. It is enough to note that we can see claims of racism being deployed as a deliberate strategy, an utterly cynical exploitation of CDS (Hillary will do anything to win!) in a way that no one else is situated to do, and which would not have been to the advantage of any other candidate.

From a political analysis standpoint, I concede the argument, though I find there is evidence of certain class prejudices on Obama's part that cannot help but put forth derogatory socio-economic stereotypes simply because nice liberal creative class, humanities educated people like Obama, the Blogger Boyz, most of the Democratic Party leadership and legions of symbolic analysts like me have had that message drummed into our heads for all of our lives. "You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons. " (Blazing Saddles)

That wasn't the interesting part of the discussion. What is the coalition that Obama has put together? A doughnut of the Democratic Party. One part of the ring is the extreme liberal (and not so liberal) intellectual elites and to the other is the African American community - the high priests of the party and the most tenacious and loyal of the rank and file. This is a substantial coalition, with a plurality of votes. As I said in Radical Politics, though I am impatient with my own political faction, the Stevensonians, there is no way to have a modern, effective liberal party unless you have all the players in the coalition - technocrats, working class, populists, all ethnicities, and quite a range of political temperaments. You can't have anti-democrats. Thus, every candidate running for the Democratic Party nomination needs to run as a coalition builder.

Obama originally positioned himself as the ultimate coalition builder, one who could not just unite the party, but also bring over left-leaning Republicans and Independents. While it is easy to be cynical about such things, I take this as the expression of his best impulses and inclinations, and grant him the same initial acceptance that I would want for my own candidate. I am sincere that we need to see the loss of this promise - the promise made by the candidate and the political promise embodied in him - as something tragic for the Democratic Party.

What happened to the potential on display at the 2004 convention? A decision both explicable and execrable - to accuse another Democrat of being racist. With that claim, Obama placed himself in a box that is becoming a coffin for more than just his campaign. His coalition was never enough to secure him the nomination unless he turned out super majorities within those groups. He did not have to do much with the wine track voters who enjoyed their fauxgressive rejection of Hillary, enthralled with the talking heads and blogger insider gossip. But with the AA vote, the challenge for Obama was to overcome Hillary's substantial appeal to that group. This was uniquely a problem with Hillary, as none of the other candidates enjoyed that kind of support. The weapon he chose was to smear the Clintons as racists.

Who would have thought this would be the tool employed, given the early themes of the Obama campaign? It wasn't just warm-fuzzies and unity ponies. The spousal unit was an early Obama supporter, and thought there was something really valuable to way in which Obama used a rhetoric of struggle and completion to recast race relations and the Democratic task of fulfilling the dream. I have seen it put cynically (hell, I have put it cynically myself) that Obama was just promising the (mostly white) comfortable class of the party that he wouldn't insist on looking at those nasty claims of justice if they would just elect a black dude and redeem their souls. Sure, we could, but it is better, and perhaps sustains a spark of hope in the savage rhetoric of the last few weeks, to see him as sincerely arguing the role of Joshua as our proper charge. In this reading, we have a narrative of struggle that succeeded, we have made it over the hump, we are walking into the promised land. The sacrifices of Moses are to be honored in the fulfillment of his task, and that we gratefully and joyously celebrate what we have achieved. The worst is past, we have come through the wilderness, and we will not lose our people again.

To have remained within that argument, even in the absence of more substantive and wonky offerings, would have provided a powerful and necessary force to the Democrats' claim upon the body politic. It would have built up the coalition by insisting on its common cause. The older arguments about race, as exemplified by the preaching of people like Wright, would have been rejected without being demonized. As Maya Angelou said a decade and more before - our passage has been paid for.

Instead, he chose a high stakes political strategy to maximize his constituent turnout in an attempt to remove his chief rival with a devastating and unanticipated blow, and has ended up more firmly enmeshed in one of the most divisive rhetorical modes imaginable on the left. The price Obama is paying for having reached for crude racial politics is to be joined at the hip to Wright and others like him. The speech Obama gave after the first big revelations about Wright was his last attempt to reclaim that original rhetoric, and it failed because there were no deeds to back up his words. Without deeds, there is nothing upon which to moor the call for transcendence. Today, in his brief, weary appeal to what he has written for 20 years, Obama merely ended up highlighting the shortcoming of that appeal - writing and talking are fine, but at some point you must act and embody your words. It would have meant rejecting the rhetoric of resentment presented by Wright. It would have meant refusing to use politics in that mode to build up margins. He is paying for launching the racism attacks because now he has no ground on which to stand to defend himself against older modes of race thinking and their corrosive, divisive politics. The longer the race goes on, the more he is caught in the net.

Obama is a smart man. Why did he not see this outcome? The hubby and I agreed - because there is nothing beneath the rhetoric upon which to ground it. Jesse Jackson, twenty years ago, could see and know what would happen with that language. He also knew that you had to stand for something, even when that something gave some people the heebie-jeebies. Jackson had an agenda of domestic social justice and equality and a radical transvaluation of values in foreign policy. Agree or disagree, there was never a doubt what Jackson stood for. His coalition was AAs and non-AA working class voters.

In political terms, Obama made a risky bet that has not paid off. He deliberately went negative in a way no Democrat in recent times would think to do. The New Hampshire and Nevada wins had almost ended the bump from Iowa, and something shocking had to be done, something powerful enough that it could throw Clinton out of the race before she built up momentum. Using the best state he had, Obama went for a super majority of AA votes and he got it. It was not enough.

How could he not project what the effect of that move would be on Clinton's coalition, that they would rally to her (as they had in New Hampshire) and that undecideds would break in favor of her? A very bad political miscalculation. If she could be removed quickly and not provide pushback to the argument, the strategy could be dropped and sent down the memory hole. Had it not been for CDS, it is doubtful the strategy would have been attempted. Without CDS, there was no possibility of it succeeding.

Once begun, the strategy could not be abandoned because of white attrition. Masked somewhat by the red state caucus votes and the lack of critical stories on Obama himself, it reemerged with a vengeance in Ohio and Texas, making it imperative that the campaign struggle to retain every AA vote to overcome working class backlash, which meant expanding the argument from his opponent to his opponent's supporters as well. The longer the campaign goes on, the more this strategy hurts Obama.

This raises a certain irony that for decades, the AA vote has been taken for granted by the party, simply swept up by the winner as just reward for being the nominee. This time, it is the infamous Reagan Democrats who are being taken as a given. Obama's arrogant claim that he would (of course) get all of Hillary's voters while she probably couldn't get his was originally a reference to the independents and Republican crossovers who were allegedly going to defect by droves, allowing Obama to position himself to the right of Clinton. And, now, he is fighting to retain his biggest voting block by trying to poison the ground that lies between him and the rest of the party. Sadly, I do not feel confident that AAs will simply vote Democratic, regardless of the nominee, not after this campaign.

What should have been his great strength, the coalition of wine track Dems and AA Dems, has turned into a millstone, with Obama's circle of support forcing him underwater due to their growing derision for and fear of the rest of the party - women, working class, Hispanics, elderly. The tragedy, even more for the party than for Obama, is that he might have been able to do precisely what he had originally claimed had he been able to transcend his own biases and actually do as he said he would, eschewing racking up margins and becoming the deed of his own ideals. What that would have taken would have been a willingness to risk a loss in order to win something larger than himself.

To be a Democrat, not an Obamacan.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Oh My, Darling

(Updated at end)

There is a kind of seemingly pro-Obama argument that is actually nothing but Hillary bashing. It is the specious claim that Obama is "more electable" because too many people hate, hate, hate Hillary (Really! They *hate* her!) to allow her to win the general. So many people hate her, they are going to flood the polls for the chance to defeat her.

Most of this is based on "polls" somebody kinda sorta remembers reading sometime last year that conclusively proved that her "negatives" were sky high and insurmountable. In truth, Gallup came out with a poll in November of last year looking at the base of support for each candidate and found that Hillary had the largest dedicated base of any candidate in either party. Obama had the highest postive ratings, but most of it was soft support, that the respondent "would consider" voting for him. Another part of this argument is that Obama could expand the base and pull in Indpendents and moderate Republicans who would never consider voting for Hillary.

With Hillary currently showing herself to be highly competitive with McCain in battle ground states and wiping the floor with him in blue states, while Obama is losing ground in recent polls and showing himself to be less than appealing to many voting constituencies, it becomes harder and harder to sustain the argument that she is too divisive and polarizing to win. She is doing so quite handily in large state primaries while running a shoestring campaign, being outsepnt 4 and 5 to 1, and being pummeled unmercifully by the press and Blogger Boyz.

