Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama Files F.E.C. Complaint Against Pro-Clinton "Swiftboat" Group

The Obama campaign has filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against the American Leadership Project, a “527" group that Obama campaign chief counsel Bob Bauer described this morning as a “Swiftboat wannabe” and suggested was affiliated with the Clinton campaign. The American Leadership Project, which reportedly is led by the son of one of Hillary Clinton’s Indiana state co-chairs, has been running what the Obama campaign described in a press release as “a misleading attack ad against Obama” on Indiana television.

In a press conference call this morning, Bauer explained the difference between what he called “normal political committees,” which are subject to limits on the amount and sources of campaign contributions and most regularly file reports with the Federal Elections Commission, and so-called “527s,” groups organized under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code and which are not subject to most election laws. According to Bauer, the FEC announced new rules in 2006 designed to reduce the impact of groups like the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, which fatally damaged John Kerry’s presidential hopes with widespread negative advertising impugning his military service. The new rules require any groups that are set up expressly to support or oppose a particular candidate, like the American Leadership Project, to follow the limits and reporting requirements of “normal political committees,” Bauer said, calling the American Leadership Project’s actions “flatly illegal” under federal law.

Bauer went on to explain that one of the campaign’s main purposes in filing the FEC complaint was to send a message that 527 groups were not free to ignore the law as the campaigns head into the general election. He also took a swipe at the Federal Elections Commission, which has not been as proactive as many would like, suggesting that the complaint against the ALP would be a test of whether the FEC intends to enforce its rules. Asked by a reporter whether the FEC has the resources to investigate the complaint, Bauer said it did – and that it had the ability to impose “very, very stiff penalties for knowing and wilful violations” of federal law, citing “fines of millions of dollars” imposed by the FEC against other 527 groups in 2006. Bauer also pointed out that the FEC also has authority to refer complaints to the Department of Justice for investigation.

The question of whether the FEC will pursue its investigation aggressively is an important one, given how little time is left before the last primary elections. Bauer believes the ALP is deliberately flaunting the law, saying, “this organization has made the decision that it will run this risk and try to run out the clock ... to give it the advantage of spending without having to shut down before the last penny is spent.” However, he suggested that even beginning an aggressive investigation would help mitigate that, suggesting that “[t]he FEC has a choice to make here ... of doing what they said they would do... immediately contacting the donors and the principals and bringing them in,” which he said would itself be a significant deterrent.

Indiana State Representative Matt Pierce, an Obama supporter, also participated in the conference call. He talked about seeing a negative ad by the ALP on local television yesterday, and said that such ads were "poisoning" the election process. Describing the high levels of public participation and excitement among Democrats this year, he added, "I think we lose that if we let these 527s run amok."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Big Win in Pennsylvania -- But Not Nearly Big Enough to Change the Math

Update, May 6: Obama wins North Carolina, squeezing Clinton mathematically even more than this post predicts. Big voter turnouts in both NC and Indiana, which bodes well for Obama (and the party's chances in November).

Americans, schizophrenically, love two things: winners, and quixotic heroes who do great things in a losing cause. Last night in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton was both: the winner of what in an ordinary election year would be a tremendous victory, and the protagonist of an unequivocally lost cause.

Clinton won Pennsylvania. But in the national Democratic primary election overall -- and by that I mean the go-to-a-polling-place-and-cast-a-ballot part of the nominee-selection process -- Pennsylvania put the last nail in Clinton's hopes of winning anything resembling the popular vote or popular delegate count nationwide.

Before I go further, please understand: this post isn’t about hating Hillary, but about math. It’s no secret that I support Obama, -- but I honestly can’t help but admire any candidate who can win Pennsylvania by ten points (which, as of the time I'm writing this with 99% of precincts reporting, appears to be Clinton's margin of victory). It’s a great victory in anyone’s book.

And yet mathematically, Pennsylvania didn’t move her forward; it actually put her further behind. That’s what makes her win there tragic.

In a post the day before the Pennsylvania primary, I explained in detail what margins Clinton needed in order to win the majority of elected delegates before the last primary election occurs on June 3. This election is like a footrace, I explained; with a relatively small handful of primaries left, and a finite number of delegates remaining to be won, she needs to gain ground with every primary if she wants to make up the ground she lost in the first 40-plus contests.

Before Pennsylvania voted, Clinton trailed Obama in the elected-delegate count by 162. With only 566 delegates left to be won in the remaining contests, some fairly simple math showed that to catch Obama, she needed to win everything from Pennsylvania forward by 28 points – i.e., to win 64% of the elected delegates to Obama’s 36% in all the remaining contests (with the exception of North Carolina, where she currently trails by 17 points; all my math asked her to do there was tie). Again, this isn’t pessimism or misogyny, it’s just a calculation. Here’s the algorithm: (Remaining delegates) - (Obama’s lead in delegates) ÷ 2 + (Obama’s lead in delegates). You can do the math yourself.

If she didn’t win Pennsylvania (or any other primary) by 28 points, she’d only fall farther behind. If she won Pennsylvania by ten points, Clinton would actually have lost ground. In my post before the vote in Pennsylvania, I explained it this way:

Think of it like a hundred yard dash. Catching up to Obama after a ten point “victory” in Pennsylvania would be like standing on the starting line and expecting to win the race – with your opponent having a 36 yard head start. And every step you take that doesn’t gain you ground puts you closer to defeat: every time Clinton falls short of the requisite 64% or 68% or even higher margin, the margin she needs in the remaining states goes up even more. Or, as Richard Durbin put it, Clinton is “running out of real estate.”

Hillary didn’t win 64% of the vote in Pennsylvania. She only won about 55% to Obama’s 45% – the ten-point spread I predicted, about two-thirds short of the 28 point spread she needed. Accordingly, she’ll only net about 16 delegates (87 for her, 71 for Obama) – not enough to stay on pace to win. After her win in Pennsylvania, Clinton now has to win 68% of the vote in all the remaining primaries -- up four points from the 64% she needed just two days ago.

In the real world, this is an insurmountable problem for Clinton. In some states, she may have had a little wiggle room; if she fell a little short in Indiana she might make it up by winning extra delegates in Puerto Rico. But Pennsylvania was Clinton’s best shot at a big win in a populous state – her “if you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere” test (apologies to Sinatra). A month ago, a PPP poll showed Clinton leading in Pennsylvania by 26 points. Pennsylvania’s primary came after the Reverend Wright and “bitter” brouhahas. Clinton has family in Pennsylvania; her father and brother went to school and played ball in Pennsylvania; she spent vacations in Pennsylvania; her grandfather taught her to shoot in Pennsylvania. And Pennsylvania has one of the last great Democratic political machines – read this frustrated post by Chuck Pennacchio, a great Democratic candidate who lost a Pennsylvania primary because that machine was aligned against him, if you want a taste of how powerful the Pennsylvania machine is – and that machine was overwhelmingly in Clinton’s camp. If she couldn’t make the requisite margin there, she won’t be able to make it in state after state after state, without any major slips, from now til the end of the campaign. (In fact, even if Michigan and Florida were miraculously counted in Clinton’s favor, she still would have needed 12 point wins from here on out – but she fell short of even that lower standard. So not even Michigan and Florida could help her win the nomination democratically.)

