Wednesday :: Feb 6, 2008

Postscript on Super Tuesday

by eriposte

It was a close finish yesterday, but I believe Sen. Clinton will come out reasonably ahead on delegates (even without delegate-rich Michigan and Florida) when the counting is all over, and that is quite an accomplishment for Sen. Clinton. I had been pessimistic about her chances going into Super Tuesday. I said as much to many people - that she was facing the kind of difficult odds that no other Democratic candidate I was aware of had faced - an almost systematic opposition and/or extraordinarily negative coverage from the media, key figures in the Establishment, many progressive bloggers, big portions of the netroots, and conservatives, while Sen. Obama had the exact opposite in terms of glowing, hagiographic coverage and support for the most part. For her to have won the way she did last night - and she is now leading in the overall popular vote by a significant margin - was a pretty significant accomplishment considering that dynamic. Now, I know Clinton critics will say that she won with smaller margins than polls showed weeks ago. This is true in some cases but misleading. Polls are never static. They were moving towards Obama precisely because of the hagiographic coverage he got, the Kennedy endorsements, and the egregiously biased and negative coverage Sen. Clinton got day after day. It is precisely because of this, that I consider her win yesterday to be significant. So, congratulations, Sen. Clinton.

Big Tent Democrat (an Obama supporter) wrote this at Talk Left last night:

Hillary Clinton appears to have won a substantial victory in California capping off a very bad night for Barack Obama.

The three most highly contested states on Super Tuesday were Massachusetts, New Jersey and California. Obama was blown out in each of them.

Some bloggers and the Obama Network (NBC) will try to spin this away. But the respective speeches given by each of the candiates told the real tale. Clinton was ebulliant. Obama flat.

Of course anything can happen but I think Hillary Clinton stopped Barack Obama for good tonight. I know a lot of bloggers and the Media will go on and on about delegate counts but the point is Obama had his fair shot and he did not deliver today. I do not think he will have another one.

Actually I don't think the race is over and we will have a tough fight continue on for the next two months (unfortunately so, especially since I've been waiting to take some time off blogging). However, I do find it amusing when I see comments like these from Josh Marshall, said without any sense of irony:

Chris Matthews is actually making a pretty solid point. And one that's going to be difficult one for McCain to deal with. That is, the states McCain is winning are ones Republican seldom win in general elections. So far our tally has Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. Basically he's taking the Democratic base.

What is funny about that comment is that it is equally applicable to Sen. Obama because many (but not all - e.g., CT, MN) of his wins are not in traditional Democratic strangleholds, but Republican ones and if one should be concerned for Sen. McCain (and I question the basis for that concern), then one should be equally concerned for Sen. Obama. That said, if anyone really thinks Sen. Obama is actually going to win states like Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Georgia, North Dakota, and so on in the general election, they are on another planet. It is Sen. Clinton who has been winning most of the traditional and populous Democratic states in addition to important swing states like Arizona, Florida, and Michigan, not to mention her strength in places like Arkansas (even if I set aside her wins in OK, TN which are going to be pretty difficult to replicate in the general election). I keep seeing comments about how Sen. Obama is bringing lots of new voters into the Democratic party - which is true - yet, people fail to recognize that so is Sen. Clinton. She is bringing women out in huge numbers - and they have been overpowering the male vote time and again. She also has an astonishing base of Latino and immigrant support that Sen. Obama has been unable to compete with in the states with the largest populations. It is no surprise that turnout in some of the places where she is winning is also as impressive as the turnout in some of the places where Sen. Obama has won. My point is simple. I have no idea who will win the nomination, but I find the usual one-sided promotions of Sen. Obama's ability to bring out new voters to be part of the myth-making in this campaign. If anything, she is as much an agent of change as he claims to be.

Steve Clemons made an observation last night that I disagree with:

I'm sitting right now next to Alex Steffler, a real devotee of Barack Obama who just said something insightful about many (not all) Obama supporters.

He said that many Obama advocates support "his aura" -- not his substance.

David Gergen on CNN stated that there were two frontrunners tonight -- Hillary Clinton and John McCain -- but neither could put it away tonight.

Gergen continued that Obama really performed well -- and that many dynamics may favor Obama as the challenger.

