Saturday, May 31, 2008

Quote of the day

"This is Barack Obama's party now."

And for a long time to come.

We have resolution of the peninsula-state problem

The problem of what to do with the Democratic delegates from Michigan and Florida has been resolved.

The committee agreed on a compromise offered by the Michigan Democratic Party that would split the difference, allowing Clinton to take 69 delegates and Obama 59. Each delegate would get half a vote at the convention in Denver this summer, according to the deal.

They also agreed to seat the Florida delegation based on the outcome of the January primary, with 105 pledged delegates for Clinton and 67 for Obama, but with each delegate getting half a vote as a penalty.

The resolution increased the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination to 2,118, leaving Obama 66 delegates short but still within striking distance after the three final primaries are held in the next three days.

So this should be wrapped up by Wednesday at the latest.

The problem for the Hillary campaign is that they were trying to win this by argument, but this is not something that can really be won by argument. This is not a court of law. Each side signed the same contract, and agreed to play by the rules. People in just about every state have voted. The team with the better strategy and more money won. The team that started out with every possible advantage - more money at the start, more superdelegates for most of the campaign, a former President intimately involved - lost. The contest was fair. On to the general election.

Susie Boyt on the fine art of complaining

Susie Boyt, fashion editor of the Financial Times, has a simply wonderful column in today's FT Weekend on the art of complaining. It is worth quoting it at length.

The art of complaining is very hard to master. To complain about things in my experience is always lowering. Who wants to draw attention to the fact you have been slighted? Isn't that in itself a form of failure? Complaining stylishly and with grace and or flair seems virtually impossible. A good complaint requires both a lightness of tone and high-handedness, humour, collusion from the other party and a quiet tenacity. This is a lot to muster when you've just been disappointed. Yet you do have to stick up for yourself in life on occasion. Is there a way of pointing out poor treatment in a way that doesn't auger humiliation? Ought we all to practise complaining in a manner both debonair and imperious on Sunday nights to prepare us for any disappointing occasions in the coming week?
What she assumes in this column is that our complaints are legitimate and not, for example, the result of a misunderstanding. More times than not, this is the case. However, it is entirely possible that your complaint is not, in fact, justified, and her emphasis on being gracious is even more important if this is the case. You might be overreacting; there might be extenuating circumstances that explain the situation. Perhaps your order is extremely late coming from the kitchen because the chef just received a phone call that his daughter has been in a car accident, and he had to leave just as a number of orders came in.

There's also the possibility that you might be wrong. Always something to keep in mind. Perhaps you didn't get that big promotion at work because the woman they hired really is much more qualified than you. Maybe you got a lousy grade on your paper because your argument was pretentious and nonsensical. Perhaps your neighbors filed a complaint against you because your son has been practicing with his rock band until early in the morning. It's always important to remember the other person's perspective.

Excellent advice from across the pond. Much obliged, Ms. Boyt.

Great suggestion for Obama's VP!

Chris Kelly at HuffPost has analyzed Obama's VP choices, and has come up with a great suggestion. The person needs to fit this criteria:

Obama just needs a running mate who's old, Hispanic, southern, female and enjoys state-sponsored violence, especially war.

His suggestion? I was thinking about not posting this to preserve the element of surprise and force people to go to the original post, but it's just too funy.

Two words:

Eva. Peron.

That's just hysterical. Read the whole post.

Why Obama Won - strategy, execution, eloquence

As things wind down in the primary, this is a good opportunity to take a look back. This article does that well, summing up Obama's strategy and execution for the primary.
"Without a doubt, their understanding of the nominating process was one of the keys to their success," said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist not aligned with either candidate. "They understood the nuances of it and approached it at a strategic level that the Clinton campaign did not."

What the article doesn't point out is just how ironic this is, given that Hillary and Bill had been working with these rules for 16 years. Even apart from their staffs and advisers, they both know this stuff cold. Bill in particular is famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of details of politics at the local level.

So the strategy itself was superior to Clinton's. But so was the execution:
"The Obama campaign was very good at targeting districts in areas where they could do well," said former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, a Clinton superdelegate from South Carolina. "They were very conscious and aware of these nuances."

And then there was the thing that brought it all together - the candidate:

But, Fowler noted, the best strategy in the world would have been useless without the right candidate.

"If that same strategy and that same effort had been used with a different candidate, a less charismatic candidate, a less attractive candidate, it wouldn't have worked," Fowler said. "The reason they look so good is because Obama was so good."

But the reason they look so good is that Obama attracted great people in the first place. A different candidate would not only have not been able to execute this strategy as well, a different candidate probably would not have come up with this strategy.

Obama looked so good because Obama is so good.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hillary the Drama Queen

Roger Simon at Politico has noticed one big difference between the Obama and Clinton campaigns: Obama has a drama decifit. This may be due to the fact that one rule he laid down when he decided to run was "no drama." And there hasn't really been much! Very little, in fact, from the campaign itself. No internal arguments that the rest of the world is aware of, only one unpaid advisor fired (Sam Power), and that for a trivial reason (calling Hillary a "monster.")

How big is this difference?

There is a huge drama gap between the Clinton campaign and the Barack Obama campaign. In fact, it is more like a chasm.

Whenever things get dull, whenever things settle down and people begin to concentrate on how Clinton is a serious candidate with a serious message, championing serious issues, she manages to heat things up.

Why talk about health care or energy policy or the housing crisis when you can talk about ... the assassination of Robert Kennedy!

I always thought that the first rule of talking about assassination in a political campaign is that you never talk about assassination in a political campaign.

. . .

he definitely trails her badly on drama. He is regional theater to her Broadway.

I love drama. I love the ups and downs and the gossip and the inside game of politics. Except when it's bad for my candidate. Then, not so much. I'll watch a movie instead. Then I know what I'm in for. Drama, drama, drama.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Let the games begin: thots on McCain

One of my ardent wishes for this campaign is that, at the end of it, I still have a fair amount of respect for John McCain. He may have been the right man at some point, but this is sure the wrong time.

McCain's problem is a simple one. He's running on two things: his personal story, and his reputation for integrity. Those are good things to run on, and many men have gone very far with much less. But he also has to run on ideology, policy, and is ability to run a good campaign. In ideological terms, he's clearly out of step with the country. On policy, I don't think that has been his strong suit as a Senator. He's a smart man, but he's clearly not a policy wonk like either Hillary or Obama. One reason that I think Hillary is still running strong against him is that, in terms of command of detail of policy, she wipes the floor with him. She is a wonk's wonk (and that is a high compliment from me), while he doesn't seem to be much of a deep thinker.

In terms of running a campaign, I'm sure he is capable of running a solid presidential campaign. He has hired good people, he's very energetic, and there are still Republicans out there with money. My guess is that he will run a good campaign. But Obama has and is running a groundbreaking, phenomenal campaign that has already set new standards for how campaigns should be run.

Then of course there is the problem of exactly what McCain thinks. This video highlights some of his contradictory statements. I don't think he's intellectually dishonest- I just think he doesn't think about policy that deeply or carefully enough to have consistent positions. He has principles, which are deeply held, and are generally good. But I don't think he's done a lot of the hard work connecting the principles to the positions.

I found the video in an article about McCain and YouTube at It's from a column called "On The Media," which is apparently a new column in the LA Times by James Rainey. I like this one, so I will keep an eye out for this guy. And I found the link from Talking Points Memo.

Lakers are in the Finals!


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pelosi will step in

Nancy Pelosi has made it official: if things don't tidy up quickly in the campaign for the Democratic nomination, she'll clear everything up. From her hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle:
Pelosi predicted Wednesday that a presidential nominee will emerge in the week after the final Democratic primaries on June 3, but she said "I will step in" if there is no resolution by late June regarding the seating of delegates from Florida and Michigan

Like I said.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The problem with Hillary and feminism

Hilary Rosen writes today at HuffPost about why she still likes Hillary, despite the very long shot that she is right now. It's a careful, thoughtful, balanced, very sane essay. She acknowledges the reality of where we are right now, and accepts it for what it is - the result of a race that Barack Obama won fair and square. She's also fairly articulate on the subject of how race and gender have functioned in this race.
whatever has been said about African-Americans by white people in this campaign has been heard by many African-Americans as one more layer of seemingly innocent comments built upon a lifetime of insensitivity and slights.

That's perceptive, and good to hear. She makes an honest effort to apply the same standard to Hillary's campaign:
Yet, for the past few weeks, when Hillary's supporters suggest that similar comments made about gender have the same hurtful impact, Obama supporters guffaw and most of the media ridicules the notion and ridicules the Senator herself as though she is suggesting that she is losing because of her gender -- which incidentally I have never heard her say.

