Saturday, January 05, 2008

Don't Worry

Jonah Goldberg, Glenn Instapundit Reynolds, and Michelle Malkin, among others, are already worried about all the rioting in the streets by a certain demographic that will occur if the country's racists don't elect the black candidate, Obama.

Well, I don't think they need to worry. Obama won't lose. He's already up by 10 points in NH, according to Rasmussen.

Friday, January 04, 2008

About Last Night

Last night was about as inspired as I can recall ever being about American politics, maybe since 1992. The magnitude of Obama's victory, the record caucus turnout and his speech afterwards in particular, made a believer out of me again. Even more than in 1992, it feels like there's something different, possibly transformative, in the political atmosphere. It's not something I can really articulate, but Ezra Klein comes pretty close to capturing my own experience and response:

I've been blessed to hear many great orations. I was in the audience when Howard Dean gave his famous address challenging the Democratic Party to rediscover courage and return to principle. I have heard Bill Clinton speak of a place called Hope, and listened to John Edwards bravely channel the populism that American politics so often suppresses. Some of those politicians mirrored my beliefs better than Obama does. Some of their speeches were more declarative and immediate in their passion. But none achieve quite what Obama, at his best, creates.

Obama's finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don't even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I've heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.

I continue to have reservations. As E.J. Dionne noted this morning about the campaign:

The Republican race has highlighted ideological divisions within the party -- particularly on taxes, immigration and, to some extent, abortion. By contrast, the Democratic argument has been remarkably free of ideology. Democrats have battled more about how to get things done than about what to do, more about style than content.

I suspect Dionne thinks being "remarkably free of ideology" is good for Obama and the Democrats. I'm not so sure. While I've no doubt Obama's calls for bipartisanship are genuine, when you have a candidate from the other party saying things like this, you can be sure that partisanship, and the ideology that underlies many of our political disputes, is still hanging around, demanding an ideologically valid response. Furthermore, while Huckabee's victory last night seemed less impactful than Obama's, the people who drove his vote totals are people with a cohesive, if frightening, world view. Can Democrats with more of a free-floating, post-modern, post-partisan, non-ideological world view win the war, much less the short term battle, against an opposition more passionate about its ideas than its candidates and their oratory?

Some of my caution is driven by the thought that we've been here before. "Here" as in offering up a candidate pledging to rise above the old partisan strife, to put a competent, new energy into governance, and to create a new coalition to solve America's various problems. Jimmy Carter, in 1976, was such a candidate; a young governor from the New South, the unknown, non-establishment Carter came on the stage after the fall of a corrupt Republican administration and a triumphal Democratic Party victory in Congress two years before. Carter, too, got points for authenticity (even if his style was far inferior to Obama's), and his upstart victory, first in the Iowa caucuses (he actually finished second behind "non-committed"), then ultimately over incumbent President Ford in the general election, seemed a promise of a new era being born with a strong majority party to support him in Congress. As with today, Carter promised a new start in international affairs, making America's foreign policy more driven by human rights concerns than real politik; and ridding America's political life of the corruption and lies that had beset its predecessors.

But obviously all of this came to naught. The seeming crash of the Republican Party in the off-year, post-Watergate elections of 1974, proved the New Deal coalition's last hurrah. The true harbinger of things to come was the Reagan insurgency against Ford in the Republican primaries. 1978 brought the anti-tax revolt in California in Proposition 13, and further economic ills, driven in part by rising fuel prices, inflation, and slow economic growth, helping to pave the way for the anti-tax, anti-domestic spending, anti-government regulation, and anti-Democratic and anti-human rights based foreign policy of Ronald Reagan. Instead of a Democratic rebirth, a new conservative Republican coalition was just beginning.

In 1992, after 12 years of Republican presidential rule, the election of another young governor of the New South again appeared to offer a liberal renewal dressed in the garb of a New Democratic Party, less ideological than that of its much maligned liberal forefathers (see McGovern, George and Mondale, Walter), which instead of raising taxes would cut them for the "middle class", and instead of increasing the size of government, would "end welfare as we know it". The anti-incumbent blowing of the wind was further enhanced by the emergence of Ross Perot's independent campaign for president, which seemed to further augment the fact that a New Age of Reform was upon us.

But this was not to be either, as a conservative Republican tidal wave swept away 40 years of Democratic House rule in 1994 and launched a new era of still more regressive politics, bearing its ultimate fruit in 2000 when the Bush restoration was accomplished. And again, after years of corruption and incompetence, Democrats returned to Congressional power in the off-year elections of 2006.