No: Pennsylvania was her best shot, and she fell short. Hope is a wonderful thing, but no amount of blind optimism can change the reality: Clinton’s not going to win the majority of democratically-elected “pledged” or popular delegates. More broadly: no logical person can continue to argue that Clinton can win in any popular or democratic sense of the word; it’s inevitable that she will lose the popular vote and the popular delegate count.

That doesn’t mean she can’t win the nomination. It does mean that the only way she can win the nomination is if the unelected Superdelegates overwhelmingly and unexpectedly decide to disregard the wishes of their collective constituents and hand the nomination to the candidate who lost the popular delegate count (and the popular vote, and the majority of states).

Here’s the important thing to take away from Clinton’s win/loss in Pennsylvania: because she no longer has any realistic chance of winning the “election” phase of the nominating process, the rest of us need to insist that the politicians, pundits and prognosticators stop putting so much undeserved attention on the upcoming primaries, and focus instead on the single issue that could decide this election in Clinton’s favor: the likelihood, the moral right, and the wisdom of allowing the Democratic Party’s aristocrats to override the will of millions of Democratic voters.

Personally, I don’t think it’s likely, moral, or strategically wise for the Supers to exercise a veto of the voters’ choice. I think Obama has already won this election, and inevitably will win the nomination, and that Clinton’s just the last one to realize it. But I also understand that many of her supporters disagree, and feel strongly that it’s both meet and proper for the Supers to do whatever they want. I’m willing to agree to disagree on that question, at least for now; I don’t really want to have that argument today, because it, too, is a distraction at this point.

Instead, all I’d like, from Clintonites and Obamanuts alike, is an agreement, based on simple logic, that the issue is no longer whether Clinton can win the election – she can’t, even if we count Michigan and Florida – but rather whether she can, and should, win a contrary outcome via a Superdelegate override.

Polls and predictions no longer count. Michigan and Florida, and Indiana and Puerto Rico and North Carolina and my own Oregon, no longer count, simply because their primaries can’t realistically alter the outcome of the election. The only remaining issue is the propriety and wisdom of Superdelegates overriding the voters. So let’s talk about that from now on, instead of wasting time and energy on distractions that make money for CNN and MSNBC and play into the candidates’ spin but aren’t actually relevant to the decision that’s being made.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Struggling American Distillery Breaks Its Silence on Hillary's Preference for Canadian Whisky

Bigwig multimillionaire politicians talk and talk about us regular folks – but do they ever really stop and think about the impact their actions have on the little guy?

For instance, when Hillary Clinton tried to establish street cred with the cool kids by tipping back a beer and a bump at Bronko’s Lounge in Crown Point, Indiana last week, did she realize the hardship her choice of an imported whisky made in Gimli, Manitoba might cause to the U.S. blended whiskey industry?

And when she picked Crown Royal as her “whisky” of choice, did she stop to consider how her elitist, big-city, pro-NAFTA favoritism for Canada might make the employees of small, rural, American whiskey distilleries feel?

Ever mindful of the little guy, I asked the employees of a small, rural, American whiskey distillery for their thoughts. Jeff Arnett, their Master Distiller himself, got back to me – and his story of a struggling American industry neglected by the free-trade Washington fat cats is so touching, I had to share it:

Dear Mr. Scott,

Your message from last week was sent to me, and I'm happy to respond. I'm sorry it has taken a few days to get back to you.

Down here in Lynchburg, Tennessee, we've been following the recent Whiskeygate story with interest. We're glad that Senator Clinton has a taste for whiskey. We're just puzzled as to why she's drinking a Canadian brand instead of a good American whiskey. Especially when there are nearly 200 registered voters here in Lynchburg proper, and, last time I checked, there won't be any Canadians voting in our Presidential election.


Jeff Arnett
Jack Daniel's Master Distiller

Your friends at Jack Daniel's remind you to drink responsibly.

Sure, Crown Royal is so sweet and silky-smooth that even girls can drink it. Sure, it leaves the “e” out of the word “whiskey,” which is nifty in a Continental kind of way. Sure, it comes in a pretty, cushy-soft, purple velvet bag with fancy gold trim that’s fun to keep marbles in. And I'm not one of the many, many very smart thinkers who suspect that The Society of the Crown is an offshoot of Skull & Bones. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to hate America! The next time she taps the bar and calls for a boilermaker, Senator Clinton needs to stop and think – think about the small, struggling Tennessee business she neglected, the American jobs she put in jeopardy – and those 200 American voters she turned her back on.

The New Zell Miller: Why the Democrats Need to Boot Joe Lieberman Before the Conventions

The Carpetbagger Report has a neat nutshell analysis of the precarious balance that keeps Joe Lieberman in the Democratic caucus, even though he isn't a Democrat any more: he lost the Democratic nomination last cycle to a great newcomer (Ned Lamont), split Connecticut's Democratic vote by running as an Independent, is endorsing and campaigning with John McCain, was considered as Don Rumsfeld's replacement for Bush's Secretary of Defense, had his Superdelegate credentials pulled by the Connecticut Democratic Party, and may be giving the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention. Why haven't the Democrats booted him? Because right now the balance between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate is exactly even, and if Lieberman ditched the Democratic Party then Dick Cheney would effectively become Majority Leader. Which, of course, would be a very bad thing.

All the above is a mess, but things may get even more complicated as we approach the two national Conventions and the general election. A win by either of the Democrats could have "coattails" that also helps downticket candidates for the House and Senate. Obama, in particular, is very likely to help Democrats add a couple more Senate seats, because his strategy in both the primaries and the general election is to win more, if smaller, states while Clinton is aiming at the larger, voter-rich states. (Those two approaches -- more states with fewer voters versus fewer states with more voters -- add up to be roughly equivalent in terms of total electoral college votes for President, but since small states and large states alike have the same number of Senators -- two -- the candidate who wins hearts and minds in a greater number of states, regardless of size, will give coattails to more of his party's Senate candidates, as well. Incidentally, this is another reason I don't think the Superdelegates will override the popular vote and hand the Dem nomination to Hillary, but that's another post.)

If the Dems can gain just one more seat next November, then they don't need Lieberman to retain a majority any longer; he'd lose his ability to blackmail them with the threat of a Cheney-dominated Senate, and Lieberman would lose both his remaining political pull and his committee chairmanship. Hopefully he'd retire at the end of his term, leaving the path open for Ned Lamont to take his rightful seat.

