Friday, February 29, 2008

Hillary Channels Reagan: "There's A Bear In the Woods. Some People Say It's Tame..."

Hillary Clinton's new campaign ad airing in Texas, which uses Bush/Cheney/Rovian tactics to scare voters into voting for her, should be enough to make everyone vote against her. Haven't we had enough fearmongering from the Bushies? Do we really want another President who will amp up the color-coded "be very very afraid" warning to Code Flashing Bright Red just before her next election? I don't think so.

But at least her ad -- and Obama's responding ad, which shows how much he learned from John Kerry's error in not swiftly rebutting Swiftboaters like Clinton -- give us the chance to do two things:

First, it lets us see Hillary's campaign for what it is -- a desperate effort to demoralize us into being afraid to take a chance on change, borrowing heavily from Karl Rove's "politics of fear" tactics and, especially, borrowing most heavily from another hawkish conservative, Ronald Reagan.

Second, it allows us to compare apples to apples by looking at two political commercials, first Hillary's attack, then Barack's truthful and measured response, and decide which candidate's approach we like best. Let's take these in turn:

First: Hillary Clinton ♥ Ronald Reagan (and Bush/Cheney). In the 1984 Presidential campaign, the candidates disagreed about how big a threat the USSR was. Then the Reagan-Bush campaign ran this famous ad, "Bear In The Woods", invoking American's fear of the Soviet Union (whose symbol was a bear):

As it turned out (and the CIA itself sheepishly admitted), the Soviet bear actually was tame, and collapsed under the weight of its own failings shortly afterward. But Reagan's "Bear" ad helped him win re-election, because it made people afraid to vote for change.

In 2004, Bush/Cheney copied Reagan's theme, updated to reflect terrorism as the new enemy, in their ad, "Wolves":

Now compare Reagan's and Bush/Cheney's fearmongering with Hillary's ad, "Children" (aka "3:00 AM"), aired in Texas early today:

Now ask: is Clinton appealing to your reason, or to your fear? Is she addressing a legitimate issue in a responsible way -- or channeling the spirit of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney?

Second: Who's Better Qualified to Answer the Red Phone, Clinton or Obama? Next, let's compare Hillary's attack ad (above) with Obama's response, "Ringing," prepared with lightning speed and released today (the same day as Clinton's ad!):

By the way, in case you're still thinking that Hillary "Experience" Clinton actually has answered the red phone to deal with a foreign policy emergency in the middle of the night -- her own campaign essentially says, um... no, actually, she hasn't. (H/T Yglesias.) So I'd say Obama's good judgment trumps Clinton's poor judgment on Iraq, given that neither one has ever been President before.

Finally, three questions (OK, three sets of questions):

1) Which candidate losing, flailing, and on the attack, and which candidate is responding with toughness, truth -- and class?

2) If Obama wins the nomination, do you think Clinton's ad will hurt his chances of winning against war hero John McCain? If so, what does that say about Hillary's commitment to the party and the country? Is she mainly interested in what's best for all of us, or just in winning for herself?

3) Democrats want a nominee who can actually win in November. Clinton claims she knows how to run a campaign, fight tough opponents -- and that those skills carry over into how she'll run the White House. But which candidate is flailing around, reaching back two decades to find dirty tricks in hopes of salvaging a victory, and which candidate is running an effective, efficient, on-message campaign -- managing money well, planning ahead, responding quickly and appropriately to attacks, and generally showing the kind of leadership and toughness we expect both in a candidate and in a President?

Relevant news stories from Time, Time again, CNN, CNN again. The Wall Street Journal reaches back, not to Reagan's 1984 "bear" ad, but to LBJ's 1964 "Daisy" ad -- almost as if the conservative paper now owned by Fox News' Rupert Murdoch, who threw Hillary a campaign fundraiser two years ago, doesn't want to admit that she's its preferred candidate, and is much more conservative than she pretends to be. Update, 3/1: NYTimes articles here and here; the Washington Post on the "dueling ads" here; and another Wall Street Journal piece here. Second update, 3/1: D'oh! Of course, Hillary's ad is almost identical to a 1984 Walter Mondale ad, "Red Phone," which isn't surprising since the same MadMan (adman) produced both ads. That doesn't change the Clinton ad's nature -- using the same fear-based campaigning as Reagan and Bush. It's also interesting that the same Hillary Clinton who criticized Obama for sharing the same speechwriter, and therefore similar language, as his friend Deval Patrick, turned around and hired the same adman as Walter Mondale used 24 years ago, to produce a similar ad. That's hypocrisy. And I'll also ask: hiring an adman from the 1980s to reprise a 24 year old smear ad? This is the "forward looking" candidate Clinton claims to be? Yow.

Why Single-Party Democratic Government Makes Sense, At Least For Now

(Photo: CNN)

There's a school of thought that says voters should cross-vote the Presidential and Congressional elections -- ie, that when there's Democratic President there should be a Republican Congress and vice versa. In ordinary times that can make sense, because even a progressive like me believes that some degree of ideological tension -- collaborative in practice, but tension nonetheless -- can be a healthy brake on wild ideas. At least the power exerted by what the British call "the loyal opposition" can serve as a reality check on any majority's wilder flights of fancy, and also can represent the interests of the substantial minority of citizens who prefer the minority party, whichever one that is.

But we're living in an exceptional time that proves the rule. So much harm has been done by neo-"conservative" one-party Republican rule that we can't afford a government that moves slowly. We have a lot of exigent problems as a nation, running the gamut from Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan to unacceptable troop losses and institutional foot-dragging by the Iraqi "government" to a still-unrebuilt New Orleans to a looming recession (or worse) to snowballing foreclosures, including tremendously high levels in Texas, to global warming to our inability to muster allies in military actions to problems in Kosovo and on and on. Right now, we need a good government, that's willing to consider all good ideas but that then has the ability to act efficiently.

Put differently: there are a lot of fires right now. Our government is like a fire truck that must get around as quickly as possible if it wants to put them all out before they turn into a citywide conflagration. And intentionally hobbling our government right now is akin to disabling a couple of cylinders on the truck, so that it can't drive so quickly -- or having two drivers, each intent on putting out a different fire first. Won't work. One driver, fast truck, save the city.

Another way of hobbling the government -- one the Founders wanted in place most of the time, but also understood should be overridden at times like this -- is the filibuster in the Senate, which allows the minority (currently, Republicans) to block legislation that the majority wants unless the majority can must 60 votes to override it. The filibuster should be used sparingly, but since the Democrats regained the majority in the Senate, the Republicans have used it to stymie every serious Democratic initiative. If voters think it's being abused, then the solution is to reduce the minority party's numbers still further, to the point that in the rare case when the majority can muster all its members to vote together (not easy with Democrats!), the minority cannot block an important bill.

Here's a case in point:

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked efforts to give bankruptcy courts more power to stave off home foreclosures, a move the chamber's Democratic leader called "a big mistake."

"The people on Wall Street are high-fiving. They just won again," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said after the vote.

"The big banks just won again. The mortgage bankers won again. Oh, there are a few losers out there, like millions of consumers -- millions of people who are going into foreclosure or are about to go into foreclosure. They lost."

The banking industry and President Bush opposed the bill, which would have allowed bankruptcy judges to reduce a filer's mortgage debt to the home's current market value.

Bush's GOP allies filibustered the measure Thursday afternoon, invoking Senate rules to require 60 votes to cut off debate and bring it to the floor; Democrats came 12 votes short of that mark.

(Another article here.)