So you'll understand if by these similarities I am a bit skeptical that another post-ideological Democrat is going to inaugurate a new era that dramatically reshapes American politics.

Having said all this, it should be noted that some things about this year, about this candidate, are remarkably different.

Unlike 1976 and 1992, the Republican opposition Obama faces is nearing the end of a generation of control. And unlike either of those years, Obama's election promises to transcend perhaps the deepest divide of all in American politics--race. Also, unlike Carter, Obama is charismatic; unlike Clinton, Obama doesn't carry a range of generational and moral baggage.

As for Obama's lack of apparent ideological purpose, there is a sense in which Obama should be considered the most progressive candidate in the race. Obama is the most progressive candidate, in the most literal and far-reaching sense of that word, among the offerings Democrats or Republicans will have to consider at least this year. By that I mean Obama is the candidate who least appeals to a better age of yesteryear. Even Edwards--who delivered a great speech last night as well--seems to be appealing in his standard stump speeches to an America of yesteryear when workers were treated better and income and opportunity was more equal. Hillary, naturally, is appealing to a more recent past and name, attempting as George W. Bush before her, to draw capital from and restore another president's legacy. The Republican candidates, meanwhile, are also clearly speaking to old scripts, trying to resurrect the images and coalitions of yester-decades's conservative party.

For these reasons, Obama makes me feel like there really is something genuinely new in the air; that American politics is at an important pivotal time in its history afterwhich an Obama election and administration would forever alter the nation's character and outlook.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Caucus Update II

With 50% of precincts reporting, CNN is projecting that the University of Kansas will beat the Virginia Tech Hockie's in this year's Orange Bowl college football extravaganza. At the half, KU 17, VT 7.

Oh yeah, Obama winning Iowa by 7%, Edwards and Clinton tied for second with 30% of the vote. And on the GOP side, Pastor Huckabee trounces Mitt Romney 34% to 25%.

I thought David Gergen on CNN made the poignant, if not already well known, point when he noted that Obama won in a state that is 95% White. Bill Bennett later corrected Gergen in saying the state is actually 97% White.

Younger voters, age 17-24, broke over-whelmingly for Obama, but I look forward to seeing (a) what the distribution of participants was by age and (b) how Obama did among older voters, although he apparently did well enough.

With only five days to go before NH, Obama has an excellent chance of adding more delegates to his column.

With Huckabee trouncing Romney, I wouldn't be surprised to see McCain, and maybe even Thompson, pull even or ahead of Romney in NH. McCain is already tied from the last polls I've seen. With a modest third place finish in Iowa, Thompson might live to fight another day.

Caucus Update

I hadn't watched Hardball in quite a while. It hasn't aged well. Chris Matthews, Pat Buchanan and Howard Fineman are even more of a Gong Show than I remembered.

Neglected Issues, Neglected Candidates

Dana Goldstein from the American Prospect has a column highlighting some issues and candidates who haven't gotten much attention from the Village Press.

I was particularly pleased to see this item on criminal justice and The War on Drugs:


Criminal Justice, Prison Reform, and the Drug War

Mention these issues and you risk sounding more like a stoner college activist than a reasoned progressive adult. But a look at the numbers of our criminal justice system is sobering: Our prisons suck up $40 billion annually and the U.S. drug war costs approximately $20 billion each year. Over half of American inmates are incarcerated on non-violent drug charges. A young black man is more likely to have been in prison than to have graduated from college. And lest you believe our harsh system is stamping out crime, two-thirds of prisoners are eventually re-arrested. All of this is not to mention the inhumane conditions behind bars, including the high incidence of sexual assault and other violent crimes.

Dennis Kucinich is undoubtedly the only member of Congress to devote a section of his website to the "link between animal cruelty and violence against humans." But if you can stop snickering at his earnestness, big ears, and funny voice, you'll find he's right on target when it comes to reforming criminal justice. Kucinich loudly opposes a death penalty that isolates the United States from its developed-world peers and disproportionately targets the poor and the non-white. He tackles police brutality head on and opposes prison terms for nonviolence drug offenders, preferring rehabilitative treatment. He writes on his website:

Only the best and brightest should wear badges and carry guns. There are many, many great law enforcement officers, but low pay and terrible working conditions allow some to slip into the long blue line that should not be there. For example, the 'War on Drugs' has made many in the black community feel as though they live in an occupied territory. Greater minority representation on police forces would help, but a new national policy on nonviolent drug users would also help tremendously.

