Friday, February 22, 2008

The Prince

"I shall be fully convinced... that he
[President Polk] is deeply conscious of being in the wrong: that he feels the blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to Heaven against him."
~ Abraham Lincoln, 12 January 1848

"That's what I'm opposed to - a dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason, but on passion; not on principle, but on politics."
Barack Obama, 2 October 2002

It is impossible to hear Barack Obama speak without realizing that he was a legal professor. People say that Obama's rallies are all fluff and no substance; not so. He could turn on the fluff to unprecedented heights if he wished. His supporters have a messianic quality about them; they follow Obama unreservedly and remind me of how blind Bartimaeus felt after Jesus restored his sight. Barack's public speech is much more measured, careful, and precise, even, at times, bordering on pedantic. Yet his grasp on the issues is formidable.

Obama was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Lincoln, too, went into the law, at a time when the sons of backwoods, backwards Kentucky farmers were not seen as top-notch legal material. Both men lived and worked close to the people they served, held low-level political offices, and worked with clients from the very richest to the very poorest.

Lincoln and Obama also share deep, resonant, feisty political voices. Contemporaries often spoke of the effect Lincoln's slow, rolling voice could have on a crowd. Obama's raspy baritone, which conveys a hint of his Kenyan ancestry, is his best political instrument.

As the epigraphs show, both men hated war and weren't afraid to risk their political lives to stand against the current and oppose wars of choice. (In the medium term, California could have been purchased from Mexico.) Lincoln, though, raised an army to suppress Southern secession and led the country through the trials of the Civil War. Obama correctly advocates a phased withdrawal from Iraq, but he would be just as steady in the midst of crisis.

We need a president who reminds us of our better angels. Barack Obama is that man.

February 19: Wisconsin primary; Hawaii caucus (D)

Wisconsin primary:

Obama 58
Clinton 41

Huckabee 37
Paul 5

Hawaii caucus (D):
Obama 76
Clinton 24

It's over.

Wisconsin was Hillary's last chance to blunt Obama: Midwestern, industrial, union-heavy, older. I half expected her to win. Then the results came in: 54% Obama... 56% Obama... and ever-widening to 59.5% Obama. When people see Obama and listen to him, they vote for him. Hillary wishes she had the same effect.

At the post-election party at Bar Louie on Water Street (where I met Mayor Tom Barrett and a couple of Wisconsin state representatives), the atmosphere was electric. News cameras crowded the back bar that had been reserved for the Obama party. At its peak, about 200 people filled the room, no doubt in violation of the fire code.

The next morning, the Teamsters endorsed Obama - a critical endorsement for Ohio and Texas, but, symbolically, a sign that Hillary's "base" has irrevocably crumpled.

Obama's big win in Hawaii, where he was born and went to high school, surprised nobody.

Among the Republicans, John McCain kept trudging towards the nomination with another win in Wisconsin. Mike Huckabee, who has chosen option #2 (see my "What's Next" post from Feb. 7), is having a ball running for President on the cheap and gaining national visibility, though he is not likely to become McCain's VP nominee.

February 12: The "Potomac Primary" (R)

McCain 55
Huckabee 29
Romney 7
Paul 6

McCain 50
Huckabee 41
Paul 4
Romney 4

McCain 68
Huckabee 17
Paul 8
Romney 6

Mike Huckabee's attempt to make John McCain's nomination anything but a formality is no more. Huckabee tried hard to win Virginia, but he couldn't draw votes in the D.C. exurbs or in Richmond; as usual, his support centered on isolated rural counties.

February 12: The "Potomac Primary" (D)

Obama 60
Clinton 37

Obama 64
Clinton 35

Obama 75
Clinton 24

The results speak for themselves. With these victories, Obama, by most counts, took over the delegate lead from Clinton.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

February 9: Kansas, Louisiana, and Washington (R)

Kansas caucus:
Huckabee 60
McCain 24
Paul 11
Romney 3

Louisiana primary:
Huckabee 43
McCain 42
Romney 7
Paul 5

Washington caucus: *See below.

Rather late for an energetic stop-McCain campaign, isn't it? This reminds me of a failed coup d'etat in minature. It's not going to succeed because the Great Cheney Purge failed to drive out all the sane members from the Republican Party. Mike Huckabee, one of the sane people who stuck it out, has to be smiling right now: he alone is accruing all the benefits from the combined and considerable efforts of the nutty wing of his party. He rolled over McCain in Kansas's caucuses and eked out a narrow 2,000-vote victory in Louisiana.

