Thursday, January 31, 2008

Who'd A Thunk It? And Now Super Tuesday!

Last summer most political prognosticators, myself included, thought John McCain’s campaign for the Republican nomination and the White House was dead. He seemed extremely tired as he lumbered along. The “Straight Talk Express” seemed to be anything but comprised of straight talk or have enough energy to be called an express. The Iraq War continued to go badly yet he continued to defend President Bush and America’s involvement and he spoke strongly in favor of the “surge.” His poll numbers were terrible. At the same time, Rudolph Giuliani, “America’s Mayor,” was glibly making the rounds, talking tough, leading handsomely in the Republican candidate polls, and even garnering some political support from the right, most notably from Pat Robertson.

On the Democratic side, most prognosticators felt that Hillary Clinton would very likely secure the party’s nomination, not because people loved her but because her opposition either lacked her financial resources and reach or, in the case of Barack Obama, appeared to be a political novice who lacked the gravitas at his young age to legitimately run for President.

How wrong could the pundits and other political observers be, including yours truly?

We’re now on the eve of Super Tuesday, February 5, 2008, when more than twenty states will hold either primaries or caucuses to determine delegates to the two party conventions. Fresh from victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida and endorsements from Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger, McCain appears poised to win big and likely either secure the Republican nomination or become the clear, inevitable candidate. Mitt Romney, his only challenger with an outside chance of catching him, has apparently decided not to invest millions more of his own fortune to run massive advertising in key states that will vote next Tuesday.

The Democratic race has boiled down to a nail biter between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. John Edwards bowed out on Wednesday after finishing badly in South Carolina, the state whose primary he won in 2004 and his place of birth, and Florida, a state denied delegates by the national party and in which no candidate campaigned but which nonetheless held a real primary. Obama, who has raised at least as much money as Clinton, has emerged as a very popular candidate among young and liberal voters, as well as African-American voters, and has garnered key endorsements from Caroline and Senator Ted Kennedy and other senators and politicians who no doubt did not expect him to emerge as a definite prospect to win the nomination.

Most who normally don’t hold back from making predictions are biting their tongues given their poor track records this political season. Many of the Republican primaries are winner take all, which should help McCain tighten his grasp. On the other hand, most, if not all, Democratic primaries are based on proportional representation, assuming a minimum number of votes are won, or on apportionment by Congressional district. In other words, Democratic races are not winner take all so that, for example, even if Hillary wins the popular vote in the California Democratic primary, she will not win all of the delegate votes but only a percentage, reflecting her victories in statewide and in Congressional districts. Most now agree that this will probably insure that neither Obama nor Clinton will secure the nomination this Tuesday. One may emerge as the clear frontrunner but that too remains to be seen.

At one time, Super Tuesday was seen, including by me, as Hillary’s firewall, particularly after her thumping in Iowa. The thought was that she would definitely win big on February 5 so that even if Obama did well in New Hampshire and South Carolina she would be able to stop him and go on to victory. Now most seem to feel that even were Clinton to win the popular vote and the majority of delegates in New York, New Jersey and California, she would still not be the inevitable Democratic nominee given the system of allocating delegates and that many other states, including Illinois, will also be choosing delegates and that Obama should fare pretty well too.

My own predictions for Super Tuesday?! Assuming nothing unusual or untoward occurs between today, January 31, and next Tuesday, an assumption that is far from guaranteed, I expect Clinton to win the popular votes and the larger number of delegates in New York, New Jersey and California, to do better overall than Obama, but nonetheless not to win so impressively that there will be significant pressure on Obama to concede in order to preserve a semblance of party unity. Rather, I expect him to continue his campaign in a rigorous way, particularly given the animosity that has developed between both Clintons and Obama and their respective camps; Obama’s charismatic style, inspirational speechmaking and the significant following Obama has amongst the younger generation and blacks of all ages; and his sense that this is the best chance for him to secure the nomination, not what might possibly be eight years in the future. Increasingly people are talking about Obama as the center of a movement rather than merely a candidate and I think that whole development will assure that the contest goes on and possibly result in his nomination.