Progressive crime reform is a tough sell for mainstream candidates. Polls consistently show that about two-thirds of Americans support the death penalty, and although large majorities of Americans would like to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, being "tough on crime" and "tough on drugs" are perennially winning stances in American elections. Just look at Rudy Giuliani.

A good place to start moving in a more reasoned direction could be for at least one brave front-runner to note the absurdity that, under our current federal laws, one minor drug offense can cost a student federal financial aid forever. And of course, such restrictions are biased against less privileged college students with fewer legal recourses. Discussion of substance abuse should also move out from under the crime umbrella and into our robust debate on universal health care. The amount of money we're spending incarcerating non-violent criminals with drug problems speaks for itself. All Americans deserve medical and psychological support in kicking an addiction.


I ventured over to Dennis Kucinich's website and found this further statement about the Drug War:


Drug War

My position on this issue is to face it directly, though other politicians run away from it.

I agree with the many law enforcement officials and experts in the field that we must find a new way of dealing with illegal drugs.

I have studied the issue for decades and recognize that our "War on Drugs" has failed.

In fact, because our War on Drugs drives up the price, it encourages violence.

Prohibition simply doesn't work. It only creates thousands and thousands of Al Capones.

Prison should be for people who hurt other people, not themselves. We don't jail people for merely drinking. We jail people when they drink and drive or hurt another human.

Drug use can and should be reduced. But a continuation of our current War on Drugs will not do it. Instead, the current policies have only helped increase drug use and foster violence across the country. California was able to cut teenage tobacco use in half with a straightforward ad campaign that was financed by a tax on cigarettes. Not a shot was fired.

The supporters of the drug war have only one solution to this debacle -- more money for law enforcement, more people, more power, more prisons -- with no end in sight. Of course, these happy drug warriors who justify their living hunting down drug users come on TV and promise us that they see light at the end of the tunnel. They promised us a drug-free America by 1995, and instead we see new and more exotic drugs constantly being added to the mix.

I know that proponents of the Drug War will say that I am pro-drugs. I am not. As mayor of Cleveland, I saw first-hand the damage done by addiction to drugs, including alcohol. I also witnessed that the wasted resources and collateral damage did not promote a safe society. It is unconscionable that only one bed exists for every ten people that apply for drug treatment. Our priorities and our resources are being put in the wrong place. The primary job of law enforcement should be protecting our country and its citizens -- not protecting people from themselves.

The shredding of our rights to privacy and property promoted by the Drug War is inconsistent with a free society. Criminalization of private or self-destructive behavior is not acceptable in a free nation.

The racism evident in the Drug War, and the clearly preferential treatment for offenders with connections, undermine our concept of a just society. Draconian prison sentences that dwarf those for violent crimes, like murder and rape, destroy respect for our laws.

The rampant corruption of the criminal justice system spawned by the $400 billion-a-year black market could be ended with the stroke of a pen. So also would be the wholesale devastation we have brought to other countries. Countries like Colombia, where we send billions of dollars of military aid and spray hundreds of thousands of acres of populated land with dangerous herbicides in a country with nearly a million displaced people. And each military campaign or spraying is like squeezing a balloon; production merely shifts to another site or goes into a temporary hiatus.

Drug addiction is a medical and moral problem that should be treated by professionals, not dumped on the criminal justice system. Setting up a national commission of medical professionals to develop an intelligent program, based on the experience of drug experts from around the world, would be a first step. Allowing doctors to treat drug addiction humanely and intelligently, including the prescription of maintenance doses, would allow us to quickly eliminate most of the black market and much of the damage to a safe, free, and just America.

It is time for an honest dialogue on this issue.

Time to stop the documented lies, halftruths, and propaganda that got us into this mess in the first place. It is time to face the facts.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008


I've seen this Obama statement about the '00 and '04 elections bandied about on various blogs with the assertion that Obama is "slamming" Gore and Kerry for alienating half the country and for being divisive.

But I don't necessarily get that from this one statement that's been the object of so much attention. Little context for the statement is provided, much too little to infer that Obama is "slamming" Gore and Kerry for being "divisive" or "polarizing".

Truth is, I'm not sure what Obama is referring to here at all, beyond his evident perception that in some polls Gore and Kerry were opposed by up to half of the sample population at any given moment. And given the little context that's provided, it isn't immediately clear who Obama is blaming for that situation, if anyone.