I've tried to be very sensitive to feminism and feminist concerns my entire life. I still remember my mother wearing "ERA Yes" buttons. I think there probably has been a lot of sexism in this campaign. And I'm willing to grant, for the sake of argument, that Hillary Clinton herself has not suggested that she is losing because of her gender. That's probably true, if only because Hillary knows it would be political suicide for her to complain about losing because of gender - it would make her look like she was whining, and that would be the end of her "tough" image.

But Obama supporters are not judging Hillary or her supporters because they think claims of sexism are somehow amusing or shouldn't be taken seriously. Obama supporters are frustrated with Hillary herself because her performance, in many respects, has been undignified. There's a whole list: "hardworking Americans, white Americans," the Bobby Kennedy reference, dismissing certain states as irrelevant because she happened to lose them, making specious and ridiculous arguments about the popular vote, etc. She has refused to take responsibility for her own failures. The flip side of that is that she refuses to give Obama the respect due to someone who has clearly beaten her. I've said this many times: I was a huge Bill Clinton fan for many years. I liked and respected Hillary for a long time. But this campaign has been a major disillusionment, and my response has been, in part, anger. Bill Clinton betrayed me once, with Monica. The second time is even more painful.

So for me, while I understand that sexism is alive and well and a problem in this society, I find it hard to have sympathy for someone at the same time that I am very quickly losing respect for them.

But Rosen has some other, particularly eloquent points, that give me pause. I'm glad she wrote this; it's nice to hear a voice of reason and old-fashioned liberalism in this charged atmosphere. She has a poignant but not sentimental explanation for why Hillary is still going:

Hillary has found her voice and she is using it to speak to a group of people often ignored in politics. Women who have felt powerless to change or even complain about their own lives because they are just too damn busy keeping it together for everyone around them. And they certainly haven't had time for politics.

From the waitress in the diner to the school teacher to the executive on wall
street, women feel the daily slights that are often invisible to others. Yes,
many of her supporters need real and immediate help from the government, but so
many more are just grateful to be noticed.

It is difficult in this kind of environment to remember this kind of message, so it's great to hear it so well expressed. It's the kind of thing that would make Gloria Steinem proud. I'm all for it. I'm very glad that Hillary is speaking to women who could use a shot of empowerment. If Barack Obama were not in this race, and there were not a million other things going on, this is the kind of message that would have me writing a check and pounding the pavement.

But Barack Obama is in this race, and there are a million other things going on. And one of those things is that Hillary, at some point, is going to have to concede. And she is going to have to do it gracefully. I am of two minds at this point. On the one hand, the longer it goes on, the harder it is going to be for some of her supporters to let go and let bygones be bygones. On the other hand, the longer it goes on, the more obvious it becomes that Obama won fair and square.

There's another problem, as well: as inspirational as this message is, it's also exclusionary. I'd like to think that I can hear it, and I'm glad that Hillary is speaking up for and to women who feel powerless. As I've said before, I will never appreciate what it's like to spend your whole life not seeing people like you in positions of power. I will never be able to fully appreciate what Hillary's candidacy means to women.

But I'm not in that demographic. And there are lots of people who don't fit into that category. Hillary is not running for the President of the National Organization for Women. She is running for the President of the United States of America. At this point, I'm not even sure she cares about trying to reach someone like me. I don't think Hillary would put the interests of women ahead of the interests of men (and I understand that men did the reverse for centuries). But I can see how some men would be worried about that.

I'm more than willing to vote for a woman who runs for president. I'd love to able to campaign for one that I found really exciting. But I'm not going to vote for a woman just because she's a woman. And I'm not going to vote for her to score points with feminists. Barack Obama makes it clear that he is running to president of everyone in the United States. I'll vote for a woman who convinces me she thinks the same way. Right now, Hillary Clinton is not that woman.

Rachel Ray, Dunkin Donuts, Michelle Malkin, and sheer idiocy

If you're in the film business, sometimes you think in terms of scripts. As in, "Wow, that would make a great scene," or "Hmmm, I might be able to use that line somewhere." The flip side is that sometimes you encounter something so bizarre, so off the wall, that you think "If I put that in a script, no one would believe it."

Every now and then, in the political world, we encounter something like this - something so strange it defies belief. Since the election of George Bush, and, in particular, since his reelection, this has become less and less common, as the boundaries of the real and the surreal have become blurred.

But today we learn that Dunkin' Donuts has pulled an ad starring Rachel Ray because some right wing bloggers, in particular Michelle Malkin, think that a scarf she was wearing in said ad looked like a keffiyeh, the headdress some Arab men wear.

How is this possible? How is this possible on this planet, in this country, in this century?

Hunter at DailyKos has a great takedown on this nonsense.
To bring America to its knees, all Bin Laden must do is make his next video while drinking from a can of Coca Cola. The nation would erupt in chaos; Coca Cola sales would vanish into nothingness.
But wait, there's more! Dunkin Donuts sells coffee, and probably sells "arabica" coffee. Oooh! Scary! There's a plot there! The message that we're supposed to get when we drink "arabica" coffee is that the terrorists are after us and we're all going to die! Somehow! Some time! For some reason! Which may or may not have anything to do with Dunkin Donuts in any way shape or form! But WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE, and Dunkin Donuts is serving "arabica" coffee! OMIGOD!

And did you know that Rachel Ray is part Sicilian?!?!? Maybe she's not just a terrorist sympathizer, but she might know people in THE MAFIA!

I am trying to imagine the logic at work here, and it just befuddles me. First of all, my understanding of the keffiyeh is that it's a checked pattern, and the scarf that she's wearing is paisley. Or at least not checked. It's just a black and white scarf. You know who else wears a black and white checked pattern? Most cooks working in restaurants in America - that's the standard pattern for pants worn in kitchens.

But even if it does have some vague resemblance to a keffiyeh, so what? Does anyone seriously think that either Dunkin Donuts or Rachel Ray has any reason whatsoever to make an association between themselves and Islamic terrorists? Both Rachel Ray and Dunkin Donuts are solid capitalists. They act in their own best interests. How could it possibly be in their best interests to demonstrate any kind of affiliation or sympathy with Al Queda?

You know what else Islamic terrorists wear? Blue jeans. I bet some of them wear Levi's.

What is truly beyond comprehension is that the greatest economic relationship Americans have with Islamic countries is that we buy oil from them. Thomas Friedman pounds this home relentlessly - we have an incredibly stupid energy policy that has us sending money to people who hate us.

And Michelle Malkin is worried that a cute, perky American TV personality who is selling donuts is wearing something that has the same colors - black & white - as something that is sometimes worn by terrorists.

The best thing about this is that it proves beyond all possible shadow of a shred of a sliver of a doubt that the woman is completely, utterly bonkers. Right now she is doing the Democratic Party and Barack Obama a huge favor just by existing.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gen X Pundit of the Month

Meghan Daum, who writes a column for the LA Times Op-Ed page on Saturdays, is one of my favorite newspaper columnists. Today I am bestowing upon her the title of "Gen X Pundit of the Month" (which I just made up), because she finally said what many people have been thinking for a long time. This week, she wrote a piece for the Sunday Opinion section of the LA Times, about a topic that I have been thinking about for oh so many years - the overwhelming cultural dominance of Baby Boomers, and their everlasting nostalgia for their youth in the '60's. The online title says it all:

The millstone of boomer milestones

I like the Beatles. I once saw the Rolling Stones in concert, and I can understand why some people would pay $500 for a ticket to see them live (I saw them for free) - they really are amazing. I like a lot of classic rock. But dear God will these people ever shut up. In the Books section the same day, just a few pages away, is a review of "Girls Like Us," which has the subtitle "Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon -- and the Journey of a Generation." I like all three of those women. But are the stories of three women who recorded most of their songs 30+ years ago really the story of a generation? Why are these people addicted to generalizing about themselves?

I particularly identified with this:
Boomer-era classic rock is not just music but a life force.

As a member of Generation X, I should know -- I've been strong-armed into an appreciation of '60s and '70s pop culture my whole life.
It has taken me a long time to be able to appreciate my own culture, as opposed to that of the 60's. Back in 1993, I started a group called Generation X (and I actually owned the trademark, with my partner, for about three months). It was a non-profit that was supposed to unite all of the young (at the time) activists mobilizing in Washington, DC, at the start of the Clinton administration. It didn't work, I think in part because the idea of a nonprofit mobilizing the "voices of a generation" was very much a 60's idea - and this was the 90's. So we were trying to find a way to be different from Baby Boomers, but using a very Boomer idea - start a nonprofit! Set up an office and start making grand pronouncements!

