Friday, August 22, 2008

VichyDems Is Covering the Dem Convention!

(Photos: separated at birth?)

It's time I shared a dark secret:

I have a good twin (I'm the evil one). He looks exactly like me, acts like me, and shares my political views. Our fingerprints, retinal scans, and DNA are identical. So are our shoe, hat, and suit sizes. He even happens to be married to my wife, and we have the same kids. Needless to say, we're very, very close.

But there are differences. He's saner. He writes better than I do. I proudly bear the names our parents gave me (Thersites D. Scott, or, over at Atrios' pad, "T.D. Scott" or "T2"). But my good twin, for some strange reason, has abandoned his birth name (Ulysses Navinski Scott, or "U.N. Scott") to take the boring, predestrian nom de plume "M.S. Bellows, Jr." -- which sounds, I don't know, like the name a lawyer would have in the real world. Ugh. Most people call him Scott, though.

M.S. Bellows, Jr. began writing occasional pieces for The Huffington Post's "Off the Bus" citizen journalism page back in February, often asking me to cross-post them here. Two or three months ago, they asked him to start writing a regular column, "Warranted Wiretaps," with his basic beat being the campaigns' regular telephonic conference calls. He was one of the first three they asked (another was Mayhill Fowler, who, for good or ill, famously broke the "Bittergate" story).

For Off the Bus, my good twin has ridden the press bus following Clinton in Oregon, covered (as press) several campaign appearances by both Democratic candidates, BEEN covered on national cable by CNBC, asked questions during press conferences that have been covered by the MSM, honed his writing skills (with good editorial help from Huffington Post's professionals), and now been chosen to be one of a handful of writers given credentials and all expenses to cover the Democratic National Convention in Denver next week. The only thing that he isn't doing is get paid for his writing -- but he's hoping to fix that soon, too.

So while I stay home and sulk over his good fortune (our parents, and even our shared wife and kids, now openly acknowledge that they love him more!), he'll be posting regularly at Off the Bus all next week. And Twittering. And possibly posting audio or even video (Reuters is providing videocams and professional editing). And accepting IMs from those who want to send him ideas (or invitations to the coolest parties, hint hint). And using his free pass to do yoga and get aromatherapy at HuffPost's Oasis.

Off the Bus is here:
M.S. Bellows, Jr.'s posts will all be collated here:
His other contact info is:

Twitter: msbellowsREMOVE
AIM: bellowsmsREMOVE

Sure, I'm jealous of him -- I feel like I might as well just disappear! -- but still, I love him, so please show him lots of love while he's on his big adventure.

Thanks, everyone!

Thersites D. Scott


Saturday, June 14, 2008

McCain: "The Rights of the Unborn Are As Important as the Rights of the Born."

In a "virtual town hall" Saturday designed specifically to boost his standing with independents and disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, John McCain did his best to project a moderate, bipartisan image - but wound up enunciating policy stances that sharply conflict with positions held by Clinton -- and by most women, and by most Democrats -- on such things as women's right to choose, gay rights, the composition of the Supreme Court, America's role in using force overseas, and even the importance of intelligence and academic success in a good President. Instead of effectively wooing social moderates, McCain instead has clearly delineated some significant differences between his views and those normally considered "moderate" -- and may have given those voters who were thinking of sitting out the November election, or of crossing party lines to vote for him, some new and compelling reasons to actively oppose his election instead:

McCain on Roe v. Wade:
"Roe v. Wade, we obviously will have a disagreement. I think it was a bad decision."

McCain on abortion rights:
"[W]e have to change the culture of America. We have to convince people of our view that the rights of the unborn are as important as the rights of the born."

McCain on medically necessary late-term abortions:
"I am unalterably opposed to partial birth abortion."

McCain on the two or more Supreme Court appointments the next President is likely to make:
"I would find people along the lines of Justice Roberts."
"I wouldn't have selected Justice Ginsberg or Justice Breyer."
"I believe that interpretation of the Constitution, and only that, should be the criteria for Supreme Court justices."

McCain on gay rights and "don't ask, don't tell":

"Don't ask, don't tell: I want to rely on the advice and counsel of our military leaders. As President ... I will ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to go back and review that and other policies to see whether those policies are appropriate, and I do rely on them to a large degree because they're the ones we entrust the leadership of the lives of our young men and women in our military. And I'm sure you may have a disagreement with that policy."

McCain on his own intelligence:
"You don't have to be real smart. I stood fifth from the bottom of my class at the naval academy, which shows in America anything is possible."

McCain's on what makes America great:
"We're the only country in the world that has over time sent our young Americans to shed our most precious asset - American blood - in defense of someone else's freedom."

I'll supplement this post later with more details, and with audio when it becomes available - but for Clinton supporters wondering what the effects on America would be if they either voted for McCain in November or simply stayed home and allowed him to be elected, just the few quotations given above - again, delivered in a setting designed to woo social moderates, not extreme conservatives - may be a powerful indication of how deeply reactionary a McCain administration is likely to be.

I tend to think that the DNC talking point that McCain would be "a third Bush term" is oversimplistic. On the other hand, though, in just one public appearance McCain has announced that he is pro-life, anti-Roe v. Wade (and other privacy rights), would appoint Supreme Court justices just like those that Bush appointed, is blindly instead of wisely patriotic and doesn't know his history (America is the ONLY country that's ever shed blood in defense of someone else's freedom?!?), and is dismissive of his own poor grades in a superb university that his family connections got him into. If that's not "Bush III," I don't know what is.

Anyone who thinks Obama is running against the pro-choice, fiscally conservative, socially moderate John McCain that we all respected in 2000 had better check behind the house for pods, because the John McCain of 2008 is nothing like the straight-talking "maverick" we used to know. And anyone who feels estranged from the Democratic Party by the unfortunate divisiveness of the primary season should look very, very carefully at John McCain - ver. 200.8 - before indulging any shortsighted inclination not to cast their vote for the Democratic alternative next November.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Edwards Endorses Obama!

The day after Hillary Clinton won a solid victory in West Virginia but lost 7% of the vote to a candidate who wasn't even running any longer, that candidate -- John Edwards -- has come off the fence and endorsed Barack Obama.

This endorsement is huge, not just in itself -- a white man, from a neighboring state, with strong rural support, who still has a strong following in the most recent primary state and nationally -- but also as a huge reality check -- "check" as in hockey -- to Clinton and as a hint of the direction Obama's Vice Presidential choice might go.