But, as for me, I will be voting for Hillary. While a bit more than a year ago I said that I would never vote for Hillary Clinton, that prediction too has proven inaccurate.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Race, Gender and Religion in the 2008 Election

In the aftermath of Barack Obama’s strong victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary, where he garnered 55% of the vote, including 80% of the black vote, male and female, but only 24% of the white vote, questions are being raised anew about the role and significance of race in this year’s presidential election. Should race matter? Does race matter? I offer some of my thoughts.

The Clintons, Bill in particular, are being accused of “playing the race card” in South Carolina, trying to marginalize Barack Obama by polarizing voters around race and characterizing him as “the black candidate” while then suggesting, directly or indirectly, that a black candidate cannot win the presidency. None other than Dick Morris, a former advisor to Bill Clinton but one of his and Hillary’s most savage critics for the last many years and a frequent guest on Fox Cable News, has suggested as much and others, far less partisan and not necessarily critics of the Clintons, have also expressed concern. An ABC correspondent, Jake Tapper, indicates that after Obama’s victory in South Carolina Bill Clinton compared it to Jesse Jackson’s victories when he ran for president without being asked about Jackson, presumably to again suggest that Obama, like Jackson, was a black candidate rather than a candidate who happens to be black.

I have not been entirely pleased with Bill Clinton’s presence on the campaign trail these last several weeks despite having supported him during his presidency and beyond. His larger than life persona tends to dwarf his wife’s presence and voice and he has tended toward making sweeping comments that have been extremely harsh about Obama. There may be large kernels of truth in a good part of what Bill Clinton has said, in terms of Obama’s voting record on Iraq and his inexperience, but the way Clinton has worded things has come across as demeaning, harsh and mud-slinging, not only not traits most Americans wish to associate with a former president but in a delivery style that has tended to repel a good number of African-American and young voters and, on occasion, me.

But let us not be so naïve as to think that race, as well as gender, are not important factors in the Democratic nominating process, and one of those factors will be very significant in the national election. This would be the case no matter what Bill Clinton has been saying. Interestingly, in the South Carolina Democratic primary, Hillary won a majority of white women voters, Edwards won a majority of white male voters, and Obama won 80% of black voters, male or female. And it isn’t as if Obama or his supporters haven’t taken advantage of the fact that he is black and is seen as the first “mainstream” African-American candidate to have a real chance at the nomination in his campaign.

As many remarked, Obama’s victory speech after the Iowa primaries was laced with phrases (“‘it’ couldn’t be done”) that alluded to his being African-American without ever uttering the word. After his defeat in the New Hampshire primary when polls taken only a day before the voting had him winning, more than one Obama supporter referred to the “Bradley effect” in suggesting that many white voters may well have voiced support for Obama in polls but secretly voted against him because of his race. Was invoking the “Bradley effect” an attempt by some Obama supporters to shame white voters into voting for an African-American as a way of disproving any racist sentiments? And, surely, Obama played up his own African-American heritage in front of black audiences in South Carolina. That is not necessarily to say Obama should not do so or that it is unfair of him to do so. After all, Hillary Clinton has referred to her gender in inviting support from female voters. But it is to question the assertion that the Clintons have injected race into the primaries and that Obama and his supporters have completely resisted any such approach.

I was bemused by Obama’s response during the South Carolina debate to the question asked him about Toni Morrison’s famous statement that Bill Clinton was "our first black president, blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime." Obama remarked: "I have to say that, you know, I would have to, you know, investigate more of Bill's dancing abilities. You know, and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother."

