Election 2008 Obama Politics

I Heart John Edwards

I’ve been critical of John Edwards – and I do not believe his strategy for achieving change is the right one for today.

But his response to Hillary in the debate going on now was priceless – not least of all because he was defending Obama as an agent of change despite the fact that it must be in his self-interest to go after him.

Video and a transcript will be up as soon as it’s available.

Election 2008 Foreign Policy Obama Politics

The Petty Paul (Krugman)

I used to look forward to a Paul Krugman column.  Yes, he was a polemicist, but he was always angry with good reason.  Now, I read each column waiting for the gratuitous Obama smear.  Of course, often enough in these past few weeks, the entire column has been attacks on Obama. Today, perhaps in deference to Obama’s overwhelming victory over Krugman’s two preferred partisans, Krugman only has a throwaway line attacking the Senator:

The Democrats in general make far more sense. But among at least some of Barack Obama’s supporters there seems to be a belief that if their candidate is elected, the world’s problems will melt away in the face of his multicultural charisma.

Memo: It won’t work on the Chinese. [my emphasis]

Notice both the vagueness of the claim, and it’s mean-spiritedness. I doubt Krugman could name a single supporter who believes this.  And I cannot think of any other reason for including this gratuitous insult.

I fear Paul Krugman is becoming the left-wing’s William Kristol in his single-minded partisan fervor, indifferent to political realities on the ground but true to the vision that shaped him years ago.  He remains interesting – much as Kristol has – but he seems to be somewhat disconnected from reality.  William Kristol’s dogged defense of the Iraq war demonstrated how disconnected he was; Krugman opposes Obama because of his lack of partisan fervor – because he believes partisanship is necessary to win and to accomplish any significant changes.  But when his theory is challenged by the reality of an electoral victory (a small one to be sure), he does not brook any doubt.  He is surly.  Krugman is not in William Kristol territory yet; but if Obama manages to become the Democratic nominee, I’d be certain that Krugman’s doubts will remain strong.  And if Obama wins the presidency, I’m sure they’ll remain.  And if Obama accomplishes more than expected as president – I doubt, even then, Krugman will come around.

Still, if Obama is the nominee, expect Krugman to find something else to talk about for the next few months until November rolls around.  Expect a lot of talk about the Democratic position versus the Republican candidate.  That’s the problem when you’re a partisan.  Your intellectual honesty becomes a hostage to your party or your cause.  Just ask William Kristol.

Election 2008 Obama Politics

Just like I imagined it when I was talking to my Kindergarten teacher…

“This feels good. It’s just like I imagined it when I was talking to my Kindergarten teacher.”

Obama in New Hampshire after yesterday’s victory (referencing Hillary’s accusation that he has been planning on being president since Kindergarten.)

Election 2008 Obama Politics

Obama! Ya gotta believe…

Final results:

Senator Barack Obama : 37.58%

Senator John Edwards : 29.75%

Senator Hillary Clinton : 29.47%

From tunesmith at the Daily Kos:

Barack Obama won tonight, and I take it as a lesson for the blogosphere/netroots, because he staked his approach on something that the more partisan amongst us have scoffed at for a few years. He convinced his opponents to give him power.

From the National Review’s Rich Lowry before the big win:

I’ve been an Obama skeptic, but…there was a sense in the room that maybe, just maybe you were witnessing the beginning of something historic.

Election 2008 Giuliani Obama Politics The Web and Technology

I love reddit, but some source-checking would do wonders.

[digg-reddit-me]The 17th most popular story on reddit at the moment is this hit piece by the Judicial Watch. The Judicial Watch, as some fact-checking reveals, is funded by rather right-wing sources:

Judicial Watch receives funding from mainly conservative sources. In 2002, Judicial Watch received $1.1 million from The Carthage Foundation and a further $400,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation. Both foundations are Managed by Richard Mellon Scaife. The year before the Scaife Foundation gave $1.35 million and Carthage $500,000.

In all, between 1997 and 2002 Judicial Watch received $7,069,500 (unadjusted for inflation) in 19 grants from a handful of foundations. The bulk of this funding came from just three foundations – the Sarah Scaife Foundation, The Carthage Foundation and the John M. Olin Foundation, Inc.

The Judicial Watch was also one of the main groups pushing impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky matter, subpoening Linda Tripp, and starting over 15 lawsuits against President Clinton. They are one arm of the Republican noise machine. And reddit is falling for it.

The list they give of the most corrupt officials fits a bit too easily into the Republican agenda. As Huckabee and Giuliani are the two greatest threats to the Republican coalition of evangelicals and everyone else, they are easy to include. Larry Craig is a gay Republican – who has embarrassed Republicans enormously. Finally, Scooter Libby who has been indicted. It’s an easy list. The list of Democrats though seems to be those conservatives fear most – Hillary, Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Feinstein, etcetera.

