Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Thought Unity Was Their Issue

From Atrios, Unity08 is closing up shop on the way to being swallowed up by Michael Bloomberg's independent presidential candidacy. But I wonder why Unity08's board fails to see the irony of their statement below:

The past year has taught us that it's tough to rally millions for a process without a candidate or an issue. In the past, third party movements that have broken through the monopoly of the established parties have always been based on a person (Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 or Ross Perot in the last decade) or a burning issue (slavery in the case of the insurgent Republican party in 1860). Motivating people to fix a broken system that drives candidates to the extremes by creating something more inclusive and sensible has proven to be a lot harder than we expected.

So despite--or perhaps because of--the fact that at least one of the leading party contenders "has made the theme of unity and the necessity of bridging the partisan divide an absolutely central theme of his campaign", Unity08 is moving on to bigger and brighter things--like the "independent" presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg for which it was designed, whether many of its spokesmen were aware of it or not.

Post-NH Op-Ed Special

Washington Post edition.

Shorter E.J.Dionne: The media, including me, really blew it.

Shorter George Will: January, named for the Roman god Janus, is a godforsaken month.

Shorter David Broder: The NH results mean I can keep writing about the 2008 primary season for a long time.

Shorter Robert Novak: The Clintons are a ruthless, give no quarter, attack machine; Republicans, and their supporters, who have never attacked anyone, had better nominate John McCain.

Shorter Harold Meyerson: This election reminds me of 1968 and 1972.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

There They Go Again

Call me crazy, but I can't believe the new rush among the punditry to bury Mitt Romney. The Republican race still looks like anybody's ball game to me. I don't see any one Republican winning Michigan and South Carolina. And even were a candidate to do so, it's far from certain that with the super tuesday February primaries still looming that any final determinations for the major contenders wouldn't wait adjudication until then.

At the same time, it is true that having been in the lead, Romney is suffering the pangs of dashed expectations. And the competitiveness, or fragmentation, however you want to look at it, in the Republican field owes a great deal to Romney's having chosen to reinvent himself from moderate business man and governor to a whoeveryouwantmetobe conservative, depending on the audience. I can imagine Romney having been in a much better position had he chosen a more straightforward and honest campaign message.

Conservative Fascism

A must read in this time of historical revisionism (h/t Matt Yglesias).

Democrats, New and Old

To build on my last post, one way of thinking about the dynamics of this race is as a contest between new and old Democrats.

In 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned as a New Democrat. That Democrats, and political liberalism, had been hammered in three consecutive elections meant that the way was paved for a New Democrat to come calling and in whom even traditional Democratic voters might be willing to support if doing so would improve the party's electability.

In 2008, Obama is, obstensibly, the new Democrat and Hillary Clinton is the old Democrat. The question is, are Democratic voters ready to turn to a new brand? Have the developments of the last 8 years, or 16 years, created in the minds of most Democrats the need for another New Democrat? It certainly seemed as if many Democrats were in 2003 as Howard Dean made his mark at the California state Democratic conference when he famously asked where the Democratic Party had been when Bush was launching his unilateral invasion of Iraq (What I wanna know is...), chastizing the party's bipartisan acquiescence to Bush and ruling Republicanism.

By primary season of 2004, however, most Democrats had retreated to one of that year's old Democrats, John Kerry.

Now, four years removed from that episode, but with the country still mired in Iraq, what is the mood of Democratic voters?

These first two contests have put off an answer to that question as high numbers of Independents have voted in Iowa and NH. Upcoming contests will undoubtedly shed more light on this topic and the direction of the Party as presumably the influence of Independents in future contests dwindles as the number of closed primary states increase.

The paradox is, though, that while Obama is the New Democrat in the race, he isn't campaigning as an outsider, really. The language of bipartisanship, post-partisanship and unity he's invoked may be New Democrat but it is pretty much right up insider politics' alley. It is the pillar opposite of Howard Dean's 2003-2004 New Democrat campaign.

