March 25, 2008

Here We Go Again

Man, the Republicans are going to slaughter Hillary Clinton on her Bosnia fable should she become the Democratic nominee. If the Swift Boaters could turn an actual war hero -- John Kerry -- into a phony, imagine what they'll do with a real phony? How can a lie about visiting a country with Sinbad, Sheryl Crow and one's teenage daughter compare with the truth about being held as a POW in Vietnam for five years?

I was looking forward to the first post-Vietnam presidential race in ages. Fairly or not, Bill Clinton's draft dodging and George W. Bush's vacation in the Texas National Guard took up a lot of airtime and ink in the past few campaigns. But since Barack Obama was too young to serve during the 70s and Hillary Clinton's gender disqualified her from the draft, Republicans could hardly use these factors against them in comparison to John McCain. We were so close to being done with all that until Hillary Clinton basically handed the McCain campaign a way to use his experience in Vietnam against her. Karl Rove sends his thanks, I'm sure.

McCain's experience was always going to be used in the campaign, but mostly as a way to burnish his credentials. Now he can also use it to denigrate his opponent, should that opponent be Clinton. It's yet another reason to question her political skills, her honesty, and her judgment.

Posted by Doug at 05:43 PM

March 20, 2008

Peter Contacos: Small Business Owner, Idiot

After reading this story in today's Times, I went against my better, liberal judgment and thought, "Gee, maybe there should be a test given to people to see if they are smart enough to vote."

Peter Contacos, 42, the fourth generation of his family to own and operate Coney Island Lunch, a downtown Johnstown business that survived two floods and the loss of thousands of regular customers when Bethlehem Steel eliminated 15,000 jobs in the 1970s and ’80s, will not vote for Senator Barack Obama, “because his name is Barack Hussein Obama — case closed.” Mr. Contacos, an avid hunter who proudly displays pictures of himself with a magnificently maned lion he killed in Botswana, said he considered Mr. Obama “a terrorist.”

Fifteen thousand jobs lost in his town and he won't vote for a guy because of his name. Mr. Contacos, your name translates from Spanish to "With Tacos." I guess you must be an illegal immigrant, huh? But still, names matter, right? Maybe that's a reason not to vote for John McCain! His last name starts with "Mc" just like Timothy McVeigh, so he must be a terrorist, too. Case closed.

Posted by Doug at 02:18 PM

March 12, 2008

A Bridge Too Ferraro

It should go without saying that there are people who are voting for Barack Obama because he is Black. It should go without saying that there are people who are voting for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman. (And it should go without saying that there are people voting against both of them for the same reasons.)

But isn't that the point? Thoughts like these should go without saying. Not that we shouldn't talk about race or gender and how it affects politics, but what is to be gained from stating the obvious? A Black man will never get the vote of a racist and a woman will never get the vote of a sexist, and those who are reducing their votes to race- or gender-based decisions are a small minority. Move along.

But, on the fringes are those who are subtly affected by racism. And that's what makes comments like Geraldine Ferraro's so distressing. She might not have meant anything by them when she first opened her mouth, but her relentless statements and TV appearances, not to mention her less-than-contrite resignation letter, stoked the flames that she claimed she had not lit.

Geraldine Ferraro's comments are notable not for their implicit racism but for their overt stupidity. She might as well have said, "If Barack Obama was not who he is, then people wouldn't vote for him." (If he were Chris Dodd, for example, he'd have been home in Connecticut a long time ago.) Of course his being Black is a part of who he is and has helped shaped his character and experience of the world. But to reduce his appeal solely to the color of his skin - to not recognize it as just one of many things that make up who he is - is racism. Even when meant positively, reducing a person to one uncontrollable characteristic is demeaning.

The chutzpah of the Clinton campaign and her surrogates is astounding. Perhaps it's true that Barack Obama wouldn't be where he was if he wasn't Black. Who knows? (If I weren't a short, Jewish guy from the suburbs, I wouldn't be where I am, wherever that is.) But doesn't a comment like that seem a little ironic when it's coming from the campaign of a person who many think might not be where she is today if she wasn't the wife of a former president? That's a door that maybe they shouldn't leave open.

