Friday, June 6, 2008

End of the line

Clinton has gracefully bowed out--and so, alas, must Polprint. Despite her keen interest in the general-election campaign, she will be leaving Cambridge and cutting short her promising career as a pundit. So a hearty thank-you to readers, and see you elsewhere in cyberspace!

Yours truly,

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The O.C. Show

As Clinton prepares to withdraw from the race, her backers--apparently with her blessing--are heavily lobbying for the vice-presidential slot. Polprint has said all along that an Obama-Clinton ticket would be an impossibility, not least because Clinton would never accept it. Could Polprint be so very wrong?

Of course. But two things must be noted. First and most obviously, Clinton's blatant push for the veep slot is sure to anger many Obama fans, who accuse her of employing excessively forward--dare we say ballsy--tactics all along.

Second and more interesting: a friend of Polprint has pointed out that if Obama takes Clinton as VP, it will look like he is not in charge. Worse, it will look like he has been bullied by a strong woman, which is not the impression that a would-be commander in chief wants to project. Thus, according to this analysis, Clinton's naked bid is sure to backfire, because if Obama acquiesces, it puts him in the untenable position of looking weak.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The gaffe wars

The Republican National Committee is criticizing Obama for stating that his uncle was among the liberators of Auschwitz, when it was his great-uncle helping liberate Buchenwald?

According to CNN, an RNC spokesman says that the comments (which the Obama campaign quickly clarified) "raise questions about his judgment and his readiness to lead as commander in chief."

That’s a bit rich.

Where was the RNC when George Bush confused APEC and OPEC, Austria and Australia, Slovakia and Slovenia, and called the Greeks “Grecians”?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Obama-Paul connection

The NYT's Sunday Styles (better known as the sports pages for women) had an interesting piece on Ron Paul's diehard supporters. They have raised a phenomenal amount of money and continue to turn out at campaign rallies long after it is clear that their candidate is going nowhere. (Their enthusiasm, incidentially, nicely contradicts the assertion in "Freakonomics", which Polprint has just finished reading, that campaign contributors are clever enough to give to a candidate with a chance of winning.)

Ron Paul is generally presented as an irritation to McCain--as is Bob Barr, the newly coronated Libertarian party nominee who is hoping for Ron Paul's support.

But could Ron Paul also pose a threat to--or an opportunity for--Obama? Sure, Obama hasn't sung the praises of the gold standard, or said that the solution to environmental ills is property rights. But fundamentally, supporters of both are young, enthusiastic and anti-war. Some of the Ron Paul contingent's natural allegiances, therefore, might lie with Obama rather than McCain. Much will depend on Paul's plans--whether he endorses Barr, runs as an independent, or simply bows out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Faithful readers will know that Polprint has long favoured Jim Webb of Virginia for an Obama's VP pick. (In fact, she has a family bet riding on it.)

In looking for more information about Webb, Polprint turned of course to the most trusted source on the Internet: Wikipedia. The interesting aspect of the entry is Webb's Navy Cross citation while serving in Vietnam. Apparently that is the second to top honor in the navy.

Webb's actions were extraordinary. He led the approach to three different bunkers (as part of the same action, on the same day). At the first bunker, he captured several soldiers who emerged from the bunkers; at the second and third, grenades were pitched at him but he somehow avoided them and searched or destroyed them.

Readers are strongly recommended to read the citation for themselves.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A tribute to Ted Kennedy

Polprint is much saddened at the news about Ted Kennedy, whom doctors have just diagnosed as having a brain tumour.

Kennedy is famous in Polprint's immediate family because, upon attending a 85th birthday party for Polprint's grandfather, he remarked that he was glad to see all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren assembled. The grandchildren, the eldest of whom was not yet through college, promptly stared at each other accusingly. (In fact, the first great-grandchild was born just last week, and what a cutie he is, if his doting Aunt Polprint does say so!)

Kennedy has been a tireless fighter for raising the minimum wage, decent environmental standards and much else. He also opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. We wish him the very best, and keep him in our thoughts and prayers.


Polprint has been informed by family members that it was her grandfather's 90th birthday party at which Ted Kennedy uttered his memorable remarks, not the 85th. Polprint's grandfather had a lot of birthday parties (plainly).

Monday, May 19, 2008

What is Geraldine Ferraro's problem?

Geraldine Ferraro is officially bonkers. "I think Obama was terribly sexist," she told the New York Times today, and added that she might not vote for him as a result.

Memo to Ms. Ferraro:

If you are going to make an incredibly stupid remark, at least please give it some context.

By your untraceable logic, it must have been "terribly racist" that Jesse Jackson did not get the Democratic nomination in 1984. (He surely would have done better than Mondale/Ferraro, too.)

Obama goes to Gettysburg?

As Obama prepares to face McCain, foreign policy will be near the top of the agenda--for both. McCain will try to paint Obama as a neophyte; Obama will tie McCain to President Bush and emphasize differences on Iraq.

To the latter end, Richard Parker, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, suggests that Obama should stake out territory that holds a sacred place in American history. Parker thinks that Obama should make a major speech on the war from Gettysburg, among the
tens of thousands of dead from north and south. The speech could emphasize withdrawal from Iraq; the need for sound diplomacy in its place; American unity; and other key themes.

Polprint is trying to get Parker's memo to the Obama campaign; if she succeeds, readers will be alerted. Interestingly, Parker says that he was initially a Clinton supporter, but was brought around to Obama by the enthusiasm of his students, unheard of since the Kennedy years.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Question hour for McCain

A reader sent in this gem, from Slate: McCain has pledged to hold a regular Q&A with Congress, similar to the tumultuous "Question Hour" in the British Parliament. Not to mention weekly press conferences, a revolutionary concept for the current administration. Hear, hear!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Forgotten Congressional campaigns

Coverage of Obama and Clinton and (sometimes) McCain dominates the front pages. For a political junkie like Polprint, that should mean that the cup runneth over. But Polprint confesses to being a bit frustrated. Aren't there other campaigns happening, too? For inconsequential posts like Senator or Congressman?

Polprint has yet to see a front-page analysis on vulnerable Senate or Congressional seats (not to mention governorships)--how many, what states, and so forth. Case in point: the New York Times story today on how this week's Mississippi special election, won by a Democrat in a conservative district, is a warning shot to Republicans everywhere. But what are the six vulnerable Senate seats that the article mentioned? Readers, are you up on this?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Can someone please define "landslide"?

Call Polprint a cynical, hope-busting pundit. But she has read one too many articles about Obama's "landslide" victory over Clinton in North Carolina last week. The latest culprit was a Week in Review piece in today's New York Times, about how Democrats can win back the South (highly unpersuasive on the presidential front, incidentally).

Is 56-42 really a landslide? Polprint has vivid memories of her first encounter with political landslide: Ronald Reagan's trouncing of Walter Mondale in 1984. OK, so Reagan won the popular vote 59-41, by just four points more than Obama did in North Carolina. But he swept 49 of 50 states, so "landslide" may be more apt for his electoral-college victory.

Clinton actually seems to be the one gearing up for a landslide: she's ahead 66-23 in West Virginia, according to the latest poll. We'll see how the press describes her victory. (Polprint has a sneaking suspicion that "landslide" is chiefly a term of coronation, and mostly applies when expectations are exceeded.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fashion advice for Obama

Have readers seen the photo of Obama in jeans? Polprint is ashamed of herself for raising such silly issues. But it's interesting! Obama--who never looks his age in the best (worst?) of times--actually looks like a schoolkid, especially because he is carrying his own bag. Polprint advises him to grow a paunch, or at least not carry his own bag, to give himself a bit more gravitas. Oh wait, maybe not wearing jeans would do the trick too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Clintonian conspiracies

A friend of Polprint's just relayed a delightful conspiracy theory: Clinton is staying in the race in order to weaken Obama, so that he will lose this election and she can run against McCain in 2012.