On racism: 20% of West Virginia Democrats voting yesterday said that the candidates' race played a role in their decision. And of those, 85% voted for Clinton -- ie, this is not black voters supporting the first serious black candidate (or female voters supporting the first serious female candidate), but white voters intentionally voting AWAY from the black candidate. That's 20% of West Virginia Democrats admitting they're at least somewhat bigoted -- meaning at least another 20% more actually are, since pollsters have long known that people are reluctant to admit to socially unacceptable views, even anonymously.

On the veep slot: pressure's being put on Obama to consider Clinton for a running mate -- and Clinton isn't closing that door; her campaign spokesmen refused to that possibility out (or, admittedly, in) at a telephonic press conference this morning. But Clinton doesn't help Obama with his electoral map in November, which (as Roy Romer explained yesterday) is very different than Clinton's "one state solution" map. (Obama's path to the White House involves winning states like New Mexico, Colorado, and the Dakotas, whereas Clinton simply wants to win the states Democratic Presidential candidates have always won, plus either Ohio or Florida. That's why there's so much infighting between them on the "kinds" of states each one wins: Obama has won twice as many states as she has, indicating his ability to win his map, while Clinton has won the "big states" of Ohio and Pennsylvania, proving her ability to win her map. But the two maps don't really intersect.)

And, of course, it would be galling -- and look weak to voters -- for Obama to curry favor with what Clinton's campaign openly calls "the white electorate" by tapping the very woman who, far more than Rev. Wright did, has destroyed his standing with the boilermaker-drinking class of whites.

What Obama needs is a running mate who can help him win his map -- or who can help repair the (fairly recent and definitely not fundamental) rift with white voters -- or both. And in those regards, two names pop to the top:

Bill Richardson: helps Obama court the West, including his home state of New Mexico and the adjacent states of Colorado and -- taking the fight right into McCain's backyard -- Arizona. Plus, Richardson would draw the Latino vote throughout the West and in many Northern cities as well, and he has tremendous foreign policy credentials. (A more thorough explanation of why Richardson would rock as a veep here.)

John Edwards: strong in the South, strong with precisely the rural voters Clinton has been baiting, superb on healthcare (blunting any harm Clinton's done to Obama there), well-respected on both sides of the aisle. And Edwards was the first candidate to clearly connect the war with the economy, an equation that helps Obama and blunt's Clinton's claim to be better on the economy than Obama is.

The other option for Obama is to choose a Clinton acolyte, perhaps Evan Bayh, who could help him win Indiana. That might appease some of Clinton's backers and lure them back into the fold. But contrary to how it might seem on some blogs, Clinton's supporters are fervent, not rabid; upset, not petulant and self-destructive; grieving, not suicidal; and most of all, progressive, not conservative. Obama can't take their support for granted, the way Hillary has said she CAN take black support for granted, and he'd be wrong to neglect to mend fences. But Obama can assume that nearly all Clinton supporters are reasonable, open to logic and persuasion, and more interested in the common weal than in nursing their own disappointment. They don't have to come around, but Obama will reach out to them in meaningful way, after which they will come around. The alternative is to allow the remaining two Democrats on the Supreme Court to be replaced with Scalito clones, and for all privacy rights to go away -- not just abortion choice, but all Constitutional privacy rights including the right to be gay, the right to have oral sex with your spouse in private, and the right of married couples to buy condoms, all of which would be stricken under the judicial philosophy of Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and the kinds of judges McCain recently promised to appoint. Seriously: these judges want to reverse Griswold v. CT (1965), the basis for all these rights. States could make gayness, oral sex, and condom use illegal again, along with abortion. Again: seriously.

Clinton's supporters won't let that happen. Which means that while Obama needs to take concrete steps to make peace with the "Clintonistas" (said with fondness), and will do so, he doesn't need to bribe them to support him with something as precious as the running mate slot. Reach out to them, yes. Bribe them, no. They're better Americans than that. He's free to pick a running mate who he honestly wants to work with and thinks will help him win, which could be Clinton or one of her supporters, but doesn't have to be.

So now Obama not only has the nomination locked up mathematically, but with Edwards' endorsement has now also made up a lot of the demographic ground he lost in recent weeks. And possibly, quite possibly, this also may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship -- an example of what a "dream ticket" would really look like.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Former Clinton-Gore Campaign Chair: "This Race Is Over, Over."

In a telephonic press conference this morning, Roy Romer – a former Colorado governor, former Democratic National Committee ("DNC") chair, co-chairman of the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection campaign, and a superdelegate – announced his endorsement of Barack Obama as the Democratic Presidential nominee. Despite what he called “affection for Senator Clinton,” Romer said that “[t]he math is controlling. This race is over, over. Sen Obama has accumulated a lead in caucuses, primaries, and superdelegates that cannot be overcome.”

Redrawing the Electoral Map: Romer explained that his endorsement was based largely on his belief that Obama has a better chance of beating McCain in November, which he said Obama could do using a different electoral map than the one Democrats have used in the last few elections and which Clinton is continuing to advocate: “As I watched the campaign unfold it was obvious there was a different kind of winning possibility that Senator Obama was presenting to the party.... This nation is evolving. Colorado is one of those states you call a red state... [but] I don’t think Colorado is the same state it was 20 years ago. I think we need to get out of the straight jacket, ‘this is a red state, this is a blue state’.... We need a candidate who can appeal to the evolving nature of U.S. politics.” Plouffe added, “we’ve won a heck of a lot of battleground states,” including Washington, Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina, and stated that Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, and North Dakota “all could be competitive in the fall.”

Not Pressuring Clinton, Just Giving Her Information... Romer denied that his announcement was intended to put pressure on Sen. Clinton to drop out of the race, explaining that his goal instead was to eliminate any uncertainty about where he stood so that Clinton had more information on which she could base her own decision, and calling on other undeclared superdelegates to do the same: “All superdelegates would help the party by making [their endorsements] known as quickly as they can. That’s not forcing [the Clinton campaign] out of the race, that’s giving them facts that they can then base their own decisions on.” He later added, “it’s important for her [Clinton] to know where we [superdelegates] are so she’s not misled.”

... But the Information Says the Race Is Over: However, Romer also believes the time has come for Clinton to make a decision about whether the nomination is achievable. While the extended primary campaign has helped the party in some ways, Romer added that “there is a time that we need to end it and to direct ourselves to the general election. I think that time is now.... At some point in time all of us have got to say, ‘where are the numbers? where is the math?’”

