I was planning to vote for Edwards next week; if he's dropping out, I'm voting for Obama for the pennant. But I will vote for whoever is the Democratic nominee in November -- even if it's Hillary (whom I've voted to the Senate twice), even if the Rethuglicans pull out dossiers on all the girls Bill's fooled around with in the last 8 years (as the rumor goes he's done and they plan to do). I won't be thrilled if she gets the nomination, because even the Republican leadership says her nomination is the one thing that will help unite their party (and that means their party's organization and players), but I'll still vote for whoever is the Democrat to keep a Republican administration from recurring.
And, as I've admitted before, I actually wrote in McCain 8 years ago, because at the time I stupidly thought that would be more principled than voting for Bush's idiocy and Gore's pedantry. I've changed my mind completely about Gore, and realize I did no better than the Nader voters in New Hampshire and Florida who gave the White House to Bush. Having seen what today's Republican party will do once it's in power, there's no way I'd vote for McCain again. And there's no way I wouldn't just "not vote" -- that's childish, seeking the perfect candidate before you'll vote for him or her. Never happens and if it does, they'd never win. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
I do find it interesting that (a) McCain and Clinton are both hated passionately by many in their party's base, which could make for an interesting election; and (b) Clinton received far more votes in the Florida Democratic primary than McCain did in the GOP primary -- despite the fact that none of the Democrats campaigned in Florida and that primary was merely a popularity contest, without any delegates coming from it (as of today, at least).
And here we are at the Michigan primary. Hillary and Mac won New Hampshire. Bill Richardson (everyone's best candidate for running mate) dropped out. So it's a fight for delegate counts (not unlike November's fight for electoral votes) as much or more than a fight for each state. I find it telling that Barack won more independent votes than Hillary did, and that independents turned out four to one for the Democratic primary than three to one, for the Republican. (If I've misstated that, sorry, but the point is that 40% of voters in the Democratic primary were independents, whereas about a third of voters in the Republican primary were independents.)
I have to stay, though, that I'm extremely exasperated with the National Democratic Party for deciding to "sanction" Michigan and Florida for holding their primaries before Super-Duper Tuesday. I'm sure it made some kind of sense at the time, but the end result is that it gives Democratic candidates (including the eventual nominee) far less chance to appear in person in front of two key states of the general election. And for some voters, it fits exactly into their suspicion of an autocratic party that can't wait to tell local communities how to live their lives. I overstate what this means, of course, but trust me: that's the interpretation that's going to get played during the general election in both those states.
But enough about how the Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Let's go to the mailbag, shall we?
A friend in Oklahoma writes:
"Consider this food for thought for your blog: I think Hillary’s negatives are one major factor that don’t get parsed and probed enough (not by the press or by Obama or Edwards). Hillary could seriously cost the Dems the election. I’d personally hate to see that happen, but the level of animosity toward her can’t be underestimated. The major East Coast press really misses the boat on that with respect to the South, and Southwest."
He's right, and I've said that to anyone who'd listen to me for nearly a year, but I haven't posted a lot here about it. It's true, however: Hillary Clinton's negatives in the South and Southwest are as big, or bigger, than her positives, to use polling jargon. (Or a layperson's understanding of polling jargon?) You thought an elitist senator from the northeast was a good idea for 2004? Then nominate Hillary Clinton -- among the most polarizing figures of the last two decades -- this time around.
Me, I think she'd actually make a great president: smart, decisive, politically savvy but with America's best interests at heart, regardless of any personal failings. Not unlike...well, let's not bring him up. But I do think there hasn't been enough attention to the negative opinion so many Americans have of Hillary Clinton, deserved or not. Maybe, as another friend says, she only needs a bare minority of the electoral college to win and can win it, but I doubt it. And I think the South Carolina and February 5 primaries will show that, but we'll see.
For now, I think Hillary is too hated -- and no, not by people who normally vote in the Democratic primaries, but by people who don't, yet who vote in November -- to win the general election. Maybe she could win against Romney. Definitely against Giuliani (having faced at least the first days of an election between those two, I can say that), but against anyone else: I doubt it.
Notice I haven't said "why" -- and I don't think there is any coherent rationale behind it. The real reason is probably two decades of talk radio, Fox News, and unimaginative editorial cartoons. Which, at the end, is probably enough to keep her from being president.
