Voters' trust is the single most valuable commodity any politician can have. Trust is what prompts voters to donate their hard earned cash to a candidate's campaign, give a candidate hours of their precious time by working at a phone bank or voter registration drive, and win their support at the ballot box. But once this trust has been lost, it is impossible to get it back. A politician who displays sufficient contrition or humility might be able to recover some of the trust that was lost, but the bond will never be as strong as it once was.
Earning voters' trust has been Barack Obama's main strength, as he has successfully tapped into the hearts of millions of voters who want to believe that he can usher in a new chapter of American history that is brighter than what characterizes the nation today. This trust is manifested in millions of small-dollar campaign contributions, viral videos on YouTube and Facebook, and record-breaking attendance at his campaign events.
Having defeated a cadre of talented rivals who boasted much longer track records of public service and accomplishments, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. His focus has shifted from keeping John Edwards from overtaking him to muscling past Hillary Clinton to putting Hillary Clinton away for good to keeping John McCain out of the White House. Of course, as a nominee's focus shifts from the primaries to the general election, it is common to make a strategic move towards the political center. Partisan bases may win primaries, but crossover appeal wins elections.
Barack Obama understands that this type of political posturing is essential for his success this November. However, as he makes his transition to general election mode and gets used to his status as the frontrunner instead of the insurgent, he runs the risk of damaging his political fortunes far more than anything the Republicans may throw at him.
Obama's campaign slogan is "Change we can believe in." Unfortunately for Obama, his post-Clinton campaign has provided several warnings that he should be cognizant of, lest he risk permanently damaging his brand and the commodity of trust I mentioned earlier.
For example, John McCain has extended several invitations to Obama to have them conduct town hall meetings together for ten consecutive weeks. However, Obama has rejected these invitations for various reasons. John McCain is to be commended for proposing these town halls because they allow voters to engage the candidates directly and without the presence of obfuscating campaign spokesmen and staffers. In an age where so many politicians are scripted and message discipline and gatekeeping are par for the course, informal town hall debates seem like a bit of fresh air.
The Obama campaign cites a desire to reach a broader audience as its primary reason for refusing to participate in the town hall debates. However, that would seem to contradict his popular campaign anecdote about the "fired up" woman from Greenwood, South Carolina, and how "one voice can change a room" and how "one room can change a city, etc." The reason why Obama is not participating in these town halls has nothing to do with reaching as many people as possible; it's simple politics. Frontrunners typically want to avoid debates because they don't want to elevate their opponents or give them a chance to inflict lasting damage. Underdogs typically want to have more debates so they can have more opportunities to increase their exposure and share the stage with their better positioned rivals. Not participating in town halls with John McCain over the summer is about preserving his lead in the polls and not giving McCain any opportunities to cut into that lead.
How politically convenient.
A second threat to Obama's campaign concerns public campaign financing. Obama's reversal on public financing is another issue that is not particularly newsworthy when taken on its own, but has a bit more significance when taken in the context of what his campaign is supposed to represent. Obama has spoken out about the need for "getting special interests and big money out of politics." He was a strong advocate for the public financing of presidential campaigns and transparency in government. But when he decided to renege on this commitment, he cited the need to defend himself against "opponents who have become masters at gaming this broken system."
Public financing of campaigns is a bit too archaic of a political issue to really engage voters. So it was a calculated gamble for Obama to sacrifice a few days of bad press for a few months of being able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. John McCain and his surrogates have attacked Obama for violating his word on this issue, but these attacks were likely not so effective because McCain is not exactly innocent when it comes to public campaign financing either.
However, Obama's supporters may have looked at his decision to opt out of public financing and wonder if the "candidate of change" is really doing nothing more than changing his political stripes. While partisan Democrats may relish the idea of their candidate being able to have a major cash advantage heading into the general election, a lot of new voters who responded to Obama's message of hope, staying positive, ushering in a new kind of politics, and "change we can believe in" may have some newfound reservations about him. He had one position when he didn't have so much money and was behind in the polls, but he had another position after he found himself becoming the most prolific fundraiser in American political history.
How politically convenient.
Public financing and ducking the town halls with John McCain are probably far more damaging to Barack Obama than his contortions on the Second Amendment or foreign policy. As I mentioned earlier, all politicians must tack to the political center for the general election. But this political posturing involves simple ideology. Voters can accept that as part of what politicians have to do for their own political survival. However, Obama's decisions regarding public financing and the town hall debates with John McCain constitute political posturing that involves civics. Ideology is about abstract and impersonal ideas, but civics are about actual voters. Voters don't like to be taken advantage of, and they will react harshly when they feel their trust has been violated.
Obama's political history is too short for him to have a deep reservoir of goodwill among voters. So he has to be very careful not to taint this well with his own gestures of political expediency. Republicans are right to bring this up in their attacks on Obama, but when his actual supporters start asking these very same questions, Obama will be in serious trouble.
If the November election is a referendum on President Bush, the Republican Party, the economy, jobs, or the overall state of the nation, Obama will win this election by a comfortable margin. But if the election is a referendum on Obama himself, John McCain may very well pull off one of the biggest upsets in political history.
How Obama Can Lose the Election
Voters' trust is the single most valuable commodity any politician can have. Trust is what prompts voters to donate their hard earned cash to a candidate's campaign, give a candidate hours of their precious time by working at a phone bank or voter registration drive, and win their support at the ballot box. But once this trust has been lost, it is impossible to get it back. A politician who displays sufficient contrition or humility might be able to recover some of the trust that was lost, but the bond will never be as strong as it once was.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 22:34 15 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, electoral behavior, republicans, scandal
The Obama Caricatures
Former Bush adviser Karl Rove launched the latest salvo against Barack Obama in an attempt to define him as unpalatable to the general electorate:
"Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."These remarks may be nothing more than childish name-calling, but they do illustrate a larger problem confronting Republicans as they try to keep the polls close.
Rove is clearly trying to paint Obama as an aloof, wealthy, liberal. However, the problem with this line of attack is that it directly contradicts some of the other caricatures Republicans have been trying to make stick to the Democratic presidential nominee.
For example, earlier this year there was a whisper campaign accentuating Obama's middle name by referring to him as "Barack Hussein Obama." Some thought this was innocuous because they were simply referring to him by his full name, even though nobody refers to John McCain as "John Sidney McCain." Others thought this was identity politics at its worst by trying to subtly frame Obama as a Muslim and therefore potentially disloyal to the United States. Other than appealing to the darkest elements of human nature, there's one other problem with this caricature. How often do you find dark-skinned men named "Hussein" at a country club?
Another enduring caricature is the America-hating black militant Obama with his racist wife Michelle. This is the Obama that spent 20 years in Jeremiah Wright's church--the same church that was later visited by Michael Pflager who invoked White entitlement as he mocked Hillary Clinton. But how does one go from spending 20 years in a Black church preaching Black liberation theology to a country club that is presumably overwhelmingly populated by the very people his pastor was criticizing?
Then there's the young and inexperienced Obama. This is the Obama who has yet to complete his first term in the Senate and was still serving as a state legislator in Springfield, Illinois, at the start of President Bush's term. But if he's so young and inexperienced, how could he be an elitist at a country club? Young people and those who have not built up their network of connections through years of experience are going to have a hard time gaining access to such exclusive resorts. After all, not just anybody can join a private country club to begin with.
