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.

The dream ticket

The conventional wisdom is that the "dream ticket"--Hillary and Obama together--will never happen. Their view of one another after this brutal contest may not amount to outright loathing, but let's call it steady professional enmity.

Obama-Clinton won't happen. Clinton would never consent, and Obama would never offer. As previously argued, he needs a change figure (Webb! Webb!), ideally from a useful state.

But Clinton-Obama? The longer this process drags out, the more she needs him. To shun Obama--especially for a heartland dullard like Evan Bayh--would be to push away all the enthusiasm and new voters that he brings. In a battle for the center against John McCain, Hillary will need Obama's moderates.

Moreover, think of the surprise value of such a move. It would immediately trigger a wave of breathless coverage about the Democrats' unity (real or supposed). Of course, something would have to be worked out about Bill, for everyone's sake. Roving ambassador to the world?

Clearly Polprint is getting ahead of herself. Hillary is so short of cash that top staff are reportedly going without pay. Also, the spread-out nature of the rest of the contests plays to Obama's strength: he's better when he's had time to introduce himself to voters. But she is ahead in the delegate count. Polprint is not--what is the proper sports expression?--taking odds.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The PR factor

Per my last entry of disastrous ways to win, David Brooks on the Newshour just suggested the most egregious possibility of all: Puerto Rico!

Puerto Rico is the last of the Democratic contests, on June 7. At stake: a whopping 63 delegates. And unlike virtually every other Democratic contest (I say virtually because who knows what American Samoa and Guam are up to), Puerto Rico's system is winner-take-all. Egad!

Bad ways to win

A Canadian friend I lunched with put it best...Given the near-deadlock, there are several unpleasant technical ways that the Democratic nomination could be resolved.

1) The question of whether to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates. Seating Michigan seems thoroughly unfair because Obama (and Edwards) were not even on the ballot. The choice was Hillary or Not Hillary (a category that did include Kucinich, Dodd and Gavel). Hillary won with an unimpressive 55%.

Florida is harder to argue with. There, Democratic turnout was strong and all candidates were represented on the ballot. It's a rock and a hard place. To reverse rules is unfair to Obama; but for him to win by enforcing the disenfranchisement of Florida's obviously keen voters would be churlish. It could also backfire in the general election.

2) Winning by super-delegates: True, superdelegates are mostly elected officials. But if they are the "swing vote", they will not necessarily reflect the wishes of the voters. Also, many of them--including non-elected party bosses--may feel they owe loyalty to Bill Clinton, who (despite appearances) is not a candidate.

And the solution is...Reform! I am not going to dwell excessively on this--better a clever mathematician than I--but clearly both parties will want to take a long hard look at the delegate allocation process, which according to the Washington Post was "installed with the help of Jesse Jackson and Harold Ickes (now a Clinton adviser) two decades ago" in the case of the Democrats. This comes of course in addition to electorcal college reform, electronic voting reform and other good deeds....enough to keep president Clinton/Obama/McCain occupied for at least four years.

To state the well-established obvious (pardon the arguable redundancy): it does not behoove the Democrats to wait until the August convention in Denver to settle on a nominee. That would give the Republicans a substantial head start on general-election campaigning. And it would make for a figurative bloodbath .

The votes are in...

This is one of those mornings when Polprint is glad she's not a real pundit. I have no idea of what to make of this map (and lack of sleep, coupled with some peculiar power outages in the middle of the night, does not help).

The Republican side is easiest: John McCain has taken a giant step forward. His only risk, and it's a slight one, would be if Romney and Huckabee's support consolidates (ie, one of them drops out). Everybody is saying that Huckabee has secured himself the VP nomination by his strong showing and Christian zeal. But I cannot imagine that McCain can in good conscience choose someone who knows nothing about foreign policy. I've been wrong before.

As for the Democrats...extraordinary. How can Hillary win California and NY and still not have a lock on the nomination? But she doesn't, and this fight will clearly carry on. My main sentiment is pity for both candidates. This should be the time when the victor cracks the champagne and heads off for a week of fishing (or whatever) with their families. But no--it's on to glad-handing the good folks of Nebraska, Virginia and beyond.

On the delegate side, we're still waiting for those totals to come in. But CNN preliminary figures suggest that Colorado has 19 Democratic delegates. That's one more than...Idaho. And less than half the number alloted to Alabama. Er, how is that?

Ah, editing myself here...the answer appears to be that delegate figures are indeed quite preliminary, and Colorado's full share--55 for Super Tuesday, plus 16 superdelegates--has not yet been allocated.

Finally, before I run to class, a short note on last night's speeches. McCain: needs to liven it up. Clinton: needs to slow down her delivery. Obama: needs to break out of what the New York Times is correctly calling a borderline cult of personality. I've had about enough of "Yes, We Can". How about a "Here's my plan".