Or, from my friend in Oklahoma again: "I also support many of her views, and I'd love to see a woman in office, but I simply think she’s the wrong one. She'll further divide the country. She's not our panacea. What's more, I don't get the blind trust so many Dems give her."
He may not be aware just how hated Hillary (and even Bill) are by so many people on the left for their largely centrist, "corporatist" Democratic Leadership Council history and positions, so she's certainly not universally loved among Democrats -- far from it. But my own ideas on why she garners so much support is threefold:
People who shake their head in disbelief at how we went from a competent, intelligent administration to an incompetent, anti-intellectual band of snake-oil handlers, and who look back at the Clinton practice of political triangulation as a form of realpolitik that can get stuff done.
People who support her precisely because she's so hated by Rush Limbaugh et al.; who are closely related to...
People who discern in her a mirror of what some Republicans liked about George W. Bush, which is that -- unlike with most other politicians who have confidence in their positions and candidacy -- in Clinton, some people infer an arrogance in her positions and attitudes, and they like that lack of self-doubt. (And these would be the sworn enemies of the people who ate up W's characterization of "swagger" as just what they call "walking" in Texas.)
Again, I think the February 5 primaries will tell us a lot about what people in those states feel about Hillary Clinton, albeit it will be Democratic primary voters, who may or may not be an accurate reflection of the wider general election voters in that same state. Another friend, this time from Texas, writes to say:
"Personally I think you are selling the 'red states' short and I think what happened in Iowa (and New Hampshire, I hope) [DAB note: he wrote this before the NH primary] demonstrate that. Look what he did for turnout and young voters, To me that speaks VOLUMES to what this guy is about."
He's talking Obama, obviously, and I don't discount it, because this is someone who voted for Bush in the last two elections, but is now rooting for Obama. And is someone who won't vote Hillary, in all likelihood, no matter who is running against her. He, like a lot of Americans, is eager to get off the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton train and (if you'll forgive the term) "move on." Which, I think, is a powerful subtext for many voters in both parties. They don't want their nose rubbed in the fact that the last two elections were a disaster for the country, but they don't want to repeat the mistake again.
This is why I find it interesting that Obama got more support from independents in New Hampshire than Clinton. There are Republicans or Republican-leaning independents who don't feel Obama has already enlisted himself as their sworn enemy, whereas more Republicans (and especially Republican men) think Clinton is too far gone in Marxist feminist circles (despite the fact that she consistently drives the political left nuts and many feminists are notably lukewarm about Hillary being the first serious woman candidate for president) for them to ever support her.
This is going to sound overly simplistic, but there's a good chance we've reached a point in America where a white, male Republican can happily support Barack Obama as president because of other things going on in the culture, particularly where Republican identification is strongest. Nationwide, an older generation of entrenched racial prejudice has died, and a younger, browner picture of America has become more mainstream. But I also think there has been a slow evolution in the part of the country that is on record for being the least likely to believe in that other kind of evolution.
Over 40 years ago, Dick Gregory said: "In the South, they don't care how close I get as long as I don't get too big. In the North, they don't care how big I get as long as I don't get too close." Which surprised and discomfited a lot of northerners at the time. (White northerners saw segregation as a hateful attempt to reify the kind of de facto separation of races they experienced in most of the North, whereas southern racists saw it as a defensive posture against the intermingling of two races who were already closer in number and proximity than they liked.) While familiarity may have bred contempt among the races in the South during the first 200 years of the country's history, the past 30 years have changed a lot.
Blacks and whites attend the same megachurches in greater numbers than ever before in the Sunbelt. In the other prominent religion of the region, there are more black quarterbacks and black football coaches than in decades past, and each has a lot of white male fans rooting for him. And in 2006, Bill Lester, a Berkley-educated, former Hewlett-Packard engineer, became the first black NASCAR driver in 20 years. (There are apparently none qualifying in the current rankings, however, making the southern-focused nascar.com as white or whiter a Web site than the northern-dominated nhl.com.)
