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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

# Posted 5:17 PM by Taylor Owen  

OBAMA'S RACE SPEECH: I haven't read through all the commentary on Obama's race speech yet, but I did watch it, and believe that above all else, the style he exhibited goes to the core of his candidacy. He speaks about issues, controversial issues, with a political voice that hasn't been heard before. He transcends old ideological, ethnic, religious and historical divides. This voice is not just new to the US, but internationally. This is why so many people in Canada and Europe, for example, are watching him in a way they don't even look at their own leaders. I can't express the number of times I have been asked in Canada who will be "our Obama". Same in the UK.

It is also worth mentioning that the voice evident in the speech clearly shows the unique positionally that he is able to hold. Ferraro was right - Obama could not have given this speech if he were white. Nor could he if he were a boomer - white, black, or female. Neither of the Clinton's could have given this speech. This, however, does not in any way diminish the force of him giving it. As Andrew has said, it simply adds context to the historical moment/opportunity that surrounds his candidacy.

In any case, despite his religious exuberance and US patriotism (I am an atheist Canadian), I basically agree with Andrew's post on the speech, some of which is below:
I do want to say that this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history...

I have never felt more convinced that this man's candidacy - not this man, his candidacy - and what he can bring us to achieve - is an historic opportunity. This was a testing; and he did not merely pass it by uttering safe bromides. He addressed the intimate, painful love he has for an imperfect and sometimes embittered man. And how that love enables him to see that man's faults and pain as well as his promise...

Bill Clinton once said that everything bad in America can be rectified by what is good in America. He was right - and Obama takes that to a new level. And does it with the deepest darkest wound in this country's history.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

# Posted 7:46 PM by Taylor Owen  

NOTHING BUT CLASS:

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

# Posted 6:51 PM by Taylor Owen  

MATH VS HOPE: Some quick answers to David's questions:
1. Why shouldn't they go to the candidate who emerges with the largest popular vote?
I agree, I don’t think there is clear reason, other than the fact that the nominee is chosen by delegates, rather than a straight popular ballot. I suppose that means something. Bush would probably think so. I also believe that even if you count Michigan and Florida, which is looking increasingly unlikely to happen, Obama is ahead in the pop. vote.
2. From day one, Obama's message has been that he is a bringer of change who can unite the entire country, not just the Democratic Party. Thus, would an emphasis on the math actually do more to hurt his campaign than to help?
Well, a couple of things. First, I don’t see how these are necessarily mutually exclusive. Second, I think the message of the campaign can be transmitted in many ways. Obama himself would obviously not be on the stump mixing math with hope, delegates with change. His surrogates could certainly do fair amount to get that point across though.
3. Is it "absolutely ridiculous" for her to argue that she is better vetted?
OK, this might be a bit strong. First, though, her claim assumed that the "vast right-wing conspiracy" is done "vetting" her. That the current silence is due to the right being out of ammo, as opposed to her primary opponent trying to run a relatively clean campaign. Second, what is certainly “absolutely ridiculous” is her claim that she is fully vetted, but then to call any reference to the issues for which she was critiqued off limits, or worse still, Starr-ian. She can’t have it both ways.
4. What I want to know is, is one set of arguments intrinsically more persuasive to Democratic superdelegates? Or is only way forward to forget about which argument is better and just see who polls better against McCain?
In the end, I am not sure if it will ever come down to solely who is better positioned against McCain. If Obama is ahead in delegates, popular vote, and states won going into the convention, then it is hard to see Hillary to becoming the nominee. If they split any of these, or, I suppose, if Hillary has some real momentum coming out of the final few states, then the super delegates will decide based on the McCain factor. This, despite Clinton’s experience messaging, I think actually favors Obama. He polls better against McCain, puts more swing states into play, and Hillary is far more vulnerable on her Iraq vote than she implies.

Plus, what could be better for Oxblog than an Obama-McCain general? Surely that has to factor into our analysis?

PS - In a thorough post on the same topic, Jonathan Chait argues that while there may be nothing illegitimate about a super delegate decided outcome, with the math strongly against her, Clinton's only path to the nomination will not be a pretty affair.
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Friday, March 07, 2008

# Posted 11:47 AM by Taylor Owen  

SAMANTHA POWER: I am disappointed that Power has stepped down from the Obama campaign. She was more than a mere Obama policy adviser, she was his liberal internationalist Condi. She is also someone for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, not to mention a fair dose of envy. It was her early engagement with Obama following his Senate win that first made me think that he might be something different. Her subsequent involvement with the presidential campaign helped further solidified my support.

