May 12, 2008 on 2:49 am

If politics requires anything in a democracy such as ours it is nuance. Indeed, how else is the process to encompass so many views and perspectives, such differences in need and circumstance? We are a continent of cultures built on and from four centuries of discovery and immigration from every corner of the earth. As such, our country remains without historical precent.

It has been by nuance’s brighter and darker sides – discernment and cunning – that the differences among us have been managed and packaged into national political parties. And the quadrennial selection of a President, done and sworn to the protection and rights of all, is the clearest measure of our sucess. Indeed, it is something of a miracle to have managed this as well as we have for two and a quarter centuries, the one glaring exception a war of some four years duration that, in lives lost, remains our most costly.

It is in being able to work and maneuver within and among the obscure and the understood, the accepted and the emerging, the presumed and the resented that the great majority of the people have been able to get most, if not all, of what was possible at any given time. Even still, for most of the first two centuries of this nation’s existence, it was not possible for a Roman Catholic to be elected president. And until this year in which we now live, it was not possible for an American of African descent to be so elected. This is now clearly possible, if not indeed probable.

The founding principle of the American experience is this: We are each and all of us born equal. We have struggled and labored to live in the light of this principle. We displaced and treated dishonorably those native to this land. We had bought and enslaved one in five human beings living in this nation at the time of its founding and kept them such for near a century more. We repressed and abused the wretched and tossed who sought liberty on these shores. But the they continue to become the we. Not perfectly, to be sure, but for two generations it has at least been the law. And more than the law, it is now the expected, even by the resentful.  

However, recently we were told by the governor of Pennsylvania that this country is not yet ready for one of its black citizens to lead it, to be President of the United States. More surprising than such a public uttering by so elevated an official was the near absence of reaction to it. Nuance in such a public contest as we now engage would work with and around this claimed reality, one so at odds with the principle on which this nation was founded. It is quite another thing to speak it, and with the clear purpose of its continuing self-fulfillment.

Nuance is how leaders in a democracy lead in complexity and crisis. It is how truths and needs find accommodation until a better day. Regrettably, George W. Bush, as he himself tells us, does not do nuance. Nor, would it seem, does Sen. Clinton. She, in fact, slanders blacks by citing white Americans as hard working. She then warns all in her party that only she, presumably as white, can draw these hard working whites to certain victory in November. And in the closing weeks of a contest in which she is given only the slimmest chance of winning, she drives a racial stake between two of her own party’s key and traditional constituencies.

No. Hillary Clinton does not do nuance, of a brighter or darker sort. What Hillary Clinton does do, and with uncommon purpose, is to want to be president. In this quest, though, she says and does things, the more recent the more egregious, that disqualify her from consideration for the position.



Indiana and North Carolina – Independents Split

May 8, 2008 on 4:22 am

While North Carolina may well have clinched the Democratic nomination for Sen. Barak Obama, exit polls there show him losing the Independent vote to Sen. Clinton by a 44 to 48 margin. Doing well with Independents throughout the campaign, Obama scored above 60 percent with this group in the mid-February primaries of Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin. His margins with Independents in the March 4 Texas and Ohio primaries, however, shrank to 52 to 46 and 54 to 46, respectively. While his 53 to 47 win among Independents in Indiana held at this level, his 44 to 48 loss in North Carolina may have been his first loss to date. (NB – Pennsylvania was a closed primary and there is no available data on Independent voters in that state.)

In six of the seven primaries noted above, exit polls put Independents at between 20 and 28 percent of those voting. This number is consistent with exit polling since the beginnning of the campaign and is on an order of magnitude with that of nationwide polling where 25 to 30% of respondents routinely self-identify as politcally independent. Making up approximately one quarter of the voting public, Independents will be key to victory in November. Interestingly, both Obama and Sen. McCain have been the preferred choice of Independents voting in their respective party primaries. 

