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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tracy Flick Victory Party in Florida Tonight!

Because elections aren't just popularity contests...



...and holding a victory party in Florida is just so Tracy Flick.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Toni Morrison endorses Barack Obama

-via MSNBC


Dear Senator Obama,


This letter represents a first for me--a public endorsement of a Presidential candidate. I feel driven to let you know why I am writing it. One reason is it may help gather other supporters; another is that this is one of those singular moments that nations ignore at their peril. I will not rehearse the multiple crises facing us, but of one thing I am certain: this opportunity for a national evolution (even revolution) will not come again soon, and I am convinced you are the person to capture it.

May I describe to you my thoughts?

I have admired Senator Clinton for years. Her knowledge always seemed to me exhaustive; her negotiation of politics expert. However I am more compelled by the quality of mind (as far as I can measure it) of a candidate. I cared little for her gender as a source of my admiration, and the little I did care was based on the fact that no liberal woman has ever ruled in America. Only conservative or "new-centrist" ones are allowed into that realm. Nor do I care very much for your race[s]. I would not support you if that was all you had to offer or because it might make me "proud."

In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace--that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.

When, I wondered, was the last time this country was guided by such a leader? Someone whose moral center was un-embargoed? Someone with courage instead of mere ambition? Someone who truly thinks of his country's citizens as "we," not "they"? Someone who understands what it will take to help America realize the virtues it fancies about itself, what it desperately needs to become in the world?

Our future is ripe, outrageously rich in its possibilities. Yet unleashing the glory of that future will require a difficult labor, and some may be so frightened of its birth they will refuse to abandon their nostalgia for the womb.

There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time.

Good luck to you and to us.

Toni Morrison

Sunday, January 27, 2008

the Kennedy endorsements

It's clear that there is one campaign that is driving turnout, building a winning coalition and enunciating the positive Democratic message this year and that is the campaign of Senator Barack Obama.

The Kennedy endorsements are significant not because they will change a single vote, though they will move a few, but more because they highlight that the Clinton campaign can't simply get away with everything.

The Clinton campaign's "pre-emptive delegate grab" for Michigan and Florida delegates is over, as is the notion that Senator Clinton will be able to drive super delegates off the fence behind the scenes. That won't happen in secret, not anymore. Finally, Caroline Kennedy's endorsement has not simply a "symbolic" value to Obama, but will also, on a pragmatic level, unleash a flurry of donations to Obama's campaign.

The perception of power is itself powerful. The Clinton's squandered that perception in South Carolina. President Bill Clinton's gross misjudgment in comparing Senator Obama's win in South Carolina to that of Reverend Jesse Jackson could not hide the fact the he and Senator Clinton fought hard and would have loved to have received the African American and youth vote in South Carolina. Even 15% more of the Black vote would have been signficant for Senator Clinton. She did not get it despite Bill's best efforts.

There is one campaign that passed the early primary test laid out by the DNC. Barack Obama won Iowa and South Carolina powerfully. Senator Obama came in a close second in New Hampshire and Nevada, where his delegate yield was in parity with Senator Clinton and where he, despite the convenient put downs of some on the blogs, actually competed effectively for a diverse array of voters.

Senator Clinton was held to less than the 30% threshhold in Iowa and South Carolina. Her core support is seniors and white women over 40, demographics that, while significant to every Democrat, are not sufficient, in and of themselves, to forge a winning coalition and advance the Democratic agenda.

More than that, Senator Clinton has lost the thread of her message. No one thinks, if they ever did, that the Clintons are driving the positive message of the Democratic party in 2008. They don't even pretend to do so. As I wrote two weeks ago, the Clinton campaign's message is deeply flawed. It's all about them. That had real perils if the voters decided they preferred someone else.

And the voters, even before the two Kennedy's spoke, expressed their continued and passionate support for the campaign of Senator Barack Obama.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

the big We

From TPM comes the text of this new radio ad from Bill Clinton. It makes you wonder if there wasn't a 22nd Amendment and Bill could run for a third term if this is what he'd sound like:

This is Bill Clinton. These are tough economic times. There aren’t enough jobs, health care costs and gas prices are soaring, and now millions of people are worried about losing their homes.

The question is what to do about it. You’ve got a great decision to make, but I believe it’s Hillary who can help solve these problems.

I also know that African Americans have been hit the hardest these last seven years. Who can fix health care, who can fix our economy, who can create new jobs, who can reduce the price of gas at the pump?

Hillary can. I’ve known her for 36 years. When it comes to seeing a problem and figuring out how to solve it, she’s the best I’ve ever seen.

She’s always heard your voice and you’ll be heard in the White House.

I want to thank you for twice giving me the chance to serve as president. The 1990s were a time of prosperity. We created more than 22 million new jobs, moved eight million people out of poverty, and turned our economy around.

It’s time for another comeback, time to make America great again. I know Hillary’s the one that can do it.

"We." Like Senator Clinton said in her New Hampshire acceptance speech:

We are in it for the American People

Well, we get the point. It's 2 for 1 redux in 2008!! With Bill on board "pushing the domestic policy" Clinton White House #3 will certainly revive the roaring 90s.

Right?

Update: apparently the NYT thinks so.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

President Bill Clinton suggests that some in his audience are "Obama plants"

What to make of this exchange highlighted at the end of an article in today's NYT?:

“I liked seeing Barack and Hillary fight,” [Bill Clinton] said. “They’re real people. I’ve been waiting all my life to see this sort of thing.”

From the crowd, one young man rose to question him. “A lot of us,” the man said, “believe Senator Obama eventually will be the first black president. Are you going to be O.K. with having stood in his way? Do you think that will affect your legacy among blacks in South Carolina?”

“No,” Mr. Clinton replied. “Yes and no. Yes, I’m O.K., but I’m not standing in his way; I think Hillary would be a better president.”

A bit later, Mr. Clinton suggested to the same crowd that his young questioner might have been planted by the Obama campaign
.

