A Mandate for Obama?

October 17, 2008

CNN reports that the only states that are still uncommitted (according to the polls) are six states that were for Bush in 2004.  They are now a toss up but if they all go to McCain he will still lose.  Nonetheless they are essential to a successful campaign and so McCain and Palin are forced to devote increasing precious time campaigning in these states, states which are historically linked to Republican candidates.

Again, as was the case with Hillary Clinton, Obama’s campaign seems better organized in the late stages of the campaign.  Clinton ran out of money and McCain is running out of time.  Assuming that he had several states in his pocket, McCain finds himself having to make last minute appearances in states where there has been heavy traffic by the other ticket.

McCain finds himself scrambling for the support of states which are necessary but not sufficient for success in November.  Meanwhile Obama is pressing the fight in these states, apparently fighting for a landslide victory.

CNN’s David Gergen says that the Obama’s purpose is to have a decisive victory so that he can claim a mandate which in turn will presumably enhance his ability to govern.

We haven’t heard about mandates in a while.  I don’t recall Bill Clinton talking about it but he certainly never acted like he had one. George W. Bush acted like he had a mandate (more than any president I can think of) but he certainly never had one.  Each election boiled down to disputed election results in one state.

Reagan claimed a mandate to get stuff through a largely Democratic Congress.  How would a mandate serve Obama?  Particularly with what is expected to be a larger majority of Democrats in Congress.

In Washington State we have a super-majority of Democrats in the legislature and have experienced a withering of  the party’s agenda.  Few voting Democrats express anything but disappointment with the Democrat-controlled Congress after 2006.

It would be very exciting if Obama were looking to claim a mandate of leadership within his party.  The party desperately needs direction.  It has been a long time since the party stood for something that you could identify and point to legislation for examples.  That may be a little broad, but I’ll bet it is true of at least 80% of people who are registered Democrats.

For twenty years or so the Republicans and the Democrats have been “pigs at the same trough” to quote William Greider.  Obama has proved himself as a campaigner; wouldn’t it be great to find that he is as good a leader?


October 16, 2008

The debates and campaigns for the presidency certainly give us an opportunity to learn about the candidates and their parties. Many. many people become political junkies during this period. Each election brings new insight and hopefully understanding. What is just as interesting to me is what we learn about ourselves.

I was frankly astonished at the results of the last presidential election. A significant number of the people who now hold Bush in low regard voted for him four years ago. Yet to my knowledge nothing happened in the second term that was not at least very clearly telegraphed in the first term. Concern about the economy was clearly expressed four years ago. Nobel Prize winning Paul Krugman (among others) has been prominently and clearly talking about the failures of Bush’s economic policies for years.

Actually as early as the late stages of the Clinton administration people were beginning to express concern about credit default swaps and the health of the financial industry. Four years ago we knew pretty much as much about our foreign policy and its flaws as we know now.

So I have to confess, not only was I surprised at the 2004 election results, but I have been surprised by the strength of the present aversion to Bush and his policies. It seems like Bush is being scapegoated a bit. No one can say that Bush did anything unexpected in his second term. His second term, like his first term, is defined by ideological inflexibility. We voted ourselves into this situation. I just don’t buy blaming Bush for our problems when we chose him with our eyes open.

In the current election, Gallup just came out with interesting polls that show demographic results. The economy seems to be driving voters to Obama. As I see it the well publicized miscalculations of the McCain campaign are not the reason for his decline in popularity. Rather they have merely impeded his ability to overcome the devastating effect of the economy on his campaign.

One thing the Republicans have been absolutely lock-step about is the deregulation of the financial industry and the deregulation of corporate activity in general. It is hard to imagine any proud advocate of this policy (such as McCain) being embraced by the population at the time of the catastrophic exposure of the consequences of this policy.

The Gallup survey shows that Obama for the first time now has a lead among male voters and for the first time among elderly voters. In September he gained a lead among college graduates and has always had a substantial lead among people who extended their education beyond college. This is all consistent with the broader polls.

One of the features of this campaign that is interesting of course is the fact that an African American is running for the first time. In that light it is interesting that McCain still has an edge among white voters. It is a steadily declining edge and no longer a clearly significant preference, but white voters as a group are showing more reluctance to vote for Obama than other demographic groups. This, I guess, is not surprising but it is a little startling to see.