As I read her piece, I think I finally hit on a strategy for containing Boomer nostalgia: point out its rather severe limitations, which are confined to mostly two areas of life: rock and roll, and politics. We can all tune in to the legacy of classic rock by turning on the right kind of radio station (at least one in every city), or maybe just shopping in a department store. And, of course, there's the whole anti-war thing, as well as civil rights and feminism. Good stuff all around.

But where the Boomers really didn't get much done, and where, in retrospect, Gen X really rocked it, are movies and technology. Name a great rock band from the 1960's. Name a great Beatles album. Not hard, right?

Now name an Oscar winner for Best Picture.

A little harder, no? There were some great movies made in the 1960's - The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night. But did you know that the Best Picture winner for 1968 was Oliver!? In 1969 it was a countercultural film, Midnight Cowboy, but in 1970, it was Patton. Honestly, I've never seen any of those last three, and I'm not sure I ever will. The Best Picture for 1965 was The Sound of Music. A good movie, to be sure, but not exactly countercultural.

The difference between the revolutionary impact and lasting resonance of the music from the 60's, as opposed to the rather less dramatic impact of the movies from that era, can easily be explained by the difference in cost in producing them. It doesn't take much to write a song and record it; making a movie is somewhat more difficult and expensive.

And technology? The great technical achievement of the 1960's - the space program - took place completely within the government and the military.

Generation X, on the other hand, saw the debut of MTV on August 1, 1980 - a great fusion of art and technology. Boomers may dismiss MTV as superficial eye candy, but some videos are small masterpieces of filmmaking, like Madonna's Vogue, George Michael's Freedom, or Billy Idol's Cradle of Love. Back in the 1980's, I was one of those intellectuals who looked down on pop culture fluff like MTV. But now I realize music videos are an art form, and should be appreciated as such - Boomer judgments be damned.

Our youth also saw the launch of the PC, the Mac, Windows, and a bazillion software programs. We also were the first people to play video games. And then there's the Internet.

One of the great Boomer songwriters, Neil Young, tells us that it is better to burn out than to fade away. Of course, there's an entire generation ahead of us that will refuse, until their dying days, to do neither. But that's OK. I know many great people who are Baby Boomers, like many of my aunts and uncles. Really good people. Boomers gave us the The Doors and a tradition of protesting. But we have U2, REM, the Go-Go's, 10,000 Maniacs, Prince, the Dead Kennedys, Public Enemy, Garth Brooks, and Duran Duran. They gave us James Bond; we have Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Neo and Morpheus, the Blues Brothers, Harry Potter, and the X-Men.

And we have Barack Obama.

Fortunately for them, we're willing to share.

Redefining movie distribution

It's been clear for a while that somehow new technology is going to lead to new means of distributing movies. John Sloss is working on it.

Best movie theaters in LA

The LA Times has a nice article about the best movie theaters in Los Angeles. I agree with their appraisals. The ArcLight in Hollywood is a great place to see a movie, particularly in the Cinerama Dome. I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull there on Saturday (review coming soon). One of us had bought tickets well in advance (at least a week, thanks Peter), but, oddly, one of our tickets was for a handicapped space reserved for wheelchairs. Eventually we resolved it and got all of our tickets refunded (the person with the unfortunate ticket went to Harvard Law, so she knows how to negotiate). So what was bad customer service turned into decent customer service.

Idiot of the Day

Shania Twain is getting divorced. That means that her husband is Idiot of the Day. Who would divorce Shania Twain? She's rich, gorgeous, seems really nice, and has a great sense of humor. One thing this means is that she'll presumably be in the tabloids for a while. Here's hoping that she finds another man soon, both so she's happy, and so she can avoid the spotlight.

Memorial Day

In honor of Memorial Day and those who serve our country, the LA Times published a list of all the troops who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has 492 names on it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bad move, Senator Clinton

I was hoping not to have to post about Hillary's RFK gaffe any more. In my original post, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I still do. I don't think she intended her comment about Bobby Kennedy to mean anything other than the fact that the campaign was still going in June. I'm sure that was an extraordinarily painful moment for her. About the only comparable thing I can think of in my own life is the Challenger accident, which I can pinpoint to January, 1986.

I ended that post with the comment, "She's in a hole. She really had better figure a way to dig herself out."

But she didn't figure out a way to dig herself out. She managed to find a way to make the situation much worse. I think I have overused the phrase "mind-boggling" in this campaign season, but boy, does it apply here. In an Op-Ed piece in the NY Daily News, she actually wrote this:
"some took my comments entirely out of context and interpreted them to mean something completely different - and completely unthinkable.
. . .
I was deeply dismayed and disturbed that my comment would be construed in a way that flies in the face of everything I stand for - and everything I am fighting for in this election."

Wow. She's not just not taking responsibility for making a mistake - she's blaming the people who took offense. Just incredible.

I want to take a step back and remember that I gave her the benefit of the doubt, and I think it's unfortunate that many people did not. Lots of people reacted very strongly, misconstrued what she said, were deeply offended. Did people overreact? Probably. But assassination of a presidential candidate is also one of the most serious topics in American politics. Anyone who brings it up, in any context, has to know that they are playing with fire. And Hillary was the one who brought it up. Miscommunication like this happens all the time in a political campaign. The testing of a politician is in how well they deal with this kind of event. After all, isn't Job One of a politician to communicate with the voters?

Technically, there is nothing that says that she has to address people's concerns if they overreact. This is the nature of politics - some people are always going to twist what a politician says, particularly her political opponents. So she doesn't have to address the concerns of people who reacted negatively to her gaffe.

Unless, that is, she wants their votes.

The fact that many people possibly overreacted to this does not change the fact that their reactions were their own. Whatever their reasons, they were disturbed by this comment. If Hillary wants them to even consider voting for her, she has to address their concerns. She has to make it clear that, at the very least, she is listening to them and understands their concerns. But she's doing the exact opposite.

Hillary is acting as if the people who reacted negatively to her comments were her political opponents. By defending herself so strongly, she's making it sound as if anyone who was bothered by her comment is attacking her character.

This is beyond ridiculous. Many of the people who were offended or bothered by it were perfectly normal Americans. One of the first people to talk to me about it was a very sweet African American woman of Hillary's generation who works in my office. She had her a snippet of the news about it and asked me what it was about. I explained it to her, and we agreed that it was not offensive per se, but definitely tasteless, and just really not a good idea. Hillary seems to be throwing my co-worker, who is Sunday school teacher-nice, in with the "vast right-wing conspiracy." You know, all those people who attacked she and Bill in the '90's. It increasingly seems like her default mode of response to a controversy is to attack first, and then attack again.

But it doesn't stop there! As if having put her foot in her mouth and THEN throwing fuel on the fire isn't enough, she proceeds to shoot herself in the other foot. Immediately after the sentence that I quoted above, blasting people who disagree with her, she writes this:
And today, I would like to more fully answer the question I was asked: Why do I
continue to run, even in the face of calls from pundits and politicians for me
to leave this race?

Once again, the mind just boggles. Not only is she not apologizing, not only is she opening up on the regular voters who have questioned her judgment, she immediately changes the conversation back to herself. How spectacularly rude can one person possibly be? In fact, most of the piece is on the topic of why she is still running. Absolutlely amazing. Given an opportunity to show concerned citizens that she is listening to them, she talks about herself. Almost as if she is running for the office of Most Self-Centered Person in America.

June 3rd can't come fast enough.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Boy did Hillary put her foot in her mouth this time. Her comment about Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June of 1968 may very well go down as the gaffe that kills her campaign. Talking Points Memo has two videos, the first of the original comment, and the second one of her apology.

This is the apology:

This may be the first time in six months that I am actually willing to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt. I don't think she intended anything other than to refer to the fact that, in 1968, Bobby Kennedy won the California primary in June. I live about 6 blocks from the site of the Ambassador Hotel. It's being torn down to make way for a school, which has been something of a controversy in and of itself. So I am very aware of the circumstances of Bobby Kennedy's death. I also read the Vanity Fair cover story about his campaign for president. So I took her comment at face value; I actually had to read a few comments on a blog before I realized why this was such a big deal. Then, of course, I immediately realized that it would be a very big deal.

As for the content of her comment, that primary seasons have lasted this long, I beg to differ, and I can cite specific evidence from 1992. I moved to Washington, DC, in May of 1992, from my hometown of Detroit, specifically because I wanted to be in Washington well before the elections, specifically because I was very confident that Bill Clinton was going to win the election. I didn't think a generic Democrat was going to win - I thot BILL CLINTON was going to win. And I was right.