This brings up the caricature of Obama as an elitist. This is the Obama who went to Harvard Law and attended an elite academy in Hawaii. Republicans have tried to paint Obama as a "limousine liberal" who looks down on voters who "cling to guns and religion." But that goes back to the identity politics and class warfare question. Obama is less wealthy than the very strategists and party operatives who are accusing him of being a country club liberal. He recently finished paying off his student loans and had the smallest net worth of all of this year's major presidential candidates, including John McCain. And if surrogates want to bring Michelle Obama into this fight as an elitist, that would make Cindy McCain fair game. She's a former beauty queen and a multi-millionaire who inherited a brewery and owns a private jet. So who would be more elitist in that case?
We also have the liberal Obama caricature. This is the guy who makes Ted Kennedy look like a moderate. This is the guy who is the most liberal person in the Senate. But aren't country clubs more typically viewed as havens for the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party than liberals--especially biracial ones named Hussein?
The fact that Republicans have tried to redefine Obama in so many often contradictory ways suggests that 1) none of the previous labels have gained significant traction, 2) the party as a whole is largely bankrupt of new ideas, and 3) Obama has successfully innoculated himself from most of their prior charges. Of course, in addition to being petty, these kinds of attacks play right into Obama's message of "change" because he can point to this name-calling and show that the Republican Party is out of touch and that they care more about political posturing than solving real problems.
These kinds of attacks may gin up the base, but they will likely do little to bring independents and new voters into the fold.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 14:30 13 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, electoral behavior, john mccain, race relations, republicans, scandal
Echoes of Katrina: A Case for Conservatism
The major weather story this month concerns the terrible flooding in the Midwest. Torrential rains upstream have caused what is now being described as a 500-year flood. Communities all along the Mississippi River are being destroyed by floodwaters racing through breaches in levees, some of which may have been unacceptably weak to begin with. Dozens of lives have been lost and losses from crops and businesses total in the billions.
The biggest tragedy, however, is that many residents affected by these floods had no flood insurance. Some of them didn't feel they needed it. Others said they were "misled" by federal authorities who suggested they didn't need it. And others still believed the levees in their communities would protect them from the rivers nearby.
This introduces a teachable moment that shows the appeal of conservatism and the role of individuals in society. The inspiration for this blog post came from a well reasoned defense of conservatism written by Rick Frea over at Freadom Nation. In short, Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires last fall should have taught homeowners everywhere about the importance of taking precautions.
But apparently, these lessons were lost on those who most needed to hear them.
A house is the single most important and most valuable investment a person will make in his lifetime. Not purchasing adequate insurance seems illogical at best and irresponsible at worst. If you live on a floodplain near a river that periodically overflows, you need to purchase flood insurance.
Purchasing a home without purchasing insurance is akin to driving an expensive car without insurance. It might save you a little money to drive without insurance each month, but when you get in an accident or get pulled over by the police for a traffic violation, all the money you saved by skimping on insurance is more than offset by having to pay a hefty no-insurance fee or having to pay for a new car out of pocket. And no matter how careful a driver you are, there are times when accidents and poor drivers are simply unavoidable.
This is the conservative position. Because these families were negligent, they have lost everything. Many of them are blaming FEMA and the government for not telling them they needed to purchase flood insurance. But you shouldn't need the government to tell you that. If you live near a major river that has flooded before and is likely to flood again, you have no one to blame but yourself when the inevitable happens. This flood has affected both liberal and conservative counties in Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. And liberals and conservatives alike are blaming the government for not protecting them. But whose fault is that?
One of the criticisms of conservatism is that it is too harsh or insensitive, particularly when it comes to personal responsibility, self-reliance, and helping those in need. However, what can be said for people who are knowingly negligent? Should responsible homeowners in other parts of the United States be forced to use their tax dollars to subsidize the negligence of uninsured homeowners who should have known better?
The frequent rains should have given these homeowners and river communities sufficient warning. The flooding in Wisconsin should have given at-risk communities downstream sufficient warning. Hurricane Katrina should have given waterfront communities everywhere sufficient warning. The historic floods of 1993 should have given residents of these low-lying areas sufficient warning.
And yet, so many homeowners didn't heed these warnings.
These communities should rebuild, just as New Orleans should rebuild. After all, if these communities disappear and people move away from the Mississippi River and its surrounding floodplains, who will manage our shipping lanes? Who will plant our corn, raise our livestock, and grow our wheat?
Natural disasters are unavoidable, and they can happen anywhere. There are earthquakes on the West Coast, hurricanes in the Southeast, wildfires in the West, blizzards in the Northeast, tornadoes in the Great Plains, and flooding near any river. But home is home, so it may not be practical for a person to simply pack up and move. But even though you may be at the mercy of nature, you should at least have the wisdom to protect yourself, your family, and your home by making sure you have the proper insurance.
Perhaps liberalism would have helped protect these homeowners by providing them with appropriate flood maps, building subsidies, insurance requirements, and levee improvements as Barack Obama has criticized John McCain for not supporting. But part of the beauty of being an American is that even though we may need help at times, we are ultimately the masters of our own domain. And nothing good could be said of a government or a nation that must take it upon itself to protect its own people from themselves.
The Republican brand may be damaged, but with the right messenger, conservatism could find a larger audience.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 23:31 8 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, john mccain, opinion, scandal
McCain's Energy Policy and the Electoral Map
The rising cost of oil has prompted politicians and President Bush to come up with various proposals to ease the pain caused by record high gas prices and rising demand from other nations. In addition to pursuing green energy sources, many of the proposed solutions center around increased domestic exploration--that is, drilling in Alaska and off the coasts of California and Southeastern states. These proposals have been debated before, but what makes this latest round of debate particularly intriguing is the fact that John McCain has come out in favor of ending the ban on offshore drilling. This is significant because it represents a policy reversal that opens him up to charges of flip flopping, pandering, or even being in lockstep with President Bush, who also supports ending the ban.
There's one other reason why McCain's reversal on this issue deserves further scrutiny. The presidential election is less than five months away and this position threatens his chances of holding onto a state he can ill afford to lose--Florida, the largest red state after Texas.
Offshore drilling has historically been terribly unpopular in Florida. John McCain's reversal on lifting the ban is likely a risky proposition in the Sunshine State. The beach is one of Florida's greatest assets and is a major part of the state's tourism industry. The mere thought of seeing oil rigs on the horizon from the coast does not appeal to Floridians, even if the rigs are so far away from the coast that they can't be seen at all. The reason for this is that they fear the presence of these rigs will spoil their beaches or hurt tourism. And any environmental incident concerning offshore drilling would conjure up images of the Exxon Valdez disaster from 20 years ago. An oil spill off the Florida coast could potentially devastate the environment as well as the state's economy.
So even though offshore drilling might make for sound energy policy, it's also more likely to be a political loser. Given Obama's recent decision not to accept public financing, he will surely have the resources necessary to contest Florida. Attacking McCain on his energy policy as it pertains to Florida could be quite damaging to the Arizona senator's chances of keeping this state red in November. There has even been talk about McCain competing in California as well, but any talk of offshore drilling there will immediately end any chances he has of putting that state in play.
Of course, McCain is banking on voters' anger with $4 gas superseding their reservations concerning offshore drilling. It is not a short term solution, but it does at least give voters evidence of leadership and offering concrete solutions to addressing the nation's energy problems. This could contrast well with Barack Obama, who is still battling concerns about his inability to talk in specifics. McCain's proposal allows him to challenge Obama by saying, "You may not like my plan, Senator Obama, but what's your plan?"
This could be an effective line of attack for McCain, but there remains the possibility that Floridians will recoil at the notion of drilling off of their pristine coast. And that brings us back to political reality.
