Saturday, January 26, 2008

What kind of a President

will we have? Increasingly, that's the most important question in both parties.

On the Republican side, will they pick the uber-panderer Mitt Romney or the nearly-straight arrow McCain?

On the Democratic side, what started as questions about experience and details on issues has blown up into a test on the character issue. In today's NYT Bob Herbert sums up what the campaign has become, and who's responsible. And at the present, the issue is what kind of person Democrats want in the White House.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Remember that war?

What country was it in? Italy? Ireland? Indonesia? No, Iraq. I knew it started with an 'I'.

The war has become part of the background noise--a couple of Americans killed now and then, a suicide bombing or two, just the same-old, same-old. And Republicans--especially John McCain--are actually crowing over how well the war is going. We're winning!

Well, maybe not. Today's NYT describes how our Sunni allies have been targeted by assassinations and bombings, shaking their resolve. These are people who threw in with us out of a cool calculation of their political and economic interests, not out of loyalty to American ideals (or what my be left of them). If working with us and the Iraqi government (or what may be left of it) threatens their lifespans, they'll go home--taking with them all the shiny weaponry we've given them--or switch sides again.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Could it be?

M.J. Rosenberg suggests that Democrats are on their way to losing in November, thanks to the smear campaign against Barack Obama.

Race in the race?

Slate cites a new poll that shows Obama with 70 percent of the black vote in South Carolina, but only 17 percent of the white. How much of that reflects the racial factors injected into the campaign--or not, depending on whom you believe--in the last couple of weeks.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Maureen Dowd was talking about in her column today.

Maureen Dowd gets it

Yes, she does:
If Bill Clinton has to trash his legacy to protect his legacy, so be it. If he has to put a dagger through the heart of hope to give Hillary hope, so be it.
The Clintons — or “the 2-headed monster,” as the The New York Post dubbed the tag team that clawed out wins in New Hampshire and Nevada — always go where they need to go, no matter the collateral damage. Even if the damage is to themselves and their party.
Read the whole article here.

The arrogance continues

Bush renominates Stephen Bradbury to be an assistant attorney general. Bradbury was the author of a pair of memoranda that OK'd intensive interrogation techniques--torture by any other name--used by the CIA. His original nomination was sent back to the White House before the first session of the current Congress ended.

A Message to Paul Krugman

I have sent the following to Paul Krugman, through The New York Times' web mail system. I told him that I would post his here, and I have pledged that any response will be posted promptly, verbatim and without comment. (Please note that The Times website says that delivery of emails may be delayed.)

Mr. Krugman,

I have been a fan of yours for years. However, your attacks on Barack Obama--which have grown into a vendetta--have greatly diminished my respect for you.

You began by attacking Sen. Obama's call for steps to assure the financial foundation of Social Security, and implied that he was giving aid and comfort to those who want to privatize it. To the contrary, Barack Obama has always been clear that he opposes privatization. His proposal to deal with the obligations that Social Security and Medicare entail is both the most liberal and the fairest of any Democratic candidate: he has called for raising the ceiling on the payroll tax base from its present $97,000. He has accompanied this with a proposal for a refundable credit against the first $500 person of payroll taxes--a measure that would at least reduce regressive effect of that most regressive of federal levies. (More about that proposal below.)

You then attacked Mr. Obama's healthcare proposal in no fewer than three of your valuable columns, although you admitted that "there is a huge divide between Republicans and Democrats on health care, and the Obama plan — although weaker than the Edwards or Clinton plans — is very much on the Democratic side of that divide." (Dec. 7, 2007.) Your essential disagreement with the Senator was stated fully in the first of these articles: you believe that mandated insurance is necessary and he does not. Fair enough. Is that difference so vital that you needed to re-state it three times over a period of a bit more than two weeks?

You also criticized Sen. Obama for saying that he would be ready to sit down and talk to interests such as the health insurers. Do you really believe that the insurers, hospital chains and physicians' organizations can be kept out of the national debate over health insurance? Would you also keep unions and consumer groups out of that debate? Such an approach smacks of the Clinton attempt to write a national health insurance proposal behind closed doors. We all know how well that went.