As Hillary supporters have patiently told her detractors on the left since Day One, her negatives will not go up, they will only come down. Those record turnouts in the primaries have been just as much for her as for Obama. Even contests where she was second, she usually garnered more votes than the Republican winner and several times with numbers larger than all Republicans combined. I suspect she has more people voting for her in this campaign than Bill did in 1992, but have not been able to track down state by state voting breakdowns. In short, there is nothing about the phenomenal turn out that indicates she has anything but enthusiastic support from millions of voters who will also show up at the polls in November. Obama's high levels of support are not depressing her levels of support, except among AA voters who, all campaign posturing aside, do not appear to be casting votes against anyone, but in proud support of Obama.

In short, the claim that Hillary can't win is being overturned by the fact that she is winning big and is fully competitive in one of the biggest, most energized, most expensive, most engaging primaries ever held. Ten million viewers on the last debate! A primary turn out in Pennsylvania that rivaled the Democratic turn out in the last gneral election! This is not the campaign of someone who is hated by voters, no matter what WKJM would like to argue.

The only valid version of the "high negatives" argument is the one put forward by BTD of TalkLeft, who makes a refreshingly cold and cynical claim - the constituency who matters most is the MSM, they hate Hillary and they love Obama; he is their Media Darling. Because they won't attack him the way they attack her, he may survive the general election battle and win. To the degree that BTD focuses on the actual source and distribution mode of most CDS, his argument has salience that simple assertions that Everybody Hates Hillary cannot. I've offered my own argument pointing out the fatal flaw of this one, namely that Obama is a media darling only as long as he can be used to defeat Hillary in the primaries and will revert back to being just another Democrat to bash once he's declared the nominee. *

Well, courtesy of SusanUnPC of No Quarter, I now have solid evidence for my argument and then some. She has posted a video clip from Lou Dobbs This Week along with excerpts and a link to the full transcript showing Dobbs and his guests discussing why it was a strategic error for Republicans to roll out anti-Obama ads in North Carolina because they needed him to take out Hillary, and then he'd be easy pickings in the general. The money quote is:

“DOBBS: I have to say that what I don’t understand. … With the antipathy towards Senator Obama that has built up over the last few weeks, for the life of me, I don’t understand why the … Republicans aren’t doing everything they can to get this man the nomination.”
Hello? Democrats? Left Blogistan? This is the MSM announcing that they are fully aware of Obama's weaknesses and that they are counseling the Republicans to not just hold their fire but to directly assist Obama to defeat the candidate who is a bigger challenge in the general.

The give away here is joining the growing antipathy towards The Precious with Republican strategizing for how to best position themselves for the general. Lou Dobbs put the right wing cards on the table by making it clear that Obama is the weaker candidate with high negatives who will be an easy target in the fall. The MSM has just confirmed that Obama is in truth what Hillary is alleged to be - unelectable. Read the entire post for a very succinct presentation on exactly how the campaign to take down Obama will be run in the fall. The narrative is ready to go, and the MSM will be only too happy to help spread it around.

Media darling? Hardly.


*I also disagree with BTD's unfounded assertion that Hillary is not electable merely because the MSM will attack. There is no evidence that their attacks can be effective. Why do I say that? Because they are already throwing everything at her and she is still winning and getting more popular the more she is attacked. Call it the Tweety Effect.

Update - I come back from dinner and find this posted by Jeralyn: Another Republican Attack Ad Airs Against Obama. This is the other part of Obama's electoral claim, that he would be better for downticket candidates. His political mistakes are going to be used directly and savagely against all Democrats. The day the Wright videos came out, Obama should have been invited to leave the race.

Allegedly, Donna Brazile said today that "there would be blood" if Obama was not handed the nomination. (I say alleged as I do not have a citation, only a comment in passing.) Update of update - commenter wasabi_cat says that Brazile did not state "there will be blood," in an interview, but that she made a reference to the *movie* There Will be Blood, after saying there would be problems if the nomination were given to Hillary. To which I respond, if the nomination is given to anyone, it is extremely problematic. However, since neither Obama nor Clinton can win the nomination in pledged delegates, the decision will be made by super delegates. This is part of the nomination process, and means that the final votes are cast by unpledged delegates who are supposed to vote in the best interests of the party. Dean himself stated that electability is a valid criterion for making that decision.

To repeat: The winner of the nomination will be decided by the super delegates. Their votes are as valid as those cast by pledged delegates.

The remainder of my comment remains. The Obama forces are the ones hinting at violence and bloodshed at the convention if the vote should not be in his favor. Her reference to the movie introduces the specter of violence should the nomination process not go as she desires. And what, exactly, does she expect that will do to the party's prospects (let alone The Precious) in November if there are thugs in the streets of Denver roughing up residents, smashing windows (think the anarchists in Seattle) and trying to turn over police cars? If the only way Obama can win is through threats, well, that kind proves that he hasn't really won, doesn't it?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blowback Ahead

The Obama campaign has turned itself into a one-note wonder - If you don't vote for me, you are a stupid white racist. No more Hope and Change. No more Unity Ponies for everyone. Just a direct, crude, defamatory accusation at millions of loyal Democrats.

The problem is not, as Big Tent Democrat would have it, that Obama supporters are making stupid arguments that are hurting their candidate. This is the deliberate strategy of his campaign since at least New Hampshire, not something some "surrogate" thought up on his own. This fish is rotting from the head.

Why won't the campaign drop something this incendiary and divisive, particularly as it appears to be costing him votes? Probably because everyone from the boss on down really, truly believes it. Obama's statements about working class whites was in response to a question about why couldn't he get their votes. His answer was they are bitter - superstitious, violent, racist and xenophobic - and so they fail to vote for me. It is their fault, their failing, their lack that is costing me votes. It can't be his fault that he's losing, because all the Very Serious People agree that Obama simply must be President.

That a candidate makes dumb claims about their success (or lack thereof) on the campaign trail should be of exactly zero surprise to anyone. Politics is a breeding ground for both egos and idiocy. What is surprising is the degree to which the party leadership, the Left punditocracy and significant numbers of wine track liberals fully agree with this diagnosis. It appears the fish is larger than this single candidate's campaign, though I believe it took this campaign to expose the rot. This is part of my larger analysis of "The South" in the liberal imagination. My focus here is less on Obama's campaign than on how the campaign is is applying pressure to the fault lines running through the Party.

I have written up my analysis of the fault lines themselves in my post "Bunker Mentality," but here are a few key paragraphs to get me going on the current argument:
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. ... 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. ...

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.
So, the party leadership perceives the intersecting location of race (white) and class (lunch-bucket) as the point of failure for the political left, believing that all dangerous, divisive elements of the party are quarantined there. The party need only worry about keeping the infectious agents within a cordon sanitaire, inside the party to provide votes but not actually allowed to lay claim to any power as they would return the party to the pre-Civil Rights era. The shock of Democratic defections to Reagan served to cement this opinion in the 80s and nothing since then has been able to change it.

The Obama campaign calls upon and reinforces this not terribly hidden opinion of the party elites, though I think he would not have been able to be so blatant in his operations had he not been running against Hillary Clinton. He would have had to be sotto voce in a contest with Edwards, for example, to ensure the MSM did not get their fangs into it. Given that the Clintons have already been declared by the elite of both parties to be reviled members of Bubba Nation, their appeal to that constituency could easily be dismissed as illegitimate and irrelevant, no more than getting in the mud with their own kind. The effect of this campaign is to bring into direct confrontation the two strands of politics in the party, and demand that the party choose between them. The deep irony, or perhaps it is tragedy, is that Obama's original political appeal was that he could somehow remove the deep division within the party and shift the Truman contingent more firmly to the left.

Why couldn't he? First off, the Truman contingent is already to the left of the rest of the party when it comes to economic issues, and they are looking for a candidate who will aggressively defend their economic interests. Second, the Truman contingent is actually very loyal to the party. Finally, the Truman contingent's cultural values are every bit as complex, convoluted and multi-faceted as that of the Stevensonian wing, and they are open to persuasion about adhering more to some parts of their cultural inheritance than to others. They are not open to condescension and shaming. What self-respecting adult would be?

In short, Obama, taken here as an exemplar of the liberal elite, is simple wrong in his estimation of the core Democratic constituency. They did not want what he was offering because they did not see themselves as the ones who needed to be changed, and they have consistently given their votes to the person who has focused on their explicit economic needs and their desire to be safe in an unsettled world while being respectful of them as people.

