Monday, February 11, 2008

Obama Rolls On

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Barack Obama swept the weekend contests, finishing with a nearly 20-point win over Hillary in the Maine caucuses, adding another 15 delegates to his list.

Despite snowy weather, there was a very strong turnout, including many who had never participated in a caucus before.

Now both candidates go on to compete in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC.

As the margin between the two Democratic candidates continues to be razor-thin, their supporters continue to be highly polarized. Even liberal Op-Ed contributors to the New York Times seem to be in conflict.

On Sunday, Frank Rich had a long piece discussing the upcoming "civil war" among Democrats. In his article, Mr. Rich talks about Hillary's "National Town Hall" that was televised on the Hallmark Channel the night before Super Tuesday, with an obvious skew against her.

He comments:

"Like the scripted “Ask President Bush” sessions during the 2004 campaign, this town hall seemed to unfold in Stepford. The anodyne questions (“What else would you do to help take care of our veterans?”) merely cued up laundry lists of talking points. Some in attendance appeared to trance out.

But I’m glad I watched every minute...However boring, this show was a dramatic encapsulation of how a once-invincible candidate ended up in a dead heat, crippled by poll-tested corporate packaging that markets her as a synthetic product leeched of most human qualities. What’s more, it offered a naked preview of how nastily the Clintons will fight, whatever the collateral damage to the Democratic Party, in the endgame to come.

For a campaign that began with tightly monitored Web “chats” and then planted questions at its earlier town-hall meetings, a Bush-style pseudo-event like the Hallmark special is nothing new, of course. What’s remarkable is that instead of learning from these mistakes, Mrs. Clinton’s handlers keep doubling down. "

Mr. Rich also noted that the Clintons have apparently written off the African-American vote...

"In its carefully calibrated cross section of geographically and demographically diverse cast members — young, old, one gay man, one vet, two union members — African-Americans were reduced to also-rans. One black woman, the former TV correspondent Carole Simpson, was given the servile role of the meeting’s nominal moderator, Ed McMahon to Mrs. Clinton’s top banana. Scattered black faces could be seen in the audience. But in the entire televised hour, there was not a single African-American questioner, whether to toss a softball or ask about the Clintons’ own recent misadventures in racial politics.

The Clinton camp does not leave such matters to chance. This decision was a cold, political cost-benefit calculus. In October, seven months after the two candidates’ dueling church perorations in Selma, USA Today found Hillary Clinton leading Mr. Obama among African-American Democrats by a margin of 62 percent to 34 percent. But once black voters met Mr. Obama and started to gravitate toward him, Bill Clinton and the campaign’s other surrogates stopped caring about what African-Americans thought. In an effort to scare off white voters, Mr. Obama was ghettoized as a cocaine user (by the chief Clinton strategist, Mark Penn, among others), 'the black candidate' (as Clinton strategists told the Associated Press) and Jesse Jackson redux (by Mr. Clinton himself)."

After further discussion of the racial politics he sees the Clintons playing, Mr. Rich's column concludes:

"A race-tinged brawl at the convention, some nine weeks before Election Day, will not be a Hallmark moment. As Mr. Wilkins reiterated to me last week, it will be a flashback to the Democratic civil war of 1968, a suicide for the party no matter which victor ends up holding the rancid spoils."

I have a lot of concern about this myself. Those of us old enough to remember 1968 can still see the black-and-white images of the Chicago police beating demonstrators outside of the Democratic convention site, and the somber face of Walter Cronkite describing the scene. We know that these images associated with the Democrats stayed with the voters for the rest of the election season, and ultimately contributed to their loss in November to Richard Nixon, who still only won by a narrow margin that wasn't even finalized until the day after the election. Who knows whether Nixon would have won if the Democratic convention hadn't been such a terrible event in people's minds?

Then comes a point of view from another liberal writer. In today's Times, Paul Krugman writes about "Nixonland," a political history of the years from 1964 to 1972 written by Rick Perlstein (to be published shortly).

In his commentary, Mr. Krugman quotes Adlai Stevenson as having warned that the nation was in danger of becoming "a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland."

He then goes on to contend that the Democratic Party itself is becoming "Nixonland."

"The bitterness of the fight for the Democratic nomination is, on the face of it, bizarre. Both candidates still standing are smart and appealing. Both have progressive agendas (although I believe that Hillary Clinton is more serious about achieving universal health care, and that Barack Obama has staked out positions that will undermine his own efforts). Both have broad support among the party’s grass roots and are favorably viewed by Democratic voters.

Supporters of each candidate should have no trouble rallying behind the other if he or she gets the nod.

Why, then, is there so much venom out there?"

This is a good question, one that I ask myself as well. While I personally support Obama, if Hillary won I would still be able to support her with a clear conscience and enthusiasm. I just think she would have a harder time winning, with all of the Clinton baggage; and I don't like the idea of Bill being back in the White House, even in a secondary role. For him, nothing is ever a small role.

But many out there, including many Democrats, have a level of hatred for Hillary that goes beyond what makes sense to me. And of course many Hillary supporters scorn those who are for Obama.

