Throwing darts at a board

by matttbastard

As the countdown to the clinch continues, the Village Idiots are growing ever more idiotic at the prospect of talking gibberish when Senator Barack Obama becomes the first black nominee for president of the USA. David Gergen, charter member of The Best Political Team on Television™, just gave a preview of what’s to come by noting that Obama’s now-inevitable nomination comes “exactly” 200 years after the end of the slave trade.

Got that, folks? We can now officially start talking about racism in the past tense.

With that–and, as this “historic” campaign goes to the next level, the promise of even more hoary, overinflated rhetoric from a punditocracy addicted to soundbite significance–in mind, this refreshingly grounded LRB essay from David Runciman couldn’t be more timely.

A sample:

Now that the primary season has nearly run its course, a different pattern can be seen. Followed day by day, the race for the Democratic nomination has been the most exciting election in living memory. But viewed in retrospect, it is clear that it has been quite predictable. All the twists and turns have been a function of the somewhat random sequencing of different state primaries, which taken individually have invariably conformed to type, with Obama winning where he was always likely to win (caucus states, among college-educated and black voters, in the cities), and Clinton winning where she was likely to win (big states with secret ballots, among less well-educated whites and Hispanics, in rural areas). Even the initial drama of that week in early January – when Obama’s victory in Iowa had seemed to give him a chance of finishing Clinton off, only to be confounded by her victory in New Hampshire, which defied the expectation of the pundits and had them all speculating about what had swung it (was it her welling up in a diner? was it hastily rekindled memories of Bill? was it hints of hubris from Obama?) – turns out to have been an illusion. Iowa was Obama country (younger, smaller, caucus meetings) and New Hampshire wasn’t (older, bigger, voting machines). The salient fact about this campaign is that demography trumps everything: people have been voting in fixed patterns set by age, race, gender, income and educational level, and the winner in the different contests has been determined by the way these different groups are divided up within and between state boundaries. Anyone who knows how to read the census data (and that includes some of the smart, tech-savvy types around Obama) has had a good idea of how this was going to play from the outset. All the rest is noise.

Yet if the voting patterns have been so predictable, why have the polls been so volatile? One of the amazing things about the business of American politics is that its polling industry is so primitive. Each primary has been preceded by a few wildly varying polls, some picking up big movement for Clinton, some for Obama, each able to feed the narrative of a contest that could swing decisively at any moment. All of these polls come with warnings about their margins of error (usually +/–4 per cent), but often they have been so far outside their own margins as to make the phrase ridiculous. A day before the California primary in February, the Zogby organisation had Obama ahead by 6 per cent – he ended up losing by 9 per cent. In Ohio, the same firm put Obama ahead by 2 per cent just before the actual vote – this time he lost by 10 per cent. The sampling of national opinion is even worse. Before the Indiana primary, two national polls released at the same time claimed to track the fallout from the appearance of Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright on the political stage. One, for the New York Times, had Obama up by 14 per cent, and enabled the Times to run a story saying that the candidate had been undamaged. The other, for USA Today, had Clinton up by 7 per cent, leading the paper to conclude that Obama was paying a heavy price.

The reason for the differences is not hard to find. American polling organisations tend to rely on relatively small samples (certainly judged by British standards) for their results, often somewhere between 500 and 700 likely voters, compared to the more usual 1000-2000-plus for British national polls. The recent New York Times poll that gave Obama a 12 per cent lead was based on interviews with just 283 people. For a country the size of the United States, this is the equivalent to stopping a few people at random in the street, or throwing darts at a board. Given that American political life is generally so cut-throat, you might think there was room for a polling organisation that sought a competitive advantage by using the sort of sample sizes that produce relatively accurate results. Why on earth does anyone pay for this rubbish?

