Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The General Begins

"Hope is making a comeback, and let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change". . . Michelle Obama has lived her adult life -- Princeton, Harvard Law, a top law firm, a $342,000-a-year job doing community relations for the University of Chicago hospital system –- [in the American elite]. As Samuel Huntington has pointed out, people in this stratum tend to have transnational attitudes -- all nations are morally equal, except maybe for ours, which is worse.

--Michael Barone, 2/23/08

I owe the title of this submission to Michael Barone. Barone is a conservative, co-editor of the Almanac of American Politics, and one of the best students of national politics. Obama is very likely to be our next president. Barone senses what’s wrong with that. Obama and his supporters reject, with emphasis, American exceptionalism, while millions of us believe “exceptionalism” defines the America we know. Without America in our view, the 20th century would have turned out much worse.

And in the 21st century? Henry Kissinger, in an interview with Der Spiegel, cut to the chase when he said, “it is obvious that the United States cannot permanently do all the fighting for Western interests by itself. So, two conclusions are possible: Either there are no Western interests in [opposing radical Islam] and we don't fight. Or there are vital Western interests in [such opposition] and we have to fight.” That means Americans and Europeans. But without American leadership, how likely is Europe to join up?

After Iraq, most of our national elite has declined to lead the world into battle with radical Islam. Opposition begins with the media. So it was hardly surprising that 24 hours after John McCain de facto claimed the GOP nomination last Tuesday, the New York Times placed an above the fold front page 3,000 word off-lead in its two upper left-hand columns, with bylines from four reporters, suggesting McCain had an affair with a telecommunications lobbyist nine years ago. According to the conservative Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, here’s why the Times’ attack on McCain was an outrage:

• The story was almost entirely attributed to "people involved in the campaign" speaking "on the condition of anonymity." The Times had only one former McCain adviser who would speak for the record, and his comment did not speak to the alleged affair. Both McCain and the lobbyist have denied any romantic relationship.

Times executive editor Bill Keller admitted he was “surprised by how lopsided the opinion was against our decision [to publish] with readers who described themselves as independents and Democrats joining Republicans in defending Mr. McCain from what they saw as a cheap shot."

• If you don’t think the Times is out to get the GOP nominee-to-be, recall how the newspaper, beginning on October 25, 2004, ran 16 articles and opinion pieces about looting at the al Qaqaa munitions facility in Iraq. The Times dismissed suggestions that its attention to the issue was politically motivated. But, as National Review's Byron York asked later: "Why was the Al Qaqaa story so important in the eight days leading up to the election that it merited two stories per day, and so unimportant after the election that it has not merited any stories at all?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Clinton: What Went Wrong

A year ago, I predicted Clinton would be our next president, and Obama would be her vice president. After Obama’s ninth and tenth consecutive wins since Super Tuesday—in Wisconsin and Hawaii, not counting his “beauty contest” win in Washington State—that prediction looks wrong. Clinton could regain her lead with successive victories in Texas and Ohio March 4 and Pennsylvania April 22. Should she lose one of those three, however, she likely loses, period.

What happened to Clinton? Of course, Obama’s surge to the top is most of all a credit to him. Clinton’s problem was common to all of us who underestimated Obama and his strategy. Still, Clinton had a commanding lead in a race that was hers to lose.

Joshua Green has had as good a look as any inside “Hilleryland,” one good enough to have led the Clintons to block publication in GQ of one of his pieces. Writing recently in the Atlantic, Green mentioned these problems with Clinton’s campaign:

Arrogance. Green saw this in the person of Patti Solis Doyle [pictured], Clinton’s recently-fired campaign manager, who was “Clinton’s alter ego and was installed in the job specifically for that reason.” Solis Doyle went around saying, “When I’m speaking, Hillary is speaking.” Campaign team arrogance, according to Green, “led directly to the idea that Clinton could simply project an air of inevitability and be assured her party’s nomination.”

Solis Doyle. She coined the phrase “Hilleryland,” and earned Clinton’s complete trust by enforcing discipline and stopping leaks during a 2000 Clinton senate campaign rough patch, but Solis Doyle both underperformed as a fundraiser and overspent as a manager, wasting financial resources that should have been a major Clinton asset.

• Bill Clinton. The campaign seriously believed the “first black president” stuff about Bill Clinton; that Bill would gather and maintain a large part of the African-American electorate for his wife.

Strategy. Chief strategist Mark Penn and media consultant Mandy Grunwald, who wanted Clinton to stick to the issues, prevailed internally over adman Dwight Jewson and BillPal Harold Ickes, who thought Clinton "should confront her chief shortcoming—the notion that she was power-hungry and calculating.”

Complacency. Clinton’s sense of inevitability led her to postpone the launching of her presidential campaign, or even to talk about it, until after she had won senate re-election in 2006, conceding a crucial fundraising head-start to Obama.

