Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hillary Shines in Kentucky

Today, I took my daughters with me to see Hillary Clinton speak at a rally at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, KY.

The rally was as interesting and impressive as the candidate. The RSI family arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes early after a ninety minute drive. All of the major Democratic presidential candidates have made appearances within driving distance of our home in Morehead and we've now seen John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

There was very little notice for the rally in Frankfurt. As a result, it was no surprise that there were fewer than 100 people there when we arrived. The initial group was older, relatively downscale, and feisty. There were a lot of women there in their sixties wearing sneakers, t-shirts, and lots of Hillary paraphernalia. Actually, I was wearing sneakers too.

Where the Obama crowd last August was well-healed and wore "dress casual," the early crowd at the Hillary crowd was so casual that it would be fair to say that they were ostentatious in their lack of concern for taste. The Hillary crowd also seemed more relaxed.

The early crowd had 10 or 12 African-Americans out of a hundred. So it looked like a representative group. But as the audience swelled to it's final size of 500 plus, the new arrivals were overwhelmingly white and a lot more prosperous and stylish looking. It was like an LA sports event where the cool people always arrive fashionably late.

Compared to the Obama event, Hillary's rally had bare bones organization. Where Obama's rally featured speeches from starry-eyed local high school students and a killer rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner that brought the crowd to their feet, Hillary was introduced by a couple of the usual lackluster Kentucky Democrats--Jerry Lundergan and an African-American state senator whose name I forgot.

Lundergan mentioned that Hillary had raised a million dollars for the Kentucky Democratic Party when they were almost bankrupt. Given that the Kentucky Democrats are almost always floundering and that I'm a Kentucky Democrat, I very much appreciated the help.

As a candidate, Hillary Clinton is very impressive in a different way from Obama. The Obama crowd was so jazzed up by the time Obama hit the stage that all the candidate had to do was hit his applause lines and the crowd went wild. Hillary was impressive in the sophisticated approach she took to her hour-long speech. During the first ten to fifteen minutes of her speech, Hillary was essentially campaigning for Barack Obama by focusing entirely on John McCain's wrong-headed ideas about tax policy, social security, health policy, and the war in Iraq. Without any seeming effort or segwe's, Hillary then transitioned into her own policy ideas giving patient and well-done explanations of how she would approach health insurance, energy independence, withdrawing from Iraq, and caring for veterans.

It wasn't "blow you away" kind of stuff, but Hillary was energetic, engaging, and effective in a way that led one to see her enacting these ideas as President of the United States.

Hillary's supporters are supposed to be a "low information" group, but Hillary's speech assumed that her audience was interested in policy, able to follow policy arguments, and viewed those policy arguments as important for their own lives. To the contrary, Obama speaks as though he believes that his upscale and impressively educated audiences have as little toleration for public policy as Chris Matthews or Bill O'Reilly.

Hillary Clinton was also impressive in the way she carried herself after the speech. Starting on the other side of the gym, she posed for pictures, shook hands, and small-talked her way over to us. At the beginning of this process, Hillary was working the crowd in the sense that she was initiating communication as much as others were communicating with her. Evidently tiring by the time she got to our end, Hillary allowed the crowd to "work her" for pictures, autographs, and brief testimonials about how much they loved her.

Liking attention but only liking "so much attention," Hillary was still determined to be warm, friendly, and giving even as it was wearing her out. The stereotype on Hillary is that she's supposed to be manipulative and controlling. But she seemed as genuine as the artificial situation and superficiality of contact allowed.

I was impressed.

Over all, Hillary Clinton showed how good of a president she could be. I'm voting for her next Tuesday in the Kentucky Democratic Primary.

Friday, May 16, 2008

John McCain: Maverick, Narcissist, or StudMuffin

Maverick vs StudMuffin. Dan Collins at the right-wing blog Protein Wisdom has taken to referring to John McCain as "Maverick."

Of course, there's a little irony there.

Conservatives don't like the deviations from the Republican Party line that gave McCain a reputation as a maverick during the Clinton and early Bush years. But "maverick" also has connotations of individualism, rebelliousness, and masculinity that the right-wing likes to project. Ultimately, Collins means it as a compliment.

But this goes to show that conservatives don't have enough respect for the sanctity of marriage. As this blog has observed, his wife Cindy likes to refer to John McCain as her "StudMuffin." If Collins respected the institution of marriage, he would follow suit.