The importance of Florida cannot be overstated. It is the third largest state in the nation, but unlike California and New York, it is actually politically competitive. Florida is essentially John McCain's firewall. It is the largest light red state on the map. If McCain loses Florida, this election is over. A Democrat can win the White House without Florida. A Republican can't. Losing Florida would force McCain to win Michigan and Pennsylvania. And if he can't win both, he would have to win at least one along with a medium-sized state, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Oregon.
Barack Obama will have a tremendous cash advantage against John McCain, so he'll have more money to spend on advertising and GOTV (get out the vote) operations that can help defend him against McCain's attacks. And because Barack Obama didn't campaign in Florida (or Michigan) because of the impending sanctions from the Democratic National Committee, he has a lot more potential room for growth there.
Energy may be a contentious issue that all voters want addressed, but the violent reaction from Floridians that may come from this latest debate illustrates one of the ugly truths about voters' hypocrisy when it comes to energy policy. We want offshore drilling, but only on another state's coastline. We want to use less foreign oil, but only if we can still drive our trucks and SUVs. We want nuclear energy, but only if we can store the waste somewhere far away from us. We want to drill in the wilderness of Alaska and the Mountain West, but only if the surrounding ecosystems are completely undisturbed. True solutions to our energy woes will require politically unpopular leadership.
Offshore drilling may be a valid solution to enhance the nation's domestic energy portfolio and drive down prices over the long term. But the current political reality may make this a foolish decision. McCain is displaying true courage by coming out in favor of offshore drilling. And perhaps high gas prices have caused Floridians to reconsider their stance on the issue. If this is the case, then McCain could keep the state and its 27 electoral votes in the Republican column. But when one considers how much larger Obama's electoral map is, the last thing McCain should do is cede his rival yet another powerful political issue that could threaten the second largest state in his path to 270.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 11:10 10 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, electoral behavior, energy, john mccain
On Political Opportunism and Manufactured Controversies
The 2008 presidential campaign is turning out to be the campaign of surrogates and guilt by association. John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many other candidates have had to apologize for and/or distance themselves from some of their supporters who have made provocative, embarrassing, or downright offensive remarks. Some of these transgressions and embarrassments happened on the campaign trail, as was the case with Black Entertainment Television founder and Clinton supporter Bob Johnson who alluded to Barack Obama's past drug use. In other instances, the controversial remarks happened several years in the past, as was the case with Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor.
Some of these remarks are truly outrageous and deserve to be covered by the media. Any politician affiliated with a person who makes such remarks should rightfully be prepared to explain them. However, we appear to have reached a level of hypersensitivity and absurdity in which feigned outrage stems from truly stupid remarks that nobody should really care about, such as former Obama adviser Samantha Power's calling Hillary Clinton a monster. She was subsequently fired after the Clinton campaign pounced on the remarks as crude.
The fallout from these incidents should serve as a fair warning to all candidates that in the first YouTube presidential campaign, all of their words and all of the words of anyone moderately associated with them are fair game. For better or worse, any surrogate who has engaged in the slightest bit of impropriety or who had made an embarrassing remark 10 years ago will be scrutinized carefully.
In the grand scheme of things, these silly stories don't matter much. Now that both nomination races are settled and there are only two candidates to cover instead of ten, journalists have far less material to work with. Naturally, that means every minor transgression, misstatement, contradiction, or embarrassment is going to be scrutinized heavily by the media. This may be good for partisans and political junkies who care about such minutia, but it is ultimately unimportant and provides a great disservice to the broader electorate. Even worse, it seems as if the media are trying to create dustups and controversies on their own just to give politicians something to respond to, no matter how stupid it is, and shape the political dialogue rather than having the candidates shape it themselves.
Exhibit A: One of the media storylines gaining traction is the idea that Barack Obama is having trouble with White voters, and especially White women. The primary results in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky confirmed this. As a result, Obama has had to work a bit harder to appeal to these so-called Reagan Democrats lest he risk losing them to John McCain.
But why is this such big news? Democrats in general tend to do worse among White voters than Republicans do. People of color and immigrants are more likely to view the Democratic Party as friendly and receptive to their interests. So if Barack Obama is having such trouble attracting White voters, why won't the media examine why John McCain is having such trouble with Black voters or evangelical voters? Or is Obama's inability to attract support from one group of voters more significant than McCain's?
An alternative explanation for Obama's troubles is Rush Limbaugh's Operation Chaos in which Republicans were encouraged to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries in an attempt to drag out the contest and have Clinton and Obama continue to bloody each other up while McCain sat on the sidelines and conserved his resources. These voters were never going to vote for Obama in November. But they were never going to vote for Clinton either. Now there are polls saying that a significant number of her supporters are considering staying home or voting for McCain. Some of these voters are indeed dejected or angry over Clinton's loss. But surely others don't really care because these voters weren't loyal to Clinton to begin with. Perhaps it is only lending greater credence to Limbaugh and his influence, but the fact that this idea hasn't received greater follow-up coverage is unfortunate.
Exhibit B: Shortly after Obama clinched the nomination, he assembled a team that would be responsible for spearheading his search for a running mate. This happens all the time and is usually of no consequence. However, the leader of this search team, Jim Johnson, had ties to the subprime loan industry and received controversial housing loans.
This was a poor political decision by Obama because it contradicted his message of change, transparency, and decent governance. Republicans, the media, and McCain's campaign pounced on this as an example of "poor judgment," and Johnson soon resigned from the team.
Obama lamented that we had reached the point in our politics where we had to "vet the vetters." He has a point because should he win the election, how will he be able to appoint people to his cabinet and various administrative offices if anyone who has any blemishes or scuff marks from dealing with Washington is automatically disqualified? Almost every politician is tied to a lobbyist, a corporation that has engaged in questionable business practices, or a major donor/fundraiser whose contributions might not be entirely clean. Unless Obama is going to bring in a truckload of outsiders who know nothing about how things actually get done in Washington and have no relationships with anybody in Washington at all, this controversy regarding Johnson is going to come back up over and over again.
And if Jim Johnson is going to be criticized for having ties to the seedy subprime loan industry, should McCain adviser Carly Fiorina not be criticized as well for her business ties to Iran?
Exhibit C: After Jeremiah Wright, Bob Johnson, Jim Johnson, and "monster" comments, everyone should have been put on notice that the spotlight on everyone's surrogates and their surrogates' histories was real.
Despite this, John McCain foolishly scheduled a fundraiser with Texas Republican Clayton Williams, who once said that if women were being raped, "they might as well just lie back and enjoy it." These remarks are obviously offensive and indefensible. However, Williams made these remarks in 1990. So one would think the statue of limitations has run out on these remarks. But in today's political climate, that was not going to happen. Once Democrats and the media found out about this, the outrage forced McCain to cancel the fundraiser.
What were once questions about Obama's "judgment" suddenly became questions about McCain's "judgment." However, the McCain campaign should have learned that if they wanted to attack someone for their surrogates' ties, they were giving free reign for their opponents to attack them for the very same thing. This is why they should not have been surprised when the controversy surrounding Williams blew up in their faces. And now McCain risks giving this story legs by claiming ignorance of these remarks and not returning Williams' campaign contributions. Whatever happened to "repudiate" and "denounce?"
But this is all political wrangling. Lost in all of the noise is the fact that neither politician was directly involved in these transgressions. They were wounded by surrogates and people who were only tangentially related to their campaigns. It is true that you can learn a lot about a person by the company he keeps, but at what point does genuine and legitimate outrage become political opportunism, media hypersensitivity, or a failure of journalism?