“A brother” seems a particularly African-American expression of relatedness (Jews might talk about being “a member of the ‘tribe’”) and I’m sure that’s exactly how Obama meant it to sound to the heavily African-American audience. But how does it play to non-blacks? The other night Obama presented Letterman’s famous top 10 list, this time Obama’s top 10 campaign promises. Promise number one? Obama said: “Three words.” No, the three words were not his current campaign slogan “Yes we can.” Rather, they were “Vice President Oprah.” Well, there’s no missing the fact that Oprah is a black woman, one whose appeal clearly surmounts and surpasses her race. Was this Obama once again reaching out to an American black icon with whom to identify and hopefully have others identify him with?

I just watched a video of Obama’s victory speech after the South Carolina primary. Unlike any of the others seeking the Democratic or Republican nominations, Obama seems to prepare primary victory speeches as if they were presidential inaugural addresses or at least akin to his address to the Democratic Convention several years ago. More credit to him perhaps but they certainly lack any spontaneity or have much peculiarity to the specific primary venue in which he delivers them. In any case, apropos of my discussion here of the race issue, I was struck by what a commentator had stated yesterday: the audience directly behind Obama that tended to be captured in the camera during close-ups of the candidate was almost entirely white. There were a few black faces among a sea of white men and women. Clearly this was intentional; but the group surely was not a random sample of those in attendance, let alone of those who supported his candidacy in South Carolina. Again, a permissible campaign tactic but not one devoid of calculations of race; quite the contrary.

It is evident then that race and gender are important factors in this election and religion, at least when it comes to the Republican contest, is also at play. Americans are quite capable of discerning that Hillary would be the first female president and that Obama would be the first African-American president. (I should acknowledge here that there may be some who feel that since Obama is the offspring of a black father and a white mother that to speak of him as “African-American” or black is not entirely accurate and may itself be a racist statement. But Obama’s own comment in response to the Morrison question suggests he identifies himself as an African-American.) Further, Republicans and others are aware that Mitt Romney is a Mormon and Mike Huckabee an evangelical Christian.

Democrats, hungry for victory in the general election, no doubt will consider whether Obama’s race or Hillary’s gender may affect either of their chances to win that election. Are those “unfair” factors to take into consideration? Is one automatically a racist or a misogynist for thinking about those factors? Should a Democrat considering how to vote or to whom to make a campaign donation disregard Obama’s race and Hillary’s gender and how either may affect a final election in making those decisions?

I think that a voter should not take a candidate’s race, gender or religion into account in evaluating how “good” a candidate is (evaluating “on the merits”) – what kind of leader he or she will make; what policies he or she will advocate; how capable he or she will be in inspiring Americans to work together and productively; how able he or she will be to confront America’s problems in light of his or her experience and track record. But I even have difficulty crafting this statement because the race, gender and/or religion of a candidate may be relevant in various ways.

I believe that a voter is entitled to take into consideration how those factors – race, gender, religion – may affect other voters and the outcome of elections (the electability of a candidate) in making his or her own decisions. Might that be a subtle distinction that a biased person could use to justify his or her own discriminatory animus? Yes. But it’s still a distinction that I believe is important. (While issues of race, gender and religion were not relevant, this distinction between first making one’s own voting choice “on the merits” but then taking into account how others may vote before finally deciding how to vote may be illustrated by reference to the 2000 election. I wish more Naderites had considered Nader’s electability more and the implications for the country of not voting for Gore in 2000.)

Further, I believe a voter is entitled to consider how a candidate’s race, gender or religion may affect the candidate’s ability to lead the country and the candidate’s own choices of policy and personnel. Were a female (or male) candidate to demonstrate a leaning toward women that a voter found unfair and inappropriate or were a candidate of a particular religious persuasion to demonstrate a leaning toward the role of religion in American public life that a voter found repellant and inappropriate, it might well be perfectly appropriate for that voter to vote against such a candidate (assuming the voter’s own perceptions were not mired in and skewed by discriminatory animus).