Her reference to 1968 is inappropriate in another respect. One reason that the campaign lasted as long as it did is that Lyndon Johnson dropped out of the race in the middle of the primary season. That's extremely unusual, and it shook up the race dramatically. One thing I learned from the Vanity Fair article was that Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy AFTER the New Hampshire primary, which was in March. His campaign lasted only 82 days. Obama has been running for well over a year. 1968 and 2008 could not be more different. And then, after the primary season was over, came the Democratic convention in Chicago, which was the scene of riots and police violence. And then, after it was all over, Nixon won the election. If I were Hillary Clinton, apart from the very unfortunate mention of an assassination, I really would not want to bring up the Democratic nomination process of 1968.

But what really bothers me about this episode is her apology. She mentions the Kennedy family, which is good, particularly since Ted Kennedy is ill. But that's all she does. She does not seem to have a clue why this was such a major gaffe. Just a bit of historical perspective: two months before RFK's assassination, Martin Luther King was killed. Many African Americans, and in fact many white people, have been very worried that something bad might happen to Obama. I don't think Hillary had any intention of bringing up that idea when she mentioned RFK - on this I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But once people made that association, it was incumbent on her to recognize that and address it. And she didn't. Which, in a way, is worse. I just read some of the comments on the NY Times blog, and lots of people made the leap to thinking that she was implying that something might happen to Obama, and that's why she should stay in the race. I think all of those people are misinterpreting her comments. That is somewhat unfair to her. But she said it. She is the one running for president. She of all people should be aware of the dangers of saying something that could be misinterpreted in the middle of a campaign. She's in a hole. She really had better figure a way to dig herself out.

Hillary as VP - stop the madness

More rumors circulating today about Hillary as VP. The rumors center around whether or not either she, Bill, or someone on her campaign is actually pressuring Obama to choose her as VP. Some strong reactions, many opposed. I'm in that camp.

I would bet good money that he won't choose her. Most of the arguments for and against are fairly obvious; she will take her money and supporters, but does he really need her money, and won't her supporters ultimately support him, rather than McCain?

Behind that is a larger issue of who will control the machinery of the Democratic party, and that is an argument that Hillary has already lost. The Clintons' political machine revolves around them; they have thousands of friends and contacts around the country and the world.

But Obama has built a political machine that is largely independent of the Clintons. He does not need Hillary's money people. And while he would love to have her supporters, he already has a huge volunteer army. The Obama campaign has literally invented new technology for getting out the vote. And they have invented lots of this new technology. There were millions of Democratic and progressive activists just waiting to be inspired. Hillary did not inspire them; Obama did. Many of those people have become active either for the first time, or possibly the 50th time, in their communities and their local Democratic parties. Many, many local Democratic politicians around the country have realized this, which is why they are jumping on the Obama bandwagon.
And once she is no longer the nominee, Hillary is just another the junior Senator from New York. She will still have a loyal following; she will still have many friends. But she will not have a political machine like Obama's.

Obama and Michigan

I haven't followed the fine details of the Democratic primary debacle in Michigan. Sam Stein at HuffPost has a good rundown. One detail I didn't know: Obama didn't actually put his name on the ballot. His name was put on by people in the state of Michigan, along with all of the other candidates. He did take his name off, but he did that along with John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson. At the end of the day, the decision to go ahead with the primary in violation of the DNC rules was a decision made by people in Michigan, and Obama had essentially nothing to do with it. At the end of the day, a compromise will be reached, and the people in Michigan will make a decision that is in the best interest of the Democrats in Michigan and the Democratic party in the entire country. Which interests, at this point, do not necessarily coincide with the interests of the Clintons.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

TV Report on Obama in Kentucky

Here's a report about Obama in Kentucky, and the impact of race (read to the end of this post to find out what channel it's from). It's not a pretty picture. One impact of this campaign has been that many people are now more enlightened about the state of racial relations in this country. From the perspective of people on the coasts, "flyover" country, i.e. everything between the coasts, is pretty much the same, and mostly that means less sophisticated than the coasts. What this completely ignores is that there are tremendous differences even within states, let alone between states. Chicago is not the same as Louisville, which is very different from Detroit or Cleveland. And Obama's problems with voters is concentrated in Appalachia. One interesting thing to note from this report is the guy who says that he's afraid that African Americans (not the term he uses) will exact revenge on white people, because white people have been so bad to them. I think one positive aspect of Obama's presidency will be that these people will be surprised. Here's the report:

One interesting detail: this is clearly an American reporter. But there's an odd symbol in the lower left hand corner. Here's what interesting: this is from Al Jazeera.

One incredibly bad idea: Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court

There's been an idea floating around for the past few days that one way to resolve the Obama-Clinton tension would be for Obama to promise Clinton a seat on the Supreme Court. James Miller, in the WaPo, offers several reasons, including this one:

Unless the Supreme Court were to get mired in minuscule details of what constitutes universal health care, Obama could assume that he'd be pleased with most Clinton votes, certainly on major issues such as abortion.

I cannot begin to think of a worse idea for ending this primary season. First of all, Hillary did not pass the DC bar exam back in the 70's; passing the bar exam, i.e. being legally entitled to practice law in the District of Columbia, would seem to be a prerequisite for sitting on the Supreme Court.

Second, it's an absurdly crass solution to a political problem. Obama has a reputation for integrity and class; this would immediately tarnish that reputation, particularly among moderate Republicans, who are otherwise very open to Obama.

Third, it would politicize the Supreme Court, which is exactly what this country DOES NOT NEED at this point. Bush's attempt to put Harriet Miers on the Court was not a smart move, but at least no one knew who she was. Many people disagree with various members of the Court, but at least those members have arrived at their positions through established legal channels. I disagree with Antonin Scalia on almost everything, but there's no question that he is intellectually qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. He's not making the decisions that he does because he has political ties to a specific political group. At the end of the day, I understand that part of the price of living in a democracy is that judges will occasionally make decisions that I disagree with. But then they will also make decisions that I do agree with. That's the deal.

But Hillary would be constantly subject to the criticism that she is making decisions for political reasons, not legal ones. Her opponents would claim that she was making decisions because she wanted to advance a cause that she is or was affiliated with.

It would be about the most polarizing move Obama could make. I suspect that this idea has been the subject of much laughter in the Obama camp.

John McCain talks to Ellen

John McCain went on the "Ellen" show. Naturally, the topic of gay marriage came up. Click here for the clip.

First of all, good for John McCain for being willing to go on the Ellen show. At the very least, he grants her a degree of legitimacy just by showing up. I think John McCain is one of those people who really does not have a problem with homosexaulity per se, but he's old-fashioned enough to believe in the "sanctity of marriage." I don't think he's going to change his mind at this point, and, while I hope he does, I think it's unrealistic to believe that he will. But he's enough of a honorable man that he respects someone like Ellen.

But what's interesting for me about this clip is that, while Ellen makes an argument for her own right to love who she wishes, and her desire for recognition of that by society, McCain does not really have an argument in response. He just keeps repeating that they have a disagreement.

That's not an argument; that's a copout. That means that he can't come up with an argument challenging Ellen's desire for dignity besides "I just disagree with you." He's caught on the horns of a dilemma of his own making; he wants to respect Ellen, which is good. She appreciates his respect, which is one reason she asked him to be on the show. So far, so good.

But she wants to take it to the next step; if you really respect me, and you want me to be happy, then you should respect my most fervent desire, which is to allow me to be married, because that would grant me the ultimate stamp of approval by society. Ellen's message is: I appreciate the respect for my personal dignity, but it's not complete without the stamp of approval that marriage implies. So she's telling McCain that he is not as honorable as he could be. She's challenging him on his terms.

Which is why she is able to ask him if he'll walk her down the aisle, and why he laughs and says "Touche." She's won the argument, but lets him off gracefully. Which is the honorable thing for her to do. He is her guest; he has agreed to come on her show, which is a minor act of courage on his part, since he will be criticized for it by his political allies. So she's gotten him about as far as he can go. But she also makes it clear that she knows she's won, but she knows just exactly how far she can go. She makes exactly as much progress as she can in the few minutes that she has. And she also knows that she has her audience backing her up. Politically, it's an extraordinarily adept move.

Which is why she has her own TV show. Good job, Ellen.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hillary "Black Knight" Clinton

Come back here, Senator Obama! I'll bite your delegates off!

from Daily Kos, who got it from AMERICAblog.

McCain on "Ellen"

John McCain is going to be on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show tomorrow, Thursday. My guess is that he's doing a bit to burnish his image as a maverick. Certainly an unconventional move. Maybe he's going after the lesbian Republican vote? My guess is that he already has both of them. Actually, I shouldn't make generalizations about Republican lesbians. I'm sure there are lots of women in the Log Cabin.

