Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Snatching defeat, and other cliches

A recent poll showed that only about one in four Democratic voters in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina ranks potential electability of a Democratic candidate above his or her agreement with the voter's positions.

Hello, hello: Earth to the Democratic Party--come in, please. That is the kind of shit-for-brains outlook that allowed a dunce like Ralph Nader to change the world. It does nothing but reinforce the stereotype of too many Democrats as being new-age space cadets singing Kumbaya. Sad to say, the stereotype may be correct.

It also underlies, in some way or t'other, the apparent inability of the Democratic party to run a national campaign better than any reasonably clever 12-year-old could. For pity's sake, look back at the silly shenanigans that constituted the "campaigns" of John Kerry, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, and arguably Adlai Stevenson. Yes, that's just all the Democratic losers, but their campaigns--and, to be brutally frank, most the men themselves (Gore is the only obvious exception)--are from the airy-fairy limp-left school. Jimmy Carter won--once in two tries--because after the Nixon years no Republican could have won dog catcher. Bill Clinton is about the only true Democratic winner in the last 40 years. C'mon, ladies and gentlemen, let's face it: that is not just a little run of bad luck.

Somewhere along the line, it is needful to drop the "I'd rather be left than be president" attitude of built-in loss that has characterized the party for so long. I don't know what it's like inside the Beltway, but out here in wheat country, where Democrats are about seven to the square mile, the few there are keep asking themselves "What in blazes are they thinking of?" By common consent, it is felt hereabouts that we need some fighters who don't derive their campaign strategies by asking "Might this offend 3% of the voters already in the Republican core constituency?"

On anything, almost literally, inevitably about one-third of the population will be for it. Nuclear weapons testing in the town square? Yeah! Put us on the map, by gum! Look at George Bush's approval ratings these days: 38%, 36%, 39%--it's just about all that core one-third.

So a Democrat has about 1/3 of the population who will certainly vote for him or her, about 1/3 who will certainly vote against, and about 1/3 who are really what any election is all about. Granted, those are broad-brush approximations, but you might be surprised at how well they stand up. Now none of that is exactly news; but it seems to forever escape what passes for strategists in the national Democratic party.

The Republicans have been so successful because they long ago grasped that principle, and its consequences, and have acted in accordance. The chief consequence that needs careful attention is that winning an election consists of getting 1/6 of the population plus 1 to vote your way. Think about it: you get 1/3 as a gimme; add another 1/6 and you're at 50%; add one more voter and you've won. All you need do is keep in mind the pool from which you might, with care, be able to extract that 1/6 + 1: it does not include the 1/3 your opponent will get as automatically as you got your 1/3.

The point here is that it is suicidal folly to try to be all things to all people--which is pretty much what Democratic presidential hopefuls have tried for 40 years, with all the successes their strategies have fully deserved.

What is needful for a candidate is to decide what he or she really believes, and carry that message forcefully to the available 1/3 of voters in terms they will understand. And you cannot do that if you are stupid enough to worry about whether your message will upset anybody in the 1/3 that represents your opponent's gimme voters. Of course it will. So? They're not available for conversion to The Shining Truth anyway. Wake up and smell the coffee, huh?

How do the present Democratic wannabes stack up? Obama looks to me most like a clone from the smiling-loser factory. Not because he's black, not because he's inexperienced (though those things may weigh in some quarters), but because his suggested remedies for almost everything seem to come down to singing Kumbaya.

I want to be careful to say that I do not suggest that he is an airhead, or that his policies actually have no more weight than that. What I do suggest, forcefully, is that that is the path he has chosen as the way to represent himself to the electorate--which is why I said "seem to come down to"--and he is too far down it now to retreat. It is a path that leads to the village where an awful lot of--far too many--Democrats currently reside; but it is not a path that will take anyone out the other side of that village and into the firelit circle of general approbation. Ask [fill in the blank from the above laundry list of losers].

Regrettably, the two Democrats who might do best on the open stage, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden, are by now so far behind that they're out of practical consideration. When time allows, say in 2009, the party had best start asking itself why such things happen; but for now, it is as it is. So if we're looking for a potential winner, we seem to be down to Clinton and Edwards.

Mind, that brings us full circle. Are we looking for a winner? Are Democrats by and large afraid of winning? Would they, as it says, rather be left than be president? It is my opinion that anyone clinging to Obama because he seems a bright, shining light is part of that 3/4 cited in the opening paragraph here who are, in admitted fact, not primarily interested in an electable candidate, and who feel--or certainly seem to feel--that the process of nominating a candidate is a game whose end is the nomination, not the general election, as if to say "We're going to lose no matter what, so I want to 'win' by having our candidate be my favorite."

As between Clinton and Edwards, I think we have a pair of possibles each of whom could be the fire-tongued campaigner needed. But let's remember that Clinton is carrying an awful lot of baggage, the heaviest of which is the perception that however sharp her dialogue, it is tuned dialogue, which is just the perception a Democrat needs to lose. I do not think we should be worried about the statistics that show that 39% or 40% of the electorate absolutely, positively would not vote for Clinton: that's just the same lot who currently approve of George Bush. They're a lost cause. But we should pay close attention--"we" meaning the 2% or so of the public that will be voting in the first three states--to how the middle 1/3 of the American electorate might take to either Clinton or Edwards.

Is Edwards already buried? No. But he's got a mighty tough row to hoe. He needs to do well everywhere at the outset: Iowa, then New Hampshire, and so on. If he is to have any chance, he must emerge as the "anti-Clinton", meaning he has to at least match Obama in the results; indeed, if he does not clearly beat Obama somewhere, soon, he is out of it.

