Thursday, January 31, 2008

Arnold and McCain

So our erstwhile Governator, Arnold, has endorsed John McCain. Somehow not surprising. One nice touch: he held the news conference at a factory that produces solar roofing systems.

Credit where credit is due

A few days ago, my Dad predicted that John Edwards would drop out of the race before Super Tuesday. I disagreed, arguing that he would stay in out of loyalty to his supporters, who had taken him this far. Dad was right, I was wrong.

Good call, Dad.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Generation Gap: Feminism

There's an interesting little spat between feminists today. The New York chapter of NOW criticized Ted Kennedy for NOT endorsing Hillary Clinton (for the record, apparently this was just the NY chapter, the national group didn't take this position).

This did not sit well with at least one feminist. This is a great response.

For the record, I am fully aware of the dangers posed by a straight white guy commenting on an intra-feminist dispute. That's what blogs are for - taking risks. Damn the torpedoes.

This brings up something many people have noticed in this campaign: a generation gap between Hillary's supporters and Obama people. This minor clash between two feminists highlights the difference in perspective. I don't know who at NY NOW took this position, so I am going to use Gloria Steinem as a stand-in for her generation of feminists. I don't think she'll mind.

Gloria Steinem was born in 1934. That was very early in FDR's administration. It was during the Depression. She grew up during WWII. For me, those things are ancient history. Think about this: she turned 21 in 1955, during the Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower was born in 1890. When Gloria Steinem was coming of age, some of the people in power were born in the 19th century. Gloria Steinem accomplished great things by breaking down barriers to women's success, and, of course, she had to fight lots of men to do it. But they were older men. That is her defining experience - fighting men who were older than her. By the time the late '60's rolled around, she was already in her 30's.

But women like SusanG on Daily Kos grew up in the post-feminist (for lack of a better term) era, and while they've had to fight their battles, they have also spent a lot of time working with, and competing against, men their own age. That is THEIR defining experience. Btw, I am assuming SusanG doesn't mind me using her as an example of how younger women think. For the record, she's actually a Baby Boomer, not GenX (I'm not going to reveal her age). It feels like she is speaking my language.

Gloria Steinem: fighting AGAINST older men.
Younger women: working WITH men their own age.

That's a gross oversimplification in many ways - I'm sure Gloria Steinem had some great men as allies, and women of today can, I'm equally sure, cite lots of examples of sexism from their own lives, particularly from older men. I'm sure this dispute went on among feminists of Gloria Steinem's era. There may very well be feminists of Generation X or Y who agree with NY NOW.

But the key difference is that women of today have a lot less reason to be angry at men. Which, at the end of the day, is a testament to the achievements of Gloria Steinem's generation.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How tough is Obama?

One question that I hear occasionally is, just how tough is Barack Obama? The subtext is usually, "can he survive all of the attacks that Republicans will throw at him?"

My answer is simple: Barack Obama was a community organizer on the streets of the South Side of Chicago. He served in the Illinois legislature from Chicago. Personally, I don't have any experience in Chicago politics, but from the reputation, I understand that Chicago politics is not for the weak of spirit. A famous politician (Mo Udall, I think) once joked that he wanted to be buried in Chicago, so he would be politically active when he was dead.

Obama also survived Harvard Law and taught at the University of Chicago, other environments with a notable lack of resemblance to Disneyland. Those are two of the most intellectually demanding colleges in the country, and UChicago is one of the most conservative.

The ability to listen is not a sign of weakness.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Three Candidates, Three Criteria

I've looked at the campaign in terms of three issues:

Electability, Experience, and Moral Authority. Here's the summary:

McCain v. Obama:
Electability: Advantage: Neither. Tie.
Experience: Advantage: McCain, but not by much.
Moral Authority: Advantage: Obama.

McCain v. Hillary
Electability: Advantage: McCain
Experience: Advantage: McCain by a mile.
Moral Authority: Advantage: McCain, decisively.

McCain and Obama are basically tied. Many people will judge them on their policy differences. Those difference are profound, and I think Obama wins decisively. McCain is about the strongest supporter of the war you will find, while Obama has the best record of opposing of the Democrats still running. And, regardless of the details, Obama can be trusted to take health care more seriously than McCain. So, all else being equal, Obama wins on substance.