Michigan and Florida: Seat, But With Consequences: As a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, Romer also had firm opinions about the contentious issue of seating delegations from Michigan and Florida, which the DNC's Rules & Bylaws Committee unanimously voted to disqualify after those states tried to increase their influence in the primary process by moving their elections to dates earlier than those allowed by DNC rules. Romer said, “I was chair of the party. The party has to set rules, and the party has to have some control over the timing of the primary races... you can’t just excuse that and say everybody has the same delegates they used to have.” He added, “They need to be seated, but there needs to be a penalty for failing to follow the rules” in order to preserve the party's ability to set primary schedules in the future: “This party has got to find a solution to seat those delegates, but it’s got to do that in a way that says to all states in the future that we mean business when we say there are rules... you can’t have a party that’s effective in modern politics unless you have rules that you can enforce.”

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe also observed that the Clinton campaign, not the Obama campaign, was blocking the resolution of the Michigan problem: “The Michigan and Florida situation will be resolved. There is a proposal from Michigan.... [and] we’re open to that proposal. [But] the Clinton campaign rejected it out of hand.” (The current Michigan proposal would give Clinton a net of ten more delegates than Obama.) Plouffe added that he does not believe Obama will be unable to compete in those states in the general election, citing polls showing Obama beating McCain in Michigan and running even with him in Florida.

Defining, and Approaching, the Finish Line: Plouffe also ruled out the possibility of the Obama campaign “declaring victory” after winning the majority of pledged delegates, which probably will occur during the Oregon primary on May 20. Plouffe said that winning the majority of pledged delegates would be “an important moment” because it will reflect “the will of the voters” and because most superdelegates have said they will endorse the candidate who wins the pledged delegate race. However, he denied that the campaign would be over at that point: “we’re definitely not going to declare victory... we still have three contests after that.”

Instead, the Obama campaign will continue until it reaches 2,025 delegates, which Plouffe said was close: Obama is only 147 delegates short at this point, which Plouffe characterized as “a very achievable number.” Ever since the Indiana and North Carolina primaries last week, the Obama campaign has been portraying the race less as a head-to-head, state-by-state matchup between the two candidates and more as a countdown to a 2,025-delegate finish line. In today's teleconference, Plouffe said that “our focus is on getting to that 2,025 number as quickly as we can.”

Not Poaching Superdelegates: Plouffe was asked to comment on the decision by Maryland superdelegate Jack Johnson to switch from Clinton to Obama; he replied, “Sen. Clinton’s camp has said on occasion that [even] pledged delegates are fair game... [but] we have not approached any of her delegates” to persuade them to defect. He added that Johnson “made that decision on his own.”


A Passing Thought On Burma's Cyclone, China's Earthquake, and America's Katrina

Remember the old Sesame Street song, “which of these things is not like the others? Which of these things just doesn’t belong?” Let’s play that again, just for fun. Which of these governments is not like the others? Which of these governments just doesn’t belong?

1. China, 2008, after earthquake, paranoid Communist government: “China expresses welcome and gratitude for the earthquake relief aid from the international society, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said here Tuesday at a regular press conference.... [China has] opened special channels for receiving foreign aid. China welcomes aid from international society and is willing to keep contacts with foreign nations and organizations, [an official] said.” (Xinhua)

2. Myanmar (Burma), 2008, after cyclone, military dictatorship: “Burmese officials are still denying U.S. emergency help for hundreds of thousands of people in dire need of help in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.... Burma has allowed some Asian neighbours -- such as Thailand and India -- to help. But its ruling junta apparently fears other nations may take advantage of the situation for nefarious reasons.” (

3. Gulf Coast, United States of America, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Bush Administration: “In separate Washington press briefings, both the White House and State Department spokesmen this week downplayed the Cuban government’s offer to send some 1,600 medics, field hospitals and 83 tons of medical supplies to ease the humanitarian disaster.... White House spokesman Scott McClellan scorned the Cuban proposal last Thursday when asked if the president would consider accepting the Cuban help.” (NBC)

A paranoid and inept U.S. government resembling the oppressive Burmese military junta and actually making China's government look open by comparison: one more reason to remember why we need to support the Democratic nominee in November, whoever that is, instead of indulging our own pettinesses by petulantly staying home because our preferred candidate didn't win.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bill Clinton to Oregon Voters: "Trust Me to Deliver Your Ballots"

I've been unable to confirm certain key assertions in this post, so I've withdrawn it. Even unbathed, unshaven guys in pajamas who drink beer and stale coffee mixed together at 7 am while blogging from their parent's basement have some journalistic standards! Please check out my more recent posts, following the link below.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Clinton's Hail Mary

The 2008 Democratic Presidential primary is down to the short strokes today, and unless you have the luxury of hanging out in front of a laptop and cable news all day, you're likely to miss the rapidly evolving or devolving (depending on your perspective) conclusion of this fascinating race.

As I write this, Obama’s on the Hill meeting with "a swarm" of "completely star struck" Superdelegates and party insiders -- a hero’s welcome. Earlier today, Obama met with a group of “Blue Dog” Congressional Democrats – anti-progressives, every one, and not normally in the same camp as the “most liberal Senator,” but eager to associate with a winner and critical to a candidate who seriously intends to actually win Southern states that in the past have gone Republican but this year have registered recordbreaking Democratic turnouts. John Edwards’ campaign manager has just endorsed Obama, and Edwards himself – the last challenger to drop out of the race and an important voice – is appearing on “The Today Show” early tomorrow morning, possibly to finally pick a side. The new "Time" magazine cover shows Obama grinning, with the headline "And The Winner Is..."

In the last 24 hours, a probable deal has materialized that would resolve the Michigan primary debacle by giving Obama just ten delegates fewer than Clinton – an irrelevant dent in his huge delegate lead – instead of denying him any Michigan delegates whatsoever, as the Clinton campaign still insisted upon just yesterday. Obama has even appeared on his campaign jet in blue jeans for the first time – not cravenly reaching out to blue-collar voters, since he wore them on his own plane and not while standing in the bed of a pickup truck, but rather a sign that he’s relaxing a little before shifting into full-blown general election mode.