The problem is that Lieberman knows this math better than anyone -- and he's self-centered and manipulative enough to take steps to secure his power. How? By making sure that the Democrats don't win in November. And what's the most helpful thing he could offer the Republicans? It's obvious: for Al Gore's vice-presidential running mate from 2000 to announce that his beloved Democratic Party has abandoned common sense and is weak on defense and hates Israel and loves terrorists yadda yadda -- then cap his betrayal by giving the Republican National Convention's keynote address.

Or, even worse, to do all of the above, then become John McCain's running mate, and the first person in U.S. history to run for Vice President in both parties, giving McCain a very strong shot at winning moderate and independent voters who don't realize that Lieberman is as conservative a war-hawk as they come.

This exact scenario, where Lieberman retains an undeserved ability to blackmail the Democratic party, is why my blog, Vichy Democrats, started calling for the party to throw Lieberman on his keister more than two years ago -- BEFORE he became an indispensable brick in our tenuous majority, BEFORE he was in position to pretend he was leaving the Democratic Party instead of being forcibly ejected and parlay his supposed "Democrat" status into something that helps the Republicans. (Note VichyDems' mission statement, above.)

We should have kicked him out of the Democratic caucus back then. And the Democratic leadership still should kick him out now, before he can hurt us further. I say this even though it would cost us the Senate majority for the next nine months: the current crop of Superchicken Democrats running the Congress now -- especially Harry Reid -- are just waiting for Bush's term to expire instead of taking the good fight right to the neocons anyway, and there's nothing harmful the Republicans could accomplish in less than a year so long as House Democrats refuse to kowtow on legislation and so long as Senate Democrats -- for a change of pace -- hang together to form well-disciplined, cloture-proof supermajorities that are able and willing to filibuster any bad Republican initiatives and nominees.

As I wrote back in March 2006:

Some "liberal" bloggers and commenters (and many, many “concern trolls” who love to give bad advice to the enemy) express "concern" (it's almost always that word, "concern") that targeting and ousting “Vichy” Democrats will cost us seats we need to win back [now I'd say "retain"] one or both houses of Congress.

My usual response is this: I don’t believe that’s the case, because Joe Lieberman and Henry Cuellar are more trouble than their seats are worth and if we unseated them, the rest of the caucus would sit up, take notice, and start acting cohesively again, which ultimately will [net] us a lot more seats than we lose. *** Copying the Republican formula for success doesn’t mean becoming more conservative ***, it means becoming more liberal and being proud of it
[as Newt Gingrich's radical Republicans were proudly conservative]. Articulating, and expecting some reasonable degree of adherence to, a unifying party platform is a good way to articulate principles and win elections, and if that means tossing one or two enablers like Lieberman overboard, good riddance; they're dead weight anyway.

Defining What Would Constitute a "Win" for Clinton In Pennsylvania

UPDATE, APRIL 23: Post-Penna-election analysis here, though this post is a really good foundation for that one.

UPDATE, PENNSYLVANIA PRIMARY DAY, APRIL 22: So far, it's looking like a Clinton win, as expected -- but the more numbers come in, the lower her margin gets. Again: if her margin's under 28%, she's losing ground -- and the spinmeisters, on MSNBC at least, aren't recognizing that fact. Hang on for more.

As politics junkies prepare for the Pennsylvania primary tomorrow, the pundit class and the candidates’ spinmeisters are endlessly debating what, exactly, would constitute a “win” for Clinton. Both campaigns are trying to manipulate people’s expectations; Clinton’s people are playing down her lead so that a 4- to 7-point victory will seem like a huge shift in her political fortune (and a double-digit victory, which polls consistently showed was well within reach until just a couple of weeks ago, will seem like a blowout), while Obama’s camp is portraying his support as being so low that anything under a 10-point win by Clinton will be anticlimactic.

But at this late stage of the Clinton-Obama primary, perception is not reality. Elections are a matter of counting votes, and counting is a matter of mathematics, not expectations or spin. Each candidate has won a precise number of delegates so far, and there are a finite number of delegates yet to be won. Instead of acting like Bush Republicans, responding to fear and greed and spouting bumper-sticker slogans and truthiness, Democrats can behave like real members of the Reality-Based Community, rejecting blind cries that “Clinton can still win!” or “There’s no way Clinton can win!” and crunching the numbers instead – in this case, analyzing the electoral data to determine what, precisely, would constitute a “win” for Clinton in Pennsylvania so that we can reject any spin, from any source, that isn’t grounded in reality.

Calculating Clinton’s necessary margin of victory is important for at least two reasons:

(1) Clinton’s ongoing, uphill battle for the nomination almost certainly is cutting into Obama’s yearlong lead over McCain in hypothetical head-to-head matchups; if her campaign isn’t actually viable, and she doesn’t actually have any realistic chance of winning the nomination, she should shut it down now so that Obama can focus on the general election. Conversely, if Clinton does have a good chance of a comeback, all Democrats should support her right to continue to fight. Objectively settling the “viability” issue would be a significant step toward resolving the question of whether Clinton should or should not bow out, and could reduce friction between the two candidates’ supporters.

(2) Even if the Clinton campaign’s viability isn’t conclusively resolved one way or another, the question of how she can and can’t win could be; in other words, her chances of winning the nomination with or without winning the popular vote, with or without Michigan and Florida, and with or without a counter-democratic “override” by Superdelegates could be winnowed down. If Clinton has no realistic chance of winning the elected-delegate race, then everyone should put much less emphasis on the final ten primary elections. If Michigan and Florida wouldn’t affect the outcome, then Michigan and Florida probably should be seated without alienating them further. If the only way Clinton can win is with a Superdelegate “override” of the popular vote, then we should be focusing like a laser on the principles and practicalities of allowing the candidate to be selected in contravention of the voters’ will – i.e., whether that outcome matches our democratic principles and how it might affect turnout by the disaffected candidate’s supporters in the general election, how it might affect independent and crossover voters’ perceptions of the nominee, and ultimately what the impact of a brokered outcome would be on the Democratic Party’s Presidential and Congressional chances in November. If Clinton still has a genuine chance of winning the majority of elected delegates, on the other hand, then no one has the right to question her right to continue her campaign. Evaluating the probability of the various combinations of scenarios will allow us to focus, hard, on the variables that actually will control the outcome – and to tell the spinmeisters to take a hike.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS: So I’ve crunched the numbers, looking primarily at how big a win Clinton needs in Pennsylvania tomorrow to remain a viable candidate in the “democratic” portion of the election (because if she’s not viable in terms of winning the popular vote, then we all need to shift our perspectives and start seriously discussing the principles and the practicalities of her trying to override the popular vote with Superdelegates). And what I’ve learned is that Clinton needs to win 64% of the vote tomorrow to Obama’s 36% – beating Obama by a 28-point spread – to have any chance of winning the popularly-elected delegate count. The TV pundits and campaign spinners may be talking about the relative merits of a six-point, ten-point or even fifteen-point spread – but it’s all smoke and mirrors: hard numbers say anything under 28 points represents an overwhelming Clinton loss. Aggravating for Clinton backers? Of course – and, in all seriousness, I’m sympathetic. But those are the numbers. Here’s why:

Pennsylvania is the largest remaining primary state. It has 158 elected (aka “pledged” or “popular”) delegates – delegates assigned democratically by the votes of the people. TV talking heads keep mentioning the possibility of a ten-point spread. If Clinton wins Pennsylvania’s primary by ten points (i.e., Clinton gets 55% of the popular vote, Obama gets 45%), then she’ll get 87 elected delegates to Obama’s 71 – a 16-delegate gain for Clinton. Obama’s current 162-elected-delegate lead will be reduced to a 146-elected-delegate lead. If she wins Pennsylvania by ten point, the TV talking heads will blather endlessly about her tremendous win – but in reality, a ten-point win would be a terrible loss, putting Clinton mathematically even further behind than she is now.