Polprint discounts most conspiracy theories, and this one is no exception. But why not indulge, once in awhile?

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Chelsea factor

Polprint heartily recommends "Too Solemn For Her Generation", an article about Chelsea Clinton's campaign style by a Washington Post reporter. The piece observes that Chelsea rarely uses the obvious tools of 20-somethings--humor and sarcasm--to answer or deflect questions.

Instead, her stump speech is earnest, dull and repetive. When she is not wonking out (to use a verb that is not in Polprint's dusty copy of Webster's), she says things like: "I'm so proud of my mom. I hope that your daughter is as proud of you or your children are as proud of you as I'm proud of my mom."

What 28-year-old still refers to their mother as "my mom", anyway?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gas guzzler politics II

Egad! Stop presses! A genuine difference has arisen between Clinton and Obama. Clinton favors suspending the federal gas tax by 18.4 cents per gallon for the summer, as does McCain. Obama opposes it.

According to the New York Times, Clinton seeks a windfall-profits tax on oil companies to replace the revenue (how will she prevent the vertically integrated companies from passing the charges on to consumers?). Obama opposes the gas-tax reduction as a temporary fix that will take needed funds from the nation's highways.

Europe, where gas prices are astronomical, must be chuckling at this debate. In any case, the squabble shows up the political difficulties ahead for America's climate-change legislation, which would, in theory at least, boost energy costs at a time when people are already hurting.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Better than a debate

Memo to Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and all the other Democratic big shots:

Things are getting bad, aren’t they? Your dream duo is disintegrating into bickering over who thinks the American people are bitter, who did or didn’t get shot at by Bosnian snipers, who wears flag-pin lapels, and other urgent matters. Voters are sick of it, and John McCain is getting a free (if little-noticed) ride.

Here is a possible solution, put forward by a friend of Polprint:

Rather than (or in addition to) another debate, he argues, why not have Obama and Clinton appear together to promote the Democratic platform and attack McCain?

Clinton could go first on, say, the economy (help Americans! Stop the mortgage crisis!). Obama could follow with foreign policy (bring the troops home!). Then Clinton on health-care, Obama on education, Clinton on environment, Obama on immigration, and so on. The statements would only include points that the two of them agree on (which is plenty).

That would serve three purposes: stopping the Democratic mud-slinging, at least for a day; showing Democratic party unity—reminding voters, before it is too late, that whoever wins the nomination will have the loser’s full support; and shifting the emphasis to Democrats’ differences with McCain.

Where this idea falters, plainly, is feasibility. Clinton and Obama do not care for each other, to say the least. They would probably rather search out real sniper fire than share a platform. But Mr. Dean and Ms. Pelosi, that is what heavyweights are for—to think creatively, and for the good of the Party. Polprint's friend believes it might just an idea be worth broaching.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gas guzzler politics

Isn’t it time for an honest discussion about gas prices and climate change?

During the Pennsylvania debate, the ABC moderators—in one of their rare, less-foolish questions—asked what America was going to do about gas at $4 a gallon.

Clinton immediately cited price gouging by oil companies, and Obama followed up on the theme. He added, correctly, that over the long-term we need to reduce demand for gas by increasing fuel-economy standards, and this lowered demand will reduce prices.

But the paradox that no candidate wants to face up to is that, in the short run, high gas prices are actually part of the solution to another urgent issue: climate change. All three remaining candidates have serious proposals to cap carbon-dioxide emissions, and those trade emission rights.

What would be the proper effect of comprehensive carbon-capping legislation (and the devil is admittedly in the details)? Even higher gas prices in the short term! Try making this connection, however, and those voters who cling to their pick-up trucks—a huge chunk of America, in other words--will get bitter.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Colbert politics

Polprint is squarely of the generation that gets its news from Comedy Central (the Daily Show, the Colbert Report). Well, she has a few other sources too. But it was fairly impressive that Stephen Colbert snagged Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama for cameos in the same half-hour.

Clinton's was the strangest--she appeared briefly to "fix" a technological glitch that Colbert was having. But then she didn't linger for questions...odd. Edwards, with his "haircare" (not healthcare) obsession, was hilarious, and Obama bantered acceptably.

But the truly bizarre spots were the commercials. Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich appeared together, and Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson shared a couch. The sponsoring organization was the "Alliance for Climate Protection." Rather effective images, though they might need a sharper message than the fuzzy "save our planet now".

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The road well-traveled

According to the Washington Post, Montana was the 48th state Obama has visited. The final two holdouts are South Dakota and Alaska. South Dakota is sure to get its moment in the Obama strobe, since its primary is on June 3rd (the last of all the states, along with Montana).

Alaska is more problematic. Polprint attempted to go there last summer, but was turned away when she was unable to produce a passport. She eventually made it; apparently if your plane stops in Canada, passports are necessary.

Alaska was the bane of Richard Nixon, too. When contesting Kennedy in 1960, Nixon vowed to campaign in all 50 states. A few days before the general election, he was forced to fly to Alaska--wasting valuable hours, of course--to remain a man of his word. This is recounted in Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960.

Current candidates seem unlikely to make similar promises. That said, being able to claim that one had campaigned in all 50 states would provide a certain cache.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


So Mark Penn is gone, after his peculiar efforts to juggle working for his lobbying firm with serving as Clinton's chief strategist. (Was the latter job not time-consuming enough?) The final straw was his meeting last Monday--in his lobbyist capacity--with Colombia's ambassador to the US, about efforts to pass the Colombia-US free trade agreement. Clinton opposes the treaty.

One of the great mysteries is not simply why Penn decided to take the meeting last week, but why Colombia hired Penn's firm last year in the first place. Surely Colombia was cognizant of Clinton's position, and Penn's relationship with her. Very strange.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bring back Mike Huckabee!

The Huckster was campaigning to abolish the IRS. Polprint, in the throes of 1040 hell, is thinking that's a sound idea...

Friday, March 28, 2008

About that sniper fire

Hillary Clinton has come under fire for transforming her 1996 visit to Tuzla, a base in Bosnia & Hercegovina, into a tale of running for cover under sniper fire.

Some perspective on this flap is in order. Polprint has just finished Means of Ascent, the second volume in Robert Caro's masterful biography of Lyndon Johnson. In the early 1940s LBJ had pledged to Texas voters that if war ever came, he would join their boys on the front lines. So after Pearl Harbor, Johnson hemmed and hawed and finally headed to the Pacific as a "Naval Observer". He tagged along on a single air-bombing raid, during which his plane came under fire from Japanese Zeroes. The flight landed safely. LBJ headed home, having fulfilled the letter if not the spirit of his political pledge, and was awarded a Silver Star by General McArthur.

Not long afterwards, Johnson's wartime service suddenly became magnified. He had not simply tagged along on one flight as an observer; rather, he had "lived with the men on fighting fronts. I flew with them on missions over enemy territory." Once, he claimed to have seen 14 Japanese Zeroes "go down in flames right in front of me." He flourished the silver star to prove his valor. And the press bought it. During the 1948 Senate race in Texas, which Johnson won through hook and crook, one paper cited Johnson's descriptions of how "he was flying in B-29s, helping bomb one Japanese island after another into submission". The Austin-American Statesman wrote of Johnson's "gallantry in combat action".

Johnson would never have survived a day in the Internet era (for this reason and many others). Nonetheless, against such magnifications, Hillary Clinton's exaggerations look tame.

Clinton and pledged delegates

Polprint is back, rested and refreshed after her visit to the land of Chavez, milk shortages and $1.50-a-tank gasoline (really).

Not much seems to have changed here—just Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Obama, and a growing consensus that Clinton cannot win. The starkest blow was struck today by Vermont Senator Pat Leahy, an Obama backer, who called on Clinton to bow out.

