Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama may have won the battle, but the war?

To senior political editor Vaughn Ververs, the numbers behind the numbers tell the real story. Divisive racial politics may have helped Obama carry South Carolina, where African-Americans were 53% of the vote. But the same divide will cost Obama dearly on Super Tuesday, when the white Democratic majority registers its opinion. According to Vevers:

"Not presidential" is how former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle described Bill Clinton's behavior on the campaign trail of late. All the same, it may be effective. Clinton's campaign is aimed at capturing voters who make up a huge part of the Democratic demographic: Middle class, white, female, older. Those are the voters who may shy away from backing a "black" candidate, as they have in earlier contests in this race. Despite his huge margin of victory, Obama captured just a quarter of white voters [emphasis added].

And the nasty tactics had another purpose - to knock the candidate of "hope" off the mountaintop and down into the gutters of hardball politics. Forcing the man who has sought to connect himself to the legacy of inspirational leaders of the nation's past (he announced his candidacy in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln) to trade blows and accusations with Bill Clinton on the divisive issue of race only serves to muddy both. And there's some evidence that it worked. Fifty-eight percent of South Carolina voters said they felt Obama unfairly attacked Clinton during the campaign.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Clinton: “Winning Ugly”

Michael Tomasky, editor of Guardian America, supplied the title of this blog item. Tomasky has this to say about Clinton’s victory over Obama in Nevada yesterday:

[Bill Clinton] campaigned against a fellow Democrat no differently than if Obama had been Newt Gingrich. The Clinton campaign may conclude that, numerically and on balance, Bill helped. But, trust me, to the thousands of committed progressives who supported him when he really needed it, who went to the mat for him at his moment of (largely self-inflicted) crisis but who now happen to be supporting someone other than his wife, he's done himself a tremendous amount of damage.

The final price of victory is the splintering of base Democratic voters. African Americans solidified behind Obama, 79-18%. Hispanics, behind Clinton, 64-23%. Young voters went heavily for Obama. Old voters heavily for Clinton. These divisions threaten to flower into schisms. There will be plenty of time to put the pieces back together. But. . .

Clinton’s winning coalition of women, Hispanics, and elderly also includes white males, who have—since race entered the campaign—coalesced behind Clinton/against Obama.

GOP’s Front Runner

South Carolina did reduce the Republican field. Thompson is out. While Huckabee has a shot at Georgia and Alabama on Super Tuesday, perhaps Missouri, and even Tennessee depending upon what Thompson does there, he’s running out of money. McCain is now the front-runner, having won South Carolina and New Hampshire and in the process defeating Huckabee and Romney each head-to-head. Huckabee won only Iowa, and of the major contests, Romney won only Michigan. McCain leads Giuliani (and Romney) in Florida polls taken before McCain’s South Carolina victory, meaning McCain's lead should grow. And if Giuliani loses Florida, he’s done.

Romney’s money gives him staying power. He’s running 2nd now.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Nineteen Days to Super Tuesday: Republicans

The large GOP field for president is about to be narrowed by two. South Carolina is the primary that selects Republican nominees; no Republican has won his party’s nomination without first carrying South Carolina. While that may not be the case in jumbled-up 2008, it seems likely that victory strategies for McCain, Huckabee, and Thompson all require a win in South Carolina. Yet only one can win (and this blog long ago wrote off Thompson). So after Saturday, in effect there will be only Romney (who is hoping to add Nevada to his Tuesday win in Michigan), Giuliani (who must win in Florida to stay alive), and the South Carolina winner.

Low voter turnout for the GOP primaries, along with very poor fundraising efforts by all Republican candidates, are early signs that this year, the country is leaving the GOP behind. The party’s inability to settle on a frontrunner seems more a sign of weakness than strength. It’s dangerously close to “who cares?” Still, there are months and months and months to go—time for change, as some would say.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Twenty Days to Super Tuesday: Democrats

The Economist’s “Lexington” did write about how Democrats handicapped themselves by neglecting the “middle America” that saw the ‘60s as a national nightmare. But Lexington went on to say why Democrats by 2008 have overcome that handicap, and stand poised to recapture the White House in November—even with Clinton leading the party. Three reasons:

1. the Democratic Party has replaced cultural liberalism with a deliberate cultural conservatism (avoiding debating the death penalty and gun control), with Clinton supporting a flag-burning ban, and Obama favoring big military budget increases.

2. Nixon's strategy of defending the moral majority against the cultural elites is running out of steam, now that Republican candidates have had their fair share of divorces. Also, old-fashioned economic populism, rather than Nixon-style cultural populism, is catching fire across both parties.

3. for all the endless comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq, students are more worried about getting good jobs than changing the system. The counter-culture long ago made its peace with capitalism. Moreover, race relations are utterly transformed, with a thriving black middle class, and with Bush 43 having made a black woman who grew up in the segregated South his secretary of state.

Yet the economy offers the biggest reason why Democrats are likely to prevail.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

“You Go Girl!”

In just a few words about the 1960s, the Economist’s “Lexington” nails what I’ve attempted to say about that decade in entry after entry: “The Democratic Party marginalised itself by shifting decisively to the left on everything from the war to sexual politics,” while Republicans hit on the winning formula of presenting themselves as “champion of the ‘silent majority.’” Lexington adds, “Republicans and Democrats have replayed these themes ever since” the 1960s, Republicans characterizing Democrats as “Harvard Yard hippies” and Democrats accusing Republicans of “repeating the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq.”