As of today, before Pennsylvania, Clinton needs to capture 64% of all the remaining delegates (including Pennsylvania’s) to catch up to Obama. Every time she wins a state by less than that, she falls farther behind. After Pennsylvania, there will be nine remaining primaries carrying a total of 408 elected delegates. If Clinton wins Pennsylvania by only 10 points (55%-45%), then the mathematical reality is that she’ll have to win more than 277 of those 408 remaining delegates to beat Obama. That’s 68% – worse odds than the 64% she needs today.

Think of it like a hundred yard dash. Catching up to Obama after a ten point “victory” in Pennsylvania would be like standing on the starting line and expecting to win the race – with your opponent having a 36 yard head start. And every step you take that doesn’t gain you ground puts you closer to defeat: every time Clinton falls short of the requisite 64% or 68% or even higher margin, the margin she needs in the remaining states goes up even more. Or, as Richard Durbin put it, Clinton is “running out of real estate.”

Does Clinton have a rational chance of winning all the remaining contests by at least 28 points? Reality check: according to a mashup of nearly 60 polls, Clinton has 48% of the Pennsylvania vote – 16% less than the 64% she needs just to avoid losing even more ground – and to make things worse, she’s been trending downward (though I expect her to get a bump tomorrow that’s not predicted in the polling data, as conservative Undecideds finally make up their minds for Clinton at the last minute):

Wait: it gets worse for Clinton than that. After Pennsylvania, the most delegate-rich primary is North Carolina on May 6, with 115 delegates. According to’s mashup of 45 polls (24 in 2008 alone), Obama’s not just projected to win North Carolina, but to win it by over 17 points – AND he’s widening his lead over time:

It’s unrealistic to predict that Clinton go from an overwhelming loss in North Carolina (garnering only 36% of the vote) to winning it overwhelmingly (nearly doubling her base of support to 64%). In general, Obama closes gaps with her as elections near, not the other way around. But since we’re doing thought experiments anyway, let’s throw her a bone and say she somehow manages to come back from a 17 point deficit to tie in North Carolina, splitting those 115 delegates evenly with Obama. If she can tie North Carolina, then once again she’ll need to pick up 68% of all the remaining delegates, including Pennsylvania’s, to gain any ground at all.

So that’s where it stands, not as a matter of hope or faith or wishing really really hard or running up the Philadelphia museum steps like Rocky, but in hard numbers: unless Clinton can win Pennsylvania tomorrow by 28 points, and make up a 17-point deficit to tie in North Carolina, and win 68% of all the remaining delegates, she simply can’t, by any reasonable analysis, catch up to Obama, let alone beat him, in the upcoming elections. And the first hurdle in that triple-jump comes tomorrow: again, if she doesn’t win Pennsylvania by 28 points, then she can’t win the election democratically; her only hope would be a near-unanimous sweep of the undecided Superdelegates plus a mass defection of many of the Superdelegates currently endorsing Obama – which ain’t likely. And if anyone believes there is a serious possibility of such a mass migration of Superdelegates, prepared to engineer an outcome opposite of the one chosen by their collective constituents, then we need to stop pretending that it even matters whether Clinton can “win elections” and re-focus the debate on whether it’s wise or proper for party officials to override millions and millions of its members.

“But wait!,” someone’s hollering at their computer, “what about Michigan and Florida?!?” A legitimate question; let’s talk about Michigan and Florida.

First, some practical politics. Like it or not, even Clinton's most ardent supporters have to admit there’s almost no chance that those delegations will be seated at the Convention in the way Clinton wants. Sure, they’ll be able to participate at the Convention – why alienate their voters more than we already have? – but with Howard Dean as Chair of the DNC and the Rules Committee unanimous in their earlier decision to disqualify them, any agreement to seat their delegations will be negotiated after the Supers wrap up the nomination contest in June – or they’ll be seated under an agreement to split their votes more or less evenly – or their votes will be counted after all the other states’ delegates and Superdelegates at the Convention instead of in alphabetical order, so that they don’t affect the outcome. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, just talking practical politics: there isn’t a snowball’s chance in heck Clinton will manage to get credit for all the delegates she claims she won in those states.

But even if it’s ridiculously improbable, let’s imagine it anyway: that those delegations are seated and that they give Clinton every vote she’s asking for. In Michigan, where Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot, that would mean a net Clinton gain of 18 delegates. In Florida – where Clinton told a crowd on election night (though she wasn’t “campaigning” there) that she had won a “tremendous victory” – her perfect outcome nets her 38 more delegates over Obama. How would those 56 additional Clinton delegates affect the math?

Answer: it would affect it significantly enough to make the Pennsylvania election more interesting, but probably not enough to make a difference in the outcome. Giving Clinton every delegate she’s claiming from Michigan and Florida, and additionally assuming that she can recover from her huge deficit to manage a tie in North Carolina, would reduce Obama’s lead from 162 to 106 with nine contests to go. Yet even with such incredible good juju, Clinton would still need to make up a 56 delegate deficit to catch up to Obama in the pledged-delegate count by winning 254 of the remaining 451 elected delegates, or 56% to Obama’s 44%. In other words, even with impossible breaks going her way, deus ex machina, Clinton could only win by managing a 12-point spread across all the remaining contests, starting (but emphatically not ending) with Pennsylvania.

The important thing about these numbers is that while the politicians are playing the expectations game, and the TV pundits will proclaim a stunning victory if Clinton wins by five or more, and Howard Wolfson will talk about how Obama’s on the ropes, the numbers will let us focus on the issues that matter, according to how well Clinton does in Pennsylvania:

If Clinton wins Pennsylvania by 28 points or more, then every Democrat should acknowledge that her candidacy is unquestionably viable and stop squawking at her to bow out, at least unless and until future elections changed the calculus.