Misleading Clinton Attacks leave divided local parties

Stories of the bitter consequences of misleading campaigning like this one from the Washington Post are getting passed around in emails between grassroots Democrats:

Of the two dozen prominent women who signed the critical letter, e-mailed by the Clinton campaign to a list of supporters and undecided voters, three have now signed their names to another missive asking abortion rights supporters in the state to come together and take comfort in the fact that all of the Democratic presidential candidates are firmly pro-choice. One of the three Clinton supporters went even further, saying in an interview Thursday that signing the letter attacking Obama was a "mistake."

Katie Wheeler, a former state senator, said the Clinton campaign had not given her background information about Obama's record on abortion rights when it asked her to sign the letter calling him weak on the issue, and said that, as a result, she did not understand the context of the votes that the letter was attacking him over.

"It should never have gotten to the point where anyone thought Obama was not pro-choice," said Wheeler, a founder of the New Hampshire chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "I don't think the Clinton campaign should have done that. It was divisive and unnecessary...I think it was a mistake and I've spoken to the national [Clinton campaign] and told them it caused problems in New Hampshire, and am hoping they won't do it again."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A gentle reminder to Senator Clinton regarding slums

Senator Clinton might want to take a second and realize that all of us live in towns and neighborhoods and communities.



Nobody likes it when someone calls their neighborhood a slum. There were ample other ways to make that misguided point. If Senator Clinton wants to summarize the career of Senator Obama using the "slum lord" angle that's her right. It's not, however, particularly accurate or fair:

Obama worked in the organizing tradition of Saul Alinsky, who made Chicago the birthplace of modern community organizing, as translated through the Gamaliel Foundation, one of several networks of faith-based organizing. Often by confronting officials with insistent citizens--rather than exploiting personal connections, as traditional black Democrats proposed--Obama and DCP protected community interests regarding landfills and helped win employment training services, playgrounds, after-school programs, school reforms and other public amenities.

One day a resident at Altgeld Gardens, a geographically isolated public housing project surrounded by waste sites, brought a notice about planned removal of asbestos from the project manager's office. Obama organized the community to find out if there was asbestos in their apartments. They persisted as officials lied and delayed, then took a bus--with far fewer people than Obama had anticipated--to challenge authorities downtown. Ultimately, the city was forced to test all the apartments and eventually begin cleaning them up.

Is Senator Clinton's portrait of Obama and his relationship to the South Side of Chicago accurate? In a word, no. Will referring to "slums" help her with the charge that she is tone deaf at times on matters of poverty and race and can't hear how she sounds? Probably not.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bill, Bill, Bill...and more Bill

Josh Marshall has made a great video compilation of the punditry waxing on Bill Clinton's overdrive efforts to insert himself into his third campaign for President (you've gotta love Howard Wolfson saying with a straight face "Bill Clinton is like any other spouse in this campaign"...right.):



My point is not just that It's all about Bill, but that the strategy is deliberate. The Clintons have clearly decided that the only way to counter Barack Obama's star power and message is for Bill Clinton to suck the media oxygen out of Obama's sails. In their view, so long as the story is NOT about Barack Obama's charisma and message, they win....you see, the only way Clinton's core voters move to Obama is if they can hear and see Obama, if they can get his message.

That's not happening when Bill makes himself the center of attention.

Now, Barack Obama can't just fight back against Clinton's "distortions"...that plays into the effect. Barack Obama needs someone with heft and star power of their own to fight back against Bill directly, to say things that Barack Obama can't, won't and shouldn't say. Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Oprah Winfry, Jimmy Carter. One of these few Americans with media pull needs to call out Bill.

And then Barack Obama needs to get out there and do what he was doing...inspiring voters to come together around his message of change and hope. That's what the Clinton's have been attacking...because that was what was working.

Barack Obama needs to get back on message and fast.

And, yes, Democratic partisans have to ask themselves a very basic question: if this is the level of "bull from Bill" the Clinton campaign is embracing in the primaries, what are we in for with Senator Clinton as the nominee or, perhaps, President?

And, given what we saw in Nevada, what does that mean for the Democratic party?

k/o

Sunday, January 20, 2008

It's all about Bill

With a bunch of reporters at a bar on Sunday, Bill made the problem hers. "We can't be a new story, I'm sorry. I can't make her younger, taller, male.'' -Bloomberg.com

In an alternative universe President Bill Clinton might have used his retirement to survey the landscape of his journey through public life and made some fundamental changes in how he operates. After a political career that, whatever else you might say, was always more tacky than tactful, Clinton could have, knowing his wife and life partner aspired to the presidency, calibrated his public persona to fits those goals. Elder statesman, eminence grise, party arbiter and nurturer of new talent, supportive spouse..alas, it was never meant to be.

In an alternative universe, of course, Senator Clinton would have won Iowa.

She did not and what has followed now seems like it was inevitable. Bill Clinton is in the news. Bill Clinton has been in the news. And, for as long as Senator Clinton's run for the presidency continues, perhaps even back to the White House, we all know that Bill Clinton will be the news. He and the cameras and microphones seem to have a mutually insatiable appetite. And when the cameras are rolling Bill is proving to be, at the very least, a frequent liability.

Truth is, Bill Clinton is also the Clinton campaign's major asset on the campaign trail. He worked the Las Vegas strip over the last week like someone who has won the presidency twice before. He is someone who knows how and where to land a knock out blow; even if that blow is a sucker punch. While Bill Clinton is most famous for his rhetoric and communication skills, this go round those skills aren't always serving him so well. However, when it comes to the state-to-state politics of primary season, ex-president Clinton knows who to talk to and how to play the game. Bill Clinton knows how to win elections in the USA. No one can deny him that.

And, yes, he can't deny himself, even when he's "on" he can't hold back. And isn't that the point?

President Bill Clinton is aware of the 22nd Amendment. Of that you can be sure. President Clinton is familiar with the long tradition in American history, initiated by George Washington and followed by Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, of respecting the limited and finite nature of that American invention, the citizen executive. He is aware that the how and style of previous presidential retirements have implied a respect for the fundamental values of our Constitution.