John the Narcissist. Actually, I think "StudMuffin" captures McCain well as a tough guy who likes the world to revolve around, feed, nurture, and stroke him. Sure McCain's a man's man but he's also Cindy's little studmuffin to be coddled and waited on. A lot of traditional guys are like that in showing off their domineering macho but insisting on being constantly mommied by their girlfriends and wives at the same time. What makes John McCain different is that he insists on being mommied in his work as a national-level politician and expects the media, his fellow Senators, and everybody else he's around to treat him with the same kind of worshipful subservience that he expects from his wife. And when anybody fails to treat him as their StudMuffin, McCain throws a hell of a temper tantrum.

This brings to the narcissistic core of John McCain's presidential campaign. What McCain proposes is a kind of symbolic exchange. For his part, McCain will devote his presidential campaign to showing what a really extraordinary great guy he is. McCain has already done a tour of all the places that were so successful in "molding" his character as a patriot, public servant, and all around wonderful human being. That was followed up with a poverty tour that had everything to do with demonstrating that he is "a different kind of Republican" and nothing to do with addressing the problems of poverty.

But none of those manuevers held a candle to the narcissism of McCain's "State of the Union, 2013" speech where he declared victory in the Iraq War, celebrated the death of bin Laden, and congratulated himself on the success of his health care policies.
“By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom,” Mr. McCain said at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. “The Iraq war has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced.”
Who says McCain's going to be another four years of Bush. His "State of the Union, 2013" speech is an even bigger exercise in political fantasy than Bush's "Mission Accomplished" event. McCain projected all of his proposals as being enacted, all his ideas being effective, and almost all of our problems being solved. That's because McCain's a good man who's right about everything.

So what's the electorate's part of the exchange? The American public gets to recognize John McCain's greatness by electing him president and expressing our gratitude for the wonderful qualities that make John McCain such an extraordinary and extraordinarily successful man. In other words, John McCain's presidential campaign is giving American voters an opportunity to show their full appreciation for John McCain.

What a great guy! He makes me proud to be an American.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Working on the Heavy Joe Klein Bag

Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald eviscerated Joe Klein . . . again. Klein is one of the favorite targets for left-wing bloggers but Greenwald takes the prize for sustained ferocity. In general, it's Greenwald's unsurpassed ferocity that makes him such a valuable blogger.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Birthday Odds and Ends

They Say It's My Birthday. I was 54 years old today--54 born in 54. As always, I'm mostly happy to be alive and in decent health. I've got a great family, a job I love, and I'm living in a beautiful part of the world. Altogether life is good.

Blasts From the Past. Two of my undergraduate mentors Lew and Sandy Hinchman retired from their teaching jobs last week. They arrived at St. Lawrence University my senior year and pointed me in the direction of Hegel and Frankfurt School Marxism and helping me set my sails for a degree in political theory. They were unbelievably generous to me and gave me a lot of good advice that I wasn't able to take when I was in grad school. But I have tried to follow their examples and have done my best to be as generous to my students as they were to me.

I also heard from Tom McNeilus, a teacher in Virginia who grew up on my street in Waverly, NY. He was a really nice kid when we were growing up and he still seems like a really nice guy at the age of 54. Fifty-four!!!

Collapse of the Republicans? I talked with a conservative guy today who seemed convinced that the Democrats could finish off the Republican Party once and for all if they nominated Hillary Clinton this year. What he sees is that Hillary has a strong appeal to the white working-class conservatives and Reagan Democrats who the Republicans need to be competitive.

I'm not sure about this. After all, I know a lot of Democrats who say they'll vote for McCain if Hillary is nominated.

But the Republicans are on very thin ice. The GOP almost extinct in New England and have lost their base in the Northern suburbs. They're not competitive in the coastal areas on the Pacific and even less competitive with African-Americans, Hispanics, gays, and Jewish voters. Republican safe areas in the South (Virginia, North Carolina), Southwest, and Mountain States have become battlegrounds and the party is having trouble attracting viable candidates and raising money. My right-wing friend thinks that the GOP would fall through the ice and drown if they were deserted by Reagan Democrats.

My own thought is that an Obama win would cause something like a Republican collapse because it would signal a general refusal of the public to continue listening to the right. Having supported Hillary's candidacy up to last week, I still see an Obama win as really shifting the balance to the left in American politics.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More Important Than Hillary/Obama

Perhaps more important than the Hillary/Obama race in West Virginia is the run-off between Democratic candidate Travis Childers and Republican Greg Davis for an open Congressional seat in Mississippi.

