Sunday, March 30, 2008

Has Hillary given up?

I've been too busy to do much posting lately, so let's see if I can catch up a bit...

In one of my last posts I predicted that the March 21 Politico article about "The Clinton Myth"
would turn out to be influential and shift the mainstream media's view of Hillary's competitiveness with Obama. Sure enough, over the last week or so we've seen articles like this and every liberal's least hated conservative columnist, David Brooks, talking about Hillary's "audacity of hopelessness."

And, it only got worse from there as we learned that Clinton campaign has serious financial problems. Slate magazine launched it's Hillary Deathwatch (which I've now added to this blog). Finally, Bill Clinton had to tell Democrats at the California convention "chill."

Thanks in part to Obama very smartly telling the press that Hillary should stay in the race as long as she wants, there has been a bit of a chill, but the media's and the political culture's narrative of this race is clearly winding down. (See this, this and that. Oh, and this too.)

Hillary seems to have acknowledged it too. She has quite noticably toned down her enmity toward Obama and directed it instead toward McCain. The best of example of this is what I witnessed at my own Legislative District Caucus, yesterday, where former Democratic party chair and current Hillary campaign co-chair Terry McAuliffe spoke to the crowd of over 1000 party activists with nary a mention of Hillary. Instead, he talked about party unity after July 1, heading into the general election. (BTW, from early estimates of those LD caucus results, it appears that Obama has increased his Washington delegate lead over Hillary from the February precinct caucuses.)

While it may be that McAuliffe preferred to avoid conflict in my legislative district, which with its mix of African-Americans of all classes, hyper-educated young whites and just about every other ethnicity you can imagine is about as pro-Obama as anywhere in the country outside Hyde Park. But, with Hillary having toned it down in almost every venue, now directing her attacks toward McCain instead of Obama, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Hillary has, at some level, given up. I don't mean that she's going to withdraw from the race just yet. As at least one journalist has theorized, there may even be a tacit agreement among the two candidates, to let voters in the remaining states have their say while they run down the clock to see if any sort of external circumstances or scandal or major mistake causes the Obama campaign to self destruct.

My prediction for how this plays out? Hillary will win PA, but not by as much as in Ohio. She may even win Indiana, but probably by less than in PA; and Obama will win NC, by a lot. But, after the May 6 primaries, it's all but over. Obama will be leading by 175-180 delegates, with not many more than that remaining to be allocated after May 6. Hillary may hold on until the last primary in Puerto Rico on June 1, but for all practical purposes it will be over. The trends in the polls are bearing this out; the uncommitted superdelegates are slowly but surely moving Obama's way, while many committed Hillary delegates are hedging in anticipation of a need to switch to Obama to avoid a party implosion.

Hillary can still try to win by destroying Obama, but it probably won't work and the reason she seems to have stopped attacking him is because every time she does, she bleeds a few more uncommitted superdelegates. She's boxed in and all she can do is wind down the clock and be there in waiting if the Obama campaign somehow suffers a collapse of its own doing. If this accomplishes nothing else for Hillary, at least turning her attacks on McCain allows her to rebuild good will with party regulars and Obama supporters so that she will be in a position to build power somewhere else - perhaps as the next Senate Majority Leader.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hillary's Got a Credibility Problem

From Americablog via Dan Savage at the Slog...
She claimed that there was no welcoming ceremony [on her arrival in Bosnia in 1996] because it was too dangerous, sniper fire was everywhere, she had to run for cover.

Not so much.

In the photo below, Hillary heroically strangles a Bosnian sniper who was about to play checkers with Chelsea. Seriously, read the caption, which quotes Hillary’s description of the scene, then check out the photo of the actual scene.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The power of narrative... to distort reality

We've seen it in past presidential elections. It's really a force of its own in any political race. It's where coverage of politics really has become jarringly similar to sports journalism. I'm talking about the force of narrative, as contrived by the media but also helped along by the candidates and their campaigns.