Hillary has some advantages on McCain in terms of substance - she's antiwar, at least now, and can claim to have learned a thing or two about health care reform. But in terms electability, experience, and moral authority, McCain wins decisively on all three.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Decisive Issues, Part III: Moral Authority

Moral authority is one of those things that change with perspective. One person's heroine is another's shrill harpy. It's also one of those things that is very hard to earn, but very easy to lose. It's recognizable in part because of the absence of something else, namely self-interest. People recognized as having moral authority are often exhorting us to act against our own - and, usually, their own - best interests. Saints inspire to put aside our differences and recognize what we have in common with others (I'm listening to Jesus Christ Superstar while I'm writing this). Saints don't make it politics very often because politics is where come to fight for our own interests first. Of the three candidates I am evaluating, Barack Obama takes the "common ground is the best ground" approach. Each has a unique claim on moral authority: John McCain has seen and survived the worst that human beings can inflict on each other and has consistently challenged the bizarre tendency in conservative circles towards supporting and even demanding the use of torture. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have survived and prospered as an African-American and a woman in contemporary America, and each can claim to have won through to their current positions despite the obstacles of racism and sexism in America. Each can also claim to speak for a group previously underrepresented in this country. The presence of either in the White House would go a long ways towards healing ancient wounds.

Here are my comparisons:

McCain v. Obama: These guys are ideological opposites, but have some interesting political similarities. Both are at once insiders and outsiders. McCain is the son and grandson of Navy admirals, i.e. he's very much steeped in military tradition and history, but he occasionally challenges his party's orthodoxy and establishment. Barack Obama, as an African-American, is something of an outsider (fortunately less so now than when he was born), but he's a graduate of Columbia and Harvard Law. Like McCain, he sometimes takes on sensitive topics in his party. For example, he recognizes and argues against homophobia in the black church. Neither McCain nor Obama demonizes the opposition, and each makes an effort to break out of the politically convenient but restricting rhetorical straitjacket of using euphemisms and nuance, the kind of language that earns politicians as a class their reputation for lying. Neither is always successful, but each makes the attempt to be honest when possible. Which honesty occasionally gets both in trouble.

Both are adept at using humor to defuse tensions when confronting difficult situations. Both have financial scandals in their background, although McCain's - being part of the Keating Five - is much more significant than Obama's, working with the developer Rezko. And both have strong track records on ethics and campaign finance reform. One difference between them is their emphasis on working with the opposition. McCain can work with Democrats. He can go beyond partisan differences, but does not place much emphasis on it. That may be a function of where the base of the Republican party is right now - purity is more important to many conservatives than compromise. Obama, on the other hand, has made resolving differences a core part of his campaign. This doesn't play well with some progressives - Kos accuses him of not running as a Democrat in the Democrat primary. But Obama challenges Democrats to think beyond their own self-interests. Advantage: Obama

McCain v. Clinton: Up until about a year ago, I would have figured out a way to call this even. I would have dismissed all of the minor scandals during the Clinton Administration as products of that infamous "vast right-wing conspiracy." Heck, a couple of months ago I would have argued in favor of Hillary’s ground-breaking role as the first woman president.

But a couple of things have changed the equation. Substantively, I thot her mailer in New Hampshire questioning Obama’s pro-choice credentials – despite his 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood – was beyond the pale. I realize that politics can be hardball, but that kind of behavior diminishes her moral authority, and with it her ability to enact her agenda if she is elected. And then . . .

And then there’s the big dog, Bill. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started to realize why conservatives don’t like the Clintons. And, at the end of the day, the man lied about sex. That is a stain that can never be erased. I’ve dismissed the importance of that before, but I’m having a harder time doing it now. So in terms of moral authority, McCain vs. Hillary, McCain wins. Decisively. Advantage: McCain

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bird nests in my heater

Since this is my blog, and I can post about whatever I want, I am going to write today about a bizarre experience I had yesterday getting my heater fixed. I live in an apartment in Los Angeles, so it doesn't really get too cold in the winter. But this winter I realized it was too cold at night in my apartment. My heater wasn't working. So I called my landlord to get it fixed. It took a couple of weeks, but the guy finally showed up. My heater has a pipe leading straight outside. In it were 3 0r 4 bird nests. Apparently they had been there for a while. But now they're gone, and my heater works fine. Except that there's no thermostat, so I have to adjust the heat manually. Which is not exactly an energy-efficient approach to heating.

Which leads me to discuss a conundrum about my apartment building. Architecturally, it's very interesting. It's a prewar building, all brick and stone. It's taller than the other buildings in the neighborhood, and has lots of character. Definitely the coolest-looking building for blocks.