But, yes, once again in American political life, suddenly, inevitably, it's all about Bill. One would think that if you were involved in the coincidence of the campaign to elect the first woman president with the campaign to elect the first First Lady president, that as a potential First Gentleman and former President oneself you would calibrate your rhetoric and your style and have some deference for your spouse. Not just for her sake, but for ours. To make it absolutely clear to everyone that we were electing Senator Clinton on her own terms and strengths, and they are many, and not sidestepping the 22nd Amendment.

That just wasn't meant to be.

Lost in the fake brouhaha about Senator Obama's comments about Ronald Reagan (as if an African-American former community-organizer from Chicago's South Side in the 1980s is unclear about the legacy of Ronald Reagan) was the utterly mystifying quote with which I led this piece:

We can't be a new story, I'm sorry. I can't make her younger, taller, male.

That's a phrase that's 'a tell' for those who have ears to hear it. Sure, it's unfortunate, and patronizing...to her and us...and sexist. We can elect Senator Clinton to be President, or not, on her own terms, thank you very much. But that's not the point. What Bill Clinton really meant, on some level, is that he can't make her Bill.

At the end of the day, the message Bill and Hillary Clinton are sending to the American public is that the only way to pull the plug on the intersection of the Bill Clinton saga and the office of the president is for primary voters to decide to vote for someone else. He's not going to change.

Never has, never will.

There's no alternative universe when it comes to Bill.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Irony in Las Vegas

It looks like Bill Clinton supported a failed lawsuit to close down the very At Large Caucus sites that put Senator Hillary Clinton over the top. Barack Obama won "the rest of Nevada," and had the lawsuit to close those caucus sites succeeded, Nevada may well have been an Obama victory.

But that's just the silver lining not the prize, Hillary Clinton wins the popular vote in Nevada (though, in a remarkable double irony, not its delegates) with a strong showing among women, Latinos and seniors. And if that turns out to be a tide-forming moment in this primary campaign then the Story of the Strip could end up being the second part of a one-two punch.

There are a couple quick observations I'd offer.

First, this is a gut check moment for anyone in the Democratic Party who has reservations about whether a Clinton Restoration would be good for the Democratic Party or the nation as a whole. Will Barack Obama continue to receive endorsements from Democratic leaders showing their hands in opposition to the Clinton machine post-Nevada?

Senator Clinton's strength with seniors does not bode well for the Obama campaign, but a flurry of further endorsements might help Senator Obama with older voters, who are much more likely to view endorsements from politicians and newspapers as a factor in their decision making. Once again, an endorsement from Al Gore before Tsunami Tuesday could be an x factor in this regard.

Second, the campaign is currently 2 against 1.

Barack Obama vs. Bill and Hillary Clinton. President Clinton has been all over the news, every cycle, in every state. He is basically running for President again by proxy...except this time his only role is to play the attack dog. Red meat Democrats may well love this. But, once again, there are many in the Democratic Party who, behind the scenes, are not so sanguine about the "Return of Bill."

Barack Obama faces a conundrum. He can't attack Hilllary the way Bill attacks him. And, further, he can't attack Bill. On top of that, logistically he simply can't appear in the news cycle like the Clintons do: one making a speech, the other offering a harangue at a restaurant. Barack Obama's strength is his star power and the Clintons, in my view, have been attacking that star power by sucking up media oxygen with many smaller attacks (Reagan, LBJ, fairy tale) that no primary voter really cares about. Obama's star power is dying a death of a thousand Clinton cuts. They win by dominating the news and distracting.

If Obama's going to fight and win at this point, he needs something big and he needs something that can compete with the Big Dog. At the same time, Obama needs this "x factor" to parry the Clinton attacks (if not make some in return) to allow Obama to return to doing what he does best which is energize voters on the campaign trail. Obama needs to turn up the star power of his fresh campaign while the "x factor" works for him fighting the Clinton tactic of distract and distract. What is this "x factor?" I don't yet know. I'll tell you when I see it.

Third, Barack Obama needs to reach out to Latino voters in a big way.

I think the UNITE-here Spanish language ad in Nevada was a disgrace. It may well have backfired. What Obama needs to do is to follow the "let me introduce a friend of mine" approach. I don't think Obama has time to change perceptions with a specific proposal alone or some piece of rhetoric. And Obama certainly won't be able to create doubts about Senator Clinton with Latinos; she is well-liked. But Obama does have time to work with influentials to create an opportunity to get an introduction, to show his sincerity and interest. His best hope is to create a situation where voters are in a position where they think, "I like Hillary, but I really like Obama, too."

Finally, the implosion of the Edwards campaign in Nevada opens up a powerful potential source of grassroots energy and effort for Barack Obama.

A large chunk, but not all, of John Edwards support is made of reform-minded grassroots Democrats. Senator Obama's campaign needs to take these powerful, persuasive and energized activists seriously and attempt to bring them in. Reform-minded, anti-status quo Edwards supporters could well be Barack Obama's best available persuaders in winning over a percentage of female voters that Obama currently cedes to Clinton post-New Hampshire. This could be in the form of a grass roots, peer-to-peer effort reaching out to fellow voters one to one. What way do the MoveOn voters want to go? What would voters say if they had to debate the choice of Clinton or Obama in the privacy of someone's home?

But on a macro level there is very little that the Obama campaign can do publicly to create a "moment of doubt" to counter the "appeal to emotion" that is working so well for the Clintons. That doubt can't come from attack ads. They will backfire because they confirm the narrative that the Clintons are victims, that they have been unfairly attacked. However, people do have doubts about returning Bill and Hillary Clinton to the White House and what that would do to our country, they do have doubts about whether running Senator Clinton at the top of the ticket will get us the change we want to see.

