Friday, February 8, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 8

The Great One-D Battle…Goodbye, Mormon Boulevard…When the Obamamaniacs go marching in…

“You know you’re growing up,” Katie Baron’s G-Chat away message read, “when you’re so excited about Super Tuesday someone has to remind you it’s Fat Tuesday.”

Super Tuesday lived up to its billing as the best one on one battle since the Rumble in the Jungle. Yes politics is full of great battles (though one could hardly characterize the 2000 election as ‘great’ for any reason), but what made February 5th such a remarkable night was the sheer unpredictability of nearly every one of the 22 states. The night got off to an awfully worrying start for Obama, whose decimation in the Northeast was pretty much expected. But in the heartlands, Obama, who only a week ago was ‘unable to connect with white voters,’ stomped Clinton from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountain range. Once the dust settled Obama had won 13 of the 22 states, Clinton had won California, and the delegate count (Superdelegates aside) was tied, an astounding nail biter, the likes of which the party has never seen. Before looking ahead, it’s worth looking back to the origins of Super Tuesday, and seeing if what took place Tuesday night was really supposed to happen.

Southerners Up To Their Tricks Again

After Walter Mondale’s blowout loss in 1984, Southern Democrats, frustrated that they hadn’t been able to nominate one of their own since 1980, conspired to hold a number of primaries simultaneously a short few weeks after New Hampshire, for maximum impact. A group of northern and western states joined in, and in 1988, the first Super Tuesday was born. But the devious plan went awry when two southern candidates, Senator Al Gore and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, split the southern Super Tuesday states narrowly, giving a major delegate lead to the candidate that cleaned up everywhere else, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.

In 1992 Super Tuesday did its job, allowing Governor Clinton to put away former Senator Paul Tsongas, though he had to deal with an annoying comeback from former Cali Governor Jerry Brown, who orchestrated a similarly pesky and unsuccessful late primary season run against Jimmy Carter in 1976. After a stint as Mayor of Oakland, he is now the Attorney General of California. Who knows what the future holds for Jerry Brown…For what it’s worth, I cast my first ever vote for Jerry Brown, in the 1992 St. Hilda’s and St. Hughes Middle School Presidential Straw Poll, which I’m fairly certain was won by Ross Perot. The girls thought he was cute or something.

In 2004 Super Tuesday once again served its function. Senator John Edwards was the last man left standing against the Kerry juggernaut (has a weird ring to it, right?). But with limited time, limited money, and a limited premise for his candidacy, Edwards lost all 10 of the Super Tuesday states, and dropped out immediately afterwards.

Knocking off a pesky challenger is exactly what Super Tuesday was designed for, and exactly what Hillary was hoping for. Don’t let her spin tell you otherwise. No candidate, particularly an outside challenger, could hope to put together a field team and media strategy to compete in 22 states within 10 days, particularly when one of those states is California. At times like these, “Yes We Can” is a particularly uplifting campaign motto.

Consider this, friends. Clinton may have won most of the big states, but she failed to win 60% of the vote anywhere outside her Walmart base of Arkansas. Obama won EIGHT states by 60% or more. The man who ‘has trouble winning white voters’ (I’ll repeat it until the drive-by media stops) won 61% of the vote in North Dakota, 67% in Minnesota, 74% in Kansas, 75% in Alaska, and 79% in Idaho. He actually beat Clinton among white voters in California. Most of the contests I just listed were caucuses, not primaries, which speaks to a great strength of the Obama campaign. At a caucus, the arm-twisting and energy levels in the room can impact a voter’s decision, causing last minute defections. When you hear the pundits say that Obama “does well in caucuses” that means two things: he’s got good organizers, and super-enthusiastic supporters that bring undecideds over to their side.

The Battle Rages On

Looking forward…the math is pretty intense. A fellow at DailyKos lays it out about as clearly as I’ve seen it here: (Paraphrasing this would take several paragraphs).

I’ll stand by my claim that this primary will absolutely not be decided DURING the convention, though it technically may be decided AT the convention. One of the candidates will have enough of a delegate need that it would take a full fledged super delegate conspiracy to prevent their nomination, and I am comfortable saying that will not happen.

Up next are caucuses in Maine, Washington and Nebraska, plus a primary in Louisiana, followed by the Potomac primary (Maryland, Virginia, D.C). Advantage Obama.