The political problem, the way in which a fault line is turning into a fissure, is in Obama's response to not getting these votes. When Hillary did not win their votes, as in Wisconsin, she did not turn around and revile them as "Archie Bunkers" or as "bitter". I have never heard a word from her or her campaign calling AA voters racists for giving their votes to Obama. She simply does not denigrate the voters. The Obama campaign response to losing New Hampshire was to instantly accuse working class residents of being closet racists and this toxic and grievously insulting charge continues to this day. The more his campaign trumpets this accusation, the greater the resistance to his campaign, which then pumps up its rhetoric, which offends more people, etc.

Where is this going to go? First off, should Obama be the nominee, he can kiss the general election goodbye. I'm sorry, BTD, but you are wrong about Obama's electability. You simply do not understand the voting habits of the Midwest and border states. Next, the Democratic Party leadership itself is going to be paying for its whole-hearted embrace of reductionist class politics. Some voters will defect to the Republicans, though I think that is going to be limited. Those with true sympathies for the Right have already moved over. Instead, I think you see a significant section of the working class simply turn away from participation, depressing turn out and costing the party electoral success. They will stay away until the party offers them candidates who talk to their material interests instead of to the leadership's fantasy of being modern day Solons.

There is also the case that the demographics of the left are changing far more rapidly than the elite narrative, which appears to be permanently stuck in 1980. College educated voters are increasingly female because college graduates are increasingly female. Running campaigns that piss on strong women candidates, even those of us who should be Obama swooners, ain't going to hack it. Conversely, this means a larger portion of the male population will not be college educated, increasing the ranks of the dreaded Bunkers and Bubbas. The party needs to figure out how to make itself relevant to the interests of both these groups. In all classes, the population is increasingly Latino and Asian, decreasing both black and white percentages. Speaking about racism as though there are only two colors will not be relevant to these groups.

The problem in this election is the tunnel vision of the party elite who insist on demonizing wide swaths of Democratic Party voters based on biases that simply do not reflect demographic or political reality. There will be a long-term political price to pay for insisting that working class voters don't have concrete interests, but are only voting out of bigotry. Obama will pay his part of that price soon, whether in the primaries or in the general. The party will be paying for years.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Must Read Series on FLDS

Sarah on Corrente has been writing a series of blog posts about the current FLDS case in Texas and more broadly about FLDS in the US and Canada. bringiton has been adding invaluable supporting material in the comments.

This is a must read series. I don't know how Sarah manages to remain as level headed as she does, considering what she is writing. This is brutal cult dedicated to pedophilia and incest, as the systematic rape of teenage girls by their close male relatives for the purpose of breeding more young girls to rape appears to be its only reason to exist.

Just read it.


Metaphor? No, Murder.

I come home from work and find a tempest has arrived on the doorstep.

Some people take exception to my claim that Olbermann was advocating murder. It was a sports expression. It was just a metaphor. He was speaking hyperbolically. It was about Obama winning the election. It was just him being stupid. He didn't really mean it that way, he just didn't express himself very well. It wasn't sexist. Etc.

As I said in my original post, I thought a long time before putting forward the strongest version of the various arguments I could have made. It was tempting, and certainly would have garnered me less unpleasant attention, to stop just a tippy-toe short of explicitly calling out the worst implication in his statement, and letting the readers put 2 and 2 together, or allowing a commenter to state what was implicit in the argument. Plausible deniability. Oh, no, I didn't actually think he really meant that Hillary should never come out of the room, just that the wording was just a bit unsettling, y'know? Illustrative of larger trends about misogyny, blah, blah, blah.....

I asked a friend today, a non-political friend, "If someone said Person X took Person Y into a room, and Person X came out alone, what do you think of?" She laughed and said "The Sopranos." The homicidal implication of the situation struck her immediately, and I didn't say what gender of the two people were or even hint that they might be at odds. All it took was the structure of one person taking another into a closed/secluded space and coming bacck alone for her to understand the deadly dynamic. My friend provided all the rest of the story. It is part of our common understanding, and we can shorthand the idea of retributive violence with the name of a popular TV show.

Part of my purpose was to deliver a dash of cold water and get readers to examine the resonance Olbermann's words would have had with listeners. You don't need to say "Kill the bitch" out loud if you can get people to provide the narrative in their own heads. My husband, who thinks I'm a bit extreme and started this electoral cycle as an Obama supporter, "got it" the second I read it to him yesterday. You also can't explicitly say those words because, well, the Secret Service will be all over your ass. Trust me, the guys and gals with the lapel pins and the serious expressions know exactly what Olbermann said. They also know the danger is not Olbermann himself but the person who "gets it" and (unlike the commenters here, even those who don't want Hillary for Pres.) thinks it is a peachy idea, not a horrific one. Plausible deniability has many applications.

It's a sports expression? This isn't sports. Even in sports, the loaded language about violence and threatened homicide are bounded by the contest itself - on the playing field, within the ring, the opponents duke it out in front of an audience who watches for fair play and abiding by the rules. Rough, tough, merciless, but metaphorical. People who do not remain within the bounds of sportsmanship are reviled if not expelled. There were no such boundaries on Olbermann's statement.

It's a metaphor? There was nothing metaphorical about it. Here is what a metaphor would sound like: The super delegates need to take Hillary from the table and show her the door. The table is the nomination, the implicit room (door = room with door) is the primary contest, the door is losing the contest, and showing Hillary the door is casting their votes for Obama. An obnoxious thing for a Clinton supporter to hear but a perfectly valid metaphor for an electoral process. Voters dismiss one candidate by voting for another, leaving the rejected candidate unharmed and free to find other places in the building. Even a statement like "Obama should finish her off in the primary," though uncomfortable to hear, is metaphorical and can legitimately be tied to the electoral process. Olberman's statement was just that - a statement. A super delegate should take Hillary into a room and only he should come out.

I might be swayed by the hyperbole excuse save for the weeks of public statements by Olbermann of increasing incivility and threat, particularly when placed in the context of the hate-laced aggression of his fellow celebrity talking heads, and even more so when one takes into account Olbermann's involvement with Daily Kos, where threats of violence against Hillary are de rigeur. His language fits right into that setting, and did not shock or alarm his buddies whatsoever. They did not find it hyperbolic. It sounded normal to them. This was not Kanye West bursting out with "Bush doesn't care about black people!" after watching the suffering after Katrina. This was business as usual for Olbermann and Co.

It wasn't about Obama and Hillary in an election match because it was part of Olbermann's rant that Hillary should stop contesting with Obama and just quit. The context was if she would not quit on her own, someone should take that decision out of her hands - by violence. It was his answer to the question WWTSBQ? Obama has not been able to knock her out, take her down, put an end to her, terminate her, finish her off. That's the problem. Thus a super delegate who has the testicular fortitude to take on the bitch needs to hustle her into the next room and make sure she doesn't come back out.

As for Olbermann being stupid, well, duh. It still doesn't mean he wasn't advocating murder. And, yes, he said it very badly because he got caught. If he'd been more clever with his words, it wouldn't have been so shocking. On the other hand, given the things he has already been saying, I think this was more an act of hubris than of simple stupidity.

And as for not being sexist, please just fuck off. I've been on the receiving end of a violent man in a secluded room more than once and it is the paradigmatic situation for putting some bitch in her place.

If you hear something late at night,
Some kind trouble, some kind of fight,
Just don't ask me what it was.
Just don't ask me what it was.

Children and women know about these rooms very well.

Olbermann has betrayed his own desires with the structure of the statement - that Hillary not come out. You may want to give Olbermann a free pass, another try, a benefit of a doubt, but I have had it with these self-indulgent, savage motherfuckers and I'm not giving an inch. I will presume the worst of his intentions because he has given me no reason to think otherwise. It is on his head to explain in full exactly what he envisioned that super delegate doing to ensure Hillary did not return. There is no benign or innocent explanation for the situation he described, only varying levels of brutality.

I give Olbermann enough respect to believe he meant what he said. Murder, he spoke.


Thursday, April 24, 2008


Shorter Krugman - act like Democrats, not Obamacans:

This wasn’t the way things were supposed to play out.

Mr. Obama was supposed to be a transformational figure, with an almost magical ability to transcend partisan differences and unify the nation. Once voters got to know him — and once he had eliminated Hillary Clinton’s initial financial and organizational advantage — he was supposed to sweep easily to the nomination, then march on to a huge victory in November.

Well, now he has an overwhelming money advantage and the support of much of the Democratic establishment — yet he still can’t seem to win over large blocs of Democratic voters, especially among the white working class.

As a result, he keeps losing big states. And general election polls suggest that he might well lose to John McCain.


According to many Obama supporters, it’s all Hillary’s fault. If she hadn’t launched all those vile, negative attacks on their hero — if she had just gone away — his aura would be intact, and his mission of unifying America still on track.