In short, Reddit is currently promoting a right-wing hit piece created by a propaganda organization that was created to promote the Lewinsky affair.  Most important – at least some of the facts included in the piece are wrong.

Defending Obama

I am only defending Obama here, although I am sure most of the other Democrats on the list – Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Conyers, Dianne Feinstain, and even maybe Hillary Clinton – are being unfairly targeted, because I am already aware of the bogus-ness of the charges against Obama. Or at least the flimsiness. And of course – I admit – I’m biased in favor of Obama. It took me a long time to come to see Obama as the best candidate; and although I am still open to another candidate, I’ve examined each of them pretty closely, and his views and temperament seem closest to my own.

Obama has certainly faced criticism for his ties to Antoin “Tony” Rezko who was a big supporter of Obama’s career from the beginning. The senator explained the appearance of impropriety that the reddit submitter referred to thus:

“It was simply not good enough that I paid above the appraised value for the strip of land that he sold me. It was a mistake to have been engaged with him at all in this or any other personal business dealing that would allow him, or anyone else, to believe that he had done me a favor,” the senator said.

To me, it seems clear that Rezko was trying to do Obama a favor – probably expecting something in return at some point; and Obama should have realized this and rejected the offer. But aside from this lapse in judgment, it does not demonstrate corruption. And as the sale was a transparent process that was revealed as soon as it had occurred, it does not seem intentional on Obama’s part.

The charge relating to the $5,000 worth of stock really has no depth to it.

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign Wednesday defended two investments he made right after his election to the Senate, saying he was unaware of the stock purchases at the time and did nothing to directly aid either company in its business before the federal government…

Obama purchased $5,000 in shares for AVI, which was developing a drug to treat avian flu. Two weeks after buying the stock, Obama pushed for more federal funding to fight the disease, but company officials said they never talked to Obama about his work in the area…

The reports found no evidence that any of his actions ended up benefiting either company during the roughly eight months he owned the stocks.

In other words, Obama’s broker (who kept Obama’s money in a blind trust) bought stocks which were related to some hot button issues of the day; and as a Senator, Obama gave a speech pushing for federal funding to fight avian flu.

The amounts of money involved in both transactions are minimal.

As for the final charge: “Obama was also nabbed conducting campaign business in his Senate office, a violation of federal law.” I have no idea what the Judicial Watch is talking about. Someone please enlighten me if you do.

Election 2008 Obama Politics

Obama and the Progressive Netroots

[digg-reddit-me]I am far from convinced by the arguments Andrew Sullivan’s readers have put forth in the excerpts he has posted about both the rift between Obama and the netroots, and how Obama is hurting the netroots. Both of these suggestions indicate that Obama is fundamentally at odd with the progressive blogosphere, which I think is quite untrue.

For example, to speak of the most prominent netroots blogger, Kos actually came out in favor of Obama at one point and seems overall somewhat sympathetic. If nothing else, he seems resigned to an Obama win in Iowa, and concludes:

With all those factors in play, with no obvious gate-crashing people-powered candidate, and with what really is solid field, I’m left firmly in the undecided camp. And I don’t mind being there since, thankfully, I don’t have to cast a vote on Thursday.

Yglesias seems to have similar feelings, concluding that “while there’s a lot I like about Barack Obama” he doesn’t want to endorse all of Obama’s tactics in campaigning in Iowa – namely attacking his opponents from the right. I get the same impression reading Ezra Klein. It is disturbing to see Markos put up a story like this one titled “Obama slams Gore”, especially as the article it describes doesn’t back up that point. And then of course there are many hysterics who go nuts on Obama from the left. Overall though, I think the netroots don’t trust Obama, but have no real grudge against him.

Many in the netroots tend to agree with Edwards, Hillary, and Krugman that partisanship is our main tool to get things done – but though I think there are some fundamental misunderstandings about Obama in the netroots, specifically around this issue – I think most are sympathetic.

Obama’s political agnosticism is an essential part of his appeal – and I think most progressive bloggers also feel that appeal, even as it contradicts the lessons they have chosen to take from the past dozen years of politics.

From an old piece in the New Yorker, here’s Obama:

“I’m a Democrat. I’m considered a progressive Democrat. But if a Republican or a Conservative or a libertarian or a free-marketer has a better idea, I am happy to steal ideas from anybody and in that sense I’m agnostic.”

It’s not triangulation; it’s not partisanship; it’s not anger; it’s not wedge issues; it’s not deceit. It is pragmaticism – not just regarding tactics, but also ideas. And it’s why Obama will win, and why he’ll be a better president than anyone else running.