Last week, you described Mr. Obama's response to the looming economic crisis as "disreputable." The proposal you referred to was the one I mentioned above, to rebate payroll taxes to working Americans. I'm not an economist, but that sounds like an effective stimulus to me: it would put money in the pockets of those who will spend it. The idea is certainly not disreputable. While you heaped opprobrium on the Obama proposals, you nowhere suggested that they would not work, nor even that they would be less effective in stimulating the economy than the plans of Sens. Edwards or Clinton. Given your credentials as an economist, I conclude from your omission that, in fact, Mr. Obama's plan would work as well as those of the other Democrats.

While criticizing Sen. Obama's stimulus proposal, you have been notably silent on Mr. Bush's, which really is disreputable. Given that it is becoming clear that the President's people are trying to stampede Congress into quick action as a way to obtain measures that will favor the wealthy and powerful, I suggest that you would do well to turn your guns on that proposal.

In your most recent column, you attacked Sen. Obama's remarks about Ronald Reagan. While I hold no brief for Mr. Reagan (I regard him as the worst President in our history, until the present incumbent) and agree that the Senator's comments were ill-advised--because they opened him to attacks like yours--what Sen. Obama said was true. Mr. Reagan did, indeed, offer a "sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing" in the bleak Carter years; indeed, President Carter said much the same thing when he spoke of a national "malaise." In your column, you conveniently assumed that Mr. Obama was applauding Reganomics. His words, however, do not say that. (As an aside, the "conservative editorial board" to which you asserted that Mr. Obama was speaking endorsed Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.)

We now know that Sen. Clinton described Mr. Regan by saying: “When he had those big tax cuts and they went too far, he oversaw the largest tax increase. He could call the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and then negotiate arms-control agreements. He played the balance and the music beautifully.” May we expect your next column to take her on for being so favorable to the late president?

You are the master of your column (within the editorial guidelines of the paper). You are free to support or oppose any candidate or policy. The way you have been using your power lately has, however, not enhanced but reduced your credibility.

Thank you for your attention.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Boundless cynicism and rank hypocrisy

A few days ago, I discussed Barack Obama's unfortunate reference to Ronald Reagan. Predictably, Hillary Clinton pummeled him about it on last night's debate. I thought Obama did a good job of counter-punching, coolly pointing out that he was not talking about the substance of Reagan's policies. One of his remarks fell flat, however: when he asserted that Mrs. Clinton had been more complimentary about Mr. Reagan in an interview for Tom Brokaw's soon-to-be published book. Not being able to quote what she had said, Obama was unable to land his punch.

So what did Hillary say? According to the NYT, this:
When he had those big tax cuts and they went too far, he oversaw the largest tax increase. He could call the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and then negotiate arms-control agreements. He played the balance and the music beautifully.
Now, I don't think that Clinton was expressing admiration for Regan's policies, any more than Obama did. I think she meant to express admiration for the late president's political skills. Fine. What bothers me is that, having said what she did, she had the effrontery, the unmitigated gall, to attack Barack Obama for his remarks. That kind of shameless hypocrisy is a Republican tactic.

In like manner, the Clinton camp's attempt to keep Nevada Democrats from caucusing at the casinos along the Las Vegas Strip was a step taken out of the Republican playbook. (As it happened, she won most of those caucuses, but her campaign wasn't taking any chances.) Suppressing the vote is a Republican tactic; Democrats should reject such moves.

As it has been pressed over the last three weeks, the Clinton campaign has engaged more and more in the kind of mindless cynicism and rank hypocrisy that marks the party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. That's disgraceful.

Obama was right last night, when he said that the way you campaign says something about the way you'll govern. Hillary Clinton's campaign says that the way she governs will be hard to distinguish from a Republican administration. Is that what we want?

Is that what he really wants to say?

Campaigning in Georgia (which has a February 5th primary), Bill Clinton said he'll be "the abominable snowman" if Hillary Clinton wins.