The answer is that in an election like this one, the polls aren’t there to tell the real story; they are there to support the various different stories that the commentators want to tell. The market is not for the hard truth, because the hard truth this time round is that most people are voting with the predictability of prodded animals. What the news organisations and blogs and roving pundits want are polls that suggest the voters are thinking hard about this election, arguing about it, making up their minds, talking it through, because that’s what all the commentators like to think they are doing themselves. This endless raft of educated opinion needs to be kept afloat on some data indicating that it matters what informed people say about politics, because it helps the voters to decide which way to jump. If you keep the polling sample sizes small enough, you can create the impression of a public willing to be moved by what other people are saying. That’s why the comment industry pays for this rubbish.

And just think: this has only been the warm up. The real contest starts tonight. CNN just announced that Obama has gone over the top.

Lord have mercy.

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Read These Now

by matttbastard

Kinda sorta overdid it last night while celebrating a friend’s birthday.  Think I might have sprained my cognitive muscles at some point not long after last call.  So, in lieu of doing any heavy mental lifting myself, I instead suggest you check out the following (lots of good reads over @ Natalia’s place, too):

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ZOMG PANTSUIT!!!11

by matttbastard

Fernanda Diaz of Glamour Magazine’s political blog Glamocracy thinks Senator Clinton should stop acting like such a man:

I resent the fact that Hillary is now inescapably a symbol of women in power, and that women for years to come will be compared to her. I have a problem with this because I’m used to a new kind of woman leader, one who doesn’t have to try so hard to fit in with the boys and prove that she can be aggressive and ruthless just to be taken seriously. By acting in such a decidedly un-feminine manner, Clinton has actually made it harder for us who had already felt accepted as leaders without resorting to those measures—now, it will be harder for women in my generation who don’t act like her to be taken seriously.

Apparently Backlash has replaced 1984 as the user manual for the zeitgeist.

h/t Feministing

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Clapton May Be God, But Pierce is Jesus (Sorry, Obama)

by matttbastard

(video: The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis, by Bill Moyers [86 minutes])

Charles Pierce abso-flippin’-lutely knocks it out of the park:

More than anything else, the presidential election ongoing is — or, as a right, ought to be — about ending an era of complicity. There is no point anymore in blaming George Bush or the men he hired or the party he represented or the conservative movement that energized that party for what has happened to this country in the past seven years. They were all merely the vehicles through whom the fear and the lassitude and the neglect and the dry rot that had been afflicting the democratic structures for decades came to a dramatic and disastrous crescendo. The Bill of Rights had been rendered a nullity by degrees long before a passel of apparatchik hired lawyers found in its text enough gray space to allow a fecklessly incompetent president to command that torture be carried out in the country’s name. The war powers of the Congress had been deeded wholesale to the executive long before Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz and a passel of think-tank cowboys found within them the right of a fecklessly incompetent president to make war unilaterally on anyone, anywhere, forever. The war in Iraq is the powerful bastard child of the Iran-Contra scandal, which went unpunished.

The ownership of the people over their politics — and, therefore, over their government — had been placed in quitclaim long before the towers fell, and the president told the people to be just afraid enough to let him take them to war and just afraid enough to reelect him, but not to be so afraid that they stayed out of the malls.

It had been happening, bit by bit, over nearly forty years. Ronald Reagan sold the idea that “government” was something alien. The notion of a political commonwealth fell into a desuetude so profound that even Bill Clinton said, “The era of Big Government is over” and was cheered across the political spectrum, so that when an American city drowned and the president didn’t care enough to leave a birthday party, and the disgraced former luxury-horse executive who’d been placed in charge of disaster relief behaved pretty much the way a disgraced former luxury-horse executive could be expected to behave in that situation, it could not have come as any kind of surprise to anyone honest enough to have watched the country steadily abandon self-government over the previous four decades. The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable. The people of the United States have been accessorial in the murder of their country

Read the whole goddamn thing.

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Quote of the Day: State of the Union

by matttbastard

After last week’s Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Obama has all but won the nomination — but democracy has been the real winner of the process. According to the Associated Press, 3.5 million newly registered voters appeared during the 2008 primaries, including unusually large numbers of women and African Americans. Turnout reached historic highs in many Democratic primaries; indeed, more Democrats turned out this week in both North Carolina and Indiana than voted for Sen. John F. Kerry in those states in 2004. Both Clinton and Obama raised more money during a single month than most candidates in previous elections raised during the entire primary season. Moreover, the bulk of that money came from small donors; in fact, 1.5 million individuals, an unprecedented number, contributed to the Obama campaign. By every measure of individual interest in politics, this campaign has grabbed the public’s attention.