Fighting back, Clinton has made the intriguing comment to Time that “pledged delegates” (as well as super-delegates) can make up their own minds. In other words, pledged delegates do not have to cast their vote at the convention in accordance with the voters’ wishes. This may be correct from a legal standpoint, but it seems politically tenuous. If pledged delegates were to strike out on their own, it would directly disenfranchise the voters—which incidentally is what Clinton is trying to argue against doing in Michigan and Florida.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Breaking for Bloggers

Even Bloggers need vacations...and Polprint is headed to the playa in Venezuela. Please check back toward the end of March, for exciting coverage of the run-up to Pennsylvania.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hanging Delegates

It's official: Florida's Democrats will not revote. This spares the world from the spectacle of Hanging Chads: The Sequel. But it does not improve the lot of Florida's Democrats, who must now decide what to do with their 211 Hanging Delegates. At the moment, talk is revolving around alloting Florida's delegation half its usual number of votes; or not seating them at all.

Will all this lead to a Who Lost Florida fight on November 5th? Possibly. Any move the Democrats make risks angering large swathes of Florida voters. But they may be lagging in the state already. John McCain appeals nicely to the elder constituency, and he could choose Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, as a running-mate. But Crist may first have to sort out Florida's economy, which has been hammered by the real-estate bust.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More fun with Spitzer

Polprint got a chuckle out of this cartoon by Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle (reprinted in today's NYT Week in Review).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Florigan, continued

Polprint is showing signs of becoming a real pundit--meaning that her analysis has proved to be wrong. Specifically: her assertions last week about Florida and Michigan--that they were nearing consensus on a revote--were highly premature.

Obama, according to the LA Times, does not want a revote, especially in Florida. (This position is sensible because Florida is full of old people and Cubans, who doubtless prefer Hillary; on the other hand there is no better way to alienate Florida voters.) Moreover, a mail-only ballot, done in a rush, will spur accusations of fraud. Michigan, for some reason, is closer to a revote agreement.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spitzer and Clinton

Top three ways that Spitzer's resignation could affect the presidential race:

1) A new consolation prize for Clinton: governor of New York. As David Broder of the Washington Post notes, David Paterson can be challenged in 2010. (The next Illinois governorship race will also take place in 2010.) Polprint still thinks that the Senate Majority Leader slot would be better-suited to Clinton.

2) A reminder of Bill Clinton's less savory doings. Bill has been shoved into the background in recent months; the Spitzer scandal, with clutch assistance from Hillary's 3am phone call ad, has set the pundits chattering again. On the other hand, Silda Wall Spitzer's plight could animate the sympathy-for-Hillary voters.

3) The superdelegate tally in New York. Clinton has lost one of her staunchest supporters in Spitzer. But according to this CBS News blog, Paterson has endorsed her too. Paterson already held a superdelegate slot as lieutenant governor, so his vote could go to someone else. (Still, the New York delegation will surely stick together and back their Senator.)

Anything I'm missing?

Spitzer's future

Polprint is not the only one wondering what Eliot Spitzer will do next. The Associated Press ran a piece on the subject last night. The gist: Spitzer could conceivably lose his law license, but Daddy has plenty of money from his real-estate empire: up to $500 million. The other odd thing: Spitzer was known as a frugal man who owned "only a few pairs of shoes". VIP prostitutes are apparently a different matter.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The "Dream Ticket" debate

Ever since Texas and Ohio, the Clintons (first Hillary, then Bill) have been hinting at the possibility of a "dream ticket". The trouble is that they intend for Obama to be at the bottom of that ticket--and he happens to be ahead in the delegate count. Such hints are therefore premature, but they are strategic.

The Clintons want: a) the public to downgrade its perception of Obama from presidential to running-mate material; and, if that doesn't work, b) to pressure the superdelegates to try to force the dream ticket together. (Nancy Pelosi isn't buying.) As Polprint has previously argued, the dream ticket can only go one way: Clinton on top, Obama on bottom. (The Huffington Post makes the case for Obama-Clinton, in which Clinton takes on a Dick Cheney attack-dog role and covers Obama's back.)

Obama has shot down suggestions of a dream ticket. But if things come down to the wire, and Clinton becomes the nominee, Polprint increasingly believes she will have to pick him and that he would most likely say yes. Why?

On the first: if she does not choose him, she will be jeopardizing the future of the Democratic party. People under 40 overwhelmingly favor Obama. Many of these are college students, who are so besotted--not to mention angry at Clinton--that they will not boycott the polls if Obama is not on the ticket. Clinton risks turning off an entire generation of voters.

On the second: Obama is nothing if not ambitious. And one of the chief reasons he has climbed so high so quickly is that he has minimal political baggage. Ironic but true: the lack of a voting record comes in handy when running for president. Eight more years as Senator would not merely "boil the hope out of him", but would also give him a track record that he would have to answer for. Being vice-president would give him policy-making experience supplemented by only the occasional, tie-breaking vote in the Senate. (On the other hand, Obama might detest Clinton too much by this point, and there's always the possibility that Michelle Obama will say no.)

By the way, the Economist's "Democracy in America" blog includes a very funny cartoon, originally from the Oregonian, about Clinton's running-mate overtures.

Good riddance, Governor

So Eliot Spitzer has resigned. The sordid details will doubtless continue to dribble out. Polprint is faintly curious about what he will do next. The supposed "cause of his life" has been combating corporate malfeasance. This scandal completely undercuts his credibility in that area. In other words, Spitzer's hypocrisy is even more pronounced than in most political sex scandals. Perhaps he should become general counsel for a large insurance company.

Anyhow, Polprint should be more worried about the fate of New York state. She looks forward to learning about David Paterson in the coming days.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Ballad of Eliot Spitzer

Okay, so it's not quite a ballad...Polprint has been practicing her limericks in anticipation of a St Patrick's Day party. Feel free to add a verse!
There once was a governor named Spitzer
Who knew that he shouln't have kissed her
But he booked a suite
It was quite a treat
And now he's the talk of Wolf Blitzer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spitzer, nailed

Like the rest of the blogosphere, not to mention the world, Polprint is staggered by today's developments in New York. Eliot Spitzer is one of the last politicians she would have expected to be linked to a prostitution ring. Wall Street is no doubt breaking out the Champagne. It goes without saying that Spitzer must resign--and if he committed a crime, he deserves to be prosecuted vigorously. What hubris!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Case Against Caucuses

Counting continues following the Texas caucuses--which, to put it charitably, were a mess. One friend of Polprint reports that 1,000 people showed up at a church in Austin, when just 60 were expected. An Obama volunteer in San Antonio complained to Polprint of serious irregularities, such as voters being given incorrect information about where the caucus was held. Clinton supporters had plenty of grievances too, as noted in the Baltimore Sun. Some caucuses did not even begin until 9.30pm, more than two hours after the intended start time.

It is one thing for a small, homogenous and experienced state like Iowa to hold caucuses. It is quite another for a huge and diverse state that has never tried this before. (Caucuses have long been required by Texas's Democratic party, but normally they have been just a formality and nobody goes.) Plainly, reform is in order. Republicans, sensibly enough, determine their delegates based solely on the primary results, according to the Austin-American Statesman.

The debacle gives Polprint an excuse to mount her soapbox once again. There is no place for caucuses in modern society. (That includes Wyoming, whose Democrats are caucusing today.) Caucuses seem to have two principle characteristics:

a) They are confusing--witness Texas; and

b) They are exclusionary. Most ordinary people do not have two (at least!) spare hours to wait out a messy meeting. Emergency workers, overseas soldiers, and countless others are banished at a stroke. Maine does have a hybrid system, in which absentee ballots are allowed at the caucus; and Las Vegas allowed convenient caucuses on the Strip. But these are fringe improvements to a system that is past its time. And what about the awkward fact that at a caucus, everyone's preference will be known and gossiped about?

Caucus boosters try to justify their system by saying that it has two virtues. First, it is cheap. Reruning Michigan as a caucus could cost $10 million less than a primary, reports local TV station WSBT. Second, it is a party-building exercise. People who are dedicated enough to come to caucuses will also be recruited to go door-to-door on behalf of the party’s candidates for less glamorous offices, such as city council or school board. But to limit the selection of a presidential nominee to those likely to serve as party boosters is beyond absurd.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Florigan question

It seems increasingly clear that Florida and Michigan are headed for a rerun. The main questions are: what type of election should be held, and who will pay?

