Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Benefits of the Hillary/Obama Battle

At the end of the day, either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee for President. My preference is Hillary Clinton. I think she'll make a very good president and I also believe she's going to win the nomination in a tough battle with Obama.
But I've always wanted the battle more than I've wanted a Hillary win. Whoever wins between Hillary and Obama, I've believed that having a tough primary fight would make the winner a stronger candidate against the Republicans.

Now that it looks like Hillary and Obama are going to have two victories apiece after Obama wins South Carolina, it's possible to see the real benefits of having to fight it out.

Most importantly, the Democratic contenders are both forging identities as presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton is becoming much less the "former first lady" and much more "Hillary" the exultant winner in New Hampshire and Nevada and the disappointed loser in Iowa. What is defining Hillary as "the candidate" is the ferocity of the battle with Obama. The fact that Hillary has to compete, and compete hard, against Barack Obama means that she's being measured more by who she is and what she does as a presidential candidate. Of course, Hillary still is the "former first lady," wife of Bill Clinton, senator, mother, lawyer, etc. However, as she goes from primary to primary, her identity as a presidential candidate is being magnified and reinforced. In the process, she's gaining stature and gravitas and making herself more plausible as a future president. As has been the case with her other trials by fire, Hillary Clinton is growing as a result of the pressure.

And she has Barack Obama to thank for that.

The same thing is happening with Obama. Three primaries into the nominating campaign and Obama is looking like a lot more than a good-looking guy and charismatic speaker who was right on Iraq. Obama has turned out to be a long-distance runner who can handle the "vision thing" and fight it out in the state-to-state, day-to-day, and news-cycle to news-cycle of presidential campaigning. The presidency is non-stop trench warfare and months of fighting it out with Hillary has shown that Obama can handle the pressure. I've always thought well of Obama and feel even better about him now that he's shown his chops in the presidential arena.

And he has Hillary to thank for that.

Hopefully, the competition will also give the Hillary and Obama campaigns an idea of what themes work and what don't. Hillary's MLK v LBJ idea was as weak a political jab as you can get and I imagine her people now have a better idea of why it's not good to put that kind of weak stuff out there. The same thing with Obama and Ronald Reagan comment. Given that they're both getting hammered whenever they put out weak ideas, I expect that the Hillary and Obama campaigns will do better in the future.

The competititon for the Democratic nomination is great and both candidates are showing a lot of tenacity. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are pulling each other up as presidential candidates.

Ol' Unreliable

One of the oddities of dieting is my extremely unreliable bathroom scale. It never works when I start it on zero. But I'm not entirely sure when it's initially set between 8 and 14 either. As a result, determining my weight on that scale is more art than science. This morning I weighed a shade over 221 on "Ol Unreliable." That puts my weight loss at about 22 pounds over two weeks. Of course, I could have lost less . . . or more!

Anyway, the dieting is going well. Actually, I've been able to do without the little mid-morning vegetable snacks. So, I'm actually eating somewhat less this week than I did last week. I'm also doing better with my exercise. Where I was struggling to get to one minute on the exercise bike, I'm now doing a comfortable 10 minutes and expect to get up to 20 soon.

I'm also proud to say that I made it through a week of classes without a candy bar.

But I do have a big and dangerous problem. I still haven't figured out how to get to bed before midnight. That means I'm still only getting 6 1/2 hours of sleep at night and I'm very much in danger of falling back into my sweet habit as long as I don't start getting to bed earlier.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mapping the Republicans

Contrary to John Dickinson of Slate, I think it's easier to make sense of the Republican primaries now that Romney's won in Michigan. Here's a quick take of all the major and formerly major candidates.

At Death's Door--Thompson and Giuliani. The McCain, Romney, and Huckabee campaigns have all been at the revolving death's door at some point in the last year. Now Giuliani and Thompson are taking their turns.

It's an interesting contrast. In my opinion, Giuliani was waging a skilled front-runner campaign before it became public that New York City provided police protection for Judi Nathan while she was his mistress. Now Giuliani looks kind of ridiculous, but that doesn't mean that his candidacy will actually die. Rudy could decide to stay in on the hope that he'll recapture his mojo.

Thompson's at death's door precisely because he himself refused to take himself or his presidential campaign seriously. Thompson had a real chance to emerge as a popular Southern conservative alternative to Rudy McRomney, but he didn't want the presidency badly enough to make a determined effort. Thompson seemed to decide that he didn't want his campaign to have a theatrical element, refused to be anything but what he wanted to be, and revolted at the demands for "acting" that are part of any serious presidential campaign.

Actually, I can sympathize with that on a human level. I don't like "acting" like I'm glad to do what the university bureaucracy wants me to do and that's why I'm not a department-chair type. In the case of Thompson, the political result of his decision-making is that Mike Huckabee has become the popular conservative.

