Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 9

Janos Says Relax…How the West will be Won 2008 Style…Stomping Terra on the Potomac…Mark Penn Spinster-ism in its Last Throes….

Over the weekend a female volunteer pouring over delegate numbers remarked to me, “Now I understand why guys are so obsessed with sports stats. This is actually pretty fun!” The lengthy primary season has been a godsend to Knick fans like me, who have absolutely nothing to look forward to this season, except that we’ll do so poorly that next June we’ll get a high draft pick who we’ll probably end up trading for a washed up small forward.

The whole concept of delegate counts, caucuses versus primaries, and territories we had forgotten existed (Hello, Mariana Islands!) has made this gripping primary season the talk of the nation. But nothing gets people in a greater frenzy than the madness of the Superdelagate process. Everyone’s freaking out, which makes sense, because it’s so rare that progressives actually win anything that when we get close we feel like there has to be a catch.

To get everyone up to speed, there are 796 Super delegates, about 20% of the total number of Convention votes. They represent high-ranking state and national party leaders, as well as elected officials. “We don’t have Batmobiles, we can’t fly, and you definitely don’t want to see us in spandex,’ quipped Super delegate and sometimes losing campaign manager Donna Brazile.

Apparently, in some cases they don’t vote either, according to CNN’s story of the 21 year-old Wisconsin DNC member who will be casting the first vote of his life next Tuesday. The Super delegates are a disgrace to the Democratic process, and any deusch you hear on TV saying they weren’t meant to play the decisive role is lying- that is precisely why they were created in 1980. That said, there are a couple reasons not to worry about them.

Reason 1: They want to win. Super delegates have nothing to gain by going down with a sinking ship. The reason so many signed up with Clinton in the first place is that she was the ‘inevitable candidate’ that they didn’t want to piss her off. How many big Hillary endorsements have you seen in the last few weeks (Obama got Lincoln Chaffee today)?Remember that many of these Supers will be on the ballot as Congressmen, Senators and Governors, and even DNC people would rather be in the White House than spend another 4 years as the opposition party. If Obama has the lead, the momentum, and the best polling numbers against McCain, Super delegates will want him to win. Which leads to…

Reason 2: The Super delegates, establishment as they may be, are not a monolithic bloc. Hillary only leads Obama by about 80 Supers at this point, and about 400 haven’t even decided. Many of the ones that did or will decide simply went with the will of their constituents, like Senator Barbara Boxer (Clinton) and the head of the Maine Democratic Party (Obama). The worst case scenario for Obama is that the Supers break narrowly for Clinton, something like 450-350. There is, and I’ll stake my reputation on this, no conceivable way that the Supers engage in an active, conspiratorial effort to deny Obama the nomination if he has more pledged delegates that Clinton going into the convention. Speaking of pledged…

Reason 3: The Supers are unpledged. Plain and simple. The Clinton Supers can change their mind and defect to Obama at the drop of a hat, right up to the moment they cast their vote on the floor of the convention. John Lewis, who dropped the helpful comparison, “Obama is no Martin Luther King,” is publicly considering defecting, and as they say in Planet of the Apes, ‘where there is one, there are usually others.’

People are also freaking out about Michigan and Florida. Though this issue’s a little dicier, here we go…

  1. The Credential Committee at the Convention makes the decision of whether or not to count Florida’s delegates.
  2. Howard Dean has named the 3 Committee Co-Chairs, as well as 22 other DNC members. Hillary partisans say it’s stacked for Obama, Obama people say it’s stacked for Hillary. Let’s call it a wash (without knowing these people individually it’s impossible to speculate. You can see the peeps here:
  3. The other 160 or so members of the Credentials Committee are chosen by the states, as a reflection of the primary or caucus result and size of the state.
  4. Ipso facto, whoever has won the most pledged delegates will seat the majority on the Credentials Committee.
  5. If Hillary has the most pledged delegates, we are fucked anyway, and it doesn’t really matter whether Michigan and Florida count.
  6. If Obama has the most pledged delegates, the Committee will probably uphold the DNC ruling to strip them of delegates.
  7. If it’s essentially a tie, or the Credentials Committee is split evenly, than the status quo stands. The status quo is that Michigan and Florida don’t count.
  8. If for some reason shady stuff goes down, and the Committee does recommend they count, then the larger Convention still has to approve it. If Obama has more delegates (pledged and unpledged), they will vote this down. If Hillary has more, then we’ve lost either way.

At the Roger Clemens steroids hearing yesterday, a number of Congressmen got hung up on his trainer, Brian McNamee’s phrase, “It is what it is,” until a New York Congressman helpfully clarified, “In New York that’s like slang for ‘I’m just telling the truth.’” Someone joked that it “depends on what ‘is’ is,” to which someone responded “It is what it is,” and as the whole room chortled a Republican from North Carolina asked what Congress was doing holding this godforsaken Roger Clemens hearing in the first place. True that. The point I’m making is that this is what it is. It is what it is. We have Super delegates, and they suck. The side with most pledged delegates going into the convention will control the convention. So it goes, so it went, and so it keeps going and going and going. All these feared machinations about Super delegates, about Michigan, about Florida, and about what a bunch of rabid wolves will do when backed into a corner on a sinking ship, all of it is moot if we keep winning. So let’s just do that. Let’s keep winning.

Notes on the State of Virginia

Virginia, population 7.6 million, is one of those pesky “small states” that Obama keeps beating Clinton by 25-30 points in. Last Saturday, our crew canvassed a number of poor Alexandria neighborhoods. I have to say it wasn’t a great experience- while I’m sure the area went for Obama, I have reservations about going into a neighborhood that’s had such little to hope for and have the audacity to ask for their vote. It was different in South Carolina, where Obama went to communities miles from centers of wealth and interstate highways to stump in run-down high schools. There he was personally offering himself to the people, and we were just getting out the vote.