Conversely, Hillary--like Edwards--is campaigning as a more partisan alternative, New Democrat, at least as it was in the mold of Howard Dean. So, while Hillary is undoubtedly the most insider of Old Democrats, and has kowtowed to much of Bush's agenda, particularly the war and foreign policy, her campaign is largely usurping what a New Democrat would be expected to bring to this year's campaign.

Some of this strange turn-about is no doubt due to the Democrats having won control of Congress in 2006. This has served to disipate to some degree the Democratic anger that drove Howard Dean's campaign. That the "surge" in Iraq has served to alleviate some of the violence associated with our continued occupation of that country, and thus diverted media attention to the personalities and horse race aspect of the campaign, has also strengthened the cross-cutting New/Old Democrat juxtapositioning going on.

One implication of this is something I don't think has generated any consideration so far and that is that despite whatever affinity there might be between John Edwards and Obama, it seems to me that John Edwards' partisanly populist campaign probably has more connection with those inclined to support Hillary, who is dismissive of Obama's hope and optimism, warning that the only type of politics possible is that of partisan combat.

So, as the campaign moves on, it wouldn't surprise me that if this is a rough approximation of the mood of Democratic voters (and not of Independents) that a large portion of Democrats supporting Edwards could very well end up in the Hillary camp.

I think the challenge for Obama (much like the challenge that faced McCain in 2000) is to continue to win his party's primaries and his party's voters in those primaries. Despite McCain's 2000 uprising, he was unable to pull it off. It seems to me that as an opponent of the congressional Democratic approach the past eight years at least on the war, Obama is in a good position to make this outsider, New Democratic appeal. However, the irony is that the existing, old Democratic establishment has largely legislated in the very bipartisan manner that Obama has said he is seeking. So, continued bipartisan appeals during this partisan primary season may not work as well to his benefit. And would result, weirdly, in one our most bipartisan Democrats, Hillary, being rewarded for taking a more partisan approach during the campaign.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Final NH Thoughts

At one point in the election analysis, CNN's William Schneider showed exit poll info that had Obama's vote share made up of 50% independents, while Clinton's showed a much higher share of Democratic partisans.

I would have expected this sort of thing to happen in Iowa rather than NH, but I wonder if Obama's frequent tacking to the center and appealing to Independents and Republicans, his cross-over, post-partisan appeal came back to bite him tonight. Despite the role of Independents generally, and in NH in particular, NH Democrats wanted to vote for a Democrat running as a Democrat. While this is undoubtedly one of many likely factors that influenced Hillary's narrow victory tonight, I have to think it could have been as significant a one as any other.

Yes We Can!

He started off slowly and didn't come out with his new signature line until near the end of his speech.

It was and is a great line, but unfortunately, he didn't get to speak last tonight.

Hillary to me still seems a candidate without a vision, reading off of Bill's script from the last decade. I lived through the 1990's. While the economy did well, the Democratic Party did not. Nor were there any major advances in public policy. Bill Clinton's presidency ended in incremental and symbolic policy maneuvers (remember school uniforms and bridges to the 21st century?) and with liberalism largely in ruins and on the run, in worse shape than the Clintons found it.

It's possible that something good will come of this. Maybe this quick setback will give the Obama campaign some experience in handling adversity and encourage the candidate to better refine his message. But for now, a Hillary victory has only prolonged the prospect of enduring more months of a politics of the same.

Hillary still winning...

When are the gamdung college towns going to report in?

And on top of that, the teevee writers are still on strike.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan has some serious balls to post this reader's dissent.

CNN Pundit Jeffrey Toobin

"You know, maybe people out there in the real world actually like Bill Clinton."

I suppose this is true

Ezra Klein:

And this is how it should be. It's a good thing that Iowa and New Hampshire don't simply decree the winner of the presidential race. It's a good thing that more states will participate, and the various candidates will have more time to hone their pitches, broaden their appeals, demonstrate their resonance in different regions and with different demographics. The campaign's been long, but the election remains young.


19% of the vote in: Hillary 40%; Obama 36%

This night is proving as dispiriting as last week's was uplifting.

Now They Tell Us

From DHinMI's DailyKos post:

So, Boren and the other losers waited until now to start preaching bipartisanship?