I would not attribute this to racism, as that term is commonly used, but perhaps to unexplored precognitive associations. A good exercise I think for undecided whites or whites not strongly disinclined to vote for Obama is to imagine that things were reversed.

Imagine that McCain, instead of being at the bottom of his class had been at the top and had been Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Now imagine that Obama barely graduated from college. Imagine that 15 years ago was deeply involved in a savings and loan scandal that cost tax payers hundreds of billions of dollars. Imagine that he was an ardent champion of deregulating the financial industry, and that all of the unpleasant aspects of Senator McCain’s personal life were a part of Obama’s life instead. Imagine that he had an unwed pregnant teenage daughter and had been found to have committed serious ethics violations while in the legislature.

If you can do this kind of switch and say that it really would not matter to you, or that your attitude about these things would the same for both candidates then I think you can say that you are not laboring with the precognitive associations of the sort I’m talking about.

I by no means am suggesting that a white’s disagreement with Obama is racially influenced. It is just that the polls suggest that in about one out of ten cases that could be an unexamined influence.

Another interesting poll result is that Obama lags among the group of people that attend church at least once a week. This is the group in which McCain is strongest. His is up 16 points there. I do not have the polls that predate the Republican convention but by all accounts Palin has firmed up McCain’s standing in this group. My guess here is that people who attend church the most tend to be more zealous and that among the zealous, McCain’s opposition to Roe v. Wade wins him the support of most people in the group. I’m presuming that this group is mostly a single issue group. If I’m wrong then the poll results would become even more interesting.

Why is McCain so Bitter?

October 8, 2008

When I read that McCain had on Monday launched bitter personal attack on Obama, I attributed it to desperate campaign tactics. McCain’s odd reference to Obama as “that one” then declining to shake hands with him suggests instead that he really harbors a personal grudge against his rival. That is an odd thing to see.

Here is a video of the non-handshake:

McCain’s “Mission Accomplished” In Iraq and the Economy is Fine

September 15, 2008

Just as McCain’s comments about the “victory” in Iraq seem to confilict with Petraeus’ assessment, McCain’s earlier endorsement of the health of the economy seem to ring hollow these days.  This seems to have given the offensive to the Democrats.

The Front Fell Off

March 12, 2008

The Clintons have been masterful at playing the race card. Bill famously criticized Sister Souljah in1992 to garner votes from fearful whites without sacrificing his support by African Americans. Bill may have lost his touch a little though, as evidenced by his alienation of many, if not most, African Americans by belittling Obama’s win in South Carolina. Hillary is now taking a play at it through Geraldine Ferraro, who sounds a lot like Clarence Thomas on affirmative action. Obviously Hillary has abandoned all hope of garnering any of the black vote and is hoping to gain back the vote that was lost in Bill’s Sister Soulja comments so long ago.

Because of the inflammatory nature of topics and discussions among members of the Clinton Camp, they have taken to speaking in metaphores and using code words. A “tanker” is a campaign strategy that is floated out there. Clinton has many “tankers” out there. Geraldine’s tanker is a scandalous one and is not working as smoothly as the Sister Souljah ploy. In Clinton coded parlance “the front fell off.” Here is a secretly filmed discussion between members of Clinton’s inner circle.from www.hutton-web-desig posted with vodpod

What happened with the NAFTA business.

March 10, 2008
My mention of Clinton’s remarks about Obama and NAFTA has drawn some disdain.  The criticism of me for mentioning it made me think that it might be a good idea for me to state the facts as I know them and invite corrections.

On March 3, the day before the critical primaries, Clinton accused Obama of hypocracy, criticizing NAFTA in speeches while having no intention of following through with his comments. This made headlines the day of the primaries and was carried the evening before. The remark by Clinton was made to Ohio voters who are highly concerned about NAFTA. She worked it into several of her themes. “I don’t just criticize [NAFTA]. I don’t have my campaign go tell a foreign government behind closed doors: ‘That’s just politics. Don’t pay attention to it'” Her campaign even ran radio ads in Ohio on the subject the evening before the vote.