Does he think that's going to win her more votes? Hmmm.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Counting Down

Lest we forget:

George W. Bush's last year in the White House began at 12:00 noon today.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obama and Reagan

Barack Obama has been getting "slammed" by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards over remarks he made about Ronald Reagan. Here's what Obama said, in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal:
Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.

I think it's fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10 to 15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.
Now, the first thing to say about this is that the Illinois senator was ill-advised in his remarks. Actually, he was dumb--something that the former president of the Harvard Law Review is not known for. He should have realized that mentioning Ronald Reagan without heaping scorn or ridicule on him--if not linking him with George W. Bush and/or the Devil, would leave him open for exactly the kind of attacks he has had to endure this week.

But, you know something? Obama was right. I'm no fan of Reagan--until the latest occupant of the Oval Office, he was in my estimation the worst President in history, because he did evil effectively, unlike, say, James Buchanan or Millard Filmore. That being said, Reagan's accession did change the direction that America moved in. Very much for the worse, but it changed. And Republicans were a party of ideas at a time when we liberals and Democrats generally were pretty well played out. The ideas turned out to be as wrong-headed as we said they were, but they were out there at a period in history when our side had only bromides to answer with.

Being accurate isn't going to get Obama off the hook, much less win more support from Democrats for his remarks. But the truth of his observation ought to be noted.

There is one other inaccuracy in the Senator's comments that should be pointed out, too: Republicans were a party of ideas earlier than he said. Once they got power, in 1994, the ideas were replaced by policies, as is usually the case. A lesson for Democrats.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Nice while it lasted

The Democratic candidates' promise to play nice (made during Monday night's debate) didn't last long. Taking a page from the Republican playbook, Hillary Clinton's campaign is sending out a mailer in Nevada (hey also used it in NH) that accuses Barack Obama of having "a plan with a trillion dollar tax increase on America's hard working families."

To paraphrase Clinton's husband, it all depends on what you mean by hard working families. The mailer refers to Obama's plan to assure the financial integrity of the Social Security system by extending the payroll tax above its present $97,000 cap. So the hard-working families in question are those making $100,000 or more. I'm sure that there are, indeed, many hard-working Americans in that category (which comprises a whopping 3 percent of US workers), but I don't think that's the group Clinton is trying to scare here.

The truth is that the payroll tax, which is the most regressive federal levy, hits working people hard--almost 9 percent of their wages are taken out for Social Security and Medicare. Yet rich people hardly feel the pinch. The executive earning $250,000 pays a much smaller percentage of his income in payroll tax than the working stiff. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet don't feel it at all.

Obama explained his proposal in this post from TPM's Election Central.

Also of note: Obama has proposed a refundable tax credit against the first $500 of payroll tax, which would make even the present system a bit less regressive.

There are a lot of people who don't like Hillary Clinton because she's a woman, and others because she and Bill stood against the Republican tidal wave (to some of us they didn't stand strongly enough), but she is also widely disliked, even despised, especially among Democrats for the kind of scorched-earth tactics exhibited in this instance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The cost of globalization

Today's NYT has a terrific story on the effect that loss of factory jobs has on people in southern Ohio. The stories of human suffering remind me of a telling anecdote about General George Marshall, chief of staff of the Army during WWII. Marshal was an austere man--there were only about six men in the entire Army who called him "George," but when he prepared the strength figures for FDR, he made sure that the casualties were in a contrasting color (red?), because, he said, "otherwise they become just numbers." Maybe that gives a clue as to why Marshal authored the Marshal plan and won the Nobel Peace Prize. But I digress.

We can't stop the effects of globalization, and its benefits (to people who lived worse before even sweatshop jobs were available, for instance) outweigh its costs, but that is no excuse for letting the victims of economic change suffer unnecessarily. The candidates--both Republican and Democratic--should be asked frequently what they will do for people such as those profiled in the NYT story.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Boundless cynicism?