Let me offer an alternative suggestion: maybe his transformational campaign isn’t winning over working-class voters because transformation isn’t what they’re looking for.


The question Democrats, both inside and outside the Obama campaign, should be asking themselves is this: now that the magic has dissipated, what is the campaign about? More generally, what are the Democrats for in this election?

That should be an easy question to answer. Democrats can justly portray themselves as the party of economic security, the party that created Social Security and Medicare and defended those programs against Republican attacks — and the party that can bring assured health coverage to all Americans.

They can also portray themselves as the party of prosperity: the contrast between the Clinton economy and the Bush economy is the best free advertisement that Democrats have had since Herbert Hoover.

But the message that Democrats are ready to continue and build on a grand tradition doesn’t mesh well with claims to be bringing a “new politics” and rhetoric that places blame for our current state equally on both parties.

And unless Democrats can get past this self-inflicted state of confusion, there’s a very good chance that they’ll snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this fall.

Self-Inflicted Confusion

But no, that would be too sensible. Instead, expend millions and millions of dollars to destroy the most popular Democrat walking and beat up our core Democratic values and voters so GKJM can hang out with his new hip black friend and prove to the world that he is not a racist.

Every time Obama loses, it is the fault of some life-long loyal Democrat. It's Hillary's fault with her nasty campaign (as he is making obscene gestures when saying her name). It's Bill's fault with his racist words "fairy tale" and (Oh, won't somebody think of the children!) "Jesse Jackson". It's the stupid Archie Bunkers of Ohio, the bitter God-n-guns crowd of Pennsylvania, those bitchy old white ladies everywhere. Every freakin' advantage a candidate could hope for and the guy cannot win.

Way back in my youth, I used to show dogs at AKC events. There was a guy who would never admit he lost. He could not say "My dog lost." He always saiid "The judge beat me, the judge made me lose." He would not own his defeats and thus never learned from them.

The fault, dear Precious, lies not in the voters but in yourself. In your arrogance. In your inability to discuss policy. In your proclivity for explaining away your losses as the dastardly acts of backwards voters rather than admitting that they just aren't that into you. In your renunciation of everything that distinguishes us from the Republicans. In your thuggish campaign tactics. In your utter lack of anything that actually qualifies you to hold the position.

It's all cant, which is why most Democrats can't be bothered to pull the lever for you.


Olbermann Calls for Clinton's Murder

Other blog posters have stepped around the obvious intent behind Keith Olbermann's recent verbal assault on Hillary Clinton. I know why. It's a hell of a step to take. I've spoken extensively about the irrational and boundless fury at this woman who has done nothing to deserve the outrages inflicted upon her. I've blogged before on the level of violence in the reaction to Hillary Clinton. I've blogged on how the shame of the Left when confronted by her - shamed by how she has been trashed, shamed by how badly she beats their darlings - underlies the demands that she be eradicated from politics, a symbolic honor killing.

I have sat in front of the computer for two hours, reading other blog posts, thinking it over, wondering how to talk about it. Maybe I could talk about it in terms of the times I have been in that situation, alone with a much stronger and violent male, and what a man suggesting putting her in that position does to me. Maybe I should talk about it just up to the edge of the extreme and stop with a knowing (virtual) look. Perhaps I could write again about expressions of violence against this person and put Olbermann into a continuum. Or maybe I could just put all the cards on the table and say what is staring us in the face.

What Keith Olbermann said yesterday is not symbolic. He flatly said a (male) Democratic super delegate should take Hillary Clinton into a room, and only the man should emerge.

Keith Olbermann is openly advocating the murder of Hillary Clinton.

We need to say this. It does not preclude talking about the other elements that may be subsumed under that final act, that she would also be battered and raped, but the clear message sent out by Keith Olbermann is he wants someone to murder this woman.

Over the months, I have read various bits of bullshit talking about how "people" are "worried" that Obama might be an assassination target. This is such an obvious line of sensationalistic crap from his campaign to try to create a false aura of danger (Quick! Flock to Barry's defense! Those terrible white racists are gunning for him!) when there has been nothing in the public realm to back it up. Let me be perfectly clear. I think it is probable that there is some nutcase out there who would like to try to assassinate Obama, and I think this because there is always some nutcase out there who thinks killing a public figure is a peachy idea. Or just some nutcase who wants attention - remember the would-be suicide bomber at Hillary's New Hampshire office? However, certainly within the liberal blogosphere and the MSM (I do not venture into the wingnut fever swamps), there is no drumbeat for violence against Obama.

This is not the case with Hillary. I have myself read comments advocating rape and murder. I have read main posts saying she was inciting violent acts against her, or saying they could "understand" the position of those who wished violent harm to befall her, her husband and her daughter. The descriptions of what Obama should do to Hillary verge on the pornographic. Not a day goes by that some prominent voice on the left or in the MSM does not demand her submission, subordination and public humiliation.

And now a major MSM celebrity and talking head, not some anonymous commenter on some obscure blog, has openly and unapologetically advocated that Hillary Clinton be marched into a dark room and murdered.

Think that is too far? A real stretch? Just a tad bit hysterical? Replace Hillary Clinton with Barack Obama in that formulation and you tell me what that means. If someone said this about Barack Obama, it would mean that this man be lynched to remove him from a path to power. Period. Full stop. No equivocations. It would be understood as nothing less than a call for the man's murder, and there would be an outcry from EVERY Democrat, even those of us who do not much care for Obama as a candidate, condemning those words, because that is what we are called upon to do when confronted with evil.

What Keith Olbermann wants done to another human being is evil. It belongs with torture, lynching, and systemic rape. He is saying we should use physical violence against a political enemy to secure the outcome we want. He is saying murder is an acceptable act when done against a reviled outsider by those on the inside who know what is good for the nation. Anyone who chooses to share a sound stage with this man after these words, unless it is to condemn him in the harshest, most ungiving terms, is to put yourself on the side of evil. Any blogger who fails to condemn Olberman for this blunt and unequivocal statement has no business writing a critical word about Bush and Cheney's torture policies, because you would be just cool with it being done to this individual simply to be rid of a political rival.

Let's say it again clearly so there can be no mistake:

Keith Olbermann has called for Hillary Clinton's murder.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just Because

I got this from Shakespeare's Sister:


Party Rules and Political Reality

Hank said in a comment to Deal: Your mistake (if you are not doing it deliberately), is trying to treat the nominating process as an election. It's not.

No. The problem here is you think this is pinochle, not politics.

Nomination processses are political processes, the purpose of which is to select the candidate most likely to defeat the competition and take office after a general election.

The votes in Florida have been cast. Whether the DNC will recognize delegates based on those votes is a different matter. To ignore the express will of the voters when the voting itself does not have any procedural or substantive errors is a grave political mistake. The party rules may say "Do not count them," but there will be long term political penalties to the party by adhering to those rules. The decision to disenfranchise carries repercussions that were not anticipated, and the real loser here is the party.

As I have said before, there were several mechanisms by which the DNC could have avoided most of those repercussions, every one of which would have been allowable by the rules. Revising the penalty to 50% of the delegation, which is the standard penalty. Requiring a revote. Some combination of the two (Say 50% apportioned by the original vote, the other 50% by a revote). An agreement to seat the state if no candidate could win the nomination on the first ballot. Etc.

As for Michigan, the irregularity of the vote is due to Obama's own actions. A revote was urged, and it was probable at the time that Obama would have narrowly won that contest, but he manuevered against it. The rules allowed a revote. Political reality clearly is behind having one, given the Electoral College weight of the state and how close the contests have been there.

What the Obamacans cannot (or deliberately refuse to) understand is that insisting on a set of rules that are themselves increasingly being called into question as to their legitimacy, let alone their political wisdom, while the voting patterns of the primaries are turning away from the front runner because of very real weaknesses that have come to public notice, is not a winning strategy. It is ignoring that both law and culture in the US come down on the side of votes cast in a fair and transparent election. Primaries are elections of delegates based on those votes. A party may refuse to seat those delegates, but the delegates were legally, legitimately elected.

I do not say exclude caucuses. I say count all the primaries and revote Michigan to remove all doubt about the will of the voters. I say that the voting totals we can know (because caucus totals have not all been released and I am in favor of releasing them so that they can be tallied) do not provide Obama with a majority. I am saying that ordinary voters consistently say that popular vote counts are the most legitimate measure in their eyes.

I am making an argument about political legitimacy and electoral strategy. I have my expectations of how this will all shake out (Hillary as nominee = White House, Obama as nominee = defeat), and no amount of whining from the Obama side about WWTSBQ? (I am so proud of Lambert joining the digital age) is going to change the facts on the ground - the Democratic base does not like Obama, and the probability of a loss to McCain is high.