Maybe McCain is going after all the women pissed off about Hillary's loss in the Dem primary. The flip side of that gamble is that he is not going to help himself with the right. Can't wait for that reaction!

Regardless, I want to take this moment and commend McCain for going on Ellen's show, particularly when the issue of gay marriage is so prominent, and when Ellen has put herself at the center of it. McCain really does deserve a certain amount of respect for his willingness to do what he thinks is right, regardless of the political implications.

And good for Ellen. I like her - she's very funny. Kudos to her for inviting him. I am going to be looking for some way to watch this.

What if our first woman president is Italian?

There is one detail from the Republican primary that was widely overlooked: if Rudy Giuliani had been elected President, he would have been the first Italian-American President. Here's another, even more obscure fact: the first Italian-American to serve on the Supreme Court is still there: Antonin Scalia. It's interesting to note, in this respect, that Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated for vice president as the candidate of a major party, was Italian.

And the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives is also the first Italian-American: Nancy Pelosi. So maybe our first woman president will also be our first Italian-American president.
I think an Italian-American woman could be perfect as a candidate for president for several reasons: she'll probably be very tough. She'll probably be very passionate about the causes she believes in. She will almost certainly be a Democrat.

Italians sometimes have a reputation for being undisciplined politically (how many governments have there been in Italy since WWII?). Germany is where the trains run on time. Consider this: Germans make great luxury cars, but mostly they make sedans. But the best sports cars in the world - beautiful, fast, and incredibly well-engineered - are Italian.

In other words, an Italian-American woman running for President will quite possibly be very cool and very hip.

I have some personal experience that's relevant to this question. The best boss I ever had was an Italian woman when I worked here.

Mario Cuomo, if you know any woman who fits this description, we'd love to hear from you.

Hillary's war vote cost her the presidency

As this primary campaign winds down, I've written about Hillary's failure in the campaign - her failed strategy, Obama's well-executed one. But there's another reason why she lost, going back to before Obama was even elected. M.J. Rosenberg, at TPM Cafe, looks back to Hillary's vote for the war, and why this was so crucial: it gave someone else an opening to run against her from the left.
were it not for Hillary's vote for the war, [Obama] would not have run because
there was no opening. She gave him the opening by voting for the war.

He doesn't mention the fact that Hillary never apologized for that vote, which was another mistake, in my book. It made her look "tough," but not in a way that many Democrats wanted. I'm all for fighting hard in politics, but not as an end in and of itself. George Bush is tough, but I sure don't respect him for it.

Hillary is the Senator from New York. I believe that 9/11 affected her more profoundly than most people realize. I used to commute through the World Trade Center, so I could imagine myself being there that day. Still, I didn't know anyone who died that day. Hillary didn't just know of people who died that day; she represents them and their families. That had to have effected her in ways that I cannot begin to imagine.

But she never explained her stance that way, and I'm not even sure she realizes it. She voted for the war. And after all of this campaign, I can't really say that I know why she did. Politicians are paid to make tough choices. But they are also paid to explain why they make them. My opinion in that not only did Hillary make the wrong choice by voting for the war, she never justified it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama's speech in Iowa

Tonight Hillary won Kentucky, and Obama won Oregon, as expected. Obama gave his victory speech in Iowa, coming back to where it all started. And it was a brilliant speech. As expected.

Why Americans should negotiate

HuffPost has an article about Chuck Hagel, Senator from Nebraska and Vietnam War veteran, criticizing his fellow Republican John McCain for some of the things that he has said about negotiating with our enemies.
Hagel, speaking to a small gathering at the residence of the Italian ambassador, took umbrage with several positions taken by the McCain campaign, including the Arizona Senator's criticism of Obama for pledging to engage with Iran. Engagement is not, and should not be confused for, capitulation, he argued.
Hagel, being a Senator, understands the importance of engaging in discussion with people who disagree with you. After all, it's what he does every day as a Senator.

Which suggests, for me, a key reason that Americans should concentrate on negotiation and diplomacy as means of peaceful conflict resolution: we're really good at it. It's what we do. We are constantly refining our own abilities, both individually and as a country, to achieve non-violent means of resolving conflict. We have name for this. We have a structure for engaging in this process. It's called "democracy." Negotiating non-violent resolutions of conflict is the raison d'etre of democracy.

American politicians are the best in the world at negotiating with people they don't agree with because that's what they're paid to do. It's their day job. That's one reason this is a great country.

McCain and the Right, Obama and the Left

Gerald Seib in the Wall Street Journal looks at an issue that will only get more interesting: John McCain's problems with the right wing of the Republican party.
At a time when Sen. McCain badly needs to consolidate the support of the Republican base before the general-election campaign begins in earnest, leaders of the party’s social conservatives are letting it be known—quietly, for now—that they aren’t happy with the way their desires are being met.
For me this is bizarre, because I think of John McCain as a solid conservative. But that mostly comes from his military background and his economics. Culturally, apparently he's not as dedicated to the cause as some people would like:
The most telling sign of unhappiness on the right was a letter sent by social-conservative leaders to Mr. Bush last month, complaining that his administration has been consistently rejecting federal funding for organizations that run programs promoting sexual abstinence among young Americans.
This is one of those programs from the religious right that clashes with many Republicans' more libertarian instincts. Teaching abstinence is an example of activists trying to impose their standards of morality on the rest of the country. A fair number of Republicans, however, place personal freedom as a value higher than specific moral issues. They see government interference as a bad thing, either in the business or personal life. This is a reason why Ron Paul has been so popular this year.

Of course, we see this every election, usually on both sides. One thing that is different about this election that Seib doesn't mention is that Obama is not getting the same pressure from the left that McCain is getting from the right. Some may quibble about certain issues with Obama; personally, I think he's gone a little too far criticizing free trade agreements, but that's not a huge difference. But for the most part, people on the left are pretty happy with Obama, for a number of reasons. First, of course, is the fact that he would be breaking the color barrier if he's elected. Second, he has inspired millions to become more politically active around the country. But Hillary has done him some favors in this respect, particularly by dissing some activists ( and dismissing the importance of the states that she hasn't won. Oh, and it hasn't helped that she has fudged the facts on how many votes or delegates she has won thus far. Kos, who started out neutral in this race, is now firmly in the anti-Clinton camp.

And, of course, there is Obama's message of moving beyond partisan politics. He actually does manage to appeal to both progressives and more moderate Democrats. This alone makes him a much more formidable candidate against McCain than Hillary.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Obama vs. McCain on foreign policy #1

Talking Points Memo cut together a nice video highlighting the differences between McCain and Obama on how to deal with Iran. This is a real, substantive debate. This video is the antithesis of a soundbite, which is wonderful. Obama is responding strongly, but he's not going negative. This is a very clear difference of opinion on how to deal with a country like Iran. Watching McCain, you still get a sense of his appeal. You can tell how important this is to him. This is his home turf - protecting America. He feels this very deeply. This is a civil debate, but strongly worded, and a good portent of what is to come in the fall. It's going to be an intense few months.

Hillary staying in for the good of the party

My brother just left me a voicemail message articulating a new theory as to why Hillary is staying in the race. He said that Hillary is staying in because she is energizing lots of Democratic voters, which is a good thing. According to Ted, Howard Dean and the DNC are all in on this. It's a positive conspiracy theory, in other words. And then when Obama clearly and decisively wins, Hillary will concede, and then turn around and campaign vigorously for him, admitting that he won in a fair fight.

I'm willing to buy it. The beauty of this theory is that it is both Machiavellian and progressive, at once self-centered and noble, which is exactly what the Clintons are.

This makes an odd sort of sense. But, considering how unexpected this whole campaign has been, absurdity is practically a prerequisite for believability at this point. Something that would have sounded downright bizarre six months ago suddenly is eminently plausible.

Of course, one flip side is that because she has stayed in so long, she has also pissed off lots of Democrats, and the longer she stays in, the angrier they get.

But that will be the case only if Obama loses. Assuming Obama wins in the fall, most of Hillary's annoying comments and tactics will be forgiven. Most, but not all. Among some Obama supporters, particularly African Americans, her reputation is indelibly tarnished.

But, once again, the flip side of Obama supporters being angry at her is that her supporters are very supportive of her. From their perspective, if she stays in until the bitter end, she'll leave with her dignity intact, her head held high. At which point they will, hopefully, be more understanding of Obama and Obama supporters. Of course, it is also incumbent of Obama and Obama supporters to respect Hillary and her supporters. Obama himself has been stellar in this regard, and I've been trying.

So I think my brother is right that Hillary is staying until the last primary is over to rally Democrats in every last possible state. Even if that's not her stated goal. My guess is that this is very much part of her calculation. And, of course, she's doing a great thing by energizing people in states that assumed that they were going to be ignored in this campaign.