The concept of bankruptcy courts reducing the amount someone owes on their mortgage may seem unfair, but this tool (called a "cramdown") was part of bankruptcy law for decades, and it's not actually unfair: every bankruptcy wipes out some or all of a person's debt, and there's little reason to exclude mortgage debt from that principle. It's also not different from what happens in most cases anyway: if someone's house's value has decreased to the point that it's worth less than the mortgage, adjusting the mortgage downward only reflects reality (the lender's security is worth less than its loan; deal with it!), and it does no more harm to the lender than an owner's "short sale" (selling the house for less than is owed) or a lender's foreclosure sale (which, again, cashes the lender out for less money than it originally lent). Not to mention, of course, that the lender often has made a mistake, or worse, in lending more money than the borrower can afford or than the house is worth -- and in true capitalism, as distinguished from modern crony capitalism, bonehead moves are supposed to get penalized. Just ask Adam Smith. And bankruptcy judges didn't use the "cramdown" tool very often, anyway.

So reinstating a tool that bankruptcy courts used to have but sparingly used, that keeps families in their homes in downturns like these and converts lenders' bad loans into good ones again, that causes a little bleeding in order to prevent a fatal hemorrhage, would be a good thing. But the Republican Party, as always much more interested in Wall Street (big, transnational business) than it is in Main Street (small and medium business) or Elm Street (people themselves), blocked it, and Bush threatened to veto it even if it passed.

So this is not a time to "cross vote." It's time to elect a President and representatives we trust and then give them the power to solve problems, like the foreclosure crisis. In this election, that means:

(a) Electing more Democrats to Congress, especially the Senate, and
(b) Electing as President not just a Democrat, but a Democrat who is both willing to break from Establishment thinking and can inspire the herd of cats that is the Democratic Congress into pulling together on important issues like this.

Then our government will be able to solve those problems that only government can solve. And, for those worried about Democrats having too much power, if we don't like what a Democratic government does, we can start cutting it back in only two years, when 1/3 of the Senate and the entire House will be up for re-election.

After seven years of either Republican-only or gridlocked rule, isn't it reasonable to try a Progressive Democratic government for two years, and see how well they do for a change?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Dead at 82

A harmful, fascinating, brilliant, well-intended, generally sincere, and -- I'll take the plunge -- admirable guy. An architect of the conservative rise to power that ultimately enabled Gingrich to take Congress and Bush to take the White House, which means he did far more harm than good.

But also an advocate of true, old-fashioned conservatism -- remember back that far, when protecting individual rights against an oppressive government, fiscal responsibility, and putting America first were their main planks? -- whose influential publication, The National Review, actually endorsed Kerry in 2004 because Bush had deviated so far from true conservatism, and who personally expressed doubts about the Iraq War, as even conservatives concede.

One of his signature lines -- which summarized his philosophy, makes sense if one understands that Buckley's conservatism largely evolved in opposition to the Kennedy administration's fervent faith in "experts" in government, and could serve as a koan for a graduate-level poli sci class to discuss for a full semester -- was this:

“I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

I disagreed with most of what he said -- when I could understand him at all; he delivered the commencement speech at my graduation from the University of California, Davis in 1984 and for an hour all we could hear was mumbles that often seemed self-amused, and I still have absolutely no idea what he talked about. But at least he was a thinking Republican in that long-ago time when that party still considered itself to be based on logic and "reality" -- and if nothing else, we progressives could learn a lot from the way Buckley engineered the rise of conservatism from a discredited philosophy that even Republican Dwight Eisenhower disclaimed and said was limited to a small group of crazy Texans, into a force so powerful that it could bring the most powerful nation on Earth to the brink of ruin.

It'll take someone like him, some genius (in the sense of spirit or energy) like his, his Progressive doppelganger, to save our country from the problems that he, without knowing it when he began, helped create.

So, to a complex man: R.I.P.

Stories here, here, and here, and what the heck, here here here, if anyone's interested, and a good collection of his quotes here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Predicting, Then Liveblogging, The Potentially Decisive Democratic Debate

(Liveblogging at bottom of post)

Tonight’s debate in Ohio between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – the 20th they’ve participated in, the last one before the potentially decisive primaries in Texas and Ohio, and supposedly (hopefully?) the last one they’ll have comes at a critical point in both campaigns.

For Obama, it could be a final chance to beat Clinton, either with a knockout blow or on points. The knockout blow would be for Obama to win both Texas and Ohio: no less than Bill Clinton has said Hillary must win both those states to stay in the game, and just a week ago Hillary still had a substantial lead over Obama in both states, so a Clinton loss in both states – which would be her 12th and 13th consecutive losses to Obama – would make Obama appear unstoppable. More importantly, it would put Obama so far in the lead both in pledged (elected) delegates and in states won that Clinton would find it impossible use her considerable political influence to rig the convention. Party leaders, notwithstanding their loyalty to the Clintons, could not override the popular vote to that extent without massive outrage which would be good neither for the party’s chances in November nor for their personal chances of re-election. If Hillary loses both Texas and Ohio, she’s probably down for the count. That’s Obama’s goal on March 4.

However, an Obama win on points is more likely, either because the candidates wind up splitting the two states (the most recent polls show Obama ahead in one state and Clinton ahead in the other), or because Obama loses both states but comes close enough to divide their delegates almost evenly with Clinton and rendering her win meaningless. (Mathematically, Clinton doesn’t just need to win both states to stay in the game – she needs substantial wins, on the order of 60%, to start catching up to Obama in terms of delegate count.) So Obama will “win” strategically if he even comes close to Clinton – but that’s still much less desirable: if Clinton wins one or both states, even by a statistically irrelevant margin, then regardless of the actual electoral mathematics, the next day’s headlines will trumpet that she’s broken Obama’s winning streak. That breath of life could lengthen Clinton’s candidacy, postponing Obama’s ability to switch into “general election” mode and start challenging McCain directly (and possibly boosting Clinton’s perception that she can make a rigged Convention appear fair). So just coming close in Texas and Ohio would still be a “win” for Obama, but not the decisive one he wants.

March 4 is even more critical from Hillary’s side of things. If she loses both states, the pressure on her to drop out will be intense – and she’s well aware of the electoral math that says she must win decisively to really stay alive. She never expected to have to campaign this long; not only has her campaign spent nearly all its money, but, unbelievably, she doesn’t even have campaign workers in at least one future primary state, because she didn’t anticipate that she’d need them. She simply lacks the resources to keep competing without gaining a big win that both puts her back in the race numerically and that reassures her big donors that their money isn’t being wasted. The March 4 primaries are her best – maybe only – chance of getting that kind of win.

So the pressure’s on, and tonight’s debate is both candidates’ chance to force the other into some kind of major mistake that tilts public opinion decisively one way or the other. That means that – more than any of the 19 debates that preceded it – the two candidates are likely to pull out all the stops. That doesn’t mean that their moves will be obvious – Hillary learned an important lesson when her frontal attack on Obama’s alleged plagiarism in the last debate drew boos from the audience. Instead, I expect tonight to look more like a sumo match: two giants, both exerting tremendous force, locked together almost without visible movement, each trying small maneuvers that could tip the balance, release the pent-up energy, and send the other flying unexpectedly out of the ring. Small maneuvers, big potential consequences: that’s what I expect to see tonight.

Given that the moves may be subtle, it might be helpful to have a sort of program or outline of what to look for tonight. The candidates’ longstanding themes, their recent maneuvers, and some key recent events all offer clues as to what to expect:

1. One vs. Two: Obama is starting to transition from primary candidate to nominee, and in his last debate against Clinton, he seemed at times to be campaigning against McCain as much as he was against Clinton. Look for much more of that tonight, especially in light of the latest poll showing that the majority of Democrats now (correctly) see Obama as having the better chance of beating McCain in November. By turning his guns on McCain rather than Clinton, Obama can increase voters’ perception that his candidacy is inevitable, reinforce the sense that he can beat McCain, appear statesmanlike by focusing on the real opponent instead of engaging in destructive intraparty squabbling with Clinton) – and, in reality, get a start on the campaign that really matters.