This may not be enough for red-state America to elect a black president -- but I would say we're closer to that point than at any other point in our history, so I'm willing to entertain at least a modicum of the audacity of hope. And, finally, speaking of Obama, another friend, here in New York, wrote to clarify what he'd said about Barack Obama as a Muslim. He knew he attended a Christian church in Chicago (and even that some people call it an overtly "afro-centric" church), but he was referring to the larger implications of a man with a Kenyan Muslim father, who grew up for a time in Indonesia, has the middle name of Hussein, etc., running for president in America today. Which was the point I was making, too, but as I reflect on it, I shouldn't have blithely used his same discussion of that issue as the evidence that people may find Obama problematic. And, for the record, in addition to Fox News, he's actually also a consumer of information from MSNBC, CNN, NY1 (a local cable news channel), and Air America -- and the New York Post's Page Six and the New York Times crossword. I offered to post a correction here, which he graciously said wasn't warranted since he was just goofing on me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that using a caricature of what he was saying to make a point about why people might not vote for Obama wasn't a whole lot better than someone making a caricature of Obama's background as a reason to vote against him, so I wanted to clear that up.
And, like the other two friends I mentioned above, he's not real thrilled with the idea of Hillary as president, either.
A break from the political blathering to mention something I saw tonight on my way to the grocery store: a subway train, rolling up Broadway. And not on an elevated track (which we have up here) or somesuch. It went by pretty fast, and I was actually a block away, looking east toward Broadway, but I was able to see that it was actually on the back of a (large) flatbed truck, followed by another truck with what was probably a "wide load" sign.
Considering that there are train yards just east of Broadway way up here on the northern end of Manhattan, where they do repairs and such, it isn't the most surprising thing, but I hadn't seen a subway car rolling up the street before and I know I did a classic double-take. I wish I'd had a camera or cellphone camera to take a picture to show you. Trust me: it was the New York equivalent of seeing a jetliner being hauled up a highway not that most people have seen that, either, I realize.
Isn't it time Dennis Kucinich dropped out? The guy couldn't win a statewide race in Ohio, let alone a national election. Mike Gravel is also just taking up space that could be put to better use. I was sorry to see Biden and Dodd lose so badly in Iowa I think either would make good presidents, but they don't have the rock star effect that is apparently the leading criterion today. Television (and talk radio) are destroying politics, and politics is destroying government, which seems dead set on destroying the country. So the question is: how do we destroy television?
A few thoughts following the Iowa caucus yesterday. I'd actually be thrilled to have any one of the leading Democratic candidates (or even Biden or Dodd, who have now bowed out) as president over any of the Republicans running, but having said that, someone needs to look at this in terms of how people will actually vote in November.
Barack Obama gave a great speech following his victory in the Democratic caucuses, which was much analyzed on CNN, at least. And I agree: he's very charismatic and can give great speeches. But he reminds me of Mario Cuomo: great, stirring speeches, smart guy but why again should he be president? Or, beyond that (since people never seem to vote for who would be the better president, but the one they feel more comfortable voting for) how is it he could win a general election? Not only does his name end in a vowel the third oldest political no-no in U.S. presidential elections, combined with the latest political no-no, which his last name rhymes with "Osama" and his middle name is "Hussein." More to the point, he's a black man, which is probably the second oldest political no-no. Or, even more problematic, he's half-black and half-white. That prejudice is much closer to dead now than it might have been forty or thirty years ago, but as they say in the places where it's especially true "I will guar-on-tee you" that it's a prejudice that will still affect voters regardless of what they say to pollsters. Perhaps those people would never vote for the Democratic candidate whoever it is. But it's a gigantic question mark whether there are enough people who vote in general elections without prejudice who can like or at least accept his story "with a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas and a story that could only happen in the United States of America," as he put it to outweigh those who are disturbed by it.
A friend of mine even said that it was interesting to have a Muslim running for president. Now, this friend has admitted in the past that he gets his news from Fox, so that shouldn't surprise me, but he honestly hadn't heard that Barack Obama is a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois. And this friend works in media, albeit not news media. But how many people who don't work in media in New York think he's a Muslim, too even if they get their news (if they pay any attention to the news) from somewhere other than Fox?
Mike Huckabee is probably the bigger story today, since he was far more of a come-from-behind candidate and ended up far ahead of the better financed Mitt Romney. Huckabee is favored by social conservatives, but scares Wall Street (as evidenced by today's WSJ opinion article by David Sanders).
The big question mark for Huckabee in a general election is whether or not his overt social conservatism scares a majority of voters. Possibly, but not necessarily, given the percentage of people in America who call themselves "evangelical/fundamentalist" Christians.