Most of these guilt by association stories are certainly not the best use of journalists' time, but that is the sorry state of journalism today. Journalists and politicians are outraged over the wrong things. And perhaps because the nomination races are settled and there's not as much news to cover, the lack of news is causing journalists to be a bit less selective in regards to what they cover. And when they do cover something, they often fail to dig a little deeper and instead opt to manufacture their own controversies to advance convenient media storylines. And that's a shame.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 10:55 6 comment(s) Permalink
The Plight of Black Republicans
Black Republicans are a rare breed. About 85% of the Black vote goes to Democrats, so they are perhaps the most reliable voting bloc in America. Blacks' loyalty to the Democratic Party stems from several factors:
1. Black voters tend to view the government as a protector, rather than an obstacle. This automatically places Blacks at odds with Republican conservatism, which advocates less government regulation and intervention. Protecting affirmative action, redress for civil rights violations, and government programs for the poor have wide support among Black voters. The government is not the enemy, as it gave them the right to vote. When they hear Republicans talk about entitlement reform and limiting government's influence, Blacks view these Republicans as a threat.
2. Blacks question Republicans' interest in their problems and their communities. Democratic politicians are far more likely to venture into their neighborhoods and listen to their concerns. Republicans are more likely to "hunt where the ducks are" and avoid campaigning for Black votes because they feel they could make better use of their time and money elsewhere. This may have worked with relative success thus far, but it betrays the notion of the Republicans' "big tent" and is not a viable long term strategy because of the nation's changing demographics. While winning a majority of Black votes is probably out of the question for Republicans, winning about 20% of the vote could make a huge difference in a competitive state like Missouri or Michigan.
3. Blacks sense a double standard when it comes to holding people accountable for racial insensitivities, racist behaviors, and the transgressions of members of their own race. When a prominent Black person says something ridiculous, Whites commonly call on Blacks to denounce the remarks. But when a White person says or does something equally stupid or offensive, the outrage among Whites is comparatively muted or the offensive remark or act is somehow explained away. And because there are so few people of color who are Republicans, the Republican Party has come to be synonymous with the "White party." So while many Blacks may actually agree with some parts of the Republican platform, they view the Republican Party as a hostile party.
Nevertheless, there is a small, but significant cadre of Black Republicans: Amy Holmes, J.C. Watts, Condoleeza Rice, Ken Hamblin, and Clarence Thomas are some of the most prominent Blacks who don't fall into the same crowd as Michael Dyson, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. These Republicans are pro-self-reliance, pro-life, and pro-entrepreneurial. And as the number of Blacks entering the middle class rises, the less appealing the same old arguments about "the government keeping people down" and "the government not giving people a fair shake" become, thus making conservatism get a second look.
Barack Obama's candidacy has presented a conundrum for these Blacks, however. Armstrong Williams and Colin Powell are two of the latest high profile Black Republicans to publicly state that they were at least considering voting for Obama. Even though they may not have much in common with the liberal senator from Illinois, they do think he may be able to help their communities in a way that the Republican Party has failed to do so thus far.
Obama's story is an example of the conservative story. He was not born into a wealthy family, and he did not have "friends" in high places to take care of him regarding getting a job or getting into school. And now he is the first person of color to have a real shot at winning the presidency. All Blacks, regardless of ideology, want to look at Obama and tell their children that anything is possible if they work hard for it. Seeing a dark-skinned man addressed as "Mr. President" will mean far more to a Black child or Black teenager than any rhetoric (even if from a Black person) about "personal responsibility" and "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps."
While these Republican voters are indeed conservative, they are also Black. And they do not want to see their communities fail. Republican outreach in Black communities has been abysmal. At least the Democrats show up, even if their ideas are not necessarily what's in their best interests. Many of Hillary Clinton's supporters want to teach the Democratic National Committee a lesson by voting for John McCain. Many Republicans want to teach John McCain a lesson by voting for the Libertarian or Constitution Party nominee. And because of the poor track record Republicans have with courting the Black vote (such as the "scheduling conflicts" that prevented so many Republican presidential candidates from participating in the debate on Black issues last fall), many Black Republicans are considering giving their votes to Obama. After all, Democrats are not the ones who are using his
middle name as an instrument of fear.
At this point, a lot of people would criticize these Black conservatives for "voting for Obama just because he's Black." But if John McCain is able to attract votes from White Democrats without anyone saying anything, why can't Barack Obama attract votes from Black Republicans? Whites have been voting for Whites for centuries without anybody calling them out on it, so why is it such a big deal with Obama?
If you are Black and you support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist.)
If you are White and you don't support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist.)
If you are White and you support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist who's trying to prove that you aren't.)
If you are Black and you don't support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're trying to prove that race doesn't matter by voting against him.)
So it would seem that nobody can support or oppose Obama at all without their motives being questioned.
People seem to ignore the fact that people simply tend to vote for people who are like them. And for better or worse, race is just another dimension by which people can assess one's commitment to "people like them." Even though the differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were minimal, Obama got routed in Appalachia. And Clinton got routed in the South. Republicans routinely beat Democrats among Christians, males, wealthy voters, and Whites. Democrats usually outperform Republicans among women, young voters, poor voters, and people of color.
While Barack Obama might not have much in common with Black Republicans in terms of his policies on national defense, taxes, or immigration, they may conclude that he is very much like them in terms of his commitment to the Black community. Their ideologies might not overlap much, but their concerns for their children and their communities do. This is not to say that the Republican Party does not care about Blacks, but that perception will remain until the GOP acquits itself though actual deeds. And that may very well explain why Black Republicans are up for grabs this fall.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 16:30 10 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, race relations, republicans
Footprints of a Giant: A Tribute to Tim Russert
This is a post I never expected to write--at least not for another 20 years or so.
NBC Washington bureau chief and moderator of Meet the Press Tim Russert died today as a result of an apparent heart attack. He was 58.
I found out about this terrible news when I got home from work this afternoon and turned on the TV so I could watch Hardball with Chris Matthews. My eyes became misty as I tried to take in the magnitude of this loss. This was a double blow for me personally because not only did he set the gold standard for political analysis, but he was also a damn good journalist.
Political junkies everywhere knew Mr. Russert. (I can't bring myself to call him "Tim." As an amateur analyst, I consider it disrespectful.) Mr. Russert's political acumen was matched by no one, and I mean no one. Even people who didn't follow politics closely knew who this man was. They respected him and enthusiastically let him into their dining rooms every Sunday morning over breakfast for Meet the Press. And they did this for 17 years.
There was nothing glitzy or bombastic about him. While others had their digital maps and electronic panels, Mr. Russert had his portable whiteboard and dry erase markers. He was pure class. His questions were tough, but never unfair. His political analyses were sharp, but never wonky. He clearly knew what he was talking about and could express himself in such a way that even regular people could make sense of what he was saying and come out of watching his interviews feeling that they had learned something.
Mr. Russert was the one political analyst that would make me stop what I was doing just so I could hear what he had to say. Mr. Russert was the one political analyst that made me actually scour a news website just so I could download podcasts of his interviews. Mr. Russert was the one political analyst I could listen to for a whole hour without wanting to change the channel or throw something at the screen.
Mr. Russert was a tough journalist who always played it straight. He didn't have any axes to grind. He didn't try to play gotcha with his guests. He didn't shout or talk over anyone. He didn't waste anyone's time by throwing softballs. He didn't enter an interview without having done his homework first. He didn't blow smoke like so many other pundits and pass it off as "analysis." His opinions were actually worth listening to.