I don't believe that Hillary Clinton intended to inject race into the campaign when she compared the contributions of Martin Luther King and LBJ in enacting the civil rights laws of the 1960s; I think she made an unfortunate and awkward analogy. On the other hand, she has not had the grace to admit that her choice of words was inapt. (Contrast this to Obama's appearance on GMA, last week, where he did say that his comment, "Hillary, you're likable enough," at the final New Hampshire debate was a mistake.)

Nor do I think that Bill Clinton was referring to the dream of Obama becoming president when he used the phrase, "it's a fantasy;" in context, he was clearly making reference to the assertion that Obama has been a consistent opponent of the Iraq war. Clinton was wrong about his charge, but it wasn't racism or demeaning Obama as a candidate. (See talkingpointsmemo for an analysis of this.)

However, a number of Clinton campaign officials and surrogates have made comments that raise implications of race and/or behavior stereotypically assigned to black males. Her co-chair in New Hampshire asked whether Obama had ever distributed any of the drugs that he long ago admitted using as a teenager. Andrew Cuomo, attorney-general of New York, said that Obama could not "shuck and jive" his way into contention. Yesterday, prominent Clinton supporter Robert Johnson--founder of Black Entertainment Television--asserted that the Clintons were "deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood." He later tried to deny that he was referring to Obama's use of drugs, making the absurd allegation that he was speaking about the Senator's work as a community organizer.

The worrying part of this is that Clinton has not reined in her supporters. True, Bill Shaheen resigned from her campaign, but that was clearly a matter of PR. Just as clearly, Hillary and Bill have not put out the word that these kinds of attacks are out of bounds. Which leads me to conclude that they have embraced the "politics of personal destruction" that they used to decry. They seem also to have calculated that the loss of votes she may suffer among blacks will be more than offset by the number of whites she may attract. That's the kind of divisive politics that used to be the exclusive province of Republicans.

When these attacks are taken with the suit by Clinton allies to block the holding of Democratic caucuses in Las Vegas casinos--a move that came more than a year after the state Democrat Party decided to set them up, but only a few days after the Culinary Workers' union (which represents casino employees) endorsed Obama--it's clear that Clinton has embarked on a scorched earth campaign to win the nomination. The boundless cynicism that the campaign's tactics represent (the NYT has revealed that both Bill and Hillary have been misstating the Iraq war resolution that she voted for) is bad for the party, bad for the Democratic Party and, very likely, bad for her as well. It's also bad for the country.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Look who wants to close Guantanamo

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which makes him the President's top military advisor.

While we note that Adm. Mullen does not make the case for shutting Gitmo on moral or legal grounds, but on the harm that it is doing to the US image abroad, at least he's on the right side here.

It's interesting that he'd go public with this. Since becoming chair of the Joint Chiefs, in October, he must have had chances to bring his view to Mr. Bush's attention. Could he be trying an end-run around White House opposition?

All in a day's work

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has decided that four British men held at Guantanamo were not "persons," and that "It was foreseeable that conduct that would ordinarily be indisputably 'seriously criminal' would be implemented by military officials responsible for detaining and interrogating suspected enemy combatants,'' McClatchy reports. (In other words, torture was to be expected.)

As the men's lawyer, Eric Lewis, noted, "It is an awful day for the rule of law and common decency when a court finds that torture is all in a day's work for the secretary of defense and senior generals."

At a time when many of us are focused on the November elections and the end of the Bush administration, we should all remember the injustices that are still being committed in our names and, in all likelihood, will be for many months to come.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Getting it off my chest

At the risk of being criticized as sexist and/or partisan (I plead innocent to the first, gleefully guilty to the second), I must express my resentment of a sentiment echoed by some--and I emphasize only some--Clinton supporters who seem miffed by Barack Obama's candidacy. Or maybe by the fact that he's giving the New York senator a tough tussle.

A number of women, and some men, seem to have the attitude that it's Hillary's turn: After all those years of walking a step behind, all the pain and humiliation that Bill heaped on her, it's her time to be President. I sense that mixed in with this attitude is the feeling that it's time for a woman President.

I have no quarrel with a woman as candidate or President. If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination--and she well may--I'll work enthusiastically for her election. But she's not owed anything because of her personal history or her sex, any more than Obama is because he's black or John Edwards because he came out of a poor working-class background, or John McCain because of his heroic military service.