But it's still not clear that Thompson will end up flatlining either. He could hang around hoping for Huckabee's campaign to collapse and then try again to be the popular conservative.

The Fight for Anti-Huckabee No 1--John McCain and Mitt Romney are battling to become the no. 1 candidate of the Republican establishment. Both of them have real weaknesses that already have brought their candidacies to death's door once. McCain is genuinely popular with moderates, independents, and many liberals, but his maverick streak on taxes, lobbying reform, campaign finance, tobacco, and immigration policy makes him anathema to conservative activists and voters. Romney is running as a more orthodox "Reagan" conservative, but he's completely failed to project any of the "honest phony" authenticity of Reagan turns off all kinds of voters. If there is a clear winner between McCain and Romney, that candidate will become the "anti-Huckabee" candidate and will be the favorite for the nomination. I've previously viewed Romney as a slight favorite. I'm now viewing McCain as a favorite because of the big states coming up on Feb. 5 and the increasing numbers of moderate and independent Republicans in those states.

Muddle Scenarios. If there is no clear winner between McCain and Romney, that's when scenarios for a thoroughly muddled nomination process and possible contested convention become plausible. If McCain and Romney are roughly equal, Huckabee will be roughly equal to both of them and nobody will be getting a decided advantage. That kind of stalemate will also encourage Giuliani and Thompson to keep hanging around, perhaps steal a primary here or there, and hope that lightning strikes. That would be five candidates with real hopes. That would be a muddle.

The Huckabee Conundrum. There are two possible Huckabee scenarios. The positive scenario would be that Huckabee becomes the favorite son of the South and monopolizes the evangelical vote. That would give Huckabee a strong enough regional base and enough of a national presence to have a real shot at the nomination if there is no clear leader between McCain and Romney. If a leading establishment candidate emerges, that candidate would be the leader and Huckabee would be candidate 1A. If no establishment emerges, Huckabee has a shot at no. 1.

But it's just as likely that Huckabee's candidacy will fall apart. Huckabee has a lot of skeletons in his closet, commits an even bigger number of gaffes, and apparently has an army of unsavory push-polling supporters. As a result, any number of things could reveal Huckabee's whole candidacy as a house of cards and tip him into the "ridiculous" category currently occupied by Rudy Giuliani.

If Huck does fall apart, I think it will be easier for a real leader to emerge between McCain and Romney. That would make the whole process smoother for the GOP even if it leaves a lot of dissatisfied evangelicals (and Southerners).

The Outlook. The two main questions that need to be resolved for the Republicans are who emerges between McCain and Romney and whether Huckabee remains a viable evangelical/ regional candidate. McCain looks like the strongest Republican right now but not by that much. He's averaging 28% in the polls and I view him as having about that much of a chance for the nomination. Romney would be the second pick because he would emerge as the strongest candidate as soon as McCain weakened. That puts Huckabee in the top 2 but likely to stay number 2 even if he can avoid a meltdown.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Huckabee: Seeking to Become Third Confederate President

Today, a pro-Confederate flag group in South Carolina ran an ad praising Mike Huckabee's positive attitude toward the Confederate flag. South Carolina has a lot of neo-Confederate groups and the ad will probably be marginally helpful to Huckabee in the state.

I wouldn't be surprised if the ad were not marginally helpful to Obama as well. Hey! Denouncing the Confederate flag could be a pandering opportunity for both Obama and Hillary. A noble pandering opportunity if there ever was one.

Let's see, Huckabee's come out against evolution, against gay rights, for a Biblically-based Constitution, and for the Confederate flag. Next, he'll probably be saying that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were mistakes.

Which brings me to my point.

Huckabee's campaign is shaping up in a way that would make him the third Confederate president if he were elected. Of course, the first Confederate president was Jefferson Davis and he presided over the loss of the Civil War and the destuction of Confederate institutions.

But Trent Lott hasn't been the only politician channeling Jefferson Davis and the spirit of the Confederacy into contemporary American political institutions.

The second Confederate president is obviously George Bush, whose juvenile focus on proving his manhood, insistence on favoring his "gut" over evidence and expertise, and crackpot visions of establishing global empire recall many of the worst faults of white Southerners during the Confederate period.

Fortunately, it looks like Bush won't be quite as successful in destroying American political institutions as he was in bankrupting his oil businesses.

But the Confederacy now appears to live on in the person of Mike Huckabee. If Huckabee emerges as the favorite son candidate for the Old Confederacy and the Bible Belt, he'll be conducting another major Confederate campaign for the presidency. If he wins, he'll be the third Confederate president overall and second in the White House.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Constitution According to Huckabee's God

Today, Mike Huckabee came out in favor of amending the Constitution in the name of God's standards.
"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards," Huckabee said, referring to the need for a constitutional human life amendment and an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Although I'm not a Christian myself, I think this is an extremely exciting idea. Of course, neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament define any principles or standards in relation to abortion or gay marriage. So, there's no need to change the Constitution in relation to those issues.

But the New Testament god does define a couple of standards that would make it necessary for the United States to dramatically change its Constitution.

Standard 1: Self Defense. "But I say unto you that ye resist not evil" (Matthew 5:39)--What standard in the New Testament is enunciated more clearly than this global imperative AGAINST self-defense? Jesus explains the implications of this imperative in some detail in his examples of "turning the other cheek" and actually giving those who would coerce us more than they ask for. That's why it is obvious that a Constitution that was written according to "God's Standard" would mandate against having any military establishment, any kind of police force, or any kinds of prisons. So what if our foreign enemies and domestic criminals attacked us. Jesus seems to believe that suffering makes human beings closer to God. So he wouldn't mind at all.

Standard 2: Wealth. Jesus also makes several clear statements condemning wealth. Take "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" for example. That's as clear principle that human beings should not engage in the accumulation of wealth and should probably give away any wealth they inherit. Once again, Jesus provides lots of examples lto illustrate the point. There's the rich young man with no more chance to get into heaven than a camel going through the eye of a needle, the wealthy farmer who was killed for reveling in the idea of building a new barn, or the rich man who was condemned to hell while Lazarus was taken up to heaven for no better reason than being exceedingly poor. In case, readers don't get the message from these examples, Jesus exclaims "woe unto you that are rich" in Luke 6: 24.

To bring the American Constitution up to God's Standard on wealth, the Constitution would have to be changed to mandate that wealthy Americans would have to surrender their property to the poor. Just to be safe, the Constitution should go further an have Americans disperse their wealth to poor people all around the world. Perhaps we could cal that the Global Redistribution Amendment. If wealth takes us far from God, then giving away our wealth and making ourself poor would bring us closer to God.

Perhaps we could get a Christian commentator like Ann Coulter to draw up the amendments.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hillary: The White Woman's Burden

It looks like Barack Obama is declaring an end to the racial sniping between Hillary's campaign and himself.
"I don't think it was in any way a racial comment," Obama told ABC News.
"That's something that has played out in the press. That's not my view."

But, he said, the comment was revealing about her political character.
"I do think it was indicative of the perspective that she brings, which is that
what happens in Washington is more important than what happens outside of
Washington," he said.

He said he believes the quote betrays a belief on her part, "that the
intricacies of the legislative process were somehow more significant than when
ordinary people rise up and march and go to jail and fight for justice."

He called that a "fundamental difference" between them.

Too bad! I wish the sniping had gone on for a couple of more permutations. There's been a lot of worry about the mutual criticism "tearing the Democratic Party" apart or throwing the election to the Republicans.

But I believe that the racial dimension of the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama creates significant opportunities for us to change "the political conversation" in this country.

Where are those opportunities? The first opportunity is created by Barack Obama himself. Conservative commentators like William Bennett and Jim Sleeper view Obama as "transcending race." What country does Bennett really live in? It's much more fruitful that Obama is a specific African-American man and that the media and voters have to deal with him as a particular black person running for president rather than as a symbol of racial transcendence or example of racial stereotypek. Obama does a great job of breaking through the dichotomy of symbol and stereotype that dominates the public representation of African-Americans. That in itself is changing the political conversation about race and politics.

But Hillary Clinton is also moving the conversation forward. The most fruitful thing that Sen. Clinton has done is to decide to fight Obama for black votes. The Clintons have an interesting history with black voters. Bill Clinton tried to show his distance from the black community by publicly criticizing Sister Souljah for remarks of hers. During the impeachment scandal, however, black voters identified strongly with Bill Clinton as someone they felt was persecuted and Bill Clinton has been very popular in the black community ever since. Hillary Clinton started her campaign for black votes from that positive point. However, it's more important that she's not been willing to cede the black vote to Obama in terms of a politics of black identity. Instead, Hillary has been willing to round up black endorsements, visit areas where African-Americans are concentrated, and campaign for black votes in a way that no other white Democrat has been willing to do.

Unable to take African-American votes for granted herself, she's not been willing to let Obama take African-American votes for granted either. As a result, there's a lot of talk about black institutions like beauty parlors, a number of African-American voters being interviewed, and a great deal of discussion about the African-American vote. By acting in a way that got African-Americans more thoroughly integrated into the political conversation, Hillary Clinton advanced the political conversation in this country a great deal.