I perhaps admire her most for her willingness to jump into the political world from her safe and successful academic career. She clearly did it because she felt passionately for his candidacy, an emotional engagement that is too often lost in the ivory tower. I think it is safe to say, that she found this position somewhat awkward. You simply cannot speak in the same way as a partisan that you can as a scholar. It is a different public positionally.

The following interview on BBC's Hardtalk only confirms this. You can tell that she is uncomfortable in the partisan role, but shows admirably how an academic can engage in politics in a meaningful way. This is precisely the type of political discourse I think we need more of.

It is also no coincidence that she has had a similar career to Michael Ignatieff (someone for whom I also have a great deal of respect), who has likewise attempted to bridge this academic-political divide. It is not a comfortable place to be, but I respect those of all political stripes who try with integrity. I hope her experience does not dissuade others from taking the leap.

ps. thoughts on David's queries to follow asap...

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

# Posted 7:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PIGS FLY, HELL FROZEN OVER, OXBLOG LOVES MAUREEN DOWD: As our wise founder once observed, Maureen Dowd has authentic talent as an observer of political battles that are intensely personal. Thus, she tries to reduce every issue to something personal. At this moment in Democratic politics, Dowd's approach is fully appropriate. She writes:
With Obama saying the hour is upon us to elect a black man and Hillary saying the hour is upon us to elect a woman, the Democratic primary has become the ultimate nightmare of liberal identity politics. All the victimizations go tripping over each other and colliding, a competition of historical guilts.

People will have to choose which of America’s sins are greater, and which stain will have to be removed first...

And meanwhile, the conventional white man sits on the Republican side and enjoys the spectacle of the Democrats’ identity pileup and victim lock.
Perhaps the Democrats can solve their problems by drafting a black woman candidate at the convention in Denver. I hear Cynthia McKinney is looking for a job. Or maybe Condi?

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# Posted 6:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS DELEGATE MATH THE "CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN"? Taylor, my partisan preferences are well known. Yet I remain fascinated by how Democrats are trying to persuade each other that their candidate deserves the nomination. Several points you make seem to have well-known counterarguments available to any Hillary supporter. In addition to asking why your side of the argument is better, I'd be curious to know why you think it will appeal to more primary voters and superdelegates.

First of all, you suggest there are only two paths open to the superdelegates:
They will go to either who has a clear lead in elected delegates, or, if no one does, then to who they think has the best chance of beating McCain.
Why shouldn't they go to the candidate who emerges with the largest popular vote? To a certain extent, this is a restatement of the much discussed question, which has more legitimacy, a primary or a caucus? Regardless of whether Hillary has taken a consistent position on this subject, why should superdelegates reject the proposition that the popular vote is a better reflection of the party's will? My personal opinion is that there is no clear answer to whether delegates or votes confer more legitimacy. But I'm curious why you consider only one of those options plausible.

My next question, referring back to the title of this post, concerns the proposition that for Obama,
It is critical that the math becomes the story.
From day one, Obama's message has been that he is a bringer of change who can unite the entire country, not just the Democratic Party. Although I don't pay attention to every word Obama says, I don't believe he has ever placed much emphasis on the idea that a mathematical edge among elected delegates demands the support of the delegate. As others have pointed out, shifting to a focus on delegate math and arcane bylaws seems to subvert Obama's message that he is the leader of a movement that transcends such petty things. Thus, would an emphasis on the math actually do more to hurt his campaign than to help?

With regard to the question of Hillary's negatives, I am inclined to share other Republicans' opinion that they would be a gift to the GOP in the general election. Yet does it follow logically that because Hillary's negatives are high, it is "absolutely ridiculous" for her to argue that she is better vetted? All along, Hillary's position has been that those negatives are the result of an enduring Republican effort (some might say a vast right-wing conspiracy) to vet her as aggressively as possible, and she has survived.