On some level, if Obama can't attack Hillary Clinton directly, he has to attack, as he has been doing subtly, the political polarization and scorched earth politics that the Clintons and 90s represent. People don't want to go back there...and with John Edwards perhaps out of the running...looking at the choice between the future and the past may prove a persuasive moment.

The results of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada prove that "star power" alone can't counter the powerful advantages Bill and Hillary bring to the table.

However, perhaps the Clinton's greatest strength may yet prove to be the key to their greatest weakness?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Clinton ad in Nevada



Apparently this AFSCME 527 ad is running heavily in Nevada. It reinforces a point I made in an essay I wrote on Clinton's core message: Clinton's campaign is personal. Clinton's campaign is about her relationship with the voters. Clinton's campaign is about unfinished business and unfinished battles. Clinton's message in the 2008 Presidential election is that the arc of her career in public service should return her to the White House. In essence, the 2008 election is about Clinton and her journey.

Clearly, the ad also reveals the demographic Hillary is targeting in Nevada, women. And, on some level, it's interesting as much for what it says about what advocates for the Clinton campaign think of women voters in Nevada as what it tells us about the Clinton campaign itself.

"I didn't know" is a fascinating, if somewhat headscratching, strategy for winning over caucus goers to vote for you for President. On one level the ad encourages voters to take a new look at Clinton, someone they might feel they know well. On another level, the ad is somewhat maudlin and macabre and incredibly vague. When the fourth woman says, "I love that she found her voice and I want her to know that I want to keep hearing what she has to say" it seems to me to overplay the "journey of discovery" theme that Clinton is using. Further, "I want her to know..." is almost a sentiment you'd expect someone to say as the fan of a celebrity or a pop idol.

To be frank, the entire ad seems to play off a desire on the part of voters not to hurt Senator Clinton's feelings. It over-personalizes her campaign for President. It also plays off a "betrayal" theme barely hidden under the surface of the Clinton campaign since Iowa, as if to say:

"Hillary, I didn't know I was hurting your feelings when I considered voting for Barack Obama."

Finally it begs the question. Senator Clinton is running for President. Shouldn't she know and be in full command of her voice at this point? Her previous message was "Ready to Lead." And one of her campaign's supposed strengths is that the voters know her and know what they are getting from day one. She's supposed to be about delivering the goods, not about gauzy emotional moments that are more about "fear" and "concern" than bread and butter Democratic issues.

I don't see how this ad is good for the Clinton campaign. It highlights the weakness of her core message (it's all about her) and it dilutes her strength (what she promises to do for voters). It puts all the focus on the drama of Hillary's campaign for president. That has risks and real downsides.

Can you win a presidential primary by making voters feel bad for wanting to vote for your opponent?

What do you think?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

the Clinton campaign and the caucus dispute

You asked the question in an accusatory way so I'll ask you back. Do you really believe that all the Democrats understood that they had agreed to give everybody at the casino a vote worth five times as much people who voted in their own precinct? Did you know that? Their votes will be counted five times more powerfully in terms of delegates to the state convention who pick the delegates to the national convention?

What happened is that nobody understood, what had happened is that they uncovered it...and now everybody is saying, "Oh, they don't want us to vote."

This hurts the Clinton campaign. This is a major story. (NYT, USA Today, WSJ)

Clinton is doing two things here.

He's coming out in support of a lawsuit to shut down caucus sites after an endorsement went against Senator Clinton. That's the core thing here. It's unbelievable that the campaign of Senator Clinton does not see how poorly this comes off. Second, he's playing politics in a completely disingenuous way and the major media is covering it and reporting on it. The opposition to the caucus sites did not happen till AFTER the Culinary Workers Union endorsed Barack Obama. But Clinton comes out and talks about this as if it was a "plot" to rush a "five to one" advantage through that was "uncovered" late in the game.

That's untrue. It's also inaccurate. And Bill Clinton is getting fact checked on this BEFORE the Nevada caucus...and it's getting play here in the California media.

Even within the odd logic of Clinton's mischaracterization...he is wrong. The only way there is the possibility that there would be a "weighted advantage" to the delegates chosen by the caucus goers on the strip would be if there were very, very low turnout in Las Vegas and very high turnout in rural areas. Does anyone think that will be the case? Of course not. Further, President Clinton KNOWS that won't be the case because he was urging those very same workers, Culinary Union rank and file, to go to the caucuses and vote for Senator Clinton just yesterday!

At any rate, here is an ex-president, on the record, coming out in favor of closing down caucus sites, mischaracterizing the debate when he knows full well that he is misleading the public and implying some kind of plot to give an unfair advantage to Culinary Workers, a plot that no one can really, uh, make sense of since it only became an issue AFTER the endorsement of that union went against the Clinton campaign.

That is devastatingly bad politics for the campaign of Senator Clinton.

And when Bill Clinton goes into the mocking line at the end..."Oh, they don't want us to vote"...he is going someplace that no Democratic advocate or surrogate should go.

But he does so anyway.

That kind of rhetoric is simply not acceptable within the rhetoric of the Democratic Party. I predict this will cost the Clinton campaign in Nevada and California.

Update: great news, the courts will allow the caucuses.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the CW wave

One the perils of 24h spin cycle politics is that by the time the folks involved in the build up of what becomes "conventional wisdom" get tired of it, or bored, or just plain worn to the ground by it...the real cementing of Conventional Wisdom has only just begun.

Clearly, the story coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire on the Democratic side has become some kind of campaign battle over "race." Democrats are sick of it, and quite a few within the party recognize the perils of this battle, including, apparently, the main players. (That didn't stop the Clinton side from getting numerous unfair digs in after the truce.)

However that may be, the rest of the country has just begun to notice. Tim Russert holding up a sheaf of papers purporting to be "a controversial memo" prepared by the Obama campaign (it was no such thing, btw) might be the first the general public may have heard about this brouhaha.