One last point is that the people who want this to be over are the ones most intimately involved in it, the political junkies, the people working on the campaign, the candidates themselves. But the people on the ground, doing the voting in these last few states, are presumably thrilled with the attention and feelings of importance. Another point for my brother's theory.

Experience vs. Judgment

One of the themes of this presidential has been and will be "experience" vs. "judgment." In the Democratic primary, Hillary claimed to have much more experience, whereas Barack Obama claims superior judgment. In the general election, it's much the same, except that John McCain is the one claiming lots of experience.

It can be hard to make a judgment about which is preferable; it mostly comes down to a personal choice. If you're over 60, experience may very well trump "judgment," because you have the benefit of lots of experience. Obama bases his claim of superior judgment in large part on his opposition to the war. But is there another example of him using superior judgment?

Actually, yes, and the evidence is this primary campaign. I don't think there has ever been a candidate for president with as much experience in presidential campaigns, other than sitting presidents, as Hillary Clinton. I've heard stories of her working on the McGovern campaign back in '72. I'm sure she has been involved in all of them since, and, of course, was in the middle of the elections in '92 and '96.

Obama, on the other hand, has run one Senate race, against an incredibly weak opponent (Alan Keyes).

This, then, is is a clear example of "experience" vs. "judgment," and, in this case, judgment wins, hands down. Besides a wealth of experience, Hillary had many all kinds of advantages.

Despite all that, she did not run a great campaign. Obama, on the other hand, with very little relevant experience, ran a superb campaign.

So much for that argument

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Speed Racer

So I saw Speed Racer. It's terrible. How bad is it? It's so bad that I am completely uninspired to come up with a great putdown. I have no interest in figuring out the best way to slam this atrocity. That's just about a first.

But that's also a great indicator of just how completely bored I was. I spent large chunks of the movie thinking, "These are the guys who made The Matrix?" Of course, I saw the two Matrix sequels, so I am aware of how badly the Wachowski brothers can fail. But this was much worse than even the third Matrix movie, whatever it was called.

The failure takes place on two levels, plot and basic concept. Is this a cartoon, or a live action movie? It's sort of both, but the result is that the laws of physics - gravity, etc. kind of apply, but kind of don't. So impossible things happen, but since you're not really sure whether or they're supposed to happen or not, the sense of wonder you feel when watching great special effects isn't there. Look, a car is driving straight up a cliff. OK, if that's a real car, that's a cool special effect. But if it's a cartoon, it's just a drawing, and just kind of a cool idea. And the live action is designed to look like a cartoon, with garish colors and over-the-top production design. So trying to willingly suspend disbelief is pretty much out the window, because it's not clear what you're supposed to disbelieve. So that's the problem with the basic concept.

And then there's the plot. I am going to describe the plot as a pastiche of cliches. That's a tired and trite criticism, but, you know what? Writing that sentence took up about all the energy that I want to spend thinking about the plot. There is some controversy revolving around a corporate takeover. I am thoroughly familiar with the concepts and language of mergers and acquisitions, and I had no idea what was going on. Tragically, I didn't care enough to even try to follow anything.

Since it has its origins in Japanese anime, there are martial arts sequences. Some of them, for a few seconds, are exciting to watch. But then the dialogue starts up, and once again, you're bored out of your mind. Even though there are some wonderful actors and actresses (John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci) delivering the lines.

The last straw, which takes this movie from merely stupid and worthless to almost complete and utter failure, is that they don't do much with the car. The Mach 5 has the kind of accessories that James Bond cars have - bulletproof bubble, blades coming out of the front, spiked wheels. But they don't add those things to the car until the movie is at least half over. But that's supposed to be the whole point of the movie! It's not just that it's a fast, gorgeous car. It's a fast, gorgeous car with ultracool gadgets. Speed Racer is supposed to used those gadgets as much as possible.

But he doesn't! I think he uses each of the gadgets once. Wrong. Failure. Reboot.

It is a gorgeous movie. The colors are incredible. I was going to try and come up with a comment that involved The Wizard of Oz and psychedelic drugs, but there's no point. I was looking forward to waxing nostalgic about my childhood, but, honestly, all I remember is that it felt kind of cool to watch these cartoons at a friend's house. Those memories are better than anything associated with this movie.

Game over. Sayonara.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What went wrong - the scoop from inside Hillaryland

The New Republic does the world a service with a report from inside Hillaryland about what went wrong with her campaign. These are comments from staffers on her campaign. Some are diplomatic, others not so much. Some fascinating stuff:

"Bottom line: I just don't think she was hungry enough for it in the beginning. It wasn't really until the ten-in-a-row loss that she started doing stuff like Saturday Night Live and Jon Stewart. In the beginning, it was hard to get her to do those things. Early in the campaign, she spent much more time in the Senate than the campaign would have liked. It took the threat of a real loss to get her hungry enough for it."
That's about the last thing that I would have suspected - that Hillary lacked sufficient ambition for this campaign. But it also does speak to her strengths. She's great with policy, and she's apparently really nice in a personal setting. Which are both good qualities for a Senator. They're also good qualities for a presidential campaign, but they don't make as much of a difference in a presidential campaign as they do in the Senate.

"Hillary assembled a team thin on presidential campaign experience that confused discipline with insularity; they didn't know what they didn't know and were too arrogant to ask at a time early enough in the process when it could have made a difference . . . nobody was truly in charge, nobody held truly accountable."
More surprises, specifically that her team was thin on campaign experience. How many campaigns has Hillary been through? Counting her own Senate campaigns, Bill's campaigns for governor and President, that's at least 11 (Bill ran for governor 6 times, winning 5 times and losing once). The last thing that I would have expected was for Hillary not to have top-notch people with lots of experience. But, of course, her two Senate campaigns were against weak opponents. And, if you look at Bill's campaigns, his presidential campaigns were against weak opponents, as well. He never did get a majority of the popular vote.

"There was not any plan in place from beginning to end on how to win the nomination. It was, 'Win Iowa.' There was not the experience level, and, frankly, the management ability, to create a whole plan to get to the magical delegate number."
This is key. I think Hillary believed her own hype. I think she thot that she had a great plan, and had no reason not to think otherwise. As the primary fades and the post-mortems roll in, what I am starting to see is that Hillary was not, in fact, as competent as she made herself out to be. She doesn't really have a great track record of accomplishment. The healthcare debacle in 1994 is not an outlier. She thinks of herself as a supremely competent manager, and sells herself that way. But from what we're hearing, she's a good manager, but not a great one. But her managerial competence was a selling point in the campaign. So when things started going wrong on her campaign, that part of the message was tarnished.

She's smart and competent, but she's also never had to face failure on a large scale and learn to deal with her own inadequacies. Since marrying Bill, she has rarely, if ever, been in a situation where she has been tested on her own. Obama, on the other hand, is well aware of his own shortcomings, and knows how to deal with them.

"Not learning from the mistakes of Kerry and Gore, the campaign was based in the D.C. area, rooting its perspective in the fishbowl and echo chamber nature of the capital. And [the campaign] was overstaffed with hired guns with no real allegiance to HRC; she was the safest and easiest bet, no sacrifice necessary."
Two things here: "not learning from the mistakes of Kerry and Gore." It sounds like Hillary did not think she needed to learn from the mistakes of Kerry and Gore, which goes back to her arrogance and lack of self-awareness. And again we hear about problems with hiring the right staff. She has almost never had the experience of hiring staff and not having them work out, particularly on this scale. Bill has certainly had that experience, but apparently Hillary didn't learn the lesson from him. It's ironic that she had "hired guns" with no real allegiance to her, because it's the exact opposite of another problem that she has, which is that she hires people who are very loyal, but don't have the experience.

Democracy in action. As long as this primary season has been, I think we can be thankful that the candidates truly have been tested. Without Obama in this race, Hillary probably would have cruised to the nomination. But, giving what we know now, I'm glad she didn't get the nomination, because I am far less confident now about her abilities in the White House than I was when this campaign started.

I remember the '92 campaign. I was in Washington when Bill Clinton was elected and became president. It was a wonderfully exciting time.

But I also remember Bill Clinton being knocked off track by Republican attacks almost as soon as he was sworn in. The two issues that hit him hard were gays in the military and Haiti. He was not prepared for either.

More importantly, though, Democrats were not prepared for either. There were a lot of young people in DC, all of whom wanted to change the world. We were young and enthusiastic, but we were naive. I like to think I've learned my lessons since then. I'm not sure Hillary has.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hillary supporters learning to deal

Kos has a great post about Hillary supporters going through the five stages of grief. He thinks they've gone through the first three so far:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining

Depression and acceptance come next.

