Wednesday, April 16, 2008
She's Lost, He'll Lose, She's a Traitor, He's a Liar, We're Screwed, and Why Can't We All Get Along?
Even as Pennsylvania looms like a storm on the horizon, the dry spell between primaries has left the fields of the liberal blogsphere in substantive-debate drought, ablaze with the fires of fraternal warfare. The lines of polemic have consolidated around several narratives:
- Hillary should resign, because she can't win
- Obama is a weak candidate in the general election
- Hillary is destroying the party by giving the GOP ammunition/using their attacks
- Obama is just another politician who lies and panders
- McCain is benefiting from the delay in choosing a nominee
- The damage to the Democrats from this civil war is permanent
I like to think of these tropes as She's Lost, He'll Lose, She's a Traitor, He's a Liar, We're Screwed, and Why Can't We All Get Along, respectively. And yet all of these, every single one, is completely wrong.
Let's take a cool and clear-headed view at each in turn.
For Hillary to win, she needs to win win by the rules, which means having enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Since she is behind on pledged (not promised!) delegates from the primaries and caucuses, she needs to attain victory by convincing the superdelegates. The superdelegates are not fat cats in smoke filled rooms, they are elected Democrats and ordinary party leaders, many of whom begin their stint in the DNC during the Dean campaign as local volunteers and who rose through the ranks.
The superdelegates are therefore, in a sense, a microcosm of the Democratic party as a whole. If Hillary can actually persuade a majority of this highly diverse, intelligent, and qualified people to cast their vote for her - the same pitch she has to make for every single Democratic voter in the primaries, after all - then she has won. The superdelegates are simply voters whose vote counts more by virtue of their participation in the democratic machinery so essential to a functioning party, and democracy itself.
Also, there is no such thing nd never has been such a thing as a popular vote. Pledged delegates are assigned by district; there is no homomorphic mapping from votes to delegates because the number of delegates are apportioned according to various rules that serve ultimately to weight some voters' votes more than others, based on which district they live (and the population of the districts themselves). Therefore, were the superdelegates to blindly substitute the nebulous concept of a popular vote for their own judgement, they would be guilty of a dereliction of duty. If, however, they decide each for themselves that the popular vote (in some fashion) is important enough to be a factor in their deliberation, then that is their right.
The supers should be concerned with one thing only; choosing the best candidate against McCain. How they define "best" is up to them, just like it is up to each of us when we vote for a candidate ourselves.
The main argument is of course the relationship to Pastor Wright. If Barack Obama had indeed thrown Pastor Wright under the bus, he would have been cynically acting to preserve political image at the expense of any assumption that the voters are intelligent people who can be reasoned with. In other words, he will have confused the voters for the pundit class. And make no mistake, the Right would still be furiously tying him to Pastor Wright even if he had stated that Wright was persona non grata to him forevermore. In a can't win situation, the only thing to do is the right thing.
To explain why staying loyal to Wright was the right thing, let me invoke a voice from the Other Side - Daniel Larison, who is practically the only pundit worth reading on the primary nowadays (no small irony, that). Larison writes,
there is such a thing as loyalty, and one of the best things that can be said about Obama is that he seems to understand that loyalty entails keeping faith with friends and colleagues after it has become politically dangerous to do so. A lot of people give his church grief for preaching against an aspirational “middle-classness,” and I understand the objections to this view, but at its core this view entails a call to solidarity with your community and a willingness to remain loyal to that community even though better opportunities may beckon beyond the horizon.
Obama really shouldn’t have to answer for what Wright says, but I also think that his loyalty to Wright should not be an occasion for bashing the man.
Don't miss Larison's analysis of Obama's speech on race, either. This is what conservatives used to be like, as a rule rather than exception.
The bottom line is that Obama's ties to Wright are not that important, except to those people who were unlikely to vote for him anyway. As far as general election matchups against McCain go, there have been numerous analyses that show Obama as strong a challenger to McCain as is Clinton, if not stronger, with the added bonus of possessing genuine map-changing potential. With the right pick of vice president - and here I lean strongly, strongly in favor of Bill Richardson - Obama has genuine promise to usher in a Reaganesque victory. If Obama loses to McCain it won't be because Obama sat in the pews of Wright's church, but rather because McCain is a media darling whose true nature as Bush III will be obscured to those independent-leaning voters who still think that he's a moderate straight-talker. As far as Obama goes, he will be relentlessly portrayed as a standard issue liberal villain of the John Kerry mold, and his supporters underestimate the power of the SwiftBoat strategy to their peril. Even had the Wright issue never surfaced, there would have been something else. The Wright affair can at least be discussed - the muslim smear on the other hand is far more insidious and difficult to combat openly. Not that I don't expect, nay, demand, that Obama try.)
She's a Traitor
Let me simply ask - if Barack Obama can't win a no-holds-barred primary against Hillary Clinton, then what chance does he stand against John McCain?
I think no one has yet better expressed the counterargument than Maureen Dowd:
Obama had not been hit hard until this campaign; he sailed through his Senate race. Without Hillary, he never would have learned to be a good debater. He never would have understood how to robustly answer distorted and personal attacks. He never would have been warned about how harmful an unplugged spouse can be. He never would have realized how a luminous speech can be effective damage control.