Mr. Krugman is apparently not an Obama supporter and he makes it clear by blaming most of the vituperation on his supporters:

"I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again."

He then goes on to complain about two incidents:

"During the current campaign, Mrs. Clinton’s entirely reasonable remark that it took L.B.J.’s political courage and skills to bring Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to fruition was cast as some kind of outrageous denigration of Dr. King.

And the latest prominent example came when David Shuster of MSNBC, after pointing out that Chelsea Clinton was working for her mother’s campaign — as adult children of presidential aspirants often do — asked, 'doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?' Mr. Shuster has been suspended, but as the Clinton campaign rightly points out, his remark was part of a broader pattern at the network."

It's strange to me that he points out these two cases but neglects to mention the much more egregious statements made by Bill Clinton and Mark Penn to which Frank Rich referred, among other incidents.

At the end of his column he calls for "strong assurances from both Democratic candidates that they respect their opponents and would support them in the general election. "

I too hope that unity will prevail and that the Democrats will rally behind whichever candidate wins the nomination. But let's face it - Mr. Krugman is indeed being biased by blaming the Obama supporters for the hostility that exists on both sides.

Democrats who support both Hillary and Obama must come together, and soon, to make sure the party can be unified against a McCain candidacy. That is all that matters, and I hope the nomination gets wrapped up before the convention, or we could be reliving 1968.


Anonymous said...

MG - I think that the Obama-Clinton choice we are now faced with as Democrats reflects the paucity of good choices available to us politically these days. Let's face it, these are the candidates who were the best financed and as I said on another bloggers site, until we can figure out a way to effective neutralize or remove money from this equation, we'll always have this bad-choice paradigm.

Christopher said...

Obama looks poised to sweep the Chesapeake Primary states with a comfortable lead over Hillary.

In fact, Hillary has taken the unusual task of reassuring her donors that her campaign isn't "slipping away," as many fear.

Meanwhile, Obama is pressuring her to release her tax returns. Something that she is refusing to do until after she wins the nomination.

Aw, the Clintons. Like the Bush clan, where the rules simply don't apply to them.

Mauigirl said...

Hi Spartacus, I agree, money is a huge obstacle to anyone trying to become president. And the mainstream media is the other. John Edwards may have been the most electable of the three remaining candidates (even though he wasn't my favorite) but the media gave him very little attention.

My fear about both remaining candidates is that America may not be ready to embrace change of this magnitude - a woman or a black man for President - and we'll end up with another term of Republican rule.

I support Obama because of his positive message of being a uniter (yes, I know Bush said that too but he obviously didn't mean it). I am concerned that he may not have enough experience. Hillary, on the other hand, has experience and I think could be very capable but is so polarizing she may not be able to get things done. So you're right, neither choice is ideal. And since neither choice is ideal, I'm going with the one who has a message of hope and a vision for the country. I'm hoping that he is able to make that vision a reality. Might there have been another candidate that would have been better than any of these more well-financed ones? Probably. (I liked Chris Dodd a lot myself). But I guess unless there is a huge reform in the process, we will be stuck with this paradigm for some time to come. But if, miraculously, either of the Democratic candidates actually overcomes the American penchant against change (we really are a very conservative country in the end) and we get a woman or African-American president, it will be a wonderful thing. I do think it's time we stopped only having old white men for President.

Christopher, I'm looking forward to some more good news for Obama tonight - agree, Hillary having to reassure her donors is a bad sign for her campaign.

Randal Graves said...

spartacus, you're exactly right, but that won't happen this century at the very least. I hear lots of people like money and are easily swayed by it. ;-)

Faded said...

McCain is a thousand times worse. I do wish that Obama and Clinton could evoke more of a spirit of joint concern and less of a winner takes all attitude.

Whoever wins out, I hope, will sincerely and heartfully appeal to the their own die hard base to throw their support behind the other. I can't deal with another 4 years behind a scumbag republican...

Mauigirl said...

Randal, you're right, I don't think things will change in the near future, unfortunately.

Fade, I agree. There is so much at stake here, we can only hope that whoever doesn't get the nomination will throw their full support behind the one who does. I remember Eugene McCarthy withheld his support for Humphrey until the last minute in 1968 (yes, I am old enough to remember that -- but I was a political junkie even as a teen) and that was another reason Nixon won. We don't want to see a repeat of that kind of disaster.

The Future Was Yesterday said...

Obama says all the right things, and he's "winning" because of it. Should he ever reach the white house, he will learn the horrible truth - One man can NOT change America, especially when he's a politician.

Don't call him a cowboy until you've seen him ride!

Mauigirl said...

Future, I know - it won't be easy at all. No president will be able to change what really needs to be changed - which is the whole system.

I just feel Hillary would be even more apt to have trouble making changes - or wanting to.

And any Democrat is better than another Republican.

s. douglas said...

If you don't support Hillary, you're a "sexist," and if you speak out against Obama, you're a "racist."

What this election cycle is doing, is revealing the hypocrisy of many "Liberals."

True "Progressives" know the Two Party System is a sham.

Until the rest of the country wakes up, this is what we get, and it's all our fault.