I have been thinking about what acceptance is going to look like. I've heard of Hillary supporters who are furious at the way things have turned out, and who say that they are going to vote for McCain. I can understand the anger and disappointment. Hillary supporters had every reason to support her. She's clearly capable of being president. She's clearly much more capable, competent and compassionate than just about any man who wants the job. She's light years ahead of the current occupant.

I imagine it is confusing to be a Hillary supporter at this point and be wondering, what the hell just happened here? How did Hillary go from being the front runner to an also-ran? She hasn't really made any bad mistakes, at least not any obvious ones. She had almost every possible advantage; a former President at her side, the greatest network ever for a presidential candidate, lots of money. She hasn't committed any unforgiveable gaffes, although the line about "hard-working Americans, white Americans" wasn't the most enlightened.

And what is it with Obama? Why are people flocking to him? He just gives great speeches, but he doesn't have anything approaching Hillary's record.

I would agree with all of this, except one part. Against any other candidate, Hillary would have cruised to the nomination. She beat out all the other men in the race without breaking a sweat.

She ran a good campaign. But Obama ran a great one. She made one mistake, but it was fatal: she underestimated her opponent. And by the time she realized it, he was already too far ahead. Underestimating your opponent, particularly to the extent she did, is an unforgivable mistake at this level. Of course, she also had some serious personnel problems, she didn't manage her finances well, and her husband turned out to be a liability. She probably could have recovered from all of those mistakes if she hadn't made that one big one.

But I am not that worried about Hillary supporters, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Hillary did something dramatic in this campaign that few people have noticed: she became her own person. She is no longer a former First Lady, or a Senator from New York. She is the first woman to have a serious shot at winning the presidency. She got out from under her husband's shadow. She is no longer Mrs. Bill Clinton. She is one of very few people who are known by one name. She is Hillary. She won the adoration and respect of millions.

But the real reason that I am not worried about Hillary supporters is that I think they will realize, some time after she concedes, that they will be OK without her. Many, many women identified with Hillary. They projected their dreams onto her, they saw her as standing up for all of them, winning the good fight against the bastards they have known and fought.

But they don't need her. She has broken through one ceiling, but she could never do everything. She has changed the world for women, she's provided a good role model for girls, and, I'm sure, she would have done a lot of good for women if she had made it to the White House. But she can't fight every battle for every woman.

I've never had to worry about what it would be like if the president looked like me. I'll never completely understand how important it is to women to see other women in positions of power. I will never get how important Hillary is to her supporters. I can think about it, but I'll never "get it." But I also know lots and lots and lots of strong, powerful women who have managed just fine without Hillary Clinton in the White House, and will manage just fine without her in the White House.

There will be a woman in the White House in my lifetime. Of that I am confident. The new Speaker of the Assembly in California is Karen Bass, an African-American woman. Think about this: she is now in roughly the same position that Barack Obama was in eight years ago, if not ahead of him. She is "the first African American woman to lead a legislative body in U.S. history."

She will not be the last. Barring the unforeseen, Hillary will be conceding any day now. I have not been impressed with the campaign that she has run. I'm glad she lost. These last few months have been a long series of disappointment and disillusionment for me; I have forever lost a great deal of the respect that I had for both Clintons. But on one thing I think we can all agree: Hillary is tough. On that score, I have to admit that my respect for her has increased. She's definitely a fighter.

Hillary will survive. As will everyone who voted for her.

Chris Matthews on the difference between negotiation and appeasement

I just became a somewhat bigger fan of Chris Matthews (I'm mostly neutral on the talk show pundits, except Keith Olbermann, who I think is great). He had some guy named Kevin James on his show. Apparently he's a DJ here in LA, although I've never heard him. The subject is Bush's comment - in the Knesset - about how it's wrong to appease dictators. Matthews briefly mentions that it's inappropriate for an American politician to criticize another American politician on foreign soil, which it is. Particularly when you are addressing a foreign government.

But the real fun begins when Matthews asks this Kevin joker just exactly what Neville Chamberlain did wrong when dealing with Hitler. Specifically. Let's get detailed - what EXACTLY did he do wrong? And of course this guy has no idea, and that becomes obvious fairly quickly. And Matthews just dismisses him. It's brutal. But funny.

Before we go to the video, it's important to emphasize the key issue: there is a difference between negotiations, which you do with your enemies to avoid war, and appeasement, which is capitulation. The two are not the same.

This is from Talking Points Memo.

Gay marriage legal in California!

The California Supreme Court ruled today that marriage between same-sex couples is legal in California. I can't write much right now, but for completely obsessive coverage, go read Andrew Sullivan.

Get the party started!

From Michigan Liberal, a bit of wisdom for the day:
This big news, former Sen. John Edwards’ endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for President of the United States, signals what philgoblue of WestMichiganRising said to me right after the rally: “I think the general election started in Grand Rapids today.” He’s right.
Josh Marshall's take:

We seem to have arrived at an equitable compromise: Sen. Clinton is staying in the nomination race while Sen. Obama drops out to move on to the general.

And, of course, the Democratic Party is quickly unifying around Obama. He's picking up ever more endorsements, from superdelegates, elected officials, and unions. The longer this goes on, the more of a foregone conclusion it is that Hillary has to concede. Which means that it will that much sadder when she actually does.

Maker Faire

The Maker Faire was just held in San Mateo, which is in Northern California (i.e., it is at least 100 miles north of LA), and therefore somewhere near San Francisco. It's a fair of people who make things, bizarre things that no one else has made, like cupcake cars or fire sculptures or moving Victorian mansions. The New York Times had a great article about it, describing it as
a gathering place of pyromaniacs and noise junkies, the multiply pierced and the extensively tattooed. But wander awhile, and the showy surface gives way to a wondrous thing: the gathering of folks from all walks of life who blend science, technology, craft and art to make things both goofy and grand.
Damn does that sound fun. But I have to say that I am somewhat disappointed that I read about this in the NY Times, and NOT the LA Times. Come on, LA Times, this is just up the coast! The Northern California/Southern California divide isn't that bad. This description of the Bay Area could also apply here. The Bay Area, one participant notes,
"has a community of people whose left brains and right brains are on speaking terms, and who like to make things"
We like to make things here in Southern California, too, but those things tend to a little more ephemeral, like movies and TV shows. And airplanes. We're good with those, too. Little known fact: the largest private employer in Los Angeles County is Boeing.

The NY Times also has a good multimedia presentation of the Faire, although it's still somewhat basic. I am looking forward to the day when a newspaper like the NY Times can be really innovative with the graphic presentation of information like this. I think the NYT has done groundbreaking work in this respect, but there is so much farther that they can go. Great job so far, guys, keep pushing that envelope.

The article mentions "steampunk," an emergent fashion/technical sensibility/trend/happening that I also first learned about in a paper version of the NYT. It sounds like a cross between Jules Verne and The Matrix, but maybe without a lot of black leather. Lots of 19th century stuff either being worn or somehow adapted to modern life. Alexander McQueen is, of course, a fan.

The Maker Faire article references the great American tradition of tinkering going back to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. What it doesn't mention is that Americans are great tinkerers because we have the freedom to tinker. We all know that, of course, but I am starting a campaign to reclaim "freedom" as a liberal value, because conservatives have thot for a long time that they were somehow uniquely qualified to celebrate "freedom" and "liberty." This is nonsense, of course, and since Democrats are about to triumph over Republicans electorally, it's about time we started reclaiming some of the language that Republicans have absurdly claimed as theirs.

Because we do, after all, have the freedom to do so.

Republicans getting back to basics, because they have no other choice

It's looking bad for Republicans in the fall. Real bad. Super bad. They are starting to get worried. Scratch that, they are starting to panic. What to do? Start with meetings. On Tuesday, they lost a special election that they should have won. Damage control started right away.
At a tense, private post-mortem Wednesday morning, worried House Republicans demanded that their leadership come up with a plan to stave off potentially devastating losses in November. Republican officials said no leaders or top campaign strategists appeared to be in immediate danger of losing their positions, though in interviews, there was evidence of vast dissatisfaction, frustration and discouragement with the party’s position.
Heads are not rolling yet, but knives are being sharpened. Someone had a bright idea:
Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, said, “We need to, No. 1, prove that we are listening to the American people, and, No. 2, show that we have a plan of action to respond to what they are telling us.”
Yes, listening to the American people is key to getting them to vote for you. Nice to see that Republicans have figured that out. Figuring out a plan of action - also key.

