Showing posts with label bill clinton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bill clinton. Show all posts

1/04/2008

Digesting Iowa (D)

This is my assessment of the Iowa Democratic caucuses from last night. For my take on the Republican caucuses, click here.

In a word, the Democratic results are earth shattering. Not only did Barack Obama win the caucuses, his strongest rival finished third. Obama will enter New Hampshire with tremendous momentum and the independent voters there will be less likely to defect to McCain because Obama is more energizing and has proven his viability. Doubts about his viability are probably the main reason why people have been reluctant to support Obama even if they do like him and his ideas. More on Obama later.

For Hillary Clinton, this was the worst possible outcome. Even second place would not have been so bad for her, but if she was going to lose, she clearly would have preferred to lose to Edwards because he has less money, weaker polling, and a smaller base. Instead, she finished a distant third to the one candidate who has the money and the supporters necessary to go the distance with her. Worse yet, a lot of voters who had reservations about Obama because they weren't sure if he could win have now had his electability confirmed. Some of these voters are reluctant Clinton supporters. Given the strength of Obama's performance, these voters may defect from Clinton in droves.

And it gets worse. Black voters sitting on the fence in South Carolina were waiting for a sign that Obama could win. Winning convincingly in an overwhelmingly White state over two well-regarded, high profile White candidates who have been on the national scene longer than him is huge. How can Clinton go before Black audiences now and claim she is the most electable candidate who best represents their interests? The answer is simple. She can't.

Perhaps the biggest way Obama's victory has affected the race is that Clinton no longer controls her own destiny. She has ceded this luxury to Obama. For Clinton to win now, she'll need Obama to stumble somehow, be it at a debate or on the campaign trail. If he maintains his campaign discipline, the political inertia he gained from his Iowa victory will be very hard to stop. Prior to Iowa, all she had to do was stick to her gameplan because there was just enough daylight between her and Obama to ensure that she'd have the inside track to the nomination. Not anymore.

The other loser in this race is John Edwards. Edwards barely avoided finishing third. Not one to give up easily, he is trying to spin the results as "a victory for change and a rejection of the status quo." That may be true, but I have argued many, many times in The 7-10 that Obama and Edwards cannot coexist. Edwards had the chance to kneecap Obama in Iowa and he failed to do so. Both Obama and Clinton are performing better than Edwards in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. And the demographics of South Carolina are probably less favorable for Edwards, as roughly half of the voters in the Democratic primary are Black. Edwards is doing worse among Black voters than Obama is among White ones. I don't mean to say that race should be the primary thing that matters in this campaign, but it is a legitimate dimension by which these candidates should be analyzed.

Edwards is also telling his supporters that "he beat Clinton." That is technically true, but he only won by less than half a percentage point. This probably works to Clinton's advantage, as Edwards' refusal to drop out means that she won't have to debate Obama one on one. Had Clinton finished half a point ahead of Edwards, Edwards would have had no choice but to make his graceful exit a la Biden and Dodd. My guess is that Edwards will stay in the race as far as South Carolina, where he is advertising heavily.

And finally, Edwards is saying that "the choice for 'change' is between him and Obama." That is also true, but the fact is that Obama won Round 1 on what was supposed to be Edwards' home turf because he had been campaigning in Iowa for about four years.

It seems like Edwards is about to become the dreaded third wheel, akin to the pesky friend who tags along when two other people are on a date and wish to be left alone. For him to have any chance at the nomination whatsoever, he will need Obama to self destruct so he can become the Clinton alternative. A Clinton meltdown won't help him because Obama has more seniority on the "change" hierarchy.

What about Biden, Dodd, and Richardson? Prior to last night, these three candidates combined were consistently pulling anywhere from 10-20% of the vote in Iowa polls. However, they only snagged about 3% in the caucuses, likely due to the arcane rules involving second choice balloting. The fact that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards won more than 95% of the final vote suggests that the supporters of Biden, Dodd, and Richardson thought that stopping Clinton was more important than ensuring their own preferred candidates' viability. The pro-Clinton vote lost to the anti-Clinton vote by more than 2 to 1.