And how have the Independents been voting overall, i.e., between Republicans and Democrats? In a February 26 posting (Independents in the Primaries), it was noted that of 24.5 million votes cast in Republican and Democratic primaries through that date, exit polls put 4.9 million as Independents. And how did they vote, Repubhlican vs. Democrat? Of the 24.5 million votes cast, 15.5 million were in the Democratic primaries and 9 million in Republican primaries, a margin of more then 3 to 2. (NB - Primary voting after February 26 is not relevant in this because Sen. McCain had by then won a majority of delegates needed for nomination and Independents no longer had a meaningful choice between voting in a Democratic vs. Repubican primary.) Using this 3 to 2 margin as a proxy as to which way Independents leaned in the primaries, and may again be inclined in November, Sen. McCain would appear to have his work cut out for him this fall.






The Blacking of Obama II

April 29, 2008 on 12:50 pm

On January 27 we posted “The Blacking of Obama.” This cited Bill Clinton’s remarks during the South Carolina primary that likened Sen. Obama’s victory there to that of Jesse Jackson’s two decades previous. The inference was clear: Jackson won because he was black in a state where most of the Democrats are black; i.e., Obama’s just another black candidate who won a Democratic primary in a black Democratic state. In effect, “So what?”   

Reverend Wrong! has gone Bill Clinton one better. He’s a black man who, by his long term association with Sen. Obama as his spiritual advisor, has put race back into an already highly complex campaign. At the moment, his motives are known only to him. His effect, though, is clear: Aid and comfort to Sen. Obama’s opponents, both Democratic and Republican. 

As for his motives, there are the obvious. Perhaps first among these is being excluded from Sen. Obama’s campaign opening ceremony in 2007. Next, the Senator’s Philadelphia speech where he disavowed the Reverend’s God damn America! speech. There is another, however, and he may not he even be aware of it. Should Sen. Obama win the Democratic nomination and go on to win in November, the base on which Reverend Wrong! has built his following and place would be shaken to the core. And this base? A black person cannot win in America. The tragedy of Reverend Wright may well be that he can’t deal with African American success.

Be that as it may, the effect of Reverend Wrong! is to play directly into the hands of those urging the Super Delegates to disregard the primary votes and focus on electability. For many, the Democrats’ nightmare is a Sen. Clinton nominated by Super Delegates over the committed delegates won by Sen. Obama in the state prinaries. The fear is that this would outrage African American Democrats across the country, perhaps fatally crippling Sen. Clinton’s candidacy in November. However, if Obama’s electability is brought low at the hands of his own spiritual advisor, an African American, then the racial overtones in going for Sen. Clinton are greatly mitigated, if not eliminated.

Reverend Wrong! is no friend of Sen. Obama, nor of all those in this country who seek change, who believe that the need for renewal is critical. Indeed, Reverend Wright has shown himself to be Sen. Obama’s enemy. If the Senator does not have the wisdom and judgment to see this, and possess the courage to act, then he is not fit to be President. Leadership in this country means, and requires, knowing right from wrong and holding to the former, no matter the personal cost.

For Sen. Obama, the time is now. If he wishes to be our President, he must emphatically separate himself from Reverend Wright. The time to act is now. In this, there is no tomorrow.     


Pennsylvania and Beyond

April 25, 2008 on 11:41 am

The Pennsylvania Democratic primary went pretty much as expected. Sen. Clinton was projected to win by six points and won by ten. A double digit night. And she showed well afterwards, both in her victory speech and in interviews. Absolutely nothing succeeds like success. All in, though, she netted only 17 committed delegates. Sen. Obama remains in the lead here by over 150, and by well over 100 in total delegates.

With the confetti now gone and the pundits sitting back in their chairs, we are pretty much where we were on April 21…almost. Ominously, with Obama a full four points below what the polls predicted, despite their trending his way for well over a  month, the Bradley factor may be emergent. First noted in 1982 during the primay campaign of Los Angelos Mayor Tom Bradley for Governor of California, the Bradlley Factor is manifested by an African American candidate scoring significantly lower in an election than in prelection polls. The explantion is that voters tell a pollster one thing then do the opposite in the privacy of the voting booth.  

