Monday, February 25, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 10

Hillary’s Landslide Victory…The Art of the Last Stand…The Cheeseheads Save the Day…Obama as World Champion…Clarence Thomas for Asshole…

Dispatch 10

A Landslide Brought it Down…

I saw a great satire article announcing that Hillary had ended her losing streak, winning in the critical State of Denial. “Denial may have no delegates at the moment,” Clinton declared, “But I will work to make sure they get seated at the convention!” The landslide I was referring to, however, was the overwhelming support from the Roving Stormosphere voting “Hillary for You and Me” as the lamest Hillary Clinton video of the 2008 season. Just because it’s that much fun, I’ll put it up again:

On its victory over “Hillary as Rock Star,” Jess Jenkins wrote, “Both are lame but the 'train wreck' is soooo long it makes it even worse!” Brian Orce called it, “INSANOPLEX,” and Guillermo Olivos noted, “It really looks a lot like the end of the weak pageant for the parents at bible camp.” For this week’s funny clip of the week check out Mike Huckabee’s excellent appearance on SNL Weekend Update:

***** UPDATE: Folks, I have just received an email from Griffin at He writes, "I agree with your readers, the one they chose was all kinds of awful. But I posted another one last week that might be worse than that: do you think? Do we have a winner? -- Griffin

I agree with Griffin, "Hillary for You and Me" had the benefit of stealing the music to "ABC", while "Hillary for Me and You" is as tone deaf as the rest of the Hillary campaign.

This Could Be the Last Time…

The Clinton campaign is in its last days, and a gloomy pallor hangs over Hillaryland. Even most winning campaigns have moments where all feel the end is near. For the Kerry campaign it didn’t happen during the general election- with the race as tight as it was, the doom was always lurking in the background- but in the late months of 2003. Kerry had slipped to a fight for 4th place, behind Dean, Clark and Gephardt, tied with Lieberman and Edwards. I helped the campaign set up an event at a restaurant in Claremont, an old mill town about 20 minutes from Dartmouth.

It was a cold depressing day, in a depressing post industrial town, in a depressing venue that could only hold about 100 people but still wasn’t full, and a thoroughly depressed Kerry delivered a terrible speech, coupled with a pathetic question and answer session. If you had asked anyone on the ground in New Hampshire, Kerry’s days were over. Like McCain in 08, however, Kerry hadn’t suffered any losses before he began his legendary comeback, and so he never had to make a ballyhooed ‘last stand.’ That’s what Hillary is doing in Ohio and Texas. Putting aside the convenience of making a ‘last stand’ in multiple states at the same time (I can hear the spin wheels grinding already), the Democratic landscape is littered with the political graves of desperate of candidates making ill-fated last stands

In 2004, Dick Gephardt withdrew resources from all primary states to focus on his neighboring Iowa, where polls had him ahead late in the game. It was where he would make his last, though also first, stand. Several million dollars of negative ads, and countless boring speeches later, Gephardt crashed and burned, broke, and with only 11% of the vote to show for it. Next up was Lieberman, who put all his eggs in the New Hampshire basket. After coming in 5th place with 9% of the vote (“Tonight we won a statistical 3-way tie for third!”) we declared that he would be ‘making his stand’ in Delaware, the smallest of the 7 states voting a week later. Kerry crushed him 50% to 11%, and Joe-mentum was over. Not sensing the trend, Wesley Clark announced that his southern heritage would play perfectly in Tennessee and Virginia the next week, where he would make his final stand. He came in 3rd place in both primaries and dropped out the next day. Dean marshaled all his forces to sunny Wisconsin, where he gave his farewell speech after a distant 3rd place finish, though retrospectively, had he dropped out earlier the party probably had its last chance to stop John Kerry, who only narrowly defeated Edwards in that primary. Meanwhile, John Edwards, who had still only won one primary at this point, declared that Super Tuesday would be the final showdown. Kerry won all ten states and it was over. Now, you can argue that ‘last stands’ may simply be losing candidates way of coming to terms with reality, but I think it’s more than that. Most last stands are less Napoleon at Waterloo, or even Hannibal against Scipio Africanus, and more Custer at Little Big Horn. Making a last stand means you’re a loser, because if you weren’t a loser, you wouldn’t have to make a last stand. If you still had money, a good campaign, and broad based support, then you wouldn’t have to make a last stand. Last stands are desperate, the last number the band plays while the ship goes down. And voters sense this. No one wants to be tied to a loser. No one wants to be the last sucker in the audience watching the band play when the ship goes down. Watching someone losing, it’s often said, tells you more about a person than watching them winning, and for most people, hardly just Hillary, losing in unbecoming.

