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Tag: "barack obama"

More On Experience

[ 38 ] February 25, 2008 |

Kevin Drum objects to my argument about experience, claiming that Obama’s experience will be a disadvantage against McCain but Clinton’s would not. I’m not entirely convinced. It’s worth untangling the normative and empirical issues here. The heart of Kevin’s argument is this: “Like it or not, most voters have a sort of vague operational view of experience that means something like “involvement in big league politics.” And on that score, Hillary gets 15 years: 8 years as an activist first lady and 7 years as U.S. senator. Obama, conversely, gets a total of 3 years as U.S. senator.” The problem here is that this seems pretty arbitrary, with the general criteria selected to give Clinton maximum advantage. Do most voters believe that serving as first lady counts as full “involvement in big league politics” but Obama’s longer (and arguably more effective) history as a legislator doesn’t count at all? Maybe, maybe not. The difficult first lady question is particularly crucial, because without full credit Clinton is clearly at a major disadvantage to McCain if experience matters, and my guess is that voters not only won’t give full credit to this but will indeed give less credit to it than I would consider appropriate. At any rate, it’s even less clear that this qualified edge in experience matters very much. Consider not only this year’s Dem race but compare Bill Clinton (zero years big time experience by Kevin’s criteria) against the lengthy resume of George H.W. Bush, or the latter’s son against Al Gore. Either voters evaluate experience in a more nuanced manner than Kevin suggests, or it’s a pretty trivial consideration. Perhaps a little of both, but pols from Henry Clay to Robert Dole might suggest that it’s more the latter. (Or maybe the things that go along with experience in politics make candidates unattractive for other reasons.)

On the normative question, I have a hard time believing that Obama’s somewhat greater inexperience make him much riskier than Clinton. Clinton’s extra Senate term means pretty much nothing, especially since she got the most important question of her tenure wrong. Her first lady experience may be marginally more relevant than Obama’s good state legislative record, community organizing, and work in legal academia, but it’s hard to see that it would compel you to vote for anyone you otherwise wouldn’t. (And this cuts both ways; some Clinton supporters may think I’m underrating the importance of her experience in the White House, but I also don’t think that her husband’s general failure to mobilize support for major progressive reform is much of an indicator of what Hillary Clinton would do as president.) The Presidency is sui generis, and you really are rolling the dice either way (including McCain, even though he’s the most experienced.) None of the major remaining candidates has experience that really sheds much light on how effective they’d be. You pull the lever and takes your chances.


Better Policies: Sometimes Even Easier To Sell

[ 28 ] February 22, 2008 |

I had it on while doing other work and then watched it at the gym, so I didn’t see at all, but it should be noted that I don’t know whether it’s happy or sad that it was surprising to see a presidential candidate would say this:

And it’s absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton’s entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba.

In a sane world, this would be the starting point of a rational policy as opposed to an unusual claim, but once again thank Article II for giving relatively small constituencies in a few key states wildly disproportionate power.

To give the optimistic take on the debate tonight, in a rare triumph of public reason having the better policy on the merits was a considerable advantage to the debater. Clinton is at a bit of a disadvantage on her best issue, because while mandates are the better policy they can be a tougher sell politically, but she parried Obama bringing up garnishing wages very effectively. On the other hand, on the biggest American issue of the young century, Obama cut right to the heart of the matter:

But it also means using our military wisely. And on what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that.


And I think that, when we’re having a debate with John McCain, it is going to be much easier for the candidate who was opposed to the concept of invading Iraq in the first place to have a debate about the wisdom of that decision…


… than having to argue about the tactics subsequent to the decision.

Exactly right, and also proves the political benefits of good policy judgments at a larger level. As Clinton showed tonight, she isn’t a bad candidate, at all; very smart, likable, tough-minded. She continued to waste time with the “plagiarism” idiocy, but her closing (as has been noted elsewhere) was outstanding. Obama has gifts she doesn’t, but she’s a good candidate who would make a good president. But getting the biggest issue of her Senate tenure wrong, which also produces a clear political liability in the 2008 election, creates a prima facie case against her when up against a credible anti-war candidate. Among a majority of Democrats, she hasn’t overcome this (correctly, in my view.) But it’s hard to imagine that had she voted the right way her initial lead wouldn’t have been beyond even the ability of Mark Penn to screw up, especially since Obama may well have sat out this race. I think there’s a lesson there.

The Right’s Failure of Imagination

[ 0 ] February 17, 2008 |

So Grover “Drown the Government in a Bathtub” Norquist looks forward to the possibility of depicting Barack Obama as a “shady Chicago socialist” in the general election.