On the first matter: Clinton will resist caucuses, which she regularly loses. Sentiment in Florida seems to be coalescing around a mail-only ballot (doubtless preferable anyhow for Florida’s gray-haired throngs). It will also cost far less—estimates are running around $4 million, versus more than $20 million for a conventional primary. Michigan would be wise to consider a similar system.

As for who will pay: It won't be the states. Michigan's economy is hard up, and Florida is controlled by Republicans who will refuse to spend state money to fix the Democrats’ mess. Nor will private donors pay, because that would lead to charges of vote-buying.

The candidates could split the cost. However Clinton has obvious incentive to resist: she won both contests and has less money than Obama. The other potential funder is the Democratic National Committee. Thus far, the DNC is refusing to bail the states out, since Howard Dean wants to save his cash for the general election. However, the DNC may come around. As a speaker Polprint heard today observed, spending $4 million to keep Florida sweet is essentially a general-election expenditure.

Republicans for Clinton?

Polprint has heard whispers of a trend that could have had an impact in Ohio and Texas: Republicans voting for Clinton, in order to derail Obama (whom they perceive as the stronger general-election candidate). A friend of Polprint's in Texas reports hearing several Republican colleagues boasting of their Clinton vote; another friend from Ohio has speculated that similar things happened in the Buckeye state.

Both were open primaries, meaning that Republicans can vote in either party's contest (not both). Open primaries have generally been considered helpful to Obama, who draws independents and Republicans. But even a small counter-trend in Texas--a heavily Republican state--could have made a difference.

Rush Limbaugh has spent the past week urging listeners to cast a cross-over vote for Clinton. And the exit poll results show some interesting numbers. Republicans in Texas--who accounted for 9% of the vote--went for Obama 53-46. That is a low figure comparated to other states (72% of Republicans went for Obama in Virginia's open primary, for example). The Texas exit poll also says that self-identified conservatives favored Clinton 52-45 (though the term "conservative" would include conservative Democrats; the other possible categories for that question were "liberal" and "moderate").

In Ohio, the exit poll shows Clinton and Obama splitting the Republican vote, and independents only narrowly breaking for Obama, 50-48.

Perhaps it is not such bad news after all for Obama that Pennsylvania is a closed primary.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Morning After

Pity the superdelegates. For the last three weeks they have trickled over to the Obama bandwagon. Now, Clinton is the flavour of the moment. Some who have switched from Clinton to Obama may be secretly wishing that they had stayed the course.

What a mess. Polprint is sticking to her previous assertion that democracy is the big winner in a drawn-out contest. That every state’s vote matters is a good thing. But this seems like a point at which the campaign could get particularly nasty. A desire to end it all and shift the battle to McCain clashes with the genuine indecision of the voters. The problem of Florida and Michigan looms large; likewise that of the waffling superdelegates.

Speaking of Florida: it is worth noting that if Clinton carries Pennsylvania (polls there have shown her ahead in a tightening race), she will have won in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. These are considered the “Big Three” swing states in the general election. The Democrats would be wise to pay them particular heed. (Polprint believes that Clinton would have still won Florida even if the candidates had campaigned there, albeit not by such a large margin.)

One more note: Clinton told CBS this morning that the dream ticket "may be where this is headed". Polprint has argued before that while Clinton-Obama is viable and even desirable for the Democrats, Obama-Clinton is not. If Obama gets the nomination, how about a third solution: boot out Harry Reid and give the Senate Majority Leader post to Clinton? A consolation prize to be sure, but she has studied hard at the knee of Robert Byrd. It might just suit her organizational, battle-ax skills.

Finally (promise), can the New York Times count? Today's NYT editorial rightly calls for the rest of the primary to take a more elevated tone. Then it states that "nearly a third of the 50 states have yet to hold nominating contests". Actually, that number is 10--which, according to Polprint's advanced mathematical calculations, equates to one-fifth. (See NYT calendar.) The Times was presumably including Puerto Rico and Guam, which also are yet to come (albeit this still doesn't get us to one-third).

Onward to Pennsylvania

Polprint feels a new malady coming on. It is called political fatigue. How many more plagiarism spats and 3am phone calls and CNN Magic Maps can she take?

Texas is still rolling in--counting is apparently not the strong suit of several cities--but the results there look fairly even (in the primary at least). Clinton has won Ohio and Rhode Island; Obama is saving face with Vermont. (Oh yes, and Huckabee has finally given up.)

More analysis to come after a good night's sleep. The bottom line is that the Democratic race will rage onward, perhaps until the last caucus-goer has been counted in Puerto Rico on June 7 (or beyond). Since Clinton has won at least one important victory (Ohio) by a comfortable margin, it will be tough for party bosses to pressure her to withdraw from the race at this point. Nobody wants to irritate Ohioans, who could very well decide the outcome in November.

Next up: Wyoming's caucus on March 8, followed by primaries in Mississippi (March 11) and Pennsylvania (April 22) . See Wikipedia's primary calendar.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Obama's rhetoric

Is "Yes, We Can" vapid or empowering?

Clive Crook and Gideon Rachman, two former Economist writers who decamped to the Financial Times, have engaged in a spirited debate across the blogosphere.

Rachman says that Obama's style resembles "a man doing an impression of what he thinks a great speech might be like". Crook counters that "Surely the simplest test of a speaker is the effect he has on his audience". In other words hundreds of thousands of people, including Crook, cannot be wrong.

Crook does admit that Obama's tour de forces are not prone to detail. But he insists that this is not the point, since "the best political speeches are almost always vacuous". Rachman ends on a generous note. Having observed Obama's substantive performances in the debates, he writes, "Just because Mr Obama gives lousy, empty speeches, it does not mean that he will be a lousy, empty president."

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sweating in India

Here's a disturbing cocktail-party fact, courtesy again the New York Times: Close to half the population of India lives beyond the electricity grid. That is worrying in two ways. First, it's terrible that nearly 700,000 Indians subsist without modern conveniences like air-conditioning. Second and uncomfortably, it may be problematic for us if this changes. According to the article, India is already the world's fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. What happens when its now-modest per-capita emissions soar?

This is the fundamental conundrum facing climate change policymakers around the world. The developing world cannot be denied its right to higher living standards. But neither can the atmosphere easily absorb the consequences. In India, as in China, coal is the easy, cheap--and dirty--way to meet demand. How to incentivize alternatives?

Oops, correction to the aboved (a mistake in the original NYT article that was subsequently corrected): it's 700 million, not 700,000. What a staggering figure!

Shivering in Boston

Polprint is no fan of excessive heat. While living in Texas, she snuck off to the Rockies as much as possible during the summer. But a touch of global warming wouldn’t be amiss in New England these days. To exaggerate only slightly: it has snowed practically every week since early December. This is Polprint’s fifth (non-consecutive) winter in Cambridge, and it is by far the snowiest. (Polprint has not seen temperature data except for December, which was indeed unusually chilly. Jan and Feb have felt colder than normal too.)

Today's New York Times assesses the wintery spell. The entire world has caught cold. There was even snow in Baghdad in January, for the first time in recent memory. Austin, Texas enjoyed a non-scorching (and very rainy) summer last year. Arctic sea-ice is mounting a comeback.

Is global warming therefore a hoax, as Sen Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma believes? Most scientists do not think so. According to the Times article, experts attribute the winteriness to the vagaries of weather, as well as La Niña. The overall warming trend, they believe, will stand firm. (Another point that the skeptics could raise, however: predictions of strong hurricane activity in the Gulf have been wrong for two years running, if Polprint's memory serves. Global warming is widely expected to result in fiercer hurricanes.)