2. Same Old Messages, But With a Twist: Both candidates are likely to stick to some version of their longstanding themes – but both sides have been making moves both to defend against and to co-opt the other’s main themes, which should unfold in interesting and complex ways tonight. The main memes to watch:

Experience: From Day 1, Hillary’s main attack has been that Obama lacks sufficient experience to be President. That argument has always been questionable: her only experience in any elected office is her six years in the U.S. Senate, as compared to Obama’s ten years in public office (as an Illinois State Legislator from 1997 to 2004, and a U.S. Senator from then to the present). Clinton has argued that while First Lady she essentially was Bill Clinton’s “co-President”, but that claim, too, is questionable: certainly she was more involved in policy than most First Ladies, but after the failure of her health care initiative in 1993, her role was scaled back considerably, she has disclaimed any role in her husband’s less popular policies (which Obama has criticized as her cherrypicking which Bill Clinton initiatives she wants to take false credit for). Meanwhile, Obama can point to his career as a state legislator, community organizer, civil rights attorney, and over a decade as a lecturer in Constitutional Law as giving him a background at least as good as Clinton’s.

Similarly, Hillary’s claim that her tenure as First Lady gives her better foreign policy credentials than Obama also seems to overstate her role in the Clinton Administration and ignores Obama’s lifetime experiences as the child of mixed-nationality parents (Kenyan and American), living abroad as a child (in Indonesia, from ages 6 to 10, where he attended both Muslim and Catholic schools) – and his degree from Columbia University in International Relations. Good judgment in the foreign affairs arena will be critical for the next President, but I see Obama actually having the edge here, because turning the corner will call more for creativity and understanding than for Kissingerian Realpolitik.

Possibly because McCain – foreseeing Obama as his likely opponent in the general election – has started echoing Clinton’s claims that Obama sufficient experience to be President, Obama has started fighting back. Tonight, look for him to rock Clinton back on her heels with a well-prepared applause line if she tries to hit him too hard with the “inexperience” charge.

Military Cred vs. Get Us The Hell Out Of Iraq: Another Clinton claim is that her service on the Senate Armed Services Committee somehow will so impress security-minded voters that they will choose her over John McCain – who also serves on that committee, plus has military experience (which both Clinton and Obama lack) and is a bona fide war hero. It’s hard to believe Clinton seriously believes this; the real issue is whether her hawkish Senate votes – including her vote for the war in Iraq (which she still maintains was correct), her vote for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment declaring an Iranian military unit to be a sponsor of terrorism (giving Bush political cover to take military action in yet another country), and for the “surge” – will cancel out McCain’s built-in advantage with pro-military voters.

In contrast to Clinton, who long ago concluded prematurely that the Democratic nomination would be a cakewalk and started positioning herself for the general election, Obama has stuck closer to basic Democratic principles, which include opposition to the war. That probity is serving him well, as those primary voters who consider the war important are tending to support him. And recent events have undercut Clinton’s attacks. For example, Obama took heat for his recent claim that a military unit was sent into Afghanistan shorthanded because some of its members were deployed in Iraq – but Army Chief of Staff General George Casey has taken Obama’s side, stating today that "there is no reason to doubt" that Obama was telling the truth.

What Tone Will Clinton Take? Clinton has been bouncing between two campaign advisors’ advice, one to take the high road, one to go on the attack. Obama has taken flak for being a Muslim (untrue, and so what if he were, anyway); refusing to take the pledge of allegiance (untrue); plagiarism (untrue, and Clinton has done the same); and more. In the last debate, Clinton tried both tacks and wound up striking a conciliatory tone (albeit using borrowed language) – then went back on the attack the next day, challenging Obama to debate tonight not about the issues but about his allegedly dishonest campaign tactics. I’ve written at length about Clinton’s own questionable tactics but let’s watch to see whether the high or low road prevails in Clinton’s presentation tonight.

Those are the highlights. I’ll “liveblog” this post as the debate occurs, so please keep refreshing.


18:27 Pacific: Despite the moderator's attempt to start a fight, I'm glad to see the candidates moved past their initial "he/she hit me back first" claims to actually engage substantively on health care. Obama's explanation of his lack of a mandate seemed presented well to me. Did that disarm one of Clinton's main oppo points against him? (UPDATE 20:20: Pillows??!? Gimme a break!)

Russert confirms Obama's assertion that Clinton has made pro-NAFTA statements in the past -- big point for Obama, especially in Ohio, for whose workers NAFTA is a big issue. And Clinton waffles some on her answer, saying she'll opt out of NAFTA unless it's renegotiated.

18:33: Obama errs by echoing Clinton's answer on NAFTA -- lost a clear edge he used to have there. And Clinton's doing a good job answering Russert's strong challenge on her unmet campaign promise to make rather than lose jobs. Again, jobs are a big issue in Ohio, and important for Clinton to preserve cred on.

Brian Williams asks Obama about foreign policy -- specifically, Clinton's claim that Obama has no more foreign policy expertise than Bush. Will he note his degree in I.R. -- or the fact that Bill Clinton had no foreign policy experience when taking office, either? ...

18:36 Obama nicely turns the "foreign policy" question into a "war" question, but again errs by agreeing with Clinton on domestic programs without emphasizing that she, like McCain, has supported the war.

Clinton referring to "my extensive experience in foreign policy," claiming credit for, among other things, the Ireland peace talks. And she accuses Obama of saying Bush is handling the war right, and claims they're voting identically (now that the war is a fact). On the other hand, she's criticizing Obama for saying he would bomb Pakistan -- which both takes that comment out of context, and reinforces that Obama's tougher than she previously has characterized him.

She does make the "I'm on the foreign relations committee with McCain" claim I predicted, and I still don't see it as very impressive. Obama makes a great rebuttal, too -- that sure, we may agree on how to get the bus out of the ditch, but she voted to drive the bus into the ditch in the first place. And he clarifies the "bomb Pakistan" claim, even coattailling onto a Bush administration military move -- the first strong example I see tonight of Obama using this debate to position himself for the general election.

18:48: Moderators ask a God-awful question about re-invading Iraq; Clinton does a responsible job of ducking it, Obama does a better job by stating clearly that he'll always reserve the right, after a 9/11-type event, to protect American interests, without falling into the trap being set for him (of saying he'd do what Bush did).

18:53: Here's a good resource to cross-check with, but please open in a new tab instead of leaving my nice blog! WaPo Fact Checker.

Great video clip of Hillary mocking Obama's inspirational message, which makes her look small -- and great response by Obama, moving past her claims of insubstantiality to assert the content of his background and of his policy positions. Score for him.

18:56: And Obama brings in his legislation helping "wounded warriors" at Walter Reed, tax breaks for the middle class, and jobs -- gaining ground both on Clinton and on McCain. Smooth.

18:59: Nice clip of Obama casting herself as "copresident" and selectively choosing what she wants to run away from and what she wants to take credit for. Unlike the previous clip of Hillary, which I think made her look bad, this one made Obama look good -- and he then underscored it in his comments about it.

How will he do against the sort of vague litany of complaints Clinton previously raised... back to healthcare...

19:02: GREAT Obama line: "hope is not enough" but to effect change, we need to "inspire" the American people "to get involved and pay attention", "which is what I've been doing in this campaign."

19:04: Good question, on an issue I didn't predict: McCain's claim that Obama's waffling on campaign financing. Obama's answer -- that he'll talk to McCain -- isn't as clear as it could have been, since the facts are on his side (and St. John McCain isn't pure on this issue, either). Obama's error: he didn't make it clear that he did NOT EVER make a promise to use public financing. Medium-sized mistake that will haunt him for awhile. UPDATE AT 19:50: The MSNBC commentators read Obama's actual promise, which was that if he became the nominee he would "aggressively pursue an agreement" with the Republicans to mutually limit campaign spending. He's not breaking that promise.

19:07: Clinton: "I will release my tax return" but can't photocopy her tax return before next week because she's personally too busy? Give me a break! And her other statements about the release of her other records also is disingenuous -- I don't have time now to find the link, but she's been secretive as hell. UPDATE AT 19:49: The commentators point out that Obama has already released his return; I wish Obama had said that in the debate!