What I'd like to try to understand is that process whereby...almost like sidewalk cement drying...a story that has been buffeted about in the frenzy of the news cycle settles into a more permanent, hardened form. It seems to happen as mainstream reporters write "summary" stories and as op/ed writers take a controversy up in their weekly columns. (The Obama "you're likeable enough" line had pretty much died and become a non-issue until Frank Rich, ...to his discredit, imo...because he really misread the moment...relaunched it in his Sunday NYT column from where it was inserted into the Tuesday Democratic debate...as a direct quote from his column!)

What I'd also like to pay attention to is how the campaigns deal with this effect. Clearly, there is a huge opportunity to shape a story at the very beginning, to spin it as it forms; but there's also further chances to have an impact on the long tail over the course of a period of days, as well.

It occurs to me that the Clintons are very good at knowing and shaping and working this curve on both ends, but, for the most part, they clearly are out there in the trenches fighting for their "message" every day, especially the short end. They KNOW that there's a curve to be working. I don't see this from Obama so much. Savvy people I talk to seem to have respect for Obama's strategy of playing the long beat and working his structural advantages.

To be honest, Obama seems to be fighting almost all of his battles on the long beat cycle. He almost seems to have a cavalier attitude about the spin cycle.

In my first opinion, it seemed to me that Obama gave away the store to appear so conciliatory in the debate when unfairly confronted with the non-controversial SC memo and accused of furthering a controversy about race.

But, as a I thought about it I realized that since most debate viewers would have no idea what the SC memo was about and really could not come to any conclusion about the "race" issue at all since they had no knowledge of it...that what these viewers took from Obama at the debate was that he was conciliatory and reached out to Hillary Clinton with respect, an action and attitude in keeping with the overall message of his campaign.

In effect, what Obama guards most highly is exactly that, the overall message his campaign sends. He works the long beat, and shapes the CW working off his overall strengths.

It surprises me that Obama doesn't often personally try to attack Clinton for short term mistakes. And the Clinton campaign does make mistakes. In fact, the number of unforced errors from the Clinton camp is probably the biggest story of this primary season.

Will Obama's long beat strategy prove effective? I don't know. Watch as the CW cements and we will find out. My take is that the Clintons often appear to have a temporary advantage...until you look at how the bigger picture is settling out.

USA Today: Bill Clinton paints Obama as 'establishment candidate'

From the department of "give us a break," comes this must read from today's USA Today.

Bill Clinton, who carried Nevada in two general elections, urged voters Tuesday to buck labor endorsements for Sen. Barack Obama and support his wife in Saturday's hotly contested presidential caucuses as the only Democratic candidate with the experience necessary to change the country. The former president trumpeted New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's accomplishments while painting Obama as the "establishment" candidate who would bring only the "feeling of change."

"One candidate says you should vote for me because I've not been involved at all in the struggles of the past and therefore we need to turn over a new leaf and (try) something absolutely new. And if you want the feeling of change, then that is the person you should support," Clinton said in a 75-minute speech to about 300 people in a YMCA gymnasium. "The other candidate says vote for me because I spent a lifetime making change, raising hopes and fulfilling dreams for other people," he said about the former first lady.

In a speech to nearly 2,000 people in neighboring Reno on Monday, Obama portrayed himself as the candidate for change, his campaign's theme from the onset.

"More of the same" from Bill Clinton.

Perhaps only Bill Clinton could attempt to distort his opponent's message, (Obama says vote for me because "I haven't been involved") steal his opponent's message (Hillary = "change and hope"), belittle that message (Obama = "only the feeling of change"), and attempt to tag that opponent with your own negatives (Obama = "the establishment candidate") at the same time.

I don't think it works. In fact, it's pretty damn hilarious.

Read the full article for the less hilarious moment where Clinton inserts himself into labor union politics and tries to actively counter the Culinary Workers endorsement of Barack Obama by pitting the union against itself. This from the guy who just a few days ago was actively supporting suppressing their vote!

Could Bill Clinton's rhetoric on the campaign trail hurt Hillary? You could make an argument that it already has.

Personally, I think Senator Clinton is a better campaigner than this...better on substance and a better advocate for herself and her candidacy. Why Bill is still out there...and implicitly making the "two for the price of one" argument...is beyond me.

Senator Clinton looks weak when Bill Clinton attacks Barack Obama like this.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jim Clyburn, the Clintons and Race

Congressman Jim Clyburn is the House Majority Whip, the third-ranking member of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last Wednesday, the morning after the New Hampshire primary, Clyburn gave an interview to Carl Hulse in the New York Times where he questioned recent comments "distorting civil rights history" made by Bill and Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail:
“We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics,” said Mr. Clyburn, who was shaped by his searing experiences as a youth in the segregated South and his own activism in those days. “It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal.”

[Clyburn] also voiced frustration with former President Clinton, who described Mr. Obama’s campaign narrative as a fairy tale. While Mr. Clinton was not discussing civil rights at the time and seemed to be referring mainly to Mr. Obama’s stance at the Iraq war, Mr. Clyburn saw the remark as a slap at the image of a black candidate running on a theme of unity and optimism.

“To call that dream a fairy tale, which Bill Clinton seemed to be doing, could very well be insulting to some of us,” said Mr. Clyburn, who said he and others took significant risks more than 40 years ago to produce such opportunities for future black Americans.


Congressman Clyburn has nothing to with Barack Obama or his campaign and is not endorsing any candidate in the South Carolina primary, whose date he was instrumental in securing. Majority Whip Clyburn is, however, a very important person in Democratic politics. The words he chose to use were significant. His opinion has consequence.

At any rate, I think that the centrality of Congressman Clyburn in this story means that most of the commentary about "race" and "the campaign"...including the developing CW in some circles that the Obama campaign "played the race card" or "pushed race" is simply un-factual and off base.

Jim Clyburn is the House Whip and also a Congressman from South Carolina. He had a beef with the Clintons after New Hampshire and that beef was reported in the New York Times. That situation has absolutely nothing to do with Barack Obama or his campaign. Jim Clyburn is not race-baiting. Congressman Clyburn is more than allowed to have his opinion and express it; that is his right. (Tom DeLay the GOP Congressperson who held that position was fairly well know for expressing his.)

