Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hope V. Fear, the Future V. the Past

It should be pretty clear, Indiana and North Carolina. Above and beyond the crazed distractions, this is still what it's about: hope versus fear, the future versus the past, and reality versus the old politics.

According to Howard Fineman and others, Hillary thinks she has a winner with her advocacy for a gas tax holiday this summer. It fits right in with her new image as the working class girl (even if she can't figure out how to work the 7/11 coffee machine.) So the question now becomes: are people going to choose someone for President of the United States for the next four years on the basis of the slim chance that they'll save maybe thirty bucks this summer?

Obama has all the arguments why it's a bad idea, and most economists agree with him. Plus the fact that it has no support in Congress, and it ain't going to happen. So what can Hillary do about it anyway? It's May. Summer starts in a month. She's a candidate for a presidency that begins in January. If she is so sure this is a wonderful thing, why isn't she back in Washington fighting like hell in the Senate to get it done?

Well, because she doesn't care if it gets done or not. Pandering is one thing. Cynical manipulation of voters' desperation takes it to a new level of scum behavior.

Will people buy it? As Obama says about the possible effect of the Wright drama, "we'll see." The TV pundits are sure it will. For me, it adds to the theme of the week around here: if Indiana and North Carolina don't repudiate this kind of politics, and this kind of media concentration to the exclusion of real problems for real people on the Rev. Wright--especially since they haven't made a peep about the white right wing nutcase preacher Hillary (a white person) prays with, or the very white, very right wing very nutcase preacher who writes that America is under God's curse, whose political support John McCain (a white person) sought and got---if Indiana and North Carolina doesn't repudiate all this by voting heavily for Obama, then this country is screwed. And so is this planet.

Yes, Obama can still win the nomination, and he can still win the election, and he would still have a chance at gaining the mandate he needs to go forward with real change. But it gets more difficult and more contentious if North Carolina and Indiana don't come through.

It's an important moment, and a tense one. I saw a story about morale problems in the Obama campaign, and less than overwhelming efforts in Indiana and North Carolina. I got so many appeals for contributions in the last couple of days that I'm really worried about the Obama campaign's April take. And it looks like Obama's schedule is in flux, with possibly more attention being paid to North Carolina, which should be in the bag by now. It seems Clinton is concentrating on Indiana.

Yet if you watched the YouTube excerpt I linked yesterday, you'll see that Obama has never been sharper. If you watch this one, you'll hear him talk informally with voters (in Indianapolis Thursday) about real ways to make real change--the idea I hadn't heard before was a new level of transparency and involvement for everyone via the Internet. So here's what I think about this: we couldn't ask for a better candidate who would be a better President, nor could we really ask for a better campaign in terms of focus, intelligence and eloquence. We couldn't ask for a better additional voice for it than Michelle Obama's. So if we go down, I'm satisfied it couldn't have been presented better.

The people who go to see him are getting that. It's the people who aren't that need to experience it. Maybe this round of media he's doing will help. Although he has to wade through these absurd questions. What about the flag pin? Are you wearing a flag pin, Mr. or Ms. Questioner? Was Hillary wearing one at the last debate? Was McCain? Does this question make any sense at all?

Yes, it's true that super-delegates are still moving towards Obama, but he needs a big win in North Carolina and a win or a very close loss in the popular vote in Indiana to get this campaign back to reality.

I'm going up to Oregon tomorrow, where I'll be giving visible support to Obama in advance of the primary there, and if I get time from other business, maybe some canvassing. But I probably won't be posting for a few days. Which is okay because I've said it. Indiana. North Carolina. It comes down to them.