Finally finally (the aforementioned class was skipped due to an untimely downpour) last night's results say anything about the Democrats' million-dollar question, electability? One of the interesting features of the campaign is that electability has been argued passionately and persuasively for both sides. Here are a few inconclusive observations:

1) Latinos are going to Clinton. But how important is this? Consider that: a) Latino turnout is traditionally low--although every election there is an effort to change this, and with the immigration issue hot this might really be the time. b) Latinos may be drawn to McCain in the general election, for his longstanding measured stance on immigration.

2) Blacks, a core constituency of the Democratic base, are strongly for Obama. But does this mean they would rebuff the Clintons and hold back in November? Unlikely.

3) The three "super-swing states" (can I coin that?)--Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida--for all intents and purposes have not had their say. Florida voted last month but was stripped of its delegates by clever, forward-thinking Democratic party officials. So its overwhelming endorsement of Clinton presumptively does not count, and was achieved without any campaigning. Ohio is up March 4, and Pennsylvania not until April 22. And there are still a few more states after that! Polprint--not to mention the candidates--will have a busy spring.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

At the ballot box

Polprint has cast her ballot, and was duly rewarded with an "I voted" American flag sticker. It was somewhat disconcerting that none of the nice old ladies at the booth asked for an ID, or even proof of residence.

Weather report from Massachusetts: A cold, nasty rain has been falling since last night. Shouldn't make much difference though--voters here are hardy.

Whatever the final outcome tonight, it is sure to be close, at least on the Democratic side. And that is a victory for democracy. States like Texas that normally are only courted for their fundraising dollars will get a real say in the outcome. And having had a taste of relevance, they may not so docilely line up last in 2012. Shaking up the primary process--and diminishing the stranglehold of two of the smallest and whitest states in the country, New Hampshire and Iowa--would be a great thing.

Romney, Mexico and polygamy

Poor Mitt Romney. He can boot out all the illegal Guatemalan gardeners he can find, but he can't change his ancestry. A Harvard fellow has written an op-ed on how Romney's polygamist great-grandfather fled to Mexico when the United States started investigating Mormon marriage practices. You can't make up a richer tale than that.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Looking ahead

The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats are fully energized this year and will turn out in massive numbers in November. The reasons are George Bush, "change", and a top crop of candidates.

But surely it is possible that some of the enthusiasm of Democratic voters, particularly the young (drawn to Obama) and women (drawn to Hillary), is for their particular candidate, as opposed to "any Democrat". In other words, unless the "dream ticket" emerges, a potentially critical portion of that enthusiam could trickle off or go (presumptively) to McCain.

Teary times

Hillary Clinton is developing a peculiar habit of tearing up shortly before major primaries. Polprint extends full benefit of the doubt, since this campaign is surely the most grueling in history. Both candidates must be exhausted. Cue more tears: it's far from over.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Polling and cellphones

Is it possible that pollsters disproportionally miss college students? This is idle speculation by someone who knows nothing about the polling process. But if pollsters are anything like telemarketers, they will target people with landlines, for reasons of either cost or legality. And most voters under 30 probably do not have landlines (OK, no doubt there is a sizeable group that has returned to their parents for rent-free mooching...). Obviously the major limitation of polls is the volatility of this race. But are cellphones a factor? Anyone?

Campaign football

Let Polprint be the first to offer the silly but obvious analogy between the Super Bowl and the campaign. A last-minute come-from-behind win by a major underdog, following a hard-fought contest?

In other notes, Polprint did not see the reputed Obama Super Bowl ad despite living in a Super Tuesday state. And the Manning-Tyree miracle does top The Catch.

Obama slips up

Obama's reaction to nuclear leaks in Illinois is not a pretty story. Particularly troubling is that he once claimed to have passed progressive legislation on the issue, when in fact the bill did not pass (and in the end was not particularly progressive). In its response to the New York Times, Obama's campaign did not explain that incorrect claim, when it would have been simple to admit that he misspoke. That is compounding the mistake.

Conservatives only live in Georgia

Huckabee is making so much sense. CNN quotes him as calling for Romney to drop out, based on the following logic: "If I'm ahead of him in places like Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, then he needs to step aside and let me in fact be that conservative alternative than he says we need.”

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Venture Vote

Word on the street: Boston's venture capitalists--a not insubstantial group--are for Romney. Reason: his zeal to cut capital-gains taxes. And because he's "one of them". They apparently don't believe the new social-conservative Romney is the real Romney. Perhaps time won't tell.

In other Romney news, how inconvenient that Gordon Hinckley, the Mormon Church president, died last week. Attending the service reminds everyone of Romney's Mormonism, not to mention taking time away from Super Tuesday campaigning. The issue will persist through the spring: the next head of the Church must be appointed.