What a number of Obamacans also don't understand is that I'm looking at long term trends in the electoral efficacy of the Left. Obama has chosen a political strategy of blaming voters for failing to vote for him rather than correcting himself to be more appealing to them. Key in this is to declare anyone who fails to vote for him a racist, as if this were the only reason someone could fail to support him. This says a great deal about the candidate's psychology, but that's really between him and his shrink. What matters is the effect this has on voters.

I don't think the majority of Obama supporters (not even Big Tent Democrat, who is to be commended for his impressively clear-eyed view of the campaign) really grasps the damage that has been done with the false claims of rampant racism. Yes, there is probably some, but it is no where near as prevalent on the Left as the misogyny that gets thrown around without apology. Given voting habits, Hillary probably has greater defections due to her gender than Obama does due to his race. The overt and callous misogyny exhibited towards HRC is also going to have significant fallout in the party. The combination of these two - baseless accusations of racisim coupled with matter-of-fact misogyny - are not things that will easily be set aside. Obama can lose, and the party will continue to pay for his irresponsible campaign for several cycles.

The people who post comments to this blog are real. They live in real places, they have families and careers, and they vote. They are representative of larger numbers who do not share their fascination with spouting off in public forums (I'm looking at you, Turtle), but do partake of the emotions and opinions voiced here. The complaints on the Obama side seem mostly to be you are not nice to our candidate and how can you support that bitch? The complaints on this side of the aisle are you throw at me one of the worst insults that can be said about a life-long Democrat, that I'm racist. You insult my gender and say I'm just voting for Hillary because I'm female. And now I hear the problem is that we Hillary voters are older. The first isn't true, the second, even if true, is no more or less different than an AA voting for Obama, and as for the third, you'll get there sooner than you think, boyz. Trust me on that one.

Long story short: Obama's political strategy of running up his delegate count in small red states was a good move and probably would have worked had he not torpedoed himself with his arrogance towards the voters. His failure to revote Michigan for the convention will be a fatal mistake if he does face them again.

In the case of refusing to count two major swing states, sticking to the party rules is political suicide.

And that's reality.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Taking the commonly bandied about number of $11 million spent in Pennsylvania, with a vote haul (from the NYT) of 1,035,230, Obama spent an average of $10.63 for each vote received.

Taking Hillary's expenditure amount of $3 million, with a vote count of 1,249,936, Hillary spent an average of $2.40 for each vote received.

And, if it's true she only spent $3 million, it looks like she will have recovered most of that cost by tomorrow morning. I wonder how long it is going to take Obama to recoup the $11 million he spent?

We need a president who knows how to make that dollar stretch and uses every penny effectively, not someone who is a wastrel with other people's money.

I approve of frugality.



Once again, Obama has failed to close the deal in a state that will actually matter in the general election.

He trailed Hillary among long-time Democrats, not the "Democrat for a Day" crowd he panders to, and did not make a single advance among any of the major constituencies he needs to hold against McCain. This bothers me a great deal.

In Hillary's victory speech, she made reference to FDR and Truman, reminding us of the New Deal and how it transformed America. We are facing what many economists and analysts predict will be the greatest economic crisis our nation has faced since the Great Depression. Hillary invoked the ability of our country to rise to the challenges that history and crappy Republican administrations continually hand us, and to transform hope into substance and defend the interests of ordinary people. I have no doubt but that she can deal with the challenges ahead.

The party is in a great deal of trouble at the moment as its front runner for the nomination is watching his legitimacy and support erode by the minute. With Hillary's double digit win and 200,000 vote margin, she can honestly claim that she is the choice of the party in the must-win big electoral vote states. She doesn't need to deal with stupid gaffes that insult voters, nor with having cut deals with elitist insiders to prevent revotes in Florida and Michigan.

I've talked extensively about the stupidity, the sheer political suicide of refusing to seat Florida and Michigan. I've also talked about what the refusal to revote actually says about Obama's own calculation - he knows he's a loser and he's afraid to face the voters. The Blogger Boyz want to yammer on about rulz and delegates and margins and popular votes and how Obama is such a precious beacon of hope and change.

Tell you what. Let's make a deal. The Precious agrees to seat Florida and Michigan as-is and accept the popular will of all the voters and, well, um, that's it. You see, the deal is that in a democracy, the votes are supposed to get counted, even the ones not in your favor. From a strategic point of view, you don't want a candidate who gets a nomination by disenfranchising his opponent's voters because they can take their revenge in the general by voting for the other guy, or just not voting at all. It's in Obama's hands to restore legitimacy to this nomination by taking his chances with all the voters.

Don't like those odds? They'll be worse in November.



Exit Poll Data

Update - the exit data has changed since I originally reported it, though not by a lot. What I say below may not be identical to what is finally reported.

I'm using the exit poll data on CNN.

More women than men voted and more women chose Hillary. She won a higher percentage of male vote than she usually does, @ 47%.

Age Info
The youth vote was only 10%. This should worry party leaders as Obama is strongest in this age bracket, which is also the least likely to turn out for a vote. What is very surprising is that the next age bracket, 30-44 was lower than usual as well, only 17%. Though the majority of both groups voted for Obama, they simply did not turn out to support him in the same numbers they have in earlier contests. Voters over 44 turned out en masse and strongly supported Hillary.

The youth vote Hillary did win was the whites under 29. I am still looking for sex breakdowns on this, but I'm willing to bet that a lot of young woemn voted for Hillary.

God Squad
Strange breakdown where people who attend church more than one per week and those who never attend both broke for Obama, but together made up only 27% of voters. Regular weekly church goers went with Hilalry by a big margin. She overpowered him 3-1 in the Catholic vote.

Money Matters
More voters, regardless of candidate, said Hillary would imrpove the economy than said Obama would do so.

Obama won Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, but lost all the rest of the state. This is not good as it is the rest of the state that is most likely to defect to McCain in November, and where Kerry was also soundly trounced.

Education & Class
Hillary wins overwhelmingly with non-college educated voters, 2-1, while Obama enjoys a small five point advantage among college educated and higher. Voters making less than $100,000/year favored Clinton. The rich favored Obama, but in an interesting pattern. Hilalry won vters belwo $75K in income,, and then the voting slice from $100-$150k and she won that group decisively.

People who think the economy & health care are msot important went with Hillary. People who think Iraq is most important went with Obama.

This statistic is a little tricky. 97% of voters polled gave an opinion on how they would vote in November. The number split indicates of thepercentage providing that answer, how many are HRC supporters and how many are BHO supporters.
If Obama is the nominee:

72% will vote for him (37/63)
15% will vote McCain (90/10)
10% will stay home (99/1)

If Hillary is the nominee:
80% will vote for her (60/40)
11% will vote McCain (26/73)
6% will stay home (7/93)

These numbers should give Dean the heebie jeebies. HRC voters, the majority of Pennsylvania voters, are far less likely to support Obama than the other way around. Further more, they are more likely to defect to McCain than BHO voters. That's not just costing a vote, that's adding one to McCain's side.

Later on in the survey, more people say they will be satisified if Hillary wins the presidency than if Obama wins it.

Party Affiliation
Once again, Barack Obama has failed to win the Democratic Party vote. 82 of the vters were self-idetified Democrats and they went 53/47 for HRC. Further, Obama only squeaked out a 1% margin among Independents.

Another statistic is interesting. Obama's "Democrat for a Day" campaign paid dividends as 61% of people changing their party affiliation voted for him. Most of these appear to be Independents (remember, closed primary).

Clinton won 60% of the white vote, Obama won 90% of the Black vote and breakdowsn on other ethnicities was not counted. This next statistic is the one that will be making the headlines tomorrow, however. 20% of people stated that the race of the candidate was important to them, and 59% of those voters voted for Hilalry. This will be taken as prima facie evidence that "racists" gave her the win. Count on it. That is the only meme that will matter tomorrow as Obam tries to shame college educated whites into voting for him.

Decision Time & Momentum
Ocne again, the exitpoll shows that Obama has exhausted his popularity. People who made up their minds since Ohio and Texas voted for Hillary, and the late deciding voters picked Hillary 2-1. This is important as this is a pattern with her in the polls. People who decide late pick her. Voters who favored Obama made up their minds in February, when he was riding the big media wave. Voters who decied on or before Super Tuesday slightly favor Clinton. The momentum is with her.

Take Away
Obama's momentum is over. He has once again failed to make significant inroads into core Democratic voters, and will probably suffer severe defections to McCain in those demographics. Hillary once again shows that she can appeal to people across the spectrum of the party as well as to Independents despite a filthy and high-powered campaign to defeat her, despite being outsepnt 4 or 5 to 1, despite having the MSM and Left Blogistan repeating crap about her 24/7.