How did it all come to this for Clinton? Losing Wisconsin didn’t help. Not going all out in the state with most Clinton-friendly demographics this side of Super Tuesday may have been a bad call. Dismissing Wisconsin as a ‘small state’ may have been a bad move. I can tell you for sure that it’s not a small state. It takes nearly a day to drive across, which is why I was going 94 in a 65 when I got busted a few miles outside of La Crosse in 2004. The cop was appalled at the state of my car, which looked like it had exploded inside. Stuff was sprawled out everywhere, as I was in the process of relocating to the Stephanie Herseth campaign in South Dakota. The cop told me that as an out-of-stater I’d have to pay my massive fine on the spot. Unfortunately, I had lost my credit card partying in Madison the night before, and I had about 100 bucks that I hoped would last me to Sioux Falls. The cop was flustered. “Who drives across the country without a credit card?!” I offered him a check, which he refused. Then a light bulb went off.

He offered to take me to a bank, where I could cash a check and pay him. Unfortunately, the first two banks we went to didn’t take out of state checks. The cop was growing progressively more agitated as we drove to the third bank, where he insisted on coming in with me. When I was rejected again, he yelled and banged his fist on the counter, “Goddamnit, why the hell won’t you people take his check?!” The old teller looked up. She had dealt with self-important people before. “Because it’s against company policy, sir. Now if you have no further business we ask that you leave the bank.” The cop cursed himself as I wrote out the check in the parking lot. I later argued my case over the phone and got the charge reduced to 16 over. A few weeks later the State of Wisconsin sent me a $77 rebate check. Just sometimes, life can be funny like that.

Obama wins the World Title…

For those who missed it, Obama increased his winning streak to 11, cruising in the Democrats Abroad primary. This bizarre event, in which people primaried and caucused everywhere from Jakarta to Geneva, had a record 22,000 people vote, with Obama defeating Clinton 65-32%. Of all the primaries, this is among the more interesting, as one would have to assume that ex-pats’ vote must be strongly influenced by the impression they believe their candidate would make abroad where they live. Though it would be heresy to think of what the rest of the world thinks in Republican circles, I for one was fascinated by an international poll NPR reported on in August of 2004.

A poll of 33 countries around the world showed 30 going for Kerry, with India too close to call, and only Nigeria and Poland going for Bush- which explains why Bush somewhat surreally kept blustering, “You forgot about Poland!” whenever Kerry brought up unilateralism during the foreign policy debate.

Obama’s new reign as World Champion is a thorn in the side of Hillaryland, where supporters, having been unable to penetrate Obama’s public aura, are now going after his supporters. “Drinking the Kool-Aid” is last week’s favorite phrase, along with “cult”, “mass hysteria” and “Messiah complex.” I laugh all that stuff off- having used the same venomous terms to criticize Deaniacs in 2003 (though in my defense, Dean is so much less cool than Obama that hysteria over him was a little weird). It’s just part of the political game of demonizing your opponents, and by proxy, their supporters in order to make a leaning undecided second guess himself. After all, what undecided voter wants to join a “cult” or “drink the Kool-Aid?” You can see an example of Clinton’s rhetoric here: Obama began responding to these attacks in his stump speech hours later, which goes to show you this will be one candidate who will not take Swift-Boating, or any other attacks lightly.

The main slur I’d offer in return to Clinton partisans is “jealous.” Not the common jealousy that comes with your candidate losing, but the jealousy that Obama is inspiring so many people and capturing the imagination of the nation. That’s what THEIR candidate was supposed to do. The first woman president, remember? It was to be a radical shift from the past, a fulfillment of the American Dream. But then someone with more vigor, inspiration, charisma, judgment and character came along. Kindof like Cassius Clay, who posited,

“Boxing doesn’t have to be dull. It’s the fighters who are dull. I watched the fight of the week last night. They call THAT the fight of the week? It was so boring, every time the bell rang it woke up the referee!” Politics doesn’t have to be dull- the Democratic establishment made it so (No offense Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Gephardt, Daschle and Reid).

Clay, of course, was Muhammad Ali’s birth name. At the age of 20, several months before his first ever title fight, Clay recorded an 8-track album, “I AM THE GREATEST” with Sam Cooke’s backup band. The album is 8 tracks long because that’s how many rounds he predicted he would need to beat Liston (he was correct), a tour de force of rhyming cuplets, short plays, and some amazing disses. For people who enjoy life, this is a must buy (or illegally download) album.

How ‘bout one more quote…

“After I become champion of the World, I will become champion of the Universe! I will fight those green men from Mars- those slick, shiny-headed green men. I won’t be afraid of the way they look- after all, they can’t look no worse than Sonny Liston.”