Iraq Politics

“Only idiots signed up. Only idiots died.”

Apparently Ted Rall is as offensive and clueless as my officemate.

Election 2008 Obama Politics

The definitive guide to the January 3, 2008 Iowa Democratic Party Caucuses

Iowa flag

Photo by Deckhand

[digg-reddit-me] The New York Times quoted Barack Obama in Guttenberg, Iowa:

“You in Iowa have this extraordinary privilege of choosing who the next president of the United States is going to be. Whoever wins this caucus is likely to win the nomination and is likely to win the presidency.”

There’s a lot of justified criticism of Iowa’s caucus procedures (for example, these recent pieces by Jeff Greenfield and Christopher Hitchens at Slate) – especially for the Democratic procedure, which forgoes the secret ballot in favor of publicly standing for your candidate. Iowa’s caucuses also make the same mockery of the principle of “one citizen, one vote” as the American electoral college – giving those candidates with broad support across every one of Iowa’s 99 precincts an advantage over a candidate whose support is centered in high population urban areas.

Defending the Caucus

On the other hand, Iowa (and New Hampshire) are two of the very few places in the United States where candidates actually get to meet with their prospective commander-in-chief. Justin Webb of the BBC provides the best defense of Iowa’s caucuses (as well as an insight into how the caucus is viewed internationally). Necessarily, Webb’s defense is anecdotal:

I would have more chance of getting an informal off-the-record chat with the Pope than I would with Mitt [Romney].

Unless, that is, I were an Iowan.

Iowans have dozens, literally dozens, of opportunities each week to meet all the candidates and often to talk to them.

They are in diners, in hotel lobbies, in churches, in schools, in hospitals.

Iowa in campaign season is like a single British rural parliamentary constituency – think Ross and Cromarty – with everyone spending all their time campaigning there.

The result is dizzying. A great US political story has two voters chatting about their choices in one of the early voting states – Iowa or New Hampshire, I think.

One asks the other about whether he likes a particular candidate, “Oh I don’t know,” comes the reply, “I’ve only met him twice!”

Regardless of anyone’s studied opinion of what the relevance of Iowa should be, and of what the flaws in the caucus process are, it is clear that the winner of today’s caucus will have a significant advantage in the New Hampshire primary five days later, and that the publicity of an Iowa win will boost his or her campaign numbers nationwide. There is even a substantial chance – as Barack Obama said that, “[w]hoever wins this caucus is likely to win the nomination and is likely to win the presidency.”

How the caucus works

So let’s examine the process. ((Only for the Democratic side. The Republicans have a simpler system that basically just involves writing a name on a piece of paper and stuffing it in a ballot box at one of the Republican precinct stations – a glorified straw poll.))

Iowans go to their local precinct to caucus – Democrats and Republicans have separate caucus centers, although anyone can register or switch registrations at the site itself. The caucus-goers are not actually voting for presidential candidates, or even for delegates who are going to nominate a presidential candidate. They are actually one more step removed from the end result. Each of the nearly 2,000 1,781 precincts elects a fixed number of the 2,500 delegates to one of Iowa’s 99 county conventions. These county conventions in turn select the state delegates to send to the Democratic National Convention to nominate a candidate for president.

Another quirk of the Democratic caucusing process is that the number of delegates each precinct is assigned is based not on the number of caucus-goers who show up, but on the number of votes for the top Democratic candidates the precinct cast in past general elections. This means that, as happened in 2004, the 500 people who show up at an urban precinct to vote for Howard Dean can be equivalent to the 50 people who show up at a rural precinct to vote for John Edwards. That said, over half of the delegates elected in the precincts will come from the largest 11 counties in Iowa.

Yet another difference between the Democratic caucuses and a primary is the viability rule. Each caucus center requires each candidate’s supporters (and often the undecideds) to stand in a designated section of the center to support their candidate (or to indicate their lack of decision). At this point, the viability of each candidate is assessed.

  • If the precinct has only one delegate to elect, then 50% of the vote is needed for viability.
  • If the precinct has two delegates to elect, then 25% of the vote is needed.
  • If the precinct has three delegates to elect, then 16.67% of the vote is needed.
  • Otherwise, at least 15 % of the vote is needed for viability.

Those caucus-goers whose candidates fail the viability test then have 30 minutes to either draw in enough support to make viability or to choose another candidate to support. As Dan Balz explained in the Washington Post, “That’s when persuasion, hard bargaining, deal-making between candidates’ staffs or even chicanery comes in. Inducements are allowed; bribes are not.”

All in all, the caucus is a long process. The Caucus Guide for the press and caucus leaders lists 36 steps. In the past, campaigns have found it hard to convince new supporters to show up to caucus. For example, Howard Dean – who infamously led in most polls before the caucus – came in a distant third to John Kerry and John Edwards because he was unable to convince many of his supporters to caucus (and because his supporters were centered in urban areas and college towns rather than spread out around the state.)