Obama cannot deliver the goods. He is damaged goods. He will do the party no good come November.


Obama Leaving PA

If Obama is already leaving the state before the polls have even closed, then his loss must be significant. He is not bothering to rally anyone. I find it interesting that he is going to Indiana, not North Carolina, but not surprising. He obviously feels a need to shore up support in Indiana in the face of the Pennsylvania news.


Update - The official Pennsylvania election results will be posted here. It has the primary contests, but also some downticket results. I am curious to see the degree of vote fall-off from the Democratic primary. Most party races are single candidate, so people may not feel a need to offer a choice, but in contested races, I'm curious to see which areas show the most voter fall off.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Radical Politics

As always, my thanks to the commenters who take my ideas in new and fascinating directions.

I realized that I had not made two points in yesterday's post, one about the strengths and weaknesses of the Truman strand as I had for the Stevensonians, and another about the needs of truly radical Democratic politics.

At its best, the Truman tradition respects the lives and choices of the common man, it measures a person's worth by the good that they do, values the common good and common sense, and insists that the proper role of government to enable her citizens to flourish without regard to station. At its worst, it is parochial and suspicious of outsiders, takes pride in ignorance of the world or the life of the mind, substitutes tradition for law, and uses the government to skim wealth and punish enemies.

The Stevensonian focus is on the structures and institutions that treat all men equally, regardless of origin. The Truman focus is on the texture of individual lives and the particularity that distinguishes us, sometimes to the detriment of the universality of law.

Truly radical Democratic politics requires both of these political modes to succeed, using each in measure to rein in the less commendable qualities of the other and to enable the power of both approaches to be marshalled for the benefit of the nation and the citizens. The men and women who provide the hands-on activism cannot make their victories persist without powerful institutions and entrenched, rational, defensible rules to resist anti-Democratic efforts to overturn these advances. This is another reason why the stereotypical image if "Lefty radical" does the Left disservice because is seeks disruption without alternatives and destruction without substance to go in its place. You can't just declare a people "free". You must also be willing to replace the previous oppression with something that will prevent its return. The easiest thing in the world to do is destroy. Just look at George W Bush, Ayers on a monumental scale, acting out his oedipal frustrations with Poppy on the entire world.

The reason why the Truman strand is the more fruitful for strengthening Democratic goals is not because it has some corner on morality or public virtue. Hardly. The quality that makes it fertile ground for something like the New Deal is because you can't keep anyone out who is willing to lend a hand. Will Roger's joke about not belonging to an organized political party, but to the Democrats, lovingly pokes fun at the dynamic chaos powering the operation, something that can sweep up just about anyone and put them to work - just like the WPA. When that power is channeled to do what is both legally defensible and politically right, it is a juggernaut. It has no interest in being exclusive. The antithesis of democrat is snob.

To riff on themes and claims from earlier comments, while Libertarianism is corrosive, it is not radical. There is little radical in yelling "Mine! Mine! Mine!" It has more in common with fantasies about survival of the fittest, but it can only occur in well regulated societies where complex institutions allow the deluded practitioner to believe he is some Ayn Randian hero as he drives down the right side of the public road, tunes in to public airwaves, drinks clean water from the municipal water system, turns on his stereo built in another country and made available due to complex trade treaties, massive investments in transportation and markets, and purchased using a common currancy, all powered by electric current off the utilities grid. It is parasitic and vanishes the moment there is real turmoil. It is, however, a convenient ideology for people in the upper income brackets to claim to try to avoid public obligations.

Radical is the Movement Conservatives who seek to reestablish blatent class rule, using the nation to serve the interests of a small oligarchic class. Liberatarians are too lazy to be that organized. My deep concern about Obama is not that he is some kind of stealth conservative or libertarian, but that he does not possess a sense of or dedication to true Democratic radicalism. I never get the impression that this politician is there to bring about anything substantive. In contrast, Hillary and Bill both insist that you must make the world a better place, you must have improved the lives of the people you serve.

For all of his elbow rubbing with people of questionable political beliefs, there is no evidence that Obama has been moved to a political (as opposed to a personal) cause. When Garry Wills had the temerity to compare Obama's speech about his pastor to Lincoln's address on slavery at the Cooper Union, I rolled my eyes and said, "So where's the beef?" Lincoln dedicated his entire political career to first containing and then eradicating slavery. It was his obsession, his driving passion, the goal for which he literally gave his life. What is it, exactly, that Sen. Obama would do with the power of the Presidency? I dare anyone to identify anything he will pursue that will transform the face of the nation.

The claim I am making is different than "he's just in it for the ego", and of greater import to the party and the country. Someone can have a towering ego, my dear old Big Dog heading the list, and yet have a purpose that makes something of that drive. Can anyone doubt that FDR was one self-centered bastard? But he had the political bug, that fascination with making the system work, of bringing about the impossible because you have been charged with enacting the public good and it is to that you will dedicate your soul and fortunes. Even evil old Tricky Dick was able to drag himself out his sewer of resentment and paranoia every so often and do things that were jaw droppingly audacious, like going to China.

One of Obama's speeches is revealing on this count. At a commemoration of the Selma March (I think, I'm not 100% on the specific event), he gave a speech on the Joshua Generation, of which he counted himself. It was a good speech and the only one I know of where he actually presented his view of Democratic politics as such. The parallel was between the era of MLK and Civil Rights (Moses) and our own times (Joshua), and how there remained some tasks for us, but that the great struggles and drama, the trials and dreadful passage, these were done and past and we merely inherited a fundamentally complete legacy. To us is left the role of epigone, the reduced follower of greater forbearers. The idea that the struggles of the mid-century were precursors of a longer fight, or that we had not so much a leagacy as a foundation on which to build, or perhaps that the works of giants like MLK and LBJ should stand as challenge to us, as they had been challenged by the works of FDR, to attempt even greater acts of Democratic radicalism, was not in evidence.

And this ties back to some of my original claims in Radical Chic. Obama obviously enjoys the cachet of hanging out with the "bad guys" and seeming tougher, angrier, cooler, more edgy than he really is. While I had originally described him as a left-centrist, I'm not sure there is enough presence of a political spark to earn him even that much credit as having made a deliberate political choice. I am struck by him as an accidental Democrat, one for whom it is convenient and comfortable to cruise along with the others in the pack, someone who at a policy meeting would say "Oh, and me too," to whatever the chief wonk had devised. The details don't matter because that's just not what makes him tick. You get the sense with Hillary that she really does read dense policy papers for the intrinsic fascination of this or that topic, swiftly followed by the question, "And how does this affect my country?"

Along with the porous, inclusive nature of theTruman mind-set, there is also another facet that makes radical Democrats what they are - the sense that a wrong must be righted, a failing must be corrected, an obligation must be met. This, I think, comes as strongly from the Stevensonian side, with its long roots back through progressivism into the bedrock of American political thought and motivation, the drive of those damn Yankees dumping tea in the harbor, as from the Jacksonian demands of honor brought in through the Truman faction. It is imperative that the Democrats do right by the public.

There is no imperative to Obama's politics.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Radical Divergence

A short note before launching into the full post. Thank you for all the great comments on part one of looking at radicalism in the current campaign. The joke about Libertarians being Republicans who have sex and do drugs made me snort coffee out my nose - good one. Please remember that the last post and the current one are coming from a political theory perspective and do not address most of the concerns raised in the comments, at least not directly. I will have things to say about those topics another day.


Why am I so concerned about the way "radical" and "far left liberal" are being used in the blogs? First, I'm kind of pedantic when it comes to political definitions. These things mean something to me in a way they might not to ordinary readers. They have histories, they refer to specific modes of thought and action, and they are intended to have analytic power. More importantly, as I ended the last post, these labels have been used maliciously against Democrats by the Right in an attempt to distract voters from the core policies and actions of the party, measures that are far more harmful to Republican power than some upper-class idiot with too much time on his hands pretending he's a "revolutionary" and killing people. It matters that we use language correctly and understand the various radical modes of action on the Left so that we can be effective radicals ourselves. In the current political environment, to promote humane, egalitarian and moderate policies is to be radical.