More certainly, there are reports and speculation about Obama and Clinton loyalists claiming that they will vote for McCain if their candidate is not nominated. One poll put 30 % of those interviewed so claiming. Another poll indicates Clinton would hold significantly more Democratic voters than Obama. How this actually plays out is anyone’s guess. The more McCain looks to be just another four years of George W. Bush, though, the less this scenario seems likely. Disappointed Clintonites and Obamaites staying home on election day? Sure, and maybe a lot of them. But actually voting for a Republican after the last eight years? Maybe for a Ronbald Reagan, but John McCain is a stretch.

Next, on May 6, we have Indiana and North Carolina. Pennsylvania being a closed primary, there was scant attention paid to Independents in the six week run up to it. While North Carolina is closed, Indiana is open, and one of Obama’s principal strengths has been with Independents. They were a big part of his February 12 Potomac Primary victories where he scored 60+ percent in the exit polls. In Texas, though, exit polls put him at only 52% of Independents. Had he won 55%, he would have taken the state outright and it might well have been all over. Which way Independents break in Indiana could be crucial to the outcome.

And we can expect more press on Independents as May 6 approaches. Gary Andres of the Washington Times did good piece on April 24.

He makes the point that, contrary to 2000 and 2004 when each party sought to drive its base, this year the parties will be increasingly focused on Independents. Accordingly, the Indiana primary will be watched carefully for how well each candidate does with Independents. Remember, McCain has been living on Independents for the entirety of his presidential odyssey. Showing strong among Independents in Indiana would certainly strengthen either candidate’s case for Super Delegates, who hold the key to the nomination. 

If you’re an Independent in Indiana, get out there and pull a lever. And remember to look for the pollsters afterward to let them you’re there, which way you went, and why.  VOTE HO!


One Independent’s Cut

April 22, 2008 on 2:59 pm

Though an Independent for some time, it has only been in this election that I have been so with purpose. Beginning in late 2006, the idea of a website for Independents gradually emerged, finding final form with IDn’s launch in November 2007. In this time, I have refined and confirmed my identity as a political Independent. And in writing the foundation document and other pieces for IDn, I have found a place in the political process from which I can participate actively in it.

As I have listened, learned and written, Election 2008 has unfolded apace. And as the field narrowed to the three left standing, the watch word has been discovery – of candidates, of issues and of parties, all seen through the prism of an unprecedented compendium of domestic and international issues and challenges. Who are we as a people? What do we value? What is our place in the world?

And who is to lead us in this passage? One of three candidates, not one of whom has ever run anything larger than a political campaign. There soon will be two candidates, each of whom will largely dictate to their parties what the platforms will be. They will select vice presidential nominees and, perhaps, indicate who will serve in their cabinet if elected. And come January 20, one of them will take the helm of state, charting a course that will, in fact, both reflect and determine who we are, what we value, and what our place in the world is to be.   

What follows is one Independent’s cut on the three left standing.

Sen. John McCain has several things going for him. First, of course, he is to be the Republican nominee and has a several month head start on his national election campaign. This is not to say that he’s made particularly good use of the time, but it is an advantage, nonetheless.

Certainly his biggest advantage is the Democrats’ quadrennial rite of self-immolation. Sen. Clinton has claimed so many identities it’s hard to know where to start. At one level she is so “other” driven that you wonder why she didn’t join Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Next thing you know, she’s a vodka swilling momma, ducking bullets in Bosnia, spinning yarns about out blowing away ducks pecking corn behind her gran’ pappy’s barn. For his part, Sen. Obama has served up morels of every sort, from Reverend Wrong! to the mortal sin of suggesting the downtrodden might be bitter (rather than frustrated) and clinging (rather than turning) to religion. The Clinton campaign’s 24/7 shriek on this may have gotten her a few primary points, but ultimately it serves only Sen. McCain’s candidacy.