Could Obama endure a similar test? In the very same post you cite approvingly, Josh Marshall suggests that Hillary's vetting argument is actually quite valid. He writes:
The Clinton campaign got rough and nasty over the last week-plus. And they got results. That may disgust you or it may inspire you with confidence in Hillary's abilities as a fighter. But wherever you come down on that question is secondary to the fact that that's how campaign's work. Opponents get nasty. And what we've seen over the last week is nothing compared to what Barack Obama would face this fall if he hangs on and wins the nomination.

So I think the big question is, can he fight back? Can he take this back to Hillary Clinton, demonstrate his ability to take punches and punch back?
I don't know. As you recognize in your post, Obama can't afford to hit back in a way that makes him seem to be down at Hillary's level, since the entire justification for his campaign is that he can win without stooping to that level.

On every point raised above, both campaigns have made reasonable arguments that happen to coincide with their candidate's interests. What I want to know is, is one set of arguments intrinsically more persuasive to Democratic superdelegates? Or is only way forward to forget about which argument is better and just see who polls better against McCain?

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

# Posted 9:54 AM by Taylor Owen  

THE WAY FORWARD: A few thoughts from last night.

First, if you are going to read one analysis, read Josh's. As usual, he captures the central element of this thing going forward: that no matter how either camp tries to spin it, it will be the super delegates that will decide this (since neither will gain enough elected delegates) and that despite what both camps may believe, they actually don't have that much sway over the decisions of these delegates. They will go to either who has a clear lead in elected delegates, or, if no one does, then to who they think has the best chance of beating McCain.

So, if this is a given, then there are only two potential scenarios going forward. Obama could continue to slowly pull ahead in elected delegates with a close contest in Wyoming and a big win in Mississippi. Unless Hillary crushes him in Pennsylvania, it is over. Or, Hillary could start to close the elected delegate gap, bringing the super delegates into play, in which case this becomes a battle of who stacks up better against McCain.

If these are the two most likely scenarios, what should Obama do?

On the first, he has to pick away at the myth that this is about anything but elected delegates. This will in part happen naturally, as people start to look closely at just how she plans on winning this despite the numbers, and how the next three contests play out. It is critical that the math becomes the story. Part of this is also getting away from the idea that everything rides on Pennsylvania. From a numbers perspective, it just doesn't.

On the second option, that this comes down to convincing super delegates who is better poised to fight the general, it seems to me he has to confront three myths: That she has a more developed policy platform; that she has been better vetted and is not as susceptible to GOP smears; and that she has more experience.

On the first, given that there is a good stretch of time between now and Pennsylvania, why not do a series of serious policy speeches. The kind of long, boring, wonky events he did early in the primary. Do a serious foreign policy speech at Brookings flanked by his formidable advisers, a detailed environmental speech, a hard edged discussion of free trade, etc. He could do a different theme every two days, for two weeks. Bombard the press with policy. They will either report it, which is great, or simply report that he has a really detailed policy plan, which is also great.

On the second, that Hillary is better vetted, he has to fight back. This line of attack is simply ridiculous coming from the candidate who has some of highest negatives in recent memory, and for whom Rush Limbaugh is rooting. The fact that this angle has stuck is crazy. They are clearly trying to get into a mudsling and bring him down to their level. He does have to be careful about doing too much of this himself, but there are many ways to get a message out. His campaign has to make very clear what a GOP campaign against Hillary will look like. One way of triggering this discussions is to everyday ask why she hasn't released her tax forms. The answer is obvious and will lead to a range of inquiries. Let's get the ball rolling...

Finally, on experience, I say use Daschle, and others of his stature, more in the public. He was on Charlie Rose a couple of days ago, and made what was the best defense of Obama's qualifications I have ever seen. Daschle came to this campaign largely because of how Obama composed himself in the Senate, and what he thinks this means he is capable of. Get that message out. And shockingly, when he is not at a mic in Capital foyer, Daschle is eloquent, likable and persuasive.

One quick thing on the McCain match-up. Obama's overwhelming advantage here is that in a change election he simply brings way more to the table that Hillary. This message has to get out better. All of this 3am phone ringing nonsense only serves to highlight the advantage that he has. In this election, one main element of the desired change is away from fear based politics. He represents this. Use it.

All in all, my bet is that his supporters rally, the movement element of his campaign returns in response to Clinton's kitchen sink, he continues to raise astonishing amounts of money, he keeps his delegate lead through the next three primaries, and super delegates slowly trickle to him. Eventually, the reality will set in that she simply can't win. Fingers crossed...