There's another strand to this that I've heard from time to time--not, let me make it clear, from Sen. Clinton or her campaign--and that is the view that Hillary would make a better President because of her sex. Would that it were so. History, however, shows no grounds for believing it. Think Margaret Thatcher or Indira Gandhi. Or, to take a happier example, Golda Meir: Ms. Meir was a colorful and effective prime minister for Israel, but did she govern differently from her male predecessors and successors? It is hard to see anything that we might regard as related to her being a woman. And in Hillary Clinton's case, given her relentlessly centrist history of careful political calculation, it is especially difficult to believe that her sex would make an iota of difference in how she would handle the presidency.

OK, I've got that off my chest.

(Disclaimer: nothing in this post, or any other post on this blog, represents inside information from any campaign; TONE doesn't have any of that. Nor does TONE speak for any campaign; the opinions expressed here are solely those of the editor, and all comment and criticism should be directed to and at him.)

Old politics

Will the Democratic race--now essentially a two-person affair--turn into an old-fashioned slug-fest, in which the candidates focus more on each other than on the issues? I hope not, for several reasons. For one thing, such a development would diminish the level of debate about the nation's problems and its future, and that is vitally important.

Then, too, such a trend would favor the Clinton campaign, not least by inducing Barack Obama to get off of his platform of focusing on the shape of our national debate and down into the muck. That would diminish him and his appeal. It's hard to stand above the fray when your opponents are getting down and dirty, but it's probably the only way for him to win. And it can work; Obama's friend and supporter, Gov. Deval Patrick, refused to go negative when the Republicans tried to savage him in 2006, and he won going away. Granted, he had a weak opponent, but his huge margin showed that voters appreciated the way he had kept the campaign focused on his goals.

Already there's a building controversy over whether the Clinton camp is engaging in subtle appeals based on race; you may recall that Hillary made reference to the efforts of Martin Luther King, but finished by saying that "it took a president," to get the civil rights laws of the '60's enacted. A Clinton supporter said that Obama could not "shuck and jive" his way to the presidency. And Bill Clinton got flak for saying that Obama's account of his opposition to the Vietnam war was "a fairy tale," a remark that was interpreted by some as a reference to the Illinois senator's effort to become President.

It is more than passing strange that the Clinton camp should be accused of racial insensitivity--Bill Clinton was often referred to as the first black president--but these kinds of things happen in campaigns. It's one reason why campaigns are a kind of war game for the presidency--a test to see which of the candidates is up for the job.

The worst thing for Obama would be to get involved in this kind of stuff. If the Clinton camp gets itself embroiled in questions, let it take the heat from black voters. Obama needs to keep to his agenda, not get dragged into petty squabbles.

(Disclaimer: nothing in this post, or any other post on this blog, represents inside information from any campaign; TONE doesn't have any of that. Nor does TONE speak for any campaign; the opinions expressed here are solely those of the editor, and all comment and criticism should be directed to and at him.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Historical perspective

A week ago, if Obama had come been less than three percent behind Clinton in New Hampshire, that would have been the story.

A good thing?

In her victory speech on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said that she had listened to New Hampshire voters and, in doing so, had found her voice. If that's true, it will make her a better candidate and, if she is elected, a better President. In tonight's interview with Katie Couric, however, I thought that, while trying to show her human side, she was slipping back into the old pattern, where we can see the wheels turning before every word. It's hard to break long habits of mind.

In Saturday's debate, I thought Obama looked "presidential:" he was willing to concede that Clinton had legitimate disagreements with him, he was calm and showed an open-mindedness that stamps the true leader, and the person who has enough confidence to acknowledge others' positions. The press, however, concentrated on Clinton's defense of her "thirty-five years of working for change." And that became the line of the debate, because that's what they saw: I'd bet that for a lot of voters, that line was all that they saw of the debate: I doubt that most of them were up after 10 p.m. on Saturday, watching the umpteenth Democratic debate when there was a football game on the other channel. Frankly, I thought Clinton's response was querulous in tone (remember that I don't pretend to be an objective observer) and her argument not one she should really want the voters to concentrate on: If, after three decades of making change, we are in our present perilous and parlous condition, how is that an argument for electing her President? Still, in the short-term, hothouse atmosphere of a late-stage campaign, it worked.