At this stage of the race, there’s just not enough time, not enough time. But if the Obama legacy is real, I believe what will happen during his Presidency is that the thousands who have been inspired by him will take to organizing their communities full time so that people don’t slip through the cracks, and don’t feel like all politicians have to offer them is tired looking young person at the door every four years with a flyer on how to vote for them.

If Saturday was a letdown, Sunday was an absolute whirlwind, a madhouse in action. Commander Kate Gage was running the show, patrolling the grounds outside of T.C Williams High School in her trademark green sweater, looking angry. Looking angry is an easy way to ward off annoying questions, which come fast and furious from the ragtag army of volunteers responsible for setting up and running Obama events (Kate is a volunteer herself, a fellow weekend warrior). T.C Williams is the premise for the Hollywood movie, Remember the Titans (Starring Denzel), and there is an epic grandeur to Titan Arena that I couldn’t have dreamed of as a high schooler.

The doors to the venue wouldn’t open till 12:30, and Obama wasn’t scheduled to speak until 2, but there was already a line by 9am, which grew into the hundreds, and then thousands before noon. My job was to be in charge of the line, a seemingly innocuous assignment, but like my experience handing out placards at the Meadowlands, I found that Obamamania can bring out the best and worst in people. The line was sprawling for the equivalent of five to ten city blocks, the line cutting was rampant, and the molasses speed at which Secret Service let people in two at a time was not helping the vibe in 30 degree weather. I felt like I was in a battlefield yelling at volunteers in my cowboy hat to redirect human traffic this direction then that…all on four of sleep after attending a drag party in D.C run by young politicos who put aside people’s fear of political sabotage by banning cameras from the party. Glad I don’t live in that town…

My main partners were Charles, a husky African American who positioned himself near a police motorcycle so he could hear internal security communications off the radio, and adjust accordingly, and Don, a paunchy old white guy who donned a yellow poncho to stand out as a de facto traffic cop, marshalling people across busy street corners and while Secret Service motorcycles sped around him. All vols, all the time, but the work gets done. It felt like Biloxi.

The event itself was a treat. Tim Kaine gave a rousing introduction, getting so excited that he started giving his stump speech in Spanish, a language he apparently knows fluently from working with missionaries in Honduras during his youth. Obama carried the day as usual, even taking some digs at Hill and Bill, which is rare and refreshing to her nervous support base. But O doesn’t take the gloves against his fellow Democrats, not like he could (he’s running against Hillary Clinton, after all). No, the real gloves came across at his victory speech Tuesday night.

Some Obama’s Jabs to the McNose:

“ McCain won’t be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the beginning. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House.”

“I admired Senator McCain when he stood up and said that it offended his "conscience" to support the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in a time of war; that he couldn’t support a tax cut where "so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate." But somewhere along the road to the Republican nomination, the Straight Talk Express lost its wheels, because now he’s all for them.”

He’s ready for the general election now, and he will chase old man McCain around this country with such intensity it’ll make Sonny Liston look a real challenger.

How to Spin 8 in a row…

It’s tough to swing at someone who’s already hit the floor. When I saw that Obama had locked up his 8th primary win in a row, I thought, ‘There is no way the Clinton can people can really spin this. Things have got to be really bad when you fire your campaign manager to IMPROVE the tone of the current news cycle.’ Here’s what their team came up with:

  1. Primary states with heavy black populations don’t matter, because black people vote for Obama. And when white people IN THAT STATE (Virginia, Maryland…) vote for Obama? Doesn’t matter. The blacks threw the whole thing off.
  2. Caucuses don’t matter. They only attract party elites, and activists (who needs activists to win an election, anyway?). Except in Nevada, where they attracted pro-Clinton poor casino workers. Does the fact that many caucus states are homogenously white (Nebraska, eg) mean Obama can win white voters? No, because those are rich white voters. Is that empirically true? No…no, why are you still asking questions? Don’t you realize we’re the Clintons? This party would be nothing without us!

Hillary is now pursuing the Rudy Strategy, an idea so idiotic that only a slimy New York politician as conceited as Rudy is could possibly think of employing it, and only a former Rudy advisor could call it a good idea (he did). Hillary’s cut and run strategy recalls memories of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. The press will chug down to South Carolina. ‘Where’s Hillary? Isn’t tonight the primary?’ ‘Don’t worry, gumshoes! She’s at the home of country music, in a state that won’t have a primary for two weeks.’ ‘We’re going to Nashville!’ It was more of the same last night, with Hill camped out in El Paso, Texas, about as far away from the Potomac primaries as possible. On the No One Rages Anymore 2004 Great American Road Trip, we stopped for gas near El Paso. Grant and I were buying Red Bull when we overheard the following exchange at the counter:

“You heard about Mr. Dan’s cow passing on last week…”

“You don’t say? What happened?”

“They say he caught the Potomac…”

“The Potamac?!”

“Yeah, the Potomac. Some say that’s a river, up near Washington…but I just think the damn thing ate too much…”

Worlds apart, I tell you. But all part of the same country. That’s why I like this long primary season. Anyone who’s been on a cross country road trip can tell you how many beautiful places there are under the stars and stripes, and if they all get to participate this time around, everyone wins. Every state should have some say in who the parties nominate, and every state should have some say in who wins the election. Now it’s on to Wisconsin, home of the nation’s best college basketball zone defense. A week ago Hillary was on the defensive, but those days are gone. Our best days, however, are still ahead of us.

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