If she wins Pennsylvania by more than 12 points but less than 28, then the only way she can win the nomination without some kind of Superdelegate gamesmanship – which almost certainly would have some blowback for the Democratic Party in November – is if the Michigan and Florida delegations are seated as-is. Even though I don’t think there's any chance that's going to happen, a Clinton win in the 12 - 28 point range would definitely put the debate over what to do with those two states back on the front burner, with the heat turned up high.

If she wins Pennsylvania by fewer than 12 points, let alone loses it, then Clinton can’t win the race for pledged delegates even if Michigan and Florida are handed to her on a platter. Pennsylvania’s one of her strongest states, with an immensely powerful pro-Clinton Democratic machine and where every significant politician but one has endorsed her; if she can’t make the necessary margin there, then she’s lost the "election." And if she can’t make that margin, but still doesn’t drop out, then her plan necessarily is to win the nomination by persuading Superdelegates – and maybe, according to her unusual interpretation of party rules, even some non-Supers pledged to Obama – to override the democratic choice, effectively making all of the primaries and caucuses utterly irrelevant. If that’s the case, we need to stop wasting our energy pretending that the elections actually matter, and stop talking about Michigan and Florida, and start focusing, hard, on the real issue, which is whether we’re OK with our nominee being chosen by aristocrats instead of voters.

My purpose in presenting this analysis isn’t to pick a fight with Clinton supporters. I considered publishing this post AFTER the Pennsylvania primary, showing why the outcome – assuming it doesn’t meet the 28-point margin I believe actually governs Clinton’s chances – means Clinton can’t win. But I’m not interested in playing “gotcha” with Clinton backers, who mean well, share most of my values, and hopefully will support any Democrat running against McCain in November. Instead, I’m interested in determining whether Clinton has a serious shot at winning, how she might win (democratically or with a Superdelegate override), and using tomorrow’s election results to help focus the discussion among different cadres of Democrats who need to resolve their differences and learn to work together so we can start the serious and vital business of whupping John McCain, in a unified way, as soon as our nominee is chosen. And if Clinton does manage to pull a stunning upset in Pennsylvania – which in my book requires her to win by 28 points, and in everyone’s book should require her to win by at least 12 points – then I’m perfectly willing to eat crow, admit she’s still in the game, and rethink my positions. Hopefully every Democrat who sincerely cares about regaining the White House, whichever side of this debate they’re on, will be willing to do the same.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why Clinton HAS to Pack It In Now.

Let's stop pretending: it's over. Done. Nice run, but time to hit the showers. Tonight's debate -- in which Clinton, to her credit, generally refrained from the kind of egregious negative campaigning her campaign focused on before the departure of Mark Penn -- eliminated any possible remaining doubt, not because Obama "won" but simply because he didn't destroy himself.

Clinton’s only real chance to win the nomination was for Obama to make a tremendous gaffe – so tremendous that he self-destructed and all the remaining Superdelegates turned to Clinton as the savior of the party – and the only place a hyper-intelligent guy like Obama would possibly slip up is in a highly public, unscripted setting like tonights debate. But he didn’t slip up, and it’s starting to look like there won’t even be any more debates. At this point the entire endgame is predictable. Clinton, like a good chess player, can easily see that the remaining moves inevitably lead to checkmate; it’s time for her to tip over her King and concede defeat.

“But wait!” some furious Clintonites are saying. “It’s not over til it’s over! She’s Rocky!” But waiting will do Clinton no good, and it will do the Democratic Party’s chance of winning in November a lot of harm:

• Clinton has zero chance of winning the popularly-elected delegates. Obama has a 162-pledged-delegate lead. The remaining primaries (Pennsylvania, Guam, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Montana, South Dakota) offer a total of 566 pledged delegates. That means Clinton needs to win over 64% of all the remaining delegates – basically 2/3 of every delegate remaining – to gain the nomination democratically. Up until now, she’s won only about 49%; only 42% of Democrats nationwide prefer her to Obama; and even in Pennsylvania, the biggest remaining state and the one she’s most likely to win, she’s only polling at 50%. She’s not going to get two-thirds of the vote in Pennsylvania, let alone anywhere else. She. Can’t. Mathematically. Win. The. Popular.Vote.

• Absent some disastrous act of self-immolation by Obama, the Democratic Party won’t let the Superdelegates override the popular vote. Why not? Because doing so would tick off so many Democratic voters, who might stay home in November in a huff, that not only would McCain take the general election in a cakewalk, but the Republicans could actually pick up at least one seat in the Senate – costing the Democrats their current tenuous majority. There’s no way the Party’s power brokers will give up the White House, the Senate, and the chance (which goes with the White House) to appoint replacements for one or two Supreme Court justices (since one or two almost certainly will retire next term).

• Plus, every member of the House of Representatives, and 1/3 of the Senate, is up for re-election in November – and if Democratic voters stay home, lots of their seats could be in jeopardy. Every one of those incumbents is a Superdelegate. Even those who’ve pledged loyalty to Clinton will vote the same way as the public rather than risk losing their seats. No: the Supers aren’t going to save Clinton if she can’t win the popular vote. And she can’t win the popular vote.

• Clinton’s continued campaign is hurting Obama’s chances of winning in November without boosting her own. Check out these two graphs from, showing how each candidate has fared in over 130 head-to-head matchup polls for over a year. The first shows Obama, who had polled significantly higher than McCain for a full year, suddenly dipping below McCain when Clinton switched to negative campaigning (calling Obama unready to be Commander in Chief in her 3AM ad, for example) -- then, thank God, starting to recover:

The second shows that while Clinton temporarily managed to bring Obama’s numbers down, she hasn’t brought her own numbers up: she’s never beaten McCain by much, and she's consistently polled behind (below) him since late last year, even after her campaign announced brazenly that her new strategy was to "throw the kitchen sink" at Obama -- and her electability, which got a bump almost (but not quite) to McCain's level when she first started dissing Obama, plunged down again almost immediately to an all-time low:

What do these graphs mean? That Obama has always been more electable than Clinton; that Clinton still isn’t electable; and Clinton is dragging Obama down. (A Reuters/Zogby poll released today continues this trend, showing Obama leading McCain in a head-to-head but Clinton merely tying him; and another poll shows that 62% of Democrats consider Obama more electable, despite all Clinton’s efforts to kneecap him.) All Clinton’s doing is hurting the Democratic Partys chances of making gains in all three branches of the federal government, without helping her own. Anyone who truly believes that it’s more important to elect a Democrat, any Democrat, would be stepping aside after looking at these numbers. And Clinton -- whose campaign manager until last week is a professional pollster -- has, unquestionably, looked at these numbers.

• As if the 130 polls graphed above weren’t enough, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 59% of American voters don’t consider Clinton "honest and trustworthy." 59% – and falling fast, as well – and that’s BEFORE the Republican smear machine gets hold of her. Here’s some basic math: you can’t win an American election if over half the voters don’t trust you. You just can’t. Hillary’s “I’m more electable” line is just that: a line, not based in reality.