As for November, though, Iraq seems likely to turn on him. Remember, it was his stalwart defense of “The Surge” that largely put him in a place to win in New Hampshire among Republicans and, later, South Carolina. This helped get him the nomination. The problem is, as we have lately learned from Gen. Patraeus and Amb. Crocker, the Surge was a tactical success in a war where tactical gets trumped seven ways to Sunday by cultural, political and strategic realities that are as implacable as they are historical. In the context of the issues facing Iraq, and our presence there, the Surge changed nothing. We are, in fact, in a war we cannot control with an army that is at great risk of running out of people. Maintaining current force levels there and elsewhere, most critically Afghanistan, for just five years, let alone 100, seems impossible without a draft, and how likely is this with a Democratic Congress, or any Congress?  

Next for McCain is the economy. It is now weak and likely to get weaker. Certainly there will be more folks out of work and even more worried they are to be next. He gives every appearance, even to flat out admission, that he has little knowledge of and no instincts in this area. He may be able to meet some concerns here with the right vice presidential nominee, but on the hustings, he sounds weak and often uncaring, and this will cost him votes. Whether you put healthcare under economics is a matter of semantics. The fact is, he has little to offer the 40+ million people who don’t have any insurance, and the Democrats are just drooling to strut their stuff about it.   

McCain’s biggest problem, though, is his unavoidable association with Bush and his war, his deficits, his recession and his 28% approval rating. Try as he might, McCain can’t get too far from the current Administration. And not necessarily because he doesn’t want to, but because he’s already said that there is no retreat from Iraq and that he will make Bush’s tax breaks permanent. These latter are now commonly taken as heavily favoring the rich and McCain has stuck himself to them. It may even be beyond the Democrats’ genius for self-hate and loathing to put McCain in the White House.

In an earlier posting it was suggested that with either a McCain or Obama victory, 2008 would be a hinge election. As events have unfolded, the primary impact of a McCain election is likely to be a National Republican Party with some centrist inclinations but whose conservative traditions will weigh heavily at every turn. Not much of a bargain against a guaranteed four more years of Iraq, a deteriorating combat arm and little prospect of meaningful progress on domestic direction or issues.

For the Democrats left standing, the first question is who gets to run in November? Obama is the frontrunner, plain and simple. Even if things go badly for him in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana and everywhere else, all concede that he will have Clinton on points.

As for the April 16 debate, he picked his way through a mine field, much of his own making, did some counter punching, and made a fine closing statement. A half hour into it, on the second or third rehash of what his friends said and thought, I was looking for Jack McCoy or some Law and Order defense hack to call out “Asked and answered, your honor. Can we move on?” More important was the second half of the debate where it was clear that he is not as well schooled as Clinton on elements of government programs. He has been weak here throughout the debates and does not appear to have taken the trouble to get better, or maybe he can’t. Big question.  

Most notable, and little commented on, was his failure to challenge Sen. Clinton’s preposterous statement of a “massive” U. S. retaliation on Iran if it attacked Israel or Saudi Arabia. Two points here. For the world’s largest nuclear power, “massive” has to suggest the use of nuclear arms. Was Sen. Clinton suggesting such? Second, I am not aware that the United States has a mutual security pact with either country. Here we have a candidate who by all appearances would give all save her daughter (and only perhaps her husband) to get back her vote on Iraq, now ready to rain hellfire by bomber, carrier group and missile submarine on Iran. What next? Dick Cheney as her Secretary of Defense?

More important, though, why was Obama silent? Two possibilities suggest themselves. One, he was not aware of the nature of our defense obligations to Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is unsettling. The other is that he simply missed a golden opportunity to challenge her suitability as Commander-in-Chief. What could she have been thinking? And why didn’t he pounce? More questions.

Should Obama win the nomination, though, he will own the mantle of change for an American electorate that has every reason to crave it. Indeed, he invented the word in this election cycle, with Democratic and Republican candidates jumping on the band wagon. It is from this that his campaign can renew, that he can resist challenge from a Republican Nominee who by his own statements has charted a course of…dead ahead.