Update: Just before I close my computer, this breaking news: that a former Democratic National Committee chair appointed by Bill Clinton, who endorsed Hillary on the day she announced, is switching to Obama Thursday, and urging other super-delegates to join him to bring the race to a close because it is becoming destructive. And he's doing it in--get this!--Indianapolis. He's urging Indiana to vote for Obama. This might even get the media's attention...And it may account for some of that scheduling change. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Divorcing Mr. Wright

Barack Obama divorced himself and his campaign from Rev. Wright due to Wright's performance yesterday, an invitation to the National Press Club arranged by a Hillary supporter. If you watch Obama make his statement and answer questions (which you can here) you will see his anger and sadness, and you will know why. He is eloquent and forceful, and this should end the Wright watch for statements Obama has to answer.

The unfairness--and the racism-- of this controversy vs. McCain's free ride with the preacher whose political support he sought and accepts, is the subject of this New York Times editorial. But there it is. However, it presents voters in Indiana and North Carolina with an opportunity. For years it's been clear that at least some voters are more interested in substantive issues and questions than they are in this distracting exploitation. But politicians who have exploited these distractions have often won votes. Voters can bring this campaign back to reality by not voting for Hillary, and by voting for Obama. If Obama wins both contests, then reality wins.

As predicted, Clinton has moved up in the national and state polls, but she is not clearly in the lead anywhere. Because of Wright it may take several more days before we know whether Obama recovers from PA and Wright. By the weekend, those polls should tell us more, although in fact the polls that came out today and yesterday are all over the place in both states.

Following up on yesterday, it seems the North Carolina gov is pretty toothless--a lame duck who is characterized as lazy--and his statement of support was graceless at best, and borderline offensive. Meanwhile, an interview with Elizabeth Edwards confirmed that at the moment her husband has no plans to endorse anyone before the North Carolina primary.

What surprises me is that the Clintons haven't done anything outrageous lately. They always follow perceived victories with some sort of arrogant mistake. But the week is young. (Of course both Clintons continue to be shameless scum. But they aren't attracting so much attention for it.)

Meanwhile, Obama is stronger than ever on the stump. "This campaign isn't about me. It isn't about Hillary Clinton. It isn't about John McCain. This campaign is about you." This is a great appearance.

Here's another, a shorter clip on a specific issue. Obama on the McCain/Clinton gas tax proposal: it will mean at best saving $30 total over the course of the summer, and may cost 7,000 jobs in construction just in North Carolina, which would have been paid for by the tax. "This isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer, it's an idea designed to get them through an election."

Meanwhile, there's been a certain pushback on the latest "elitist" argument, seeing much of it for what it is: what used to be called anti-intellectualism, but which is actually anti-intelligence and pro-stupidity, as well as misplaced romanticism about salt of the earth beer drinking NASCAR loving folks by talking head millionaires in suits, and the political consultants who love them. So for some sort of antidote, try this and this.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Terse Monday

Obama got it from the right--thanks to Rev. Wright--and from the left today, both Daily Kos and pissed that he did an interview Sunday on Faux News.

If the widely quoted sentences from the Times story I referenced earlier are accurate, the Obama campaign may believe it is losing in Indiana. Why else say that they expect the primary campaign to go on past June 3?

Rachel Madow on Keith tonight provided Obama with a brilliant strategy for responding to the latest Wright appearances, which I will now mesh with my add-on: Obama can delineate the church-state separation, the spiritual and political, reaffirming the JFK position, stating that Wright was a spiritual pastor and not a political advisor, while noticing that John McCain is politically embracing preachers whose political positions are terrible, and could affect foreign policy, i.e. the U.S. was founded to wage holy war on Islam.

Clinton is getting the endorsement of the North Carolina governor tomorrow. That's not good news. How bad it is--how politically powerful he is-- nobody seems to know. But it makes him virtually the only officeholder in the state to endorse Hillary.

Former North Carolina Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards has not endorsed, and people are wondering if he will now. I doubt it. If he endorses Clinton, his political career will be over, even as an advocate for his causes of fighting poverty, etc., because in this polarized situation, black voters in North Carolina and elsewhere will never forgive him. And if he endorses Obama--I noted in a poll awhile back that his endorsement would actually make people less likely to vote for Obama. So if he's smart, he keeps quiet.
The Day of Decision

Next Tuesday, May 6, may turn out to be the most fateful day so far in this fateful election year. North Carolina and Indiana hold primaries, and among the possibilities for their outcomes are several that could go a long way in determining who the next President will be.