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when confronted with defining “obscenity” in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), wrote: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

For some it may be easy to clearly and analytically define what role race, gender and religion should or should not play in a national election or in politics in general. I am not in that group. I think it is difficult to define with specificity when race, gender and religion have a legitimate place in making voting decisions and when they do not. But, when talking about the inappropriate use of race, gender and/or religion in this election, I am comfortable borrowing from Potter Stewart to say I know it when I see it. I’ll let each of you judge whether you’ve already seen it. Suffice to say I am concerned.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Boys of Summer -- Growing Up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s

Johnny Podres died last Sunday, January 13, 2008, at 75 years of age. Johnny was another one of the Boys of Summer, the great Dodger players of the 1950’s while the team was still in Brooklyn. As a boy who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s, I idolized the Boys of Summer. Johnny was not one of the more prominent Dodgers in the 1950’s, having only joined the team as a youngster in 1953. But no Brooklyn Dodger fan from the 1950’s will ever forget him as the pitcher who won the 7th game and brought the Dodgers their first and only World Series championship in the 1955 World Series against the New York Yankees, our hated nemeses. I was 12 years old at the time but I've never forgotten the incredible excitement of that day.

The Dodgers were an enormous part of my life during the 1950’s and contributed to some of my most emotional experiences. I can still vividly recall in my mind’s eye Bobby Thomson’s historic home run in the 1951 playoff series between the New York Giants and the Dodgers. I had been watching the game on local television and was devastated by the event. Several years later, after the Dodgers lost a regular season game to the Giants, I was so upset that I walked downstairs from our second floor duplex and opened the front door, oblivious to the fact that my parakeet had perched, as she often did, on my shoulder. She flew away, never to be found. Then there were the unforgiveable acts of Walter O’Malley, first in trading our beloved Jackie Robinson to the despised New York Giants, and then in moving our team from Brooklyn at the end of the 1957 season. As a 14 year old, I was in shock that our team, such a central part of our identities as Brooklynites, would be gone forever. Amidst these traumas, thank goodness Johnny Podres brought me and all Dodger fans in Brooklyn joy in 1955 with his victory in the 7th game of the World Series.

Johnny Podres, thanks for playing such an important part in my coming of age in the 1950’s. I didn’t follow your career after the Dodgers left Brooklyn but in reading the obituaries this last week I’ve come to appreciate you even more as a human being, sharing your love and talent with other players and human beings in your well-lived life. May God bless you.


When Pee Wee Reese died in 1999, I posted some reflections on an AOL bulletin board on August 18, 1999. I am including them here:

It is heartening to read so many testimonials to Pee Wee Reese from baseball fans across the nation, but especially from those who grew up with the Boys of Summer in Brooklyn, New York.

I recall my first visit to Ebbets Field in the early 1950's, before I was ten years old. Andy Pafko hit a home run to decide the game.

And those days after the game waiting around the clubhouse exit to catch a glimpse of the players. Heck, Roy Campanella once stepped on my brother's foot! Such memories do we retain.

And of course Carl Furillo's arm. Throwing out opposing players who had the temerity to challenge him. And Leo Durocher stepping on Carl's hand near the end of one season, guaranteeing Furillo the batting championship.

And then there was Jackie. I can still picture him taking a daring lead off of first base, his hands swaying as he leaned over, ready to dash to second base at the slightest hesitation by the pitcher, or even absent hesitation.

And those double steals. Yes, Pee Wee on second, Robinson on first. And suddenly they bolted. The catcher caught not knowing what to do. Throw to third? Throw to second? Both safe!

Yes, I was a devoted fan of the Boys of Summer. Gil Hodges, that gentle giant. Yes, he was stronger than all the others, or so we believed. But, unlike some, he would never instigate a fight. He wasn't an enforcer either. His presence preserved the peace.

Preacher Roe, who was fantastic on the mound and then admitted after retiring that, yes, perhaps he occasionally threw a spitball!

And Joe Black, the one remarkable season coming in from the bullpen, mowing down opposing players and preserving victory for Dem Bums.

Duke Snider, with that Perfect Swing, arching balls over the wall into Bedford Avenue. Such a graceful swing. The heck with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. We had The Duke!

Carl Erskine, with that amazing overhand pitch. Not three quarters but fully overhand. What accuracy; what stamina; what patience; what skill.