There's a good essay by Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen over at about the how the media has created a false narrative of a continuing 2-way race for the Democratic nomination when the delegate math makes it virtually impossible for Clinton to win the nomination. Even officials within the Clinton campaign cite a 10% probability Clinton winning the nomination. And that kind of win would not be very satisfying for any Democrat, except for maybe Bill and Hillary.
One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning.

Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.

Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.

People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.

As it happens, many people inside Clinton’s campaign live right here on Earth. One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives.

In other words: The notion of the Democratic contest being a dramatic cliffhanger is a game of make-believe.
The force of narrative - contrived, manipulated, sometimes real - has helped both candidates at varying points during this campaign but, in this case, it's so far separated from reality that it's become irresponsible for the reporters, editorialists and headline writers who have fed into it to continue without stopping and taking a fresh look at the reality. As influential and widely read as Politico is with DC-based journalists and opinionmakers, this "stop the madness" essay could do for Obama what Saturday Night Live did for Hillary a few weeks back.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Enough about Rev. Wright, let's talk about Hillary's church

I always thought Hillary went to some milquetoast, mainstream Methodist church. And, it seemed like her at somewhat conservative positions on a range of issues like reproductive choice (she wants to let pharmacists abstain from filling birth control prescriptions if it violates their morals), support for federal funding of faith-based social programs (which she supported long before Bush did) and a constitutional amendment against flag burning (she supports it!), were simply efforts to pander to heartland voters. Well, it turns out that Hillary has been praying for years in "fellowship" with creepy DC bible thumpers like Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum and Ed Meese.

Over at the Nation, Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us of a little noticed article published in Mother Jones last September about Clinton's involvement since 1993 in a DC prayer circle and Bible study group alternatively known as "The Fellowship" or "The Family."

I kid you not.

As Ehrenreich writes:
Clinton fell in with The Family in 1993, when she joined a Bible study group composed of wives of conservative leaders like Jack Kemp and James Baker. When she ascended to the Senate, she was promoted to what Sharlet calls the Family's "most elite cell," the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, which included, until his downfall, Virginia's notoriously racist Senator George Allen. This has not been a casual connection for Clinton. She has written of Doug Coe, The Family's publicity-averse leader, that he is "a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God."

Furthermore, The Family takes credit for some of Clinton's rightward legislative tendencies, including her support for a law guaranteeing "religious freedom" in the workplace, such as for pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics...

....Sharlet generously attributes Clinton's involvement to the under-appreciated depth of her religiosity, but he himself struggles to define The Family's theological underpinnings. The Family avoids the word Christian but worships Jesus, though not the Jesus who promised the earth to the "meek." They believe that, in mass societies, it's only the elites who matter, the political leaders who can build God's "dominion" on earth. Insofar as The Family has a consistent philosophy, it's all about power--cultivating it, building it and networking it together into ever-stronger units, or "cells." "We work with power where we can," Doug Coe has said, and "build new power where we can't."

Obama has given a beautiful speech on race and his affiliation with the Trinity United Church of Christ. Now it's up to Clinton to explain--or, better yet, renounce--her long-standing connection with the fascist-leaning Family.
The original Mother Jones article is a must read as it explores the cultish aspects of this organization in great detail, along with more about how it has shaped Hillary's politics to a much greater level than most Democratic primary voters would find comfortable.

A full-length book about The Fellowship and its influence on powerful lawmakers is due out in May - The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power - HarperCollins.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Here's the deal

Given the media coverage of the race for the Democratic nomination since the March 4 primaries, you'd think Obama was in real trouble and the race was neck-and-neck. Not true. According to RealClearPolitics, Obama has a 168 delegate lead over Hillary (133 lead with pledged delegates). Even Hillary's superdelegate lead has significantly diminished over the last couple months, with her now holding only a 35 delegate advantage in that category.