So along comes Obama, in Iowa charting for Democrats a hopeful path to a less-contentious future. Lexington quotes him saying (in words we already quoted), “Clinton and others, they've been fighting some of the same fights since the sixties, and it makes it very difficult for them to bring the country together to get things done.”

But if Iowa represented the future, Clinton’s New Hampshire victory represents a “not so fast!” yank back to the present. Democrats are still, at base, union members worried about their jobs. Old fashion Democrats like Clinton.

Yet it was women who provided Clinton's New Hampshire victory margin. In two sound bites—her “I’m hurt!” joking response to a question about her likeability on Saturday and her Monday wet-eyed answer to the question "how do you do it?"—Clinton reminded women that she is the standard bearer for the unfinished battle women care most about, and that as Clinton's emotion suggested, men still don't want women to win. Anyway, Karl Rove, among others, has pointed to the importance of Clinton's two emotional moments as the key to her victory.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Iraq: Is Peace Breaking Out?

Here’s our latest monthly, highly abbreviated version of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)
2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 58
2007: 63
December: 17

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (monthly average)
1965: 128*
1966: 420
1967: 767
1968: 1140
1969: 785
* = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar Peak: 2.50
Goal: 2.10 (Revised downward, 1/07)
actual: 2.42 (12/07)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 4,240 (12/07)

Since our last monthly report, the American KIA total dropped to its lowest level since February 2004, before Abu Ghraib, before the Mahdi army got going, back to the time al-Qaeda was just organizing its Iraqi insurgency. The KIA total for the past three months is similarly lower than any three months since December 2003-February 2004. For the year 2007, a year that included some of the war's worst months for American KIA, the monthly average is down to 63, in line with the two-a-day average for every year since the war's first. But American KIA in December, of course, averaged only one every two days. This is remarkable. [Please note: the number of KIA is almost always lower than the media-reported total of American deaths, which covers all causes, including non-hostile. Our Iraq and Vietnam figures are KIA only.]

Our other indicators continue to show success. Oil output is up to its highest daily total since October 2005, and is the fifth-highest oil daily output average for any month since the war began. Revenue from oil exports continues to rise for the previous month's output, though November's total was below October's record. As for electricity, output is also up for December--rising from 4,120 megawatts to 4,240 megawatts. For the July-December half year, electricity remained above 4,000 megawatts each month, unprecedented for any half year period since the war began.

Detractors point to the surge's failure to hit political targets set by Bush a year ago. It's true the major national targets--passage of laws to share oil revenue, to hold provincial elections, and to achieve de-Baathification--are all unmet. But what's happened is that informally, power and revenue are making their way to Kurdish and Sunni hands, thus achieving bottom-up the objectives we were trying to force top-down on Iraq's government last January.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy Days (Part 2)

Public radio yesterday carried an account of the works of George MacDonald Fraser, who has just died. Fraser wrote a series of books about Harry Paget Flashman, the bully and coward featured in Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857). The original portrayed Tom Brown as an upstanding, though according to the reviewer boring, Christian hero, who through virtue and teamwork overcame Flashman’s evil deeds. But Fraser, writing in our times, turned Flashman into an anti-hero, a deceitful womanizing coward who somehow continuously comes out on top—the devil defeating virtue. Fraser wrote novels for our times. The NPR reviewer loves Fraser’s series.

To me, the NPR rave about Flashman sums up the media’s love for the storyline of the 1960s—rebellion against established order, mixed with misbehavior that offends those who should be offended. The storyline seemed to prevail when youthful media persons helped end an unpopular war and then drive Nixon from office. But the destruction of the old order brought mostly Republican victories in its wake. Americans wanted something more positive. They wanted good to defeat evil. They wanted hope. Yet today’s media still cheers for a domestic recession (now that Iraq no longer produces black headlines) that will drive Americans away from Republicans. And they may get their wish. But is this the right road to power?

Into this dark world of media cheering against America comes Barack Obama. His stunning victory yesterday suggests Democrats may return to their roots in the Roosevelt politics of optimism that embraced America's virtues. Could it be that the country, like Iowa, hungers for an end to the politics of division, the politics we have known over the nearly five decades since Kennedy’s uplifting “Time for Greatness” 1960 campaign for president?

Happy Days (Part 1)

The Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy was robust, optimistic, and filled with hope. Old style liberalism. These liberals believed in America’s future, embraced America’s power, and used that power—including our military strength—to help build a better world.

After Kennedy and his brother were assassinated, Democrats’ mood turned darker. Talk was more about the enemy within—fellow Americans who undermined our better nature—than about America’s greatness of in the face of a still-undemocratic world. I think media drove the internal enemy storyline, even making it work for Democrats on occasion, though Republicans have won the White House 7 of 10 times since Bobby Kennedy died.

In the spirit of darkness over hope, the media have lead Democrats to ignore the biggest success story of 2007—Petraeus’ Iraq surge. Michael Barone says the surge taught us 1) no mission is impossible for the U.S. military; 2) societies are transformed from the bottom up, not the top down, and most of all; 3) never bet against America. As Barone writes, while some of “Bush's critics seem to have relished the prospect of American defeat . . . it appears that they have ‘misunderestimated’ him once again.”

While TIME overlooked Bush’s General—Petraeus—in naming its “person of the year”, Britain’s Telegraph has forthrightly corrected the error and from London, proclaimed Petraeus “The Sunday Telegraph's Person of the Year.” According to the article, “The critics said it couldn't be done, but [Petraeus’] vision and determination . . . have brought greater security and cause for optimism to the people of Iraq.” Thanks Telegraph for telling the truth we don’t read here.