In any case, the cold spell now gives George Bush an excuse, if he ever needed one, to run out the clock on climate change. Should he set foot in Massachusetts, his reception will now be chilly in more ways than one.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Political crushes

Today's New York Times has a piece about Clinton's allegations of favoritism by the press toward Obama. There is a trendy new term for this, and reporters may be affected too. It's called a "political crush".

In the student-journalism piece that Polprint cited yesterday, the author states that many of his students have "political crushes" on Obama. An acquaintance in Texas recently confessed to Polprint, "I have the hugest political crush on Obama. I've never had one of those before!" Poor John McCain may be rather behind in this department. However, the good news for him is that crushes are, generally speaking, ephemeral.

Friday, February 29, 2008

It's the organization, stupid

As an armchair pundit far from the action, Polprint has long been puzzled by the contention that Obama is better organized at the grassroots level than Clinton. This argument has been regularly trotted out to explain Obama's caucus victories. Polprint does not doubt the truth of it--the results speak for themselves--but she wants more details about how exactly this works.

Thanks are therefore in order to a reader in Seattle, WA, who sent in this fascinating piece on the contrast between the responses of the Clinton and Obama camps to student journalists. The Obama camp returned phone calls, doled out press passes, answered the students' questions; the Clinton camp brushed them off. (Polprint would also like a story on the inner mechanics of the Clinton campaign, explaining why and how she has been disorganized. Presumably a post-mortem, stuffed with quotes from finger-pointing staffers, will take care of this.)

One more note on organization: today's Wall Street Journal has a great piece about how Obama's Texas organization differs from that in other states. He is relying far more than usual on volunteers, as opposed to his usual savvy cadre of paid staffers. The latter arrived only a few weeks ago, since no one thought the battle would still be raging in March. Obama's Texas campaign chief is wonderfully quoted as saying that the operation is "more like a baling wire and duct tape thing".

The politics of loans

While we are on the matter of money, an unexpected (to Polprint) concern about Hillary Clinton surfaced at the end of a New York Times article about Bill Clinton earlier this week. John Broder of the Times quotes a voter in a working-class Ohio town as being concerned about Clinton's $5 million loan to her campaign.

“Where did that come from?” [the voter] asked. “A lot of people in this area who thought she was for the working middle class, and the poor are wondering about that. That’s a lot of money. That really hurt her in this area.”

Polprint will not comment on whether that voter should be more up on Bill Clinton's speaking fees, both Clintons' book advances and anything else that may be buried in her unreleased tax returns. It doesn't matter. If there is actually a perception that Clinton, by virtue of her personal wealth as displayed in the loan, is out of touch with ordinary voters, then that is an interesting and under-explored angle in the race. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama is going around the country saying, "Can you imagine a president of the United States that has just paid off his student loans?" (The Obamas say they paid them off just over three years ago.)

Speaking of loans, Polprint is trying to muddle through the controversy about the $4 million line of credit to the McCain campaign. The question is whether he promised public money as collateral. Democrats assert that he did (and have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission to that effect); McCain says that he did not--rather, that his list of donors and his abilities to get at their pocketbooks served as collateral. If he did promise public money, then he may be required by law to stick to a public spending limit of $54 million until September. That would be a problem because McCain's campaign has already gone through $49 million. This Washington Post article does as good a job as any of explaining the mess.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Big-money politics

Polprint is trying to get her head around the vast sums that Clinton and Obama have raised in February. Clinton pulled in $35 million, comparable to Obama’s last-month total. But Obama has again blown her away, with estimates at $50 million, according to the New York Times. No wonder he wants to drop his public-financing pledge.

Perhaps these figures should elicit yawns in the billionaire age. But to put them in context, the Democrats’ total for one month is nearly equivalent to what Mercy Corps, a charity, received in global private donations--both monetary and in-kind--in 2006.

The figures seem all the more remarkable given the gloom over the economy. Polprint cannot help but wonder if political giving will take up a substantial share of Americans’ philanthropic budgets this year—leaving Mercy Corps and its peers worse off than before.

More on Buckley

This piece in the Washington Post by Mona Charen, who worked with Buckley on National Review, contains some classic lines.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A tribute to Bill Buckley

Polprint would like to pay tribute to William F Buckley Jr, who passed away yesterday. She has met him in passing on a few occasions; he was always full of wisecracks and wisdom. Several years ago--probably 2004 or 5—he confessed that invading Iraq was a mistake; he may have been among the first conservatives to take that position.

Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page was interviewed on Newshour about Buckley (Gigot was a protégé). He related a funny story about when Buckley ran for mayor of New York in 1965. Buckley emerged with an impressive 13% of the vote; when asked what he would have done upon taking office, he replied, “Demand a recount!” (More about that campaign can be found here.)

Buckley is among the last of a spirited band of public intellectuals on both sides of the aisle to pass away. Would that political discourse today could be half so civil, substantive and witty.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The debates are over

At last, the 20th and final debate is over. And the loser was…MSNBC.

The moderators erred on two counts. First, showing the wrong video clip was inexcusable. They undoubtedly meant to show the clip later in the program, but the result of the mix-up was that Obama was asked a Clinton question, giving him a clear opportunity. (The clip showed Clinton mocking Obama.)

The other and more serious problem was the final question. The candidates had already given what they believed to be closing statements; then one of the moderators (Brian Williams, if memory serves) asked each to pose a final question to each other. Clearly this was to supposed to bring about a forward-looking, open-ended conclusion to the debate; instead it looked churlish. Sensibly both Obama and Clinton ignored the intended provocation.

Overall, this was clearly an elbows-out debate, but both candidates seemed to handle the change in tone quite capably. One surprise at the end: Clinton appeared to say she would retract her war-authorization vote, in uncharacteristically clear language.

McCain and the Swift Boaters

Today’s events offered an early indication of how McCain will treat Swift Boat-type attacks on his general-election opponent. He’ll squash them. A conservative talk-show host went off on Obama, using his middle name “Hussein” three times among other gratuitous smears. (Note that by “Swift Boat-type attacks”, Polprint refers to nastiness based on innuendo and/or falsehoods that have nothing to do with the issues. The more serious attacks may take the form of TV ads backed by big money.)

McCain, when he heard about the comments, immediately denounced them, saying, "I will certainly make sure that nothing like that happens again." Obama’s camp approvingly followed up. It was all (sorry, Hillary) rather gentlemanly.

Polprint is not surprised by McCain’s quick response, since he has ample integrity. He denounced the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on John Kerry, a fellow veteran, as "dishonest and dishonorable". He has also suffered from similar scurrilousness, particularly during the South Carolina primaries—in 2000 and again in 2008.

But today’s episode serves as a reminder that "What will the Swift Boaters do next?" is one of the great questions of the campaign. Polprint wonders specifically:

1) How strongly will Swift Boat types--murky lot that they are--support McCain? He is not exactly the conservatives’ candidate of choice; and the attacks of 2004 seemed to come from "ends justify the means" die-hards.

2) Will McCain be able to control the Swift Boaters? George Bush made only a half-hearted effort to steer them off of Kerry in 2004. McCain will be different, Polprint believes; but will it matter? By law, the 527s operate fully outside of the campaign. McCain can call on them to stop; but there is no guarantee that they will pay heed.

Then, of course, there are the Democrats. Having seen John Kerry dynamited four years ago, there may now be a flotilla of Democratic Swift Boaters-in-waiting. Who knows.

(Polprint recommends, by the way, a Texas Monthly profile from a year ago of the little-known Texan homebuiding magnate who was the biggest donor to the Swift Boat organization. The story,"Bob Perry Needs a Hug", is sadly behind a pay barrier, but persistent readers may find it elsewhere.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

After March 4

You wouldn't know it from the media frenzy over Texas and Ohio, but the fun won't end on March 4th for the Democrats.

There are still 10 states to go. Namely: Wyoming (caucus), Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana and South Dakota. Plus Guam and Puerto Rico.