And so many others. Newcombe, Gilliam, Billy Cox, Sandy Amoros, Billy Loes, Johnny Podres, Karl Spooner, Sandy Koufax (although a wild thrower until Los Angeles), Labine, Craig, Alston....

And of course THE CAPTAIN, Pee Wee Reese. The sparkplug, the leader, Our finest shortstop. Oh, Phil Rizzuto was talented and Alvin Dark could hit. But Pee Wee was IT. He sparked the team, he picked it up, he led by example.

I was too young to appreciate all that happened in the early 50's. Of course I knew of Robinson's talent and guts and we could see Reese's friendship toward Jackie, and all of his teammates. It wasn't until I grew older, and my Dodgers departed Brooklyn, that I fully appreciated Pee Wee's contributions off the field.

I miss Pee Wee and the entire team. They were my youth. They captured Brooklyn's love. Perhaps only one World Series Championship, but we never doubted the talent and grace of our team, and Pee Wee Reese exemplified it.

I grew up and migrated to Los Angeles in the late 1960's. As I drove across the Mohave I caught a Dodger game on the radio. And there was the wonderful voice of Vin Scully, who, along with Red Barber and Connie Desmond, brought us the Dodger games not only on the radio but on Channel 9 on television. I felt like I was being welcomed by a friend.

Thinking of the Boys of Summer always brings back wonderful memories of Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, my childhood, and the individual players on those great teams.

Pee Wee, thanks for those memorable moments back then, and all the memories I've enjoyed since then. May God Bless You, Pee Wee Reese.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Obama and Reagan

What are we to make of Obama’s recent spate of comments essentially comparing himself to Ronald Reagan? Surely given the strong feelings among many Democrats that Ronald Reagan was an unmitigated disaster for the United States, despite his rosy personality, Obama had to have seriously calculated the political impact of his remarks before invoking Reagan as his model of an agent of change, if not more, and in describing himself and his view of the presidency as not an operating officer and not someone charged with running a bureaucracy but rather someone to provide a vision and to find people smarter than he to identify what the issues are and how to resolve them.

As to his comments about Reagan, Obama remarked:

I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times...I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

Political commentators are already arguing over the meaning of Obama’s comments about Reagan. Was Obama praising Reagan and applauding his approach in returning America to a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship?” Was Obama overtly or subtly embracing the views he attributes to the American people concerning “the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s” and that “government had grown and grown leaving no sense of accountability?” Or was Obama merely acknowledging the talents of the Great Communicator to inspire Americans, or at least his ardent followers, and to provide a vision, even if not one Obama embraces, rather than to become immersed in the drudgery of day-to-day government operations, suggested by Carter’s presidency, or to merely advocate a bundle of practical policies without any grand vision, a criticism some have made of the Clinton years?

In her column of January 5, 2008, in the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses, Gail Collins, a New York Times op-ed columnist, wrote of “Barack’s promise to sweep away the old, unlovable red-meat politics and create a nonpartisan ‘coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states.’” She noted further:

If Clinton wants to be Franklin (and Eleanor) Roosevelt in this campaign, and John Edwards is channeling William Jennings Bryan, Obama is, for all his early opposition to Iraq, the most conservative visionary in the group. Big change is hardly ever accomplished without political warfare. When the red and blue states join together and all Americans of good will march hand-in-hand to a mutually agreed upon destiny, the place they’re going to end up would probably look pretty much like now with more health insurance.

Obama, the Democratic conservative visionary. How not surprising that he would find Ronald Reagan, the Republican conservative whose followers considered him a visionary, so very appealing. Obama seems to share with Reagan a concept of the presidency as a leader who doesn’t roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty or get involved in the intricacies of public policy but, rather, stays above the fray and attracts smart people to work out the details of governing by offering a transcendent vision of unity, harmony and progress through uplifting and inspirational speeches.

