Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 4

Fear and Voting on The Strip…The Ice Queen Cometh…What Would Woodrow Wilson Do…Romney to the Rescue…

Nevada is about as odd a bellwether as you can find this primary season. Somehow relaying the plight of the blackjack dealer doesn’t strike the same emotional chord as the Iowan losing his family farm. I knew Harry Reid was going to be a tough times Senate leader when he began his 2005 State of the Union rebuttal with, “I was sitting at the Horseshoe casino when a little girl came up to me…”

I spent the fall of 2004 working in Las Vegas for the presidential election, and between the crime ridden ghettos, the impenetrable gated communities built in fear of them, the drunk driving maniacs and the hung over volunteers, there is no such thing as a routine day of canvassing. The unions, as you’ve all heard by now, run the show- our Vegas operation was definitely not battle ready until an army of SEIU organizers came in and cleaned up the shitshow.

The Republicans were up to serious mischief then. First, they adopted the name of one of our partners, America Votes, registering people in poor communities. They then took all the registration forms of people who had registered as Democrats, shredded them, and tossed them in a dumpster. It took a young Republican whistle-blower to reveal they had done this to at least several thousand people, who were now going to show up to polls thinking when they were registered, when they weren’t. If that wasn’t enough for Republicans, they generated an automated robo-call that went out to the greater Las Vegas Hispanic community, telling them their polling locations for ‘Wednesday, November 3rd,’ the day after the actual election. And of course, after this and a thousand and one other ‘Election-related irregularities’, Republicans figured they’d get to the heart of the matter with stricter ID requirements for voters, leaving the Dems to fight once again to uphold the Voting Rights Act.

That’s what’s jarring about this Vegas poll controversy- it’s not just undemocratic, its unDemocratic. Last year a unanimous Democratic committee (including two supporters currently suing to stop what they voted for from happening) allowed for additional polling locations to be set up on The Strip, with all voters who work in the area eligible to vote there. Enter the Nevada Teacher’s Union (Yes, everyone’s favorite union) who are crying foul, saying it’s an unfair voting practice to allow poor people to vote near their work location on a Saturday in a city with a tourist driven local economy. Never mind that teachers don’t work on Saturday themselves, or that nearly all of Las Vegas’ business- casinos, restaurants, gift shops, motels, taxi drivers- operate on The Strip. No, the Clinton attack dogs define the right to vote as something that should be unnecessarily cumbersome for all people, especially union people who didn’t endorse her a few days ago.

But, as Obama-backer John Kerry once said, “The Clinton’s don’t care about anybody except themselves and power.”

Witness Robert Johnson’s cocaine references last week. Didn’t I just write last time about how odd it was that an uber-scripted Clinton campaign event would feature nasty comments from a surrogate? Look, my exasperation isn’t just with a self-serving group that’ll do anything to win, but how little they then do with the win.

Bush and his cronies campaigned the same way, but at least they had some balls once they were actually in power. At least Bush could look the nation in the eye and say, “I know there’s not a goddamn person who thinks this is a good idea, but I’m going to do it anyway.” He ignored the Courts, lied, cheated, invaded foreign countries and destroyed our reputation around the world, but you know what, he’d do it again. He couldn’t even admit to EVER making a mistake during the 2004 debates (“Nothing comes to mind, Jim…”).

As for Bill Clinton? Mark Penn says ‘jump’ and he’s out of there. That’s the fairy tale, Bill, the fairy tale was that we even had a Democratic president in the White House, as opposed to a drowning man thrashing for dear life in a swimming pool, blaming liberals for not making the pool shallower and the lifeguard he banged in the locker room for not rescuing him.

But back to Hillary- nothing grinds my gears more than the “35 years of experience fighting for change” that she’s always touting. Which years are we counting, Hillary? Would that be counting your 16 years as a corporate lawyer at Rose Law Firm? Would that be counting the six years you spent on the Wal-Mart board of directors? Would that be counting the time you spent as a centrist senator, cheerleading the war in Iraq and spouting bellicose rhetoric on Iran? Indeed, being alive doesn’t automatically count towards service of progressive causes- otherwise Ron Paul would be the most progressive person in the race.

Contrast her ‘experience’ with Obama, who has spent his entire adulthood working for the very change he’s now accused of being too inexperienced to enact. Of all the comparisons and precedents to Obama, perhaps the most useful one is Woodrow Wilson.

A gentleman and a scholar…

Wilson had spent most of his life in academics as a history and political science professor at Wesleyan and Princeton, becoming Princeton University President in 1902. Several years later he published The History of the United States. I discovered a first edition copy while mushrooming in the library of a Dartmouth hippie house, Panarchy- fitting because Panarchy was once Phi Psi fraternity, the same fraternity once rushed by Woodrow Wilson when he was a student at Princeton.