Awful question about Obama/Louis Farrakahn, reinforcing the lies about Obama being a Muslim. And while Obama is correct about his past denunciations of Farrakhan, he wasn't firm enough tonight -- and calling him "Minister Farrakhan" sounds strange on the tongue, too. Now Russert raises Obama's pastor and emphasizes a tenuous antiSemitism -- is Russert TRYING to ensure Obama loses Florida and evangelical votes in the general? -- but Obama nicely dodges the pastor/Farrakhan connection to focus on his support for Israel. Nice additional point about hoping to re-establish the 1950s-1960s civil rights ties between the African American and Jewish communities. My unmet wish: Obama didn't make it absolutely clear that he's not Muslim; I suspect he doesn't realize how many people still believe he is. UPDATE 20:55: I didn't realize this till tonight, but the Clinton campaign has been feeding "Obama doesn't support Jews" theme... similar to the negative campaigning they've been doing all along...

19:15: Clinton gives a good statement about the importance of firmly rejecting objectionable people's support; Obama takes the opportunity to sort of do what he should have done originally -- "reject and renounce" -- but this is a big point for Clinton. Obama's either strangely unwilling to offend Farrakhan -- is he merely being polite? -- or he's overestimating Farrakhan's support in the black community, which today isn't strong. Bad debating by Obama, nicely done by Clinton.

19:20: A tough question for Obama, about him being ranked more liberal than Ted Kennedy by the National Journal. Tough, because liberality helps him in the primary and hurts him in the general, forcing him to make a choice. Nice answer, though -- pointing out that he's no more liberal than Clinton, and that he's winning record numbers of votes from independents and Republicans -- and adding that "every poll shows that I beat John McCain in ... the general election." (Which is true, and has been almost without exception for over a year now.) (Prior posts on this here and here.)

Softball to Clinton about Russia to make her look good in foreign relations; she handles it nicely and looks good (UPDATE, 20:53: except for fumbling the name of Russia's new President; as a commenter elsewhere asked, what happened to 'ready on day 1'?); Obama does well. Then a harder question to Obama on Kosovo, who starts slowly (we'll talk), but makes back that ground by explaining that NATO is responsible for rebuffing any Russian invasion of Europe and that the U.S. need not work alone (as Bush has done).

Interesting q: any words and vote you'd take back? Clinton -- FOR THE FIRST TIME, to my knowledge -- finally withdraws her vote to invade Iraq. (Then looks a little wimpy, saying essentially "ignore my past" because this is "about the future.") About taking back the Iraq vote, "I've said that many times." I don't think that's true, but I'll double check myself. Answering the same question, Obama says he wishes he'd stopped the Terri Schiavo fiasco; good that he mentioned being a Constitutional Law professor, but I wonder whether the general public will catch that he only regrets not filibustering it, and mistakenly think he actually voted with the Republicans to interfere in that case. UPDATE 19:53: Commentators on MSNBC confirm she's never gone that far before.

19:31: Williams' final question: to Obama: looks statesmanlike in crediting Clinton as a good candidate and good President and clearly better than McCain (against whom, again, he makes a strong argument). "I can bring this country together... in a unique way", across racial and other divisions. A very true statement, as exit polls and other objective data show.

And a similarly nice answer from Clinton, except for her claim of 35 years of public service; this time, at least, she mentioned that part of that was in the "private sector", but still: on the board of WalMart? She hasn't been working for the public good for 35 years straight, though she has for many of them. But still, a good, and unaggressive vs. Obama, response.

19:39: Debate's over; I'll liveblog the pundits for little while before signing off.

19:46: NBC/MSNBC online say Clinton mounted an "all out attack" on Obama. I didn't see it; anyone else? Next day: WaPo's Tom Shales saw it as I did, referring to "cooler heads" prevailing.

20:32: Washington Post's initial take on the debate... Next day: And its later one... And Time's story, headlining it as a "clash", with a companion piece ... and the NYT's Adam Nagourney, who sums it up well.

20:49: Not specifically debate-related, but jeezus: Q: why are people turning away from the MSM and to alternative media like blogs? A: stories in mainstream publications like this one, positing that Obama is "the first woman President." Yow.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Edwards: Economy and War Aren't Separable

This is good news for Obama, both because it may suggest an Edwards endorsement is coming soon, and because it tosses a great new meme into the Obama/Clinton fight, especially in Ohio (update: now Pennsylvania). Here's why: Obama has opposed the Iraq War from the start; Clinton voted for it and has never reneged. (She didn't even start talking about withdrawing troops until halfway into the primaries, when she realized how important it was to Democratic voters.) So Obama is winning the votes of folks who consider the war their most important issue. (And, incidentally, his position on the war is why he's more likely to win against McCain in November -- 2/3 of Americans now are against the war, and even when he's trying to sound more dovish, McCain still admits seeing American troops in Iraq "for decades.")

Meanwhile, though, the economy is starting to tank, and Hillary has been pretending that she somehow played a role in the good economy of the Bill Clinton presidency -- which isn't true, but hey. The economy is an especially important issue in the two states critical to Clinton's chances, Ohio Pennsylvania (with an uncertain industrial base) and Texas (with one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the nation). So Clinton's been winning (barely) the votes of people who think the economy's the most important issue, and has been banking on that to help her win Texas and Ohio.

Now Edwards comes along and points out the obvious fact that a war that's cost $3 trillion (all funded by debt) is having a tremendously deleterious effect on the economy and is hampering our ability to buffer any recession. (If we don't have the money to give lower- and middle-class tax breaks, start new government projects that create jobs, etc., because we've blown it all in Iraq, we're in trouble.)

And if people in Ohio and Texas Pennsylvania catch on to this truth, Hillary is toast -- and it will be her own hubris and lack of integrity, for supporting the war solely in the triangulationist belief that doing so would help her win the Presidency in the general election, that will have done her in. Classic Shakespearian tragedy, when the powerful fall due to their own fatal flaw. Good for Edwards for making himself meaningful again.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Last Refuge Of a Scoundrel, Squared.

UPDATE, MAR. 18: The speech Obama plans to deliver tonight will address both the Pastor Wright brouhaha (question: do you want a President who blindly agrees with everything his pastor says, or who sticks by the church his family has belonged to for over two decades and where his children were baptized even when the pastor says something dumb?) -- and, incidentally, hopefully will settle once and for all the idiotic Internet rumors about him being Muslim. The question is whether America's brand of Christianity is ready for a radical message: that Obama can love his pastor as a person while repudiating his wrongs (loving the sinner while hating the sin). Sure, that's the morality that Jesus taught -- a quote from the Bible -- but is America open to it? I ask this in all seriousness as a Presbyterian elder: Obama seems to be acting in a Christian fashion but not everyone may recognize real Christianity when they see it.

UPDATE, FEB. 28: Obama continues to have to fight claims that he's a stealth Muslim, which (a) has, repeatedly, been shown to be untrue, and (b) shouldn't matter anyway -- what if he were? Yet people are both selling and buying claims that are both false and bigoted. America: we're supposed to be better than this!

UPDATE, FEB. 25: Firedoglake has a terrific and troubling post describing how the Associated Press -- under the guise of "objective journalism" -- is hyping the "Obama's not patriotic enough" meme -- and a suggestion for what you can do to help stop it.

ORIGINAL POST: There's an old saying that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." That's true, but only half, because a reasoned and reasonable patriotism, that emphasizes the importance of contributing and being loyal to one's own family, community, and nation without demonizing the "other", is also a hallmark of a healthy, honest person. I'm a patriot. That doesn't mean I hate the French. (More on this topic in various posts on my saner blog, The NeoProgressive.)

Now there's a third twist to this adage: accusing one's opponent of insufficient patriotism, which surely is the ultimate refuge of scoundrels whose own assertions of patriotism aren't credible enough. "I'm patriotic, and on top of that, you're not": the last refuge of a scoundrel, squared.

So, of course, in a campaign that's turning increasingly negative, at least on one side, Barack Obama now stands accused of insufficient patriotism.