Obama’s chillin’.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s self-destructing. An unidentified campaign insider has admitted she can’t hold out past mid-June. One of her key supporters, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has started questioning her support. Yet another Clinton superdelegate has switched his allegiance to Obama. Former President Jimmy Carter has gone public with a call to wind things up. All the pundits – even George Stephanopolous, the longtime Clinton supporter who tilted the last debate so far her way that his own career as a legitimate journalist was endangered – are calling the race over. (On MSNBC, Chris Matthews just told Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson, "you guys are like those Japanese soldiers, still fighting in 1953.... After the Battleship Missouri signing ceremony [ending WWII], you're still holding on.") Facing a campaign finance disclosure deadline, she has been forced to admit loaning her campaign over $6.4 million in the last month – bringing the total to over $11 million – and hasn’t ruled out more self-administered life support.

And yesterday, her campaign staff managed to undercut one of her few remaining liberal credentials by explaining her loss in North Carolina and her slender win in Indiana in expressly racial, almost racist, terms, repeatedly boasting of her performance among the “white electorate” and describing that electorate as the one most critical to Clinton’s “electability” and Obama’s supposed lack of it. If they were unsure whether their strategy of making Bill Clinton their official Ambassador to Bubba was enough to destroy any remaining fondness of the black community for the Clintons, or if they wanted to start driving non-black minorities out of their shrinking tent, this new express focus on “the white electorate” was it. This is not the kind of ham-fisted P.R. we expect of a Clinton. [UPDATE: Clinton herself amplified the mistake today, referring twice to how well she's doing with "white" voters in a single short clip playing repeatedly on cable news: “Senator Obama’s support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans is weakening again, and ... the whites in both states who had not attended college were supporting me....”]

And so earlier today, faced with the prospect of their Michigan card going away, and with indispensable Congressional superdelegates literally sitting in a meeting with Obama and deciding which way they'll swing, the Clinton campaign has scrambled – I’ll tell you how we know they scrambled in a sec – to release, very publicly, and in electronic form suitable for beaming to Superdelegates' Blackberries mid-meeting, an open letter to Obama, daring him to support the seating of Michigan’s and Florida’s delegates according to the results of those states' flawed primaries, which both candidates previously swore to discount.That letter is a picture window into the post-rational mind of Hillary Clinton in the waning days of her lifelong dream.

The letter was hastily prepared. We know this because, in a game where letters like this are planned and stockpiled weeks ahead of time and then magically appear in reporters' emails when the timing is exactly right like Athena springing full-armored from the head of Zeus, this key letter has not one, but two typographical errors. I can't remember any other Clinton press release, even the workaday ones reporting the candidate's schedule, containing a typo – but this one, intended for broad public consumption at a critical juncture, has two. It obviously was cranked out in a hurry, more like a pajama-clad blogger trying to scoop the Associated Press from his parents' basement than a well-planned chess move in a Presidential campaign. Athena's armor is on crooked.

The fact that it was hastily prepared means that it is a response to unforeseen events – specifically, the prospect that Michigan will be resolved sooner, and more evenly, than Clinton expected.

The possibility that the Clinton campaign hadn’t seriously considered the possibility of an uncontested resolution in Michigan is stunning, and suggests how deeply out of touch with political and mathematical reality the Clintons have become.

Every other significant party leader and respectable (!) pundit has said all along that Michigan and Florida’s delegations will be seated by August – just not in any way that would alter the outcome of the nominating contest. The DNC has even reserved hotel space in Denver for those delegations. But Clinton has been saying, with increasing fervor, that not only would Michigan and Florida be seated – but seated exactly as they voted in January, with Clinton receiving a large majority of Florida's delegates and Obama getting no Michigan delegates at all, since his name wasn't even on the ballot. (That disingenuous Michigan math, by the way, is how Clinton was able to claim, for a brief period, that she had won more popular votes than Obama had nationwide: she didn’t count caucuses, and she gave him no votes in Michigan since, technically, someone not on the ballot can get none.)

In the past, when Clinton stood firm on her “Obama gets no delegates from Michigan” stance, I assumed she was merely being tough and calculating. No sensible person reasonably expected the party’s elders to give Obama zero delegates if they seated Michigan. And Clinton’s own campaign staff seemed to admit yesterday that she could not win the race for elected delegates even if Michigan and Florida were counted the way she wanted them to be. Of course I didn’t believe that Hillary Clinton herself could believe her own press releases.

But now I think that maybe she did. If today’s desperate open letter to Obama reflects panic that Michigan may be seated in a fair rather than disproportionate way, then perhaps she actually has believed until now that Michigan would save her. Which means she actually has believed, until now, that the superdelegates will flock to her at the last minute. Which means she actually has believed, until now, that she really is the only electable candidate, and perhaps that fate has willed her to be President the same way George W. Bush believes God willed him to be President.

Remind me: which candidate has the Messiah complex, again?

It’s unreasonable to believe Clinton can still win in 2008. Given the political savvy she’s usually credited with, I’ve assumed she understood the math and the practical politics, and so have concluded that her recent actions were early groundwork for her 2012 campaign, not sincere efforts to salvage her 2008 campaign. But maybe I’ve been giving her too much credit. We’ve already seen that, as a campaigner, she’s no Bill Clinton; maybe she’s no Hillary Clinton, either. Maybe, just maybe, she’s sincerely deluded. Today’s flawed Hail Mary letter suggests she is.

Of course Clinton's letter isn't exactly accurate: for instance, last Fall Clinton herself said this about the Michigan primary: "It's clear: This election they're having is not going to count for anything. I personally did not think it made any difference whether or not my name was on the ballot." There was no revote in Michigan primarily because powerful Michigan Senator Carl Levin opposed it, not because Obama did. And, of course, Clinton campaigned stealthily in Florida after swearing -- literally signing a pledge -- not to compete there, yet later began insisting on recognizing the results of that election and even opposed a proposed caucus re-do in Florida to that end. Her hands aren't clean, and the intelligent, politically sophisticated Democrats in Michigan and Florida know full well that today's letter is simplistic and misleading. But it's the timing of the letter, and the otherwise-unremarkable mistakes it contains, that tell the real story here.

Here’s another way of understanding today’s letter, with its typos and factual misrepresentations and flat-footed play for the sentiments of Michiganders and Floridians who already understand the complexities of the issue in far more depth than Clinton’s letter assumes: football.