The strategies

John Edwards is counting on the same strategy that led him to second place in 2004 to bring him a victory in 2008. He has focused his efforts on recruiting diehard caucus-goers who have caucused several times before and show up no matter the weather; Edwards’s second tactic has been to try to secure his place as the second choice of the largest number of people – counting on the viability test to free up more votes for him.

Hillary Clinton has focused on bringing in the demographic that seems most likely to support her: older women (apparently both those from 90-110, and more potently, those 55 and older). Part of Hillary’s grand strategy has been to organize cars to pick-up these women and to distribute shovels to dig them out of their houses in case of a snowstorm. Perhaps most effectively, Clinton is organizing appetizers to draw supporters to the caucus centers before the event is gaveled open at 6:30 pm so her staff can identify who has and has not arrived. Hillary seems to be trying to repeat the success of John Kerry who targeted one specific demographic – in his case, veterans – and by turning this demographic out in significant numbers, won the state.

Barack Obama has an altogether grander and more transformational goal. He plans on increasing the number of caucus-goers by a large margin. Polls show him slightly behind or tied with John Edwards if when the sample is limited to past Democratic caucus-goers. But his Iowa co-chair seems confident in a large turnout today. In fact, he is predicting an increase of over 60% from the 2004 caucuses. The fact that this caucus will occur when colleges are on winter break also has the potential to benefit Obama, as his supporters will be spread out throughout the state in their hometowns rather than centered in the cities where their colleges are. Most recent polls have shown Obama to be leading both in first and second choice among likely caucus-goers.

So far the candidates of both parties are projected to spend $50 million by today, at an average of $200 per vote. All of this to win barely 1% of the 4,366 delegates who will choose the Democratic nominee for 2008.

For live, updated results from the Iowa Democratic party tonight, the Democrats have set up The Republican Party’s live results will be found on the main page of the Iowa Republican’s website.

My prediction

Obama will win by more than 5%, with Hillary and Edwards coming in 2nd and 3rd with virtually no room between them. Edwards will stay in the race until South Carolina, but will no longer have much of a shot to win if he does not win Iowa outright. Hillary will stay in until February 5 but will make her last effective last stand in South Carolina. The closer she feels she is to victory between now and February 5, the more vicious she will be in attacking Obama.

If Edwards is able to beat Hillary by more than 3% in the caucuses today, he has a chance to knock Hillary out in New Hampshire – forcing her to a third place finish there as well. She will stay in the race until February 5, regardless of her placement in the next four contests – but in the extremely unlikely scenario she comes in third in both Iowa and New Hampshire, her campaign will effectively be over.

If Obama wins today- and wins big, as both he and Hillary apparently expect to happen – as his campaign has started to build up the importance of today’s caucus and Hillary ordering her staffers to lower expectations – it will be almost impossible for Hillary to beat Obama in New Hampshire – where he already has the edge in a virtual tie.

I don’t want to celebrate too soon – but if Hillary loses Iowa by any significant margin, she needs a game-changer – some scandal, some major gaffe – to get back in the race. And if she hasn’t leaked it already, it’s likely they couldn’t find any scandals worth mentioning.

And so we are on the precipice of an historic moment, as Iowans will go to stand in the corners of their local precincts for their respective candidates and may well determine course of America for years to come.

Election 2008 Obama Politics

Hillary Clinton – does she think no one is paying attention?

Hillary with Bill and Chelsea

[digg-reddit-me] Earlier today, Senator Clinton made one of those bone-headed gaffes that leave anyone scratching their head, ending her closing arguments in Davenport, Iowa, the day before the caucuses by (without attribution) quoting her main opponent’s signature line:

“We are fired up and we are ready to go.”

I’m praying someone has video of this because that would be priceless.

As if that weren’t enough, she also has just begun to try to use Obama’s main theme, running radio ads labeling her as the candidate of “hope”; and finally, for the moment, one of her main campaign advisers, Howard Wolfson went on Chris Matthews show today and blatantly used another prominent Obama line: that Iowans were getting a chance to “check under the hood…kick the tires.” Chris Matthews, saw the line for what it was, responding: “You stole that line directly from Obama.”

Of course, Obama does not own any of these lines – and everyone else is free to use them. But in a tight political race such as this one, with so many people paying such close attention, does Hillary really think she can get away with repeating Obama’s main lines verbatim?

A side note: Obama’s Iowa co-chair is predicting a turnout of 200,000 up from 124,000 in 2004. Do you think the Clintons might be a wee bit nervous?

Election 2008 Obama Politics

Tomorrow’s Day 1