January 2008 Archives

Somewhere on the hard drive of a writer for the New York Times or The Nation or the like sits a draft of a hand-wringing article about the enduring racism that continues to dominate southern life. You could see it coming. The pundits on both the right and left were obsessed with the vast racial divide that the Billarys had supposedly opened within Democratic ranks, and a poll showed Obama with only 10 percent white support in South Carolina. Then, lo and behold, Obama actually captures 25 percent of the white vote in South Carolina, and yet another chance to hang America’s race problem around the South’s neck goes by the boards. (True to form, NPR did point out that Obama won “only” a quarter of the white vote in S.C.)
One of the more surprising exit poll stats to come out of the South Carolina vote was that Hillary got 29 percent of the white male vote while Obama got 27 percent. The big difference among white voters lay with women, who seem to have swung more strongly toward Sen. Clinton in the wake of a rather pointed question about her likeability posed during a post-Iowa debate and her almost-tearful episode in New Hampshire. In Florida, it appears that Ms. Clinton continued to ride that gender express, collecting 55 percent of the female vote compared to Obama’s 29 percent. (Obama appears to have done about as well among whites in Florida as he did in South Carolina.) Meanwhile, the New York chapter of NOW is condemning Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Monday endorsement of Barrack Obama (see below) as “the ultimate betrayal.” It’s worth noting, I’d say, that the media relishes talking about the racial divide but thus far won’t touch the gender divide with the proverbial ten-foot pole.
After enduring almost universal flagellation themselves for ol’ Bill’s somewhat racially suggestive flagellation of Obama in South Carolina, the Clintonistas appear to have reined him in at least temporarily. It would appear; however, that Bill’s antics may have contributed to the Kennedy clan’s decision to anoint Obama. This endorsement doubtless ticked the Billarys off big time, but how much it will really mean vote-wise is hard to gauge. I’m guessing a great many of the people who might be swayed positively by the recommendation of a bellowing, blimpoid Ted Kennedy were already leaning Obama-ward anyway.
If the polling data at this nifty site is to be taken seriously, the media impression that Clinton and Obama are running neck and neck for the nomination is something akin to wishful thinking. Hillary apparently holds substantial leads in all the big-ticket Super Tuesday states except her opponent's home state of Illinois, and unless Obama uncovers shots of Hillary doing something disgusting with Osama, she might well put some significant delegate distance between them next Tuesday. (The fallout from John Edwards’s withdrawal is difficult to gauge. He seems more likely to endorse Obama than Clinton, but it’s hard to know how throw-able a candidate’s support is these days. At most, Edwards’s departure is likely to matter only in states where the race is very close.) The prospect that Hillary is not necessarily “inevitable” again but may be “likely” raises the “What about Bill?” question, both for the general election campaign and a possible second Clintonista regime. Even in the primaries, Bill has had a hard time remembering that he’s not the candidate; so I doubt that will change just because Hillary wins the nomination.
Back in 1992, revelations of Bill’s sexual shenanigans were dubbed “spontaneous bimbo eruptions.” Sixteen years later, the bimbos are more likely botoxers than bobby-soxers, but it would be a reckless person indeed who’d bet that, for all his recent health problems, Bill’s immunity to monogamy isn’t still intact. If he has left his own special DNA-ridden version of the presidential seal anywhere it shouldn’t be, we are likely to hear of it early and often if he’s out campaigning to be first-hubby this fall. Moreover, should the Clintons return to the White House, he’ll be able to prowl his old haunts with nothing but time on his hands and lust in his heart.
The Republicans best chance to beat back the Billary assault appears to be John McCain, and more of them appear to be acknowledging as much. McCain nipped Romney in Florida in a race in which he could not count on the support of independents, but Romney still ran stronger among self-described conservatives. Here’s a stat for you. In Florida, Romney outpolled McCain 35 percent to 27 percent among those who described themselves as “enthusiastic” about the Bush presidency. Clearly, McCain has some work to do among the certifiably insane. It’s hard to say where or how far Romney goes from here. He made quite a surge in Florida, where he outspent McCain for advertising at about ten to one. The Florida win should give McCain a funding boost, but having already plunked down a reported $17 million of his own stash, how could Romney decide where to draw the line? If the Republican holdouts are indeed coming around, however grudgingly, on McCain, Romney is clearly toast. What he has accomplished with his own personally financed version of an economic stimulus policy is hard to gauge, although at this point, he does seem to be an exception to Kinky Friedman’s fundamental political maxim: “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

Is American Politics Ready for Democracy?