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

# Posted 9:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS THAT BILL RICHARDSON OR IS IT BORAT'S HEFTY SIDEKICK AZAMAT? It wouldn't surprise me to find either one hanging out with Bill Clinton.

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# Posted 8:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NAFTA-BLOGGING: If we had a Mexican author here, this would be the perfect NAFTA blog. We actually had several volunteers willing to blog for less than minimum wage, until they realized that the Canadian and the American authors here get paid nothing all. (The Irishman works for whiskey.)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm reading a left-wing economics text at the moment. On page 70, the author, Robert Kuttner writes that:
NAFTA, which has no civic component, is pure triumph of commerce over democratic citizenship.
Kuttner may get away with insulting Bill Clinton that way, but such contempt for the prime minister of Canada is unthinkable! Anyhow, Fareed Zakaria writes, with regard to the civic component of NAFTA, that:
NAFTA has been pivotal in transforming Mexico into a stable democracy with a growing economy. And, in Lawrence Summers's words, "[it] didn't cost the United States a penny. It contributed to the strength of our economy because of more exports and because imports helped to reduce inflation." Trade between the NAFTA countries has boomed since 1993, growing by about $700 billion. There are no serious economists or experts who believe that low wages in Mexico or China or India is the fundamental reason that American factories close down. And labor and environmental standards would do very little to change the reality of huge wage differentials between poor and rich countries' workers.
Zakaria is usually not one to dismiss lightly those whose opinions differ from his own. Yet Kuttner seems to be headed in precisely the direction Zakaria anticipates. Personally, I don't know enough to make a compelling case for or against the effectiveness of NAFTA, but my instinct is that Kuttner will find himself on the short end of this straw.

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# Posted 11:32 AM by Taylor Owen  

NAFTA BRUHAHA: Who knew Canada would come into play in the Dem primary? A couple of quick points on the Obama-NAFTA-Cnd embassy "chat":

1. First, and most importantly, it would not be AT ALL surprising if the story that Harper's Chief of Staff, Ian Brodie, was the source of the leak turned out to be true. Think about it, what is the worst possible outcome of the US election for a boring middle age conservative white guy trying to edge out a majority government in Canada? Hint - chances are pretty good he's not rooting for the young/charismatic/inspirational/progressive black guy.

2. Harper has issued this stock statement. As Delacourt points out though, this isn't likely to halt Clinton's attacks....remember the "terrorist came from Canada" ruse she was so hesitant to disavow?

3. The irony of all of this is that Obama's NAFTA position is actually both sophisticated and pretty pro-canadian. He wants the environmental and labour regulation side agreements to be formalized into the treaty. Something progressive Canadians have long pushed for. He is also, not inconsequentially, against Clinton's silly and completely impractical "time out on trade" idea, and lets not even get into her sectoral protectionism...

4. Re. Canada-US relations...Drezner is just about bang on.

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# Posted 8:48 AM by Taylor Owen  

BROOKS NAILS IT: In tour-de-force oped, Brooks, rightly in my mind, identifies the Jefferson-Jackson dinner as the turning point of the Dem campaign. The whole thing is well worth a read and nicely captures what is at stake tonight. Quoted, at length:
Hillary Clinton gave a rousing partisan speech. Standing on a stage in the middle of the arena with her arms spread and her voice rising, she welcomed the next president and declared: “We are here tonight to make sure that next president is a Democrat!”

She described how change was going to come about in this country: through fighting. She used the word “fight” or “fought” 15 times in one passage of the speech, fighting for health care, fighting for education and women’s rights. Then she vowed to “turn up the heat” on Republicans. “They deserve all the heat we can give them!” she roared....

Clinton rode the passion of the crowd and delivered an energetic battle cry. And in many elections that sort of speech, delivered around the country, would clinch the nomination.

But this is a country in the midst of a crisis of authority, a country that has become disillusioned not only with one president, but with a whole system of politics. It’s a country that has lost faith not only with one institution, but with the entire set of leadership institutions. The cultural context, in other words, allowed for a much broader critique, a much more audacious vocabulary.

And Barack Obama leapt right in.