He even sings “Stand By Me” ( and his campaign theme song, “The Gang’s All Here.

Fear and Loathing at the Supreme Court Oral Arguments…

The email read: “For those of you who have not been to oral argument before--or have not been to a coronation ceremony or something comparable--it will be the most formal environment that you have ever attended.” Welcome to the Supreme Court. In this anachronistic corner of the world it still feels like the late 1790s. The two hundred or so in attendance sit silently and motionlessly for an hour before a loud gavel is BANGS! All rise and the Court is called to order. The nine justices swiftly take their seats and after a few ancient phrases and rituals the court is in session. At the outset I was nervous. The radical rightwingers on the Court just looked so much younger and more vibrant than the old liberal guard…Alito doesn’t look a day over 40 in person, and Roberts was practically bouncing up and down in his chair. Stevens, in contrast, looks every bit his 85 years. I watched Ginsburg attentively, having heard worrisome rumors about her health.

The first case was about age discrimination. The petitioners were arguing that even though the law did not explicitly allow lawsuits by federal employees fired in retaliation for bringing age discrimination, other forms of discrimination did, and since the language of the statutes were otherwise the same, suing for retaliation was implied. The Robespierre-like Department of Labor argued against the worker’s right to sue. Ginsburg was the star. With wit and precision she grilled both lawyers, who have the hapless position of arguing their case in a strict 30 minute time allotment while each of the justices routinely interrupted them to completely redirect the flow of the argument. Being able to think on your feet that quickly, all while displaying complete reverence to a rude and hostile group of judges seated above you displays intelligence I’ve never seen on display. All the justices got in on the act in the first case, except Kennedy, which is frustrating in that he is certainly the swing justice in this case, and Clarence Thomas, a horrific boor who should be ashamed of himself.

About two minutes into the first lawyers opening argument, Thomas had ceased paying attention. He stretched his feet out, leaned back in his chair, and began rocking himself to sleep. He closed his eyes, and covered face with his left hand to obscure the glaring lights. He rested motionlessly in that position for periods of five to ten minutes at a time. At completely random moments, not in response to anything said, Thomas would stir and start scribbling. He would then hand a note to an attentive clerk, who would furtively bring the note over to Scalia, who would usually chuckle, then write something back. Thomas would receive the note back, chuckle, then nod back off to sleep. Occasionally, when Scalia looked busy, Thomas would turn to his neighbor, Breyer, and whisper to him. Breyer would nod blandly. Thomas carried on in this manor for the entire two hours that the cases were heard. While I had always heard that he was silent during oral arguments, I never realized the extent of his unprofessionalism and utter worthlessness. It will be a great day when we see him go.

His partner in criminality, Scalia, was contrastingly sharp and animated, his rotundity much more prominent in person. The Round Mound of Formalism cracked jokes when he was in a good mood, but livid when neither side of a case submitted a certain statute in their accompanying documents. “Your argument is based on Title VII, your argument is based on our deciding the Title VII question…” His voice was rising, and he was flipping through papers, “Both of you want to keep talking about Title VII, but it’s not here, it’s not in the briefs, it’s not anywhere, how are we going to decide this case if we don’t even have the statute!” He angrily smashed the whole stack of papers against the table, and for a moment it felt like even the Third Branch was having a FEMA moment.

Despite our fondest dreams, however, Thomas and Scalia will probably stick it through the Obama era. The next president will be replacing Stevens and Ginsburg, both of whom demonstrated a mental vibrancy sharply distinguished with their aging health. I propose that the Big O go for Harold Koh, the one man show. If ya’ll don’t know him, look him up. He’d be a damn good justice, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a first Asian something.

Folks, next stop is Ohio. There’s still time to get on board- we’re picking out rental cars in the next day or two. Email if you’re down for the road trip. When the next Dispatch goes down, it will go down in C-Bus, home of Abercrombie and Fitch, the heart of the Buckeye Battleground. Get bells, whistles and mayhem ready.

And remember Cassius Clay, for he is the GREATEST!

Cassius Clay: This album will go six ZILLION.

Reporter: But Cassius, no album has ever sold- six zillion!

Cassius Clay: That’s because I’ve never recorded. And I am the Greatest!

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.

New Poll

Which of these is the worst campaign promo you’ve ever seen?

The first is a web ad that the Hillary people are airing. We’ll call it “Worst Political Ad Ever” for short. The second is a full song promo the campaign made in response to the Will.I.Am video. We’ll call it “Train Wreck” for short. I swear these are not parodies.

Please watch both, and cast your vote by emailing Bonus points for whoever can make it through the entirety of Train Wreck without looking away.