I, for one, thought that the break in Clinton's voice on Monday was an expression of heartfelt emotion. The trouble is, it will be difficult to repeat. If Hillary starts displaying her emotions frequently, all the old allegations of cynically planning every move will re-surface with a vengeance. Worse, the people who believed Monday's reaction (to a question about where she gets her hair done) to have been genuine will feel they've been played for fools.

A final thought: this defeat may help Obama, as well as Clinton. A tougher campaign will make him a better candidate and a better President.

So, what happened?

The analysts and pundits have are taking the results of the New Hampshire apart; I don't pretend to have their knowledge or skills. But here's a brief take:

Were Hillary's feistiness in Saturday night's debate, and the break in her voice in answering a question on Monday important? Probably. I agree, however, with the person (with so many commenting, I am sorry but I can't recall who it was) who said that New Hampshire voters did not want the Democratic campaign to end. I, and other enthusiastic Obama supporters, DID want to end it in New Hampshire: we wanted to put a hurt on Clinton's campaign and build up unstoppable momentum. But I think that Granite State voters wanted to give the country a better look at our guy--or, rather, that they were sufficiently unsure of their so-far short acquaintance with him that they did not want to make him the nominee in only the second contest. In that sense, the polls and the comments of the pundits hurt Obama.

That reasoning would explain one of the most surprising findings from the exit polls yesterday: that Clinton and Obama split the late-deciders evenly. Political wisdom teaches that the challenger always wins among those who are undecided late; if a voter is going to be for the incumbent, he or she would is likely to have decided well before the voting. Clinton is the equivalent of an in incumbent in the Democratic race--the candidate that voters have known well for years. On Tuesday, logic was turned on its head.

View from the foxhole

I had hoped to have the time to post during the closing days of the campaign in New Hampshire; lack of energy turned out to be the real obstacle.

I'm not going to recap my experiences except to say that I walked a lot of streets, climbed a lot of front steps (and some back ones) and knocked on a lot of doors. I did one neighborhood three times in two days. There are some people in southern New Hampshire who probably feel they know me better than they know their neighbors. (But will they miss me now that I'm gone?)

I said that I was going off to serve as a campaign footsolder--a term that turned out to be more true than I had intended: In the last four days of my time in New Hampshire, I walked 30-40 miles. But the real story, from my perspective, was my perspective. I saw the campaign from the viewpoint of a private; what I knew of the struggle was limited to what I could see, hear and feel (like the pain in my lower back and the wet that crept through my broken-down boots).

As it happens, I've been reading Alamo in the Ardennes, by John C. McManus, a book about the early stages of the Battle of the Bulge; I now have a new appreciation of the way that the common soldier perceives the battle. In the middle of the hardest struggle, there is someone who is having a quiet war; in the middle of the greatest triumph, some grunt is being overrun by the about-to-be routed enemy. Which is why we can't all be generals, and most of us have to follow our orders and hope for the best.

The difference between me and the GI's at the Bulge--outside of the fact that I got to sleep in my own bed each night (after a 60-minute drive) and that no one was trying to kill me--was that I had a little time to see the news and scan the blogs, so I had an idea of what was happening in the world at large. Not in the campaign, of course, as NO ONE--not even Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama--knew what was really happening.

So now I'm back on familiar ground, back to the work-a-day world, and getting ready for Super Duper Tuesday on February 5th, when we here in Massachusetts will get our chance to vote.

Friday, January 04, 2008


My Dad, Leon Margolis, would have been 100 years old today.

Note from the trail

Just time for a quick note.

I got to Nashua yesterday morning and immediately became the go-to guy: "Go to this address and pick up three interns." "Go here with a bunch of people and organize literature for get-out-the-the-vote canvassing," "Go here and pick up people who've been making signs."