To be fair, it doesn't always matter how a person got to where they are. What matters what they did after they got there. Would Bobby Kennedy had been a New York Senator and presidential candidate had he not been JFK's brother? Michael Bloomberg essentially bought his way to the mayor's office, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been a great executive for New York. Heck, I even enjoyed Casey Affleck's performance in "Gone Baby Gone."

Posted by Doug at 07:28 PM

March 11, 2008

Random Questions About Elliot Spitzer

- If Spitzer was Client 9, who are clients 1 through 8?

- Why didn't the New York Post go with this headline: "Spitzer? I Don't Even Know Her!"

- Will Spitzer lose his designation as a super delegate? Do we really want guys with that kind of decision-making intelligence picking the Democratic nominee?

Posted by Doug at 12:15 PM

March 07, 2008

Primary Causes

In the discussion over what to do about the Florida and Michigan delegates, I find sentences like this one infuriating:

In the contests in January, Mrs. Clinton prevailed in Florida by 50 percent to 33 percent over Mr. Obama. In Michigan, where Mr. Obama’s name was not on the ballot, Mrs. Clinton took 55 percent of the vote while “uncommitted” won 40 percent.

How are these statistics germane to anything? Including this information in an article about future solutions only muddies the discussion. Imagine the Times' sports section counting a home team's batting practice -- before the visitors showed up -- towards its score in the first inning.

And the language is astounding. Yes, Clinton "prevailed," in Florida, but only in a contest in which no major candidate was supposed to have campaigned. Mightn't her huge name recognition have worked to her advantage in Florida, a state with more than a few older residents who probably had fond memories of what now seems like our pre-Bush Utopia? Obama has been attracting high numbers of young and first-time voters, exactly the kinds of people who probably would have stayed home as soon as they realized their votes weren't going to matter when it came to awarding delegates. (Additionally, Florida's primary took place one week before Super Tuesday. Had it happened afterwards, the point spread between Clinton and Obama might have been smaller.)

And what of Michigan? Clinton "took" 55 percent of the vote in a contest in which her now-main rival for the nomination was not even on the ballot. Lest anyone think I'm a sour-grapes-ridden Obama supporter, if I were in the Clinton camp I wouldn't want anyone repeating that "uncommitted" still garnered 40 percent of the vote. And even more so than in Florida, how many Michiganders stayed home on their state's primary day once they realized that their candidate wasn't on the ballot?

There are lots of conflicting opinions about what to do next. Complete do-overs? Primaries instead of caucuses? Is taxpayer money used in a do-over or does it come from the DNC or private sources? All good questions to consider going forward that have absolutely nothing to do with meaningless results in January.

And now that Michigan and Florida have suddenly become crucial to deciding the Democratic nominee, there goes any punishment these states were supposed to receive for moving up their primaries -- and any leverage the DNC has in avoiding future scheduling disasters. Can you imagine the cluster f*ck this is going to open up in 2012? States will try to have their primaries whenever they want, pointing to this year's debacle as proof that you never know when you'll need every last delegate. "Punish us for having our primary on January 1, 2012? What are you going to do about it? Not seat our delegates?"

Posted by Doug at 11:45 AM

March 05, 2008

Your -ism is Worse than My -ism

Someone I know accused me of sexism for a couple of my recent posts about Hillary Clinton. This, of course, is a trap; if you can't register unease about a candidate without someone accusing you of one of the many -isms at play in this election (sexism, racism) then you can't have a conversation.

First, the now-requisite disclaimers: I voted and volunteered for Hillary in both of her runs for the Senate here in New York. As much as her carpetbagger status made me a little uncomfortable, I did see the value in having a junior senator whose name recognition would confer almost instant senior status. Before he started making vaguely racist comments in South Carolina, I was a big fan of Bill Clinton and even waited in line for about six hours to get "My Life" signed at a Barnes & Noble in midtown. I could not argue with anyone over Hillary's credentials, her achievements, and her work ethic and will definitely vote for her should she wrestle the nomination away from Obama. After all, it still matters whether we elect a Democrat or a Republican to the White House. It's the judges, stupid.

Of course, I think it's incredible that, for the first time in this country's history, a woman has risen to become such a viable candidate. But there's a simple fact: no matter how capable Hillary Clinton is, if she hadn't been married to Bill Clinton, she wouldn't have been the presumptive front-runner at the start of the primary season.

