Author Page for Scott Lemieux
Armando requests a more detailed argument about why it would not be irrational for Obama to choose someone other than Clinton for his running mate. (And let me be clear: I am not saying that there aren’t reasonable arguments in favor of Clinton, just that the merits of the idea are hardly self-evident. In addition, of course, I was not criticizing “Clinton supporters” but rather blogs featuring apparently serious arguments that Obama is in danger of losing New York and California in the general election.) Since I aim to please, here it is.
First of all, I completely reject his central premise, that the party cannot be unified in the fall if Clinton is not on the ticket. It is of course true that Clinton has many strong and deeply committed supporters, for good reason. But this is also true of any substantially contested primary. And, historically, not matter what they’ve said in the immediate aftermath of defeat, partisans of the losing candidate have generally supported the winning one, even in cases as bitter is GOP 2000. I simply don’t believe that most supporters of Hillary Clinton are narcissistic enough to want John McCain to be elected out of spite should she be a powerful and influential senator rather than a vice presidential candidate, and certainly it’s going to take a lot more than bare assertion for me to take this condescending attitude towards her supporters. (I do agree with Armando on one narrow point: I think Obama’s prominent supporters should follow his lead, be gracious, and not say anything about the VP slot. Kennedy’s comments are indeed not terribly productive. But whether he’s wrong on the merits is a separate question that we bloggers surely can discuss.)
So, I simply don’t believe that this is the only criterion that should be considered. And there are others on which Clinton is a less-than-ideal VP candidate, some of which I’ve already mentioned. First, by far the biggest impact of vice presidents on the ticket is the potential to bring a swing home state into the fold, which Clinton doesn’t offer. Second, if the idea is to shore up Obama’s “foreign policy cred” you want someone with military experience but who opposed the war (such as Webb or Clark); Clinton of course is the opposite. Third, the media. It’s hard to know what to do about the media’s grossly unfair treatment of Clinton; if I was convinced that she would make the best president I wouldn’t let it dissuade me. But when picking a running mate, surely this has to be considered a great deal more important. Fourth, partly because of the unfair treatment she receives from the media, she has much higher negatives than you would prefer in a VP candidate. Finally, even if you assume this is a lot more important than I do I should note that the fact that Clinton appeals more to lower-class whites and older voters 1)compared to Obama and (this is the important step for those of you who don’t understand why it’s illogical to make inferences about the general from primary results) 2)among people who vote in Democratic primaries hardly means that she is the optimal choice to appeal to these voters compared to other possibilities.
Of course, there are points in her favor. I think she fares very well on the important question of whether she would make a good president if necessary, for example. Her mastery of policy detail would be especially useful (although when it comes to health care I’d much rather have her putting plans together in the Senate, where any plan is going to rise or fall.) The fact that she inspires strong commitments from a lot of voters is also important. And, of course, it all depends on who the other possible choices are. But, on balance, there are other choices I would prefer, and I certainly can’t see how it’s irrational to believe that the #2 spot on the ticket isn’t the best role for Clinton’s future in the party.
Aside from the delight Bill would get from living at the Naval Observatory and having a huge telescope to window-peep with, there wouldn’t be much joy in Hillaryland.
Hahahahahahahaha! That’s the kind of legendary wit that can get you a Pulitzer prize, or the Tuesday night slot at Yakov Smirnoff’s comedy club in Branson if Carrot Top cancels at the last minute. But won’t Obama think of poor Dowd? After all, if Clinton isn’t on the ticket, how will she continue to discuss completely fabricated pseudo-scandals?
But in a return engagement with Obama at the top, could she really wake up every day in the back seat and wish him well, or would she just be plotting? (Fourteen vice presidents have ascended, after all.) Wouldn’t she be, in Monty Python parlance, the Trojan Rabbit behind the gates?
On a positive note, maybe she could bring back all that stuff she pilfered on her way out.
Sure, this doesn’t make any sense unless you conflate “theft” with “taking some personal gifts with you, with a lesser total value than the previous administration,” but when have facts ever stopped MoDo from smearing the Clintons before?
Anyway, as Cole points out this is the key part in terms of how the smears on Obama are going to proceed:
Now Barack Obama faces a true dilemma: how best to punish Hillary Clinton.