To be sure, there will be swiftboaters, and worse. But the primaries have seen large registration of new Democrats, including countless millennials, few of whom would appear to have much interest in a 70 something Republican whose primary asset in his party’s nomination was the Surge, i.e., hanging tough in Iraq with no way out.

As for Sen. Clinton, she is who she is, no matter the costume changes, no matter the fresh make up for every whistle stop. She is a big government Democrat whose strength is in program development and mastery with everybody in whether they like it or not. That’s her history, that’s what she’s telling us she’s going to do. Ironically, she offers the country not a return to the soaring 1990s, but a vaulting backward to LBJ’s Great Society, an era once declared dead by no less an authority than her own husband.

The greatest irony of her campaign is her claim to have been fully vetted, with a press corps taking that as of some material value and never mind the specifics. Well the specifics were not pretty. They were down right ugly. The Clinton Administration of which she is so proud was simply scandal ridden. Not a year passed without some mess to contend with, and all of it exposed by a media establishment commonly viewed as “liberal.” Her husband was impeached for heaven’s sake! He lied. He dragged the country, his party and his family through the mud of a national soap opera when a simple apology of wrong doing might have closed it all. And she wants to put Bill back in the White House, back in the lime light. Wonderful…

Then there’s her experience. What we know for certain here is that her imperious management of the Clinton Administration’s healthcare initiative, when the country was primed by the 1992 election to look at new approaches, was a disaster, plain and simple. It never even got to a vote in a House of Representatives that her husband’s party controlled. Her current campaign began with the premise of victory. In a nationally televised interview, she literally could not imagine not winning her party’s nomination, the one that she is now losing. Is this the kind of experience we need?

And of course there are the favorable vs. unfavorable and the trust things. In the former, she has routinely scored in the high 40s as unfavorable. Not good. On the trust thing, 60 percent say they don’t trust her. This is awful. The history of American politics is that a president starts with a high degree of trust on January 20 and then fights to keep it. How do you even start when well over half the people don’t believe you?

Should she get the nomination, it is hard to tell what the election would look like. It’s unlikley to be pretty, or fun. There would be McCain pushing forward on Iraq and fighting to keep tax cuts in the face of huge deficits as he tries to explain what he has already told us he does not understand: i.e., how an economy works. For her part, the last year or so has told us all we need to know about her campaign strategy:  i.e., win at any cost because only she knows what’s right, because only she can provide what she knows each of us needs, even if we do not.

So where does this Independent stand? Uneasily, at best. Our choices have been better. For myself, I choose not to go back to the past, which is where two of the three seem so intent on keeping or taking us. From the morass in which we now stand, any step away is a step up. Obama might be a gamble, certainly the least tested, but there is the intent, and some prospect, of renewal. Perhaps more importantly, there is the certain satisfaction that I didn’t sit here and vote for what I know is less than we can do and less than we can be.


Taking Stock

April 2, 2008 on 1:01 pm

We are now more than half way from March 4 (Texas and Ohio) to the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. Though the longest pause this primary season, we have not been wanting for political news. In titling our March 7 post “Heavy Weather Coming,” we had no inkling of the storms and squalls about to befall the nation.

First, of course, was a force five hurricane by the name of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of Trinity church in Philadelphia and spiritual counselor to Sen. Obama. To say that his “God damn America!” sermon was the polar opposite of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” is to miss its visual and emotional impact by a factor of ten. And if a nightmare in the Obama camp, it was no doubt just deliverance to Clintonites who for so long had cited the senator from Illinois as “not fully vetted.”  

This, to be sure, was vetting in the extreme. Not only did the good reverend blaspheme, he blamed 9/11, the most horrific event since Pearl Harbor, on US! Even better, it was done in a black church and in the high register of a black preacher and in a parish Sen. Obama called home, the place where his children were baptized. What Clintonite could have even imagined such an event, such a wind fall? But there it was, 24/7 by 24/7, for all the world to see.      