Yeah. I don't recall any of these folks demanding a bipartisan cabinet when W was elected or re-elected.

[Boren's] correct that during the Cold War the parties worked much more closely and cooperatively on national security issues. But after the Cold War, Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich unleashed a scorched-earth politics, and Karl Rove refined it to the point that former Georgia Democrat Max Cleland's support of union rights for federal employees to be brought under the umbrella of the new Department of Homeland Security was used by the Republican party to run ads linking Cleland with Osama bin Laden. The Republican party no longer accepts opposition as American; for them, domestic opponents can and are demonized as anti-American.


To accomplish anything, the next Democratic administration and Congress won't have to work with the Republicans, they will have to prevail over them. To prevail will require people with backbone. We need people who recognize that it was Newt Gingrich, Bill Kristol and the Republican party that purposively blocked any attempt at health care reform in 1993 and 1994. It was the Republican party that unanimously opposed Bill Clinton's 1993 budget, which led to the balanced budgets of the late 1990's. It was the Republican party that attacked the foundations of the New Deal and precipitated the government shutdown in 1995. It was the Republican party that in 1998 impeached Bill Clinton, ostensibly because of a blowjob.

I don't recall hearing anything from this crowd when the Project for a New American Century was busy penning its screeds and especially in the lead up to the Iraq war and occupation when anything less than full-throated "support" for "liberating" Iraq was grounds for purging American universities from all dissenters and herding all us liberals into concentration camps. The difference now, obviously, is the Old Guard is spooked that the failed regime is about to be repudiated.

Obama and Progressive Politics

Today in Concord, NH:

Obama's speech underwent another subtle shift, too. There was much more emphasis placed on the word "progressive," a much more explicit recognition of Obama's potential meaning to a particular ideological movement. He spoke of "Independents who recognize that the current course we're on is not working, and are ready to form a coalition with Democrats for progressive change," chided the observers who said there was no way all these diverse individuals would turn out "for a progressive Democrat." I've not heard that word so oft-repeated at his rallies before. Indeed, the whole speech seemed the product of Obama's thinking about how he could use his political potency to shift the center in America to the left. "We will send a message," he said, "that we will not only end the war in Iraq, not only bring our troops home, but we will change the mindset that got us into that war in the first place." In some ways, it's that grandeur of ambition that separates Obama from Clinton Even before he said so explicitly, many progressives I know spoke of his ability not to change policies, but to change minds -- to do for progressivism what Reagan did for conservatism. Clinton, they agreed, was competent and well-meaning, but lacked that potential.

This is what I have been waiting for, Hoping for.


It's a shame that only Ana Marie Cox appears interested in providing any.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Problem with Edwards and Hillary

First I read Ezra Klein's post about the emotive Edwards.

Edwards is more likely to tour with the sort of guests you'd see on daytime talk: Ordinary people who have undergone extraordinary hardship. Where the other candidates closed their Iowa campaigns with sincere speeches laying out the arguments for their candidacies, Edwards ran a commercial where a burly Iowan spoke emotionally of the moment when Edwards leaned down, stared his seven-year-old son in the eyes, and promised to fight for his father's job.

This irritates the Press Corps. It's schmaltzy and raw. As Mark Halperin put it in his summary of Edwards' most recent debate performance, "His habit of recounting moving stories about anonymous (and, sorry, random) people sometimes makes him sound like a mayoral candidate in a small Southern hamlet."

Yeah, no kiddin'.

While it's obviously desirable that our candidates at all levels of government have a concern with people "who have undergone extraordinary hardship", should a future president pledge to "fight for his father's job"? I don't know all the context here, but there are some 150 million workers in the U.S. Is a president supposed to "fight" for everyone's job?

Similarly, the cases of the liver patient and the person with a 50-year cleft palate are tragic. But are these individual cases--and the probable millions around the country like them-- these specific cases, the sorts of things that presidents should be pledging to eradicate? Can we be sure that a universal, government financed and managed health care system (which I assume is Edwards' focal point here) would have solved either of these two individual cases--or again the millions around the country like them?