I know that sports cliches get old, but Clinton has portrayed herself as Rocky, battered but unbowed. (She forgets that after Rocky and Apollo Creed batter themselves insensible, Rocky loses.) Bill Clinton has said that if Obama didn’t want to get hit, he shouldn’t have suited up. They're right that sports are a good analogy; they've just got the game's situation wrong:

It’s late in the fourth quarter; maybe a minute to go. Obama is up by three touchdowns. All he really needs to do is drop to a knee four times to run the clock out, and he wins. The police are restraining the fans from coming onto the field; the announcers are naming the production staff. But Clinton doesn’t believe it’s over. She believes she still can win – after all, it’s not mathematically impossible for her to score on a Hail Mary, kick the extra point, successfully recover an onside kick, then do it all twice more, all in one minute. It’s never been done, but it theoretically could be.

And then she does what all inferior quarterbacks do under pressure: she tries that Hail Mary pass – today’s letter, trying to salvage a lopsided delegate count from Michigan – but, under pressure, she isn’t paying attention to fundamentals any more. She isn’t watching for the secondary receiver; she isn’t using her peripheral vision; she isn’t making a firm plant before releasing the ball; she throws away Latino and Asian and black votes by repeatedly emphasizing the importance of "the white electorate"; she isn’t even running SpellCheck on important documents. There’s not enough time! There’s not enough time! The candidate herself repeats her staffers' racist blunders; the important "open letter" is issued to thousands of media outlets with two typographical errors. The ball leaves the quarterback’s hand with a slight wobble ... the defender wants to end the game, and his eyes and his reflexes are sharp ....

Or we can return to Clinton's Rocky analogy. There's a reason fights have referees, and fighters have trainers who are authorized to throw in the towel: the boxer who's high on adrenaline and dizzy from being pummeled doesn't always realize how badly she's being beaten or how much she stands to lose by continuing. In some fights, when the fighter won't quit but should, it's completely proper -- humane for the fighter, and healthy for the sport itself -- for someone to stop the fight. Not because they're afraid of the fight continuing, but because they see, even if the fighter doesn't, that it's actually already over.

Clinton's Open Letter to Obama re: Michigan and Florida

On a day when it appears that the Michigan controversy may be resolved in a way that's fair to all parties -- but not in a way that gives Hillary Clinton all that state's delegates and Barack Obama none, as her campaign insists -- Clinton has just upped the ante by issuing an open letter to Obama, pretending that he is the sole obstacle to a fair resolution of the Michigan and Florida brouhaha and that she has always supported revotes (neither of which is accurate). (And, of course, she said this about Michigan in an interview last fall: "It's clear: This election they're having is not going to count for anything. I personally did not think it made any difference whether or not my name was on the ballot.") There's lots to discuss, but the letter itself is more than adequate fodder:

May 8, 2008

Senator Barack Obama

Obama for America
P.O. Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680

Dear Senator Obama,

This has been an historic and exciting campaign. Millions of new voters have been brought into the process and their enthusiasm for the Democratic Party and the principles for which you and I have fought and continue to fight is unprecedented.

One of the foremost principles of our party is that citizens be allowed to vote and that those votes be counted. That principle is not currently being applied to the nearly 2.5 million people who voted in primaries in Florida and Michigan. Whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will be hamstrung in the general election if a fair and quick resolution is not reached that ensures that the voices of these voters are heard. Our commitment now to this goal could be the difference between winning and losing in November.

I have consistently said that the votes cast in Florida and Michigan in January should be counted. We cannot ignore the fact that the people in those states took the time to be a part of this process and to make their preferences known. When efforts were untaken [sic] by leaders in those states to hold revotes to ensure that they had a voice in selecting our nominee, I supported those efforts. In Michigan, I supported a legislative effort to hold a revote that the Democratic National Committee said was in complete compliance with the party's rules. You did not support those efforts and your supporters in Michigan publically [sic] opposed them. In Florida a number of revote options were proposed. I am not aware of any that you supported. In 2000, the Republicans won an election by successfully opposing a fair counting of votes in Florida. As Democrats, we must reject any proposals that would do the same.

Your commitment to the voters of these states must be clearly stated and your support for a fair and quick resolution must be clearly demonstrated.

I am asking you to join me in working with representatives from Florida and Michigan and the Democratic National Committee to arrive at a solution that honors the votes of the millions of people who went to the polls in Florida and Michigan. It is not enough to simply seat their representatives at the convention in Denver. The people of these great states, like the people who have voted and are to vote in other states, must have a voice in selecting our party's nominee.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Related news coverage here, here, here, here and here.

Clinton Campaign Defines Victory In Racial Terms

In a telephone press conference Wednesday, the Clinton campaign firmly reiterated its intention to keep seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination, spinning both her striking loss in North Carolina and her slender win in Indiana yesterday as positive developments -- while also appearing to admit that she is not going to win a majority of elected delegates even if Michigan and Florida's delegations are counted -- and parsing yesterday's primary results in starkly racial terms that are likely to exacerbate her increasingly significant troubles reaching out to minority voters.

The conference, called by Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson to discuss "the state of the race," was also attended by Geoff Garin, chief Clinton strategist, and Phil Singer, the campaign's Deputy Communications Director.

Wolfson seemed to rule out any possibility of Clinton suspending her campaign in light of Tuesday's primaries. Asked whether there had been any internal discussions about not going forward, an unidentified voice loudly replied, "NO!" When a reporter asked who had just spoken, Wolfson replied, "That was my declarative self." Several times during the conference, campaign spokesmen reiterated their belief that the drawn-out primary was a good thing for the Democratic Party and that voters want the campaign to continue. Apparently moving not the finish line but the starting line, Wolfson also described next week's West Virginia primary as "the first key test" of the campaign's momentum.

Putting the best face on a day that nearly all commentators are calling a significant win for Obama, Garin described the results in Indiana and North Carolina as "an outcome about which we feel very, very good." Indiana, where Clinton won by a scant 51 percent - 49 percent margin, "represents significant progress for Senator Clinton and .... is a good victory under challenging circumstances" because her narrow victory there was "the first time ... that Senator Clinton has come from behind to victory," according to Garin. And North Carolina, where Clinton lost to Obama by 14 points, "represent[s] progress for us," he said, underlining the campaign's focus demographic, because Clinton improved her performance with "the white electorate" compared to polls taken two weeks before the election. Wolfson, too, put a positive spin on yesterday's results, saying that Indiana and North Carolina were "two states we were supposed to lose" but "we won one." According to Wolfson, although Indiana was a near-tie, "Senator Clinton [was] making up ground in Indiana, and Senator Obama losing ground."