With plans for Michigan and Florida re-votes nearly dead, there's almost no way for Hillary to overtake Obama in the delegate count, nor in the popular vote.  The only way she can win is for Obama to withdraw because of a scandal on the order of the Spitzer debacle, or for a mass of superdelegates to take the nomination away from Obama and give it to Hillary in a highly divisive, anti-democratic event that would virtually destroy the party's chances of regaining the White House in November.

So, soon, maybe as soon as the Pennsylvania primary has passed (especially if that vote is closer than expected), it will be time for Al Gore and/or Nancy Pelosi to step forward and broker a deal to allow Hillary to drop out and unify the party in time to win in November.

Here's the kind of deal that not only clears the path for Obama to get the nomination, but also gives Hillary a big consolation prize.  And, no, I'm not talking about an Obama/Hillary ticket.  

First, Harry Reid agrees to step down as Senate Majority Leader, with the Senate D caucus assuring Hillary she will be able to run for the position in December with no opposition.  I'm not the first person to suggest that Hillary would be the most effective Majority Leader since LBJ.  If we've learned anything about Hillary in this campaign it's that she' s a policy wonk extraordinaire and tactically brilliant.  Plus, she has a stature within the party and the country not seen with any past Majority Leader.  Her weakness as a communicator and the antipathy she engenders among large percentages of the electorate simply don't matter for a Majority Leader.

By early June at the latest, Hillary and Obama stand up before the press together,  with Gore, Reid, Pelosi and Bill Clinton behind them, to announce Hillary's withdrawal from the race.  She announces that she is moving aside in the interest of party unity and because she believes that after a hard fought race Obama has won the nomination fair and square.  She will ask her pledged delegates to support Obama.  Harry Reid will then announce his resignation from the Majority Leader role at the end of this Congress and the Senate Democrats will support Hillary as the new leader.  Hillary will explain the importance of this role and why she is especially well suited for the position, again citing the strength of a unified party.  Bill and Al will together offer their blessing.  Obama will then close the event with a short speech about bringing American together. Hillary and Pelosi will be sure to give the press a good opportunity to get photos of them standing together as the next co-leaders of the legislative branch.  

Two weeks later, Obama announces his VP choice (my favorite is Wesley Clark, a Hillary supporter), again with those Hillary and those other unified party leaders behind him.

Finally, Hillary gets to take a few weeks off, but by convention time, she and Bill are campaigning visibly and passionately for Obama and against McCain.  

Monday, March 17, 2008

A simple explanation of why you'll soon be able to buy your own Wall St. investment bank

Jonathan Golob over at the Slog has put together a great stick-figure primer to explain the sub-prime mortgage crisis, why it's now melting down world financial markets and why more investment banks are headed for the ignoble fate of Bear Stearns.

Golob also makes the argument this crisis is as least partly the Clinton administration's fault for its support of late 90's deregulation of the banking industry:
As pleasant as it would be to lay the current financial crisis entirely at Bush’s feet, a significant amount of the blame should go to Rubin and Clinton. Signing the (now clearly disastrous) Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in November of 1999—dismantling most of the Depression-era protections—was a classic bit of Clintonian triangularization, a gigantic sop to Wall street firms at the expense of Bill’s base of liberal and working class supporters. What could they do? Who could the people hurt by this act vote for? Nader? Let the checks from the financial services industry roll in!

Some might call this experience that matters.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

How Obama wins

The sometimes annoying Slate web magazine has an incisive piece by John Dickerson about Hillary's "too little, too late" victories in the Ohio and Texas primaries.  The gist of the piece is that the race has now become a contest of numbers vs. narrative.  Obama is winning by the numbers, and now Clinton has regained momentum on the narrative.  More likely than not Obama will win the nomination because of his continued advantage on the numbers.  But that's not a very satisfying kind of victory, and it's the kind of victory that could alienate a healthy percentage of Hillary supporters, allowing McCain to win in November. 
So, how does Obama take the momentum back from Clinton and win the nomination on both narrative and numbers?  Here's how:

