Monday, January 07, 2008

What Impressed Me This Week: In the Spotlight

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. -- Franklin Roosevelt

With the Iowa caucuses over, New Hampshire moves into the spotlight. Everything that has been building for months is coming to a peak: The phone rings constantly. We get about half a dozen glossy color brochures in the mail every day. I suppose it speaks well for the integrity of the American voting process that in spite of all the money being spent to persuade me, no one has offered me any of it directly. At least not yet.

What Happened in Iowa
Obama did exactly what his people said he would do: He inspired large numbers of new voters, especially young voters, to come out and participate. Iowans did not reject Clinton or Edwards, each of whom produced supporters in numbers that should have been enough to win. But Obama did better.

The turnout story means two things to me: First, it is huge news for Democrats looking ahead to November. Iowa is a swing state. It went for Bush in 2004 and for Gore in 2000 -- both times by less than 1%. But despite the fact that the Democratic caucus process was more cumbersome and time-consuming than the Republican process, they drew 239,000 participants to the Republicans' 116,000. If you lump the two parties together, Huckabee finished fourth behind Obama, Edwards, and Clinton.

Second, it means that Obama has to be on the ticket somewhere. If he doesn't win the nomination, he has to be the first choice for vice president. The Democrats absolutely cannot let the energy he has raised turn sour. I remember the conversations on DailyKos four years ago, as the first-time voters that Dean had inspired got discouraged by his defeat. As a group, young people tend to be skeptical of politics, and they easily lapse into an attitude of "I tried voting. It didn't work." It's fine if their candidate falls short, but it's a disaster if they come out feeling that the Democratic Party has rejected them.

Meanwhile, at the Center of the Universe
For months I've been keeping track of the candidates through the BirdDog Calendar of PriotiesNH. Sunday they listed 28 separate candidate appearances: three in Nashua, where I live, another three in the neighboring towns of Milford and Hollis, and seven just up the road in Manchester. I went to none of them. It's all gotten to be too much.

This year I failed in my goal of seeing all the candidates in person. I saw Clinton, Richardson, and Obama, Edwards twice, and Edwards' wife once. And I got to sit down one-on-one with Mike Gravel, which was a hoot even if he has no chance to win. I regret not seeing Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd, with whom I agree on most issues. I would like to live in an America where Kucinch is a viable candidate.

On the Republican side I saw Thompson and McCain, which was really about all I could stand. I confess to being curious about the people who go to Huckabee rallies. But Huckabee hasn't spent much time in New Hampshire, and for reasons I can't fathom he has mainly campaigned in the far north where no one lives. (I suspect he has the moose vote all wrapped up.) If I were younger I would absolutely go to a Giuliani rally, which would be like staying up late to watch a horror movie. (Check out Rudy's scary ad.) Afterwards, I'm sure I would have nightmares about torture and wars even bigger and more pointless than the ones we're fighting now. And Romney ... I've come to believe that the real Romney is the image you see on television. At rallies I'll bet they hand out green-and-red glasses to make him pop into three dimensions.

Why I'm Voting for the "Angry" Candidate. For months now I've been telling people I'm voting for Edwards, and most of them have looked puzzled. Usually they assume that I support the white guy because I think the country isn't ready to elect a woman or a black as president. Or maybe because I'm not ready.

Actually, that's not it. If Obama or Clinton get nominated, I think they'll do fine -- though I expect Obama's young supporters to be shocked by how nasty things get in the general election. (Remember the Harold Ford "call me" commercial from the 2006 Senate race in Tennessee? That kind of nasty.) But Hillary is tough and Obama will surprise people in the one-on-one debates the same way the too-young, too-inexperienced Jack Kennedy did.

I'm supporting Edwards because of something positive about Edwards: He's done the best job putting forward a progressive message and bringing substance to the campaign. Clinton and Obama were just spouting vague intentions about universal health care when Edwards put forward his plan, which they then had to try to match. And Edwards openly says that (if the government part of his plan outperforms the private-sector part, as it probably will) his plan could evolve into a single-payer plan, which is what makes the most sense. Other than Kucinich, I haven't heard anybody else say the words "single-payer".

That's typical. On issue after issue, Edwards has been the candidate forcing the others to offer more substance. But if you get your news from the mainstream media, you know only two things about Edwards: He got an expensive haircut, and he's the "angry" candidate.

"Angry" is the label they hung on Howard Dean four years ago, and I think they're going to apply it to anyone with a strong progressive message. I wonder what our pundit class would make of the candidate who said this about the big-money interests:
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred.
That "angry" candidate was FDR in 1936. (Thanks to Paul Krugman for finding this example. I plan to review his book next week.) Roosevelt recognized something that often gets swept under the rug today: If you try to improve the lot of the general population, some very powerful people will fight you. Not because they have a different idea of how to improve the lot of the general population, but because their interest runs in the opposite direction.