Clinton won in Ohio by a more convincing margin than say Texas, effectively curbing the movement toward Obama over the last two months in that state. This is also an old “dirty trick,” to say something questionable on the eve of a primary before the target can respond meaningfully and before research can be done.

The Globe and Mail investigated this report and reported after the primaries on March 5 that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most senior political staffer had told reporters that Clinton’s staff had been in touch and advised that the campaign rhetoric about NAFTA meant nothing. It also reported that when this was reported in Canada Clinton was mentioned as a source and attention was drawn to a memo about an Obama advisor who had had a conversation with the a diplomat in Chicago.

Thus, Clinton was not only first mentioned in this respect, but the Canadian report included her as well. Nonetheless she timed her disclosure for election eve and accused Obama of hypocracy while acting rather sanctimonious about never ever doing any such thing herself.

In my mind when a newspaper, such as The Globe and Mail, disputes something a candidate says, particularly an accusation made on election eve without meaningful opportunity to investigate or rebut, people should talk about it. This sort of thing should be discouraged; it’s a cheap trick, whether its done by Clinton, Obama or anyone else.

Subsequently of course the Prime Minister has denied whispered reassurances from the Clinton camp and the Canadian diplomat has withdrawn the remark in his memo saying it was not accurate. I could have waited a week to see what the status was going to be. The Globe and Mail article was accurate. The only thing that happened after the article was that the Canadian government withdrew all comments about the assurances it was getting from both candidates, or their advisers.

As an aside, I think there are only two worthy topics out of this: Clinton’s campaign strategy; and Obama’s ineffectual handling of it.

Clinton Endorses McCain’s Experience over Obama’s

March 7, 2008

I would like someone to explain the the limits in campaigning for candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Surely the selection process is not intended to be the aggressive affair that national elections have become. Theoretically I suppose the limit is the point at which the campaigning starts to hurt the party, the point at which the party’s prospects for success in the election are diminished. I suppose that point is reached when the campaign either starts alienating voters from the eventual nominee or when or when the campaign takes on a tenor that pushes independents toward the other party.

The Washington Post and several other services have determined that Hillary Clinton is too far behind to win a majority of delegates from the primaries and caucuses. With her “big win” on Tuesday she gained no ground and because there are fewer delegates to win now, she actually lost ground. Conventional wisdom is that she will inevitably end up with fewer delegates than Obama, with a lower approval level than Obama. Her hopes for nomination rest with her ability to convince the super delegates to confer the nomination on her, rather than on Obama, the more popular choice.

This has prompted a very aggressive campaign by her, one fueled by false statements (it turns out that it was Clinton, not Obama who told the Canadian government that the campaign rhetoric about NAFTA meant nothing), innuendo (Clinton hedged when asked if Obama was Christian), fear mongering (the infamous telephone call at 3 a.m.). This is certainly divisive stuff but — at least in my mind — it is not clearly fraying the fabric of the party, although it’s moving in that direction.

It also creates a legitimate test for Obama. Will he wilt under unfair treatment? Will he stick his head in the sand like Kerry with swift boating? Or will he step forward like a leader and advocate for the truth?

Clinton has though adopted a tactic that at least on its face appears to unequivocally advance her personal interests over those of her party. Clinton claims that Obama is not in the same league as she and McCain! She says that she and McCain are qualified to serve as commander-in-chief and Obama is not. When she talked about the candidates getting together on the same ticket she apparently was referring to McCain and herself, not she and Obama.

Part of her campaign is that she is the more electable candidate, when the polls show that Obama compares better with McCain than she does. Is she trying to render him unelectable so that she will be the default candidate. To the degree that this approach has credence with people, it certainly promotes McCain’s candidacy. McCain apparently need not campaign at all while Clinton is contending with Obama for the Democratic nomination. This is surely beyond the line of legitimacy in campaigning for a party’s nomination.

This situation is reminiscent of the 1972 primary groundswell for McGovern. The party establishment fought him every step of the way. They tried to change the delegate rules, that time for California, not Florida and Michigan. He was so much castigated by the party elite that a Democrats for Nixon branch evolved. With a tattered party behind him McGovern, a truly great man, lost in a landslide to Nixon whose dirty tricks were exposed after his election (most notably the Watergate breakin), leading to Nixon’s resignation.