As Gail Collins also remarked in her op-ed column in The Times: “How could you be 21 and not be for Barack Obama? How could you be 53 and not wonder how this relative stranger will hold up when the disasters arrive, when things get truly nasty and the crowd starts seeing him as mortal?” I’m well over 53 years of age. I’m having difficulty taking Obama seriously, despite knowing so many do. I mean, I take him seriously as an inspiring speaker, a talented fundraiser, and a successful vote getter. But I’m not convinced that he has the seasoning to be president and I’m troubled by some of his recent comments regarding his own qualities and his concept of the presidency. I’m certainly not against inspiration and vision in our chief executive, but I am also certainly not looking for another Ronald Reagan who all too often seemed oblivious as to what his own Administration was doing or not doing. I actually don’t think that Barack Obama would be as oblivious, but it concerns me that he’s offering himself in Reaganesque attire. Is he far more cynical than he appears to be?⌂

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A “Bradley Effect” in New Hampshire? I Don’t Think So

By now the world knows that Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire despite polls taken only a day or two before that showed Barack Obama with a significant lead, ranging from 7 to 13%. Hillary won with 39% of the Democratic vote while Obama won 37%.

How to explain the dramatic turnaround? Not surprisingly, pundits, including the very same individuals who expressed confidence immediately before the vote that Obama would triumph, have offered many “explanations.” These range from poor sampling by pollsters, to an unanticipated turnout by female voters who voted strongly for Hillary, to last minute changes by voters affected by Hillary’s emotional moment the day before the vote, to the “Bradley effect.”

What exactly is the “Bradley effect?” Wikipedia, not always the most reliable source for accurate information, describes it as following:

The term Bradley effect or Wilder effect refers to a phenomenon which has led to inaccurate voter opinion polls in some American political campaigns between a white candidate and a non-white candidate. Specifically, there have been instances in which statistically significant numbers of white voters tell pollsters in advance of an election that they are either genuinely undecided, or likely to vote for the non-white candidate, but those voters exhibit a different behavior when actually casting their ballots. White voters who said that they were undecided break in statistically large numbers toward the white candidate, and many of the white voters who said that they were likely to vote for the non-white candidate ultimately cast their ballot for the white candidate. This reluctance to give accurate polling answers has sometimes extended to post-election exit polls as well.

Researchers who have studied the issue theorize that some white voters give inaccurate responses to polling questions because of a fear that they might appear to others to be racially prejudiced. Some research has suggested that the race of the pollster conducting the interview may factor into that concern. At least one prominent researcher has suggested that with regard to pre-election polls, the discrepancy can be traced in part by the polls' failure to account for general conservative political leanings among late-deciding voters.

Bill Schneider, CNN’s senior political analyst, suggests there is no empirical support for the Bradley effect in the New Hampshire primary. He indicates that the pre-vote polls generally gave Obama 37% of the Democratic vote and Clinton 30%. In other words, Obama won roughly the same percentage of the vote that the pre-vote polls had suggested he would. The change was that Hillary moved from 30% to 39%. Anderson Cooper, CNN’s current ‘star,’ had Schneider on his program this evening (Jan 9, 08) to set forth these statistics but then introduced a guest who asserted that, while he had no empirical evidence on the issue, he thought the Bradley effect certainly might have operated. How unpersuasive that bit of rank speculation was.

Further, while I have not read studies on the Bradley effect, I think there is another important difference between the New Hampshire primary and the elections in which the Bradley effect allegedly has operated. This was a primary, not a general election.

As stated in Wikipedia, “Researchers who have studied the issue theorize that some white voters give inaccurate responses to polling questions because of a fear that they might appear to others to be racially prejudiced.” That might make sense in a general election, such as the Bradley-Deukmejian contest, where traditionally Democratic voters are polled and fear that indicating a preference for the Republican despite their history of voting Democratic and/or for liberal candidates might suggest they are racially prejudiced. But this was a primary where there were three liberal Democratic candidates vying for voter support, Obama, Clinton and John Edwards. A liberal Democrat who harbored racial animus toward Obama had no need to tell a pollster he or she favored Obama. The voter could just as easily have stated a preference for Clinton or Edwards without appearing to be racially prejudiced. By stating a preference for Clinton or Edwards, the voter would not have been abandoning a past liberal or Democratic voting record or even expressing a preference for a more conservative candidate. Indeed, John Edwards was advocating a program to the left of Obama and Clinton.