So, for example, Exxon-Mobil has spent millions of dollars to obfuscate the global warming issue. Why? Because making the world a better place for Exxon-Mobil necessarily means making it a worse place for future generations. The Exxon-Mobil people understand this very clearly.

If the next administration gets serious about universal health care, drug and insurance companies will spend millions to obfuscate that issue, as they did in 1994. They will do this not because they have a better way to offer health care, but because their profits depend on restricting access to health care and making it as expensive as possible. They also understand this very clearly.

We need to understand it too. We need leaders who will tell us these things, and who will rally public support in favor of the public interest -- as Roosevelt did. But in the current climate, all you will hear about such leaders is that they are "angry".

What I Expect to Happen. I think Obama's going to win New Hampshire, probably by a wider margin than the polls predict. There's a psychological dynamic going on here that I don't think the major media understands: New Hampshire Democrats don't see why this process needs to go on any longer. We're generally happy with all the major Democratic candidates, and we're very tired of the campaign. We're looking for a way to end it as fast as possible.

I feel that pressure myself. When I picture an Obama landslide that convinces everyone that the nomination is wrapped up, I get this pleasant opiated feeling. When I picture Edwards or Clinton winning, I think: "This could go on for months." It's a wearying prospect. I intend to fight that feeling and vote for Edwards, but I expect a lot of people to give in to it -- especially people who have been supporting candidates with no chance to win like Richardson or Dodd or Kucinich.

On the Republican side things are completely different. Republicans are not ready for the process to be over, especially if it means nominating one of the current candidates. I heard Bill Kristol fantasizing on TV about a deadlocked convention that turned to Cheney. (Go, Bill! Democrats could take all 50 states in that scenario.) That's extreme, but I think it reflects a larger mood: Republicans have been hoping for a year that someone would ride over the hill and save them. Fred Thompson was supposed to do that. Maybe Newt Gingrich will. Or somebody. If the Republicans had an Al Gore, which they don't, they'd be begging him to run even at this late date. If Ahnold the Governator were native-born, there'd be a movement to draft him.

McCain has a small lead over Romney in the polls, and I expect it to stand up. But perversely, I believe McCain is being hurt by the media types who have been fawning over him lately. If New Hampshire Republicans think there is a chance they might start a juggernaut that will sweep McCain to the nomination, they'll get cold feet. They're not ready for that. Romney's negative ads aren't helping either McCain or Romney, so look for one of the minor candidates not to win, but to do much better than the polls predict, as a none-of-the-above vote. Ron Paul, maybe. (I'm rooting for Paul to finish ahead of Giuliani again.) Or maybe even Fred Thompson.

High Points of the Republican Debate
Here are some quotes from the transcript of Saturday's Republican debate. Rudy Giuliani on President Bush:

GIULIANI: The president set a whole different mindset. It was: Let's anticipate, let's see if we can prevent another attack. That led to Afghanistan, it led to Iraq, it's led to the Patriot Act, it's led to electronic surveillance, it's led to changing our intelligence services. All that is very, very good.

And there's no point asking whether Muslims or Arabs have any legitimate gripe with us:
GIULIANI: there's an Islamic, terrorism threat against us. It's an existential threat. It has nothing to do with our foreign policy. It has to do with their ideas, their theories, the things that they have done and the way they've perverted their religion into a hatred of us. And what's at stake are the things that are best about us: our freedom of religion, our freedom for women, our right to vote, our free economic system. Our foreign policy is irrelevant -- totally irrelevant.
When challenged by Ron Paul, Giuliani lumped together any terrorist act ever committed by Muslims against anyone, including the PLO's Munich Olympic massacre in 1972. Palestinian nationalism, jihadism ... it's all the same. And Huckabee agrees that there's no reason to try to remove the beam from our own eyes before going after the mote in the eyes of radical Muslims:
HUCKABEE: They are prompted by the fact they believe that they must establish a worldwide caliphate that has nothing to do with us other than we live and breathe and their intention is to destroy us.
Romney has learned the fine art of embedding evangelical Christian code words in his answers.
ROMNEY: I believe it's essential for America to stand for principles of an eternal nature.
Ron Paul undoes the New Deal:
PAUL: Free market economics is the truly compassionate system. If we care about the poor and want to help the poor, you have to have free markets. You can't have a welfare state in order to try to take care of people.
Giuliani, Thompson, and McCain all made some version of this statement: "America has the best health care system in the world." (In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked France first and us 37th.) And here's what Mitt Romney thinks is wrong:
ROMNEY: The reason health care isn't working like a market right now is you have 47 million people that are saying, "I'm not going to play. I'm just going to get free care paid for by everybody else."
And then McCain took a page out of John Edwards' book:

MCCAIN: How could pharmaceutical companies be able to cover up the cost to the point where nobody knows? Why shouldn't we be able to reimport drugs from Canada? It's because of the power of the pharmaceutical companies. We should have pharmaceutical companies competing to take care of our Medicare and Medicaid patients.

