Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Those are the questions all Americans should be asking this morning. Are we witnessing a momentary downturn in the inevitable path to an Obama nomination? Or has Hillary Clinton figured out a way to take down her rival once and for all?

I could be glib and answer your question, but the name of this blog is called "Empathic Rationalist." So I must tell you the truth -- I don't know the answer.

Most likely, Obama will win. That's what the betting markets say, and they're logical in saying so. He has a big enough lead among pledged delegates that, barring a truly bizarre twist, she won't be able to catch him there, even if they do a re-vote in Michigan and Florida. Ultimately, the pledged delegates SHOULD BE what matters, at least if this party is worthy of its name. After all, could you imagine the Democratic Party issuing a battle cry in Gore v Bush other than "let's re-count the votes in Florida to see which candidate deserves the most delegates from the people's vote?" Once you depart from that pledged-delegate standard, you're opening up yourself to charges of arbitrarily changing the rules in the middle of the game.

But, and it's a BIG but, the Democratic party leaders may not care so much about following the rules of a truly democratic game. They may look for a pretext to select the candidate that they feel is strongest at the time of the convention. If they're so inclined, they would love to find a pretext that smacks of being democratic, and what sounds more democratic than looking at the results of the aggregate popular vote? Assuming they do a re-vote in Michigan and Florida, Hillary really could overtake Barack in the overall popular vote. As of now, she's down 600,000, and she caught up by more than 300,000 in last night's contest alone. I could see her catching up another couple of hundred thousand in Pennsylvania, and even more in Florida. Get the picture?

In fact, even if she loses both the popular vote and the pledged delegate contest, I still wouldn't put it past the superdelegates to look at the overall trend line. Barack won twelve in a row, Hillary has now won three. I expect that trend to stop momentarily, with elections in Wyoming and Mississippi, but if she wins Pennsylvania (in which she's favored), then who knows how far her momentum might carry her in the months of May and June. In short, given that the party elders aren't likely after last night to step in to support Barack, the Fat Lady isn't even warming up, let alone singing, just yet.

Let's leave aside the trees for a moment and look at the forest -- or, to return to the metaphor at the top, let's look at this from 30,000 feet. Barack built a huge lead in the count that matters most and it's still his to lose. He's like a football team that's up by ten points reasonably late in the game. All he needs to do is figure out a way to come close to holding his own going forward, and he should win. My concern is that he's never been in this situation before, so I just can't guarantee that he can get the job done. To be specific, he's never been in the situation where he's been getting relentlessly bashed by everyone and anyone other than the minority of the talking heads who are firmly in his quarter.

Just think about it. McCain and Hillary, and especially the latter, are taking on Obama full bore. Hillary feels justified in mocking him, maligning him ... and throwing out every kind of disgusting innuendo she can envision, and she's getting a free pass in doing so from the media. Why? Consider that half of the talking heads are Republicans, and they want to see Hillary steal the election so that they can mop up the Democrats in the fall. Rush Limbaugh is even telling Republicans to vote for Hillary so as to throw the Democratic Party into chaos. He, like the other Republican talking heads, surely realizes that if the Democratic party elders ignore the results of the pledged delegate count, a number of us will reflexively cast protest votes for McCain.

As for the Democratic analysts, many of them back Hillary, so they're going to let her throw mud and see if it sticks (which it has so far). Many others are intimidated by the Clinton argument that because the media has bent over backwards to help Obama, it's time to see if he can take a little pounding. And still others just want to see a "horse race." (It's good for ratings, right?) The result is that Obama has been getting bashed relentlessly and Hillary has been rewarded for doing so.

Yes, I know. I'm forgetting the obvious. Why hasn't Obama fought back? Why does he continue to persist in acting like he's running against McCain, and not Hillary? Aren't those the $64,000 questions? Five months ago, I might have speculated that he simply didn't have the belly for an intra-party fight. But I don't think that's the case any more. I truly believe he's trying to take the high road because he's concluded that if this becomes an intra-party blood bath, he might win the nomination, but McCain would win the election. Nobody can deny that that proposition is true. The problem is that the media might be giving Barack no choice. I don't see how he holds Hillary off is she continues to be given a free pass in her campaign, which is about as relentlessly negative and slimy a primary campaign as I've seen in my life, at least on a Presidential level. (On top of everything else that she and her husband said, didn't you just love her how she equivocated when asked if she thought Barack was a secret Muslim? Yes, folks, that is slime -- John McCain would never stoop to that, nor would Obama.)