• The Republicans are picking up on every single Clinton attack. For instance, Clinton’s been hammering Obama for truthfully saying that working-class Americans have been screwed by the D.C. establishment and are angry and bitter about it; now McCain’s running that ball. She’s giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and the enemy’s happy as clams at high tide to let her. That’s why billionnaire rightwing wingnut Richard Mellon Scaife, who was behind most of the attacks against both Clintons in the ‘90s, supports Hillary. That’s why Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, supports Hillary. That’s why John McCain himself supports Hillary. It’s time for us Democrats to get real, grow up, and stop enabling Hillary to run the Democratic Party’s chances into the ground.

Here’s the real math behind Clinton’s continued campaign: 60 + 4 = 64. Clinton’s 60 years old. She knows she won’t get the nomination, or the Presidency, eight years from now when she’s 68 (only 3 years younger than McCain is now). But she can get it in 2012, when she’s only 64 – unless Obama’s already in the White House, in which case he’ll almost certainly be renominated. If Obama wins this election, Clinton will never be President. If he loses, Clinton gets another shot. So Clinton strings this thing out – and does everything she can to pull Obama down – while Republican strategists cheer her on, not because she realistically believes she can win in ‘08, but to preserve her shot at ‘12.

Will the Democratic Party’s power brokers give up the White House, the Senate, lots of House seats, and one or two Supreme Court slots, all so Hillary can have a second bite at the apple in 2012? Not a chance. Is it smart to keep priming the pump for the Republican campaign against Obama, given the reality that he’s going to be the nominee? Absolutely not. The good of the party, and the country, are more important than the Clintons’ egos and sense of entitlement. Hillary needs to bow out gracefully now – preserving her Senate seat, her good name, her standing in the party, and possibly a shot at one of those seats on the Supreme Court. That should be more than enough for anyone. And if she won’t, it’s time to pull the plug, whether she likes it or not.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Clinton Downs a Beer and a Bump to Impress the Cool Kids -- And This Dad's Not OK With It

As a father of daughters, I've got a big problem today with Hillary Clinton.

Let's be clear: I've got no problem with a President who occasionally chases down a slice of pizza with a cold brew or a shot of whiskey -- or both. Like most Oregonians, I'm particularly fond of our state's great microbrews and small wineries; I'm no prude about liquor (or much of anything else). And, of course, our current teetotaler President has been a disaster. (I'm put in mind of Lincoln during the Civil War: when an advisor complained that the North's most successful general was drinking too much, Abe ordered a barrel of the general's favorite whiskey sent to each of his other commanders.)

So if Clinton likes an (imported) Crown Royal, neat, back on the campaign plane at the end of the day, or -- without fanfare -- tips back a cool one with supporters at a pizza joint, I'm good. But that's not what she did Saturday night at Bronko’s Restaurant and Lounge in Crown Point, Indiana Saturday night. No: she bumped back a boilermaker to make a point about Barack Obama being "out of touch" with blue-collar voters, playing off his comment about some middle Americans being "bitter" at being ignored by Washington insiders.

Hillary Clinton is not normally a brew-and-a-bump kind of gal; she's just not. But she is a political animal, through and through -- and drinking boilermakers as a strategy for reaching Pennsylvania's working-class voters was even discussed jokingly in a segment of MSNBC's Hardball earlier this month, which Clinton's campaign staff wouldn't have missed. No: Clinton intentionally chose to do a particularly unhealthy kind of drinking -- chugging beer and whiskey at once, a combo designed to make you drunker, faster -- to increase her popularity with people she really has nothing in common with so that they'll vote for her.

Politics is politics, but it's not OK for Hillary Clinton or anyone else in public life to flaunt heavy public drinking in order to be more popular.

I'm the father of two beautiful, brilliant, creative, loving, sometimes gloriously self-confident, sometimes tragically insecure daughters, ages 12 and 14. Both are deeply engaged and opinionated about politics (at a John Kerry rally, my then-8-year-old tugged my arm and said, "hey, Dad, isn't that Peter DeFazio?"). And both, like everyone their age, are sometimes too concerned with popularity.

The older one will start high school next year -- where, I know full well, she'll start making delicate decisions about boys, alcohol, drugs, and the whole dangerous balance between exercising independence and experimenting with life, on the one hand, and remaining safe, on the other. I'm no fool: I know she'll make some decisions I won't agree with. My hope is that she'll be able to draw on varied sources of wisdom to help her make decisions that are still sound, still sensible, even if they aren't exactly the ones her dad would choose. And as she does that -- as she tries to figure out how to grow up and move beyond my paternalistic rules to become a wise and self-sufficient and complete woman -- I'd like her to be able to look to accomplished, self-confident, successful women like Hillary Clinton as role models.

If one of my daughters, trying to win Student Body President, showed up at a keg party and got drunk in order to score points with the "populars" (ask your kid if you don't know who they are), I'd be incredibly disappointed -- and angry, and concerned. Should I feel any differently when Hillary Clinton does it?

Fortunately, my daughters already know that what Clinton did is wrong. At a supposedly irresponsible age, they know it's not cool to misuse alcohol to "fit in." Even for adults, even to win a big election, it's just. not. cool.

But Hillary Clinton -- the candidate who trumpets her experience and worldliness as predictors of her supposed good judgment -- doesn't seem to have figured that out. She's drinking in public to look cool and win votes. For the first woman with a serious shot at the White House to trumpet an unhealthy kind of drinking in order to gain publicity points, is to display either an utter tone-deafness to her role as a model for America's girls (and even adults), or a culpable willingness to ignore her moral compass in order to win. She's either inexcusably foolish or inexcusably calculating; take your pick.

Either way, she deserves to be grounded by the responsible adults in the Democratic Party, not elected Student Body President.
(Photo credit: AP)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

U.S. Leadership Contact Info

White House: 202-456-1111;

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: (202) 225-4965;

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: 202-224-3542;

Sen. Hillary Clinton: (202) 224-4451;

Sen. Barack Obama: (202) 224-2854;

Sen. John McCain: (202) 224-2235;


Let's Send the Dalai Lama to the Olympics

The world’s leaders should pressure China to recognize the legitimacy of the Dalai Lama by saying theyll only attend the Olympic Ceremonies if China lets him attend as well. And we citizens should pressure our leaders to make that happen! (You'll find contact info for the White House, Presidential candidates, and Congressional leaders at the bottom of this post if you want to read it -- or you can skip my blathering and jump to contact info here. Thanks!)
UPDATE, APRIL 10: The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a resolution calling for China to change its position on Tibet -- ticking China off. The Secretary General of the United Nations won't be at the opening ceremonies -- but only for "scheduling" reasons. The Dalai Lama is in Seattle. But so far, the only thing being demanded of China is talk -- which is cheap -- so it's important to get leaders to at least consider the idea of the Dalai Lama actually attending the Olympics (as he said he wants to do). So please use the contact info below to make calls and send emails! Thanks.