As to the other leading candidates:
I also question Clinton's electability in a general election, along the same lines as I question Obama's. For one thing, she represents the oldest political no-no in presidential politics, which is that she's a woman. Surely we are beyond that prejudice, but I wouldn't yet bet money (or my primary vote) on it. But it's not just that she's a woman, but a Democrat. And a highly caricatured, hated Democratic woman at that. Huge swaths of the country look at Hillary Clinton and think "Andrea Dworkin reincarnated," even if they've never heard of Dworkin. Talk radiots call her a "feminazi" and while even larger numbers of people may not hate her quite as much as the people who would never vote for a Democrat anyway, she leaves a bad taste in many mouths. There may not be the true fire of man-hating feminism there, they think, but there's enough acrid smoke to keep them from wanting to see her on their television sets every night for 4 years.
Despite our progress as a country, I think that the only woman that might get elected president in America today would be a Republican. As disastrous as it would be, I suspect Condoleeza Rice has more chance today of being the first black or woman president than Obama or Clinton has as either. Only Nixon could go to China, and only Kay Bailey Hutchison or Elizabeth Dole could get elected to the Senate in places like Texas and North Carolina. And not because they represent some kind of weak feminity, because they don't. But because they're the kind of women the average red stater knows at church or, increasingly, work: smiling, gracious, but smart and strong. Iron fists in velvet gloves, in other words, same as what appealed to conservatives about Margaret Thatcher. With Hillary, I fear, too many voters still see only fingernails in brass knuckles.
Having said that disclosure time I voted for Hillary twice to the Senate and would continue to do so. I want a senator who has a national agenda and national ambitions on a national stage. But based on the part of the country I know best, I don't think she could win a general election, and may have even less chance than Barack. (I think she'd definitely have less chance if his name were different.)
Mitt Romney strikes me as the Republicans' John Kerry: capable, smart, but too stiff and not someone people would have much good feeling about voting for, unless possibly they feel "good" about voting against Clinton or Obama, which isn't a very positive kind of good feeling, to say the least. And when it comes to flip-flopping, he makes Kerry's nuancing look rock-ribbed.
Giuliani's name ends in a vowel and he can't even get the support of New York firefighters. Plus he's got more baggage than Samsonite. But mostly, his constant trope (quote today, after disastrous Iowa caucus: ""None of this worries me Sept. 11, there were times I was worried") is going to wear thinner and thinner as the election wears on. It worked for George Bush four years ago, but my sense is that voters want this to be the election that moves us beyond 9/11. Even to a "please, dear God, can we not move on from 9/11?" degree.
McCain is the wildcard. Independents like him, talk shows like him. As much as he's played himself the maverick, there's could be a sense among Republicans (for whom loyalty counts a lot more than with Democrats) that he's earned it over the last eight years. Disclosure: I actually voted for McCain eight years ago (as a write-in candidate), because I didn't want a country led by George W. Bush and couldn't stomach four years of Gore's pedantry. I feel 180 degrees different about Gore today, given what's transpired since then, and almost 180 degrees different about McCain, but we'll see. The best I can say about McCain now is that he'd be an improvement over Bush, at least. Perhaps.
Which brings us to: John Edwards. Why, if Edwards came in second, is the other big story today about "what the Iowa caucuses mean for Hillary Clinton"? The mainstream media is so invested in an Obama-Clinton battle, they can't get off that story even when the electorate is pointing in another direction.
I think he's electable, especially against what you see among the Republicans. He's got more passion and more gravitas now than he had four years ago, and even if I don't necessarily agree with his solutions entirely (I'm not a big protectionist myself, and I'm not convinced nuclear energy is all that bad these days), he's at least pointing out problems in the country that are something other than George Bush's incompetence and partisanship, which is the only thing Obama and Clinton seem to focus on.
Completing the disclosures, Edwards is the only candidate this time around to whom I've donated any money despite, as I've said, my misgivings on some of his positions. Not sure if I'll continue that, but I think, of all the Democrats (save, perhaps, Bill Richardson, who has the most stellar résumé but seems to excite no one), Edwards is the most electable in a general election. He's a white guy from the South, and you have to go back almost half a century to find a Democrat who won the White House who wasn't.