An impressive and original strategy, but really — why stop there? I suggest trying to cast Obama as a “shady Chicago anarchist.” It would appeal to the authentic glue-huffers who believe the Senator is actually an agent of foreign terror, it would draw in the more moderate types who are merely nervous about the crowds of Obama supporters, and it would force the rest of American to relive the horror of the Haymarket bombing every day of the campaign.

Everything Is Good For McCain!

[ 33 ] February 10, 2008 |

Yglesias points out the problems with Ambinder’s claim that “Obama cannot win the states where the majority of Democrats reside”: i.e. it’s a more tendentious way of saying that “Clinton won California,” which I don’t think entitles her to the nomination in itself. But Ambinder goes on to make a straightforwardly illogical assertion:

John McCain’s advisers are probably thinking: woe unto the Democratic nominee who refuses to organize; woe unto the Democratic nominee who appeals to activists perfectly and regular Democrats kinda sorta.

The idea that Obama’s greater appeal to independents and purple-state swing voters makes him a less formidable general election candidate is simply bizarre. Given that the Dems would win New York and California with a Mark Slaughter/Jani Lane ticket, a candidate very well-liked among Democrats isn’t remotely vulnerable there even if primary voters in those states marginally prefer another strong candidate. Meanwhile, his greater appeal to independents and ability to mobilize lower-turnout groups (like young people) has the potential to put states into play that Clinton (who seems strongest in states where the Dems are already a mortal lock) can’t –indeed, this why I think polls showing Obama to be a much stronger opponent for McCain are almost certainly right. (Indeed, I think they understate Obama’s advantage; piling up larger majorities in solidly blue states doesn’t help the Dems in the electoral college.) In theory, it’s possible that the candidate who’s a little stronger in red states would be much more conservative, but in this case that’s not true (which is why Obama has in fact won several blue liberal states, including one in Clinton’s backyard.) For that matter, I’m also not sure why Clinton not spending resources in caucuses she doesn’t think she can win hurts her general election chances, but I always forget that everything is always good for McCain.

To follow-up on Rob’s state-by-state counts, they seem about right. My reasons for thinking that Clinton should still be favored are that 1)The demographics that make Obama a better candidate in the general make Clinton better in the primaries: her older, more female base is more certain to turn out, which makes it harder for Obama to get upsets, and 2)if the delegate count is very close, Clinton has to be favored among the superdelegates. In addition to Wisconsin, to put this beyond the reach of the superdelegates I think Obama needs to pick off one of the big three. Ohio seems like the most likely spot to pick off a state Clinton is expected to win, but a string of victories (Maine tonight would help with the narrative) could create a dynamic that puts the less demographically favorable Texas and Pennsylvania into play.

Overheard at a Greenwich Village Coffee Shop

True story.

The scene: a small non-chain coffee shop. Two older gentleman (say, in their 70s) sit at a small metal table. One has a driving cap on and speaks with a thick Eastern European accent (we’ll call him Man #1).

And, action!

Man #1: Now it’s down to Clinton and Obama and they are friends one minute and enemies the next.

Man #2: Hm.

Man #1: What I want to know is if she’s gonna get him back?

Man #2: Hm?

Man #1: I think when (sic.) she gets elected, they’re [ed. note: I think he meant Obama & H. Clinton] gonna have an affair as payback for what her husband did.


So my question is this: is this really what passes for political dialogue these days!?

White States Vote Like That, But Black States Vote Like This

[ 0 ] January 27, 2008 |

You know, Jesse Jackson won Michigan in 1988. Does this mean that Obama automatically gets to claim the Michigan delegates?

"Don’t Worry, Once He Leaves The South It’ll Be More Like Shirley Chisholm in ’72."

[ 90 ] January 27, 2008 |

Well, that’s enough; I’m no longer willing to be charitable about all the Clinton surrogates who just happen to mention Obama’s suspiciously Muslim middle name, teenaged drug use, etc. etc. Clinton’s Jesse Jackson comparison is straight out of the Bill Schneider “Sure, Democrats win the African-American vote, but how will they do among real voters?” school, with even less plausible deniability.