[…]

Recent elections have been marked by high levels of voter ignorance, low turnout, polarization between the parties and media coverage as broad as it was shallow. But within the Democratic Party this time, we have been witnessing the exact opposite: engagement and excitement. Pundits worry that the long race hurt the Democrats’ chances in the fall, but it’s hard to share their gloom when the whole exercise has been so good for our civic health.

– Alan Wolfe, The Race’s Real Winner

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The End is Nigh?

by matttbastard

Dan Conley, who served as an aide to former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, posted a must-read article at Salon this past Thursday (h/t jrootham @ BnR) detailing how any future concessions by the Clinton campaign might play out. Using Wilder’s departure from the 1994 Virginia senate race as an example, Conley calmly outlines what could potentially be involved in any backroom negotiations between the two prospective Democratic presidential nominees:

So if, eventually, Hillary Clinton does the math that the rest of the world is doing and decides to fold her hand, she could learn a great deal from Doug Wilder’s negotiations back in 1994. Get your own money back. Don’t worry so much about everyone else; they knew what they were getting into. Get a big symbolic victory that will show that the race was about something more than your ego. And keep in the game long term by promoting a supporter for a future role.

So if she does concede defeat, the question “What does Hillary want?” should have some fairly obvious answers.

Debt Relief. Here’s an irony: Hillary can keep lending money to her campaign, at least in the short term, without much risk because it’s very likely that Obama will agree to pay it in exchange for peace. There are limits to Obama’s generosity, of course. Money used for negative attacks from here on out would put her debt repayment at risk.

[…]

A Major Platform Win. Namely, healthcare. Hillary needs to be able to make the case that her campaign had a substantive impact on the race. The best way to do that is to get to write the party’s healthcare plank in the platform. If Obama folds on the mandate issue, Hillary walks away with a policy win. Plus, this would please John and Elizabeth Edwards. Choosing Elizabeth to write the healthcare plank of the platform could appease both camps.

[…]

Without question, Barack Obama is entering a very uncomfortable stage of his campaign. Comparisons to Mike Dukakis in 1988 are inevitable — and if the negotiations drag out, there will be questions about who is really in charge. The sooner he gets it over with, the better for him.

Well, Conley is nothing if not prescient. From today’s NY Times:

Clinton advisers say attacks on Mr. Obama are no longer enough to change the momentum or the outcome of the nomination race. So continuing to attack him on the campaign trail, at this point, would probably inflict more long-term harm on Mrs. Clinton than on Mr. Obama, her advisers said.

Mr. Obama made his own peace offering to the Clinton camp, albeit a tactical one, suggesting he would be open to helping her retire her campaign debt. “I’d want to have a broad-ranging discussion with Senator Clinton about how I could make her feel good about the process and have her on the team moving forward,” he said. “But as I said, it’s premature right now. She’s still actively running, and we’ve still got business to do right here in Oregon and in other states.”

The tonal change in Mrs. Clinton’s campaigning away from sharp engagement with Mr. Obama could reflect cold political calculation: with elements of the party now coalescing around him, her own political legacy may be at stake in the few weeks remaining before primary voting comes to a close on June 3.

[…]

At a children’s hospital in Portland on Friday, Mrs. Clinton did not refer to Mr. Obama by name but drew a sharp contrast between her plan for universal health care and Mr. Obama’s less inclusive plan: “How can anyone run for Democratic nominee for president and not have a universal health care plan? This is a huge, huge difference and one I feel passionately about.”

[…]

Bill Carrick, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant who is neutral but who has close ties to many in the Clinton inner circle, said, “She’s very, very sensitive to the position she’s in now.” He added: “Definitely as she campaigns in these upcoming states she will stress her commitment to the Democratic Party and the stakes in the fall. She’s clearly sending a message to those voters that it’s in their interest to support the party in the fall, whoever the nominee is.”