The Clinton campaign's analysis of yesterday's results was largely based on exit polling and a careful parsing along demographic -- mainly racial -- lines that seemed to track the campaign's recent strategy of dispatching Bill Clinton to speak to small groups of rural, almost exclusively white, Southern voters. Wolfson emphasized Clinton's support among white voters, saying, "in North Carolina among the white electorate we started even... and ended up with a 24 point advantage with that part of the electorate." Comparing Clinton's relative performance among white voters in North Carolina yesterday with her weaker performance with white voters in Virginia earlier in the race, Garin said: "Virginia is the closest white electorate in the country to the electorate that participated in North Carolina. We lost the white electorate in Virginia... [but] ended up with a significant vote" among whites in North Carolina. Garin continued by emphasizing other demographic groups that Clinton is targeting, saying, "Taking the two states together, Senator Clinton continues to run very strongly among people who are likely to be the swing voters in the November election... non-college-educated voters, seniors, Catholics...."

At points, the Clinton representatives' demographic parsing bordered on surreal. Wolfson seemed to imply that gasoline prices are primarily a white issue, suggesting that Clinton's proposal for a gas tax "holiday" had helped her with white voters and promising that she would continue urging that proposal on the stump. In response to a pair of questions about whether African Americans would support Clinton in the general election, Wolfson repeatedly referred to Obama's "passionate supporters," seeming to conflate the two.

In terms of campaign strategy, the Clinton camp almost expressly admitted that her presidential aspirations now lie in the hands of Democratic Party operatives, including the party committees that will determine the fate of the currently disqualified Michigan and Florida delegations and the undeclared superdelegates who theoretically could still give the nomination to Clinton. Although he described Clinton as focused on the last few primaries, Wolfson -- in terms redolent of Bill Clinton's infamous "it all depends on what the definition of 'is' is" -- admitted that she likely would not win the majority of elected delegates: "We expect that when we get to June 3rd we'll have a close result. It raises the question of how close is close."

Phil Singer seemed to admit that even Michigan and Florida are not likely to alter her probable loss in both the elected-delegate and total-delegate races, saying that seating both states would at best bring Clinton to "fewer than a hundred elected delegates, excuse me, total delegates" of the nomination. Nevertheless, Clinton is urging not only that delegations from those two states be seated, but seated in full (and without Obama receiving any delegates at all from Michigan, where his name was not on the ballot). Wolfson described Clinton's performance in both states' primaries -- in which neither candidate overtly campaigned -- as "significant victories" and disagreed with suggestions that the delegations be seated at half-strength as a penalty for knowingly advancing their primaries earlier than Democratic Party rules allowed: "Our feeling is that the delegations should be seated in full, that they should have full votes" "commensurate with the results from those primaries." Clinton also plans to keep making an electability argument to superdelegates, including in a meeting with undeclared superdelegates planned for Wednesday night.

Wolfson also was asked about Clinton's financial ability to continue the campaign. He described Clinton as having raised "an awful lot of money" but admitted Obama is doing the same: "We had a very good fundraising month last month, but Senator Obama had a better fundraising month." He acknowledged that Clinton had loaned her own campaign $5 million in April, another $1 million on May 1, and $425,000 on May 5. He declined to rule out the possibility of Clinton making additional loans to keep her campaign afloat.

Wolfson declined to speculate about the possibility of a "unity" Obama-Clinton ticket, calling it premature and stating, "we have not had any conversations with the Obama campaign about such a ticket" and "I have not heard her evince any interest in such a ticket."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Harry Reid on The Daily Show

I don't normally liveblog TV -- research, reporting, analysis and hopefully a little erudition are more my speed -- but I'm watching Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," and can't resist jumping on the laptop. Reid's the single worst interview I've ever seen on the program, utterly lackluster, a fact that I find politically relevant.

Despite his regular email blasts mistitled "Give 'Em Hell Harry," Reid has been the weakest, least successful Majority Leader in recent Senate history. Reid is, of course, one of the party leaders who's not stopping the self-destructive Clinton-Obama civil war, but that's the least of his flaws. The leader of the Senate majority -- not the minority, but the majority -- actually whined to Stewart, "I'm as disappointed as the American people are we haven't had more change," blaming the Republican minority for merely THREATENING to filibuster Democratic legislation -- yet he hasn't ever forced the Republicans to actually follow through with a real filibuster, let alone punished them in the public eye for doing so. He's weak, weak, weak -- a Minority Leader who proved unable to use the filibuster to block the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, yet (perversely) a Majority Leader who's proving unable to prevent the mere threat of filibuster from stymying every initiative his party was elected to accomplish. (Reid's failure to block the Roberts and Alito nominations are underscored by John McCain's announcement today embracing the neoconservative judges Reid, a pro-lifer, inexcusably allowed Bush to appoint to lifetime posts.)

And now, watching Reid on Stewart, where vigor and humor and a lively intelligence are expected, I can see why: he's old, not necessarily chronologically but physically; and tired, and passive, and patently, ridiculously weak. Those who read me with any regularity know I don't usually stoop to ad hominem criticisms like this -- but American lives and American families are at stake in this time of war and recession and seven years of obscene mismanagement of the nation's government, and this is the wrong man to accomplish the critical tasks the American people desperately need their leaders to accomplish. It isn't just his lack of charisma; it's his lack of energy, of wit, even of interest in current events. It's even his lack of knowledge of Senate rules: listening to him on Stewart, it sounds like he doesn't even realize that Senate rules would allow Dems to keep the majority position at least until January even if they were to kick Joe Lieberman out on his Vichy ass -- an important technicality I didn't know about until recently, but which I'd expect the Majority Leader to have close to the front of his mind at all times.

Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, R.I.P. (figuratively, not literally, please). Step down. Time for new blood. It would help your party in this election; it would help your nation in this time of trial.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Text of Obama Speech on Gas Prices and the Economy

Following a couple of weeks of media obsession about a man who's not his pastor, debates over debates (one that wasn't, and one that everyone wishes hadn't been), endless speculation over "banked" superdelegates, an 18-year-old mumble caught on film, and other distractions, Barack Obama gave a speech today at Lawrence High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, that returned attention to issues that matter, especially gas prices and the Main Street economy.

Before posting the text of that speech, I have a favor to ask, designed to maximize the level of discourse: before commenting, please read the speech. (Seems like that would be a good rule for all posts!)