After 15 months of fighting her off, as she veered wildly from bully to victim, as she brandished any ice pick at hand, whether racial, sexual, mathematical or marital (in the form of her Vesuvian husband), Obama must decide the most efficacious means of doing to Hillary what she has been trying to do to him: putting her in her place.
In addition to the obvious projection, I trust you can see what’s going on here. If Obama doesn’t choose Clinton as a running mate, it’s because he wants to “put her in her place.” If he does choose Clinton, it’s because he wants to “put her in her place.” See, when you’re setting up the inevitable endless stream of columns about how Obama is really an womanly effete elitist woman who’s probably lactating even more than Al Gore, you win either way! The country, not so much.
I know that some people in the Clinton Hackosphere are trying to set up the argument that a decision by Obama to choose anybody but Clinton must be motivated by personal animus, because there simply can’t be any rational argument (such as, say, her high negatives, the fact that she would muddy Obama’s message on the most important issue of the Bush era, and the fact that she doesn’t represent a swing state, etc.) against it. But at least I believe that they would be satisfied if Obama picks her.
The nice thing about constructing an “electability” argument is that since you’re largely dealing with the unknowable you can say a great many things without saying anything that’s obviously false. Some Clinton supporters, however, have decided that this wouldn’t be any fun, and have decided to put forward this classic:
As you know, Hillary has racked up victories in bellwether states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and now Indiana…
Indiana’s recent presidential election results:
2004 GOP +20
2000 GOP +16
1996 GOP +6
1992 GOP +4 (Perot 20%)
1988 GOP +20
1984 GOP +24
1980 GOP +18
1976 GOP +7
1972 GOP +33
1968 GOP +12
By the standards of Clinton’s backers, then, Obama can definitely count North Carolina and Georgia as victories in crucial “bellwether” states.
In fairness, perhaps they’re just trying to console their candidate. If Indiana is a “bellwether” state, the Democratic nomination was really never worth having in the first place…
Matt says that while Clinton’s assertions about the importance of her greater appeal to “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans” are “one part fallacy, two parts baseless speculation” they’re not “offensive.” Let’s assume that she misspoke and didn’t intend the fairly overt racism of her literal comments; they remain problematic, but it’s a fair assumption. But even given a more charitable interpretation, the fallacies in her argument are precisely what makes it offensive.
The baseless speculation, I assume, is the transparently illogical claim that because Clinton attracts more working-class whites against Obama that she would therefore attract more against McCain. But even if we assume that Clinton would perform better among this group in the general, we are left with the fallacy central to Mark Penn’s approach to politics. Particularly when you consider that turnout as well as margins are not static, there’s no reason why Obama’s lesser performance with respect to any particular demographic can be assumed to be problematic. If Obama does worse among working-class whites in Pennsylvania but compensates by getting a higher turnout among African-Americans and young professionals, so what? The fact that the latter two groups are more reliably Democratic doesn’t matter. If you get an extra 100,000 votes (whether by higher turnout or higher margins), the fact that the relevant demographic was already majority Democratic is wholly irrelevant.
This glaring logical fallacy leads us to what’s offensive. Precisely because which group such analysis chooses to focus on is entirely arbitrary, the choice always reflects political interests (in Penn’s case, inevitably with center-right results.) Clinton has outperformed Obama among a number of demographics, but surely it’s no a coincidence that Clinton — as is usually the case when people make this argument — identified white workers rather than, say, Latinos or older women. It reflects the Bill Schneider assumption that there’s something suspicious about a coalition that doesn’t rely enough on white voters. Jon Chait’s article about Clinton’s desperate embrace of reactionary populism correctly identifies the context in which Clinton’s comments should be evaluated:
Historically, the conservative populist’s social divide ran along racial and ethnic lines. In recent years, overt racism has all but disappeared from mainstream political life, and even racial hot button appeals like the 1988 Willie Horton ad have grown rare. What remains is a residue of nostalgia about small towns–whose residents are said to have stronger values and work harder than other Americans, and who also happen to be overwhelmingly white. In 2004, after John Kerry declared that some entertainers supporting him represented “the heart and soul of America,” George W. Bush embarked upon a national tour of small- and mid-sized cities, where he would say, “I believe the heart and soul of America is found in places like Duluth, Minnesota,” or other such places.