The fact that Childers won 53-47 in a heavily Republican district means that Congressional Republicans are going to be worried sick about a total collapse in November. Childers is the third straight Democrat to win a seat in a heavily Republican district. Congressional Republicans haven't been successful at raising money, recruiting strong candidates, or generating any kind of interesting policy agendas.

Likewise it appears that GOP smear tactics might not even work among staunchly Republican voters this year.

All this adds up to a lot of Democratic confidence. Now, Democratic candidates have to go out and win the elections.

Hillary and Those Hard-Working White People, Part II

It looks like Hillary Clinton has won over those hard-working white people of West Virginia. With 63 per cent of precincts in, she's beating Obama 65-28.

Jinchi left a strong comment on Pmy Hillary and Those Hard-Working White People" post:

I'll agree that Hillary wasn't being deliberately racist, but you're giving her too much credit here. Hillary's comment was simply a continuation of the foolish Mark Penn strategy of dividing the electorate into finer and finer demographic categories (working class white voters without a college education). It has nothing to do with her view of America as a diverse society.

It is entirely about campaign tactics (who do we focus on, who do we ignore).I think this has been the fundamental flaw of the Clinton campaign and it appears so deeply ingrained in the thinking of her team that they've repeatedly alienated large segments of the Democratic base by publicly discussing it. This is where "insignificant states" and "latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock wearing, trust fund babies" comes from. It's where Geraldine Ferraro's nonsensical "luck black man" statement originated. It's why she didn't bother with caucus states (too many party activists) and it's why she gave up completely on black voters. She conceded entire groups forgetting that in the end, all the votes count the same. Obama was able to win by 30, 40, 50 points in key races because she didn't contest them. Meanwhile he kept her wins small by drawing just enough of "her" voters.

There's a lot that I agree with there and the agreement starts with the failure of Hillary's campaign strategy. In my opinion, the failure lay in refusing to take Obama's challenge seriously rather than in Mark Penn's (really Karl Rove's) micro-targeting ideas. Unwilling to believe that Obama could beat them, the Hillary campaign did not put people and money into the caucus states, did not do any campaign planning beyond Feb. 5, and did not commit themselves wholeheartedly to internet campaigning and fund-raising until it was too late. The Hillary campaign both under-estimated Obama's strength and over-estimated the solidity of Hillary's own support. As a result, Hillary's campaign didn't have the infrastructure needed to regain support after her initial poll numbers nose-dived in the wake of her "driver's licenses for illegal immigrants" gaffe.

Actually, I think that micro-targeting is a good idea in many circumstances. In 2004, Rove and the Republicans used micro-targeting as a way to appeal to narrow constituencies in terms of the interests and values of those constituencies as well as the broader themes of the campaign. For example, the Republicans identified "security moms" and "anti-abortion black ministers" as possible Republican voters and targeted their appeals in terms of the interests and values of those groups. Obviously, Rove was selling an ugly mixture of gay bashing, fear mongering, and war mongering. But micro-targeting was a way for the Republicans to add little streams of voters onto their core constituencies.

I don't think Mark Penn was doing much micro-targeting in Rove's sense. He certainly divided up the electorate into smaller and smaller groups as he try to rationalize Hillary defeats, but Penn never tried to add to Hillary's coalition by trying to split off groups that might be seen as Obama constituencies. For example, I don't know why Hillary's campaign didn't work on appealing to "working class African-American voters without a college education" as long as she was making class appeals or why she didn't do more stuff on women in order to broaden her appeal among white women even further. If I were a Hillary consultant, I would have used more black women as surrogates. That kind of additive campaigning would have been "micro-targeting."

Ultimately though, none of this is connected to Hillary's reference to whites as "white Americans." I still see that as taking white people off their racial pedestal and making them (us) just another group of hyphenated Americans. I doubt that Hillary meant the comment to be particularly meaningful but it still resonated as a matter of fact extension of multi-culturalism to white people.

I view that as a very progressive thing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Life Under The Obama Rules

Commenting on a Newsweek article, Rich Lowry of the National Review Online is worried about the "Obama Rules" that Democrats hope and Republicans fear will limit right-wing smearing during the presidential campaign.

"The Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968," [Newsweek] says, through "innuendo and code." McCain "may not be able to resist casting doubt on Obama's patriotism," and there's a question whether he can or wants to "rein in the merchants of slime and sellers of hate."

Here are the Obama rules in detail: He can't be called a "liberal" ("the same names and labels they pin on everyone," as Obama puts it); his toughness on the war on terror can't be questioned ("attempts to play on our fears"); his extreme positions on social issues can't be exposed ("the same efforts to distract us from the issues that
affect our lives" and "turn us against each other"); and his Chicago background
too is off-limits ("pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy"). Besides that, it should be a freewheeling and spirited campaign.