It's offensive, it's wrong -- and it speaks incredibly ill of beveryone involved in propogating such bunk, especially Hillary Clinton and/or John McCain, who may be behind this.

Let's run through the truth and lies between several of the more persistent slanders against Obama:

Hand Over Heart: One of the Internet rumors going around has been that Obama refuses to place his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s patently not true, as the photos up top show more convincingly than anything I could say.

This rumor does have some basis in fact, though: on one occasion, at a steak fry in Iowa, during the playing of the National Anthem, Obama didn’t place his hand over his heart. (FWIW, I always remove my hat during the National Anthem, but I never knew until now that I was supposed to place my hand on my heart, too.) Obama's spokesman later said that Obama sometimes places his hand over his heart during the Anthem and sometimes doesn't, which makes me think he may not be aware of the mandatory protocol but certainly doesn't mean he's unpatriotic. Attacking Obama for something that he, likes many (most?) other people may not even know is proper etiquette, is, in Obama’s words, “silly.”

American Flag Pin: Few people are aware of the Federal Election Commission regulation requiring all political candidates to wear an American Flag pin on their lapel. The same regulation also requires all male candidates to wear navy blue, two-button suits with white shirts and red ties for television appearances, to open all speeches with the words “My fellow Americans” and close them with “... and God bless America.” (A related regulation, called the “Ferraro Amendment”, also forbids female candidates from wearing pantsuits; Hillary Clinton must not have received that memo.)

OK, seriously: there are certain things it has become customary for politicians to do, like wear a color combination that happens to both look good on TV and coincidentally to contain the colors red, white and blue. Since 9/11, wearing an American Flag pin has been one of those things. However, that symbol has to some degree been coopted by conservatives; it’s code for “I’m really, really, really a patriot, and by the way, I support the war in Iraq.” It’s sort of like those yellow “Support the Troops” bumper stickers: we ALL support the troops, but it’s mainly conservatives who sport them (often on oversized SUVs that hurt our troops by increasing our reliance on foreign oil). It's a reasonable question to ask: who supports the troops more, a Republican driving a Hummer H2 with a yellow ribbon, or a Democrat driving a Prius hybrid with no ribbon?

So sometime in 2007, Obama made a public, and principled, decision to stop wearing the flag pin that he used to wear. Here's his explanation:

"You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama said. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest."

Later, he explained further:

"I'm less concerned with what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart," Obama said Thursday while campaigning in Independence, Iowa. "You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. And you show your patriotism by being true to your values and ideals. And that's what we have to lead with, our values and ideals," Obama said. "Instead," he said, "I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

You can agree or disagree with his reasoning, and you can like or dislike the fact that he doesn’t wear a flag pin – but it has nothing to do with his patriotism. He’s worn it before, he’ll wear it again, he’s making a statement about true vs. phony patriotism by not wearing it now.

Oh, and by the way: he's not alone in not wearing a flag pin. Hillary Clinton only wears one sometimes. John Edwards usually wore his deceased son's Outward Bound pin. Bill Clinton wears a Hillary pin. Most of the Republicans don't even wear one consistently.

Taking Money From a Violent 1960s Activist: The Weathermen were an antiwar, anti-establishment group that committed bombings in the 1960s. Basically, they were the liberal equivalents of conservative abortion clinic bombers – fringe extremists who believed so strongly in some driving principle that they thought it was moral to use violence to express it. Of course, they were wrong. Of course, the ones who used violence, or even conspired to use violence, belonged in jail – and they were, in fact, captured, tried, and jailed. In the 1960s. When Obama was eight years old.

One member of the Weathermen was William Ayres. He’s a bad person, in my book, because he still believes the Weathermen’s bombings were right. But he also was never accused or convicted of doing any bombings, and works as a professor at a well-respected, not particularly liberal state University (the University of Illinois in Chicago).

When Obama was a State Senator in Illinois – gaining experience as a politician and statesman was just a former First Lady – Ayres donated $200 to Obama. Obama, not having any idea who Ayres was, accepted it. Now his ignorance of a minor player in a long-dead group that was shut down when he was 8 years old is being held against him. I don’t even need to explain why that’s plain dumb. Someone with an ordinary name who associated with someone else who did a bad thing when you were 8, makes a small donation to your campaign, and suddenly you’re a terrorist sympathizer? Gimme a break.

While We’re On It, Let’s Put Obama’s Religion to Rest, Too: Finally, there are the persistent rumors that Obama was/is openly/is secretly a Muslim. Put simply: they’re not true. CNN and others have researched this thoroughly. The truth is that Obama is a Christian, and has belonged to the same Church of Christ in Chicago for 25 years. The Church of Christ, which some conservatives dismiss as “liberal”, actually is the only remaining descendant of the original, colonial Puritan churches that conservatives love to assert prove that America has always been a “Christian nation” (false, but that’s off topic). It’s hard to be more patriotic than to belong to a church that literally traces its ancestry back to the Mayflower; and if it’s “liberal” today, that’s because it still retains the same independent, democratic streak that the Puritans gave it 300 years ago: it’s highly decentralized (the way conservatives wish the government were), and each CoC congregation is permitted to decide for itself who its pastor will be, what their general theological framework will be, and how to govern themselves. That commitment to local democracy is what allowed the Puritans to deviate so radically from the “accepted” Christianity of their day, and allows an inner city Chicago church to differ somewhat – while still being Christian – from, say, the tenets of Jerry Falwell’s church in Lynchville, TN. That’s a good – I’d say even conservative, in the good old sense of the word – thing for a church to be, and it’s to Obama’s credit that he belongs to it.

So where do the Muslim rumors come from? Same place as always: by distorting a kernel of truth. Obama’s father, a Kenyan immigrant, was Muslim. He named his son – who was born in America, of course – with a common Kenyan Muslim name, Barack Hussein Obama. Then, when Barack was 2, his father left the family. Barack Obama’s Muslim father had zero influence on his son’s upbringing – or his religious faith.

Barack’s mother remarried, and she and his new stepfather moved briefly to Indonesia when Obama was young. Indonesia is a fascinating country: sandwiched between Australia and Southeast Asia, it’s the fourth most populous nation in the world. It contains a fascinating mishmash of cultures and religions (spread out among over 17,000 islands covering 3/4 million square miles -- not acres, miles -- of land spread over an even bigger expanse of ocean, it has to be). The most common religion there is Islam, though not the Wahabi brand of Islam that spawned Al Quaeda. And, just like the Christian preschools found everywhere in America, which even non-Christian families sometimes send their children to them, Muslim preschools are ubiquitous in Indonesia, and even non-Muslim families often send their children to them. That’s how, from ages 6 to 8, Obama attended a Muslim school in Indonesia.

Was that school a madrassa? NO. Again, check the CNN link above: A team of reporters actually visited the school, reviewed its old records, interviewed staff, and reported that when Obama was there, the school had Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Confucian (Chinese) students. Students did study the Koran during part of the day, but Obama got in trouble for goofing off during “Koranic studies.” It didn’t teach violence – and Obama left it when he was only eight.

What kind of school did he go to next? Catholic. And then he returned to the mainstream American educational system and was educated like any other kid.

That’s it: Obama’s horrible secret, his “Manchurian candidate” Muslim brainwashing. Like George Bush, Obama is a Christian. Unlike Bush, he’s a member of, and actually does his best to attend, a specific Christian church. And unlike Bush, who had never visited any country outside the U.S. except Mexico before he was selected President and who had difficulty grasping the concept that there was a difference between Shi’ite and Sunna Islam (a little like the difference between Catholics and Protestants), Obama has lived outside the U.S. and experienced other cultures and other faiths, including the faith that, in a perverted and narrow form, drives our nation’s main enemy today. That perspective, that knowledge, can only be an asset for a President trying to make good decisions, and untangle Bush’s messes, in an increasingly complex, multicultural nation and world.