Moving on to Romney's alma mater...There are apparently three "Ms" for getting into Harvard Business School. McKinsey, Mormonism and the military. Presumably that became standard after George Bush went through. Or does the National Guard count?

Democratic endorsements

What has happened to Bill Richardson and John Edwards? Richardson, after pulling out post-New Hampshire, said he expected to make an endorsement shortly. No sign of that, although Bill Clinton has secured a coveted seat next to Richardson while watching the Super Bowl. Clinton must have high hopes, because their appointed meetingplace--the 500-person ski town of Red River, NM--is 100 miles from Santa Fe. Why else venture into the middle of nowhere two days before Super Tuesday?

As for Edwards, his refusal to endorse seems both pragmatic and churlish. He clearly has a favorite--his siding with Obama in the pre-New Hampshire debate may have given Clinton and inadvertent boost. But if Obama is derails on Super Tuesday, then Edwards may be wise to keep quiet. He'd make a fearsome Attorney General for either of his erstwhile rivals.

Explaining Obama's youth appeal

(Polprint's stab at op-ed writing)

One of Barack Obama’s favourite lines on the campaign trail is that we are one America, as opposed to a collection of “red states and blue states”. He holds out the promise of “bringing Democrats and Republicans together to get the job done.”

His critics on the left fear that he really means it. Republicans are so wrong, they say, that a politics of inclusion only courts disaster. Obama got a verbal pounding in Nevada for the simple observation that Ronald Reagan “changed the trajectory of America”. Hillary Clinton piled it on, berating Obama for crediting Republicans as the “party of ideas” in recent history--an obvious slight to her husband.

But Obama is tapping into a belief as old as America: that partisanship is a dubious foundation on which to rest our political system. Parties were not written into our Constitution. They were not even envisaged, and stirred abhorrence when they began forming during George Washington’s first term. Before the Constitution was even drafted, John Adams wrote in 1780, “There is nothing I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties.”

In his 1796 farewell address, Washington warned, vainly to be sure, that political parties serve to “make the public administration the mirror of ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction.”

The trouble with parties is as follows: Much as they claim to have ideological coherence—small government and states’ rights on the Republican side, workers’ rights on the Democratic side--they are simply an agglomeration of positions on issues.

Why should someone who opposes gay marriage necessarily agree with the notion of pre-emptive war—or the dilution of environmental regulation? What does support for universal health insurance have in common with opposition to the Patriot Act?

If nothing else, George Bush’s ham-fisted presidency has exposed the arbitrary nature of partisan politics. Republicans stuck by him as he pushed through an expensive war in Iraq as well as giant federal mandates—think of the Medicare prescription drug bill, and No Child Left Behind. These clearly undercut his party’s nominal “small government” agenda, and his supporters retreated only when the failures of these policies became clear.

Obama’s candidacy—and to an extent John McCain’s--is premised on a radical idea: Why not cherry-pick the best ideas from both sides of the aisle? Parties may not go away, but why not marry the (union-opposed) concept of merit pay for teachers with more federal funding for schools? Why not show hawkishness on Iran and Pakistan, even while energetically working the world’s diplomatic levers?

In “Audacity of Hope”, Obama writes of an email he received from a doctor opposed to abortion, who was upset by inflammatory pro-choice language put up by Obama's staff on the campaign website, criticizing “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose”. Obama thanked the doctor, paid heed to his concerns even while explaining his own view, and toned it down.

Such modifications will not salve critics on the right (and these will become more vocal as the general election nears). They will argue, reasonably, that Obama’s soothing rhetoric cloaks an impeccably liberal voting record. But listening to both sides, and making modifications when a valid point is made, is an approach that our current president has notably lacked.

Commentators have been amazed by how college students across the country have flocked to Obama’s campaign. The explanation is simple. At their core, universities in America teach the virtue of questioning authority (though they may not phrase it as such). Surveys show that young people disproportionately categorize themselves as independents, and reject the strictures labelled Democrat or Republican. The allure of Obama to youth is not merely his ability to inspire. It is his openness to good ideas, no matter where they come from.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A-Rod and Rommey

Polprint's favorite campaign commentary yet, passed on by a friend. A week old, but sports and politics will never be dated. Romney as A-Rod? Awesome.

The VEEP question

Polprint faithfully reads WP's "The Fix", but today Chris Cillizza left out an important Obama possibility in his speculation about vice-presidential slots. Jim Webb is Polprint's Obama pick. He's a maverick--a big "change" guy--but also brings some foreign-policy, I've-glared-into-the-eyes-of-the-Soviets gravitas from his years as Reagan's secretary of the Navy. And, not least, he is usefully from Virginia.