At any rate, when the NYT reports something like this it is news. The problem is that few others reported this story in its real context. (ie. Congressman Clyburn was about as invisible after this story ran as he was before. Why?)

That was and is, however, the real story here. It's a story between Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jim Clyburn and the issue is one of "respect" and how we talk about the legacy of the civil rights era. The real story here is, and has been all along, about the relationship between the Clintons and black voters and how those voters heard the Clinton's comments.

Personally I've been frustrated because so many Clinton supporters have run around online accusing Barack Obama of "race-baiting." When you ask them for supporting evidence, pretty universally they simply have nothing to show for it. (Barack Obama called the Clinton comments "unfortunate"...that's hardly demogoguery!) Even the famous "South Carolina memo" that Tim Russert held up at tonight's debate is slim evidence of "playing the race card."

Obama's staffers prepared a memo that, among other things, mentions House Whip Clyburn's comments. Seeing as he has nothing to do with the Obama campaign and the comments were reported in the New York Times, that memo strikes me as utterly mundane. How can the state staffers of a campaign be accused of "pushing" a story that has been reported in the New York Times? That is beyond ludicrous. Responsible people know this. That has not stopped high profile Clinton supporters from, perversely, continuing to push this story as if it has merit.

In effect, Clyburn's NYT interview is the "missing source" for the Obama campaign's supposed race-baiting. And, since Congressman Clyburn is not in any way affilliated with Senator Obama, there was little Obama's campaign could do. (Are the Clintons trying to suggest that Clyburn really is with Obama? If so, they should say that in public.) There's two paragraphs in the NYT piece in which Clyburn goes after Bill Clinton's use of the word "fairytale" because he found it to be "insulting" rhetoric. That's significant. That's also politics. Bill Clinton can use what ever rhetoric he chooses, but that doesn't mean he gets to do so in a consequence free zone.

When Tim Russert played "gotcha" with Obama with the SC Memo, I thought, did anyone ever fully challenge the Clintons with Clyburn's comments? Did anyone other than the NYT follow up with Clyburn? Isn't that the more appropriate question here?

If not, why not? Isn't there a bit of bias in that? The level of invisibility of Clyburn outside the NYT is galling. And, if the African American vote becomes a developing story in this campaign, aren't folks in the press and the punditry missing something pretty huge here?

The real story vis a vis Senator Clinton's "MLK / LBJ" comment and Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment isn't about Barack and Hillary, it's about the Clintons, their rhetoric and African American voters...and has been all along.

James Carville is "shaken"

I will write more about this later but the Washington Post alerts us to an important development in the Presidential primary fight.

James Carville is shaken:

Someone said, 'You can't unring a bell'-- well, the biggest bell in American politics just got rung. I'm shaken by the whole thing.


I don't know about you, but my bullshit detection meter just hit eleven.

::

Friday, January 11, 2008

choices pt. ii

ABC has a story up now.

It's titled Woman Who Made Clinton Cry Voted for Obama.

Worth a read.

While you're at it, Josh Marshall proved once again today, why he's one of the key voices of our decade. This is a must read.

::

Thursday, January 10, 2008

choices

I wrote a diary on DailyKos today that got a wide-ranging discussion started. It's called the heart and soul of the party and you might like it.

A blogger challenged me in a comment on that thread and I wanted to share that challenge here and my response below.

The commenter writes:

I hadn't gone to check this out until you posted this ko, but I'm a little flustered. If the entire basis for the "Hillary is a sell-out insider who takes powerful people's money and so won't be open to participatory democracy", you should take another look at open secrets. I see all sorts of money from all sorts of industries washing all around our candidates. Honestly, the money frothe lobbyists (who do, as she says, include the likes of nurses), is swamped by the money coming directly from those in the industries themselves. For example, while HIllary gets the most from Pharma and Docs, take a look, Obama is #2 nipping at her heels.


And here was my response:

Thank you for that link. Obama and Clinton are both raising tons of money from PACs, and tons of money in general. (Obama winning more small donations than Hillary...more or less...but yes, you don't get to the Hundreds of Millions of donations w/o big donors.)

Now, if either of them weren't raising that kind of money, they wouldn't have the funds to compete on Tsunami Tuesday. That's not my point. It's a valid debate topic, but it's not my point.

The point is that Obama and Edwards made a pledge to refuse/return donations from Federal Lobbyists. Clinton did not. Even with all that PAC money, Clinton wouldn't make that pledge.

Imagine if she had. What message would that have sent? What message would unity among the top three Democratic candidates sent on that topic? It did not happen. Hillary chose otherwise.

Further, Hillary Clinton, when challenged on that one topic...not donations from PACS btw....just donations from Federal Lobbyists...chose to say "like it or not" Federal Lobbyists represent real Americans too. No one put those words in her mouth.

This is about choices.

Clinton's name is on the ballot in Michigan. That was her choice. She could have stuck with Obama and Edwards and the party, she did not.

Clinton could have sent a powerful message to the netroots by choosing a progressive campaign chair. Someone with a fresh voice and representing a new way of doing things. She did not.

Terry McAuliffe was her choice.

Bill Clinton could have acknowledged the enormous benefit Barack Obama is creating for the Democratic Party by energizing young people to register and show up at the polls in record numbers.

Bill made the opposite choice. He called Obama's campaign "the biggest fairy tale he's ever seen." Bill, an ex-President, belittled Barack Obama and gave words of criticism on live tape that can be used by the GOP.

I guarantee you that that moment will be used by the GOP if Obama is the nominee.

The Clintons have made choices. They should be judged by them. That's politics. I am very certain that the Clintons understand that thoroughly.

In fact, the message they send when they choose to act like they have is that they are ABOVE scrutiny. That's simply not true. It's not good politics. And it's not good for the Democratic Party.

I mean, the Clintons are making a very big ask from the American public. They are asking us to return them to the White House. This is a nation where we take that kind of thing seriously.