There's a kind of peer pressure that goes with these mass-circulated emails and Yahoo! question/answers smearing a candidate. The best thing, of course, is to set it aside and think for yourself -- and that includes folks who are succumbing to the peer pressure to claim that Obama's supporters are succumbing to peer pressure -- to Just Say No.

Please, Someone Just Shoot Him.

Okay, not really -- I mean it, NOT REALLY! PUT THE GUN DOWN! -- but Holy Mother of God, has Ralph Nader been in a coma for the past seven years? Nader Considering Another White House Run.
Update, Feb. 25: Now he's really running, and repeating his delusional statements that (a) there's no difference between the Ds and the Rs, and (b) he didn't help put George Bush in the White House in 2000. Ralph: THANK YOU FOR SEAT BELTS. Now retire, dammit.

Shameless, Lacking Common Sense, Utterly Oblivious... Or All Of the Above?

I really hate beating the "plagiarism" meme any more, but Hillary Clinton made me do it. Here's new news today that voters in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island might want to think about:

First, some background. On Feb. 18, the Clinton campaign held a conference call with journalists in which they accused Barack Obama of plagiarizing a line from another politician's speech. On Feb. 19, the Clinton campaign denied doing so and claimed the press came up with that accusation on their own. The same day, the other politician (Deval Patrick, a friend of Obama's) said that the line wasn't plagiarized -- he had suggested Obama use it.

Then, in their most recent debate on Feb. 21, Hillary Clinton nevertheless tried out a pre-scripted line reiterating the plagiarism charge -- even though her campaign had gone on record saying it wasn't trying to spread the plagiarism charge and even though, since she knew Patrick had given it to Obama, it wasn't plagiarism at all and her only beef could be that he had used it without attribution. (As if speeches have footnotes: Politician: "My opponent's accusations that I'm guilty of plagiarism are much ado about nothing. (fn.: Wm. Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing)".)

We all know that's not practical, and that speechwriters and politicans swap lines all the time, and that if a friend says -- as happened here -- hey, I used a great line in my last campaign that nicely summarizes the point you're trying to make, why don't you use it? -- you don't point it out, you just use it. No big deal. As Kris Kristofferson wrote, it's not a big deal, so instead of always arguing, "let's settle down and steal each other's songs."

The audience at the debate understood this, and booed Clinton when she trotted out the line about Obama "xeroxing" (hey -- that's trademarked? did she credit Xerox Corp.?) part of one of his speeches.

OK, so the Obama plagiarism thing's done with, over, kaput, right?

I wish it were. But -- more old news, though a little fresher -- in the same debate, Clinton herself twice used lines lifted from other politicians: one from John Edwards, and another from Joe Klein/Bill Clinton. The second one was about her taking lots of "hits" during the campaign, but them being nothing compared to the hits that real Americans take every day in their daily lives. A nice line, drew applause -- but she didn't say she'd lifted it from Bill or Klein, which violated the moral standard she was trying to hold Obama to. That's hypocrisy, as first bloggers like Dan Drezner and Megan McArdle and I and several other folks listed here, and then (though slowly) the mainstream media, all pointed out.

At THIS point, everything having to do with lifting lines from other people's speeches is REALLY done with, over, and kaput. It has to be, right? Pretend you're Hillary Clinton. Your sketchy effort to brand Obama a plagiarist drew boos, everyone wants the plagiarism issue set aside, your own "borrowing" of lines from other politicians' speeches without attributing them got caught and youwere publicly (if not privately, as you should have been) embarrassed. What would you do next? It's obvious: you'd work with your speechwriters to come up with a couple good news applause lines and you'd put this whole mess behind you. Pretty basic politics, pretty basic human ethics, pretty basic common sense.

What does Hillary Clinton do, instead? That's what this post is about:

She takes video of herself saying one of the lines she lifted from someone else, turns it into a commercial, and asks donors to give her $1.3 million specifically to run that commercial in the disputed states.

It's as if she recognizes neither (a) her own hypocrisy in the last debate, nor (b) how sick the public is of this stuff now, nor (c) how much this will help the Obama campaign, because just yesterday she renewed her attacks on his ethics, and people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

For voters in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont, this raises a couple of fundamental questions:

(a) is this someone you think really IS, as she claims, capable of running a smart, efficient campaign against the well-honed Republican machine?

(b) is this a person with the common sense, the character, and the insight to run our nation well?

Much Ado About Nothing

Lots of racists are making themselves feel good by pretending Obama's only winning because of the black vote. (Dumb, yeah.) Now Obama's taking flak on the other flank because he's not working hard enough for the black vote. My take: what's more important for African-Americans, for Obama to win or for him to attend a symbolically important but pragmatically irrelevant State of the Black Union conference? I'd say it's more important for him to win the damn election so that he can give REAL States of the Union -- so, eyes on the prize, he's in Texas -- just like a white politician in his shoes (trailing Clinton in the clincher states and trying to lock in the nomination for good) would be. Good on him.

Anyway, we can't understand all the ramifications of this tempest in a teapot without understanding the demographics of Obama's voter base -- so please read this post on that topic.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In The Same Debate, Clinton Accuses Obama of Plagiarism -- Then Commits Plagiarism

Those stirring final words of Hillary Clinton's at tonight's debate in Texas? Straight from the mouth of John Edwards.

Clinton in tonight's debate: "You know, whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people. And that's what this election should be about."

Edwards in a December debate with Clinton: "What's not at stake are any of us. All of us are going to be just fine no matter what happens in this election. But what's at stake is whether America is going to be fine."

(Disclosure: I cut-and-pasted those quotes from the WaPo FactChecker. Don't want to be accused of plagiarism.)

Is cribbing a good passage from another politician a bad thing? Let's ask Hillary -- again, from tonight's debate:

"Lifting whole passages from other peoples speeches is not change you can believe in, but change that you can xerox."

(Disclosure: I corrected FactChecker's spelling of "xerox" in the line above.)

And Edwards' aren't the only lines Hillary "borrowed" tonight: her "the hits I've taken in life" line (a good one) came from Primary Colors, the anonymous, scandalous book about her husband's 1992 campaign that turned out to be written by campaign insider Joe Klein. She didn't attribute that plagiarism, either. (Obligatory anti-plagiarism-accusation disclosure: I found the above nugget in a comment by C Watson on FactChecker. C Watson got it from Megan McArdle, who got it from Dan Drezner.) UPDATE, FEB. 22 12:19 AM Pacific: And Klein apparently cribbed it directly from one of Bill Clinton's stump speeches -- so it's hard to tell whether Hillary took it from Bill or from Klein. (h/t insomnia.)

And there are numerous other examples from Hil's speeches and debates -- just Google "hillary clinton plagiarism" and watch the numbers grow hour by hour tonight.

Not everyone gets it, of course. The Washington Post reported Clinton's soundbites without noting their provenance (let's see how long it takes them to catch it from "non-professional-journalist bloggers). And Clinton partisan Taylor Marsh, who turns somersaults in order to somehow blame Obama for this brouhaha, is either deeply disingenuous or deeply confused about the point, which is NOT plagiarism.

Is it terrible that Clinton borrowed Edwards' words, or Bill's, or Klein's? Not really. But neither was Obama's use of a line that a friend of his offered to let him use. The issue is that Clinton tried to smear Obama with a discredited and essentially irrelevant plagiarism accusation while doing the same thing herself at least twice in the same debate. Clinton's "primary" sin isn't plagiarism; it's hypocrisy, dishonesty, and disingenuity -- which, as I've been telling you, has been her campaign M.O. all along. This is just more tangible proof than usual.

To put it more succinctly -- and for the record I am quoting Maureen Dowd, who in turn is quoting Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) -- If your whole candidacy is about words, they should be your own words.

The issue isn't plagiarism any more; it's integrity. Hillary's playing negative politics while failing to live up to her own standards, which is what integrity is all about. So I ask again what I keep asking: is this really the kind of nominee you want, one you honestly believe can both win the voters' trust in November and go on to rehabilitate our own -- and the world's -- faith in America's essential goodness after the last eight years of Presidential lies and distortions?