Chris Matthews is good. Judy Woodruff is good. Ronald Brownstein is good. Howard Fineman is good. Stuart Rothenberg is good. Charlie Cook is good. And Bill Schneider is good.
But they aren't Tim Russert.
Those are going to be some very, very large shoes to fill. David Gregory and Chuck Todd were clearly being groomed to succeed Mr. Russert someday, but I don't think anyone anticipated having to fill this giant's shoes so soon.
For me personally, watching Mr. Russert inspired me to improve the quality of my own political analysis. I didn't want to be the kind of analyst who called people stupid or losers or America haters or Bible thumpers. I wanted to be the kind of analyst people respected. I wanted to be the kind of analyst who commanded the open ears of people who were genuinely interested in what I wanted to say. I only regret that I didn't have more opportunities to study Mr. Russert's work; he was taken away far too soon.
What a terrible loss for the world of politics and for the institution of journalism. And for Mr. Russert, I hope you enjoy watching the rest of this campaign play out from above.
Thank you, Mr. Russert, for being the consummate professional.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 19:06 9 comment(s) Permalink
Gas Prices: A Failure of Conservatism
Gas prices have become one of the most important political issues this year. When the average price of a gallon of gas first reached $2 a gallon, there was shock. When they reached $3 a gallon, there was disbelief. And now they have topped $4 a gallon. People are suffering. Small businesses are suffering. Truckers are suffering. Farmers are suffering. Airlines are suffering. Everyone is suffering.
Last month I wrote about the absurdity of the gas tax holiday that John McCain has proposed. (Hillary Clinton also proposed this, but she's not a candidate anymore.) I argued that repealing the gas tax (currently 18.4 cents per gallon) would only encourage more consumers to buy more gas at a time when we're complaining about our dependence on foreign oil. Reducing our consumption of foreign oil and making gas cheaper by temporarily eliminating a fuel tax are not reconcilable.
To drive down gas prices, you only have two choices: increase supply or reduce demand. Repealing the gas tax does neither. Increasing supply can be done, but it is not a short term solution. Drilling in Alaska, the Mountain West, and the continental shelf along the Gulf of Mexico will take several years before the oil there makes it into our automobiles. Energy analyst Chris Nelder of Energy and Capital is skeptical about the overall value of these solutions for similar reasons.
The only short term solutions center around reducing demand. And this is where conservatism, and to a lesser extent liberalism, has failed.
Regarding the failure of liberalism, liberals would argue that high gas prices should drive down demand, thus leading to a greener environment. With slumping SUV sales, perhaps this is happening now. But it came too late for many people--at least as far as their wallets are concerned. When gas was a then astronomical $3 a gallon, Americans were still driving just as much as they were five years ago when gas prices were much lower. So in theory, while high gas prices should steer people more towards conservation or purchasing more fuel efficient vehicles, it has not happened in a timely enough fashion to avoid the current economic disaster taking place. And could the economy really sustain itself if people are forced to pay an artificially high price for gas? And how many people are willing to put the well being of the environment ahead of the well being of their personal finances?
Having said this, conservatism and the principles it supports are where I find the most fault. Here's why:
There are several reasons why the United States is having to grapple with such high fuel prices. The economies of China and India are growing, the distribution of oil supplies from the Middle East is disrupted, the dollar is weak, no new refineries have been built in the United States for decades, and there are untapped areas rich in domestic supplies of oil that we have not yet taken advantage of. Most people can agree on this.
There's another reason, however, why gas is so expensive. But nobody wants to talk much about it. It's us. And our consumer behavior regarding gas has given conservatism a black eye. (For a well written contrary view to this post, read this piece by Rick Frea at Freadom Nation.)
Increasing fuel standards for American automobile manufacturers has long been offered as a solution to rising gas prices. But the automobile industry has railed against this because they feared it would increase production costs and make their products less competitive. The major industrial areas of the Midwest and cities like Detroit would be particularly hard hit, so they have resisted increasing fuel standards.
Conservatives favor little or no government intervention when it comes to the market. "Letting the free market decide" is a common rallying cry by laissez faire capitalists and economic conservatives. It sounds good in principle. Businesses should have the freedom and flexibility to adapt to consumers' needs. But how has that turned out?
American automobile manufacturers are losing ground to imports, especially from Japan. Japanese companies tend to make smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles. Trucks and SUVs, while popular, are not as critical to the success of companies like Honda and Toyota. These companies make the top selling and fuel efficient Accord, Camry, Civic, and Corolla. They also led the way with hybrid cars like the Prius. American companies manufactured larger, more powerful, less fuel efficient vehicles. The Ford F-150 full-sized truck is the top selling vehicle in America, but its sales are slowing and Toyota has since become the #2 automaker in America as a result.
The increase in gas prices is pushing consumers to buy smaller cars. This is great for the environment, but it is bad for the companies that are making the vehicles people no longer want to buy. This means plants are closing. And when plants close, jobs disappear. Average blue-collar workers do not think about economic speculation and market forces when it comes to hitting the resume circuit. They're thinking about landing a job. And now these jobs are disappearing. So decisions made in corporate boardrooms about their product lineups have forced thousands of people out of work.
When gas was less expensive, people were happy driving large vehicles, some of which they may not have needed. They bought Hummers. They bought trucks. They bought SUVs. And they were not towing anything. And instead of driving these vehicles off road, they were driving them to the shopping mall or to soccer practice. Now they are feeling the pinch as they pay $60 or $70 to fill up their tanks.
At this point, conservatives would say there's nothing wrong. "Personal accountability," right? That is true. If you bought a gas guzzling Ford Explorer instead of a Ford Taurus, that's your responsibility. But this decision affects far more than just the family who bought such a vehicle. That extra $50 an unhappy SUV owner is spending at the gas pump is $50 they are not spending at a local restaurant, a small business, a department store, or a shopping mall. And that means small business owners are taking in less revenue, thus making it more difficult for them to compete with larger corporations that are also hit. So that translates into even more job losses because businesses become less profitable and have to cease operations at some sites. So in short, one person's poor choice can have ramifications that reach far beyond their own wallet. Put another way, the effects of "personal accountability" are not so "personal."
What about people who purchased SUVs and are still making payments on them even though the amount they still owe is greater than the rapidly depreciating value of their SUV? So these people can't sell their SUVs because nobody wants to buy them, but they must continue making the monthly payments to protect their credit rating. This would be another example of "personal accountability" or perhaps even "not living within one's means," but like in the previous example I cited, that is further decreasing the amount of money consumers can pump into the economy. They have less money to get a mortgage, buy a smaller car, or purchase a big-ticket item like a television. And the dominoes start falling again.
And what about small car owners? Consumers who drive smaller, more economical vehicles are paying more at the pump partly because other consumers who drive larger gas guzzling vehicles they don't need are placing a disproportionately high demand on gas. Conservatives would argue that the small car owners are doing the right thing and that how much gas you need should determine how much you should pay. But if more people were driving smaller cars, there would be more gas available (the supply would increase) and gas would therefore be cheaper. This sentiment is shared by Mike at The Pluribus Driver.
The market is indeed changing to meet consumers' demands as capitalism says it should, but this change has happened too late for too many people. And it's having ripple effects. The point of this post is not to criticize people for what they drive or to propose strict government regulation of business, but rather to remind consumers, economists, and politicians of all stripes that even though conservatism makes a lot of sense, as I argued in February, when it comes to gas prices and oil consumption, we are all in this together.