It was ten years after this that the Democratic primary system was revamped to include the huge number of super-delegates we now talk about. The main reason for this, as I understand it, was to avoid destructive primaries, such as the party experienced in 1972 and 1980. Ironically, it seems to be Clinton’s hope of winning the super-delegates that has inspired the mudslinging that the appointment of super-delegates was supposed to avoid.

Bush, Obama, Clinton and McCain on the Invasion of Ecuador

March 6, 2008

While people are running for the presidency it is interesting to see how they react to news items. I find this information often more telling than speeches. Last weekend for example we learned that Colombia had invaded Ecuador. It conducted a bombing mission and sent in ground troops to kill rebels who were apparently using Ecuador as a staging area. This was not the first such incursion by Colombia but it certainly is now the most notorious.

The administration reacted in its now formulaic manner by saying nothing while newspapers ran stories than fit nicely into the position it would later announce. Out of the blue we were told that FARC, the rebel group, was preparing to detonate dirty bombs. Another nuclear threat uncovered with a suddenness matched only by an utter lack of foundation. Other articles described nefarious doings of FARC, but there was surprisingly little coverage of the legality of one country bombing another country. (I guess the publishers assumed that we ought to have that down by now.)

Little attention was paid to Ecuador’s breaking off of diplomatic relations with Colombia. A great deal of attention was placed on Venezuela massing troops at its border with Colombia. Usually there is in the articles discussing Venezuela’s massing of troops mention that Ecuador is doing the same. Nothing however seemed to be written about treaties among the nations or any sort of context. Then our president makes a brief statement that did not even seem to be picked up by many services in this country. The U.K. news service at news.scottsman.com reports today:

“Mr Bush weighed into the crisis for the first time since Colombian forces provoked outrage [not here or with this administration] by entering Ecuador and killing a leading leftist rebel. He accused Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, of provocative manoeuvres and warned that he opposed any act of aggression in the region [except apparently the one that had just happened].”

Astonishingly there is no mention of the invasion and Venezuela is blamed for provocative behavior. (There is nothing in this response to contradict the assertion that the United States was complicit in the invasion.) This is a good example of managing the news. We have seen plenty of this over the years, but how did the candidates react to this?

Like the administration, Mr. Obama expressed no outrage whatsoever about the invasion. He said that a response by the invaded nation would not be acceptable to us and urged the three countries to come together, give peace a chance or something to that effect. He said:

“The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region. The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors.”

While overlooking an act of war by Columbia, this response lacks the threats and saber rattling of the administration and certainly opens the door to meaningful discussion.

Hillary Clinton received more money from defense contractors than any other presidential aspirant, Republican or Democrat. Her response did not disappoint these contributors. Her response is in her words almost a xerox of Bush’s response:

“Hugo Chavez’s order yesterday to send ten battalions to the Colombian border is unwarranted and dangerous. The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. By praising and supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Chavez is openly siding with terrorists that threaten Colombian democracy and the peace and security of the region. Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue. Hugo Chavez must call a halt to this provocative action. As president, I will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to support democracy, promote an end to conflict, and to press Chavez to change course.”

She make Hugo Chavez the issue not the invasion of Ecuador. She makes Chavez into a terrorist, makes Columbia a model democracy and strongly suggests that Venezuela is not a democracy. Exactly where she wants Venezuela to chart its course is not clear but the strong inference is that it should be compliant with U.S. wishes. There is no mention (by Senator Clinton or in domestic reporting that I could find) of Ecuador’s contention that it was in the last stages of negotiating the freedom of the hostages that Senator Clinton and the administration used to justify the invasion. This is exactly the same news management and spin that the administration did.

From the response to this news item, it is impossible to separate the stance of the administration from that of Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama on the other hand is not bombastic and in fact did leave the door open to diplomacy.

It’s hard to discern what Mr. McCain said about the invasion. CBS News pieced together statements from a town meeting in Waco. It is safe to say that there is no clear position, and that Mr. McCain sounds almost like he is having difficulty assimilating the information. Despite his reputation as a hawk, the overall tone of his statements is less militant than Mr. Obama.

If I had to categorize these responses, I’d put Bush and Clinton on one side and McCain and Obama on the other.