That being said, as the election season draws near, I am having second thoughts about who I'd like to see win this thing. Maybe my new hesitation stems from ideas about what the media narrative would be after an Obama (or Clinton) win in Iowa. While there's a certain opportunism and superficiality about the importance such a concern should have in a presidential race, particularly at the nominating stage, the fact that it has surfaced for at least some of us is an indication, however rough, that too little genuinely bold and unorthodox things are being said in this campaign.

This isn't to say that Edwards or anyone else running is a suitable alternative. And I still think that, despite the narrative that is being played out in the media, Obama would be (among the Democrats at least) the most dramatic break with the past on the issues that matter most; but my reasons for believing that are dwindling.

Their Mothers Must Be So Proud

As the Iowa vote looms the leading Democratic contenders are emphasizing Iraq, health care, and the economy.

Meanwhile, the leading candidates of the Know-Nothing Party in Iowa are united in carrying the banner of anti-Hispanic nativism:


The imagery of the mailings is designed to pack a wallop: a Mexican flag fluttering above the Stars and Stripes, the Statue of Liberty presiding over a "Welcome Illegal Aliens" doormat, a Social Security card emblazoned with the name "Juan Doe," a U.S. passport proclaiming, "Only one candidate has a plan to STAMP out illegal immigration."

As Republican presidential candidates troll for votes, they have flooded mailboxes in Iowa and New Hampshire with such loaded images. Their campaigns have filled the airwaves, packed their Web sites and taunted their adversaries, proclaiming their concern over porous borders and accusing opponents of insufficient vigilance.


Huckabee's "Secure America" plan twins a similar crackdown with a proposal to give all illegal immigrants 120 days to register with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and to leave the country. Those who register would face no penalty if they later applied to immigrate or visit. Those who do not "will be, when caught, barred from future reentry" for a decade, Huckabee's plan states.

Huckabee proved so mindful of the issue that he used last week's assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto to argue for stronger border controls, "to make sure if there's any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country."

Romney would cut federal funds to any city that refuses to comply with federal immigration laws or to cooperate with a crackdown. Giuliani would issue all noncitizen workers and students a single, tamper-proof biometric identity card and create a single database to track all noncitizens in the country.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), who joined the presidential campaign solely to pursue his hard-line agenda on illegal immigration, was so comfortable with the direction that his fellow GOP candidates were taking that he dropped out of the race last month and pronounced the field "Tancredo-ized."


Latino and other minority groups see racial codes in many of the words the Republican candidates have used -- for instance, "illegals" rather than "illegal immigrants." And hovering around the campaigns are far more strident figures and organizations. Immigration groups were taken aback when Huckabee accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the border-security Minuteman Project, calling it "providential."

Mothers Against Illegal Aliens recently posted a plea for people to bring their own sheets and utensils to hotels and restaurants because "the person who cooked your meal or made your bed may very well be the one who picked your fruit and vegetables," suggesting that immigrants are spreading disease.


Just kinda warms your heart, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year

I've been following politics for 20 years and I can't remember a time when anyone in the Republican orbit talked like this:


But [Romney's] biggest problem is a failure of imagination. Market research is a snapshot of the past. With his data-set mentality, Romney has chosen to model himself on a version of Republicanism that is receding into memory. As Walter Mondale was the last gasp of the fading New Deal coalition, Romney has turned himself into the last gasp of the Reagan coalition.

That coalition had its day, but it is shrinking now. The Republican Party is more unpopular than at any point in the past 40 years. Democrats have a 50 to 36 party identification advantage, the widest in a generation. The general public prefers Democratic approaches on health care, corruption, the economy and Iraq by double-digit margins. Republicans’ losses have come across the board, but the G.O.P. has been hemorrhaging support among independent voters. Surveys from the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, Kaiser Foundation and Harvard University show that independents are moving away from the G.O.P. on social issues, globalization and the roles of religion and government.

If any Republican candidate is going to win this year, he will have to offer a new brand of Republicanism. But Romney has tied himself to the old brand. He is unresponsive to the middle-class anxiety that Huckabee is tapping into. He has forsaken the trans-partisan candor that McCain represents. Romney, the cautious consultant, is pivoting to stress his corporate competence, and is rebranding himself as an Obama-esque change agent, but he will never make the sort of daring break that independent voters will demand if they are going to give the G.O.P. another look.


Some Republicans were pretty dispirited in the waning days of the 1992 election as it was becoming clear that George H.W. Bush would lose; even a lot of the press during that summer and fall seemed to be calling for a new script. There was random talk of the problems the social conservative wing of the GOP posed for the Party, etc.

But this seems different.