Will any politician have the courage to tell us what we don't want to hear even though we need to hear it?
What We Learned This Primary Season
The primaries are over, the votes have been counted, and the nominees have all but officially been crowned. This year's general election will be between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. Both are senators, but have vastly different personal histories. These histories and their unique personal dynamics will be scrutinized heavily from here on out. So before diving into assessing the general election campaign over the next few weeks, it is prudent to take stock of what has happened so far and what we have learned. Lessons from January may very well help better predict what happens in October.
1. This is a change election. Experience does not matter. In the Democratic primaries, the most experienced candidates were Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson. Biden and Dodd dropped out after being rewarded with fifth and seventh place in the Iowa caucuses. Bill Richardson tried to trumpet his experience in the four-person debate before the New Hampshire primary only to finish fourth and drop out shortly thereafter. John Edwards tried to position himself as an experienced statesman by criticizing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for their negative attacks. He was subsequently drubbed in Nevada and embarrassed in South Carolina. Inexplicably, Hillary Clinton decided to adopt the "experience" mantle and tried to frame Obama as "too risky" and "too inexperienced." And she lost too. Obama might be "inexperienced," but he won the nomination and raised the most money. The "experienced" candidates didn't. John McCain is the latest politician who is trying to take advantage of the "experience" argument against Barack Obama, but he should do so at his own peril. After all, voters may look at the current state of the nation's economy, Iraq, and gas prices and conclude that "experience" is overrated.
2. If you work the media hard enough, they will believe your spin. Hillary Clinton has made it a point to remind voters, pundits, and journalists that "she won more primary votes" than Barack Obama. Average voters don't really know much about primaries, caucuses, and delegates, so Clinton's statement somehow morphed to "she won the popular vote" and makes Obama look like George Bush in 2000 while Clinton is Al Gore. By the letter of the law, Clinton's "popular vote victory" is true. More people actually did vote for her than Obama. The spirit of the law, however, suggests otherwise. It is important to note that Clinton is able to claim this only by including her votes in Michigan, not giving Obama any votes in Michigan whatsoever, and not including votes in some caucus states that Obama actually won. If you say something enough times, people will eventually begin to think it's true. A second example of this concerns the whisper campaign about Obama's religion.
3. A candidate who is at least moderately acceptable on all levels has a better chance of political survival than a candidate who has several big strengths and at least one big weakness. For months, the Republican race was the more compelling one because there was no clear frontrunner:
Mitt Romney was the competent executive and looked presidential. But he was seen as an emotionless flip flopper and had to deal with unfair suspicions about his religion. He also had to deal with concerns about his true commitment to conservatism because of his moderate record.
Rudy Giuliani had the ability to appeal to moderates and had proven his leadership credentials in the minds of voters because of his performance on September 11. But the Republican base consists of conservatives, not moderates. And this base viewed him as out of touch on the social issues that were important to them.
Mike Huckabee seemed more authentic than the other candidates and was clearly the favorite of the Christian right. His populist message also connected with rural voters. However, his foreign policy and anti-terrorism credentials were weak and he had trouble appealing to voters outside of his base.
Fred Thompson had the name recognition, buzz, twang, and proven conservative record. But he was a terrible debater and did not seem to want to campaign.
John McCain was a credible conservative on spending, terrorism, and social issues. He was criticized for his impurity on some of these issues (e.g., the Bush tax cuts, immigration), but by and large, he was at least moderately acceptable to the most people. As a result, he won the nomination by staving off elimination the longest. McCain's victory showed that a candidate who rates as a 7, 7, and 7 on three issues is politically stronger than someone who rates as a 9, 9, and 3 on the same three issues.
4. All states matter. Hillary Clinton lost the nomination in February. She matched Obama step for step before Super Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, and from March and beyond. But from Super Tuesday to the end of the month, Obama racked up 11 consecutive victories and put Clinton in a hole that was too large for her dig herself out of. Not having a timely campaign apparatus set up in states like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Idaho cost her far more than her victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania could compensate for.
5. Due to campaign finance laws, breadth of support is more important than depth of support. Clinton was able to raise a lot of money out of the gates by racking up $2300 contributions from her most loyal supporters. Unfortunately for Clinton, once a supporter put up $2300, he was not allowed to contribute any further. So she had a lot of money, but from far fewer people. Obama, on the other hand, was pulling in $20, $50, and $100 donations from far more people. So he was able to overcome Clinton financially and eventually dwarf her because one $1000 donation from one person is worth far less than ten $100 donations from ten people. Appealing to regular people who think a thousand dollars is the same as a million dollars is how Obama was able to crush Clinton. Now he has an extensive donor base that he can take advantage of in the general election. John McCain would be wise to copy this approach to fundraising.
6. Iowa and New Hampshire must loosen their stranglehold on the nomination process. Michigan and Florida were penalized for what the other 46 states were privately thinking but couldn't say publicly. I've criticized these states' "me first" mentality many times before. The primary season may be over, but these criticisms are not going away. A more equitable primary system needs to be developed sooner rather than later.
7. Republicans might wish to consider proportional delegate allocation. Mitt Romney and John McCain could have had an epic fight like Obama and Clinton had the "winner take all" system not existed. Romney won several "silver medals" in the early contests and was clearly McCain's strongest rival. Florida was essentially a tie between the two candidates, but it was absolutely devastating for Romney's campaign. Conservatives began rallying behind Romney in their attempt to stop McCain, but it was too late. A proportional allocation of delegates would have given him a fighting chance at a comeback.
8. Democrats might wish to consider eliminating caucuses. Even though they came across as whining and sour grapes, Clinton's criticisms of the caucus system have merit. In a caucus, voting is done publicly and candidates who don't meet the minimum threshold of support can negotiate with other candidates' supporters. Caucuses are held at set times and at set locations that may prevent certain types of voters from participating. For example, voters may have to work, find babysitters, or take care of their parents at the same time the caucus is being held. What kind of system is this?
9. Identity politics may make various demographics feel good, but they are ultimately problematic. Democrats were priding themselves on the prospect of "the first Black president" or "the first female president." And now the party is divided. Superdelegates who really want to support Clinton fear the reaction among Blacks if they take the nomination away from Obama. And now that Obama won, he has to win over the legions of female Clinton supporters who are threatening to support McCain out of protest. The problem with identity politics is that it narrows one's political identity. The more Obama is identified as "the first Black president," the more it trivializes his actual legislative record and political platform.
The Republican Party would presumably care less about identity politics, but until a credible woman or person of color rises high enough in the party and decides to run for president, it is unknown how much resistance such a candidate would face from other Republican voters.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 13:11 11 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, democrats, electoral behavior, hillary clinton, john mccain, media, opinion, primaries, race relations, republicans, scandal, sexism
Hillary Clinton's Path to the Vice Presidency
Shortly after the primaries in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia almost four months ago, I wrote about the problems Hillary Clinton and her campaign were having in terms of their brand image. Here is a brief summary from my original analysis:
"To summarize, Hillary Clinton is running on a message that does not match what voters are looking for [experience], chose a poorly worded [egocentric] campaign slogan that embodies the worst conceptions people have of her, and is unable to strongly make the case for her candidacy (e.g., support her brand image) without inviting blowback that would lessen the potency of her attacks. While it is still possible that Obama could stumble and Clinton could emerge victorious, her once near-certain chances of snaring the nomination have gone up in smoke. And a lot of these problems are due to simple marketing problems, rather than Obama's strength."Clinton was unable to remedy these problems in time to salvage the nomination. So absent a new scandal, the best she can hope for now is an offer to be Barack Obama's vice president. But her ungracious speech on the same night as his victory speech reflected the same weaknesses that caused her to lose the nomination to begin with and threatened her already slim chances of being offered the Number Two slot.