Four of these states (PA, IN, KY and WV) border Ohio. Polprint would wager that if Clinton wins Ohio--where she is currently ahead--by enough to stay in the race and stem Obama's momentum, she will spend much of the next two months holed up in that cluster.

Silly season

Political silly season, as Obama put it in the latest debate, is in full swing. Today the Drudge Report published a photo of Obama in African garb and attributed it to the Clinton camp, a move that the Obama people immediately denounced. The photo doesn’t look too crazy—hey, he’s wearing a T-shirt under the wrap.

More substantively, Polprint can recommend this Texas Monthly interview with Mark McKinnon, an old Bush hand who is now a top McCain advisor. He talks about how a campaign that appeared to be kaput was able to turn things around (the secret weapon: Huckabee toppling Romney in Iowa). Clearly the interview was a month or two ago, since McKinnon thinks that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But he reaffirms his intriguing vow to withdraw from the McCain campaign if Obama wins the Democratic nomination. He apparently likes Obama too much to craft attack ads against him.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Enter Nader

To no one's surprise, Ralph Nader has decided to run for president. Apparently the current crop of candidates aren't offering enough "change". The major impact: McCain will now be able to say that he is not the oldest candidate in the race. He is a spry 71; Nader will turn 74 in three days.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lone Star Wind

Today’s New York Times has a nice front-page story on the wind-energy boom in Texas. Polprint knows a thing about this, since she has visited wind farms in a couple of west Texas towns. Lucky they have wind, because there isn’t much else out there (besides dying oil wells). The turbines are enormous. When Polprint first saw a blade lying on a flatbed truck, she mistook it for an airplane wing.

Strange as it sounds, George Bush helped start the wind rush. When he was governor of Texas, he signed a bill requiring that a certain amount of the state’s electricity be generated from renewables. In Texas that has generally come to mean wind.

But Bush has refused to back similar incentives at a national level. Last year the House passed a version of the energy bill that included a “renewable electricity standard”. This required that by 2020, 15 percent of utilities’ power be derived from sources like wind or solar. The White House, and its Senate allies, successfully blocked this provision. (Apparently utilities in Southern states were worried that didn't have enough wind....though surely Sun Belt states have ample sun?)

Readers interested in finding out how much power from renewables their state requires can click here. (Texas is far from alone; more than half of the states have such goals, which are called renewable portfolio standards.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tangled Webb

Polprint has long (well, for a month) been bullish on Jim Webb’s prospects as a VP for Obama. He embodies both change and experience (especially foreign policy, which Obama badly needs). Today the Fix has belatedly added Webb to its veepstakes.

However, Virginia politics could complicate things. A friend from the state has pointed out that Virginia already has one Senate seat open. John Warner (R) is retiring, and Mark Warner (D), a popular--and unrelated--ex-governor is running. (Mark Warner had been term-limited out as governor after one term of four years; this is one of Virginia’s stranger rules.) Whether Virginia’s Democrats want to field candidates for two open seats in quick succession is open to question. However, Polprint admits to being shaky on the rules here. Would the governor appoint someone to serve for the remainder of Webb’s term, in which case all might be well since the governor is a Democrat?

This hypothetical issue gets especially tricky since one of the best candidates for an open Webb Senate seat could be the governor himself. And he--Tim Kaine-- has two more years until he is term limited out. Complicating things further, Kaine is also considered possible VP material for Obama; indeed he endorsed Obama very early—a year ago--and so would probably be vexed if Obama went for Webb.

Polprint is glad not to have to solve such puzzles.

Post-game analysis

Other pundits have said it first, and Polprint must agree: last night's debate in Austin was a draw. Clinton got in one dreadful line ("change you can xerox"), and one brilliant, emotive closing--which she has spent today vehemently denying was a go-gently-into-the-night farewell.

Obama rambled in a few spots but overall held the line, which was his goal. Did anyone else notice that pages from his notepad kept flapping up in a distracting manner? Presumably a burst of air was trained on him, which may have been especially irksome since he is just recovering from flu.

One surprise: no mention of climate change or even energy policy (according to a scroll of the debate transcript). Perhaps the candidates and moderators got too hung up on health-care. Polprint also wonders how worried corporate America is by Obama's opposition to NAFTA and other free-trade deals in the absence of acceptable environmental and labor standards.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kosovo continued

Quick reaction to today's terrible events in Belgrade: How hard, if at all, did the Serbian police try to stop the attack on the US Embassy? The police, after all, were once among the chief terrors of Kosovo's Albanians.

Obama's Infrastructure Bank

Polprint has been intrigued by the concept of a National Infrastructure Bank, ever since Obama announced support for the concept at a speech in Wisconsin last week.

It turns out that the idea is not new. Last year, even before the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, Sens Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) had introduced a bill to create such a bank. One old Washington hand who is related to Polprint says that the concept dates back earlier, to the mid-1980s. Lee Hamilton and James Howard, House Democrats respectively from the Joint Economic Committee and the Public Works Committee, introduced a bill containing the proposal.

States can and do, of course, borrow at low interest rates to fund roads and sewage pipes. But their revenue intake can change quite a bit from year to year. A bank would shield them from these economic fluctuations, and also help ward off the politicization of state and local bond issues. A dedicated bank would also boost the importance of infrastructure in the public mind.

Of course, making infrastructure a priority would be expensive. Obama proposed a bank that would distribute $60 billion over 10 years. Polprint, a resident of Massachusetts, notes that the Big Dig alone gobbled up $15 billion.

With thanks to Polprint’s relative for his assistance.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

World events etc

One of Polprint's readers had the temerity to criticize her lack of coverage of major world events. Musharraf stumbles, Castro is out and Kosovo declares independence...and Polprint is nattering on about superdelegates?

Well, yes.

In her defense, Polprint knows little about Pakistan or Cuba. But she did visit Kosovo in 1997, before NATO bombed Milosevic's forces. She wrote about the divided education system there, and met a wonderful Albanian family that survived the subsequent upheaval.

Two points, briefly:

First, Kosovo's independence seems assured, even though some countries like Russia (and Serbia) may not recognize it for a long time. Once independence is declared in such cases, there is no going back unless armed conflict erupts. (That's what happened in the American civil war, of course--the only way to get the South back was to invade.) With America and Europe keeping close watch, there is no chance of Serbian aggression. Parenthetically, it has always struck Polprint as odd that the Serbs cling so passionately to Kosovo, when it was the site of a major defeat in 1389, not a victory.

Second, what about Kosovo's economy? Montenegro, the previous state to break away from Serbia, at least has lovely beaches and will one day have a booming resort economy like Croatia. Kosovo is landlocked and drab. When Polprint was there 10 years ago, the UN and international aid workers seemed to form the economic pillars. Perhaps Kosovo will one day become a high-tech hub of Europe, but there is lots of work to be done before that happens.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wisconsin and Change

Change was in the frigid air in Wisconsin--and not just because Obama racked up another impressive victory. He also rolled out a new type of victory speech.

On the evenings of Super Tuesday, Iowa, Virginia and even New Hampshire (where a concession speech was a poorly disguised victory speech), Obama stuck to his lines about red states and blue states coming together, hope-mongering and the rest. This evening in Houston, he added wonkishness. Texans and cable viewers heard all about health care, gas prices, immigration, Bush tax cuts, Iraq, teachers' pay, and several other issues. The trouble was that they heard about hope and change and unity too, which made for a very long speech (45 minutes by Polprint's count). No wonder Obama decided to start, rather uncharitably, midway through Clinton's speech.

Clearly Obama has listened to the critics--that he needs to pad his rhetoric with substance. Polprint thought that his best lines (presumably not plagiarized) were about the future: the Democrats as the "party of tomorrow", with "new leadership for a new century". That sounds like a plausible theme for a general election against John McCain.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fuzzy Math

The concept of super-delegates is confusing enough--and that was before anyone suggested that they can be cut in half. Today’s New York Times has the latest count:

Clinton - 189.5

Obama - 142.5

Undecided - 207.5

Did not answer - 255.5

Polprint was under the impression that it was one super-delegate, one vote. Evidently that is far too simplistic.