Then there's Washington. Here's the bizarre published results:

Washington caucus (87% reporting):
McCain 26
Huckabee 24
Paul 21
Romney 16
Uncommitted 13

On the basis of the results listed above, the Washington state Republican Party chair, Luke Esser, declared McCain the "winner". Really, Mr. Esser? You've got 13% of the vote - of a closed Republican caucus, mind you - uncounted! And it's been 36 hours after the fact! Huckabee, while careful not to say anything untoward towards McCain, filed legal suit against Esser and his Washington State charlatans today.

There are peculiarities down the ballot, too. Given that Mitt Romney won 3% in Kansas and 7% in Louisiana, it's not improbable that he won 16% in Washington. (It seems like the best thing Romney could do was to drop out. Pious Mormon that he is, I wonder if he's laying awake at night thinking that if he pandered to Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh even more than he did, without moral scruples, he'd be the prospective nominee right now instead of McCain.) But the 13% for "Uncommitted" makes no sense to me. Leaving aside Michigan's Democratic primary, when both Obama and Edwards instructed their supporters to vote Uncommitted, that line has never earned more than 5%. The fishy smell is overpowering.

February 9-10: Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, and Maine (D)

Louisiana primary:
Obama 57
Clinton 36

Nebraska caucus:
Obama 68
Clinton 32

Washington caucus:
Obama 68
Clinton 31

Maine caucus:
Obama 59
Clinton 40

Oof. Obama won four widely dispersed states by overwhelming margins. Hillary couldn't break the 40% barrier in any one of the contests. Now she's adrift in deep water. Obama is drawing near Clinton in the delegate count (CNN is scoring it 1148-1121 for Hillary), and the "Potomac primary" on Tuesday will enable Obama to take his first lead of the campaign.

Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. all have young, suburban, partly African-American, and highly educated Democratic bases, exactly coinciding with Obama's core constituences. Hillary, once again, will be hard-pressed to touch 40% on Tuesday. Then, on February 19, there is a caucus in Hawaii and the Wisconsin primary. This blogger is going all out on the ground for Obama on that day! More soberly, it might be Hillary's last stand; if she can't win Wisconsin, she won't be likely to win anywhere else. Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan's onetime speechwriter, has speculated that the end is nearer for Hillary that most pundits realize.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Why our primary system rules

Since my professional desire is to become a university professor, I suppose I will soon be paid to come up with counter-intuitive political observations. In case any tenured faculty read this blog - here's one such observation in advance.

The great benefit of the United States' primary-caucus system, as it now stands, is that it enfranchises and empowers large numbers of citizens who are made into near-permanent electoral minorities in November by the structure of the Electoral College. On Election Day, South Carolina's Democrats could uniformly vote for bell hooks (heh) and it wouldn't matter at all; the Republican nominee would almost certainly prevail. Likewise, New York's Republicans could all vote for Barney Frank, only to watch the Democratic nominee win.

But in a 50-state primary-caucus system, every state's preferences matter (mindful of population, of course) and not just the preferences of a relative handful of swing states. South Carolina's Democrats, or New York's Republicans, become potent political forces who have a meaningful impact on the selection of a nominee. Isn't this good for democracy compared to a national or regional super-primary? To borrow from Robert Dahl, it increases contestation (there are 100 distinct contests), inclusiveness (regional candidates and favorite sons are free to run; most modern contested major-party primaries have had at least a half-dozen candidates), and information (retail politics matters relatively more than mass-media saturation blitzes). Think about it.

What's next (Republicans)

What does Mike Huckabee do now?

It's not at all clear. He wants to be John McCain's vice-presidential candidate very badly. However, he's now the only alternative to McCain left standing (Ron Paul doesn't count anymore) in a party with influential factions that despise McCain. If you can't quite believe the raw fervor with which key elements of George W. Bush's winning coalition hate McCain, check out this missive from Dr. James Dobson to his Focus on the Family listserve.

Dobson's statement is unhinged. He has one valid point: if you vote exclusively on life issues, McCain, with his vocal support for stem-cell research, his centrist attitudes on abortion, and his refusal to pander to Christianists, is not your man. Still, how can he say that both Clinton and Obama have "virulently anti-family positions" (which is false) and then not support their opponent!? He is falling off of the applecart, and I, for one, have no interest in helping him hang on.