But since it's so old, it's also horribly inefficient. The windows are very drafty, and the ceilings are 10'. In terms of historical preservation, it's a great building, but in terms of energy efficiency, it's terrible. There's very little I can do about either, but it seems like something to think about.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Decisive Issues, Part II: Experience

For my take on Hillary's "35 years of experience," see my previous post. Now I am going to take a look at how the issue of "experience" might work in the campaign. I'm not going to look at their total records, but at what I call their "defining experience" - what is the key experience that has shaped them, that they can claim has prepared them for the presidency. Once again, this is about McCain, Hillary, and Obama.

McCain's defining experience is, obviously, his experience as a POW. What makes this special is not just that he survived horrendous conditions and torture, but that, in doing so, he never gave up. There's absolutely no question that he put the interests of others ahead of his.

Obama's defining experience is harder to pin down to one specific episode, but for sake of brevity I'm going to point to his experience as a community organizer in Chicago. As a graduate of Columbia and Harvard Law, he could have gotten a job on Wall Street, and by this point in his life, he would be worth millions. But he chose to walk the streets of Chicago. Again, there is very little doubt that he has put the interests of others ahead of his own. He also taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for ten years. Chicago is one of the most intellectually demanding, but also one of the most conservative, colleges in the country. So when Obama claims that he can work with conservatives and Republicans, this is part of what he means - he spent years listening to very sophisticated conservative arguments, and arguing against them.

Hillary's defining experience is easy to pinpoint: her years as First Lady. This is an unusual argument, never made before in this country. This has both positive and negative implications. The 1990s were very good times for many people. But her signature attempt to change the world for the better, the health care debate of 1993-94, was a disaster. It's important to remember why it was a disaster. Hillary claims that she can stand up to conservative attacks. But on that occasion, she couldn't. And Democrats at the time controlled both houses of Congress. Critics claimed that she was overly secretive, and my recollection is that they're right. If memory serves, she gathered a couple hundred people, locked them in a room for several months, and then presented her plan, without consulting Congress or other stakeholders. What's important to note here is that this was her approach as First Lady, after she had had years in which to supposedly hone her abilities to get things done. It's indicative of her instincts and her temperament - she doesn't naturally reach out to people who disagree with her. She claims that she has learned her lesson, and has made admirable attempts to reach out, both in New York, and in the Senate. But the fact that she didn't do that when she was in the White House is significant.

Another key question is: at what point in her career has Hillary put the interests of others ahead of her own? She put her husband's career ahead of her own when she moved to Arkansas. But she had a career of her own in Arkansas. She also combined her interests with his, so there's not a great sacrifice on her part.

Here's how I think the races will play out:

McCain-Obama: McCain wins decisively on the amount of experience. But Obama has searched out and met significant challenges, physically (the South Side of Chicago is not exactly Disneyland), organizationally (community organizing), intellectually (Harvard Law) and ideologically (U of Chicago). So McCain is tough, but so is Obama. Both have put the interests of other people ahead of their own. And McCain's experience comes with a price, i.e. his age. Obama counters that he is a fresh face. Advantage: McCain, but not by much.

McCain-Hillary: Hillary's claim that being in the White House means that she is ready "on Day One," rings true for her supporters. Against McCain's experience as a POW, however, it doesn't hold up so well. Republicans will frame it as being a fighter pilot and surviving torture vs. working as a high-priced corporate lawyer and hosting state dinners. If I were a feminist, I would not want to watch that debate play out in the national spotlight. Advantage: McCain by a mile.

Hillary's Experience

Hillary has been claiming that she has "35 years of experience." But she's 60's years old. She has 35 years of experience because she has been working consistently since she was 25. It's tautological: she has 35 years of experience because she has been working for 35 years. But let's take a look at one element of that 35 years: her stint on the Wal-Mart board of directors. For purposes of this post, I'm going to be neutral on Wal-Mart itself. So the question is: why was Hillary chosen to be on the Wal-Mart? What does it say about her qualifications?

Was she on the Wal-Mart board because of her retail or management experience? No.
Was she on the Wal-Mart board because she is or was a Wal-Mart executive? No.
Was she on the Wal-Mart board because she was an academic, political, or military leader? No.

She was on the Wal-Mart board because she was a talented corporate lawyer who was married to the governor of Arkansas, which is where Wal-Mart is headquartered. I don't begrudge her the experience - I'm sure she did a good job. And, particularly in this day and age, there are lots of spouses who have positions on boards because of who they are married to. Lots of husbands and wives use their spouses connections to get ahead. There's nothing wrong getting a job through those kinds of connections. With one exception.