There are people in the Obama campaign from all over the country: A woman from DC who works for the National Democratic Institute, a guy from Virginia, another who came all the way from Arizona for the week, and a young woman who lives in the lovely Diane's hometown of Portland, OR (although she goes to Boston University). The Nashua HQ was so packed that navigating across the room was a major effort. Spirits were high even before last night's triumph in Iowa.

OK, time to go and get bundled up: It's 7 in Boston, Lord knows how cold in Southern NH this morning, and we're going canvassing.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Off to the north country

Tomorrow I'm off to New Hampshire to campaign for Barack Obama. No, I'm not going to speak to any gatherings as a surrogate (i.e., stand-in) for the Senator, nor am I going to introduce him, or even act as his driver. I'm going to be making calls, maybe knocking on doors, possibly standing outside a polling station on primary day. So, although I'll try to give you some insights from the world of the campaign foot-soldier, this may be my last post for a while. See you next week--after the world changes.

Hail and farewell

Tom Lantos (D-CA), the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress, has announced that he will not run for another term, after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He will be missed.

What to debate?

A few days ago, I suggested that the leading Democratic candidates have three different definitions of change. Now I suggest that they also have three different arguments in mind: Hillary Clinton wants to continue the debates of the 1990's. John Edwards wants to return to the debates of the 1890s. Barack Obama wants to start the debate of the 21st Century.

OK, there's some over-simplification there. And regular readers will know that your editor favors Obama. But there's not as much bias involved as you might think. The arguments of the '90's remain un-resolved; many of us faulted Bill Clinton precisely because he did not push those arguments hard enough. As for the populist arguments that John Edwards is making, haven't you felt, during the past seven years, that we are re-fighting the battles--for workers' rights, for government protection of the public's health and welfare--that were fought at the turn of the Twentieth Century? And as for Obama's desire to open up a new kind of debate, even those of us who support him enthusiastically must admit that we do not yet know what that debate may involve, much less how it will turn out.

Just how democratic is the Iowa caucus?

The New York Times had a good story today, not about Iowa caucus-goers, but about those who cannot caucus: military personnel on active duty, restaurant workers who have evening shifts, those who labor in hospitals and nursing homes, factory workers on the third shift. Not to mention firefighters, police, single parents who do not have child care for that night, shut-ins and, in many cases, the disabled. When Iowans talk about how much they value their method of political participation, they should spare a thought for those who are excluded.

There's also the matter of having to make one's choice publicly. For many of us that is no problem--we put bumper stickers on our cars, wear buttons, carry signs and otherwise express our preferences. But the idea of the secret ballot represents recognition that not everyone is willing--or can afford--to stand up. When we think of secret ballots, we probably have official intimidation in mind, but consider the case of the voter whose boss is an avid supporter of one candidate: should we ask the subordinate to show the courage necessary to oppose the boss's choice?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The 8:30 Club

Shortly before the New Year, George Goverman called to tell me that, "the last member of the 8:30 Club has died." That last member of the club was his mother, Mae Dolby. Mae knew me since I was born; she knew my brother, who is ten years older, from his birth, too.

The 8:30 Club was an informal group of about a dozen couples; my parents and George's parents, Mae and her first husband, Obie Goverman, were members. (A few years after Obie died, Mae married a very nice man named Harold Dolby; I wonder if he new he was getting more than a new family; he was getting the club, too.)

The club got its name from its meetings: 8:30 on Tuesday nights, rotating among the homes of members. For many years, the women played canasta and the men pinochle. (Does anyone play either of those games any more?) As times changed and their numbers began to thin, they shifted to mixed games of bridge. There were also New Years' Eve parties, not to mention the bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings of member's children.

The most significant things about "the club," were the closeness of the friendships, and their longevity: the members were friends for sixty years, apart from some who did not live long enough to meet that milestone.

There were, of course, relationships within the club: my mother didn't speak to all of the other wives every day, only to two or three of them; to another three or four she probably spoke two, three or four times a week. We didn't have business or professional relationships with all of the men either, but Obie Goverman was Dad's lawyer and my pediatrician was George Kahn, whom my father had met when both were in college; George's wife, Ida Mae, and my mother grew up near each other, in New Jersey.