Wilson became bored of university politics (who wouldn’t?) and was elected Governor of New Jersey. He served with distinction for a full year and a half before announcing for president. He won the 1912 election by beating both the incumbent president (Taft) and a former president (Teddy Roosevelt) in the general election. Wilson’s economic and foreign policies were both transformative. Like Obama, Wilson pledged to bring different sides of the table together. In creating the Federal Reserve, the government could finally regulate the banking industry, a compromise Wilson forged to the disappointment of banks, who wanted no intervention, and the Bryan faction of the party, which wanted government run banking. Like Obama, Wilson both recognized the inevitability of free trade, even supporting it, but protected labor at home through the creation of the Federal Trade Commission and the Clayton Antitrust Act (the 8 hour workday came about during a Wilson mediated settlement).

Wilson’s internationalism and desire for the spread of democracy has influenced every president since. He kept us out of World War I until entry was inevitable, and then delivered decisive victory. The League of Nations, even in its failure, taught Americans the dangers of isolationism, and the importance of working with our friends, and sometimes, even with our enemies. The Senate’s failure to ratify the League of Nations (Thanks Henry Cabot Lodge) sent Wilson on a quixotic cross-country speaking tour to drum up support for it. He suffered a nervous break down, at one point giving stump speeches to empty cornfields, before a stroke debilitated him for the last year of his presidency.

Wilson was brilliant, open-minded, and he had a positive vision for improving life at home and making America a global leader. That is what I see in Obama, and while he may not be a PHD like Wilson was, he was a Constitutional Law professor. We could do worse in times like these.

John Edwards rediscovers long-lost “son of a mill worker” speech…

On McLaughlin Group this Sunday, Eleanor Clift said of John Edwards, “He’s become a sideshow, and everyone seems to know it but him.” Putting aside the irony that the McLaughlin Group is itself a circus act in the eyes of everyone except its insane host and regular guests, Edwards needs to do well in Nevada and South Carolina to justify staying in the race, on grounds of moral consistency. In the 2004 primaries, Kerry had a great deal of momentum after the first group of primaries. Edwards was counting on wins in Tennessee and Virginia to show that Kerry would be unpalatable to southern voters, but ended up coming in a distant second in both states after Clark siphoned off votes from him. Edwards’s staffers fumed, “Clark knows he has no chance of winning, and now he has to drag us down with him! Him staying in the race cost us Tennessee and Virginia, our last hope of stopping John Kerry!”

This sentiment was unfounded, as Kerry beat Clark and Edwards’ combined totals in Virginia, and nearly did in Tennessee as well. Nevertheless, the gripe still stands, and it seems morally inconsistent to stay in a race once he has no chance of winning. The question is how he will get out. If he bows out quietly, the feeding frenzy for his supporters will commence ferociously, but if he gives a heartfelt endorsement of Obama on the way out, he could be remember as the kingmaker in the race. Bloggers who talk of him not wanting to offend Clinton in order to win a place in her administration are crazy. Nothing would make Hillary happier than locking Edwards up in an abandoned mill that closed after a free trade agreement sent the jobs overseas and throwing away the key. The only thing holding him back from endorsing Obama is pride and confusion about life after being a professional presidential candidate. No more adoring crowds, limitless television exposure or donor funded healthcare. It’s part of the sad downsizing process of course, and no one knows about downsizing better than John Edwards. Of course, there’s always going back to hedge funds.

Another guy who knows about downsizing is Mitt Romney. A recent Huckabee ad asks whether voters want their president to be “Like the guy you work with, or like the guy who laid you off?” In Michigan they went with the guy who laid them off, which is great news for Democrats. As Kos has been pointing out, Romney not only continues the Republican circle-firing squad deeper into the primary season, but he’s the one most willing to go negative to do so, which says a lot in a field of Republicans. But it may take more than a Rove robo-call about McCain’s illegitimate black child to top McCain in South Carolina this time; I’m sure veterans will love hearing that while McCain was being tortured by the Viet Cong, Romney was in Paris converting people to Mormonism.

Friday I head off to South Carolina for the bitter, ugly Republican South Carolina primary on the 19th. McCain, Romney and Huckabee will lock horns, nothing will be settled, and the Swamp Thing will be awaiting the winner with a creepy smile in the Everglades. I hope to attend the Huckabee victory party, where he will personally turn water into wine and play bass to Jars of Clay covers. Now there’s a guy who believes in a place called Hope…