Despite general consensus that the math is stacked against her (though even Obama admits that the nomination is far from locked up) I don’t believe for a second that, by staying in the race, Senator Clinton is deliberately attempting to sink the good ship Democrat (along with its soon-to-be-chosen Captain) under the weight of her unnatural and double plus ungood ambition (sigh). Rather, it seems apparent that she’s pragmatically attempting to put herself in a strong position to work with Obama so she can achieve certain concessions. In other words, all part of, as Conley puts it, “building a lasting peace” via “that most underrated of campaign rituals– the post-campaign negotiation.”

If Clinton did eventually accept Obama’s offer of debt relief, and were Obama to adopt Clinton’s (IMO) superior health care platform, the Democratic Party could (theoretically) march into Denver fully unified and girded for battle in the general (assuming Clinton’s “hard working white people” gaffe doesn’t spark civil conflict beyond the limited borders of the blogosphere). Then maybe, just maybe, certain overzealous members of Blogtopia’s Obama wing will finally get over their increasingly hyperbolic Clinton Derangement Syndrome. And for god’s sake, stop treating Andrew “ZOMG SHE’S NORMA DESMOND!!!11one” Sullivan like he’s a serious pundit.

Related: Robert Farley fires some serious meta up yer ass re: the tedious online rift between so-called “Clintonistas” and “Obamamaniacs”.

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System System System

by matttbastard

Before being given an up-close and personal introduction to the undercarriage of the Obama campaign bus, the ScaryAngry(Insubordinate)Pariah preached some serious gospel this past Thursday:

[Obama’s] a politician, I’m a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. But they’re two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do.

And what do politicians do? They shake hands with the devil:

The same Beltway lobbyists, corporate donors and public relations firms, the same weapons manufacturers, defense contractors, nuclear power companies and Wall Street interests that give Clinton and John McCain money, give Obama money. They happen, in fact, to give Obama more. And the corporate state, which is carrying out a coup d’état in slow motion, believes it will prosper in Obama’s hands. If not, he would not be a viable candidate. We have come full circle, back to the age of the robber barons and railroad magnates of the late 19th century who selected members of corrupt state assemblies to be their pliable senators and congressmen and sent them off to Washington to do their bidding.

There have been some important investigations into Obama’s links with major corporations, including Ken Silverstein’s November 2006 article “Barack Obama Inc: The Birth of a Washington Machine” in Harper’s magazine. Newsweek has also detailed many of Obama’s major corporate contributors. Obama’s Leadership PAC includes John Gorman of Texas-based Tejas Securities, a major supporter of Senate Democrats as well as the Bush presidential campaigns. It includes Winston & Strawn, the Chicago-based law and lobbying firm. It also includes the corporate law firms Kirkland & Ellis, and Skadden, Arps, where four attorneys are fundraisers for Obama as well as donors. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Henry Crown and Co., an investment firm that has stakes in industries ranging from telecommunications to defense, are all funding the Illinois senator.

Individual contributors to Obama come from major lobbyist groups such as those of Jeffrey Peck (whose clients include MasterCard, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and Rich Tarplin (Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers). Exelon, a leading nuclear plant operator, based in Illinois, is a long-time donor to the Obama campaign. Exelon executives and employees have contributed at least $227,000 to Obama’s campaigns for the United States Senate and for president. Two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, are among his largest fundraisers. Obama has also accepted more than $213,000 from individuals (and their spouses) who work for companies in the oil and gas industry, and two of Obama’s bundlers are senior oil company executives who have raised between $50,000 and $100,000. I could go on, but you get the point.