Instead of congratulating Obama, she talked about how she had won 18 million votes and how she wasn't making any decisions about what to do with her campaign. While it may have been a bit odd for her to concede that night, talking about how she was a superior candidate to the the candidate who actually won did not go over well and showed that she had not learned one of the reasons why she was even in this situation to begin with. Now she has elbowed her way into the storyline about who Obama will tap for his running mate.
I recently wrote about how Obama could defuse the threat that Clinton posed. And before Junior Super Tuesday I argued that should not choose Clinton. But in fairness to Clinton, no losing candidate has won such a large share of the popular vote and delegates. So she can't easily be dismissed. She is clearly a formidable candidate with a large and devout constituency. And more importantly, she has actually been the stronger candidate over the past three months.
Hillary Clinton has made a few mistakes, but it is not too late for her to change her ways and get on Obama's ticket. Here's how she can do it:
1. Acknowledge Obama as the winner. Pundits everywhere are waiting for Clinton to acknowledge that she lost. The Obama campaign is waiting for this too. Until she does this, she will be seen as a threat by Obama regardless of how much he claims to "admire" and "respect" her. Clinton is still likely harboring dreams of another controversial pastor to sabotage Obama or for him to be further wounded by the radioactive Tony Rezko. Obviously, if Obama were to be crippled by such an event, Clinton could rise from the ashes and be the natural alternative nominee. But until that happens (and it probably won't), she must at least show sincere deference to him. This means she can no longer implicitly diminish Obama by touting her own accomplishments.
2. Have both Clintons match his transparency and commitment to clean government. Hillary Clinton contradicts a lot of Obama's message. She represents the status quo. He represents change. She represents polarization. He represents unity. She represents the old way of doing business. He represents a new approach to politics. If Clinton wants to be vice president, both she and her husband will have to clean up their acts and let the sunshine in on their political dealings. The donors to the Clinton Presidential Library, for example, will have to be released. Both Clintons must be scrutinized. There are few more valuable commodities than voters' trust, and Obama has earned it. His campaign slogan is "Change we can believe in." Allowing this trust to be sullied by the same political obfuscations that have made voters so cynical to begin with could be fatal to Obama's chances and open up John McCain's path to the presidency.
3. Don't come across as so eager. The vice presidency is commonly criticized by politicians. John Nance Garner, who was Franklin Roosevelt's vice president, infamously said that "the vice presidency is not worth a warm bucket of [spit]." Even though the vice presidency might seem to be more of a diplomatic office than an executive one at times, it is still a powerful position that can put a politician at the head of the line in terms of getting first crack at the top job in the next election. Clinton knows this. If she makes it on Obama's ticket and he loses, she could always run again in 2012 as the "I told you so" candidate. And if Obama is successful, she could run in 2016. Perhaps her unfavorability ratings will have diminished enough by that time to make voters more comfortable with the idea of giving her yet four more years in the White House. Clinton's presidential ambitions have a greater chance of being fulfilled if she doesn't make these ambitions so obvious. There is no value in Obama selecting a vice president who is seen as merely biding her time. In short, Clinton can be president later or never. Now is no longer an option.
Again, Obama is well aware of Clinton's strengths. But he has to feel that he is making this choice using his own timetable. It will probably be several weeks before he makes a decision, but if Clinton does not want to remove herself from contention, she would be wise to heed some of the points listed here.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 00:23 0 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, hillary clinton
The Obama Veepstakes: Defusing the Hillarybomb
By now, everyone knows that Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. His victory in the Montana primary pushed him over the top, so he now has a majority of delegates.
Obama gave a powerful speech about his victory last night addressing what lies ahead and even lauded Hillary Clinton's candidacy and her impact on the race. However, Clinton essentially stepped on his victory speech and stole a bit of the limelight by adding her name to Obama's shortlist and defiantly congratulating him on the race he has run, but not on the race he has won or the race that has just ended. Such a carefully crafted sentence is politically loaded and will ensure that until Obama chooses his vice president, this story will linger in the media. Notice how there are two competing storylines coming out of last night: "Who will Obama tap for vice president?" and "What does Clinton want?" Needless to say, Obama's camp is not amused.
Could Clinton's supporters be overstating their importance? Are traditional Democrats really going to vote for McCain even though they have such disagreements with McCain over the war in Iraq, the economy, abortion rights, and the environment? Are these Democrats really going to place their contempt for Obama over their economic well-being just to spite him?
Here are Obama's options:
1. Wait. Waiting will give Clinton's supporters a bit of time to get over their defeat. Over time, their emotions will cool down a bit and they will rally behind Obama because he will be their party's representative in November. Primary fights are brutal, but time should heal those wounds.
Also, waiting gives Clinton more time and more opportunities to disqualify herself from veep consideration. Obama probably does not want to have to deal with the Clintons (yes, the plural form) anymore, and almost certainly doesn't want to put her on his ticket because she contradicts so much of his message. (Read "Don't Expect an Obama-Clinton Ticket" for more information.) But if he's going to pass over her, he needs to find a reason that will come across as acceptable to the majority of her supporters. They want him to show her some respect. But any new Clinton gaffes, scandals, or attempts to minimize his victory or cast doubt on his electibility should be met with an all expenses paid trip off of his shortlist.
There is also a strategic advantage to waiting. McCain has not chosen his running mate yet, so Obama could afford to wait a bit. If McCain chooses his running mate first, then Obama could react to that selection with a more careful selection of his own. Choosing Clinton first would cede this opportunity to McCain. And if Obama chooses a running mate first, that would give the Republicans more time to conduct opposition research and attempt to define that candidate before he can do it on his own. Waiting would force a staredown with McCain.
2. Choose a woman not named Hillary. This is a double-edged sword. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius seems to be the most attractive female pick right now. As I argued in my first post about Obama's veepstakes, her geography alone will prevent her from being pegged as a liberal because "Kansas liberal" just doesn't resonate. As a woman, she could help Obama tap into the same base that turned out for Clinton. And because she comes from an agricultural state, she could help Obama make inroads with the other group of voters he has struggled with as of late--rural voters. This could be a boon to him in southern Ohio, central Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
Obviously, the problem with this option is that a lot of women may say that if Obama is going to choose a woman for his vice president, she should be Hillary Clinton. So choosing a female not named Hillary could be seen as the ultimate insult to Hillary Clinton and her supporters. Again, Clinton said she wants her voters "to be respected." This could place both Obama and Sebelius in a tough situation.
Another potential female pick would be Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She has been a vocal supporter of the presumptive nominee and could help deliver a state that Republicans cannot afford to lose. However, this selection seems a bit less likely because Missouri has a Republican governor and not just any Democrat could win a Senate seat in this fairly conservative state. This is also the argument against selecting Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.
3. Choose a Clinton surrogate. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh were loyal Clinton supporters. Tapping one of them could be seen as an overture of respect because it would show that Obama is trying to bring the two camps together. Both of these picks should have Clinton's seal of approval. Rendell is a popular governor that would take Pennsylvania out of play and Bayh is the most popular politician in Indiana, a state that Obama could challenge with him on the ticket. Both politicians can appeal to rural working-class voters in Ohio and Michigan as well.