I'm going to return to some of the themes I have written about in past posts. The 2008 campaign has illuminated the class divisions within the Democratic Party in a way we haven't seen since the early part of the 20th century. Part of that is because the class divisions have been obscured by events - the Great Depression which threatened all but the very upper class, WWII which unified the nation against real threats, the Cold War with its incredible rise in standard of living, the Civil Rights movement which made the party take on race, Vietnam with its focus on the war, and then the Reagan/Bush I years of jingoism, ending the Cold War and agitation over the "culture wars". I think we can also argue, along the lines of Mark Schmitt, that the Democratic Party has been undergoing an almost century long redefinition of itself away from its Southern roots and into something antithetical to where it began. In the doing, the Democrats have ended up with two major modes of political action and identity, distinct from what the party was before the New Deal realignment, strands I have identified as Truman strand and the Stevenson strand, named after their post-New Deal exemplars. The organization of the party is far more complicated than this, I readily admit, but my goal is to provide ways of thinking about the party and American liberalism that break away from the demonization of the Right. Refinement of the categories will be needed.

The Truman strand is the inheritor of the old Jacksonian tradition in the party, for good and ill. The Stevenson strand is of more recent vintage, owing its origin to the progressives of the early century. The majority of the liberal bloggers (note, not everyone who claims to be liberal is) fall firmly within the Stevensonian strand, myself included. Most of the current party leadership and the "respectable" punditocracy also can be placed there. Whatever fantasies of radicalism the Blogger Boyz may ascribe to themselves, the Stevensonians are technocrats, not radicals. The technocratic mode is the antithesis of radicalism, having its roots in the battle against machine politics and introduction of "clean government" based on abstract and rational principles of governance. Progressivism in its original form was the tool of society matrons and the growing professional middle class to do a variety of social work - enforce laws, make public figures accountable, assimilate the waves of immigrants from Europe, establish sanitary conditions in urban areas, establish social justice and generally protect their position in the socio-economic order. It came out of utilitarianism in great part and embraced a shitload of crackpot "science" along the way.

In California, where it was very effective, it lives on to this day in the fact that many California cities have "non-partisan" governments, which simply means you can't figure out who the Republicans are, as they are all in stealth mode. Progressivism has been instrumental in preserving Republican power in the Golden state. But I digress...

The progressives were transformed into Stevensonians through the New Deal, when FDR melded the emerging social science academics with a professional bureaucratic cadre to run the new bureaus and departments, and to invent new things for the government to do and for the Democratic Party to run. This is what I mean by institutionalization. This mode of liberal politics has become the most effective developing a rational welfare state because its natural environment (if you will) is modern bureaucracy. We're talking wonkitude of major proportions. A weakness of this mode, however, which I have also blogged about before, is the aversion to blunt political contestation, resulting in a willingness to relinquish popular politics and electoral battlegrounds in favor of dominating the crafting of policy and legislation and of appeal to the courts. It is a retreat into formal expert knowledge as the proper arbiter of political affairs.

At its best, this mode of politics provides a determined support for rule of law, supports social equality and justice regardless of particularity, and defends against corrupt consolidation of power. At its worst, it devolves into class elitism, condemnation of particularity, and rejection of the equality of the mass of citizens. "Why do we even try to help these people? They don't know what's good for them!

The Truman strand is more varied than the Stevenson strand for the simple reason that there are fewer barriers to entry. You do not need to be an intellectual. You don’t need the equivalent of a college education, believe in the scientific method or rationality, or aspire to a white collar professional lifestyle. You can be Rocky. Until Bill Clinton and the final exit of the Dixiecrats, this strand lived in tension between the new “Best and Brightest” faction which rapidly gained dominance in the party, and the old line, revanchist Dixiecrats. Those two factions warred for the support and votes of the Truman strand. While the Dixiecrats were rejected, the current campaign to me indicates that the Stevensonians do not have a lock on this group, either. (Note - I realize I’m drawing a bright line between factions that is more like a shifting tidal line.)

This group is the result of the influx of ethnic urban working class and poor into the party, with Al Smith, a man without even a high school education, their first urban presidential candidate. It is important to note that Smith was an early voice in the Democratic Party decrying Southern racism. The Truman wing relied on the foundation of political machines, from Huey Long to Tammany Hall. It was the bailiwick of machine politicians and union bosses, but has increasingly lost an independent leadership cadre as the leadership assimilates into the Stevensonian group. Nancy Pelosi is an example of this. She comes from one of the most well known urban political machine families of the 20th century, the D’Alesandros of Baltimore, and is now completely within the inside the beltway DC elite. I don’t offer this as a criticism of Pelosi, but as an example of the transformation of the party leadership itself to be able to maintain the New Deal form of government. Since Al Smith, there have been three Truman strand presidents: Truman, LBJ and Bill Clinton. (In answer to an earlier comment question, I honestly don’t know how to classify Jimmy Carter. A lack in the modeling, obviously.) With Bill Clinton the argument can be made that he belongs equally to both strands, however much the Stevensonians reject him as one of them.

The old party machines were porous. They needed numbers to provide votes to maintain power. They needed the younger newcomers to fill posts and heel the wards to keep the votes coming, and that’s how new people entered the system. Harry Truman was a product of the Pendergast machine in Kansas City, Missouri, for example. To maintain power, you couldn’t be too picky about whose votes you collected. They were usually incredibly corrupt and, ironically enough, were usually the target of progressive ire. And then FDR welded them at the hip to the inheritors of the progressives.

So, there is an older tradition in the party, one that had already been significantly modified by amalgamating Appalachian Jacksonians with the ethnic urban machines, rejecting tidewater Southern influence (Note – Much of my categorization of Anglo populations comes from Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer) which almost immediately is thrust into tension with the newly minted intelligentsia of the New Deal. The Stevensonians present the old progressive argument – our way is better because it is rational, smarter, experimental, efficient, uplifting, rules-based - and add to it the cry of the credentialed - we run it better because of our expertise. Think of someone in the 1990s who knows a business inside and out, who comes into the office one day to find a computer on his desk and a geek standing by to teach him how to use it.

Thanks for the history lesson, but where in all of this is radicalism? For the most part, outside of the party proper, though different expressions of radicalism are associated with the two major strands within the party. With the Stevensonian base, there is the home of intellectual radicalism. This is what the Right wants everyone to think of as paradigmatic of the Left, even as it has never been particularly effective. It tends to be limited to think tanks, graduate seminars and bloviating bloggers (Me! Me!), but it is also where you find reprobates like William Ayers, who tried to justify his terrorism and murders with intellectual clap-trap. Outraging bourgeois sensibilities for fun and profit, and never mind the bodies we leave behind. I would dump losers like Ward Churchill into this bucket as well, who imagine that crude anti-Americanism and ham fisted “analysis” of imperialism justifies praising the butchery of thousands in the World Trade Center. These are people external to the political system for the most part, who are able to attain standing in certain enclaves where other Left intellectuals romanticize what they hear and imagine themselves to be cool radical outlaws because of the putrid company they keep. These moral midgets provide the Right with a very effective club to use against the Left.

There is a different kind of radicalism that tends to find greater expression within the Truman strand, but which, because it shares the porous quality of that mode of political participation, is fully open to all parts of the Left. This radicalism comes primarily out of labor unions and civil rights, though it also finds a home in peace and environmental activism, and it is performed by people from every part of the Left. This radicalism is not conducted within the heads of people who are already quite comfortably situated in society, but is done on the street to transform the institutional structure of the polity itself. This radicalism is what actually terrifies the Right and is the kind that can result in a fundamental modification to the society as such. It does not happen very often and its goals are usually both modest and profound. To be paid what you are worth. To be judged by the content of your character. To have the same civil protections that a white/male/straight/rich person enjoys. To have food, shelter and care commensurate with leading a dignified life. This radicalism is a challenge to entrenched privilege and will result in a reallocation of power and social goods.

The success or failure of Democratic radicalism depends critically upon the efforts of the Truman strand of the party. The genteel reformists have no skin in the game, so to speak, and can take or leave these fundamental claims for a later time. I don’t think it is a mistake that it was Truman and LBJ who forced the country to move decisively towards ending segregation. I do not think the participation in and tolerance of misogyny from the “educated class” this electoral round is a mistake either, noticeable among women of that class as much as among the men. I may be disgusted but I am not surprised by the willingness of the “progressive” blogosphere to push things as fundamental as universal health insurance and Social Security off to the side in favor of gushing over cool ironic detachment and the ability to make sly cultural references.

It’s easy to denounce the entire corrupt US government, or to declare you are not a part of the great unwashed, but belong to an archipelago. It does not require courage. One needs nothing but an ego, a distorted view of your own self-importance, and an internet connection for that form of radicalism. It is not very radical, nor does it really make you part of Left politics.

True radicalism is the courage to say “No, I’m sitting here,” on a bus ride, not knowing if this might mean your death. And that courage is the heart and soul of Left politics.

