Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Democrats’ Conundrum

How unexpected. We’re sitting around considering whether the Indiana primary on May 6 will be decisive in this presidential campaign of front loaded primaries.

Voters and party leaders, including those in California, had grown tired of the power and influence of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and wanted in on the early action. Even those not seeking to displace Iowa and New Hampshire wanted to move up their primaries so that they would be decisive in the nominating process. Too often by the time a state’s primary had arrived, the shape of the presidential campaign had already been profoundly molded, many candidates had already withdrawn, and sometimes the final outcome had already been decided.

As a result, for this 2008 campaign, states started falling all over themselves trying to move their respective party primaries to dates very early in the year. The press of front loading was so great that the Democratic primaries in two states, Michigan and Florida, were essentially stripped of legitimacy because the national party leaders wanted to keep some semblance of order or at least continue to permit Iowa and New Hampshire to lead.

And now? With two major candidates running neck and neck and neither likely to reach the convention with the required number of delegates to assure nomination, albeit with Obama holding a lead in elected delegates and popular vote in approved primaries and caucuses that he is unlikely to relinquish before the convention, the late primaries which many thought would be of no significance have emerged as key battlegrounds. Ohio and Texas might have determined the outcome, had Hillary lost. Pennsylvania then became the focus. But once again Hillary emerged triumphant and with a comfortable margin of victory.

So now attention has turned to Indiana, although North Carolina will also vote on May 6. Obama is expected to win in North Carolina, in part because of its percentage of African-American and affluent voters. Indiana, more like Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states with smaller percentages of black and affluent voters, has become more of the focus. If Hillary wins there she surely will continue with energy and gusto, even if she loses in North Carolina. If she loses in Indiana she will likely continue on but her recent string of victories with consequent bragging rights will have been broken and obviously this will work in favor of Obama and remind people that he remains in the lead.

Where is this all heading? Many continue to feel that the Democratic Party cannot deny the nomination to Barack Obama if he enters the convention with a greater popular vote than Hillary and more elected delegates, leaving Michigan and Florida out of the tabulations. The only way he can lose the nomination at that point is if a significant number of super delegates vote for Hillary presumably on the ground that she is more electable than Obama against McCain. And, the argument is that if the non-elected super delegates do that then many African-American voters, perhaps the most loyal Democratic Party voting bloc, and other fierce supporters of Obama, will be outraged, feel that Obama was denied the nomination because he is black, and will sit on their hands in November resulting in a McCain victory.

It is difficult to counter that argument as that is a very likely outcome if Obama is denied the nomination, no matter what else happens in the remaining Democratic primaries. The trouble, however, is that there are many who feel that chinks in Obama’s armor have begun to show, whether due to Hillary’s efforts, efforts of conservative commentators and others, closer media coverage, or as the result of Obama’s own behavior, and that he is now emerging as a very vulnerable candidate for President.

A commentator on cable news today who presumably has done polling of media coverage of the candidates and those associated with them stated that when it came to Obama, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Obama’s coverage stood at 83% positive, Hillary’s at 53% positive and Bill at only 23% positive. In seeking to explain these percentages, the commentator remarked that the media tend to be drawn to candidates who don’t appear to fit the same old politician mold and who preach unity rather than division. I certainly am one who believes that Obama has been given a relatively free ride in the media until now, with some exceptions.

But the Reverend Wright tapes and Obama’s responses and, more recently, Obama’s comments about bitter voters clinging to religion and guns have gradually exposed him to greater negative press and more critical media questioning, and have shown him to be far more a traditional politician (something I have been contending since the outset) than the idealistic, above the fray candidate dedicated to and capable of uniting red and blue, black, brown and white, conservative, moderate and liberal, that he has sought to present himself as since the outset. His extremely liberal voting record and news stories of his friendly, but not close, relationship with Bill Ayers, former member of the Weather Underground, have also undercut Obama’s image as a moderate.

I didn’t watch the Pennsylvania primary debate in which the ABC moderators asked Obama pointed questions on some of these issues and apparently Obama did not shine, but I did watch both Hillary and him deliver their remarks after the Pennsylvania voting showed Hillary had won. It was not surprising that Hillary was upbeat, energetic and seemed to connect with both those present and the TV cameras. Obama, speaking in Indiana, delivered a lackluster speech, no doubt in part reflecting his defeat as well as his fatigue. But I hadn’t seen him give a speech, as opposed to participate in a debate, in which he looked and sounded off his game. He reached into his playbook to patch together segments of his stump speeches but he seemed on autopilot.