Am I enjoying the Republican meltdown a bit too much? Perhaps. But I'm not going to stop, at least not for a while. Isn't this what campaigns are for, enjoying the competition? As a Barack Obama supporter, I feel a responsibility to be somewhat bipartisan. I have no problem with that. There are a lot of Republicans that I respect. But there are also a fair number that I would like to see gone from public office forever.

College Democrats endorse Obama!

The College Democrats of America have endorsed Barack Obama for president. This is not even remotely surprising, given that most young people are voting for Obama. Normally I wouldn't post about one endorsement, but I like this particular announcement because the President of the College Democrats, Lauren Wolfe, who is a delegate, is from Royal Oak, Michigan, where I lived for about a year. It's not a big place, but it's very cool, and quite hip. One memory of Royal Oak that I have is walking past an independent record store and seeing an unusual album cover plastered all over the window. It was a picture of a naked baby swimming, and reaching for a dollar bill. I remember thinking, "Hmmm, must be some hot new album from a band that I've never heard of." Of course, it was Nevermind, by Nirvana, and went on to sell 10 million albums.

But I digress. I'm pretty sure that record store is long gone, but I learned a good lesson there about noticing details and the importance paying attention to certain key cultural signifiers, like the windows of independent record stores. I think they even sold the album on vinyl.

But I digress again. So that is Royal Oak, Michigan, where Lauren Wolfe is from. Of course, since she's from Michigan, it's questionable whether or not she will be able to vote, since it's not clear whether or not the Michigan delegation will be seated.

My guess is that they will be. Somehow or other, they will be part of the party for the Party. Everyone will be having a good time in Denver, including the people from the insular peninsula states.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dems feeling special about elections

Democrats have won three special elections in the last couple of months, in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Illinois. All three had been held by Republicans who left, for various reasons. So all three were open seats, but in strongly Republican districts. The GOP should have held on to all three, but instead lost all three. And one of those seats was the seat formerly held by Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains the impact of these three special elections:

One thing Josh doesn't mention (because it isn't his topic today) is that all these retirements and special elections have implications for the future. All of the retiring Republicans have at least some seniority. All of the new Democrats, both the three that won these elections, and however many win in the fall, will be brand new. That means that the Republicans lose a fair amount of expertise and power, while Democrats gain fresh blood. The Democrats, being in the majority, are also in a position to protect the new members. In midterm elections, the President's party generally loses seats, but this time around, in 2010, there's almost no chance that Democrats will lose the House, or the Senate, so expect more Republicans to resign. We're looking at a Democratic majority for a long time to come.

It's interesting to look back on 1994, when Republicans took back the House after 40 years of being in the majority. The reason they won can mostly be attributed to one man: Newt Gingrich. He plotted and schemed for years, and finally got enough people to believe in him that he accomplished a minor miracle, and the Republicans took back the House. One reason he was able to do it was that the Democrats never saw him as a serious threat. They had become complacent, since they had been in the majority for so long. But once they lost it, they started trying to get it back, and eventually did. It will be a long time before Democrats are complacent again.

Of course, Democrats also have to have their act together and get things done. I'm more confident about that now than I have been in a while. I think the Democratic party is attracting some very good people these days.

Edwards endorses Obama

Looks like I picked a good day to post good news about Obama. John Edwards has endorsed him, at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Finally! That's one big one down.

The location is interesting. Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a long way from North Carolina. It's also a very conservative part of the state. By making the announcement there, in what cannot possibly be friendly territory for either of them, Obama is signaling that he intends to fight hard for Michigan, and he intends to fight hard even in the conservative parts of the state. It also sends the message that he is not afraid to take his message to a community that would not appear to be composed of his demographics. It's also far from Detroit, where the African-American mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, is generating the wrong kind of headlines.

What about the timing? Some people will make the legitimate argument that Edwards is jumping on the bandwagon before it's too late. His endorsement is not really going to make a huge difference right now.

But in other ways, his timing is perfect. Suddenly Hillary's win in West Virginia is off the news. Obama controls this news cycle. And Edwards is endorsing Obama when he doesn't really have to. Obama does not need his endorsement to clinch the nomination. But it does help unify the party. For the people who care about these things, it boosts Obama's anti-poverty credentials a bit. Not that I think Obama needed better anti-poverty credentials, but it doesn't hurt. It should also help answer those "Can Obama get working-class white people?" questions. Edwards is rich now, but he's clearly a man who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Of course, so has Obama, so, again, this should help out there.

NARAL endorses Obama

I've decided that I am going to crank out as much good news as I can about Obama over the next few days. So today, NARAL (formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League) has endorsed Obama.
They said the board decided to back Obama over Clinton because he is
overwhelmingly favored to win the nomination and to heal what the organization
viewed as a growing rift between black voters and white female activists that
the protracted Clinton-Obama contest may have caused.

Good for them. This is something that I have not thot of, but should be obvious - a lot of professional activists, many of whom are based in Washington, are thinking hard about healing this temporary rift between Hillary and Obama people. It's another sign that Hillary's base is already starting to move beyond her.

Hillary wins West Virginia

So Hillary won West Virginia. I don't have a lot to say. What is there to say? I've only been there once, for a funeral, but it was a very nice place. She won decisively, 67.5% to 25%. That's about 2 1/2 to 1. Pretty decisive. Of course, it doesn't change the delegate math much. Hillary picked up 20 delegates, Obama 8. So he's now ahead by 168. This didn't do much for her. One interesting fact is that John Edwards won 7% of the vote. So apparently there are people who want to vote for a white guy so much that they will vote for him even if he isn't in the race.

But tonnyb, a reader at TPM Cafe, reminds us of Obama's margins of victory so far this year:

State - Obama - Hillary
Idaho 82.2% 17.8%
Hawaii 76.2% 23.8%
District of Columbia 75.8% 24.2%
Alaska 74.6% 25.4%
Kansas 74.2% 25.8%
Washington 68.4% 31.6%
Georgia 68.1% 31.9%
South Carolina 67.6% 32.4%
Minnesota 67.4% 32.6%
Colorado 67.3% 32.7%
Illinois 66.3% 33.7%
Virginia 64.2% 35.8%
North Dakota 62.6% 37.4%
Mississippi 62.2% 37.8%
Maryland 61.9% 38.1%
Wyoming 61.9% 38.1%
Louisiana 61.7% 38.3%
Vermont 60.6% 39.4%

Those states are all over the county. There's a good reason Obama has a big lead - he's run a much, much better campaign. And those numbers are proof. Next up is Oregon and Kentucky. Obama may very well get blown out in Kentucky again. But he's also expected to win Oregon by a wide margin.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One problem with these new voter ID laws

Several states are trying to pass new voter ID laws, which, according to the Supreme Court, do not inhibit voters from actually voting. The argument in favor of these laws is that illegal aliens try to vote, and that's wrong. But there's a problem with this argument, as the NY Times points out:
Illegal immigrants do their best to remain in the shadows, to avoid attracting government attention and risking deportation. It is hard to imagine that many would walk into a polling place, in the presence of challengers and police, and try to cast a ballot.

There's another issue: what benefit would an illegal alien derive from trying to vote? Citizens vote because it's out civic responsibility, we want our candidate to win, and we take pride in being able to vote as American citizens. But there's no direct tangible benefit. So why would who gets no benefit take the risk of being deported? That seems like a fairly cut-and-dried cost-benefit analysis to me.

But I think the Republicans may also be making a strategic mistake in this election. Most of the voters who have problems with photo ID or citizenship papers are, I'm guessing, elderly. I'm not worried about anyone under 30 not having a photo ID, unless they have an unusual circumstance - they just got married and changed their name, they lost their ID, etc.

And who benefits from an imbalance between young and elderly voters? Barack Obama. He has consistently won huge majorities of the under-30 crowd. McCain, on the other hand, would be 72 at the inauguration, and has strong appeal to older people who think, for example, that Obama does not have enough experience, among other things.

So Republicans, by pushing these voter ID/citizenship laws, may actually be doing themselves more harm than good in the 2008 election. Like I always say, irony is 9/10 of the law.

Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008

Robert Rauschenberg has died at 82. I love Rauschenberg, even if his actual works of art didn't appeal to me. I love the fact that he was always experimenting. He seemed to have a great sense of humor. I don't think I've read much about his philosophy of art, but the NY Times obit has some great lines:
The process — an improvisatory, counterintuitive way of doing things — was always what mattered most to him. “Screwing things up is a virtue,” he said when he was 74. “Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can’t read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.”
Let's hear it for chaos.
"I think you’re born an artist or not. I couldn’t have learned it. And I hope I never do because knowing more only encourages your limitations.”
There's something to be said for knowing your limitations, but there's also something to be said for, every now and then, willfully ignoring them.

Let's hear it for a man who so thoroughly embraced the idea of art as adventure.