No Joy in Mormonville when the Mighty Mitt Strikes Out

If Super Tuesday was designed for knockout blow, it certainly provided one in the Republican primary, where 2008’s lamest candidate, Mitt Romney, followed in his father’s footsteps as a Republican primary loser. To papa George’s credit, the elder Romney was ridiculed out of the race after suggesting he had been “brainwashed” by the military about the situation in Vietnam, and his denouncement of our involvement in Vietnam displayed his inability to properly serve as commander in chief. I guess some things never change. Mitt lacks half the class or political courage of his father, complaining after the West Virginia caucus that the McCain and Huckabee forces had conspired against him. Huckabee, with the line of the day, responded, “Yesterday he said he was against whining, now he's for it. Once again Mitt has been able to take both sides of an issue, including whining.”

Huckabee declared that a two man race was on, and announced his strategy for winning the nomination while playing a game of air hockey on the Colbert Report (the two were battling to knock a plastic replica of Texas into each other’s goal). I wish the Huckster the best. Speculation that he’ll be the Vice-President is far-fetched; McCain would be much more comfortable with one of his boys, like South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. This whole notion that nominees look to their second place finishers for running mates is historically inaccurate anyway; the two times its been done successfully, 1960 (Kennedy/LBJ) and 1980 (Reagan/Bush) it was done to balance a lopsided party ticket, a balance Huckabee wouldn’t completely provide (In 2004 it was just another mistake in a painful campaign).

So, if he’s not going to be Vice President, the Huckster might as well, to put it in Romney parlance, go for the gold. It might be statistically impossible, but the Huckster’s the only person left in this race who believes in miracles, and we’ve seen bigger miracles then beating a much-maligned old man who couldn’t win the majority of the vote in his home state, or anywhere outside the tri-state area.

Fear and Loathing in the Hipster-less LES

On Tuesday, Margot and I spent a truly miserable day on the Lower East Side, flyering in the cold rain in what was clearly a Clinton-heavy district. Like most truly poor neighborhoods in New York, its residents were in no mood to talk politics with the sunny disposition of a New Hampshire primary gopher, and many didn’t speak English anyway. Yet, when the results came in, it turned out that Obama had won just over 40% of the vote in that Congressional District (500 votes), enough to split the six delegates with Hillary. Had he won less than 40%, he would have earned two delegates to Hillary’s four. While I’m not claiming our individual efforts did anything to affect the final outcome, that anecdote illustrates an important aspect of this primary campaign.

First, the proportional delegate system really brings more democracy to the process- just as Bush and Kerry wrote off most of the country in 2004, campaigns tend to write off most parts of a state, or county, and focus as much GOTV as possible on their strength areas. This makes sense- turn out voters in neighborhoods that favor your candidate, and don’t waste time in areas that don’t. Now candidates have to pay attention to voters in all precincts, even ones that don’t favor them. It’s good for democracy, and it makes for more inspiring campaigning. This weekend a small crew of us is going down to Virginia where Obama has a medium sized lead. Turns out that 59% of the vote is difference between splitting the delegate count and getting two thirds of it in each district. So it’s alright, it’s ok, we’ve all got something to shoot for.

Billy Bragg, a Man for Dark Times

I’ll end with a choice tune I’ve come across by Billy Bragg- there’s a pretty sick video of the original version on youtube, plus a new version with anti-Bush lyrics, called “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards.” I once literally bumped into Billy Bragg at a protest an IMF protest; it was the first protest in NYC since 9/11, and there were probably as many policemen as protesters. Towards the end of the march someone threw something at a cop, and about two dozen armored policemen charged the barricades, barreling people over and throwing tear gas into the crowd while everyone around them sang “We all live in a military state” to the tune of “Yellow Submarine.” The cops wouldn’t let anyone out for another hour, and in an effort to find an escape, I ended up tripping over Billy Bragg’s guitar amp. He had infiltrated the crowd, and proceeded to play, “No Power Without Accountability” for the protesters. It was a great moment of solidarity from a great man.

I guess I’ve gone on a tangent, but what this song made me think of is how hard it is for people to believe in change, especially poor people who have seen so little of it, especially poor Hispanics who don’t see any practical reason to vote for a candidate of color, especially for liberal East coasters who are more worried about what the heartlands will think than about what is right. Well, folks, the stage is now set, We the People are the new front runners in the Democratic primary, and America’s ready for the Great Leap Forwards.*

Jumble sales are organised and pamphlets have been posted
Even after closing time there’s still parties to be hosted
You can be active with the activists
Or sleep in with the sleepers
While you’re waiting for the great leap forwards

- Billy Bragg, Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

Original Version Here:

New Version on the Henry Rollins Show (Yes, he has a show. I know, it’s weird.):

* Not to be confused with the “Great Leap Forward,” a genocidal rapid industrialization plan for rural China in the early 1950s.