Ignorance. After campaign law changes limited the role of $100,000 big whale donors, a "new generation of fund-raisers able to corral . . . four-figure checks suddenly became the true prize. . . people like Mark Gorenberg, Alan Solomont, and Steve Westly [not] well known to the Clintons. . . tech moguls who hail from a wealth center, Silicon Valley, that barely existed during Bill Clinton’s last run.” They went for Obama.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

No California, Yes Potomac.

I missed on the California primary outcome last Super Tuesday. I also missed on the importance of Super Tuesday, which I said last August would give us our two general election contenders. California and Super Tuesday worked for John McCain. By grabbing 152 of California’s 158 Republican delegates, McCain forced chief rival Romney out of the race.

But on the Democratic side, Clinton beat Obama by 10% in the California popular vote, and won 207 delegates to Obama’s 163. Her victory denied Obama front-runner status, though Obama fought her to a draw overall in the 22 Super Tuesday contests. For Obama in California, what went wrong? For one thing, early voting. George Will has noted Obama lost by 380,000 votes to Clinton in California. But 2 million Californians voted early, before Obama’s late, poll-captured surge. Surely had more waited before voting, Obama would have closed the gap. Obama also lost the California Hispanic vote to Clinton 69% to 29%. Early voting Chicanos missed La Opinion’s endorsement of Obama three days before the election. La Opinion, published in Los Angeles, is the nation’s #1 Spanish language newspaper.

So Obama lost California. So what? A week later, he has won eight straight contests, many by wide margins, today including all three Potomac contests. Those eight wins have given him 167 delegates to Clinton’s 82, a margin of 85 delegates that nearly doubles Clinton’s California margin over Obama of 44 delegates. For the first time since Iowa, Obama leads Clinton. He is the front-runner, as he hoped to be after California, just one long week ago.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Iraq Measurements Decline Slightly

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
2008: 34
January: 34

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (monthly average)
1965: 128*
1966: 420
1967: 767
1968: 1140
1969: 785
1970: 413
* = 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: 2.20 (Revised upward, 1/08)
actual: 2.23 (1/08)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 4,010 (1/08)

Since our last monthly report, the monthly American KIA total has doubled from December's 17, yet it remains only half the monthly rate of 2 a day sustained for most of the Iraq war. And the KIA total over the past five months averages under 30. The last time any five-month average stayed under 30 KIA was June-October 2003, early in the war. In a further sign of changing times, no Americans have died in helicopter crashes since September. [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 also show deterioration from December. Oil output dropped from 2.42 to 2.23 million barrels a day, but remains above the target revised upward last month to 2.2 million bbls/day. Revenue from oil exports continues to rise, and January's total was the second highest on record. As for electricity, output also dropped from December--going from 4,240 megawatts down to 4,010 megawatts. Yet the string of months during which electricity has remained above 4,000 megawatts extended to an unprecedented eight. Previously, the longest such streak was five months.

In January, the al-Maliki government achieved one of the three key benchmarks set out for it a year earlier when parliament passed a de-Baathification law that allows many Sunni ex-officials back into government. The other two measures--sharing oil revenue and sending political power to local authorities--are de facto already underway.

Monday, February 04, 2008

1968, 2008.

On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy won the California Democratic primary 46% to 42% over fellow anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy. That victory, reversing McCarthy’s defeat of Kennedy a week earlier in Oregon, made Kennedy the front-runner for the party’s nomination for a few minutes, until he was assassinated.

June 5, 1968—39 years and 8 months ago—was the last time the California primary was decisive in presidential politics. Yet tomorrow, California could vault Obama past Clinton toward the presidency.

Kennedy was a force in 1968. His appeal across race and class lines offered the promise of unifying a deeply divided nation. Kennedy’s appeal built from the ex-attorney general’s fight against segregation in the Deep South in 1963-64, at the time the battle for civil rights was at its fiercest.

In 1968, the struggle to realize the dream of “black and white together” still continued. Kennedy stood on the right side of that fight. McCarthy? Anti-war, without question. But with no dog in the civil rights struggle, and nothing to match Kennedy’s backing of Cesar Chavez’s effort to organize Hispanic farm workers, McCarthy was one-dimensional. Kennedy lived the battle to bring America together, the dream of crossing class and race lines. Because people could feel Kennedy’s authenticity, they responded highly emotionally to his candidacy. Kennedy’s California victory, fueled by Black and Hispanic support, truly could have changed the course of history.

Obama in his person brings “black and white together.” Americans feel good when they think of a black man running the country. It fulfills our dreams of a post-racial America, a multi-racial nation leading the world toward its better nature. Obama is competent and confident. He can do it.

Too bad for Clinton. Symbolically, it’s nice to have a woman in the top spot. But we never fought a civil war to separate women from their chains, and white women got the vote in 1920, not 1965. Women are too powerful for their struggles to match the deep satisfaction we get from having a black man lead us.

In the end, it’s about race, and about us getting our history right by moving beyond race. If the people of California so believe, Obama will carry their state tomorrow and be on his way to leading the world.