Because Barack Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary, he needs to win a big state to silence doubts about the current state of his candidacy. Hillary Clinton has to win at least one of these two states to stay even marginally credible as a candidate. If Obama wins both, he will clearly be the nominee, and Clinton may well drop out. If Clinton wins both, it will devastate the Obama candidacy, perhaps beyond repair. At the moment, Obama is expected to win North Carolina, and Indiana is about even. Clinton has media momentum and has won more of the "working class white" vote in the past several contests. Obama has his base constitutency, plus some other advantages in each state.

I expect the polls coming out this week to be stronger for Clinton, as a result of the PA vote and the subsequent media coverage. If the polls continue to go that way by next weekend, then Obama is in trouble, but I don't expect that to happen. In any case what happens this week on the ground in both states will prove or disprove whatever the polls show. The situation is further complicated by the fact that both states are in the midst of early voting right now.

These are fateful contests for this election and therefore for the future. They may be fateful in a much smaller sense for me. Because I realized this week, for various reasons but most recently and particularly Hillary's reckless statements about "totally obliterating" Iran, that I can never vote for Hillary Clinton. So if Barack Obama doesn't get the Democratic nomination, I won't be voting in November 2008. (I voted for Obama in the CA primary.) And if I don't, it wouldn't surprise me if I never voted again. Because after 2008 I don't think there will be much point, at least in my lifetime.

Barring one of the candidates dropping out, the decision on the nominee will ultimately, formally belong to the super-delegates. I believe they are waiting for May 6. If Obama wins big in North Carolina and even comes close in Indiana--and a victory there allows Clinton to stay in the race--then more super-delegates will feel comfortable in declaring for Obama. I don't think there are many super-delegates who actually favor Clinton. There are some, perhaps many, who are afraid of her and Bill. And there are others who may be heeding the media CW and worry about Obama as a candidate. But they are all only waiting for Obama to win again. That's my guess.

Right now both these contests are utterly mysterious. Obama looked stronger in PA than a 9 point loss, so his crowds and the polls may not be saying anything dependable. On the other hand, Hillary's campaign may be mostly smoke and mirrors at this point. It's entirely possible that Obama will win both states big. But at the moment it is just barely possible that Hillary will squeak out a victory in North Carolina, and win Indiana by 5 points or so.

It could be that Hillary has all that just folks appeal. Or it could be that without mayors and governors delivering voters for her, she can't compete. At last look, Obama has most of the Democratic officeholders in North Carolina, including mayors. In Indiana he's been endorsed by the mayors of Gary, South Bend, Evansville and Bloomington; Hillary has the mayors of Hammond and Anderson, but she's not going to get Indianapolis, Muncie or Terre Haute because those are all Republicans. Senator Evan Bayh is for Hillary, and his is a respected family in the state. But so was Bob Casey's in PA.

So I'm staying away from tea leaves for these contests. I just hope PA didn't cut into the enthusiasm of Obama's on the ground forces because everything could depend on these two elections in just eight days.

Meanwhile, the super-delegates may want to examine the latest article about how Hillary's disorganized campaign presages her approach to the presidency, and this suggestion that contrary to her campaign theme, "...Hillary Clinton has not, in fact, survived the worst that the Republican attack machine (and its pilotless drones online and on talk radio) can dish out. We will learn what the worst really means if she is nominated."

Among the small but steady stream of super-delegate and other Obama endorsements comes this intriguing one: from the Oregon coalition of Latino leaders. For a partisan overview, there's this diary at Kos, which also has the video of Obama's 3-on-3 basketball game in Indiana--and here's the direct link. He's got game.

Interesting that there are two articles this morning, one in the Washington Post, one in the New York Times, about how Obama is relating his basic argument to economic issues in Indiana.