Are the Democrats truly headed for a debacle, first at the National Convention and then at the polls in November? Hard to say. And many of us, me included, can’t help but blame Hillary for all this, perhaps unfairly but probably not. Had Hillary developed a strategy to contest the voting in caucus states and in a few smaller ones that had primaries things might not be where they are today. Given the proportional representation voting that is preventing her from mounting a powerful comeback, she might have been able to prevent Obama from rolling up the totals in delegate counts in those caucus and small primary states if she had merely paid some mind to them. I suspect that Hillary and her staff were seduced by the very myth, her “inevitability,” that they sought to propagate in the belief that it would render any opposition impotent and as a result did not elect to expend very many resources in those states.

Some may complain that, in blaming Hillary for her current situation, I am not giving Obama the credit he is due for having run such an excellent campaign to date. He has indeed excited an incredible number of voters to work for his campaign, support his candidacy with financial contributions in small amounts that are cumulatively staggering, and vote for him in caucuses and primaries in small and large states. There can be no question that his charisma, cool under pressure demeanor, and oratorical skills combined with his message of hope, unity and change have been major factors in his success and current status as frontrunner. Nonetheless, given Hillary’s victories in so many of the large, industrial states that have traditionally been the key to Democratic victory, it would appear that she should have been able to rally enough forces in caucus and small primary states to dent the delegate and electoral advantages Obama has been able to amass in them and be in the lead at this juncture, even putting aside Michigan and Florida.

My apologies for taking you this far in this post without now being in a position to provide a simple solution to the Democratic Party’s current conundrum. Right now it still seems to me that Obama will be the nominee. But he no longer is the magical candidate that he was to many a few months ago. While he is not besting McCain in recent one-on-one polls by any significant margin, Obama is faring no worse than Hillary, so her argument that she is a more formidable candidate against McCain has not been unequivocally established. But, as an older, longtime Democrat, political observer and political scientist, I am concerned that the party nominee may well be the candidate who failed to win the primaries in New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio and, with a legitimate qualification, in Michigan and Florida as well. Will a very high percentage of primary voters who voted for Hillary turn around and support Obama in November? Will he be able to beat McCain? I have my doubts. But, as I noted above, the selection of Hillary as nominee through the actions of super delegates combined with her historical high negatives may doom her candidacy as well.

Stay tuned!⌂

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Too Many Missteps, Hillary

Hillary is definitely having troubles of late.

First came the video near the end of March showing that Hillary’s claims of landing under sniper fire in Tuzla, Bosnia in 1996 were simply not true. Her attempted explanation that she had misspoke and had a fuzzy memory given all the experiences she has had during the last decade and a half was simply not credible.

This was closely followed by the disclosure that Maggie Williams, Hillary’s fairly newly appointed campaign manager and long time aide, had sat on the board of Delta Financial Corporation for years, described as “one of the nation’s once-largest and now-bankrupt sub-prime mortgage lenders.”

Just yesterday, April 5, The New York Times reported that Hillary’s repeated remarks during her campaign about “an uninsured pregnant woman who lost her baby and died herself after being denied care by an Ohio hospital because she could not come up with a $100 fee” were being strongly denied by the hospital which has asked Hillary to desist from repeating the story. The Times reports that hospital administrators state that the woman “was under the care of an obstetrics practice affiliated with the hospital, that she was never refused treatment, and that she was, in fact, insured.”

And today, April 6, 2008, Mark Penn, Hillary’s chief strategist, stepped down from that position with her campaign. In his role as CEO of Burson-Marsteller, an international lobbying and public relations firm, Penn had recently met with the Colombian ambassador. Colombia had hired Penn’s firm to represent it in efforts to obtain a bilateral trade treaty with the United States that Hillary apparently opposes.

These missteps are seriously undermining Hillary’s campaign. Her advantage over Obama in Pennsylvania seems to be slipping, not surprisingly as Obama is able to focus his energies and resources there, and these mistakes make Hillary appear, at best, sloppy and not in effective control of her campaign and, at worst, a prevaricator. And all this is occurring against the backdrop of growing anxiety among Democrats, both leaders and rank and file, that the Democratic campaign is going on far too long and will diminish the prospects for victory in November. As the current underdog trying to convince Democrats and others that despite her position she deserves the nomination and is best suited to lead the country, Hillary’s candidacy is being severely tested if not torpedoed by these recent developments.