It’s hard to believe, but the presidential primaries are starting to look a little bit like democracy. Ol’ Moneybags Mitt finally managed to win a state, even if it involved riding his dead father’s coattails. Unable to face the reality of a bloated, inept, demoralized auto industry that has been toast for some time and refuses to acknowledge it, Romney came in and swore that if he becomes president, the other forty-nine states be damned, he will do absolutely nothing but work on reviving Michigan’s economy even if it means giving every newborn in this country a federally subsidized Ford Explorer. Headstrong fool that he is, John McCain had told Michiganders the truth—many of those lost jobs in the auto industry ain’t coming back—but the sovereign voters were having none of it, of course. Now it’s on to South Carolina, where the Bible-thumping snake handlers are likely to make Huckabee the front-runner again, for a few days at least. Rudy Giuliani’s “If you want to see me, come to Coral Gables” strategy is not looking quite so foolish now as the Florida primary approaches rapidly with no real evidence of GOP coalescence behind a single candidate. On the other hand, if Rudy G. doesn’t kick major booty in Florida, which is, let’s face it, essentially New York with the thermostat on high, then he might just as well shake the 911 dust from his lapels and get on with the rest of his life.

On the Democratic side, conservative pundits and demagogues have been struggling to maintain bladder control as they giddily prophesy Democratic disintegration over the issue of whether blacks or women have the strongest claim to victimization. Speaking of coattails, Hillary has been riding Bill’s with black voters, but methinks ol’ Bubba may be overestimating his cachet on that side of the color line. His dismissive, almost contemptuous remarks about Obama hit a nerve even with some of the old-line black leaders who have endorsed his wife. Ditto her suggestion—not well phrased, but certainly not incorrect-- that some of the credit for Rev. Martin Luther King’s accomplishments should go to LBJ. Arrogant little turd that he is, Tucker Carlson made an excellent point yesterday while interviewing Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton, who has my vote for self-aggrandizing phony of the eon, could only splutter when Tucker observed that there appeared to be a passing of the torch among black leaders, as the old establishment types who essentially jumped aboard what they thought was the Hillary steamroller were learning to their frustration and dismay that younger African Americans preferred to make their own choice and most have chosen Barack Obama. There was a similar generational shift during the civil rights movement when the younger activists, many of whom—John Lewis, for example-- are represented in today’s old guard pro-Hillary contingent, seized the mantle of leadership from the NAACP with its more legalistic, less confrontational approach to securing black rights.

In the face of challenges to the establishment in both parties, the establishment mouthpieces are predictably prophesying disaster. Rush “Anybody seen my pills?” Limbaugh has already warned that a Huckaby or McCain nomination will utterly “destroy the Republican party.” Unless the pollsters are still smoking from the same stash they had in New Hampshire, Obama will win on the Demo side in South Carolina. If he does, look for the Clintonistas to invoke the 1972 McGovern debacle as a warning about what can happen when a political party starts taking democracy a little too seriously.

A Bounceback for "Hill and Bill."