ORIGINAL POST: China’s decades-long occupation, and recent violent suppression, of Tibet isn’t an easy problem to solve. On the one hand, any halfway objective person knows that China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950 was wrong, its imprisonment and murder of tens of thousands of peaceful Buddhist monks, nuns and laypeople is wrong, its insistence that all other Buddhists in that country disown the Dalai Lama and swear allegiance to the “Panchen Lama” picked by the Communist government (after it kidnapped and presumably killed the child identified by the Dalai Lama as the true one) was wrong. China’s suppression of Catholic Easter services near Tibet was wrong, its exclusion of journalists from all places where dissent might occur is wrong, its continued suppression of the Falun Gong religious sect is wrong, and on and on. China doesn’t deserve to host the Olympics, with the boosts to its economy and to its reputation that such an honor bestows. Ergo, the protests surrounding the Olympic torch.

On the other hand, most Chinese sincerely believe that Tibet is and always has been part of China and that all pro-Tibet sentiment actually is thinly concealed anti-Chinese prejudice. In foreign affairs, China’s leaders are almost as paranoid, and their thinking is almost as skewed, as North Korea’s, a reality that most Americans don’t fully appreciate. It’s easy to hurt their feelings and stir their nationalist sentiments. And that wouldn’t be a good idea: China is the second-largest of America’s foreign creditors, and one of America’s largest trading partners; if China got really angry it could elect not to buy any U.S. Treasuries at the next quarterly bond auction, and potentially plunge our economy from recession into a full-blown depression. We’ve come to rely on China’s goodwill far, far too much, with the result that we are not free, and we are not safe. But since we can’t extricate ourselves from that dependence right away, especially under the current Administration, we do need to tread carefully.

There are a number of ways countries could respond to China’s latest human rights violations, ranging from meaningless verbal expressions of outrage (President Bush’s response) to a full-blown boycott like the one Jimmy Carter called on the Moscow Olympics when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan (an invasion that led, more or less directly, to 9/11 and to our occupation of Iraq). One alternative falling somewhere in the middle of that range is for other nations’ leaders to personally boycott the Opening Ceremonies, which would be a significant slight to the Chinese government’s self-image. When unrest in Tibet flared up again a month or so ago, Bush twice ruled out such a personal boycott, saying that while he hoped the Chinese would show restraint, he still would attend the Olympics’ opening ceremonies because the Olympics are just a sporting event. But suppression has continued; U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced he won’t attend the Opening Ceremonies unless he sees serious dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama, and Hillary Clinton (after ducking the issue for too long, and still without calling for the Administration to reinstate China to the U.S.’s list of human rights violators (they were removed just this year) has correctly called for Bush to boycott the Ceremonies.

There’s a big problem with the “we’ll boycott the Opening Ceremonies unless you open real dialogue with the Dalai Lama” approach, though: talk is cheap. The Chinese could “dialogue” with the Dalai Lama until the Olympics were over, then return to their old views as soon as the Olympics were over. That approach gives good “cover” to both China and to Western leaders who need to appear outraged but who don’t really want to rile the Chinese – but it won’t do Tibet any good. No: any threat to boycott the Opening Ceremonies – or even the Olympics themselves, which I favor; we could hold a “Freedom Olympics” elsewhere so that the world’s athletes could still compete – must be coupled with something much more tangible than “dialogue.” The question is, what would be a tangible, and significant, way for China to signal a serious change of policy toward Tibet?

In comments this morning, the Dalai Lama himself may, probably inadvertently, have given us the key: he would like to attend the Opening Ceremonies.

That’s brilliant, and we should seize it: The rest of the world’s leaders should announce that they will do as the Dalai Lama does: if the Chinese allow him to attend the Games, they will attend the Games; if China won’t let Tibet’s rightful head of state attend, then no other world leader will attend.

To understand the huge significance such a simple thing would mean for China, we have to understand China’s policy toward the Dalai Lama. Consistent with his spiritual role in Tibetan Buddhism as the embodiment of Compassion itself, the Dalai Lama has said that China is entitled to hold the Olympics – and even that he doesn’t want full independence for Tibet, just real freedom of religion and government. Many of his followers think he’s being too passive, and when he passes away all possibility of such a modest settlement of its dispute with Tibet will probably disappear, but the Chinese government continues to demonize the Dalai Lama, calling him a tyrant, accusing him of conspiring with Muslims to destroy China, and other downright silly claims. The last thing the Chinese want to do – and the thing they should be eager to do – is recognize the Dalai Lama’s legitimacy, and to bolster his leadership of the Tibetan community worldwide, so they can snap up the once-in-a-lifetime (literally) compromise he offers.

So one goal of an Opening Ceremony or even Games-wide boycott could be to obtain clear Chinese acceptance of the Dalai Lama as the legitimate political, as well as spiritual, leader of Tibet. That would be a huge victory for Tibet, given that the Dalai Lama hasn't returned to China or Tibet since he fled in 1959, and there are Tibetans in Chinese jails at this moment merely for possessing his photograph. To give him any credibility at all would be a wrenching change for Chinese policy. And the Olympic Games present a perfect opportunity to make recognition happen. Conditioning a boycott on China granting permission for the Dalai Lama to travel freely to the Games would put the entire matter squarely in China’s lap: if they care more about suppressing internal dissent, then they will lose their standing in the international community, and if they care more about their world standing, then they will have to alter their “internal” policy on Tibet. And having the Dalai Lama appear on TV as the leader of Tibet during the Olympics would be an irrevocable recognition of his leadership – galling, but irrevocable.

So let’s help the Dalai Lama get what he wants, by calling for President Bush and the rest of the world’s leaders to condition their attendance at the Opening Ceremonies on the Dalai Lama’s own attendance. And let’s not just blog about it; let’s make our voices heard, by telling both the President and our other leaders what we’d like to see: that WE GO ONLY IF THE DALAI LAMA GOES:

White House: 202-456-1111;

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: (202) 225-4965;

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: 202-224-3542;

Sen. Hillary Clinton: (202) 224-4451;

Sen. Barack Obama: (202) 224-2854;

Sen. John McCain: (202) 224-2235;

Have fun, and please post comments to indicate how those contacts go!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Clinton Finally Agrees to Debate in North Carolina

Back on March 13, Barack Obama accepted nearly-simultaneous offers to debate in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Clinton immediately also accepted -- in Pennsylvania. No mention of North Carolina. ("North Carolina? Where I expect to lose?" Crickets.)