Go on the attack.  As Dickerson says, Democrats love a fighter.  For a long time it worked for Obama to stand above the fray, but now he needs to get his hands dirty and show that he won't be afraid to take on McCain in the general.  What is Hillary trying to hide in those tax returns?   Where did they get that $5 million to loan the campaign?  Why not release her scheduling books from the Clinton White House?  What hearings has she failed to hold?  What about her wink wink, nudge nudge to the Canadians on Nafta?  And it's time to more directly confront Hillary on the Iraq war vote for what it was - a political calculation intended to preserve her ability to eventually run for president (just about everyone in Congress with political ambitions for higher office was doing it at the time - but a lot of Democratic officeholders weren't biting).  

Win Wyoming and Mississippi decisively. He's well positioned to do it, but should not by any means take these states for granted.  Loss of momentum may make these states, especially Wyoming a bit closer, but decisive wins will probably restore most of the net delegate loss from March 4 and restore a lot of Obama's momentum going into PA.    

Keep up the record fundraising.  This shouldn't be too hard to do, but now Hillary has a base of small donors too.  Obama needs to keep up the pace and make sure he dominates paid media opportunities in PA.  This, by itself, is not that important as Hillary, whom Obama outspent 2:1, showed in TX and OH.  However, Obama cannot let Hillary get any advantage in PA, and the extra money could allow him to get a lot more creative with micro-targeted outreach to bring more less frequent young voters to the polls.  

Double the Ground Game in Pennsylvania.  Obama's campaign has an amazing field operation.   Now that it's all about PA, Obama can bring almost all of his field capacity to that state, but this time with a deeper reach beyond the big cities and college towns to the suburbs and small regional centers that Hillary organized in Ohio.  

Put the Nafta/Canadian consul and Reszko negative buzz to rest once and for all.  The Canadian Consul memo will decrease in importance over time anyway, but Obama needs to put some responsibility on the media to not let Hillary get away with taking one passing statement out of context from the rest of the memo, which in its entirety actually makes Obama look smart and committed to real change on the trade agreement.  The Rezko thing is a bit harder to deal with because it's out of his control.  He should probably directly confront it in the Pennsylvania debate, repeat his mea culpa about the boneheaded move of letting this guy help him buy his house and then put it in context with the very true statement that he is not in any way tied to the issues for which Rezko is on trial.  But, Obama needs to pro-actively make it a non-issue before Hillary can further exploit it.  

Confront the Barack "Hussein" Obama is a secret Muslim agent crap in the most direct way possible. Every aspect of this rumor-mongering is vile and reprehensible, but Obama does have to directly confront the fact that he's got an Islamic middle name shared by a few Islamic bad guys (along with about half of the male Muslim world), had a Muslim dad, went to a school in Indonesia where he was exposed to some Islamic history and religion (in the same way that French school kids are exposed to Catholic history and religion) because so many Americans, even Democratic primary voters, are convinced that Muslim = terrorist. Obama can actually turn this in his favor by talking about how his exposure and family history gives him some insight and credibility with peaceful Muslim world leaders, which will allow him to work out a  Middle East peace agreement and deal with other potential Muslim hot spots like Kosovo and Indonesia.  

Learn to love the press.  This is where Obama could learn something from McCain. Reporters are generally pretty nice, interesting people.  Sure, spending more time with the press corps at the back of the plane, making himself available for daily on-the-record press briefings and getting to know the press that follows you around on a personal level is risky. It makes it more difficult to control your message and makes you more vulnerable to mistakes that could come back to haunt you.  But, the risks will be worth the rewards as he gets more coverage and better coverage at this critical stage of the campaign.  After all, reporters have feelings too. 

Schedule time now for a Saturday Night Live cameo, the Daily Show, Letterman, etc., etc. in the week before the PA primary.  These outlets owe Obama.  They gave time and favorable treatment to Hillary going into the March 4 primaries, now it's his turn for the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.  They'll all go easy on him (except maybe SNL - is Lorne Michaels "totally in the tank" for Hillary?) and this is part of the necessary strategy for a still largely unknown figure to familiarize himself with average voters.  