Monday night, as I was preparing to watch Ohio State get its predictable beat-down in the BCS championship, the talking heads were absolutely convinced that Hillary was about to suffer the same fate in New Hampshire and were even speculating about how much longer her campaign would continue. Dutiful Midwesterners that they are, the Buckeyes followed the script, but, for some reason, Ms. Clinton refused to go along. Some polls put Barack Obama as much as 10 points ahead in New Hampshire, but Wednesday morning headlines hailed “Hill and Bill” as “the Comeback Kids.”
The favorite tactic of those who had already written Hillary off was to blame the pollsters. It’s certainly true that hastily conducted surveys in primary elections where voters are just becoming engaged with candidates are not always reliable, but this is a fact of which the punditry should be well aware, and they were nonetheless willing to use such polling data to prophesy Ms. C’s imminent demise.
As to actual events and doings in New Hampshire that might have affected the outcome, there was, of course, Hillary’s use of the gender card to suggest that, for all of Obama’s talk about change, as the first really serious presidential candidate of the female persuasion, she was, in fact, the flesh and blood embodiment of change. Then there was the much-replayed video of Hillary showing her emotions and even flirting with tears. More than one observer has expressed skepticism about the sincerity of this display, which came after weeks of being characterized as cold and unfeeling and immediately on the heels of being asked point-blank about how it felt to be less “likable” than her major opponent, Senator Obama. (I’m not exactly a big fan, but I’m not prepared to say that she was flatly faking it on this occasion. On the other hand, it seems to me that the byword for her whole campaign has been “The key to spontaneity is preparation.”) It would be ironic indeed if, having spent much of both her Senate career and her presidential campaign to date trying to show men she’s as macho as the next guy, Ms. Clinton manages to salvage her prospects by showing women her softer feminine side.
The always irritating Chris Matthews of MSNBC is confident that Obama’s polling numbers were inflated by a fairly common “fudge factor” that results from whites telling pollsters they support a black candidate but voting otherwise once the curtains are pulled in the booth. This failure to follow through would’ve been less likely to operate in the Iowa caucuses where everyone’s preferences were visible to everyone else. Matthews may be right, although we won’t know until we can compare Obama’s primary totals to his polling numbers in several more primary states. It would be interesting to see how he would fare among blue collar white voters in next week’s Michigan primary, but he took his name off the ballot there after the national Democratic Party organization pulled Michigan’s delegates because the state is holding its primary earlier than it was supposed to. (The penalties for “premature evaluation” are fairly stiff, it seems. [OUCH!] The GOP has taken away half of Michigan’s delegates for the same reason.) Obama’s crew is urging Michiganders to vote “uncommitted,” but a helluva lot of them will have to do that to keep Hillary from claiming she won a great victory next Tuesday.
The issue of race has certainly been muted, to say the least, within the Obama campaign itself, and many established black leaders, including Georgia congressman John Lewis, have endorsed Ms. Clinton, due in part, no doubt, to the perception of Obama’s un-electability, not to mention the popularity with African Americans of her husband, the old hipster from Hope himself. The Iowa outcome, however, made Sen. Obama look a little less like the candidate of the impossible dreamers, and the sense that whites started ganging up on him once he emerged as a serious contender might well trigger a significant “blacklash” with implications for Ms. Clinton in states like South Carolina, where Obama currently leads in the polls and in Georgia, where the two appear to be locked in a virtual dead heat.
Here we are with the polls again. We can’t live without ‘em, in football or politics, it seems, but in either case, there’s recent evidence to suggest we better not bet the farm on them either.

Politics:Primacy, Pork and Punditry

This piece graced the pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 4, 2008, but additional post-caucus bloviations are appended