Biden and Dodd dropped out of the race shortly after learning about their weak finishes. Richardson will live to fight another day, as placing in the top four ensures that he will be allowed to participate in the next debate in New Hampshire this weekend. As for Biden, should Obama win the nomination, do not be surprised if Obama considers him as his running mate because the message of Obama '08 is quite similar to the message of Biden '88 and adding Biden to the ticket would lend Obama's presidential campaign some much needed pragmatism and experience to assuage voters who are not content solely with his message of "change." Ironically, the final reason why this might not be such a far-fetched possibility is because of Biden's mouth. Short of choosing a Republican, the selection of Biden as his running mate would be the ultimate showing of the unity of Obama's message. This is said in reference to Biden's stepping all over his own campaign rollout by referring to Obama as "clean and articulate." Obama-Biden would be the Democratic version of Huckabee-McCain and would make for a spectacular general election campaign.

Here is something the Clintons (yes, plural) should seriously think about. Barack Obama destroyed Hillary Clinton when it came to younger voters. Voters under 35 or so are a generation behind every other presidential candidate, save for Mike Huckabee, who also emerged from Iowa victorious. (That is no coincidence. More on that later.) Most of these younger voters were children or ignorant teenagers during Bill Clinton's presidency. I myself was a high school sophomore when Bill Clinton was first inaugurated, so my memories of the 90s were about Nintendo, MC Hammer, late night pizza in my college dormitory, and being shy talking to girls. As for politics, our generation remembered Clinton's impeachment, but most of us thought that was overkill and couldn't understand why everyone was making such a big deal about "lying under oath" because the lie involved was about something absolutely stupid to us. But that did not endear younger voters to the Clintons. Rather, it succeeded more in turning younger voters away from the Republican Party. The point is, our generation never really developed a connection with Hillary Clinton. Obama, who happens to be the youngest candidate in the Democratic field, is someone who voters in their 20s and 30s can relate to. (I encourage you to read one of my favorite posts about the political disconnect with the younger generation here.)

What happens to Obama now?

There is a critical debate before the New Hampshire primaries. New Hampshire voters will look for Obama to close the sale with them. A poor performance in the debate will blunt the slingshot effect Obama is enjoying now from his Iowa victory. Should Clinton get the better of Obama in this debate, she will likely arrest her fall and get the unfavorable stories about her Iowa defeat off the front pages. Remember, Clinton no longer controls her own destiny. If she does well and Obama does well, nothing will change. Obama has to stumble in order for Clinton to take advantage.

New Hampshire's independent voters can participate in the party primary of their choice. These voters will have to decide between Obama and McCain. Given that Democratic participants outnumbered Republican participants in the Iowa caucuses by about 2 to 1, that suggests that Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are far more enthusiastic about their candidates than Republicans are about theirs. Remember that Iowa is a swing state that narrowly went for Gore in 2000 and narrowly went for Bush in 2004. Could this discrepancy in caucus turnout portend a sea change taking place among the electorate at present?

It has long been argued that Clinton was the candidate of Democratic voters' heads while Obama was the candidate of their hearts. It appears that the heart is stronger. And given Obama's appeal among such a wide swath of voters (entrance poll data is here), it appears that a lot of Democrats "heart" Obama.

Is Clinton likable? Again, she lost to Obama and Edwards by a combined 2 to 1 ratio. Republicans may have done Democratic voters a favor by stressing her high unfavorability ratings. Perhaps these Republicans were unaware of the fact that there are a lot of Democrats who also don't want Hillary Clinton to win the nomination. This is very bad news for Rudy Giuliani in particular, who has made stopping Clinton one of the pillars of his campaign. (You can read more of this argument here. ) Other Republican candidates would be wise to develop a contingency plan for the general election should their nemesis not even make it to the general election because that scenario is a lot more likely now than it was two or three months ago.

It is worth noting that Mike Huckabee has not made Hillary-bashing a focal point of his campaign. And Obama has generally run the most civil campaign of the Big 3 Democratic candidates. Both of these candidates won the Iowa caucuses by healthy margins. Perhaps the electorate is looking for someone not just who wants to bring about a change in direction, but also a change in our political dialogue. Politicians who ran the nastiest campaigns and launched the harshest attacks fared the worst (Giuliani, Clinton, Edwards, Romney). Are we on the cusp of post-partisanship?