And Finally…A Clip That Will Make Your Day

Parody of Will.I.Am video about Bombs Away McCain

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.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

MC'ing for Kittens Ablaze at R-BAR

Dispatches, Volume 7

Living the Dream in Obamaville...

After a final debate showdown in Hollywood and on the heels of a thrilling Superbowl, the biggest primary day in American history deserves the epic treatment it is getting. When the dust settled from this week, two formerly top tier candidates were gone, Obama and Clinton were tied, and McCain completed his resurrection from the political grave to become the frontrunner for the Republican nomination despite professing to not know anything about the economy. Yeah, he’ll be tough to run against. Check out this choice excerpt from Gail Collins at the New York Times:

I am an independent and looking for a president with integrity. Should I vote for John McCain or Barack Obama?

Didn’t we all swear to stop picking the candidate who would be most fun to go on a picnic with? You’re torn between the guy who’s been against the war from the beginning and the guy who’s willing to stay in Iraq for 100 years? Between the guy who wants to pay for a $50 billion-a-year health care program by eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy, and the guy who wants to keep the tax cuts and pay for them by cutting the budget? Get a grip.

Rudy’s shell shacking in Florida marks a fitting end to a campaign that never should have been. You can tell a lot about a person from the way he runs his campaign- if Rudy’s biggest vice (among many) was rampant hubris, so went his campaign, collapsing under the worst strategy any primary candidate has used in decades after he wouldn’t listen to common sense advice. The other departure, of course, was John Edwards. Though I’ve always found him a bit shallow and disingenuous, he is a good Party man, and I’ll give him a separate column in the days to come.

The other big story this week is the Obama endorsement train, which has been, to quote Eliot Spitzer, ‘A fucking steamroller!’ Ted Kennedy was followed by, The Nation, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, the California SEIU, and to add some muscle to the campaign, former WWF superstar Hulk Hogan. Hulk Hogan’s entrance music, “I am a real American,” is so patriotic that little American flags sprout out of the ground when you play it. For Republicans who will try to hammer Obama on national security issues this fall, we’ll counter with the man who not only defeated the Iron Sheik, but also crushed Sergeant Slaughter after his defection to the Iraqi government in the lead up to the Persian Gulf War (yes, that plotline did happen…).

Obama also netted the endorsement of environmental organizer and Rovingstorm reader Billy Parish, who was listed as one of SALON Magazine’s 25 Sexiest Men of 2007. Somewhat surprisingly, Obama overcame Rupert Murdoch’s chummy relations with Hillary Clinton to win the endorsement of the New York Post, proving that the only thing the Post hates worse than liberals is the New York Times.

The poll-mentum and behavior of the campaigns resembles the scrambling and the fury that accompanies fourth quarter dramatics (The Superbowl and Super Tuesday overlapped fleetingly via a 30 second Obama advertisement). Obama was behind by over 20 points nationally as recently as early January, but he is running a devastatingly effective two minute offense. He’s stumping to monster crowds in places like Boise, Idaho (15,000 people), Denver (18,000 people) and Minneapolis, where he sold out the 20,000 seat Target Center in less than 24 hours. His volunteers are pounding the pavement- Saturday there were 1,000 Obama canvassers in New Jersey. The steady roll out of endorsements has led to perpetually positive media cycles, for which David Axelrod should get tremendous credit.

The ability to play the media is no small achievement; the Gore and Kerry losses, not to mention the run up to Iraq, were products of the Republicans mastery of the media. Shaping the media narrative is simply one more playing field where Democrats need to be tough and savvy and not back down from Republicans. In contrast to the manic Obama campaign, Hillary is running out the clock. She goes to bed every night praying it’ll be Tuesday already when she wakes up in the morning. And as sports fans know, running out the clock is only a good idea when your opponent doesn’t have time to catch up. Poll numbers as of Monday morn have Obama ahead in about five of the Super Tuesday states and within the margin of error in many others, including California, Massachusetts and New Jersey. While it’s fair to note that polls have been awfully inaccurate this primary season, one would be hard-pressed to spin the trajectory of the polls, which have been a dead man’s flatline for Hillary and a Google stock upswing for Obama.

California will play the decider for this primary. Yes, yes, of course ‘it’s all about the delegates’, and these primaries award proportional delegates very generously. But unless Super Tuesday ends up being a total wash, the winner of California will likely be seen as ‘the winner’, and seize the accompanying momentum. Obama is going to win, at the very least, several states in the South and Midwest. Clinton, barring a complete collapse, will do well in the Northeast. California is the real prize both campaigns are clawing for. And California’s been there before.