Needless to say, the Obama campaign isn't going to be able to put a lid on smearing. People on the right have a lot of money and a lot of ingenuity and they're going to be putting everything they have into developing the next the next Willie Horton or Swift Boat ad campaign. The right is going to be as vicious as they can be and some of the smears are going to hit the mark. The Obama campaign should expect that.

The question is whether anybody is going to take the onslaught of right-wing smearing seriously or whether the public has already tuned the right-wing out as a serious voice on American politics.

As a conservative, Lowry is pretty pessimistic on this point. In a telling reflection on how little confidence the right has in the conservative brand, Lowry demands that Obama refrain from calling John McCain a "conservative" or [labeling] him in any other way.

If "conservatism" has become such a negative brand that calling someone a conservative is a smear, the "Obama Rules" are just a reflection of how little the public wants to hear from the right.

Obama's Hillary Problem

Over at Daily Kos, DemFromCT puts a worrisome stress on the "fundamentals" of the 2008 election.

The important numbers are Bush at 31 and wrong track at 82. McCain may run better than most other Republicans, but he still has to run against the fundamentals. In addition to right track/wrong track and Bush unpopularity, far more people (38%) are uncomfortable with McCain's age than an African-American President (12%) or a woman President (16%) - the explanation for the pushback against McCain 'losing his bearings'.

Obama will run as a fresh face, and do his best to highlight where McCain and Bush are inseparable (Iraq, health care and the economy). McCain will do the usual Republican shtick about "liberals and Pelosi and San Francisco values", all the things that didn't work in IL and LA special elections (there are new Dem congressmen as a

I'm optimistic about the chances for Obama in the general election. I think he'll win by something like 57-43. Currently, the ABC/WashPost poll has Obama up by 7. Others have Obama by 9 or 11. That looks good given that Obama is probably in a trough as a result of the Jeremiah Wright and "bitter white people" comment.

McCain has all of those "fundamentals" going against him as well.

Interestingly enough, Hillary Clinton had a lot of fundamentals going for her at the beginning of the Democratic primaries. She had universal name recognition, nostalgia value from the Clinton years, an experienced campaign team, good poll numbers, and the prospect of being able to raise record amounts of money.

But she still lost because a good chunk of her support was never very solid and her campaign turned off a lot of undecided Democrats with its arrogance, clumsiness, and racially-tinged comments.

Unfortunately, Obama has the same problem. He's solid with upper-income white liberals and suburbanites, African-Americans, and young voters. But support from independents, moderates, hispanics, and blue-collar whites is hesitant and thin. In the final analysis, Obama is going to convince large constituencies of uncertain voters to vote for him over John McCain. The presidency isn't going to be handed to Obama as the default candidate of the Democratic Party. Obama is going to have to "win" it.

Phyllis Schafly: Still Supporting Really Dreary Marriage

One of the most fruitful things about anti-feminist, woman-hating icon Phyllis Schlafly is that she really let's you know what conservatism has in mind for women.

Here's Schlafly on marital rape, but it's really Schlafly's view of marriage (via Feministing).
Could you clarify some of the statements that you made in Maine last year about martial rape? I think that when you get married you have consented to sex. That's
what marriage is all about, I don't know if maybe these girls missed sex ed. That doesn't mean the husband can beat you up, we have plenty of laws against assault and battery. If there is any violence or mistreatment that can be dealt with by criminal prosecution, by divorce or in various ways. When it gets down to calling it rape though, it isn't rape, it's a he said-she said where it's just too easy to lie about it.

From Schlafly's point of view, "[t]hat's what marriage is all about" for women, being available for sex when they want it and when they don't want it. Husbands can legitimately force wives to have sex when they have headaches, when they're depressed, when they're thinking about something else, or when they've just given birth to babies. Marriage means that women have pre-consented to sex at any time at their husbands discretion.

It also means that women have pre-consented to being forced to have sex as long as that force doesn't result in bruises, cuts, bleeding, or other visible bodily damage that could be seen as evidence of "assault and battery."

As long as there's no visible evidence, Schlafly assumes that it's a "he said/she said" and that "she" is a lying feminist.