I predict that Barack will look to see how the party elders respond to this last round of campaigning, consider how much momentum he can generate from Wyoming and Mississippi, and then re-assess whether he is gathering superdelegates at a pace consistent with his clear pledged-delegate advantage. If he does not see a major momentum change in his direction, I think he will fight back. And I believe he can do it effectively enough to hold off Clinton. But yes, there could be a price. Fortunately for me, as much as I love Barack, I could live with McCain ... much more easily than with Clinton.


YoungMan said...

I defer to Newsweek's perpiscacity :)

Obama's First 100 Days
By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- So now all Republican political calculations come down to one question: Will it be possible to successfully criticize a candidate whom even Hillary Clinton, the toughest partisan in American politics, could not wound?

Barack Obama will not be defeated by taunts about his middle name, which gain his juvenile persecutors all the sympathy of a schoolyard bully. He will not be defeated by sinister interpretations of his hypnotic popularity -- people generally (and unsurprisingly) are attracted to the handsome, genial and eloquent. And in a change election, Obama will not be defeated because he seems inexperienced -- his freshness is actually a qualification.

But Obama may be defeated in the end because he is inexperienced -- because he has already made some serious errors in the primaries that will exact a cost in the general election.

As a thought experiment, consider the foreign policy achievements of Obama's first 100 days.

Redeeming his Inaugural pledge to "pay any price, bear any burden, fly any distance to meet with our enemies," Obama's first major international meeting is with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. National security adviser Samantha Power does her best to talk tough on human rights in preparation for the meeting. But, as Henry Kissinger once said, "When talks become their own objective, they are at the mercy of the party most prepared to break them off." Having made Iranian talks "without precondition" his major foreign policy goal, Obama is left with little leverage to extract concessions, and little choice but to move forward.

The New York Post runs a front-page picture of the Obama/Ahmadinejad handshake under the headline "Surrender Summit!" The story notes another of Obama's historic firsts: the first American president to meet with a Holocaust denier. The Israeli prime minister publicly asks, "Why is the American president meeting with a leader who calls us 'filthy bacteria' and threatens to wipe us 'off the map'?" Tens of thousands protest in Tel Aviv, carrying signs reading "Chamberlain Lives!"

America's moderate Arab allies in the region also feel betrayed, assuming that America is cutting a bilateral deal with Iran that accepts its nuclear ambitions, while leaving the Sunni powers out in the cold. The Egyptian press notes that President Obama's motorcade in Tehran passed near a street named in honor of Khaled Eslamboli, the assassin of President Anwar Sadat.

Shell-shocked by the criticism, the Obama administration moves its forthcoming presidential summit with Raul Castro to the Turks and Caicos, in a vain attempt to limit press scrutiny. The four-minute, Friday evening meeting -- photographers are forbidden -- still results in hundreds of thousands of Cuban protesters in Miami. Spouses of the imprisoned and tortured carry pictures of their loved ones. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praises Obama's visit as a "public apology for generations of American imperialism and militarism."

At the same time, the Obama administration is arm-twisting Mexico and Canada into a renegotiation of NAFTA. The Mexican president wonders aloud to the press: "Why is the new president courting his enemies in the hemisphere while insulting his closest friends?"

Obama's Oval Office speech to the nation on Iraq is initially more successful. As promised, he orders a phased, unconditional withdrawal of combat forces, beginning "not in six months or one year -- now." American troops will no longer be embedded in Iraqi combat units or used to combat Iranian influence (all pledges made during his campaign).

Many Americans cheer. But the next day, The Washington Post records stunned disbelief among the troops. A high-ranking officer observes, "The surest way to break the morale of the military is to undo its achievements and humiliate it on the verge of success." Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni allies react with panic at another sign of American unsteadiness and retreat from the region. Armed groups of Sunni and Shiites within Iraq begin preparing for a resumption of sectarian conflict. An intercepted al-Qaeda communication talks of "so much defeat, exhaustion and death -- and then, praise be, this unexpected victory!"

Obama's 100-day agenda would be designed, in part, to improve America's global image. But there is something worse than being unpopular in the world -- and that is being a pleading, panting joke. By simultaneously embracing appeasement, protectionism and retreat, President Obama would manage to make Jimmy Carter look like Teddy Roosevelt.

Which is why President Obama would probably not take these actions -- at least in the form he has pledged. Sitting behind the Resolute desk is a sobering experience that makes foolish campaign promises seem suddenly less binding.

But it is a bad sign for a candidate when the best we can hope is for him to violate his commitments. And that's a good sign for John McCain.

Daniel Spiro said...

I love the fact that Obama is willing to talk to foreign leaders, no matter how benign or malignant they have been. My new book, Moses the Heretic, will convey that thought in vivid detail. We are now merely days away from putting the book into galley form. It's very exciting.