In 1968, Senator Bobby Kennedy and Senator Eugene McCarthy battled to the end, with RFK seizing the day with a 42%-37% victory. Kennedy, of course, was tragically assassinated that night. Because back then most delegates were not awarded through the primary system, the nomination ended up going to the pro-war Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had not even run in the primaries. This fact, compounded with other elements of social turmoil, led a raucous protest outside the Democratic convention in Chicago, which ended in an infamous riot, with policemen beating the hell out of college kids as tear gas flew through the air. Hunter S. Thompson said the Chicago riots ended the 1960s. Efforts to redraft the primary and convention process were headed by Senator George McGovern, who ironically became the first beneficiary of the new system, overcoming great odds to win the Democratic nomination in 1972, which he sealed by defeating Hubert Humphrey in the California primary, 44%-39%. Back then the California primary was in June, a month before the convention. If you’re tired of listening to talking heads now, you’re in for a long nine months.

But the outcome in California will be moot if we can take out the Ice Queen in her own backyard (even though it’s not really even her own backyard). I spent Saturday flyering in Spanish Harlem. Talking to voters in front of Pathway was a sad, trying experience. Everyone seemed beleaguered by life, lots of wheelchairs, lots of disillusionment, three different people who told me they supported Obama, but as felons, couldn’t vote. Given that the prison industrial complex already devotes so much money to putting minorities in jail and keeping them there, the least we could do is return these people their rights as citizens when they get out. Plus, the dramatic expansion of what is considered a felony has cast a wider net than ever over who this affects.

The day turned far more inspirational when a group of about 40 got together for a rally and a march up Lexington Avenue. As we walked down the street chanting slogans, passing out literature and handing out Obama signs to honking cars, I wondered aloud, “I’ve never been on a march like this for a political candidate.” “That’s because this isn’t just a normal political campaign, this is a movement,” my friend Aidil responded. It was a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. Other folks were volunteering all over the city, at Union Square, Columbus Circle, Fulton Street, Harlem, Inwood. I found out at night that my friend Will, a bedrock Republican, spent the afternoon handing out flyers, the first time he has ever volunteered for a political campaign, and that made me Hillary-eyed.

We rendezvoud with other volunteers at a rally in Times Square outside the MTV studios. The energy was off the charts- if you took more than a few seconds to catch your breath, the chanters around you would give you weird looks. The TRL crowd at MTV waved to us in the streets, and we waved and cheered back. Timmy remarked, “I never dreamed the day would come when I would be standing in Times Square willingly, waving to the people at TRL.” Don’t worry Timmy, once Kittens Ablaze gets big you’ll get used to it. Next show is Saturday, February 9th at Fat-Baby in the Lower East Side.

Obama supporters outnumbered Clinton supporters by about 4 to 1 in Times Square, though credit has to be given to the Ron Paul supporters, who looked like possessed witch-hunters, thrusting pocket constitutions in the air and shrieking, ‘When will you wake up America?!’

After the rallies I was walking up 8th Avenue when an old Jamaican woman asked me where I got my Latinos for Obama sign (Oh, to be ambiguously brown-skinned…). It turned out she was on her way to Kinkos to make 200 copies of an Obama info sheet she was distributing to her friends and neighbors. I gave her my sign and we hugged goodbye. The energy and enthusiasm behind this campaign is boundless, and that will propel us to victory. At an event in Newark this morning I was supposed to hand out about a few hundred Obama Vote for Change placards, an easy enough sounding assignment that turned haywire as people grabbed at my clothing, begging, pleading, sometimes aggressively yelling, just to be that much closer to the magic. All for a placard.

Saturday night we went to an Obama fundraiser at a Chelsea loft, which featured a real open bar, soccer juggling, and dancing. In Obamaville even fundraisers are awesome. And the vibe of an Obama event is so positive and fun that you could picture being stranded on a desert island with these people for the rest of your life. And for at least the next three days, we will ride together.

The pride of the Empire State is on the line, the state that produced Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and elected Senator Bobby Kennedy, and we owe it to that legacy to show some good judgment. Plus, this time Rick Lazio won’t be on the ballot. The choice is clear, and the moment is now. The New York Giants have sounded the clarion call, 2008 WILL be the Year of the Underdog, and it's about damn time.

Looking to pass the time?

If you're reading this now, you probably have some time on your hands. These are three excellent youtube clips that'll knock the Sunday hang over right out of you.

Norm MacDonald’s amazing appearance on Conan:

Sarah Silverman’s “I’m Fucking Matt Damon”:

Dan Quayle Collage:

Baby Panda Sneezing:

But of course...if you're just looking for the most inspiring video of the year, here it is: