Saturday, February 09, 2008

Needed: Nose-Holding Instructions

It seems that "Democratic elites" are worried about the Obama/Hillary campaign still going while John McCain runs victory laps and takes aim at the Democrats.
The still airtight race likely will go on for many weeks with 370 delegates at stake on March 4 in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont. Without a sweep of wins in the upcoming contests, the Democratic race could come down to theconvention in August, which some party officials dread will happen.

But why? Both Obama and Hillary are looking like much stronger candidates than they were in December while McCain is the weakest "presumptive nominee" since Jimmy Carter in 1980. I don't know what's worse for McCain, the fact that he lost to Huckabee in Kansas and Louisiana or the fact that he's only getting 26% in Washington state where he's winning.

John McCain's mother hit the nail on the head when she said that conservatives would have to "hold their noses" before they voted for her son. Perhaps the McCain campaign should send out instruction pamphlets on the proper technique for holding the right-wing schnoz.

Friday, February 08, 2008

McCain and the Identity Politics of the Right

As I wrote last night, the activist right-wing will never accept John McCain because of the power of identity politics among conservatives. McCain may agree with a lot of conservative positions, but the conservative movement will never embrace McCain because he isn't "one of them."

There are several dimensions on which McCain is a stranger to the right. Here's a couple.

MCCAIN'S REASSERTION OF TRADITIONAL MASCULINITY. The most important cultural achievement of the conservative movement has been the temporary enshrinement of weenie-boy masculinity as the dominant mode of political manhood. Painfully conscious of their own failures in terms of conventional ideals of male athleticism and big man on campus popularity, conservatives like George Bush, Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, and Tom DeLay adapted a comic book ideal of exaggerated masculine gestures and promoted that ideal to the public as what "real" masculinity was all about. Selling George Bush as more of a man than more conventionally masculine guys like Al Gore and John Kerry was one of the keys to his victories in 2000 and 2008.

But John McCain is just as far from the weenie world of right-wing masculinity as any liberal democrat. A jock, fighter-pilot, and all-around cool guy, McCain doesn't need, understand, or have any respect for the hyper-masculine posturing of the activist right. That's why McCain has been such good buddies with guys like John Kerry. He shares a kind of ease with masculine give and take that somebody like Rush Limbaugh wouldn't be able to achieve if he had 100 million listeners rather than 13 million.

To put it crudely, John McCain just isn't the same kind of man Limbaugh and the other weenies of the right. Even worse, McCain is a constant reminder to the right of the kind of men they aren't.

MCCAIN MINUS THE RACIAL/GENDER NARRATIVES. Figures like William Bennett argue that Barack Obama "transcends race." That's nonsense. At the Obama event I attended in Lexington, KY last fall, there was a strong, specifically African-American presence. There were a lot more African-Americans in the audience than there are at most Kentucky political events. A couple of black students from local high schools also came forward to give short speeches and an African-American music student from the University of Kentucky gave a powerhouse rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Obama was definitely running as "the black candidate" as well as the candidate of the whites in the audience. Indeed, Obama's living multi-culturalism was part of the excitement of the event.

However, there's going to be a very real sense that John McCain is going to be transcending "whiteness," or at least the traditional Republican version of whiteness, in the general election campaign. Republican presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush have been running as specifically white men who have been promising to oppose the aspirations of black people, keep black people under control, or find ways to keep black people "in their place." I believe it was Howard Kurtz who captured the Republican spirit when he stressed that the GOP candidates as the first presidential debate of the 2008 election represented "hierarchy."

To my knowledge, however, McCain has no racial narrative in his campaigning. Seemingly outside the debates over segregation and integration, McCain doesn't support the Confederate
flag, hasn't made a point of campaigning against "activist judges," doesn't have a big crime agenda directed against black males, and isn't a big opponent of affirmative action. In other words, McCain isn't trying to rally Republican voters around white supremacy or the many stand-ins for white supremacy that Republicans have been promoting for the last 40 years going back to Nixon.

I have a lot of doubt that McCain is going to push hatred of Muslims, hatred of gay people, hatred of Hispanics, or hatred of women in the form of anti-Hillary stereotypes if he runs against Hillary. Given the absence of bigotry, a McCain presidential campaign "just isn't going to feel like a Republican campaign" to a lot of right-wingers. Once again, McCain isn't one of them.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Obama's Cool Androgyny

THE FIRST METROSEXUAL PRESIDENT. Today, Megan Beyer, the wife of a former lieutenant governor in Virginia, referred to Barack Obama as "in many ways . . . the first woman president." Actually, I can see that in a certain way. One element in Obama's cool is that he has a certain androgynous air about him. I don't mean in any crude sense that he "looks like a woman," but Obama doesn't project the kind of testosterone posturing that signifies someone as "male" in our political culture. That's one of the things that makes Obama unique. David Bowie thin, Buddha-like in his relaxation, and transcending any need to prove his manhood, Obama doesn't have any of the strutting macho that characterizes George Bush, Dick Cheney, or even John Kerry. That wouldn't make Obama the "first woman president" any more than Bill Clinton was the "first black president." But I can see presidential historians someday referring to Obama as the "first metrosexual president."

MITT QUITS. Mitt Romney dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination today. Outside all the money he's going to save on his campaign. I'm not sure why he quit. Sure, Mitt's initial strategy of winning Iowa and New Hampshire fell apart. But there still were a couple of scenarios under which Romney could have won the nomination from McCain. It was especially easy to see Romney pressing McCain's record hard and McCain blowing up about it at some point and ruining his campaign as a result. There was also a strong possibility that McCain wouldn't do very well at managing a front-running campaign. McCain's the front-runner because the Giuliani and Fred Thompson campaigns fell apart not because he's doing such a great job running his own campaign. Mitt should have stayed around to see how well McCain handled prosperity.

THE RIGHT KILLS THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN. People on the right complain a lot about "identity politics" among blacks and women. However, conservatives themselves are the most determined purveyors of group identity in American politics. It's just that the group with which they identify is "conservatives" or now "Reagan conservatives." That's why the right is never going to be satisfied with McCain no matter how many conciliatory speeches McCain gives. He's just not "one of them."

Ultimately, the right is going to kill the McCain campaign after he becomes the Republican nominee. The underlying problem is that the right will be be policing every McCain speech for deviations from conservative orthodoxy and what figures Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter do best is blast away at anything that is not conservative enough. And McCain will have to kowtow to the right if he doesn't want to see his campaign founder on intra-party disputes. Unfortunately for McCain, that means he's not going to be able to do much to convince moderates, independents, and weak Democrats to forget the Bush administration, the war, and the faltering economy and once again vote for a Republican. The Republicans underestimate the extent to which non-conservatives have tuned them out on issues like the war. If McCain wants to win the election, he's positively going to have to move a lot of moderates, independents, and weak Democrats to give up hard and fast opinions. Having to bow to right-wing orthodoxy every time he opens his mouth will prevent McCain from doing that. In my opinion, John McCain doesn't have much more chance of being elected president now than he did last July when he hit bottom.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hillary by a Hair

Well, it's all over but the shouting and I've got self-congratulatory e-mails from both the Obama and the Clinton campaigns. Contrary to Kos, I think Super Tuesday will end up with Hillary getting a hairs-breadth edge.

In a lot of ways, it was a Red State/Blue State primary. Where Obama really cleaned up was in the red, red states like Idaho, Alaska, North Dakota, Georgia, and Alabama. Of course, it certainly would be wrong to deny that Obama is a strong candidate who is competitive on a national basis. After all, he also won in Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri,and his home state of Illinois. Likewise, I saw very few states where Obama didn't outpoll the leading Republican by big margins.

At this point, it wouldn't be too speculative to say that Obama's chances of winning the nomination are better than 50-50. But Obama's main strength today was in states where Democrats have had to listen to the Hillary-hatred of their neighbors for a long time.

Hillary proved her resilience as well in hanging onto core states like California, New York, and New Jersey in the face of the most recent surge of Barackomomentum. Tonight was also a big night for her.

In fact, I see Hillary as coming out very slightly ahead because there was real reason to fear that her candidacy would fall apart in the face of Obama's momentum. As was the case with New Hampshire, Hillary has shown that she isn't going to be swept away.

It also looks like Hillary is going to win the overall popular vote by a hair. As of about ten minutes ago, Obama had a 57,000 vote lead at 5,628,649 to 5,571,039 according to my hand tabulation. However, it looks like Hillary is going to overcome that lead in California.

Right now, it's neck and neck with Obama having an overall edge because of momentum. I'm for Hillary, but I think the race is great for the Democratic Party and progressive politics in this country. I can be pretty happy whoever wins.

A Pause in Barackomentum

CNN has an interesting tidbit on late-deciding voters:
According to the exit polls, Obama and Clinton are essentially splitting those voters, with 47 percent going for Obama and 46 percent for Clinton.

That one percent differential is not what the Obama camp wanted. It looks like Barackomentum has slowed down somewhat.

I still think a lot of people are 51-49 in their own minds. But Hillary's getting her share of that group.

Early Primary Results: Democrats

As of 9:25pm

Hillary wins:
New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee,

Obama wins:
Illinois, Georgia, Delaware,

Analysis: Nobody is going to sweep the Democrats. What Hillary Clinton has accomplished is "hold serve" by winning New York and New Jersey. If she can take California, Super Tuesday will be a success and she can still claim the upper hand. Yeah, Hillary!

At the same time, Barack Obama has shone real strength by winning Delaware and having early leads in Connecticut and Kansas. If Obama wins in California, there's a good chance that he'll have the upper hand.

Very few of these states are close at all. Most states outside Delaware and Connecticut look like they're very solidly in one camp or the other. Hillary and Obama both look like they have a lot of home states.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Bob Knight: The Dick Cheney of Sports

Today Bob Knight resigned as head basketball coach at Texas Tech. Knight is the relentlessly bullying, supremely self-centered basketball coach who made his national reputation for abusing players and winning championships at Indiana University.

I was actually a camper at a Bobby Knight camp at West Point when he was the Army coach in 1970. Even though I was a callow high school sophomore, I could still tell what a jerk he was!

The sports world will miss Bob Knight about as much as the world of politics is going to miss Dick Cheney.

The Obama/Hillary Smackdown

The 51-49 Solution: I can't believe that Rebecca Traister of Salon is the only person who is undecided about the Democratic primaries. I think a lot of people are 51-49 between Obama and Hillary in their own heads. Obama has made his case for the importance of being inspiration and he's convincing. So is Hillary Clinton's argument for the importance of a hard-headed approach to the right. Whether Obama or Hillary wins, I don't think the other Democrat is being repudiated. That's why a Hillary/Obama or Obama/Hillary ticket could be in the works. Democratic voters might demand it.

From a Sample of One. Whenever I muse about the future, I think about one student who thinks of the "standard path" of going to college, getting a job, and raising kids as the equivalent of a death sentence. Because of the similarity between this student and the "alienated youth" studied by Kenneth Kenniston in the late fifties, I wonder if there isn't a bigger explosion developing under the surface of American society than we currently acknowledge. If Obama represents a return to the Kennedyesque optimism characterizing the early sixties, I wonder if a cultural revolution like the late sixties isn't right around the corner again.

A Bad Feeling. I'm sticking with my previous analysis of the Democrats. Nobody knows who's winning, but the dynamic is easy to identify. Hillary may still be ahead or she might have slipped behind. But her support is very fragile and might easily fall apart in the face of the Obama surge.

Does My Gut Have Shit for Brains? The John Cusack character thought his gut had "shit for brains" in High Fidelity. Hopefully, that's the case with my gut as well, because my gut feeling is that Obama is turning the corner on Hillary Clinton and might rack up an impressive set of victories tomorrow. Given that I'm a Hillary supporter, I really hope I'm wrong. Here's to keeping hope alive.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super Bowl and the Greater Evil

Patriots Lose! Patriots Lose! It's great to see the New England Patriots lose. They're the Dick Cheney's of pro sports--an evil organization that doesn't give a crap about its players no matter how much they've contributed to the team's success.

Too bad an ostentatious asshole like Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants had to be the coach of the team that beat them. I've always rooted for guys like Coughlin to fail as well. But in this case, the Patriots were definitely the greater evil.