He spoke after 11 p.m. The crowd had been sitting for four hours. In the previous months, Obama had been criticized for being bland on the stump. But this night, he unleashed a zealous part of himself that has propelled his candidacy ever since.

His first big subject was belief itself. Instead of waging a partisan campaign as Clinton had just done, he vowed to address “not just Democrats, but Republicans and independents who’ve lost trust in their government but want to believe again.”

Then he made a broader attack on the political class, and without mentioning her, threw Clinton in with the decrepit old order. “The same old Washington textbook campaigns just won’t do,” he said, in a now familiar line. He said it was time to “finally tackle problems that George Bush made far worse but that had festered long before George Bush ever took office — the problems that we’ve talked about year after year after year.”

Obama sketched out a different theory of social change than the one Clinton had implied earlier in the evening. Instead of relying on a president who fights for those who feel invisible, Obama, in the climactic passage of his speech, described how change bubbles from the bottom-up: “And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world!"

All true, but the most critical observation:

Clinton had sounded like a traditional executive, as someone who gathers the experts, forges a policy, fights the opposition, bears the burdens of power, negotiates the deal and, in crisis, makes the decision at 3 o’clock in the morning.

But Obama sounded like a cross between a social activist and a flannel-shirted software C.E.O. — as a nonhierarchical, collaborative leader who can inspire autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns.

Clinton had sounded like Old Politics, but Obama created a vision of New Politics. And the past several months have revolved around the choice he framed there that night. Some people are enthralled by the New Politics, and we see their vapors every day. Others think it is a mirage and a delusion. There’s only one politics, and, tragically, it’s the old kind, filled with conflict and bad choices.

Stewart, put it slightly more bluntly, but no less aptly, last night:
Are you uncomfortable in the role of chastising someone idealism?
And there is the nomination in a nutshell.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

# Posted 3:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN A REPUBLICAN BE OPEN-MINDED? One of my colleagues at TPM Cafe issued a sort of challenge. Would I seriously consider the liberal proposition that the US economy has reverted to a dangerous sort of casino capitalism that benefits the rich while subverting the economic security of the middle class? Or would I blindly insists that free markets are the answer to everything?

I would like to think that I surprised my colleague a bit by saying that I am glad to consider any proposition seriously in regard to the state of our economy. When it comes to economics, as opposed to national security, I am a pretty much a novice. My only saving grace is my willingness to admit it.

In order to give the liberal case a fair hearing, I asked my colleague to recommend a book on the subject. I even committed to ignoring any rhetorical flourishes in which the author might indulge, focusing instead on facts logic. So on Friday, I started reading The Squandering of America by Robert Kuttner.

It is a very good thing that I committed to ignoring the author's provocations, since it isn't hard at all to come up with a reason to dismiss him as a wingnut. For example, Kuttner tells us on p.6 that
Serious people have good reason to believe that one or both of the last two presidential elections were stolen.
I guess the timid and docile press corps was too afraid to let anyone know that John Kerry is our rightful president. In a similar vein, Kuttner observes in the second paragraph of the entire book that:
The ultimate test of a democracy is whether it is possible for the people to throw out the governing party. In politics, we have come very close to losing our democracy, not just in rigged rules and stolen elections, but in the domination of politics by big money... (p.3)
Yes, dammit. Barack Obama should give back the $50 million he raised last month. Actually, that's unfair. Kuttner turns out to be pretty harsh on Democrats for taking too much money from corporate America. I just remember the good old days when the "domination of politics by big money" was just a liberal complaint about their candidates' anemic fundraising abilities.

But as I was saying, I'm going to read Kuttner's book as sympathetically as possible. And after sixty pages, I am glad to say that the political nonsense of the early going fades away and the author's focus turns to the economy. Are his arguments on that front persuasive?

I don't know. I freely admit that I don't have the evidence at my fingertips which might enable me to respond to the numerous statistics and citations that Kuttner marshals on behalf of his argument. I'm just trying to absorb as much as I can so I can evaluate it more thoroughly once I've heard the opposing argument as well.

Speaking of which, if any of you know any good books that broadly address the US economy and the state of the middle class, please make a recommendation in the comments section below. Books of any stripe are welcome, although after Kuttner's I'll be looking for centrist and conservative views as an alternative.

And don't forget to enjoy your stimulus checks.

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