The Presidency is qualitatively different. It may seem unfair to judge Hillary Clinton's qualifications for President as inadequate because they have come through her relationship with her husband. But she is the one who has claimed this "35 years" as one of her prime attributes. That makes it fair game. And, unfortunately for her, the only significant attempt to change the world that she can point to is her attempt to reform health care in 1993-94. Which was a failure.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Decisive issues, Part I: Electability

In the interest of greatly simplifying things, I am going to boil the race down to three issues, and evaluate the three leading candidates (Hillary, Obama, and McCain) on them. I am assuming at this point that McCain will win the Republican nomination. I am going to dedicate one post to each issue.

The issues are:

1. Electability.
2. Experience.
3. Moral authority.

First issue, electability. Which, for me, translates to three things. 1, who can win over independents? 2, who can mobilize their base, and 3, who can win over voters from the other party?

McCain has a clear appeal to independents. He's not particularly popular among some establishment Republicans (Tom Delay apparently still holds a grudge), but, come election time, they will vote for him. Whether or not he wins over Democrats depends on his opponent. Many Democrats are starting to turn against Hillary, and would consider voting for McCain instead. However, against Obama, Democrats would mobilize for Obama.

Hillary does not appeal to many independents. Some will vote for her because of fond recollections of the 1990's, which is a good reason - the 1990's were great, from many perspectives. However, against McCain, she will have to fight for them. She has started to lose many Democrats because of how she is running her campaign, and, unfortunately, because Bill is not campaigning very gracefully. She will not get many Republicans, if any.

Obama has a few issues with the base, but they are minor. Some progressives have issues with how liberal he is, and his comments on Ronald Reagan. Countering that, however, he can count on mobilizing the African-American vote, and possibly inspiring many people who otherwise would not vote. So he is overall positive with the base. He is attracting droves of independents, particularly among young people. This may make a difference in California, where independents can vote in the Democratic primary, but not the Republican one. And some Republicans are expressing support for him. Against McCain, it's not clear how much Republican support he can win, but the possibility is there. Here, McCain's experience may be an advantage.

This is how it stacks up:
McCain-Hillary: McCain mobilizes Republican base, wins independents, and possibly some Democrats. Advantage: McCain.

McCain-Obama: Both mobilize their base, both compete effectively for independents, both compete for members of the other party. Advantage: Neither. Tie.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Let's get started

For my first blog post, some background. I've been interested in politics for as long as I can remember. Particularly Democratic, liberal, progressive, change-the-world politics. I've been involved off and on for many years - I've worked on campaigns, hung around lots of political activists, made my opinion known to lots of people.

As of now, January 2008, I'm volunteering for Barack Obama. I believe him when he says that he can bridge gaps between political parties and ideologies. I also like the fact that he seems to enjoy the game of politics, and can respond to his opponents with a sense of humor. That's a great quality, in my book.

I think Hillary would probably make a good president. She's smart, disciplined, hard-working, and, in the end, I think she's trying to do good things for the world. But, like a lot of people, I just can't relate to her all that well. Which is somewhat surprising, because I was a big fan of Bill. I even worked for him back in 1992. I was on the Transition Team; I answered his mail. I didn't follow through and get a job in the administration, but I'm glad that I can say that I worked for Bill Clinton in 1992-3.

But having said that, one reason I'm not supporting Hillary is that I have been very disappointed in Bill Clinton's performance during this campaign.

I still think Bill Clinton did a lot of good work to update the Democratic party. I remember resenting all of the right-wing attacks on him. But by the time 2000 rolled around, I have to admit that I really didn't mind that Bill Clinton couldn't run for reelection. He did some good things, his time was over, it was time, as a certain organization's title says, to move on.

I was relieved that I didn't have to think about any of that ever again. It was water under the bridge.

I was relieved that I would never again have to worry about whether or not it was worth it to defend Bill Clinton.

But unfortunately, it looks like the answer to that question today - whether or not it is worth it, now or in the future, to defend Bill Clinton - is no. The Clintons' behavior in Nevada - when the teachers' union sued to block caucuses from being held in casinos - was both wrong and idiotic. Neither Bill nor Hillary was directly involved, but it clearly was done for their benefit. And then Bill Clinton tried to deny it. What fools does he think we are? That was embarassing.

I ask myself the question: do I really want to see Bill Clinton in the White House for another four or eight years? The answer is, most unfortunately, is no.