Obama’s response was a nationally televised speech on race in America. In condemning Wright’s words, he spoke to the frustration of millions of Wright’s generation who suffered the legal denial of their civil rights and discrimination of every order and at every turn. Obama also spoke of the frustration of whites suffering reverse discrimination as wrongs in which they played no part were addressed. While some cited it as historic, it certainly answered the Wright tapes. Moreover, it showed Obama to be decisive and purposeful under extreme pressure.

The Reverend Wright tapes remain available to the Republicans for resurrection in the general election, perhaps this season’s version of the Swiftboaters. For the Democratic primary, though, Obama appears to have put this behind him, now leading in the most recent Gallup national tracking poll (March 29-31) by 49 to 45. And he remains ahead in the delegate counts – a lead of 169 in committed delegates and one of 136 in combined committed/super delegates.

While nothing of a force five nature befell the Clinton camp, recent weeks have not been without their tempests. First, there’s to be no help from Florida and Michigan. The primaries will not be re-done. Next, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the nation’s top Democratic Latino, endorsed Sen. Obama. Having served in President Clinton’s cabinet as Secretary of Energy, this had to hurt personally. Also, many saw his announcement as an indication of where other notables among the super delegates may be headed.

Most dramatic, of course, was Sen. Clinton’s repeated mistaken memories of ducking and running under sniper fire on her arrival at Tuzla airport in Bosnia on a 1996 good will mission as First Lady. File tape shows the arrival with her shaking hands and greeting children on the tarmac with no sniper fire in evidence, certainly no ducking and running. Though later acknowledging her error, such episodes serve to explain her low scores on trustworthiness. To some, they also bring back memories of a Clinton White House riven with scandal, topped off, of course, with the national soap opera that was Monica Lewinski.

Then there have been the calls from Democratic leaders for Sen. Clinton to withdraw from the race, most notably by senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.  These have been countered by her campaign staff and most directly by Sen. Clinton herself in a March 30, Washington Post interview, one that she had requested. Those encouraging Sen. Clinton to withdraw express concern that an extended campaign will give Sen. McCain a free pass with the American electorate for as long as it lasts. Also was the concern that the Democratic contest will spiral down still further with attacks and counter attacks that may leave the eventual winner compromised in November.

A couple of points here. Regarding Reublican Presumptive Candidate McCain having a free pass, he has been less than impressive in recent interviews. First was the on-screen coaching he needed from Sen. Lieberman of Connecticut to get straight exactly whose fighters were being trained by Iran. Then there were his comments on the economy where he called for less regulation in financial markets, exposing a clear indifference to the plight of millions of Americans facing bankruptcy. If this continues, the only free pass he may be getting is back to the U. S. Senate.

As to the impact of a continuing and negative primary contest, it can only continue to engage and energize Democrats in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana and other states yet to be heard from. This seems certain to boost voter registration by Democrats, new and old, for November. Indeed, in the run up to the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, Democratic registrations have swelled by over than 230,000.    

For Obama, every day he is the front runner, every day he out paces Clinton in fund raising, is another day of leadership. Despite the occasional misstep, he remains the front runner largely by dint of his vision and bearing, and, with the Wright episode, no small measure of courage. Indeed, the question must be asked: When does having bested the most powerful political force in the Democratic Party – a Former First Lady/Senator from New York with an ex-President as consort – count for something? If politics is the art of the possible, candidate Obama has done the impossible. Indeed, if he is so unready to lead as Sen. Clinton maintains, how did he overtake her in the first place?

For Clinton, now challenging reports of funding and financial problems, staying in the race to the end is the only choice she has. And she’s certainly right about one thing: She is a fighter.

For the Independent, the longer it goes, the more we learn. The Perfect Election does continue. Is it to be a Hinge Election? This is in the hands of the Democrats.








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