While I am among those concerned by the drawn out Democratic Party process, and do not see any basis for suggesting that Obama withdraw in favor of Hillary, I am not yet ready to call upon Hillary to withdraw. [I realize there are many out there looking to me to provide the right counsel to the party. ;-) ] If she wins in Pennsylvania, she will claim that the victory justifies her in continuing the campaign and I would concur. If she loses, she should concede. But if Hillary can’t avoid more missteps like those in recent weeks, her candidacy will likely be undone not by the electorate but by her own hand.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Dodgers’ 50th Anniversary in Los Angeles: At Best Bittersweet

The Los Angeles Dodgers just celebrated their 50th anniversary in Los Angeles with a special event at Dodger Stadium on opening day, the surprise appearance before the game of many Dodger greats of the past 50 years. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote a moving column on the celebration, “Past becomes a present to Dodgers fans,” in the April 1, 2008 edition. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York and was a fervent Dodger fan before their departure in 1958. My email to Bill Plaschke follows:

Dear Bill,

I read your column “Past becomes a present to Dodgers fans” in yesterday’s (April 1, 2008) Los Angeles Times with a heavy heart. At the same time that I appreciated your description of the ceremony at Dodger Stadium and your commentary about the old Dodgers and the reception they received, I felt a profound sadness.

I just turned 65 years old. I was born in Brooklyn in 1943 and grew up a devoted Brooklyn Dodgers fan. There will only be one group that carries the title “Boys of Summer” for me, and they were the Dodgers of the 1950’s. Their departure from Brooklyn in 1958 broke my heart and those of so many other Brooklynites. I migrated to Southern California in 1969 and have lived here ever since, now well more than half my life, and while I grew to root for the Dodgers here they have never come close to measuring up to my Dodgers.

When you wrote of Duke Snider’s appearance in center field at the ceremony, my eyes teared and I could only think of him as The Duke of Flatbush and nowhere else. While we in Brooklyn knew that Duke hailed from San Diego, he belonged to us, in Brooklyn. Perhaps Mays and Mantle were superior all-around players but even if they were, and I would never concede that, Duke was ours and in our eyes was the best of the three. But those Dodgers were a team and none truly stood out above and beyond the others. Whether it was Gil Hodges and his legendary strength, Carl Furillo with his bullet throws, Jackie Robinson with all that he represented, Pee Wee Reese, the captain, Roy Campanella, an anchor for so long, Joe Black for one remarkable season, Billy Cox, Preacher Roe, Junior Gilliam, Don Newcombe or, of course, Carl Erskine with that incredible overhand delivery, these were remarkable players who constituted a remarkable team. How could anyone forget the batting line up, although it began to change as the decade passed. Duke batting third, Jackie batting clean up, and then what? Campy, Hodges, Furillo or in some order like that? Carl Furillo, who won a batting championship, batting seventh? What consistent hitters. What power hitters. How in the world could we have lost to the Yankees so often?!!

And then there was Vin Scully who, unbeknownst to himself, welcomed me to Los Angeles in 1969 as I drove across the desert from Needles on the last day of my travels across the country. I knew no one here and to hear his voice was comforting, as it remains to so many generations of baseball fans. He was part of the Red Barber, Vin Scully, Connie Desmond trio who broadcast Dodger games in the early 1950’s and as a young boy I loved listening to all three.

I do not begrudge Los Angelenos celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ arrival here, although I have never entirely forgiven Walter O’Malley for taking our Dodgers from our midst or the Los Angeles political figures from luring him here. As an adult, I’ve come to better appreciate his efforts to build a stadium in Brooklyn and the ways in which Robert Moses thwarted those attempts. But if the Dodgers play a major part in bringing the people of Los Angeles together, imagine how central they were to the identity of the people of Brooklyn. The Bronx had the Yankees. Manhattan, or at least the residential parts, had the Giants. The Dodgers were ours, and then they were gone.

You wrote “At Monday’s opening day, Los Angeles was 56,000 Dodgers lovers with peanuts in their throats and Cracker Jack in their memories.” As I read your words, what came to my mind were flashes of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson taking leads off second and first, and then pulling off another double steal; Duke Snider hitting a fastball over the scoreboard on that high right field wall into Flatbush Avenue; Carl Furillo throwing out a base runner at third who tried to stretch a double into a triple; Gil Hodges breaking up a fight; Roy Campanella walking to the mound to reassure a nervous pitcher; and so many other memories of baseball at Ebbets Field.

So for me, celebrating the Dodgers’ 50th anniversary in Southern California is at best bittersweet. I’m glad the McCourts recognize the importance of history but Dodgers’ history goes back way before 1958. And I know I’m not the only transplanted Brooklynite here in Los Angeles who felt heartache yesterday. At least The Duke wore a Brooklyn jersey.

Thanks, Bill, for your moving writing.


Donald Newman