Back when we were living amongst them, I thought that Iowans held their caucuses early just so they could bask in all the national media exposure that would never come their way otherwise. However, this year’s scramble by so many states to get their primaries pushed up as close to New Year’s day as possible suggests that there is a lot more at stake here than emotional gratification. A Boston Globe report shows that in the recent congressional appropriations bill vetoed by President Bush as too wasteful, Iowa, the nation’s thirtieth most populous state, was slated to receive the seventh-highest earmarked windfall, roughly $37 million. Beyond that, an additional $50 million in federal matching funds has been allocated for “Earthpark,” an indoor rain forest, dubbed “Earthpork” by critics, that would be located on the shores of beautiful Red Rock Lake near Pella, a town of 10,000, situated on Highway 163 along the famous Prairie City-Oskaloosa tourist corridor.
The really big-time “we-pick-first” payoff to Iowa, however, comes in the form of the roughly $2 billion in ethanol subsidies and trade protection benefits (about one-third of the national total) accruing to the state each year. We taxpayers are currently underwriting ethanol production at an estimated rate of 51 cents per gallon, and there is significant research suggesting that producing a gallon of ethanol requires substantially more fossil fuel energy than that gallon of ethanol actually contains. Never ones to be swayed by scientific data if polling data says otherwise, however, save for John McCain, our presidential hopefuls suddenly just can’t get enough of that ethanol-laced Kool-Aid, the latest imbiber being Fred Thompson, who voted against the subsidies back during his Senate gig but now realizes their vital importance to “national security.”
Other states are now rushing to line up behind Iowa in hopes of cashing in on a few early-bird specials. Michigan bumped its primary all the way up to January 15, in part, at least, to force the presidential candidates to talk about the needs and problems of the auto industry. New Mexico and Utah agreed jointly on a February 5 primary date because, the West, with its particular concerns on issues such as water, land use, and nuclear waste has heretofore been what Utah Governor Jon Huntsman describes as largely “irrelevant in presidential politics.”
After much last-minute jostling and maneuvering, six states will have already expressed their presidential preferences by the end of January, and twenty-two more will have their say on February 5. Although the selection process looks much different this year, the primary schedule was still being reshuffled in November, and for the most part, the candidates have followed the familiar old strategy of plopping a lot of their eggs in the Iowa and New Hampshire baskets. In South Carolina, for example, it seems candidates and voters are just beginning to get acquainted, although the primary is less than three weeks away. The states that moved their primaries into January will doubtless get more individual attention from the candidates than they would have otherwise, but in terms of face time with candidates promising good times and gravy to come, the February 5 “Gang of 22” is probably headed for a disappointment.
Conveying interest in local concerns is an instinctive skill for all successful politicians, but from where I sit, lavishing inordinate attention on the early bird primary states is akin assuming that the concerns of those who have pushed their way up to the rope line at a campaign rally are more valid than those of the masses behind them. In turn, allowing the broader candidate selection process to be influenced so heavily by the choices of voters in a handful of states, some of them arguably atypical, surely amounts to picking the persons who will contend to be president of all the people based on their effectiveness in pandering to the preferences and whims of a mighty small and not necessarily representative sample of those people.

. Apropos of the the point I was trying to make in the final paragraph, it was fun to see good old Angela Mitchell, whose latest facelift is so tight that she can't wiggle her toes with her eyes shut, proclaiming that 'the torch has been passed" to Barack Obama, based on the fact that he managed to stuff roughly 20,000 more Iowa Democrats into elementary school classrooms than Hillary Clinton did. Much has been made of Obama's success in a state where the mere glimpse of a black person still carries the presumption that said person must have missed the exit for Chicago, and I'm certainly not discounting his accomplishment. Still, in early primary elections where the presidency really isn't on the line yet, voters are traditionally suckers for the proponents of change, even those short on specifics. (Fully aware of the irony, I point to George Wallace's success in northern primaries in 1968.) It'll be interesting to see whether the folks at Fortress Hillary decide to take the gloves all the way off their girl in an attempt force Obama to mix a little more substance in with all that style. If they do, it will likewise be interesting to see whether voters take all that kindly to seeing their golden boy roughed up. I'm also eager to see whether black voters who have leaned toward Clinton primarily because they doubted that Obama could actually win might now reassess their postion based on the Iowa results. Regardless of how much one can make of those results, one thing's for sure: Hillary campaigned her frozen butt and persona off in Iowa, and there ain't no way to spin what happened there as a good sign for her. My gut, along with her consistently high negatives in polling data, has always told me that there are a lot of people outside New York (and at the very least, Iowa reminds outfits like the New York Times that there actually are such people) who simply dislike her too much as a person to support her as a presidential candidate. Don't kid yourself, she's a long way from dead, but when a lot of people are looking for excuses not to support you, gaffes and stumbles hurt you a lot worse than they might otherwise. On the Republican side, Rev. Mike Huckabee, the GOP's "breath of fresh air" equivalent to Obama, frustrated Mitt "Moneybags" Romney with his surprisingly strong showing. At this point, however, I still can't escape the feeling that Huckabee, who drew the majority of his support from evangelicals, is also something of a "protest" candidate, whose success reflects, at least in part, Republican voters' dissatisfaction with their other choices. Fervor is a good thing in politics, but cash is a lot better, and unless some of the Republicans' big guns put aside their fears about Pastor Mike's previous lapses into populism and open their hearts and checkbooks to him, it's going to be hard for him to get his message across in the twenty seven states that will hold primaries over the next month, especially since his "major player" status now gurarantees that he will have to devote a lot more effort to defending himself than he did when not many people took him seriously. Stay tuned, folks, it ain't football, but it's all we got.

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