In other words, it appears that neither the statistics nor the underlying rationale that have in other elections supported an argument that there was a Bradley effect were present in the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 2008.

Friday, January 4, 2008

What Does Iowa Mean? The Pundits Know But No Two of Them Agree!

The Iowa caucus results are in. Mike Huckabee won the Republican caucus vote, besting Mitt Romney handily. Barack Obama won the Democratic caucus vote, besting John Edwards and Hillary Clinton handily. But what exactly does all this mean?

The pundits of course know the answers. The trouble is that no two of them agree!

On the Democratic side, Edwards is out, say many. He had to win in Iowa as he lacks the finances and organizational support elsewhere. These observers conclude that the contest is now strictly between Obama and Clinton. Many believe that if Obama is able to translate his win in Iowa into victory in New Hampshire, whose primary is next Tuesday, only five days from the caucuses, he may well deliver a knockout blow to Clinton from which she will not be able to recover.

On the Republican side, Romney is seen by most as the biggest loser. His strategy was to spend his fortune early to win in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has now lost in Iowa and many feel that McCain is gaining in New Hampshire and will benefit from Romney’s Iowa defeat.

Huckabee remains for most, including me, the wild card on the Republican side. Tonight’s conventional wisdom seems to be that he will be unable to repeat his Iowa victory in New Hampshire because the evangelical vote that constituted such a decisive block for him in Iowa is absent in New England. This argument maintains that if McCain is able to best Romney in New Hampshire Romney may fold and McCain may fare better than Huckabee in South Carolina where the military vote might best the evangelical vote.

As for my views, first, I believe that Huckabee is emerging as more than simply the candidate of the evangelicals. First, while I haven’t heard anyone else draw the parallel, I see in Huckabee some shades of George Wallace. Not Wallace’s racism but Wallace’s interesting mix of Southern conservatism, hostility toward pointy-headed government bureaucrats, and economic populism. Huckabee in many respects wears his religion on his sleeve, and purposely so, but at the same time he seeks to leaven it with homespun humor and down to earth remarks. His hostility to Washington bureaucrats manifests itself in his strong opposition to the income tax. While a Republican, Huckabee has shown a more flexible and populist approach to economic and tax policies than that of the other Republican candidates. Further, Huckabee’s response to Romney at one of the debates about Huckabee’s approach to education and the children of illegal immigrants showed a certain humanity on a very difficult issue. While Huckabee’s views on immigration may have alienated many Republicans, they also may have helped portray him to others as a caring man not locked into an ideological straight jacket.

I don’t believe Huckabee will win in New Hampshire. But he may fare better than many currently expect. If he is able to finish in the top three, that will likely be considered a victory, when victory is often somewhat cynically defined as having done better than expectations and when those who get to shape the expectations are the candidate’s staff and the media. We should know by South Carolina whether Huckabee is still in the race or had his fifteen minutes of fame in Iowa.

As for Obama, my own sense is that he may well win in New Hampshire. The Granite State, like Iowa, permits independents to vote in its party primaries. Obama’s triumph in Iowa will not only inspire his New Hampshire supporters to work even more tirelessly in his support and to be sure to vote but will also inspire independent voters to vote in the Democratic primary for Obama. Interestingly, to the extent this occurs it will hurt McCain, who is relying in part on independents in his contest with Romney.