Equality has always been the most radical thought in politics.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Radical Chic

Over the last few weeks, it has become pretty clear to anyone not drinking the kool-aide that Hillary has the momentum and is viable in the general election while Obama is losing steam and will not be competitive with McCain, barring a melt-down on the Republican side. The question is whether HRC can make up enough of the the pledged delegate count that super delegates will have political cover to go with her. On the party side, Dean needs to seat Florida and Michigan as-is with full voting privileges if he doesn't want to go down as overseeing the worst Democratic defeat since McGovern. I think what is being reported here is a trial balloon sent up from the DNC to gauge whether the super delegates want those states to be seated. Dean is pressing the SDs to declare, I think, to help him argue that FL and MI should be seated. If the SDs are trending HRC, then it will be "safe" for him to bring the states aboard. If not, then, well, then he's fucked and so is the rest of the party. Too bad, Howie. That's what you get for playing favorites.

Reality has a certain Clinton bias.

Anyway, since the party's fate has already been decided (Choice A or Choice B), I'm more interested in looking at the campaign from a political theory perspective. Something I have been noticing in comments and blog posts in a variety of places are claims and curses about the radicals and extremists, the "far left" that allegedly infests the blogosphere, and even more peculiar claims that Obama himself is some kind of far-left extremist. This leaves me scratching my head as there is nothing politically extreme about Obama, or almost any other Democratic candidate this last round. Gravel is kind of a crank and Kucinich gets a little crunchy at times, but even they are firmly inside the bounds of normal liberal democratic politics. I think there is some confusion about what the Stevenson-Truman class split in the party represents (and that will be the subject of another post), wrongly attributing to the Stevensonian stance something it actually opposes, which is deinstitutionalization of power. There is also some confusion about what "far left radical" means, or who would count as one. The Right has a narrative it puts forward which points at one ineffective group on the Left but is really aimed at another, the one that actually scares them. The Left, oddly enough (or maybe it's just par for the course), doesn't seem to have organized its own narrative on this count.

Let's talk about the candidates. It is simply wrong to claim that Obama is some political radical. He is as mainstream as anyone else within the party power elite, which itself is a fairly narrow slice of all possible political stances. While it is popular in the blogosphere to cite this or that organization who has declared the senator to be "the most liberal" (and noting that, for some, this is condemnation, not praise), all of this needs to be put into the context of the rightward shift of politics, and even more so of political discourse, over the last 25 years. Obama is a left-leaning centrist, just like Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and Bill Richardson and Joe Biden and Chris Dodd and John Kerry and Bill Clinton and yadda yadda keep the list going. The liberal "ratings" on any Congress Critter is pretty much meaningless outside of the survey itself. As with polls, those ratings are dependent upon their criteria, their data samples, their weighing and filtering, etc. The correct statement is the Mostest Cool Liberal Congress Critter survey finds Sen. So-And-So to be the mostest cool liberal critter in the entire Mostest Cool Liberal Congress Critter Survey. Richard Nixon would gain a rather respectably "liberal" score today given some of the things he advocated, which should help us get a better grip on the way in which the term "liberal" has been abused over the years, mostly on the Right.

As Paul Krugman discusses in Conscience of a Liberal, for much of the post-war period the majority of Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, could have earned the moniker "liberal" because there was a consensus on the necessity and legitimacy of the New Deal. Nixon's liberality, to the degree that it actually existed and is not revisionist history, was pretty much the last gasp in that consensus. The Movement Conservatives may tar the Democrats as "60s Radicals", but they were gunning for the New Deal long before the hippies showed up (Cultural note - in the Berkeley neighborhood where I lived while my dad finished up his degree from UC, we kids played "Hippies and Pigs", not "Cops and Robbers" or "Cowboys and Indians".) and their true enemy remains that socio-political consensus.

Getting back to the candidates, looking at nothing but policy papers, the Democratic slate presented us a large field of centrists, pretty blatently copying from each other and in general agreement about the issues. For all the fauxgressive eye-rolling and kvetching, the positions were solidly to the left of center. Of course, anyone can write (or copy) anything and the devil is not only in the details, but even moreso in the execution, because that is where words get converted into deeds and are placed under the protection of institutions which preserve otherwise ephemeral acts from the erosion of time and popular opinion. As I've said in earlier theory posts, boundaries sustain and strengthen as well as limit and constrain. To enact policy effectively is to institutionalize it. This is not simple to do, even with legislative majorities, and the ability to do so is difficult to predict as it requires building coalitions and leveraging bureaucratic mechanisms to enforce (or circumvent) legislative actions. FDR's real brilliance lay not just in sheparding the New Deal through but also in entrenching it within institutional safeguards. My point here is that none of the Democratic candidates, whatever the details of their plans, intended to do anything except work within the model created by FDR. Aside from universal health insurance, there wasn't anything groundbreaking, though that was certainly a big bite to take. I agree 100% with Krugman that universal health insurance is a profound challenge to the Right and constitutes a necessary expansion of the New Deal.

Some people have pointed (both approvingly and disapprovingly) to Obama's association with William Ayers, former Weather Underground who is unrepentant for his acts of terrorism against the US, and say this is some kind of marker of Obama's "radicalism". I don't buy it. I look at that and see a few different things.
  • Ayers is something of a celebrity within a very small intellectual enclave centered around the University of Chicago. You want to advance in that club? You kiss celebrity butt. I had several former professors who were part of that enclave at one time and they neither thought it unusual that Ayers would be there, nor considered him more than a jerk trading on his "radical chic" cachet.
  • Associating with a (now domesticated and irrelevant) "radical" is one way to puff up your own ego about how cool, hip and "dangerous" you are. Given what I have observed of Obama's public persona, he strikes me as the kind of person who would do this. Kind of like people who want the cachet of gangsters by listening to a lot of rap and associating with rap stars. Shrug, not my cup of tea.
  • There is absolutely nothing in anything Obama has done as a public figure that indicates he has radical or extremist political beliefs, or that he would knowingly perform an act which carried political danger for him. This is a different thing than hanging out with people who might do such things. This is a person with a careful, cautious, centrist political resume, who doesn't push any legislative or leadership envelopes. And, no, I'm sorry, giving one anti-war speech (that was mostly ignored at the time) at an anti-war rally in one of the safest Democratic districts in the country is not a particularly radical act, however comendable the sentiments expressed.

So, for me, I doubt Ayers is an ideological or legislative influence on Obama, though he may end up being a political liability. The lack of influence is a good thing, as far as I am concerned, as Ayers is simply a domestic terrorist.

On the matter of Wright's effect on Obama, I also do not see any political influence. How much Obama does or does not embrace Wright's outdated and reductionistic social views I don't know and I don't really care. That Obama would join a prominent church to establish a certain kind of credibility with politically connected people in the AA community doesn't make me bat an eye. On the surface of it, it was not a bad move, but it has become a political liability for reasons someone as smart and ambitious as Obama should have understood before it got to this point.

Obama has worked as a community activist, though I have not yet heard what that work specifically accomplished. He served as a legislator in the state senate and is now a US Senator. John Edwards effectively used the courts to right wrongs committed against his clients. He has served as a US senator, and is now dedicated to public service to battle poverty in this country. Hillary organized child care for migrant laborers in Chicago, worked to impeach Nixon in the Watergate hearings, has worked her entire adult life as an advocate for women and children including for the Children's Defense Fund, ran a legal aid clinic for the poor and was appointed by President Carter to the United States Legal Services Corporation, participated in Bill Clinton's various administrations on issues touching on civil rights, trade, health care and other bread and butter issues, traveled the world advocating US interests, gave an historic and very politically daring speech in Beijing on women's rights, and is now in her second term as a US senator. Aside from Hillary's Beijing speech, none of this work by any of the top three candidates (Please feel free in comments to add more examples, espcially of the candidates I omitted) strikes me as particularly radical or extremist. These are all perfectly respectable and commendable public service records, and are well within the bounds of normal political activity. My point is that to call Obama a radical, whether as praise or as criticism, is simply wrong.

It also strikes me that to be talking in these terms about what we should expect from our political candidates is wrong. As criticism, it plays into the hands of the Right who seeks to demonize liberalism by invoking 60s conflict as a whole and subsuming legitimate Democratic political objectives to the reprehensible (and fundamentally anti-political) actions of wack-jobs like Ayers. As praise, it conflates a constructive strand of radical politics, one that pushes the envelope of liberalism but which is intended to expand and strengthen the New Deal, with the violent, shallow, narcissistic and disruptive acts of people like Ayers. It cuts to the core of why Democrats have a difficult time retaining power in the face of the Movement Conservatives, namely the Left's internal class division and the siren call of radical chic.

That will be the topic of my next post.