Take up residence in Pennsylvania and talk to every voter possible.  Watching Obama's schedule for a few weeks now, it seems that his pattern is to do a few big rallies in each of the big metropolitan areas in each state and not do a lot more in terms of direct voter contact.  The big urban rallies are important because they draw a lot of local press, generate volunteers and general excitement around the campaign, but this is not going to be enough in PA.  Obama pretty much needs to start living in PA and keep up an incessant schedule of big urban rallies, more intimate town halls, pressing the flesh events at factories and shipyards, and smaller rallies in medium sized college towns and smaller cities deep in Hillary territory.  The campaign so far shows that the more people get to know Obama, the more intense his support grows.  He needs to be campaigning the way Hillary was campaigning the last couple weeks - three, four, even five events a day that get him in direct contact with voters. 

Make a couple of those "important" policy speeches at  "important" universities. Ok, so the rub on Obama (thanks to Hillary) is that he's all talk, no substance.  That's bullshit. One of the reasons that higher educated Democrats love him so much is because he's really fucking smart and he's got plenty of well-thought out policy positions on just about every issue out there.  But, Obama needs to help more casual Democratic voters understand that at this stage of the campaign.  So, he needs to go to the University of Pennsylvania and present his economic recovery and jobs program to the local press with lots of smart-looking professors standing behind them.  And, then he needs to do the same thing at Penn State, with generals and foreign policy wonks standing behind him as he presents his national security plan to the press.  Include some really creative stuff in both plans to get all the pundits talking about how brilliant he is.  

Get Michelle Obama more visibly out on the campaign trail.  Michelle's gotten a lot of flak for her mis-step about being proud of the US for the first time, but she is very much an underutilized asset for this campaign.  In her smaller, more intimate events she's shown a remarkable gift for connecting with women voters.  As the main breadwinner for her family, juggling work and kids with the help of her mom, she can connect with beleaguered middle and working class moms who share that struggle.  And because she herself rose from a lower-middle class background she can connect with blue collar working women better than either Hillary or Barack.   

Duplicate the formula that allowed Obama to win Catholics, blue-collar voters and women in Wisconsin.  I don't know what made the difference myself, it may have just been about momentum. But Obama unlocked a secret to winning votes with these demographics that he needs to reproduce in PA.  Get your pollsters to figure it out and mimic it in PA.  Starting now.  

Win Pennsylvania.  Most of these items lead up to how he can win in PA.  It's the only big state left.  After WY and MS, it's the only contest over the next 6 weeks.  If he wins PA, Obama will own both the numbers and the narrative, and Hillary will drop out.  If Hillary wins PA, especially if by more than 5 points- brace yourselves for the convention bloodbath.  

Finally, prepare for re-do of some kind in Florida and Michigan.  This is not worth sinking a lot of resources into yet, but if these two states do reschedule a caucus or something, Obama will need to win at least one of these too.  A win in PA will help (or maybe even stave off the need for a re-do), but he needs to be ready on day 1 to launch aggressive campaigns in each of these states.  

Welcome to my Blog

Welcome to my new blog, Early & Often!  The name comes from an e-mail voter guide I've been writing off and on for probably 10 years now.  And, while I won't write exclusively about politics on this blog, I'm probably going to write a lot about politics, so I thought it was an appropriate name.

I've been thinking about starting a blog since, well since pretty much the beginning of blogs.  I've resisted, however, because of the time commitment and because a lot of blogs are pretty boring. Plus, everyone else has a blog.  So why would anyone read mine?  Well, I do feel like I've got something to say and, since, the blog will rarely, if ever, be about me, hopefully you'll find something in it occasionally interesting.  If so, let me know in the comments section.  If not, well go ahead and tell me that too, in the comments section.