ROMNEY: OK, don't leave me. Don't send the pharmaceutical companies into the big bad guys.

MCCAIN: Well, they are.

ROMNEY: No, actually they're trying to create products to make us well and make us better, and they're doing the work of the free market.

God bless those benevolent pharmaceutical companies, Mitt. God bless us one and all.
This week I have two non-political books to recommend. The first, Edmund and Rosemary Go To Hell by Bruce Eric Kaplan, is for adults but is written in the style of a kids' book, with Thurber-style line drawings and only a sentence or two on each page. It takes about ten minutes to read. Edmund and Rosemary are a middle-aged couple who come up with a novel explanation for why everything from cellphones to air travel is so annoying: They're in Hell. How they cope with this epiphany turns into a very sweet story.

The second, Gentlemen of the Road, is the latest novel from one of my favorite authors, Michael Chabon. Chabon is a serious writer -- he won a Pulitzer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay -- who is not afraid to write in genres that are not considered serious. So Gentlemen is a medieval adventure set in the sort-of-Jewish silk-road kingdom of Khazaria. (Chabon claims his working title was "Jews With Swords.") You get the Arabian-Nights flavor of the book from its first sentence: "For numberless years a myna had astounded travelers to the caravansary with its ability to spew indecencies in ten languages, and before the fight broke out everyone assumed the old blue-tongued devil on its perch by the fireplace was the one who maligned the giant African with such foulness and verve."

Correction: Iowa Actually Has Immigrants
Tom Stites (who used to edit my stuff until he retired from UU World last June) points out that Iowa has more illegal immigrants than I implied last week. They come to work in the meat-packing plants, and I don't think my Illinois home town (which I used as a basis for comparison) has any of those. Iowa Public Television estimates that 55-85,000 non-citizens live in Iowa. (That's total non-citizens, not just illegal immigrants.) McClatchy Newspapers says: "Since 1990, the number of Hispanics in Iowa has increased from 32,647, which was then 1.2 percent of the state's population, to 112,987, or 3.8 percent of the current population of 2.9 million." (Again, including legal residents.) An article in the Communist newspaper Revolutionary Worker makes an interesting connection between the immigrants and union-busting by the meat-packers.

I was definitely too snarky about it last week, but I don't think this information alters my basic conclusion: I still believe illegal immigration is largely a scapegoat issue. The Iowa meat-packing problem would be most easily handled by cracking down on the packers, but the popular anger focuses on the immigrants. An MSNBC entrance poll from the Iowa caucuses says that 33% of Republicans named illegal immigration as the most important problem facing the United States. I continue to think that statistic requires a psychological explanation.

Short Notes
I'm getting very tired of hearing the media tell me that the Surge has worked. In Saturday's Democratic debate, ABC's Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy presented the Surge's success as a simple fact and moderator Charles Gibson challenged the candidates to admit that they'd been wrong about it. (The Republicans, by contrast, were asked questions like "What principles will you stand on?") In December, 23 American troops got killed, the lowest number since February, 2004, and down from 126 in May. When you put it that way, it looks great. But try putting it like this: What goal did we achieve in December that was worth the lives of 23 Americans? What is this entire war going to accomplish that is worth the life of one American?

On Fox News Frank Lunz seems to be pushing Romney. Lunz's "focus groups" are always more propaganda exercises than attempts to understand the public mood, but the one after Sunday's Republican debate was particularly striking. Remember, Lunz not only manages the discussion, he picks the participants.

TPM announced the Golden Duke Awards for 2007. And Tom Tomorrow finished his review of the year.

Several liberal heavy hitters have weighed in on the presidential race. DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas talked through the candidates and concluded that he's undecided. The DailyKos community continues to be solidly for Edwards. Michael Moore didn't formally endorse anyone, but his letter sure reads like an endorsement of Edwards. Bill Bradley endorsed Obama.

Bush is pushing for another unnecessary Constitutional crisis. Will Congressional Democrats ever meet the challenge?

The leaders of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission all but accused the Bush administration of obstruction of justice in regard to the now-destroyed CIA interrogation tapes. That was a one-day story that seems to have vanished from the national agenda. I almost forgot it myself.

Finally, I'm giving serious thought to making this weekly series its own blog and changing its name. Originally, I thought it would be almost entirely links to other articles, and that I'd write very little of it myself. But as I write more, the title makes it sound like what impressed me this week was me. My current favorite title is: The Weekly Skim.


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