No one owns the White House. No one gets a free pass.

Not Barack Obama. Not John Edwards and not Hillary Clinton.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Al Gore: the super super delegate

It is a brewing historical irony that the Democratic presidential primary in 2008 could shape up to mirror the election of 2000: one candidate could win the "popular vote" ie. the majority of the delegates selected by the voters and caucus goers, while another candidate could win the nomination by winning enough additional super delegates to put them over the threshold for victory.

Nobody wants this. No one. But the reshaped Tsunami Tuesday and it's "all at once" delegate selection process might well lay the groundwork for this very situation to come to pass. (There are some very powerful forces of the status quo that are using the avoidance of this situation as an expedient excuse to rally behind Senator Clinton, mark me on that.)

I look at the situation right now, however, and think that there's a very small number of "big mover" factors that haven't yet come into to play that could help swing things one way or another.

One of those factors is Vice President Al Gore.

Let me say this. If Al Gore intends to endorse someone in this primary, if not actively campaign for that candidate, he should do it now in advance of Tsunami Tuesday. If there's one figure who's got the moral authority and gravitas in the party to sway both the voters and the super delegates it would be Mr. Gore...whose popular vote victory in 2000 was stolen from him by just such an undemocratic quirk of fate as the one we potentially face right now and whose resurrection as an activist confronting climate change has won the hearts of a new generation that did not much know him in his former role as Vice President.

It would be thrilling and apropos if Mr. Gore saw fit to bestow his endorsement on Senator Obama, whose rhetoric and journey mirror the Vice President's, and such an endorsement might well help the Senator from Illinois turn the tide.

It would, likewise, be a, perhaps, decisive blow to the Obama camp's hopes if Mr. Gore came down on the side of Senator Clinton.

Either way there is but one Super Super Delegate in 2008, and his name is Albert Gore.

Which way does your beard point tonight, Al?

Good stuff from Mark Schmitt at TAPPED

This is good:

[Obama] is falling into the tendency that many "wine-track" candidates do of talking about his candidacy as if it were some sort of other-worldly cause: "something happening,"…"it's about you," etc. Howard Dean's "people-powered politics" had the same flaw. That kind of language is inspirational in the moment, but quickly makes a campaign seem vapid and vain even if it isn't. It leaves a listener open to the sense that you're the candidate of process, feeling, and personality, which allows the hard-work-and-experience candidate to claim the mantle of substance by comparison.

But Obama didn't get through 15 debates without substance. (Which is why the Clinton claim that "he's gotten a free ride" is unpersuasive.) He's got an elegant, expansive pitch-perfect take on foreign policy that's markedly different from Clinton's; he has good proposals on poverty, climate change, and a defensible health proposal. (The specifics aren't important, but the commitment they represent is.) And he's got an argument about how he will actually get these things achieved that is distinctly different from Clinton's, and to my ears, more persuasive.

Last night, Obama put five solid paragraphs of pure substance into his speech, moving from health care to international issues in a smooth passage. He should do that all the time...


Interesting take, and when you add it to this interesting memo from campaign manager David Plouffe, further reason to support the idea that we have a real race on our hands.

idiocy

First John Edwards, who paid a price for it.

And now, Senator Barack Obama's campaign co-chair, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., has joined those who question Senator Clinton's emotions.

For the record, I think talking about "tears" is idiocy. Sheer idiocy.

I think paying attention to what Hillary and Bill have actually said over the last few days is the way to go.

But, hey, what do I know?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Hampshire

On February 1st, 2000 Al Gore defeated Bill Bradley in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary 76,897 to 70,502 votes out of 154,639 cast. (source, wikipedia).

A remarkable thing happened tonight in New Hampshire eight years later: with 96% of precincts reporting, Hillary Clinton has won New Hampshire full out winning over 110,550 votes with Barack Obama taking 102,883 and John Edwards winning 47,803....that's a total of over 100,000 more total votes cast in the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 2008 than 2000.

That's remarkable and cause for celebration whatever the outcome.

Now, I've spent the last two posts expressing my disagreement with Clinton campaign strategy over the weekend. I'm not going to back down from that point of view.

You could point to any of the stratagems and tactics the Clinton camp used over the weekend as "key" but I think the overall cumulative effect of all the strategies was the significant thing here and it gave the Clintons exactly what they intended to achieve: the media story became about Hillary and not about Barack Obama and it stayed about Hillary.

For what it's worth, that's classic politics, and it worked. If Barack Obama is going to compete against the Clintons, his team has to be ready to win the media game played sharp. In some ways, that is one of the strongest selling points of a Clinton candidacy: her team knows how to finagle things their way. They have multiple tricks up their sleeve.

But they were tricks.

It's important to note that. Bill Clinton was wrong to impunge Obama's motivation for pulling that speech off his website in 2004 (he did it out of courtesy to the Kerry / Edwards campaign.) And Hillary was wrong to print deceptive fliers questioning Obama's votes in Illinois (Obama was voting in accordance with Planned Parenthood's local strategy.)

And, yes, to use the phrase "false hopes"...to call the Obama campaign "the biggest fairy tale you've ever seen"...to segue from communicating your personal feelings about the campaign into a veiled attack on Senator Obama's lack of "readiness" and "wrongness" doesn't sit well with me.

Of course, it's up to the voters to decide. That's what primaries are about. And the voters of New Hampshire have spoken. That means something. Going forward we bloggers should do our part to make sure that the ultimate nomination is made as an informed choice by fact checking every candidate. There should be no free pass. Scrutiny (which is, if you put the best face on it, what the Clintons are calling for in regards to Obama) is the order of the day.

When Hillary Clinton accused Barack Obama of having a Federal Lobbyist running his New Hampshire campaign (a false accusation) what she didn't tell the voters is that she is, far and away, the largest recipient of Federal Lobbyist donations in the field. There is no comparison with Edwards or Obama because neither of them accept ANY money from Federal Lobbyists.

Hillary's campaign is fueled with Federal lobbyist dollars.