An assessment of the entrance poll data will be written later.

10/14/2007

Obama: Why the Dark Horses Need Him

Much has been written about the perceived inevitability of Hillary Clinton based on her superior fundraising and strength in national and state polls. Clinton raised the most money during the third quarter and sits atop all national polls and almost all state polls, although her lead in Iowa is a bit more tenuous. Given this enviable positioning, Clinton could conceivably score a knockout punch by winning the first contest in Iowa and then running the table after that. The political calculus for all the other candidates is simple: Any other Democratic candidate who wants to be the nominee must stop Clinton in Iowa. It doesn't matter if Clinton places second or third; she just can't win Iowa if they want to have a chance of slowing her down.

Here's how things stand in Iowa right now:

Mike Gravel is registering no support at all in most Iowa polls. Chris Dodd is not beating the margin of error. Dennis Kucinich is performing a bit more strongly than Chris Dodd, but he doesn't have a credible campaign apparatus. Joe Biden has been getting some good publicity because of his Iraq policy, but he is barely outside of the margin of error at about 5%. Bill Richardson is in the low double digits, but his weak debate performances have stalled his momentum. And John Edwards, who has practically been Iowa's third senator since the 2004 election, has seen his lead over Clinton turn into a deficit over the past few weeks.

This leaves only one candidate who is positioned well enough to defeat Clinton in Iowa and make the race for the nomination competitive again: Barack Obama. Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review touched on this issue here. However, unlike Zito, I don't believe Obama is the only person who could benefit from an Obama victory in Iowa.

Even though the other Democrats might be tempted to pile onto Obama, I think they would be wise to lay off of him for now because he is the only candidate capable of stopping Clinton. If she wins Iowa, her inevitability will be confirmed and it will simply be too late to try and defeat her in New Hampshire or South Carolina. Without question, she will be the nominee. However, if Obama were to win Iowa, that would mean that Clinton and one other candidate would live to fight another day. And if that were to happen, the dynamics of the race would change considerably. This is how dark horses can win.

Should Obama win Iowa, John Edwards would be forced out of the race because he simply cannot afford to place second or third there. He placed all his chips on an Iowa victory and he doesn't have the money to go the distance after that without a huge media boost stemming from a strong showing there. There's also not enough room for Obama and Edwards to coexist anyway. Thus, one of these three "tickets" out of Iowa would not belong to him if Obama won. This leaves Richardson, Biden, and Dodd as the potential beneficiaries of the final ticket to New Hampshire.

Obama is also the only candidate who has the financial resources to match Clinton step for step in a national campaign. Should Richardson, Biden, or Dodd be the third candidate left in the race after Iowa, they likely would not be the target of negative advertising from either Clinton or Obama because they would train their sights on each other. Meanwhile, while Clinton and Obama go back and forth, the final candidate would be able to take the high road and focus more on actual policy details than on petty attacks and counterattacks. Staying above the fray and acting like a competent statesman could potentially be quite attractive, as it would contrast nicely with the Clinton-Obama slugfest.

The media love a good storyline, so if this scenario were to take place, the media could build up Richardson, Biden, or Dodd as the experienced observer who is above politics and who had to claw his way out of the political wilderness. Think of it as another "Comeback Kid" narrative. When there are only three candidates in the race, it is much easier to compare and contrast them with each other, especially in the context of a debate. Voters who are leery of Clinton's polarization and Obama's inexperience would then have a third option in Richardson, Biden, or Dodd who combines experience, leadership, and a lack of polarization.

So in short, Richardson, Biden, and Dodd would be wise to avoid tearing down Barack Obama because they need his polling strength and his campaign cash in order to survive. John Edwards, the weakest "top tier" candidate who also has the most to lose, is the candidate they would be wise to attack. There's no way Bill Richardson can triple his support and overtake Clinton at present, for example. However, if John Edwards' numbers keep trending downward while Richardson and Biden's numbers slowly move up, they might eke out a third place showing in the Iowa caucuses. But this won't mean anything if Obama can't get it done against Clinton. That's why attacking Obama will only make their own political survival that much more difficult.