As for regular delegates, the Washington Post has an interesting piece about the Texas allocations. The number of delegates assigned to each voting district is based on Democratic participation in the 2004 presidential election and the 2006 Texas governor’s race (in which Chris Bell was not the most inspiring candidate). This means that Latinos are likely to have proportionately fewer delegates than whites and blacks in big cities, since their turnout has been spotty in the past.

By the way...the only thing crazier than super-delegates is American Airlines. Polprint has suffered cancellations, delays and sudden gate changes on a perfectly sunny day in her efforts to get home. Which is why she has all this leisure time to pontificate.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Of Mike and Miracles

Polprint is in a grumpy mood. She had planned to spend the morning running the Austin marathon; instead she stayed in bed with a sore throat.

Grumpiness leads to uncharitableness, and today's target is the affable Mike Huckabee. Why is the governor staying in the race, when he needs to gain more than 100 percent of remaining delegates to beat McCain? Today's Los Angeles Times is the latest to speculate on the reasons.

Huckabee insists that miracles can happen, and surely he's right. But what sort of miracle is he contemplating? Polprint's theory: Huckabee thinks the 71-year-old McCain could encounter health problems between now and the convention in August. Huckabee can lose 110 pounds and reduce his risks; McCain cannot shed his age.

Speaking of McCain, why has no major paper yet run a profile of Cindy McCain, the doll-like apparition constantly hovering by her husband's shoulder? Michelle Obama got a big piece in the Times; Bill Clinton cannot stay out of the news; and even Chelsea Clinton is starting to get hassled. It would seem to be Cindy's turn.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Texas Undecideds

A remarkable number of Polprint's Democratic acquaintances in Austin are still undecided. A big reason: Texans are surprised that the race has carried on this far, and have only recently started to tune in.

Polls are flip-flopping. The latest gives Obama a lead; previous ones gave the edge to Hillary. Of course, polls have been unreliable, to say the least, during this primary season. Obama will be aided by the fact that registered voters can cast their ballot in any primary (thus independents and even Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary, and Democrats and independents can vote in the Republican one.) There is also the baffling fact that Texas is holding both a primary and a caucus on the same day! This seems like democracy in excess.

Meanwhile, the uproar over the lack of public seating at the Democratic debate in Austin next week continues. Turns out early reports were wrong; the debate is not closed to the public. Not quite. One hundred lucky, unconnected Texans will get a seat. John Kelso, humor columnist for the Austin-American Statesman, captures the mood: "Give me your tired, your poor. Just don't give me too darned many of them."

Obama and the evangelicals

Can McCain capture the evangelical vote, or will they all stay home in November? Polprint would like to suggest a third possibility. If the matchup is Obama-McCain--and that is of course far from decided--some evangelicals could switch over to the Democratic column.

True, McCain holds conservative positions on abortion, stem cell research and to an extent on gay marriage (he opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage but supported a ban in his home state of Arizona). But that is hardly the only issue at stake. Not all evangelicals think Iraq was a good idea. And McCain's heart clearly is in national security, not abortion and the rest. He seems rarely to mention Christianity in his speeches, though he often closes with “God Bless”.

Obama does not flaunt his religion on the stump either. But he has written eloquently in Dreams From My Father about finding his way to Christianity during his 20s. His voice and message reach back to the Rev Martin Luther King. Also, aren’t evangelicals all about hope?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Kinky and Hillary

Kinky Friedman and Hillary Clinton do not have a great deal in common. Kinky has had a long career as a novelist, lead singer of the Kinky and the Texas Jewboys band, and failed 2006 candidate for governor of Texas. Hillary has had a long career as none of the above.

This has not stopped Hillary's campaign from moving into Kinky's old gubernatorial headquarters, near the intersection of two big highways in south Austin. (Obama's office has a funkier address, in downtown Austin across from one of Polprint's favorite coffee shops.) Bill Clinton will help open his wife's headquarters tomorrow.

But the office vibes may not bode well for Hillary. Kinky was initally riding high in the gubernatorial polls (near 20%, if Polprint's memory serves). Then he flamed out toward the end of the campaign, after an intriguing debate performance in which he flourished an unlit cigar and described the Internet as the "work of Satan". Presumably Hillary is too prim for such gambits.

On the subject of Texas idiosyncracies...Not to be missed is this photo of Obama in a rodeo hat.

The Straw Man

Yesterday’s New York Times had a priceless bit of history on Obama and McCain. In 2006, Obama sang the following to the tune of “If I Only Had a Brain” (sung by the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz):

“When a wide-eyed young idealist
Confronts a seasoned realist
There’s bound to be some strain.
With the game barely started
I’d be feeling less downhearted
If I only had McCain."

But the original lyrics rather suit Obama too:

With the thoughts I’d be thinkin’
I could be another Lincoln
If I only had a brain

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Debating the debate

Apparently it isn't enough for the Democratic Party to upset Florida and Michigan by rejecting their delegates. Now the Democrats are offending Texans. The cause of the uproar: the debate on February 21 at the University of Texas will not be open to the public. Only elected officials can attend. (Polprint presumes that those "elected officials" will mostly not be Texans, a further slight. The ranks of elected Texas Democrats are not especially numerous.)

While we are on the subject of Texas, with its large undermobilised Latino voting contingent, a brief comment on the extraordinary letter sent recently (perhaps yesterday) by two Latino state lawmakers to the Clinton camp. The two lawmakers, both New Yorkers, are offended that Clinton's campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, resigned. Her parents were Mexican immigrants. The letter-writers assert:

"It is hard to understand how the Hispanic community that has been there to keep your campaign alive could remain in your corner when the first Hispanic woman to serve as your presidential campaign manager has resigned from her post."

It is hard for Polprint to imagine a sillier letter. The argument seems to be that a Latino should be kept in charge regardless of competence. Perhaps the lawmakers feel that Alberto Gonzales should still be attorney general. In fairness, they do claim that Solis Doyle helped bring the Latino vote in, and no doubt she did. But if Clinton's appeal to Latinos is chiefly attributable to the ethnicity of a prominent staffer, then that is a troubling sign for her campaign.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Potomac Progress

A resounding victory for Obama this evening--particularly notable for his inroads to groups (Latinos, women) that Clinton had previously dominated.

But here's what's really impressive: turnout. Democrats' turnout today in Virginia--950,000--is more than double the 2004 turnout (390,000). Of course, more was at stake this time: in 2004 Kerry had already established a strong lead by the time Virginia rolled around. But the more interesting comparison is between parties. Democratic turnout today in Virginia is nearly double the Republican turnout (470,000). That bodes ill for the Republicans in a state that George Bush handily carried four years ago; and it is a pattern that seems to have repeated itself across the country.

What now? Wisconsin, the next big contest (sorry, Hawaii), is an open primary, so Obama should get a boost there from his fan base of independents. Polprint was gratified to learn from CNN that Obama will be making an economy speech on Wednesday at a GM factory in Wisconsin. Apparently he is taking her advice to give his speeches more substance and less "Yes we can". Then it will be on to Texas. Polprint plans to be in the Lone Star State from Thursday to Sunday to run the Austin marathon. Riveting dispatches will be forthcoming.

Primaries in 2012

Memo to Virginia, Maryland, DC, and the 15 or so states that have yet to vote: Isn't it much more fun to have a competitive primary, as opposed to the usual rubber-stamping?

The longer the Clinton-Obama race thunders on, the more difficult it will be in four years to send Texans, Hawaiians and the rest to the back of the line. Forty-eight states should rise in rebellion against Iowa and New Hampshire.

Stringing out the primary process, as has occurred this year, is fine. It allows the candidates to develop, and voters gradually to get acquainted with them. But there must be a mechanism for rotating states so that two of the smallest and whitest states in the country do not continue to monopolize decision-making about America's political future.