Likewise, Bill Clinton recently declared, “The people in small towns in rural America, who do the work for America, and represent the backbone and the values of this country, they are the people that are carrying her through in this nomination.” The corollary–that strong values and hard work is in shorter supply among ethnically heterogeneous urban residents–is left unstated. Hillary Clinton’s statement about “hard-working Americans, white Americans” simply made explicit a theme that conservative populists usually keep implicit.
The obsessive focus on Obama’s purported weakness among rural or small-town whites in particular clearly reflects the general framework that they are “Real Americans” while people who live in racially diverse urban centers are not. This is not only grossly offensive nonsense — the flipside of condescending, stereotyped portrayals of midwesterners — but offensive nonsense that is greatly beneficial to the Republican Party.
In assessing a potential unity ticket, Mark Schmitt says:
Obama is in many ways the most plain-spoken liberal to win the Democratic nomination since Walter Mondale. But while Clinton is probably inherently more cautious than Obama, her record marks her as more conservative on only one issue, and that’s the one on which she is most out of step with the vast majority of Americans–the decision to go to war in Iraq. And yet, she still suffers under the reputation, developed during the 1990s, that she is some sort of quasi-socialist. That’s the worst possible combination: perceived as more liberal than she actually is, while being demonstrably more conservative only on less popular points.
Yglesias, in addition, notes the craziness of adding Clinton to the ticket for foreign policy “cred.” It’s just bizarre that there are still Democrats who seem to think that taking a politically and substantively disastrous position on the most important issue of the Bush era is some kind of asset. At any rate, since I think these arguments were the best ones against Clinton’s candidacy for the top of the ticket, it’s not surprising I also think they’re good ones against making her veep. Support for the Iraq War should be a disqualifying factor or something close to it.
There is, I think, and important larger point here. Some people have talked about this week’s primary as being salutary because Clinton’s silly gas tax pander failed, but that’s a trivial example. The war is the big one. Admittedly, this is the kind of counterfactual that’s impossible to prove, but my guess is that if she had voted against the war Clinton would be the Democratic candidate. Given the closeness of the race, her inherent advantages going in, and that the war had to be a liability it’s hard to imagine that she wouldn’t have prevailed without the Iraq albatross. Whether or not Clinton’s support was sincere — I don’t think it really matters — sometimes getting big policies wrong really is politically damaging. (See also the 2006 midterms.) This is evidently a good thing.
Shorter Verbatim Hillary Clinton: “I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on…Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”
See, Obama’s coalition is bigger. But Clinton’s is broader, because it consists of more Real Americans and fewer [insert adjectives from RNC attack ad here] elitists and Shiftless Negroes.
Please tell me she was misquoted here; I really never thought that the worst arguments of her hack defenders would start coming from the candidate herself. I may have to retract what I said earlier — if she cares at all about her reputation it may be wise for Clinton to drop out before she says more stuff like this.
On the question of whether Clinton should drop out, my position continues to be one of indifference. It’s her decision, and I doubt that it matters much either way. I suppose I would prefer that she not attack Obama using GOP talking points now that the nomination has been effectively decided, but even there as Dilan says the effects of this kind of thing are greatly overstated. (Barring a major change in fundamentals, if the election is close enough something so minor could turn the election, I’ve seriously overestimated Obama as a candidate.) I also object to assumptions that Clinton is trying to tear the party apart or sabotage Obama or whatever. I have no doubt that she will strongly support Obama as soon as she concedes. And I think one has to have some empathy here; it can’t be easy to run a race you reasonably expected to win, assemble a very strong coalition of supporters, and fall just short. I can’t really blame her for not quite wanting to concede the inevitable just yet. If staying in is “selfish,” it is only in the sense that anyone running for that kind of office is going to be.
On the other hand, claims that she’s serving some kind of noble ideal by staying in are no more plausible. I’ve seen in some quarters claims that it would undermine democracy or some such to state that Clinton should leave. The thing is, candidates drop out of races they can no longer win all the time without anyone claiming that it undermines democracy. Democracy means that Clinton can stay in until the convention if she chooses, and it also means that anybody can suggest that her staying in is bad for the party, decide to stop giving money to a lost cause, come out for Obama as a superdelegate, etc. McGovern is no more doing anything undemocratic than Clinton is. (Obviously, the argument becomes farcical when anyone who suggests that advising Clinton to drop out violates democratic values also sees nothing objectionable about counting the results of “primaries” that wouldn’t meet Vladimir Putin’s standards of legitimacy.)