One problem with Edwards' campaign is it has sounded at times very close to a one-issue campaign (health care). That would not necessarily be bad, except Edwards has been regarded as among the top tier of candidates, which should presumably signify that he is devoting somewhat equal time to issues for which the president--and no one else in the country--would be answerable to once in office.

All of this is to suggest--at the risk of sounding cold and indifferent to the very real problems he has been highlighting--that Edwards is campaigning as if he doesn't have a strong grasp of the various responsibilities of the president or that he would be able to prioritize very well. His type of campaign also begs the question of how, after having implied that he would solve every individual citizen's problems, he would deal with the fact that such would not be possible, and that other levels of government and sections of society might be better equiped to handle them.

In the case of the liver transplant and cleft palate patients, is it unreasonable to ask what alternatives were available? If that's my gut reaction--and I'm pretty liberal about these things from a policy perspective--you can be pretty sure that many other people with more conservative political instincts than me might also wonder the same thing? Is it a sure thing that in the case of the liver patient that the insurance company is fully at fault? Could the liver transplant have been performed by the doctors/hospital with an eye towards settling the finances of it later on, after the person's life had been spared? Of course most doctors and hospitals are not in the profession completely from altruism. But neither are the insurance companies. They all want to make money. And again, would a universal health care system of the kind Edwards favors be guaranteed to have worked in this case?

Klein implies that he favors Edward's emotive appeals and sense of purpose.

Maybe. But his very next post examines Hillary Clinton's town hall strategy and finds it lacking:

If every voter in New Hampshire could ask Hillary their special snowflake of a question, she'd win the state. No matter what the query, she gives a long, detailed, comprehensive response. But it is a response specific to the question, to that voter and the six others interested in a disquisition on that issue. The rest of the crowd sort of stares at their feet. Then a new question comes up, and a new set of nine voters are engaged, and the rest of the crowd gets a soup-to-nuts explanation of No Child Left Behind.

Unlike Obama and Edwards, who step before a crowd and try to convert them all at once with a rousing speech, Hillary is trying to convert them all one at a time, with a demonstration of mastery over their issues. As a wonk, I love this tendency to speak in policy. Her answer on NCLB was the best explanation of the policy that I've ever heard. But I also watched voters begin to trickle out after 45 minutes, even as Hillary continued to talk, to answer, to convince. It's too much detail, too overwhelming, too disconnected from themes.

But these individually-focused approaches by Edwards and Clinton are both problematic, no? They sound very similar to me. One candidate appears to show that he would respond to every individual citizen's unique problems and the other candidate appears to show that she would respond to get the idea?

Both Edwards and Hillary seem too lost in specifics, the nuts and bolts of policy or the peculiarities of any individual's situation. I don't think this is necessarily healthy for a presidential candidate. Like Mark Halpern, I can see why some observers are made uneasy by such campaigns.

Deep Campaign Thought of the Day

For about the second time in as many days, there's a totally smoking hot picture of Chelsea Clinton in the newspaper. This one's on the front of the Washington Post's print edition (pic not on the paper's website for whatever reason).*

Anyway, Chelsea has blossomed.

Rush Limbo...suck. on. that.

*The picture can be seen at

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Going Public

It's possible to read too much into any particular speech, campaign rally or debating point, but I think the contrast between what Obama is saying here and what Hillary is saying here is significant.

What I think Obama is saying here is basically that the kind of change the country needs and is capable of, and which Obama believes he can help deliver, is a comprehensive change built on the back of a new coalition, and built through a process of the nation's leaders appealing over the heads of lobbyists and entrenched interests in Congress to that of the nation's. It is a form of this argument.

Hillary's argument is a more of an insider's being able to game the system.

These arguments are not necessarily mutually exclusive, particularly as it may concern any one policy area (like health care). But this a sense where I think Obama and Hillary are talking past one another. Obama's theory of change is more far-reaching, more comprehensive, and in some ways, perhaps not fully fleshed out, yet open to the future (i.e. more visionary), where Hillary's is more of the policy white paper variety of change, mechanical, not inspirational, rhetorical or worldview encompassing. That I think is the crux of the difference between them and why, at least in the case of Iowa, Obama was able to expand the caucus turnout and win the state.