When pressed about whether he’s ready for Swift-boating, Obama has seemed a bit cavalier. But the Hillary camp will garrote him with his mistakes until he fully appreciates what garroting feels like. Ickes told a Web site Tuesday that he has been pursuing superdelegates by pressing the Rev. Wright issue.
Besides coaching Obama, Hillary is also shielding him. If she had not fibbed about the Tuzla airport landing, and then fibbed to get out of a fib, the press would have stayed focused on Wright. She has been an invaluable lightning rod.
One of the most valuable lessons the gritty Hillary can teach the languid Obama — and the timid Democrats — is that the whole point of a presidential race is to win. ... Hillary’s work is done only when she is done, because the best way for Obama to prove he’s ready to stare down Ahmadinejad is by putting away someone even tougher.
And let's be honest, the job ain't done yet. MoDo rather adeptly mocked Obama for his awkward patrician demeanor while campaigning in the PA heartland. Well worth a full read.
The last thing we need is a glass jaw on our prizefighter. Obama still makes mistakes. Hillary's embrace of GOP talking points is like a political vaccination - when John McCain rolls the same crap out on September, Obama will be able to deflect reflexively. Obama is a far better politician right now than he was when he campaigned against Alan Keyes. (Think about that! Alan Keyes!) If anything, I hope Hillary roughs Obama up some more, and hires Karl Rove besides.
He's a Liar
What I expect as basic due diligence from anyone pursuing this line of attack is to point out exactly where in Obama's speeches, campaign literature, or ads where Obama himself claims to be a post-partisan transcendental candidate who will unify us as one upon ascent to the Fields of Elysium. Obama doesn't and hasn't ever portrayed himself as an agent of Political Singularity transformation, in fact he has always been one of the most cautious politicians on the stage, as is made painfully clear by his (publically accessible, not hidden) policy position statements. A good example is the contrast between Hillary and Obama on the housing crisis - Hillary's plan is bold and reminiscent of FDR, whereas Obama tries to split the difference. Krugman goes into a lot of detail on this issue and the example is highly illustrative. Fundamentally, the narrative of Obama as Angel of Destiny is derived from the punditocracy, not the campaign.
If you actually listen - LISTEN - to Obama's speech and rhetoric, he isn't talking about himself. he is talking about US. He is asking US to do the heavy lifting, to see our politics in a different light. It's We, not him, who have to cross the partisan divide. And it is working. Can you imagine any other Democratic politician who would earn the endorsement of Andrew J. Bacevich or defection of Douglas Kmiec? (Anyone even remotely familiar with these names will immediately understand the tremendous significance of their dissent from Bush-Republicanist dogma). Obama wants to expand the base, not just entrench it.
Yes, Obama has liberal positions on issues, misspoke about where he stood on those issues, has had associations with various unsavories like Rezko and Wright, etc. But the key difference is that Obama has been consistent as an advocate of reform and transparency. Obama's record in the Illinois Legislature and in the US Senate have not been empty as some accuse. This graphic from the New York Times makes it abundantly clear that Obama had quite a lengthy legislative record in Illinois, including sponsoring 21 ethics bills over the course of his 8 year service. Obama has gone out of his way to list his earmarks and subject himself to hostile scrutiny and questioning over his ties to Rezko. Some argue that Obama is a product of Chicago politics, but since when did we become so cynical as to believe in Political Original Sin? Rather than permit the forces of corruption to rule over him as all others, Obama has tried to minimize them and expose them. It's somewhat odd, but true, that he is held to a higher standard of ethics than most politicians precisely because he is a genuine agent of reform. But if we raise the bar so that only the purest of the pure may ever be permitted to cleanse the system, then we better get used to the muck. Perfection is the enemy of the good. In Obama, we have better than good, as the enemy of cynicism.
McCain has, in recent weeks, had to travel to Iraq just to get media attention. The Obama Hillary cage match is sucking up all his oxygen, and he doesn't have the money to generate more.
Plus, don't worry about the general election. Google "McCain gooks" and "McCain trollop Cindy" and you'll see the man is a gold mine. Relax on this for now. Trust me.
Why Can't We All Get Along?
The truth is, that we can, and we will. Look no further than RedState to see how they have largely solidified in support of McCain, a candidate who previously was the only one for which there was concensus that everyone hated. The Rombots, Huckabots, and FredHeads are all sucking it up and toeing the line. They are united to face off for victory in November and that's the bottom line.
Just about the most provocative thing you can say during a primary is "I'm taking my ball and going home." It should be no surprise then that this sentiment appears on both sides. It's heat, not light - passion, not reason. And there is also the non-insignificant cadre of trolls who see this primary battle as fertile ground.
This too, I guess, just has to wait until after the nomination is over. It certainly will help to facilitate the great reconciliation if Obama partisans can restrain themselves in calling for Clinton to drop out - especially given her upcoming sure victory in PA. I think that expecting Clinton to drop out anytime soon is counter productive. Let the process play itself out, and passions will cool on their own.
The one thing we can be united on is victory. With either Clinton or Obama in office, we get our country back. And that's the key point.
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Obama 2008 - I want my country back
Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.