I have nothing against Clinton, and think she would be a good campaigner. But I also think the party needs to look carefully before anointing her. And it needs to see that Edwards is the only electable alternative. And above all, it needs to stop treating electable as a dirty word.


But he's an expert on the Middle East: As the insufficiently well-known Trudy Rubin at the Philadelphia Inquirer, an expert on the Middle East, has pointed out, George Bush's sudden late rush into the Palestine question incurs a terrible risk, one all too likely to befall. In what many see as an eleventh-hour bid to somehow burnish his image for history, Bush has jumped into a hornet's nest with both feet, yet apparently thinks he can walk away with nary a sting. His approach seems to be "Hey, I provided the couch and beer and peanuts, now you fellas sit there and work something out." As Rubin puts it, "Without a heavy investment of presidential political capital, these talks are bound to falter. And if they do, the blame in the Muslim world will be directed at the White House. That's why I hope the president understands the extent of his Annapolis gamble. Losing this bet will hand an enormous victory to extremists in the Islamic world." (See also Gary Kamika's essay at Salon.)

Thanks, I needed that: every time I eat too much and start sleepily dozing by the fire, it comes to me that maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't that bad for California; fortunately, Arnie is always considerate enough to give me a slap in the face to wake me up. Not long ago, it was his vigorous support for the Republican plan to steal the 2008 presidential elections by having California all by itself decide to apportion its Electoral College votes by Congressional district; today, it's his plan to take away from the California legislature the power to draw its own political districts (a plan overwhelmingly trashed by the voters in 2005, the last time he tried it). Where was he when Texas Republicans not so long ago grotesquely gerrymandered their state?

The invisible monster: it's not a B-movie, it's The Bomb. How can we forget--and tell the truth, when was the last time you broke a scared sweat about it?--that there are in position already enough nuclear weapons that, as one expert puts it, "You would have . . . to fight your ultimate battles on five or six Earth-sized planets to use up such arsenals"? But we can and do forget, even though some of those weapons (well, arguably all of those weapons) are under the control of folk you wouldn't want controlling the fate of a telephone booth, much less a planet. Salon's Tom Engelhardt presents an interview with Jonathan Schell, a man whose life and career have been focussed on a study of the bomb and its implications. It is fascinating--truly the proverbial "must-read".

potential collision illustratedGoing home for the holidays? Congressional investigators said Wednesday that there is a "high risk" of a "catastrophic runway collision" at a U.S. airport and put the blame squarely on the administration. Now you have an excuse to stay home.

The times are a-changing--and this is by how much: unmarried women accounted for 38.5 percent of all U.S. births last year.

We really, really need a better idea: Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota mom who vowed to fight the Recording Industry Association of America after she was convicted of illegally downloading copyrighted music now has another heavyweight to contend with: the U.S. Department of Justice, which has now sided with the RIAA--and a jury's $222,000 judgment against Thomas. That comes to $9,250 per song.

Tom Dewey, where are you? Is there anyone left, even on the far right, who--at least in his or her heart of hearts even if not for public consumption--still believes that George Bush is anything but a small, sad, sick loser? Does anyone at all pay the least attention to anything he says or does these days? I mean, this has nothing to do with one's politics, conservative, liberal, middle way, whatever: the man himself is just incredible. And the lack of clothing on the emperor is no longer going unnoticed. Gerald Ford showed us that gross incompetence can be forgiven easily when it is simply the sheer ineptitude of an honest, well-meaning soul. George Bush is the sheer incompetence without the honesty or well-meaning.

Every day brings a new surprise: the Bush administration's plan to improve food safety would actually do the opposite, by making it harder for regulators to mandate measures to prevent food contamination. Dear me, who'd a thunk it?

Second-Amendment testimony continues to pour in: an 8-year-old girl is recovering in a local hospital after being shot six times while trying to protect her mother.

It gets worse: just when you think the bottom of the slime barrel has been reached in Time's behavior over the disgusting Joe Klein affair, you find there's yet more goo. (In case you're out of the loop here, Klein's own behavior was horrid enough, but the real unfolding story is Time's handling of the matter.) Now, as Glenn Greenwald--who has been a point man on this grotesquerie--reports, it turns out that Time refused to print protesting letters both from Senator Russ Feingold and from Representative Rush Holt. Yes, that's right: it refused the requests of two sitting members of Congress, both of whom are members of the Intelligence Committees who handled the proposed legislation that is at the heart of the issue, and each of whom played a central role in drafting that legislation. But of course, what would they know about it? Stench, fetor, stink, mephitis, fetidness, malodor--my thesaurus gives out there and we still haven't gotten it right.

Check it out: if you aren't reading Don Asmussen's Bad Reporter comic panel, you're really missing out.

A blog without a Rudy note is like a day without sunshine: there is an old saying that some people would rather climb a tree to tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth. Hizzoner's latest is the claim that back in 1981 the Iranis gave up their American hostages almost instantly Ronald Reagan took office because "they looked in Ronald Reagan's eyes, and in two minutes, they released the hostages." Forgetting the Superman-like telescopic vision and Flash-like speed of action hizzoner is claiming, the facts--things that hizzoner seems to have a pathological hatred of--are that Reagan had zero to do with the deal, which was negotiated by the Carter administration beginning two months earlier, as a contemporary report of the matter in The New York Times made crystal-clear. And from Mark Bowden's 2006 book, Guests of the Ayatollah: "The Iranians guarding the hostages weren't scared of Reagan -- they wanted him to win: 'They were convinced that anyone other than Carter would understand their reasons for seizing the embassy and would admit the great wrongs America had committed in Iran.'" (p. 554) Thanks here to Slate's Trailhead and Salon's Walter Shapiro and Michael Scherer.

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