She's also advanced the political conversation by being willing to attack Barack Obama in the same way that she would attack any other major opponent. And she's been willing to do so by talking about an icon like Martin Luther King.

Hillary's White Woman's Burden. But this is where the conversation could be advanced still further. Hillary's comments about King were pretty inept and the comments of Hillary surrogates Bill Clinton, Billy Shaheen, and Andrew Cuomo have been even more ham-handed and stereotyping. This is where the legacy of whiteness is hurting Hillary Clinton. Having lived in all kinds of communities, Barack Obama has developed such good skills at talking to white people that he's answers the concerns of white constituencies like independents and moderates better than any of the white politicians. Hillary Clinton doesn't have this advantage. Although her political staff is integrated (and that's a good thing), Hillary Clinton has lived her life in overwhelmingly white settings with token black involvement at best. Although Hillary deserves credit for engaging the black community, she can't do so with nearly the skill that Barack Obama engages white communities.

For Hillary Clinton, her "white woman's burden" is that she doesn't have the skills to either represent herself effectively in black communities or criticize Obama in ways that black voters find legitimate or effective. Because such racial isolation is overwhelmingly the case with Hillary's white Democratic surrogates, she finds herself embarrassed by their statements as well. In other words, Hillary's white woman's burden also includes the awkwardness of other white politicians in addressing racial matters or the black community.

In other words, Hillary Clinton's whiteness puts her at a disadvantage with Obama. Where a black veteran of integration like Obama can be comfortable working with both black and white communities, a more racially isolated white woman like Hillary Clinton is relatively awkward in appealing to African-Americans.

It's a disadvantage that Hillary will have to at least partially overcome if she wants to win.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hillary Wrong-Foots with Bob Johnson

Today, the Hillary Clinton campaign staged an event where Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) defended her comments about Martin Luther King. The problem is that Johnson is rightly reviled by black bloggers and others for his exploitation of black women in the rap videos played by his network.

Here's a summary comment on Johnson from Gina at What About Our Daughters. Bob

Johnson stands for everything Hillary Clinton OUGHT to be against. This man single-handedly set the cause of African Americans back hundreds of years. His exploitation of Black women and girls is particularly morally repugnant. Hillary Clinton is supposed to be a defender of the American worker, yet Bob Johnson made his billions at Black Entertainment Television by notoriously paying his on air talent slave wages.To be sitting up in a the pulpit of a Black church grinning and laughing side by side with this multimedia crack cocaine dealer and pimp is the slap in the face of every Black woman and girl in this country.

Instead of repeating Bob Johnson’s comments on Senator Obama wholesale, reporters should be asking him about the circumstances under which his wife and BET cofounder left the company. They should ask him about his “relations” with the female executives at his company. They should ask him why his own sister allegedly sued him and whether Johnson properly paid his taxes. All of these issues are raised in Johnson’s biography, The Billion-Dollar Bet. Bob Johnson is not an African American leader, he is a bottom feeder.

Hillary Clinton's use of Bob Johnson as a surrogate was a huge substantive mistake even if Johnson's reputation doesn't filter through the mainstream media. I don't know about the "multimedia crack cocaine dealer" part, but disgust with Johnson's exploitation of black women is a standard theme of African-American bloggers like African-American Political Pundit. I don't blame Hillary for hitting Obama and hitting him hard. But the ineptitude of what she's doing looks bad for her campaign.

Going for the "Full Cassius"

Yesterday was the first day I haven't lost weight since I went on my diet. In fact, I've been losing weight rapidly and am down 14 pounds to 228. Perhaps more important than the raw numbers was avoid several of my favorite to put on pounds. At the top of the list is our local Italian restaurant, Melini Cucina. As Italian goes, it's not great. But it's definitely not bad either. I've gorged myself on their Stuffed Shells, Manicotti, and killer cheese bread more times than I wish to admit. But on Friday, I walked in and had a garden salad with no dressing. It was just like Matt Dillon winning that gunfight at the start of every episode of "Gunsmoke." Another triumph of self-denial was not eating any of the cookies that Mary made for Tess and a visiting friend last night. Mary's baking has gone from really good to really outstanding over the last six months. I still feel the pain of denial.

Right now I'm half a Cassius. Given how hungry I am, I imagine that I have a really hungry look. But I'm still a long way from having the lean look to go along with my hunger. Ultimately, what I'm trying for is the "full Cassius" of having both a lean and hungry look. I wouldn't mind killing a couple of Caesars to get that either.

But everything I've done over the last 10 days has been easy. The real test begins when classes start and I get back into being a full-time college professor.

My goal is to get down to 220 over the next two weeks. That will get me to the banks of the River of Comfort that I need to cross in order to reach my ultimate goal of 180.