Now, though, Obama's position in Pennsylvania polls is moving steadily upward. If Clinton doesn't win big in PA, she's a goner with any Superdelegates she still hopes to pull her way with her spurious "electability" argument. The only way she could survive a close shave in PA (let alone a loss, which was unthinkable back on March 13) is for her, by some miracle, to take North Carolina, which Obama expects to win -- and/or for Obama to make some huge, unexpected gaffe, which he's unlikely to do in scripted appearance. And, of course, if her campaign's so far in debt that she can't even pay her own staff's medical insurance premiums or the bills of the small businesses she hired to set up stages and lighting for her campaign appearances, and raising so little money that she's afraid to even release her March fundraising numbers [UPDATE: a few hours later, she changed her mind and released them -- half what Obama raised], these next primaries are her last chance to pull something out of a hat (all her protestations about going "all the way" aside).

So, seeing Pennsylvania (and her shot at President, at least this election cycle) slipping away, Clinton's folks announced a little over an hour ago that she WILL debate him in North Carolina as well.

This isn't transparency: back in March, Clinton kept challenging Obama to more debates (20 wasn't enough) -- yet 22 was too many? No: it's strategic. She'd only debate where she expected to win, until she expected to lose, at which point she might as well debate where she expects to lose in the long-shot hope that she'll win.

Complicated? Yep. But then, so is Hillary's electoral math -- and all sleight of hand requires some complicated distraction.

The Pennsylvania and North Carolina debates should be a lot of fun, at least. In their last debate, Clinton was still playing nice, even plagiarizing John Edwards and saying that she was "proud" to be on the same stage as Obama. But now her campaign has not only announced that it intended to "throw the kitchen sink" at Obama, but has tried its best to do so. The gloves are off, Obama has shown that while he won't attack he will vigorously defend -- and this may be Obama's best chance to, in his statesmanlike way, put Clinton down for the count. Which, after a good run but for the greater good of the Democratic Party at this point, is where she belongs.
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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hillary Clinton and the Opaque Politics of Porkbarrel Spending

UPDATE, APRIL 3 PART 2: And six hours later, she changes course and releases her March numbers. Strong public opinion favoring an open democratic process is a great thing, ain't it?

UPDATE, APRIL 3, 2008: In another example of oversecrecy: Hillary Clinton's campaign won't release its (presumably dismal) March fundraising figures until forced to do so by election laws -- which isn't until 2 days before the critical (for her) Pennsylvania primary. Couple this with her (hopefully unsuccessful) effort not to release her 2000 through 2006 tax returns until three days before that primary, her campaign's strenuous effort to encourage absentee voting in PA (so that people will have cast their votes before any bad news is released), and her foot-dragging on disclosing her earmarks (discussed in the post below), and you have a candidate working hard NOT to let voters have full information until it's too late. Which isn't transparent -- and also suggests she's artificially propping up her "electability" argument, when in fact she probably will be significantly less electable than she is now (which ain't saying much) after all facts are known.

ORIGINAL POST: Transparency is essential to a democracy. When Bill Clinton assembled timber company executives, environmental advocates, scientists, and lawmakers in a public forum in Portland, Oregon to hammer out a consensus agreement on timber policy, that was transparent. When Hillary Clinton met with a similar group representing those interested in healthcare reform, but behind closed doors, that was not transparent -- and her signature healthcare reform proposal failed. When Dick Cheney assembled a similar, even more secret energy task force, it was not transparent. Basically, we like and will support transparent initiatives and candidates; we (legitimately) distrust opaque initiatives and candidates.

When Barack Obama put all his tax returns for the years 2000 through 2006 online a little over a week ago, that was transparent. If Hillary Clinton keeps her promise to put her tax returns online this week, that will be transparent. If she blanks out major portions of those tax returns (as she whited out entire pages of her First Lady schedules), that would not be transparent -- and I'll bring it to your attention. (John McCain hasn't produced his tax returns and hasn't given any indication that he'll do so, but that's no surprise -- today's Republicans generally are allergic to transparency.)

There's another important area where our candidates need to be transparent: earmarks. Earmarks are specific spending requests made by individual Senators that bypass the normal competitive bidding process for government process and/or remove the Executive Branch's discretion on how to allocate money generally allotted by Congress for categories or kinds of spending. (They're named after the ancient practice of placing unique cuts in the ears of livestock to show ownership.)

Earmarks can be helpful, because Senators should be aware of what their own state's spending needs are and it may be very efficient for them to target federal money to directly meet their state's needs, and also because they help prevent a President from rewarding or punishing individual members of Congress by spending or withholding money from particular projects that are important to them and their constituents. But earmarks also are dangerous in a democracy, because they're the most direct way a Senator can reward a supporter: construction contractor makes campaign donation, Senator earmarks federal spending on a road project that said construction contractor is positioned to be awarded, said construction contractor makes back 100 times its original "investment." Connecting campaign contributions (which are fairly transparent) to earmarks is an invaluable way of determining whether a politician is using the citizens' own money to get the same citizens to re-elect him or her -- ie, whether a politician is on the up-and-up.

But there's a problem: under one of those strange rules that only the U.S. Congress could evolve (like filibuster and cloture and "holds"), earmarks are confidential: a Senator can direct that federal tax money be spent on a particular project without the public knowing about that Senator's involvement. That rule is a travesty -- it's our money! They're our employees! -- but that's the way it is.

Understanding that this rule is unfair, and wanting voters to know what spending projects he considers important, Barack Obama has "released" -- surrendered his privacy regarding -- his earmarks. John McCain, to his credit, doesn't do earmarks at all.

But Hillary Clinton not only engages in earmarking, but she voted against a proposed bill to make earmarks public and has refused to make her earmarks public.
We know how many she placed, and we know their total cost, but we don't know specifically what they are. While she's nowhere near as bad as Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi ($892 million in non-defense earmarks), she's still a pretty big spender: she was the second highest "earmark" spender in the Senate in the 2008 Defense Appropriations bill. She's no slouch when it comes to non-domestic spending either: the annual Pig Book report on porkbarrel spending released today by the group Citizens Against Government Waste (reported by CNN) reveals that:

"Sen. (Barack) Obama had 53 earmarks worth $97 million dollars, and Sen. (Hillary) Clinton had 281 earmarks worth $296 million. Sen. Obama recently said he would not request any project for this upcoming fiscal year," said Tom Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

"And of course Sen. (John) McCain has never requested them and he won't be doing so in 2009. So now the question is if Sen. Clinton will join the other major candidates in saying that she will not request any earmarks for 2009."

C.A.G.W. is wrong about one thing: the immediate question isn't whether Clinton will join McCain and Obama in pledging not to engage in secret earmarks next year. The immediate question is whether she will release her earmarks for this year (and for all prior years), so voters know what -- and who -- she spent nearly one-third of a billion dollars of our money on.

Again: McCain doesn't engage in earmarking. Obama is a modest earmarker, and has made his public. Clinton is a much larger earmarker, is opposed to making earmarks transparent, and has refused to identify the specific 281 projects she spent our money on in the last year alone.

That's secretive, not transparent. It's Cheney-esque, not Democratic. Clinton should release not only her tax returns, but also her earmarks, a.s.a.p., to let voters know where her priorities -- and her loyalties -- can be found.