Superficially, Huckabee looks like an ideal VP for McCain: a younger man who can reconcile the Republican Party's warring factions. Not so fast: Huckabee would appease the religious wing of the Republican coalition, but the tax-cutting, anti-immigration wing despises both McCain and Huckabee with equal fervor. More to the point, Huckabee doesn't help McCain win any swing states. His appeal is strongest in the South, which McCain would win anyway. Also, rightly or wrongly, McCain's VP will get vetted as a president-in-waiting due to McCain's age and gaunt facial visage. "President Huckabee" might be good for a chortle, but it won't be good for votes.

Two names that have been bandied about are Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, Jeb Bush's popular successor and a close friend of McCain, and Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a young, well-respected governor of a Democratic-leaning state who campaigned for McCain in Iowa and in Michigan. Both men strike me as sounder choices than Mike Huckabee.

As for Huckabee himself, he has three viable options:

1) Turn on McCain and embark on a quixotic (since McCain will be nominated) campaign to define himself as a "real Republican".
2) Continue running to keep himself in the media spotlight, but remain deferential to McCain and keep angling for the VP slot.
3) Drop out, stop running up a debt - he's even worse off than Hillary for cash on hand - and call an end to the campaign grind.

What's next (Democrats)

In this head-to-head race, money will be the decisive factor. Duh.

In an astounding role reversal, though, Barack Obama is swimming in it and Hillary Clinton is running short of it. Obama has an impressive base of small donors that exceeds any previous level for an American political campaign not run for George W. Bush. He effectively has as much money as he wants to spend through the remaining primaries and caucuses. Hillary, in marked contrast, had to give her campaign a $5 million personal loan just to stay afloat.

This lends itself to an obvious and legitimate question: where did Hillary get $5 million to give to her campaign? After all, the Clintons were nearly broke in 2000, no small thanks to Bill's numerous legal shenanigans while in office. Several conspiracy theories are floating around the Internet, but I'm certain that I have found the culprit:

Super Tuesday (Republicans)

Won states (50% or more of the total vote):
McCain 3
Romney 3*
Huckabee 2

Won states (less than 50% of the total vote):
McCain 6
Romney 4*
Huckabee 3

McCain 42
Romney 34*
Huckabee 12

New York:
McCain 51
Romney 28*
Huckabee 11

*Romney subsequently dropped out of the race.
It's not just that John McCain won more states than his two main opponents; it's where he won. Romney, as expected, won the Snow Belt (Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and Utah; not a warm-weather state among them!) and Huckabee won the South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia). McCain, though, won the real prizes: the most populous states. California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Missouri, and Arizona, all of which have at least 50 delegates, winner-take-all, went to McCain. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the affair.

Mitt Romney, after two months of trying to be all things for all people, dropped out of the race, leaving Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul as the only remaining candidates. Despite the widespread antipathy towards McCain within the Republican Party, their winner-take-all mode of delegate allocation stands in the way. Even if all of Romney's delegates moved over to Huckabee, McCain would still hold a 2-to-1 lead in the delegate count with the Southern states, Huckabee's natural base of support, largely played out. John McCain, amazingly, can relax and plan for November well before the ice melts.

Super Tuesday (Democrats)

Won states (60% or more of the total vote):
Obama 8
Clinton 1

Won states (less than 60% of the total vote):
Clinton 8
Obama 5

Obama 42

New York:
Clinton 57
Obama 40

Once again, the tsunami for Obama failed to materialize, but he earned a full-blooded tidal wave in his favor on Tuesday night. He won more states than Hillary (13 to 9), and, as the table above shows, won more states by large margins than Hillary. Obama also eked out narrow symbolic pluralities in Connecticut and Missouri. He held serve against Clinton, a significant victory when one considers the residual strength of the Clinton brand name and the national infrastructure he built from scratch to oppose Hillary.

California and New York deserve special emphasis. Pollster John Zogby had predicted an Obama victory; then again, he also predicted a Romney victory, so he has some humble pie to eat. With massive early voting (which also favored Hillary in Florida's non-contest), Obama had too steep a hill to climb. In an open primary this evening, Obama would likely have a slight edge. In New York, her home state, Hillary got 57% - not good: it's the same percentage she got against a blank line and Dennis Kucinich in Michigan.

CNN now counts 1,033 delegates for Clinton against 937 for Obama. The next week shapes up highly favorably for Obama. Over the weekend, there are caucuses in Washington, Maine, and Nebraska and a primary in Louisiana. Obama's support is strongest thus far in the Plains states, the South, and the West, so all but tiny Maine look good for him. Next Tuesday's primaries in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. bode well for him too, since Beltway Democrats tend to be affluent and activist, the cohorts that lean strongly towards Obama. The race continues without a clear resolution!