3/18/2007

My Generation: A Different America

There's a lot of talk in politics about the importance of senior citizens, Baby Boomers, military veterans, Southerners, gun owners, union members, evangelicals, and suburbanites as they pertain to elections, poll data, and the crafting of political and media messages. However, there's one group that I believe is often ignored, but perhaps even more important than any of the demographic groups I listed above: Twenty-somethings.

I myself turned 30 in January, so I believe I can relate to this group. People born after about 1975 have been shaped by an entirely different set of events than their parents. For one thing, the Vietnam War is an abstract concept. I lost an uncle in Vietnam shortly before he was supposed to return home. While obviously a sad event, his death does not touch me the way it touches my mother, who was his sister. I had not yet been born when my family was notified of his death. The whole war itself means something different to me, my sister, and my cousins than it does for my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Similarly, Watergate is another major news story that happened before my time. When I was born, President Ford was cleaning out his desk at the White House to make way for Jimmy Carter. When I read stories about Watergate, it seems interesting from a historical perspective, but because I was not alive when this news was breaking and when Nixon resigned, again I feel a certain sense of distance or detachment from the true significance of these events.

Even as a Black male, the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s have a different meaning for me than they would for a Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who participated in the marches and parades and boycotts and struggles and was actually beaten because of it. These events do not touch me like they touch a Jesse Jackson, or a Betty Shabazz or even my own parents, who grew up in South Carolina and spent their childhood living under segregation. I simply cannot conceive of a reality in which it was legal for me or someone who looked like me to be treated so cruelly and so dismissively even though I was a law-abiding citizen. When I think about the civil rights leaders of yesteryear, I admire their strength. But at the same time, I cannot fathom how much strength was actually required for them to help me enjoy the rights and freedoms I have today simply because I was not there.

My generation spent its childhood in growing up in the 80s and 90s. World War II, the JFK and RFK assassinations, the Great Depression, Vietnam, Woodstock, Watergate, and the Iranian hostage disaster are all abstract concepts to us. Even the Cold War is difficult for us to wrap our minds around because we were mere children or young teenagers when the Berlin Wall fell and the Eastern European nations were slowly opening up their borders. I remember East and West Germany reuniting when I was a 7th grader. What is a 7th grader supposed to think about this? For example, someone in my family was able to get a piece of the Berlin Wall to keep as a piece of history. When I saw that chunk of rock, I said "cool." What else was I supposed to think, since I didn't know so much about the history?

So what DOES shape our generation? Well, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and the Bush family pretty much constitute all of our firsthand presidential knowledge. Culturally speaking, we are the children of MTV, computers and the internet, blogs, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, trashy TV talk shows, break dancing, iPods, video games, The Wonder Years, Will Smith, and The Simpsons. Before 9-11, the biggest news stories for us were the first Gulf War ("Where is Daddy going?"), the Oklahoma City bombing, the OJ trial, Monica Lewinsky, Elian Gonzalez, and the 2000 recount.

You could easily argue that because of our access to information via the internet and cable television, television shows that frequently pushed the envelope (Beavis and Butthead, Jerry Springer, 90210), and integration throughout all of our schooling, our generation is a lot more liberal and/or tolerant than older generations. Things that are a big deal to a lot of people don't really bother us so much at all.

For example, one of the news stories that had a major influence on our generation was the Monica Lewinsky scandal. People of our generation were in high school or college at the time. We commonly cracked jokes about President Clinton and even gave him props for being able to get some nookie in the White House. Even though he was obviously stupid for doing it (actually, we thought he was stupid for getting caught), we really didn't care. So many of us came from homes headed by one parent, step-parents, live-in "pseudo parents," or even grandparents, so the concept of infidelity was a nonissue for us. And regarding perjury, we knew that Clinton was lying because he didn't want his wife to smack the crap out of him. He was more afraid of his wife than he was of the law. The legal significance of perjury was a nonissue for us. We could not figure out why people in Congress were tripping over themselves to launch investigations and begin impeachment hearings. We listened to congressman after congressman and senator after senator talk about the importance of "the rule of law" and "family values" and "respecting the Office of the Presidency." We were thinking, "these guys are so full of themselves" and even wondered if some of those holier than thou congressmen were jealous. Most of us had no children at the time, so the "family values" argument had no meaning for us. And in general, we did not look to our elected politicians for moral guidance. That's what our friends and family and religious deities were for. We liked Bill Clinton because "he was the hip politician who wore the cool shades and played the saxophone on late night TV" unlike those "boring politicians who made speeches all the time." This whole sordid affair turned a lot of younger people off from politics, and actually soured a lot of them on the Republican Party. (These Republicans' recent hypocritical clamoring for pardoning Scooter Libby does not sit well with us either.)