Those of us who were children of club members knew that if there there was a bar or bat mitzvah, or a wedding, the club would be there. In weddings, there were tables for the bride's side, tables for the groom's side, and a table or two for the club. It was a given.

Growing up, it seemed natural for my parents to have a group of friends--people to whom they were closer than to many members of their families--for decade after decade. I assumed that I, too, would have a club of my own. It did not happen, of course. While my parents and their friends stayed married forever, I did not. Nor did I live on one place for year after year; I've lived in a dozen houses and apartments since going out on my own. While I do have friends who go back about fifty years, there's only one with whom I'm in regular contact, and he lives in San Francisco. This is a sign of changing times and technological advances, but but we have lost much in the process.

When my Mother died, three and a half years ago, I pictured a couple of card tables set up in the great beyond, with eternal games of pinochle and canasta going, and I heard my mother's friend Betty Canner, in her smoker's voice, saying, "Rosie! Over here! We've saved a place for you." Now, with Mae's passing, the tables are full, but the 8:30 Club will live on in memory for a while yet.

What if?

In today's NYT, Adam Nagourney asks, "What if Iowa Settles Nothing for the Democrats?" Given the close and variant polls--the last Des Moines Register survey has Obama over Clinton by 7 points, but differs sharply from other recent polls and may have been thrown off by the long holiday weekend--there is a real possibility that the three front-runners will be grouped so closely that no one can be proclaimed the winner and, by the same token, that none of them will be much weakened, either.

This leads me to wonder about a longer-range possibility: that no candidate will come out of the primaries with a clear majority of delegates. For a long time, I thought that that could not happen; that, in fact, the candidates of both major parties would be picked effectively by February 6th, when the results of "Super Duper Tuesday" are known. That could still be the case; indeed, it is likely. Still....

Suppose that Edwards, who has less money and less national organization than Obama or Clinton, comes out a couple of percentage points ahead of either of them in Iowa, and that the other two are essentially tied. Then, suppose--and I do not think this is far-fetched--that the "Iowa bounce" propels Edwards from third place in most recent New Hampshire polls into a virtual tie in that state next week, or even a victory. Edwards has been running a rather weak third in South Carolina, but he was born in the state and now lives next door; he might make a late surge.

By then, we'll be only a week from February 5th, with primaries across the nation. While Clinton and Obama will have the most to spend on what by then will be a media-driven campaign, if the press is playing up Edwards as the underdog charging from behind and the representative of the little guy, he could do very well. Remember that we no longer have winner-take-all primaries, so while Clinton is almost certain to win in New York and Obama in Illinois, neither will take all of their home states' delegates. And who is to say what will happen in the rest of the gaggle of February 5th primaries? At the end of Super Duper Tuesday, we could see a picture in which each of the three top-tier candidates has enough delegates to deny either of the others a majority.

The second-tier candidates could further complicate matters. Right now, Bill Richardson is generally taken to be in fourth place and too far back to make an impact, but if he, Biden and Dodd stay in, they could pick up small packets of delegates.

Complicating matters are the "super delegates," Democratic office-holders and officials who are given delegate status ex officio. There are about 800 of them. Initially, they broke heavily for Clinton, so that if she is wounded but not mortally so in the primaries, they could be a powerful counterweight should Edwards or Obama come out ahead, but not without enough votes to assure a first-ballot victory. Whether the super-delegates would continue to back Clinton if she were running third among elected delegates is an open question--they are not committed legally to do so--but we might assume that even many politicians are people of their word.

So, it is possible--again, not likely, but surely possible--that Democrats could go into next summer's convention in Denver without a clear nominee. Indeed, a brokered convention, something we have not seen in almost a century, is not beyond imagining.

And just to spin it out further, suppose that the Republicans do pick a candidate in the primaries (although who that might be I cannot fathom), and go into their convention united. What would that turn of events do to the 2008 election?