In another common move, Ambinder says that it “may well be that Clinton refuses to officially drop out until she is satisfied that the voices of Florida and Michigan are heard.” The thing is, though, that the voices of Florida in Michigan will not be heard in any meaningful way no matter what happens. A fair contest is not going to be held for their delegates. Michigan Democrats do not suddenly become enfranchised if you declare ex post facto that a one-major-candidate straw poll was an ordinary primary. If “hearing their voices” just means seating them at the convention after it’s clear that they won’t be used to try to reverse the outcome of the nomination, then Clinton staying in the race prevents the issue from being resolved.
In essence, this is a trivial issue. Clinton is neither doing significant damage to the party nor acting as some sort of crusader for democracy by staying in although she’s drawing dead.
As Sam said, tonight conveyed no new information. Clinton had pretty much no chance before tonight, and she still doesn’t. They have the same coalitions they’ve had for most of the race, and Obama’s is somewhat but decisively bigger. Clinton was never going to be able to use the vote totals from
North Korea Michigan to go over the top unless you think the superdelegates are mostly complete idiots; after tonight, it’s just that Clinton can’t win even under her campaign’s own silly ad hoc metrics.
What it does seem to change is that the media may give up any pretense that Clinton could win the nomination. And given Clinton’s cancellation of appearances, you have to wonder if she’s finally going to concede the inevitable.
…this seems to confirm my speculation about the media.
I’m guessing Moises Alou isn’t the oldest player ever to steal home (Carew? Cobb?), but I suspect he may have the oldest back and knees…
I continue to regret the fact that my Moises-signed softball glove was lost forever on the swampy University of Washington softball fields.
Like Josh Patashnik, I’m puzzled by Anna Quindlen’s claim that the judiciary is the most powerful branch of the federal government. Patashnik notes the relatively narrow scope of the recent decisions Quindlen cites, which is terms of their impact are obviously dwarfed by, say, the Iraq War or Bush’s series of budget-busting upper-class tax cuts, both areas in which the courts have virtually no influence. In addition, many of Qundlen’s examples are hardly example of the unilateral power of the courts. The decision to uphold Indiana’s voter ID law was, in my judgment, a bad one — but it also would have been beside the point had the legislature not passed the bad law in the first place. Similarly, Ledbetter was bad, but the Court has been able to establish a new status quo because 1)the President vetoed corrective legislation, 2)a Republican minority in the Senate the filibustered, and 3)the Equal Pay Act didn’t allow for punitive damages in the first place, making the statute of limitations provisions of Title VII relevant in the first place. The court certainly matters, but in most cases its shaping of the policy generated by the other branches is marginal. And even where the progressive impact of the court is arguably the most important — abortion rights — such rights have substantial support among both the public and among elected officials, and indeed Roe could not have survived even in its current watered-down form if this wasn’t the case.
An additional point is that — as I think I’ve said before — Quindlen’s claim that “[h]istory tells us that virtually all presidents get blindsided by their court choices” is also not really true. Almost all alleged “surprises” were either selected for reasons other than ideology (Warren, Brennan, O’Connor, Souter) or were third choices reflecting the constraints of the Senate (Blackmun, Kennedy.) And even the extent to which Blackmun crossed Nixon has been overstated; there’s very little reason to believe that Nixon cared about abortion when making Supreme Court appointments. On the stuff that Nixon actually cared about, even Blackmun was pretty reliable vote for his first decade. All four Nixon appointees joined the 5-4 decisions that effectively gutted Brown by permitting states to maintain schools that were both de facto segregated and unequal as long as this was done by through district boundaries and funding rather than direct pupil assignment, for example. And no Nixon appointee ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional until is was again well-established. In general, voters are actually perfectly rational in assuming that a President they otherwise support will appoint judges with more congenial constitutional views and using presidential ideology as a proxy.
None of this is to say that the public wouldn’t benefit from knowing more about the courts and what they do, but you can say that about almost any aspect of government. Regulatory decisions are also an extremely important part of modern government and will tend to be very different depending on who occupies the White House, but they attract if anything less public attention.