This social liberalism among my generation is reflected in other attitudes as well. Since we went to school together, played together, and worked part-time jobs together, a lot of prejudices that older people have are far less prevalent among us. We learned about "the differences between the races" from our parents and grandparents. But as was often the case, what they warned us about was often incongruent with our actual life experiences. So many of us have friends of several different races. I know Blacks that fit in easily with the White J. Crew crowd, and I know Whites that are comfortable chilling with their homegirls or chicas. Many of us have dated interracially and never thought twice about it. The majority of my friends are either in interracial marriages, an interracial relationship, or have dated interracially in the past. I myself am in an interracial marriage, although I view my partner as "my wife who happens to be Japanese," as opposed to "my Japanese wife."

Anyways, the reason why I created this post was because of a recent commentary by former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming. Senator Simpson talked about how his views on gays serving in the military have changed over time and how it's foolish to discharge homosexuals from the military even though they may have the skills and knowledge that are most critical right now, including fluency in Arabic. A few months ago I saw a news story on CNN about this very issue and they interviewed a member of the conservative Family Research Council. The woman they interviewed said that "soldiers should not have to worry about a fellow soldier sexually harrassing them in a foxhole." Unbelievable. (And here is another article that further reflects this sheer stupidity.)

I think our generation is overwhelmingly more tolerant of this issue than our parents' and grandparents' generations. Even though most of us are happy heterosexuals with no desire to experiment with same-sex relationships, we really don't care about homosexuality. It's just not a big deal for us. Many of us had gay friends, gay classmates, and gay coworkers when we were growing up. We can't figure out why it seems okay for gays to be treated as second-class citizens. Seeing these social conservatives lambast gay rights today reminds us of the furor over the Monica Lewinsky nonsense yesterday. Even if many of us think homosexuality is "gross," young people just don't care and don't see why people can't be left to do their own thing. And the more people push this issue, the angrier and more disenchanted we become. Perhaps homosexuals today for our generation are what women and Blacks were 50 years ago for our parents' and grandparents' generations. Even though most of us aren't gay, most of us also realize that discriminating against them is simply wrong.

(Incidentally, after originally deciding to write this particular post, I found different commentary in the Washington Post by Justin Britt-Gibson, which talked about his own multicultural experiences and how those typified his [our?] generation. So I'm obviously not alone here.)

Anyway, young people look at all the fighting and all the tough talk going on in Washington these days and can do nothing but shake their heads. When the 60-year old politicians retire and the 80-year old politicians pass away, the younger generation will be left to pick up the pieces. My generation is the one that has to live with the consequences of the previous generation's (poor) decisions. Iran, Iraq, terrorism, and abortion rights come to mind.

For example, young people wince when they hear President Bush and his administration officials talk about or hint at bombing Iran. Doing so would only completely inflame an entire generation of young Iranians (who don't hate Americans nearly as much as their parents do) and make our lives much more difficult and impact our lives much longer than in the next 15 years a 70-year old likely has remaining in his life. Most of us were toddlers, babies or embryos when the embassy in Iran was sieged, so we can't appreciate the severity of this event as it relates to US-Iranian relations. However, the consequences of us being the aggressor this time scare us more than the actual threat.

Even though young voters are less reliable voters than older ones, my prediction is that within the next two presidential cycles, turnout among 18-30 year olds will skyrocket because at some point, young people are going to say enough is enough. Perhaps bad government has been good at heightening our consciousness of politics and current events. Iraq, Katrina, terrorism, and infringing on personal freedoms have made us, a generation that grew up in an era in which freedom was expanding, pay a little more attention than we have in the past. Politicians would be well served to take note of this. This is why Barack Obama and Al Gore have become so popular among voters our age. This is also why younger voters don't vote Republican. When was the last time you met a 24-year old who was enthusiastic about Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney or even John McCain?

It's because they don't speak our language.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.