The disadvantage here is the same disadvantage Obama would face by choosing a female other than Clinton. Why take a resident of Hillaryland when you can take Hillary herself? Also, would choosing a male make it more difficult for the Obama ticket to reclaim Clinton's female voters?
4. Choose a Republican. This would be a bold selection that John McCain would have a difficult time parrying. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel would immediately bring military and foreign policy heft to Obama's ticket. And it would be proof positive that Obama is serious about "change" because Democrats don't select Republicans to be on their presidential tickets. Another advantage here is that the news about Obama reaching across the aisle to select a Republican would trump the news about Obama snubbing Clinton.
An unintended third advantage here would be that it would force John McCain to prove his bipartisan credentials as well. The best way he could do that would be to select Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. If McCain chose a Republican (Romney, Crist, Pawlenty, etc.), Obama could point to Hagel and say that he really does want to bring the nation together while McCain represented the old way of doing things. This would make it harder for McCain and his Republican running mate to start attacking "Democrats" and "liberals" because it plays into Obama's message of politics not being about "us vs. them." Also, McCain would have a harder time picking off Clinton's rural White voters if Hagel were on the ticket because 1) Hagel's a Republican, 2) Hagel's not a liberal, and 3) Hagel is pro-life, a popular position among rural voters.
5. Reject Clinton publicly, politely, and firmly. This is a risky move that would show voters that Obama is in control of the party now. After all, the idea of a failed candidate forcing his hand does not make Obama look presidential. Obama already has enough problems with his thin resume and the perception that he is weak, especially on terrorism. The Republicans would have a field day with this. "If he can't stand up to the Clintons, how could he stand up to Ahmadinejad?"
If Obama follows this path, he would have the liberty to conduct his veep search any way he wishes and without the "what does Clinton want?" storylines bogging him down. Clinton would then have to decide what she wants her legacy to be. She will have no choice but to support Obama regardless of her relationship to him because she does not want to be known as helping contribute to his defeat at the polls in November. If she wants to run for president again in 2012 (or 2016), she can't give anybody the idea that she did not work her heart out for her party's nominee in 2008. This option would remove Clinton's leverage, which would obviously enrage her supporters, many of whom still want her to take her fight for the nomination to the party convention in Denver.
Obama has several options available to him at present. He has the stage to himself now, but only if he takes it. Yes, Clinton is still a political force to be reckoned with, but regardless of "what Clinton wants," she must appreciate the reality of her current political situation.
Hillary Clinton may command the loyalty of millions of voters who may or may not be receptive to Obama, but she is in no position whatsoever to make any demands of Obama or to force his hand. He won the race, so he calls the shots. It is clearly his Democratic Party now, not hers. Hubris is what caused Clinton to lose the nomination in the first place. And if she overplays her hand in defiance, hubris may ultimately be what causes her to lose a spot on the November ticket as well.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 16:34 15 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, chuck hagel, democrats, electoral behavior, hillary clinton, john mccain, sexism
The Effect of Bob Barr's Candidacy
The Libertarian Party is the largest third party in the United States. At its recent party convention in Denver, it nominated former Republican Congressman Bob Barr as its nominee. Barr hails from Georgia and is probably best known for his role in the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. Barr became a Libertarian in 2006, largely because of his disagreements with the Republican Party on the Iraq War, civil liberties, and the Republicans' diminished credibility regarding spending.
Since Ross Perot's presidential run in 1992, independent and third party candidates have largely been viewed as gadfly candidates or spoilers. Pat Buchanan was a thorn in the Republicans' side throughout the 1990s. Democrats still lament Ralph Nader's 2000 run. The Green Party is keeping Democrats on their toes in local elections in liberal bastions like San Francisco. And ideological conservatives always have the Constitution Party available as a repository for their votes if their natural home, the Republican Party, veers too far off course.
Bob Barr will not win this year's presidential election, but his candidacy may significantly hamper John McCain. Barr is a credible and proven candidate whose ideas are shared by significant slices of the electorate. So even though many voters probably have never heard of the Libertarian Party, it will not be as easy for his political opponents to brand him as a fringe candidate.
Barr could potentially appeal to the following groups:
1. Disaffected conservatives and Republicans who have not yet warmed to John McCain's candidacy. It is no secret that Republicans are comparatively less enthusiastic about their nominee than the Democrats. Democrats are passionate about Barack Obama and/or Hillary Clinton. Republicans are only lukewarm about John McCain, who essentially won the nomination by staving off political elimination the longest.
2. Ron Paul supporters. Given the ideological overlap between the two candidates, Barr could reap the benefits of a Paul endorsement. This would be a boon to Barr because he would have access to Paul's spirited supporters and the extensive donor network he created. Even though the GOP race is locked up, Ron Paul still managed to win a significant 24% of the vote in the little noticed Idaho Republican primary last week.
3. Conservative Obama supporters who agree with him on Iraq, disagree with his philosophical liberalism, and support him regardless because they like his "change" message. There are many Republicans who are dissatisfied not just with the way things are going in Iraq, but who are also dissatisfied with the United States' role in the international arena in general. They are opposed to nation-building and misguided adventures abroad and would rather invest in the money required to sustain such operations closer to home. These voters are likely more conservative on abortion rights, libertarian on social issues, and conservative on taxes. So Barr may be a more natural fit for them than Obama. And because Barr has bucked his old party on the war and on controversial issues such as the Patriot Act, he could parry charges of partisanship more effectively than someone who toes the party line.
Barr's appeal to this third group would appear to be a threat to Obama, but because McCain has also tried to position himself as a maverick or an independent, it could end up as a wash. But because Barr is a former Republican, he is probably a greater threat to John McCain than Barack Obama, especially because the first two groups I listed above are the ones McCain will have to try the hardest to keep in his tent.
Barr's candidacy will probably be most problematic for McCain in his home state of Georgia and in the neighboring states of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
In these Southern states, Obama's stranglehold on the Black vote will force McCain to keep his margins among White and conservative voters sufficiently high in order to carry them in the general election. This is important because these Southern states, especially South Carolina and Georgia, have such a high percentage of Black voters that will turn out in droves for Obama.
The threat he poses in Georgia is obvious. Seeing that Barr hails from the Peach State, his name recognition is higher and many Georgians may be more inclined to support one of their own. Also, money that Georgians donate to the former congressman from the 7th District is money they're not donating to the Republican nominee.
Another risk is that Florida and North Carolina are considerably less conservative than other Southern states, such as Alabama and Mississippi. This means Obama could be more competitive in these states, thus forcing McCain to do an even better job of holding his own. Losing 5% of his conservative support to Barr in a noncompetitive state like Kentucky wouldn't matter much. But in a more competitive state like North Carolina, it could potentially be enough to tip the state to Democrats' side.
Tennessee is not really considered a battleground state, but former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. ran a particularly strong Senate campaign there in 2006 and lost by only three points. This is significant because it proved that a Black candidate could win a high profile statewide election in a Southern state. If Obama is able to regain his footing among rural voters, he could potentially put Tennessee in the same category as North Carolina, thus making Barr's threat to McCain even more serious.
John McCain would be wise to neutralize Bob Barr by stressing his commitment to fiscal conservatism, political independence, and social conservative causes. This might not work too well with moderates, but it could at least help keep angry and disenchanted conservatives from defecting to Barr.
Posted by Anthony Palmer, Ph.D. at 16:19 9 comment(s) Permalink
Tags: barack obama, bob barr, electoral behavior, john mccain, libertarians