But what should we make of the Obama phenomenon? This evening more than one commentator compared Barack Obama to Bobby Kennedy. I was 25 years old in 1968 and I remember Bobby Kennedy and his campaign well. Perhaps Obama can be compared to Kennedy in terms of the emotional outpouring of support from young people, voters and those too young to vote. But Kennedy was, well, a Kennedy. I do not recall feeling that he transcended or sought to transcend party lines. In contrast, Obama seems to be making a very conscious effort to do just that. In contrast to Edwards’ class-based rhetoric and Hillary’s frequent reminders that she has been a target of and successfully taken on Republicans for more than a decade, Obama has attempted to rise above the fray. In his victory speech tonight he once again appealed for an end to divisions and conflict within the country and offered himself as the candidate who could transcend differences between red and blue states.

This message of unity, hope and a new beginning may certainly bring Obama victory in New Hampshire, as it did in Iowa, where the primary, like the caucuses, are not limited to those who have affiliated as Democrats. His message and inspirational, charismatic style may also resonate with all voters in subsequent primaries and propel Obama to the Democratic nomination. Then again, it may not. Many voters, Democrat and Republican alike, believe that different groups in American society have different interests and that the notion that solutions may be found that satisfy everyone is overly simplistic. Some even believe that Obama is pushing buttons in a manner not entirely unlike that employed by President Bush when he evokes concepts such as freedom and liberty in seeking to justify his Iraq policies.

Many states have rescheduled their primaries very early in the year in an attempt to give their citizens a meaningful say in the selection of a presidential nominee. By February 5, key states, including California, New York and Florida, will have held their Democratic primaries. This means that if Hillary Clinton loses to Obama in New Hampshire and even in South Carolina she still need only wait until February 5 to quell an Obama surge by scoring victories in New York and California, delegate rich states. In New York only registered Democrats may vote in the Democratic primaries. In California, independents may vote in the Democratic primary but they constitute a much smaller percentage of the vote than in New Hampshire. To be sure, by then Obama may himself have donned the cloak of inevitability once worn by Clinton, but none among us has such a clear crystal ball.

As for my own personal perspective on the candidates and the political contests, as I am still a Democrat I will comment first on them after an initial observation. I have remarked to many friends that when you reach the age where you are older than our presidents, and I have reached that age, your perspective on presidents, candidates, other politicians and political life, if not life in general, undergoes a change. No longer does the president or any other political or social leader stand on a pedestal. That doesn’t mean that you lose respect for the President or other leaders but you tend to see them as far more human than you did when you were younger. You see them with all the flaws and blemishes that we all have and usually not as super heroes or even as supreme villains.

I’m impressed by Barack Obama but at the same time seriously concerned about his youthfulness and lack of executive experience. Then, too, while I enjoy his rhetorical skill and ability to inspire, I was less than impressed by his performance a month or so ago on Meet the Press with Tim Russert in providing answers on substantive issues. His victory speech tonight that was greeted with such praise by commentators on MsNBC and CNN was filled with references to hope and change, but I’ve heard those buzz words and others before. Didn’t the current President market himself in 2000 as a candidate from outside the Beltway who was committed to overcoming the gridlock in Washington and who had worked successfully with the other political party, Democrats, in his home state of Texas to address knotty issues? The trouble with getting older is that you really do experience what I believe Yogi Berra called déjà vu all over again.

This is not to say that I am enamored of Hillary Clinton. One year ago I vowed that I would never vote for Hillary, having been completely repulsed by her personality and behavior as I experienced them during the Clinton presidency. I admit I no longer hold that view. Perhaps she has artfully orchestrated only a cosmetic change in her public persona but I am now more willing to consider her as a possible Democratic Party standard bearer. Nonetheless, I remain hesitant. I was a strong admirer and supporter of Bill Clinton. But after watching him introduce her the other night in Iowa on a C-Span rebroadcast, I now feel he has begun to stifle her candidacy and that he must move to the sidelines, particularly after the Iowa defeat, and give her a chance to win, or lose, the race.

As for Edwards, in all candor his move to the left has completely alienated me. It is as if the cheerful, positive, optimistic candidate of 2004 has suddenly revealed his true self, and it’s a self that I do not find attractive.

More to follow on the Republican candidates, the New Hampshire party primaries, and the developing political campaign.