I didn't think so.

Obama Quietly Makes It Eleven in a Row

Democrats Abroad is an organization of U.S. citizens living outside the U.S. It coordinates voting in 168+ other countries, and besides carrying 4.5 (!) delegates (more to be added later), it represents a uniquely worldly -- as in, bearing viewpoints and experiences outside our own borders, with an understanding of how others around the world see the U.S.

For the second reason, it's significant that Barack Obama won the Democrats Abroad "primary."

And if you wonder why Americans overseas prefer Obama, ask yourself: what could better demonstrate America's desire to reverse course after the Bush debacle -- what could better begin reconstructing our relationships with the rest of the world -- than for billions on non-Americans from Paris to Islamabad, Toronto to Venezuela, Sydney to New Delhi, to awaken the morning after next November's election, open their newspapers, and see the face of Barack Obama -- son of an African and an American, resident of Hawai'i, Indonesia, and Illinois, living symbol that the American dream is still alive -- under the celebratory headline "America Has Chosen Her Next President"?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm Starting to Admire Clinton's Ironic Sense of Humor

Hillary Clinton made big points in tonight's Texas debate in her answer to the last question, where she portrayed herself as egoless, interested only in the unity of the party and the nation and proud to be sharing the stage with her BFF Barack:

[Y]ou know, no matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored. (APPLAUSE) Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about.

It's almost as if she hasn't been doing her best, behind the scenes, to amplify smears about Obama's campaign being a Mansonlike cult; corner both the data on and the loyalty of big Democratic donors; spread -- then deny spreading -- claims of plagiarism. Is it only a dream that she's started a new website to justify allowing party insiders to hand her the nomination even if the voters choose Obama, or that --after originally agreeing that Florida and Michigan's delegations shouldn't be seated -- she's now threatening to sue if they're not.

UPDATE, 9:48 PM: From the "you can't make this stuff up" department: Clinton -- the woman who accuses Obama of plagiarism -- plagiarized the above lines from John Edwards, who said them at an earlier debate! Hat-tip to Anonymous in the comments -- thank you! 'NUTHER UPDATE, Feb. 22, 12:31 a.m. Pacific: Yikes -- turns out Clinton committed multiple plagiarisms in the debate, not just the one!

Here's where the humor comes in: on top of all these incidents of her (a) hypocrisy and (b) efforts to unfairly and undemocratically influence the outcome of the primary election, I stumbled across this ironic gem on HRC's website, under the title "Strengthening Our Democracy":

Fair and honest elections are the bedrock of a successful democracy. Yet we have seen abuses in national elections since 2000 that have undermined our democracy and Americans' faith in our electoral system.

Hillary is a leading champion of election reform. She has introduced the Count Every Vote Act to avoid repeating the problems of the past and ensure the integrity of our elections. Her bill: ...

  • Makes sure that impartial officials administer our elections.
  • Allows the attorney general to bring suit against anyone using deceptive practices ....
Say one thing, do another, politics as usual. Let's hope Texas' and Ohio's voters listen to at least one thing Clinton keeps saying: don't vote for the candidate whose campaign is only about words.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Unbelievably, Clinton Is Pushing the "Obama Cult" Smear. And She'll Sue If Necessary to Win. Is This Who You Want for President?

Read this astounding article from the highly reliable Times of London. Please: read it.

Then ask yourself: is this a person with ethics? Who plays fair? Is this a person who can heal wounds, bridge division, and lead the nation forward after the darkness of the Bush years? More practically, is this a person who seems capable of running a winning Presidential campaign?

Or does this sound like a desperate person, at the helm of a sinking ship, representing the failed policies of the morally bankrupt, appeasement wing of the Democratic Party, finally reaping the just electoral rewards of twenty years of putting triangulation and preemptive capitulation ahead of principle?

Please, read the whole article -- it contains much more than just the following quote -- but I'll give you a teaser. Remember how Paul Krugman called the Obama movement a "cult"? Turns out the Clinton campaign is busily promoting that whole meme -- and, as an extra, also is willing to sue Obama in order to win:

"Clinton’s camp has been circulating stories criticising the “cult” of Obama in the hope of portraying “Obamania” as a mass delusion. Media Matters, a watchdog organisation sympathetic to Clinton, compiled a report headlined, “Media figures call Obama supporters’ behaviour ‘creepy’, compare them to Hare Krishna and Charles Manson followers”.

It was forwarded by Sidney Blumenthal, a top Clinton adviser, to select reporters. The campaign entered a nasty phase last week with the determination of Clinton’s team to revive delegates from the “ghost” primaries of Michigan and Florida, by legal action if necessary."

_ _ _ _ _

I shouldn't be surprised anymore that it took a British paper to break this, or that the fundamentally lazy, go-along American media, who rely on "access" rather than investigation for their stories and so never want to alienate anyone as powerful as Clinton, haven't picked it up -- or that many supposedly competent journalists and pundits, like Robert Samuelson, are still embarrassing themselves today by using terms like "hypnotized" and "mass delusion" to describe Obama's supporters even AFTER the story above came out. Clinton's willingness to break the rules she personally agreed to -- in a signed pledge -- when it comes to Michigan and Florida, and to rely on unelected SuperDelegates to override the voters' choice, are old news. And I'm certainly not shocked at Clinton being willing to Swiftboat any opponent, even a fellow Democrat, even if it damages the party's chances of winning in November: it's becoming increasingly clear that her defining characteristics are ego and a sense of entitlement, and she (and Bill) have been on the attack ever since it became apparent that she wouldn't be handed the nomination that she deeply, truly believes she, and she alone, deserves. She started trying to unfairly corner the nomination two whole years ago (and more here), and lately she's falsely accused Obama of everything from laziness, to plagiarism (then lied about it, blatantly claiming they didn't actually hold a press conference to spread that rumor!), to refusing to debate her (after 18 Democratic debates already, and two more in the works), to being unqualified to be Commander in Chief.

And I should be reassured that we voters don't seem to be falling for Clinton's distortions and negativity anymore: in Wisconsin, for example, when [a]sked which candidate attacked "unfairly," twenty-six percent of voters said "only Clinton," while only six percent said that of Obama. Obama seems energized, not demoralized, as if the more Clinton attacks him, the surer he is that she's on the ropes. Sometimes even the mainstream media catches on, as Dana Milbank apparently has:

In the lavatory aboard Barack Obama's campaign plane, a cartoon shows the Clintons attempting to roast Obama in a cauldron. Bill stirs, Hillary adds salt and pepper. But Obama is smiling, and all that emerges from the pot are bubbles labeled "Hope."

But despite those hopeful signs, and despite my relative cynicism about politics in general and the Clinton machine in particular, I'm still frankly stunned by the sweeping Times piece, which everyone who claims to care about the character and competence of the next President -- every sincere patriot who's currently leaning towards Hillary -- should, in good conscience, read this and think hard before pulling the lever for her in a primary.

The whole, wide-ranging article is a must-read. It implicates every issue at stake in this primary, including Hillary Clinton's character, her ability to run a successful campaign, her ability to attract and retain competent subordinates (as every President must do to have a successful Administration), her electability. It sheds a lot of light on the Superdelegate/ Michigan/ Florida controversy, and the possibility of Clinton instigating legal action that could lead to the nomination being decided by the Supreme Court. Again.

Playing the media the way the Clinton campaign has done is unacceptable. I hate -- we all should hate -- the kind of cynical, amoral politics that would take a fresh new statesman who has the rare ability to give people hope again, and distort that quality into something Mansonesque. Practically speaking, if Obama does win the nomination, it also hands the Republican smear machine a built-in attack point (McCain's already borrowing Hillary's talking points verbatim in attacking Obama).

And as to "legal action" by the Clinton camp: do we really want to nominate a candidate who's willing to let the Supreme Court choose our President -- again?