If history is any judge, most election years will not be nearly this exciting. The nominee of both parties will usually be known by now. Florida, Michigan, and every other state should get the chance to hold an early primary in due course.

Onward to the Potomac

Briefly, a few stories of note as we head into tonight's “Potomac Primary”:

*Clive Crook’s entertaining excoriation of Clinton’s candidacy in the FT. Two friends sent this my way (which is two more than usual) it must be good.

*A piece in the New York Times about how Clinton is perceiving Texas and Ohio as must-win states--especially if she does badly this evening in Virginia, Maryland and DC. Apparently even some of her superdelegates, who can change their minds anytime, are starting to have second thoughts. That seems rather traitorous at this preliminary stage.

*Finally, the VEEP speculation for McCain is picking up. The AP has a good list, which includes Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida. Polprint's view is that McCain will not choose Huckabee: while Huckabee would firm up some of the evangelical vote, he seems too much of a greenhorn on foreign affairs for McCain's taste.

Reporters and Caucuses

Here's a headline Polprint strongly disagrees with: "Good journalism requires sacrifice of political life".

Newspapers around the country have been grappling with the question of reporters’ right to vote. It does not seem to be an issue in primary
states, where the ballot is secret. But the matter has cropped up in several caucus states.

American newspapers tend to separate opinion from reporting. (Polprint has been schooled in the British model, where if something is bollocks the reporter is free to say so.) On the political front, American reporters are supposed to present neutral information to their readers.

Banning campaign contributions is understandable. Taking away a reporter’s right to participate in a caucus, however, seems extreme. Most newspapers have not enacted such bans, but they have shown up sporadically: at the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota; at the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado; and at the News Tribune in Washington state. And it's not just political journalists: even reporters who cover sports, or food, are discouraged from participating.

Objectivity is important. But reporters have opinions, and they are private citizens for 16 hours of the day (well, maybe 14). Should they never fill up a petrol tank if they cover the oil industry? Or, taking another angle, should the nine justices of the Supreme Court be barred from voting in case they have to decide the next election…or Clinton v Obama for that matter?

John Temple, the editor and publisher of Rocky Mountain News in Colorado, expressed his sentiments thus:

“I believe [reporters] need to be able to set their feelings aside when gathering the news. If they can't be open to differing views, they need to recuse themselves, no matter their expertise or record.”

How is it that participating in a caucus means that reporters are not “open to differing views”? Or less open than if they did not participate?

One solution, of course, would be to get rid of the anachronistic caucus system. The New York Times had a memorable article a few months ago about how Iowa, the first caucus, disenfranchises overseas military troops; hospital workers who have an evening shift; mothers who cannot afford a babysitter; and many others.

A compromise system is in effect in Maine. There, voters have the option of caucusing or sending in an absentee ballot. Polprint is not sure exactly how the absentee ballots are integrated into the caucus system (ie, whether the absentee ballots are anonymous or not; are there any Mainers reading?) But this could be a way to give anxious editors the veneer of objectivity that they seek—and soldiers half a world away the ability to have a say.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gender and the DNC

Polprint will not add to the already plentiful “women’s vote” analysis of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. But while we are on the subject of gender, she would like to share some “who knew?” facts about the Democratic Party charter.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is gender-correct to the letter. According to the party's charter and by-laws, three of five vice-chairpersons of the DNC must be “of the opposite sex” from the chairperson. Representatives of each state to the DNC include the chairperson of the state’s Democratic party…plus the highest-ranking Democratic party official in the state who is of the opposite sex. In other words, if New Mexico has a male Democratic chairperson, a woman must tag along to the DNC as well, and vice-versa.

There are also provisions requiring the DNC to include Congresspersons of different sexes. Mayors too are required to be gender-diverse, as are representatives from Young Democrats; from state attorney generals; from state treasurers. It goes on and on. Polprint’s favorite: Even the two representatives from the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Commitee, whatever that is, must be of different genders.

The Republicans have fairly similar rules: a chairman and co-chairman of the opposite sex for the RNC; gender-diverse representatives on the RNC from states. There is more, but it does not quite go down to the level of ethnic co-ordinating committee (possibly there is none).

Now, Polprint can vaguely understand such documents appearing in the early 1970s, before she was born. And she feels grateful to all those who slugged it out for gender-equality in decades past. Nowadays, however, with a woman battling for the top of the Democratic ticket and Kay Bailey Hutchison’s name starting to be batted around by Republican VP speculators, aren’t we nearing that “post-gender” stage? What if Maine wants two women to represent it at the DNC or the RNC? What about ethnic minorities, who have no spots saved for them at the DNC/RNC?

The final irony: neither the Democratic nor the Republican party endorses quotas.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Green Mountain Campaigning

Last week’s choicest political headline came from the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer: “State’s Vote May Matter After All”. Vermont has long been upstaged by its neighbour, New Hampshire, which stubbornly insists on holding the first primary in the country.

But with the Clinton-Obama fight dragging on, this time Vermonters—along with virtually every state in the union plus a few non-states like Puerto Rico—will have a say. Twenty-three delegates are at stake in the March 4 primary.

Vermont’s choice will be overshadowed by showdowns the same day in delegate-rich Texas and Ohio (not to mention Rhode Island). But there is speculation, according to the Reformer, that the candidates might make a brief stop at the airport in Burlington. Polprint, who just returned from an enjoyable ski trip to southern Vermont, recommends that they stay a bit longer.

The smart money is on Obama, even though all of Vermont’s neighbors—Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire—went for Clinton. According to the Boston Globe, Obama has has far outstripped Clinton in fund-raising in Vermont. Moreover, the state’s only Democratic Senator (Patrick Leahy) and its sole Congressman (Peter Welch) are in the Obama camp.

There is another reason that both Democratic candidates will want to court Vermont. A Vermonter--Howard Dean, the former governor who is now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee—could ultimately decide their fate.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

McCain's green credentials

Polprint has thus far failed to deliver on her promise of "a touch of green". The politics of red and blue have been too compelling. But here's a start:

Environmentalists must be pleased with the Final Three (sorry, Huckabee). Obama and Clinton both support the now-standard Democratic climate approach of higher fuel-economy standards, cap & trade provisions for carbon dioxide, pumping money into renewables so as to generate green-collar jobs, etc.

But John McCain is not far behind them. A Republican in the mold of Arnold Schwarzenegger, McCain has promised to make stopping climate change a priority. He may be 71, but he is looking to the future. McCain has been pushing for cap & trade at least since 2003--longer than Obama has been in the Senate. Mitt Romney pandered to Michigan voters by arguing for lower fuel-economy standards, to help salvage the auto industry. Not so McCain.

President McCain might push for cap & trade legislation even more quickly than Clinton/Obama, since it would be one of the areas of obvious agreement between him and a Democratic-controlled Congress. (This analysis is not original to Polprint; its source is an unnameable Democrat.)

Even so, a piece today in Salon makes a good point that cap & trade is only part of the climate-change solution. There is also the matter of the judiciary--appointing judges who won't gut all environmental regulations. McCain also seems to oppose subsidies for solar and wind--and those two industries, especially solar, still do need help. See this interview in Grist for more.

Say It Ain't So, Mitt

Washington is broken, and now there is no one to fix it. The Bay State is sorrowing over the “suspension” of campaigning by its former governor.

Here’s the (multi)-million-dollar question--What should Mitt Romney do now? He’s got lots of experience: boss of a big consultancy; turnaround genius of the Winter Olympics; tamer of liberal Massachusetts.

Please, everyone, jump in...

1) Return to Bain. Replenish financial trove...for another run in 2012.

2) Head of Societe Generale. Institution with urgent need to change course could use someone clever with numbers and management.

3) McCain’s VP. Not.

4) BFF with John Edwards. Start support group for rich guys with good hair who should have been president.

5) Go hunting. For real. With Scalia.

6) Pass torch to Tagg.