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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