But I’m sure many of the people thrilled about the good old-fashioned bare-knuckled politics she showed in seeking ex post facto electoral rule changes to steal a substantial block of delegates will also admire her campaign’s race-baiting — hey, at least she’ll be our Machiavellian bastard, right? (Note: Machiavellian street-fighting guarantee void during GOP foreign policy catastrophes, although they will reappear if necessary to distort the records of people who actually got the war right.) And when she amends her flag-burning legislation to require every state Capitol in the country to display the Confederate flag, hey, that may be worth a few votes in Florida, right? And when Mark Penn, Union Buster (TM) drafts a constitutional amendment to overturn the Wagner Act…

This is Why Mickey Doesn’t Get Hired by a Lot of Campaigns

[ 9 ] January 23, 2008 |

How does Obama win the Democratic nomination for President? According to Mickey, denouncing affirmative action and moving hard right on immigration are key. If that doesn’t work, I’m sure that busting some unions, threatening to invade Iran, and calling for the elimination of Social Security will do the trick…

…incidentally, in the “credit where due” department, Hitch wrote a decent enough article on Huck and the Confederate flag a couple of days ago.

Drawing out the Implications

[ 6 ] January 15, 2008 |

Barack Obama now says that his favorite Wire character is Omar. Given that Obama also has connections with Brother Mouzone, doesn’t the true structure of the Baltimore drug trade become incredibly obvious? Let me lay it out for you; Barack Obama ordered the execution of Stringer Bell, because Bell was paying off Clay Davis, who’s undeniably the Baltimore face of the Clinton machine.

It couldn’t be more clear.

The Case Against Clinton

[ 59 ] January 11, 2008 |

Publius, while accepting the validity of grievances against the frequently sexist coverage of her campaign, tries to make it. To me, #1 remains the most persuasive. I think Obama might have a marginally more progressive domestic policy, but the differences are narrow enough that this could be mistaken. But it’s hard for me to get around the fact that Clinton completely botched the most important issue of the Bush era. (Moreover, I’m not willing to assume that her vote for the war was an “insincere political gamble;” that’s possible, but I think we have to accept the possibility that she voted for the war because she supported the war.) See also Ann Friedman on this issue.

And her pro-war vote is not merely problematic on the merits; it’s also bad politics. On the “Clinton electability” issue, as Ygelsias says Drum is narrowly right but takes on only the weakest version of the argument. I have never argued that Clinton is “unelectable,” and it’s likely that the structural conditions in November will make any Democratic candidate a favorite over any Republican. But this doesn’t mean that Clinton/McCain isn’t the worst plausible matchup for the Democrats. And even assuming that head-to-head polls aren’t useful at this point, the fact that Clinton took the Republican position on the most important issue and hence will be unable to exploit an issue that should favor the Dems will surely be a problem. And there are a variety of other areas in which Obama has more upside. Obama has the ability to mobilize voters who generally turn out in relatively smaller numbers, while Clinton’s core constituency (older women) already votes at disproportionately high levels. And while we don’t know for certain that Obama’s lower negatives and favorable media coverage will hold up, the worst that can happen is dropping to Clinton’s levels, and it’s more likely that he would be a better candidate than Clinton in those areas. (And I’m not arguing that conservatives won’t attack Obama; the question is how much right-wing critiques will penetrate the mainstream media and swing voters.)

Now, if you want to argue that given a candidate than can win a primary “electability” is just too unpredictable a factor to be meaningful, that’s fair enough; but I don’t really see a good progressive case for Clinton on the merits either.

Laugh Lines

Heading into tonight’s New Hampshire primary with McCain and Obama as the frontrunners, I have to wonder….does anyone else find it funny that McCain keeps calling for change, yet his policy proposals ensure more of the same?

I know Romney, too, is touting himself as a candidate for change. All of which makes me want to short with derision. Is this some wonk’s strategy to undermine Obama’s calls for change?

Don’t Take My Word For It

[ 0 ] January 5, 2008 |

The Clinton campaign is arguing that Obama is too “progressive” for their tastes, with a little too much background in community activism. Indeed. Obama just doesn’t have the Joementum! for Mark Penn, Union Buster.

A couple points in response to this thread:

  • Archpundit has a response to questions about the difficulty of getting the interrogation videotaping bill passed here: “It was fought tooth and nail Kevin. The cops and prosecutors were adamantly against it for some time including the Democratic Cook County Prosecutor. I swore reform was dead after the commutations, Obama pulled it off. It was an incredible sight. The end result was truly amazing. The police groups hated the idea and they hated racial profiling legislation — he passed both without angering them, but by working with them, listening, and showing good faith. I never thought it would pass with Democratic State’s Attorneys opposing it, strongly even — but he pulled everyone along and did it pretty quickly.”
  • I agree wholeheartedly that Obama isn’t “the second coming of JFK.” If you’re looking in increase the chances of a presidency with negligible, center-right domestic policy achievements combined with an ruinously idiotic war, Clinton’s your candidate (although, really, the comparison is unfair to her as well.)
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