That's hypocrisy. That's misleading. To accuse someone associating them with something YOU are already associated with is just wrong. But with the Clintons, that's par for the course.

The message is that the rules don't apply to them.

I'm tired of it. Not so tired that I can't see why some Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire and around the country still strongly support Hillary Clinton...but tired enough that I am willing to speak my mind about my disagreements in a constructive manner during this primary season when it can make a difference. Part of the Clinton message is that scrutiny does not apply to them.

It does.

Hillary may have won New Hampshire, but over this weekend she once again showed her cards about her core mode of operation. I think that should give fair minded observers pause. That's what the primary season is about.

There is much to admire about the Clintons, not least of which is that they are formidable campaigners, but that does not mean we have to think that Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for us in 2008. We don't have to accept this particular status quo.

The time is now to get all the issues out on the table for all to see.

Is Hillary Clinton the best candidate for the Democratic Party in 2008? Is that our best option? Her win in New Hampshire, and how she won, in my view, ask that question. At the same time we can all agree that the turnout was, once again, cause for celebration.

fairy tale

As if the Clinton camp weren't satisfied with how low and how fast they've sunk, President Bill Clinton has decided to add yet another perjorative phrase to the Clinton campaign's running rhetorical insults targeting Obama voters: today we learn that Barack Obama's campaign is the biggest "fairy tale" Bill Clinton's ever seen.

I don't have much to say here other than to point out that the roots of Bill and Hillary's problem is that the voters are turning out in droves but those same voters are not, uh, actually voting for Hillary.

How dare they! How dare you voters! Shame on you voters for having hope! For supporting Barack Obama!

In the face of record setting attendance and turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire (which most Democrats would find to be a positive trend) the Clintons have engaged in a kind of rhetoric that is really shameless and counter productive: the Clintons are insulting the judgment of the very voters they need to come to their side!

(Could it be that Hillary is not winning votes because the voters don't think it's a good idea that she be the nominee in 2008?)

"False hopes" and "Fairy Tales" imply a kind of child-like electorate that has unthinkingly bought into Senator Barack Obama's campaign. This rhetoric has the effect of demeaning any of us who might find the Obama campaign to be not simply hopeful and encouraging, but also well-run and the best overall choice in 2008.

In a nutshell, you get the feeling that Bill and Hillary would be a lot more comfortable if the voters weren't turning out at the polling places in droves and setting records of participation. The Clintons certainly don't seem to appreciate all these new voters coming into the process through the historic and inspiring campaign of Barack Obama and the hard work of John Edwards.

Unfortunately, if Bill and Hillary's goal is to depress turnout, uninspire the electorate and demean the voters, they are picking the exact wrong and least effective moment in time to enunciate that strategy.

Not only will they lose, but they will drag themselves down a notch in the process.

For shame, Bill. You've wagged your finger at this voter one too many times.

Maybe it's time you give us a break.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

false hopes

Josh Marshall highlights this moment in last night's debate as significant for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.

What strikes me more than Senator Clinton's much-remarked demeanour is this sentence:

We don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered, the best way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes I've already made.


False hopes, what a cynical turn of phrase when you get right down to it.

You can be sure that the use of that phrase was the result of much private strategizing on the part of the Clinton team. As such, it can serve as an epitaph of all that has been wrong with Clintonism: the willingness to smear and distort when your power is challenged, the protective paternalism cloaking a not so subtle elitism, the claiming of sole credit for shared accomplishments, and, above all else, the savvy retailing of lowered expectations about what is possible.

That is the downside of the Clinton legacy in a nutshell. (And I say this as someone who admits that there are upsides as well.)

False hopes.

The Clintons do not choose words idly. That is their response to Iowa and Barack Obama.

False hopes.

A bit sad. No?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama's win in Iowa

There are two big stories coming out of Iowa on the Democratic side.

First, Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucus will almost 40% support with Edwards and Clinton both held to under 30% support. Whatever you think of the wisdom of giving Iowa their "first decider" status, Iowa is the proving ground where campaigns wrestle for the first big prize of the primary season and that result represents a big win for Senator Obama. You can rest assured that had Clinton won Iowa with those numbers the story today would be about her march to the nomination. That's not the story today.

That's big news. All Clinton had to do was win Iowa, confirm her presumptive nominee status and the media train would have been rolling towards New Hampshire and South Carolina primed to give her the nomination. You can be very sure that the Clinton campaign knew this full well going in. They spent the time and money and gave Iowa their best shot. President Bill Clinton even took a number of jabs at Senator Obama to no avail. (I was surprised how little this was viewed as unseemly for an ex-President; it was and is.)

At the end of the night, however, Barack Obama won the 2008 Iowa Caucuses going away and despite Senator Clinton giving it everything she had. The Clinton machine was well-organized, well-connected, and well-run. Senator Clinton had the crucial endorsements and inside support. She did not win Iowa.

Further, the other big news was that Senator Clinton came in third. That's huge. That speaks not simply to the hard work of the Edwards campaign (2nd twice in Iowa.) it speaks to a huge downside for Senator Clinton.

There is no fall back plan. The Clinton campaign was and is in a "must win" "must preserve the presumptive nominee" status conundrum. Large swaths of Clinton's support is based on the fact that she was perceived to be the nominee in a walk, the perception of inevitability. Powerful movers and shakers cynically put their chips and donations in her camp. Others followed suit.

If the Clinton campaign fails to deliver with primary wins and momentum, large swaths of that support will dry up. Anything less than a mirror image of Obama's convincing Iowa win for Clinton in New Hampshire is not enough. This is a big deal. It is fairly clear that the Clinton campaign does not have an effective back up plan, nor are they suited to running an underdog campaign.

Clinton's message has always been about power and the perception of inevitability. For that perception to hold, you have to win. It's that simple. Further, to prevent a collapse of your support, you must do better than come in third.

Barack Obama's speech was entirely appropriate. Something huge happened in Iowa last night.