Here's what Obama said in Indiana today:

"When I began this campaign for the presidency, I said I was running because I believed that the size of our challenges had outgrown the smallness of our politics in Washington – the pettiness and the game-playing and the influence-peddling that always prevents us from solving the problems we face year after year after year.

"I ran because I believed that this year – that this moment – was too important to let that happen again. And I had faith that you believed that too – that you were ready for something different; that you were hungry for something new.

"Fifteen months later, we’re already doing what none of the cynics in Washington thought we could do. In the face of a politics that’s tried to divide us and distract us and make this campaign about who’s up and who’s down and who-said-what-about-who, we’ve built a movement of Americans from every race and region and party who desperately want change in Washington.

"I have no illusions about how far we have to go. Our road is still long. Our climb is still steep. But fifteen months later, I also know that our mission is even more urgent because the challenges facing people across Indiana and the country are growing by the day.

"I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

"You don’t have to turn on the news or follow the stock tickers or wait for all the economists and politicians to agree on what is or is not a recession to know that our economy is in serious trouble. You can feel it in your own lives. And I hear it everywhere I go. Like the young man I met in Pennsylvania who lost his job but can’t afford the gas to drive around and look for a new one. Or the woman from Anderson who just lost her job, and her pension, and her insurance when the Delphi plant closed down – even while the top executives walked away with multi-million-dollar bonuses. Or the families across this country who will sit around the kitchen table tonight and wonder whether next week’s paycheck will be enough to cover next month’s bills – who will look at their children without knowing if they’ll be able to give them the same chances that they had.

"But here’s what Washington and Wall Street don’t get:

"This economy doesn’t just jeopardize our financial well-being, it offends the most basic values that have made this country what it is: the idea that America is the place where you can make it if you try. That no matter how much money you start with or where you come from or who your parents are, opportunity is yours if you’re willing to reach for it and work for it. It’s the idea that while there are no guarantees in life, you should able to count on a job that pays the bills; health care for when you get sick; a pension for when you retire; an education for your children that will allow them to fulfill their God-given potential. That’s who we are as a country. That’s the America most of us here know. It’s the America our parents and our grandparents grew up knowing.

"This is the country that gave my grandfather a chance to go to college on the GI Bill when he came home from World War II; a country that gave him and my grandmother – a small-town couple from Kansas – the chance to buy their first home with a loan from the government.

"This is the country that made it possible for my mother – a single parent who had to go on food stamps at one point – to send my sister and me to the best schools in the country with the help of scholarships.

"This is the country that allowed my father-in-law – a city worker at a South Side water filtration plant – to provide for his wife and two children on a single salary. This is a man who was diagnosed at age thirty with multiple sclerosis – who relied on a walker to get himself to work. And yet, every day he went, and he labored, and he sent my wife and her brother to one of the best colleges in the nation.

"That job didn’t just give him a paycheck, it gave him dignity and self-worth. It was an America that didn’t just reward and honor wealth, but the work and the workers who helped create it.

"And we are here today looking for the answer to the same question:

"Where is that America today?

"How many veterans come home from this war without the care they need – how many wander the streets of the richest country on Earth without a roof over their heads? How many single parents can’t even afford to send their children to the doctor when they get sick, never mind to four years of college? How many workers have suffered the indignity of having to compete with their own children for a minimum wage job at McDonalds after they gave their lives to a company where the CEO just walked off with that multi-million dollar bonus?

"And most of all, how many years – how many decades – have we talked and talked and talked about these problems while Washington has done nothing, or tinkered, or made them worse.

"There is no doubt that many of these challenges have to do with fundamental shifts in our economy that began decades ago – changes that have torn down borders and barriers and allowed companies to send jobs wherever there’s a cheap source of labor. And today, with countries like China and India educating their children longer and better, and revolutions in communication and technology, they can send the jobs wherever there’s an internet connection.

"I saw the beginnings of these changes up close when I moved to the South Side of Chicago more than two decades ago to help neighborhoods that were devastated when the local steel plant closed. I saw the indignity of joblessness and the hopelessness of lost opportunity.

"But I also saw that we are not powerless in the face of these challenges. We don’t have to sit here and watch our leaders do nothing. I learned that we don’t have to consign our children to a future of diminished dreams – a future of fewer opportunities. And that’s why I’m running for President today. Politics didn’t lead me to working people – working people led me to politics.

"I’m running because we can’t afford to settle for a Washington where John McCain gets the chance to give us four more years of the same Bush policies that have failed us for the last eight. More tax breaks for CEOs who make more in a day than some workers make in a year. More tax breaks for the same corporations that ship our jobs overseas. More of the trickle-down, on-your-own philosophy that says there’s nothing government can do about the problems we face – so we might as well just hand out a few tax breaks and tell people to buy their own health care, their own education, their own roads, their own bridges. That hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work for our future.

"We can’t afford to settle for a Washington where our energy policy, and our health care policy, and our tax policy is sold to the highest-bidding lobbyist. We can’t keep taking thousands of dollars of their money year after year, election after election. Senator Clinton says they represent real Americans, but you and I know who they really represent – the oil companies and the drug companies and the insurance companies who keep us from bringing down the cost of our premiums and our prescriptions and investing in renewable fuels.

"We can’t afford to settle for a Washington where politicians only focus on how to win instead of why we should; where they check the polls before they check their gut; where they only tell us whatever we want to hear whenever we want to hear it. That kind of politics may get them where they need to go, but it doesn’t get America where we need to go. And it won’t change anything.

"Some of you might have seen that Senator Clinton’s spending a lot of money on a television ad that attacks me for not supporting her and John McCain’s idea of a gas tax holiday for the summer. Now, this is an idea that will save you – altogether – half a tank of gas. That’s thirty cents a day. For three months. That’s if the oil companies don’t simply jack up their price to fill the gap, as they’ve done when this was tried before. Does anyone here really trust the oil companies to give you the savings when they could just pocket the money themselves?

"It’s a shell game. Literally.

"In a moment of candor, her advisors actually admitted that it wouldn’t have much of an effect on gas prices. But, they said, it’s a great political issue for Senator Clinton. So this is not about getting you through the summer, it’s about getting elected.

"And this is what passes for leadership in Washington-- phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems.