[I]t has already been reported that Sen. Clinton will demand that the convention seat delegates from Michigan and Florida, two states whose delegates have been disqualified by the party for holding January primaries in defiance of party rules. The candidates agreed not to campaign in those states. But Sen. Clinton opted to keep her name on the Michigan primary ballot, and staged a primary-day victory visit to Florida, winning both of those unsanctioned primaries. Her campaign is arguing that the delegates she won in each state be recognized despite party rules and notwithstanding her commitment not to compete in those primaries. Of course. "Count every vote."

As the convention nears, with Sen. Clinton trailing slightly in the delegate count, the next step might well be a suit in the Florida courts challenging her party's refusal to seat Florida's delegation at the convention. And the Florida courts, as they did twice in 2000, might find some ostensible legal basis for overturning the pre-election rules and order the party to recognize the Clinton Florida delegates. That might tip the balance to Sen. Clinton.

We all know full well what could happen next. The array of battle-tested Democratic lawyers who fought for recounts, changes in ballot counting procedures, and even re-votes in Florida courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 would separate into two camps. Half of them would be relying on the suddenly-respectable Supreme Court Bush v. Gore decision that overturned the Florida courts' post-hoc election rules changes. The other half would be preaching a new-found respect for "federalism" and demanding that the high court leave the Florida court decisions alone.

Would the Supreme Court... take the case...?

Heaven help us if Hillary drives us to that. Too much is at stake for us to tolerate that kind of self-centeredness. Please: read the whole Times of London article. Then think. Hard. (Hat tip to Jack and Jill Politics and Think On These Things.)

The Obama Train Keeps Gathering Speed; Clinton Continues Trying to Jimmy the Tracks

UPDATE, FEB. 20: More on exactly how Hillary Clinton is trying to "jimmy the tracks" -- amazing revelations, to me, from a reliable source -- are here.

ORIGINAL POST: Primaries are being held today in Hawai'i (20 elected or "pledged" delegates, plus 9 "superdelegates" (more on "supers" here)) and Wisconsin (74 "pledged" delegates, 18 "superdelegates"). Hillary Clinton's campaign, which originally focused primarily on larger states and conceded smaller states and "caucus" states to Obama, has tardily recognized its error and has been fighting hard to win these contests, especially in Wisconsin. Obama similarly wants to win both states for several reasons -- to add to his "momentum" meme by increasing his winning streak to 10 in a row; to prove (in Wisconsin's state) that he can win in an industrial state similar to Ohio and Pennsylvania, whose primaries are coming soon; and of course to increase his lead in democratically-elected pledged delegates and therefore his moral entitlement to the votes of the SuperDelegates that Hillary's hoping will act contrary to their constituents' desires and throw their support to her (it's still an open question whether Hillary, who has Bill's Rolodex and an Establishment Democrat's ability to offer favors to Friends Of Hillary, does or doesn't retain her lead in the SuperDelegates who, in this tight race, almost certainly will make the final decision who the Democratic nominee will be regardless of who their constituents think it should be).

CURRENT EARLY RETURNS: CNN says Obama leads Clinton. Update: CNN projects Obama wins Wisconsin. So do USA Today and the Washington Post and, according to the WaPo, "the networks." Some interesting demographic details here. More demographics from CNN here. UPDATE, FEB. 19 11:36 PM PACIFIC: Record high turnout in Hawai'i's caucuses. Could it be that someone's energizing the electorate? UPDATE 11:47 PM: very early results show Obama winning in HI by a 2:1 margin. UPDATE, FEB. 20, 12:04 AM: News reports and analysis links: race moving to TX and OH; ditto here; different analysts' takes. UPDATE, FEB. 20, 12:38 AM PACIFIC: Honolulu Star-Bulletin: early returns show Obama winning by 3:1; turnout five times last election's.

FINAL RESULTS, Feb. 20: Barack Obama didn't just win in Wisconsin and Hawai'i; he won big: "Obama won 58 percent of the vote to Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) 41 percent in Wisconsin. Obama also captured the Democratic caucus in his home state of Hawaii by a wide margin Tuesday, picking up another 20 delegates." Now he faces two huge tests, two states that really are Hillary Clinton's "firewall": Texas and Ohio. She needs big wins there, not just slim margins, while even slim wins by Obama may force her to cave on all her anti-democratic maneuvering -- but it clearly is an uphill fight for him in both places. Of course, VichyDems will follow them closely.

(Two side notes. One is that Wisconsin's delegate allocation system is downright weird: Obama could win by 10% and still tie in delegates won. The other, for folks who quite properly are concerned about which Democrat is better able to beat McCain in the general election: Wisconsin is yet another piece of evidence that Obama, not Clinton, would be the better standard-bearer. Newsweek:

Wisconsin primaries are open to all voters. With the Republican race all but decided for John McCain, Republicans and independents might flock to the Democratic primary, and they have supported Obama more than Clinton so far this year.

So: pledged delegate gain for Obama good; continuing SuperDelegate controversy bad (and fundamentally undemocratic); Michigan/Florida question still up in the air as well.

What's a concerned citizen, who wants candidates to follow the rules and for citizens' votes to matter more than party insiders' votes, supposed to do? Here are some options:

- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, pointing out the unfairness of SuperDelegates having votes worth roughly 10,000 citizen votes;

- Call the SuperDelegates in your state (much contact info here) and tell them how you feel;

- Sign a petition here or here;

- If you think Obama's playing fairly and Clinton is not, donate to Obama or make phone calls for him.

Who Do Republicans Want to Win the Democratic Nomination?

UPDATE, APRIL 3: Add Joe Lieberman to the list of conservatives who want Hillary to win the nomination (but McCain to win the general election).

UPDATE, MARCH 22: After reading some blogs and articles on this subject, I think something needs to be made clearer: there's no question that Republican leaders and pundits want Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee, because they know that (regardless of the passing impact of her "kitchen sink" smear strategy over the last month) she is much less electable than Obama (scroll down and check out the yearlong, 70+ poll chart). (Also, a Zogby poll here.)

President and Laura Bush, Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal), and Rush Limbaugh -- as well as the most conservative members of the Democratic Party -- all have helped Hillary out. (Addendum, March 23: as if Fox News throwing Hillary a campaign fundraiser (see "Rupert Murdoch" link immediately above) weren't enough to prove that the Republican power brokers want her to be the candidate, Fox News anchors are even admitting -- and some are upset -- that their network is tilted toward HRC: "Fox News' very own anchors are speaking out — and walking off — over what they perceive to be "Obama-bashing" on their network....") (Fox News' clear preference for Clinton over Obama more than outweighs any implication that could be drawn from Murdoch's adult daughter's preference for Obama.)

But Republican voters are crossing party lines to support Obama (e.g., in Ohio), not strategically to hurt the Democrats but because they honestly like him, just like the famous "Reagan Democrats" left the Democratic fold to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Heck, even my diehard Republican mom is among them. "Strategic" voting by rank and file Republicans didn't start until Rush Limbaugh started urging his listeners to do so -- something that may have violated election laws and could get him indicted.

So please be careful to distinguish between what honest voters (who happen to be Republican) do -- support Obama in surprising numbers -- and what Republican strategists (who want the most beatable opponent in November) do -- support Clinton. There's a big difference between the two. (Addendum: Found a great Time article proving exactly my point here; check it out.)

ORIGINAL POST: A tidbit from Wisconsin, that serves as an example of what seems to be Republican strategy overall -- even George and Laura apparently want Hillary to win, as does Fox News' Rupert Murdoch, who threw her a fundraiser -- and which is yet another piece of evidence supporting my argument that Obama's significantly more electable. From

Some talk radio jocks suggested that Republicans (it's an open primary, and they can vote in either race) vote for Hillary, since polls show her losing the state to McCain in November.

(Relevant media reports here, here, here, here, and here.)

Just think about it... I'll have Wisconsin and Hawaii election results and analysis as soon as reliable returns come back.