Unsurprisingly, Schlafly notes that feminists (and millions of othe women) find this kind of marriage to be a "dreary" prospect.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Herald-Leader Cheapens Billy's Happy Moments

John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader worries about Billie Gillespie's recruiting of 14 and 15 year olds in a sports column today.
Gillispie put up his best defense Saturday during a 30-minute news conference with local reporters. He said recruiting is "very, very competitive." He said evaluations have to be made earlier. He said there are no guarantees, just as there is no guarantee an 18-year-old senior will have his high school game translate to college competition. Asked if he thought this new trend was good or bad for the sport, Gillispie said, "It's just different."
Different in a negative way, I'd say. Many of Gillispie's points are valid, but you still can't shake the feeling that this somehow cheapens the game. It turns coaches into speculators, not recruiters. It turns kids into commodities instead of individuals. In a world in which we ask kids to grow up too fast, it accelerates the process.

That's tentative stuff, but it's understandable given that Clay is a local sports writer whose living depends significantly on scoring interviews with UK basketball coaches like Gillispie.

In fact, Billy Gillispie is not just getting commitments from 14 year-olds like Michael Avery of California and 15 year-olds like Vinnie Zollo of Ohio, he's a pioneer in getting these kinds of commitments.

The only other coach doing this is Tim Floyd of Southern California. In Clay's terms, Gillispie is not just cheapening the game, he's a leader in "cheapening the game."

Clay also neglects--politely I think--to mention the significance of signing young kids to Gillispie himself. Signing Zollo was not only a coup for Gillispie, it was "the happiest day of his life." The next thing you know Gillispie will be pulling a Pat Riley and stop coaching the games so he can focus on recruiting ever younger players.

Perhaps Gillispie finds signing these kids to be a little too meaningful.

Hillary and Those Hard-Working White People

"A" raises a strong point in the comments to the "Hillary EndGame" post about Hillary's "hard-working" white people comment.
I've hung with Hillary as long as I can, despite generally preferring Obama's thoughtful approach to politics and policy (see the race speech from Philly). I was willing to stick with her in spite of Bill's racial comments and her trainwreck of a campaign. But after her no-longer-subtle race-baiting last week ("working, hard-working Americans, white Americans"), I can't stomach her any more. She is not going to win, and these tactics aren't anything but spiteful and divisive.
But I have to respectfully disagree. I don't think the "hardworking white people" comment was a very apt thing to say for several reasons which I'll articulate later. However, I view the comment as a progressive step forward in racial politics. Here's Hillary's comment.
"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."
To refer to whites as "white Americans" is a very progressive thing in terms of American racial politics. For years, the media and whites in general have referred to whites in generic sounding but racially charged language as "normal Americans," "everyday Americans," the "mainstream," or just "Americans." In this language, to be white (middle-class, heterosexual, etc.) is to be mainstream, normal, and American. To be black, Hispanic, Asian, poor, or gay is to be exotic, outside the mainstream, and "not really" American. Americanism was for white people. Multi-culturalism was for everybody else.

There has been some comment about Hillary's "white Americans" remark reading non-whites out of America. Actually, it's the opposite. By referring to working-class whites as "white Americans," Hillary is reading white people into multi-cultural American. Just like there are African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and gay Americans, there are now white Americans. White people in general might be a majority but white people can be divided into many different groups and Hillary's comment treats working-class whites as a specific American subculture rather than generically American. Because Hillary's comment gets away from representing whites as generically "real" Americans, it represents a triumph of multi-culturalism and somewhat of a breakthrough in American political representation.

The real clumsiness in Hillary's formulation comes with the honorific "hard-working." To me, this is a class-oriented kind of remark in which Hillary is looking to praise working-class whites. So she calls them "working" or "hard-working." The comment comes off as exclusionary in the sense that Hillary can be seen as implying that either non-whites or Obama's highly educated white supporters in towns like Madison, Wisconsin, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Iowa City, Iowa or Morehead, Kentucky are not hard-working.

But I don't think that's the case. Instead, I believe that Hillary was looking for a way to include white working-class and non-college educated people into a language of specific praise from which they're normally excluded because of their relative lack of education, relatively low incomes, and relatively low political profiles (unless they're unionized). She didn't want to treat working-class whites generically as "regular" people the way white people are usually described. She wanted to praise them but ended up with a formulation that made everybody else sound lazy.

What I'd like to suggest is that Hillary was not being racially provocative but was instead being awkward and unskilled because she is plowing new ground in terms of political rhetoric. I believe that was also the case with a lot of the "racially-tinged" comments made by Hillary, Andrew Cuomo, and Ed Rendell (the exception was Bill Clinton's obnoxious comments after the South Carolina primary). Interestingly enough, the Hillary campaign has done a lot for multi-cultural politics in the United States even if they haven't succeeded in getting Hillary elected.