It's important to remember that that first viable female candidate is not Nancy Pelosi, Olympia Snowe, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Condoleeza Rice, Madeline Albright or any other woman on either side of the political divide who came to power on her own merits. The first viable female candidate for president is the wife of a former president. You can no more take that part of her identity away from her than you could Obama's Kenyan roots, John McCain's history as former POW or Mike Huckabee's status as God's messenger on Earth.

I do not think her status as a former first lady should necessarily be held against her -- if she's the best person for the job, then she's the best person for the job -- but neither do I think it can be explained away as inconsequential to her place in this year's election. It's an indelible part of her biography and very much a part of what she means when she cites her experience with health care and foreign policy. Yes, she has since had to prove herself in a marathon campaign, but she certainly had an advantage when she entered the race, one not afforded to the "skinny kid with a funny name." But, if she hadn't been married to Bill Clinton, could she have courted top-level support and major donors to build her then-nascent campaign? (And, as I mentioned in a previous post, it has helped her since then: any candidate who wasn't a former first lady would have been written off after losing eleven primaries in a row. John Edwards bowed out after losing just three.) If feminism is about having a level playing field, Clinton started the ballgame in the luxury box.

It can also not be discounted that if Bill Clinton had been unpopular, then Hillary's qualifications to serve and lead would have been moot. Laura Bush may be a midnight-oil-burning genius for all anyone knows, but I doubt she'd garner much enthusiasm or support if she ran for so much as PTA president right now.

Hillary Clinton's candidacy is certainly a step in the right direction towards helping the U.S. catch up to the U.K., India, Pakistan, and other countries that have had female heads of state, but it seems to me there's still a glass ceiling, albeit a lower one, at play this year. Imagine putting your daughter to bed on November 4, 2008 if Clinton wins the presidency. "Yes, Virginia, one day you too can marry a president, watch him weather trumped-up impeachment charges, have him leave office with record-level approval ratings, and then launch your own political career."

That's not to say that there aren't a lot of intelligent people who have reconciled all of these facts and are still able to base their support for Clinton on her strengths as a candidate, manager, and leader. I've read much of her policy positions and find little with which to disagree. I would never denigrate my friends who support Clinton by saying that a vote against Obama means that they are racist. But I often find that Clinton supporters are rarely as charitable towards Obama supporters such as myself, dismissing us -- and him -- as naive idealists with no concept of the political reality of post-Rovian Washington. Give us some credit. There are a lot of intelligent people who can see beyond Obama's rhetoric of hope and change to recognize that no one person will turn Washington into a Utopian Shangri-La. But just as I think it's important to recognize what kind of hope Obama supporters talk about when they talk about hope, it's also important to recognize what kind of feminism Clinton is talking about when she she talks about feminism.

(Oh, and to those who say that it's sexist to refer to the candidate by her first name when her opponent is typically referred to by his last, I say take a look at her campaign signs. One could go to a Hillary Clinton rally and probably not see the name Clinton printed on anything.)

Posted by Doug at 12:32 PM

March 01, 2008

Bias and BS

I wonder if a presidential candidate can have it both ways. On the one hand, Hillary Clinton has complained that the media is biased against her campaign, citing last weeks' SNL skit about the supposed coddling of Obama and saying that she finds "it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues." (Never mind that the debates have been held on PBS, MSNBC, Univision, and CNN and sponsored by various organizations, making a cross-network conspiracy seem unlikely.)

On the other hand, Clinton argues that she, and only she, is ready for the toughest job in the world on Day One. Of course, it's fair for a candidate to complain about media bias, and such a bias might even exist. But to do so in such a public forum -- during one of the top-rated debates, no less -- seems unbecoming of a candidate and more like a ploy for sympathy than a genuine frustration. (Has she no one behind the scenes who can call news directors and debate organizers to demand at least a little more balance?) When your entire criticism of Barack Obama lies in the fact that he's not up to the challenge of dealing with the military, knowing world leaders, and responding to a crisis, it seems a little strange to complain about a few questions from Tim Russert.

To turn the bias argument on its head, had Obama lost even two or three primaries in a row, he'd be out by now. John Edwards dropped out before Super Tuesday, with just three losses behind him. What candidate, other than the wife of a former president, could lose eleven primaries in a row and still have reporters talking about her chances to win the nomination?

Posted by Doug at 07:32 PM