Obama, as you will see if you examine his voting record, has repeatedly rewarded those who reward him. As a senator he has promoted nuclear energy as “green.” He has been lauded by the nuclear power industry, which is determined to resume building nuclear power plants across the country. He has voted to continue to fund the Iraq war. He opposed Rep. John Murtha’s call for immediate withdrawal. He refused to join the 13 senators who voted against confirming Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. He voted in July 2005 to reauthorize the Patriot Act. He did not support an amendment that was part of a bankruptcy bill that would have capped credit card interest rates at 30 percent. He opposed a bill that would have reformed the notorious Mining Law of 1872. He did not support the single-payer health care bill HR676, sponsored by Reps. Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers. He supports the death penalty. He worked tirelessly in the Senate in 2005 to pass a class-action “reform” bill that was part of a large lobbying effort by financial firms, which make up Obama’s second-biggest single bloc of donors. The law, with the Orwellian title the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), would effectively shut down state courts as a venue to hear most class-action lawsuits. This has long been a cherished goal of large corporations as well as the Bush administration. It effectively denies redress in many of the courts where these cases have a chance of defying powerful corporate challenges. It moves these cases into corporate-friendly federal courts dominated by Republican judges. Even Hillary Clinton voted against this naked effort to allow corporations to carry out flagrant discrimination, consumer fraud and wage-and-hour violations.

Even I’m finding it hard to be comforted by the (far from baseless) assertion that an Obama (or a Clinton) administration would be “better” than one helmed by John Sidney McSame.  This is not to say that I’m coming out for Nader (gah!), nor am I encouraging people to sit out the general or waste their vote on a third party vanity candidate.  But I can’t help but lament the sad-yet-undeniable fact that the only viable options American voters have to choose from are all feeding from–and eagerly refilling–the same corporate trough.

Sweet Jesus, I hate this goddamn election.

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I Write Letters (Another Meme Stolen From Melissa McEwan)

by matttbastard

Dear Yankee Progressives,

Speaking as a global citizen who has been forced to watch helplessly over the past 8 years as your cocaine cowboy resident-in-chief and his motley posse of sociopathic right-wing banditos have done their goddamndest to roll back pretty much every advance in Western civilization that has occurred since the dawn of the Enlightenment, I really, really don’t want to see John Sidney McSame inherit the third term slot and continue Dubya and Dead Eye’s dubious, destructive legacy (100 years or bust! Bomb, bomb Iran! Habeus Whatus?!), all because myopic Democratic activists, punch-drunk with extended primary season passion and loathing for each respective Democratic Party champion, kept doing the GOP and MSM’s dirty work for them until it was too fucking late.

So how about y’all remember who the real fucking enemy is (hint: not Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama), before it is too late and “4 more years!” is the headline on November 6th, m’kay?

(Oh, and can we agree that the Kewl Kidz in the Beltway press corps have heavily trafficked in both racism and misogyny in their primary coverage? There’s no pass when your very existence challenges the established white male paradigm. The only candidate who’s getting a pass from the media is The Maverick.)

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Story Time With the MSM

by matttbastard

Digby on the NY Times, Andrea Mitchell, and the latest iteration of the “Hillary is a lying liar” meme:

You may hate Clinton with everything in your being, and that’s fine. But this kind of journalism is what’s killing our political system and what gets people like John McCain and George W. Bush elected. Clinton was repeating a story about bad health care which she heard on the campaign trail from an American citizen. She wasn’t tooting her own horn or putting down her opponent in the telling of it. She was illustrating the plight of the uninsured in this country, which even if it turns out to not be specifically correct in the details, is certainly not something that doesn’t happen every day to somebody in this country.

In fact, I suspect this particular “gotcha” is being done to degrade the argument against universal health care as much as to embarrass Senator Clinton. The Clinton Rules state that if any part of a story is proven true, the entire story is true. The corollary is that if any part of a story about a Republican is proved to be false then the entire story is false. The same concept is at work with health care here. If any detail about bad health care in the US can be shown as false, then notions that our health care system is screwed up are also false. Get ready for more of this. I don’t know if it will work, but if they can get the media to play it like this, then the subliminal subtext going out there is that Democrats are lying about health care. They don’t have to convince everybody, just a few.

Please, read the whole damn thing, and remember: the Clinton rules apply just as much to Obama.

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