"Now Senator Clinton’s been using this issue to make the argument that I’m somehow “out of touch.” Well let me tell you – only in Washington can you get away with calling someone out of touch when you’re the one who thinks that thirty cents a day is enough to help people who are struggling in this economy. I’ll tell you what I think – I think the American people are smarter than Washington gives us credit for.

"I wish I could stand up here and tell you that we could fix our energy problems with a holiday. I wish I could tell you that we can take a time-out from trade and bring back the jobs that have gone overseas. I wish I could promise that on day one of my presidency, I could pass every plan and proposal I’ve outlined in this campaign.

"But my guess is that you’ve heard those promises before. You hear them every year, in every election. And afterwards, when everyone goes back to Washington, the game-playing, and the influence-peddling, and the petty bickering continues. Nothing gets done. And four years later, we’re right back here making the very same promises about the very same problems.

"Well this year you have a choice. If you want to take another chance on the same kind of politics we’ve come to know in Washington, there are other candidates to choose from.

"But I still believe we need to fundamentally change Washington if we want change in America. I still believe this election is bigger than me, or Senator Clinton, or Senator McCain. It’s bigger than Democrats versus Republicans.

"It’s about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this country, at this moment, will continue to stand by while the wealthy few prosper at the expense of the hardworking many, or whether we’ll stand up and reclaim the American dream for every American. It’s about whether we’ll watch the Chinas and the Indias of the world move past us, or whether we’ll decide that in the 21st century, the home of innovation, and discovery, and progress will still be the United States of America.

"Reclaiming this dream will take more than one election. It will take more than one person or one party. It will take the effort and sacrifice of a nation united. And that’s the truth.

"We can provide relief that’s more than a holiday to families who are struggling in this economy. I’m the only candidate who’s proposed a genuine middle-class tax cut that’s paid for in part by closing corporate loopholes and shutting down tax havens. It would save nearly every working family $1,000, eliminate income taxes for seniors making under $50,000, and provide a mortgage tax credit to struggling homeowners that would cover ten percent of their mortgage interest payment every year.

"I also have a health care plan that would save the average family $2,500 on their premiums and provide the uninsured with the same kind of health care Members of Congress give themselves. That’s real relief, but we can only pay for this if we finally rollback the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them.

"We may not be able to bring back all the jobs that we’ve lost to trade, but we can create tomorrow’s jobs in this country. I happen to believe in free trade. But we do the cause of trade no favors when we pass agreements that are filled with perks for every special interest under the sun and absolutely no protections for American workers. There’s absolutely no reason we should be giving tax breaks to corporations who ship jobs overseas. When I’m President, I will eliminate those tax breaks and give them to companies who create good jobs right here in America.

"We can also create jobs if we finally get serious about rebuilding our crumbling and decaying national infrastructure. A few years ago, one out of three urban bridges were classified as structurally deficient, and we all saw the tragic results of what that could mean in Minnesota last year. It’s unacceptable. That’s why I’m proposing a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years and generate nearly two million new jobs – many of them in the construction industry that’s been hard hit by this housing crisis. The repairs will be determined not by politics, but by what will maximize our safety. And we’ll fund this bank by ending this war in Iraq. It’s time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money on putting America back together instead.

"And if want to take a permanent holiday from our oil addiction, we can finally get serious about energy independence and create five million new green jobs in the process – jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced. We’ll do what I did when I went to Detroit and tell the automakers it’s time they raised fuel mileage standards in this country. We’ll make companies pay for the pollution they release into the air, we’ll tax the record profits of the oil companies, and we’ll use that money to invest in clean, affordable, renewable energy like solar power, and wind power, and biofuels.

"I’ll be honest – this transition to a green economy won’t come without costs that all of us will have to pay, but it’s the only way we’ll free ourselves from the whims of Middle East dictator; the only way we’ll make sure we’re not talking about high gas prices five years from now and ten years from now; the only way we can pass on a planet that’s still recognizable to our children and their children.

"And if we want our children to succeed in this global economy – if we want them to be able to compete with children in Beijing and Bangalore – then we need to make sure that every child, everywhere gets a world-class education, from the day they’re born until the day they graduate college. That means investing in early childhood education. It means that we need to recruit an army of new teachers by not just talking about how great teachers are, but rewarding them for their greatness with better pay and more support. And it means that in this country – in this global economy – we will not create a small class of the educated few by allowing thousands and thousands of young people to be priced out of college year after year. We are better than that. When I’m President, we’ll create a bargain with every American who wants to go to college: we will pay for your tuition if you serve your country in some way for two years after you graduate.

"Real relief for middle-class families, seniors, and homeowners. Lower premiums for those who have health care and coverage for everyone who wants it. Five million green jobs right here in America. A world-class education that will allow every American to reach their God-given potential and compete with any worker in the world.

"All of this is possible, but it’s just a list of policies until you decide that it’s time to make the Washington we have look like the America we know – one where the future is not determined by those with money and influence; where common sense and honesty are cherished values; where we are stronger than that which divides us because we realize that in the end, we rise or fall as one nation – as one people.

"It was forty years ago this May that Robert Kennedy took his unlikely campaign to create a new kind of politics to Indiana. And as he campaigned in Fort Wayne, he laid out a vision that America we know. He said, “Income and education and homes do not make a nation. Nor do land and borders. Shared ideals and principles, joined purposes and hopes – these make a nation. And that is our great task.”

"It is still our task today.

"We’ve always known this wouldn’t be easy. The change we’re looking for never is. Generations before us have fought wars and revolutions; they’ve struggled and they’ve sacrificed; they’ve stood up and spoke out and marched through the streets for the opportunities that we enjoy.

"And that’s why the only way a black guy named Barack Obama who was born in Hawaii, and started his career on the streets of Chicago, can win this race – if you decide that you’ve had enough of the way things are; if you decide that this election is bigger than flag pins and sniper fire and the comments of a former pastor – bigger than the differences between what we look like or where we come from or what party we belong to.

"And if you do – if you decide that this moment is about what kind of country we’ll be in the next year and the next century; about how we’ll provide jobs to the jobless and opportunity to those without it; about health care and good schools and a green planet; about giving our children a better world and a brighter future – then I ask you to enlist your neighbors, and knock on doors, and work your heart out from now until Tuesday. In the face of all cynicism, and doubt, and fear, I ask you to remember what makes a nation – and to believe that we can once again make this nation the land of limitless possibility and unyielding hope – the place where you can still make it if you try. Thank you, and may God Bless the United States of America."
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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.