But I wonder if Obama has characteristics similar as that of a quickly rising pop star -- and that after tonight, the pop star may be popping.

Clinton advocates seem to scrape on no matter what -- cynically aware of the fact that their candidate is not the potentially transformative/high change symbol that Obama is.

But for the Obama team, the failure to sweep the country and perform wildly beyond expectations may be quite deflating to his supporters -- many of whom are motivated and inspired by the fumes of mystique and charisma.

Again, this slug fest and contest will continue for quite a while -- but to beat McCain/Huckabee, Obama and Clinton need to run together.

Unlike Steve, I believe very strongly that Sen. Clinton can, in fact, be as much of a transformative candidate as Sen. Obama - partly because of her ability to significantly attract many more women and minorities into the Democratic fold, just as Sen. Obama has been successful in attracting youth. To provide just one example, she is the candidate fighting for universal healthcare - a core Democratic and progressive value - in this election, not Sen. Obama, who continues to destroy (also see here) our chances of getting universal healthcare in the next administration. Her enormous policy knowledge and voters' comfort with her ability to fix the economy is another big plus in her column. It is no surprise that California exit polls showed that people for whom the economy or healthcare was the #1 issue voted for her by a huge margin.

Late last year, I told a friend that if Sen. Clinton manages to win the Democratic nomination, my confidence in her ability to win the general election would go up by leaps and bounds because I expected that unlike Sen. Obama, she would be viciously attacked during the primaries, often using false Republican taking points, by not just the Right but also by segments of the Left and by the media. If she is able to sustain this type of an attack and win the nomination, she can do very well in the summer and Fall. So far, she continues to prove that she can withstand these attacks and continues to add big wins to her column. It is for reasons like these that undecided bloggers like Stuart O'Neill at The Democratic Daily have endorsed her.

I want to close by reproducing a post from Todd Beeton at MyDD who endorsed Sen. Clinton yesterday, because he brings out an important point that rarely gets discussed in the progressive blogosphere (point emphasized in bold):

Hillary Clinton had an uphill climb. She started out way at the back of my rankings of presidential preferences, behind Obama (whom I prefered early) and Edwards, but over the course of the past year, she of all the candidates made the case best, in my mind, for why she should be president.

The shift began to happen in early fall after several debates gave me a sense of just what a good candidate she was, which is different than whether she'd be a good president; I just really became more and more impressed with her intelligence, humor and ability to communicate a message in a succinct and accessible way, unlike Democratic nominees of days past. At the same time, I became less and less impressed with Barack Obama's candidacy, which seemed to be flailing a bit. As fall gave way to winter and there was a switch in the fortunes of what would become the two leading campaigns for the Democratic nomination, I realized my admiration for Clinton had developed into a real belief that she would be not only a great nominee but also a phenomenal president.

Over the past few weeks, as the differences between the candidates have sharpened into a choice between two styles of the presidency and as I've seen Clinton and Obama in person several times, that impression has grown even stronger. Who knew I had such a strong belief that the presidency is a job that requires intimate knowledge of the ways Washington works and a hands on approach to not only setting, but pushing through an agenda. I'm much more a Jed Bartlett guy than a Dave guy, which is why through all of the Obama events I've seen, I've been left wondering, OK, sounds great but exactly what will you do as president and how will you do it? Obama wants to lift the country up, make us see ourselves as better than we are, unite the red states and blue've heard it all...but as inspiring as it is, I'm always left wondering what does it mean in real world terms? I need more than a theory of change to cast a ballot for the most important job in the world. Follow me...

As if trying to answer just that question, Ted Kennedy said at a recent rally that Barack Obama is the one to break the deadlock in Washington. Huh? How? If that's the case, why hasn't he done so as senator? What sort of across the aisle magic unity has he manifested over the past 3 years? It plays into this idea that Hillary Clinton is too divisive to be elected, which flies in the face of the reality that she won over the respect of Republican senators in congress and she won over Republican voters in New York; to paraphrase Obama himself, Hillary Clinton is not nearly as divisive as the caricature her opponents paint of her would suggest, yet it certainly behooves the Obama campaign to perpetuate that idea.

In addition, as for what the two candidates will do as president, there are two distinct reasons Hillary Clinton has inspired my vote over Barack Obama. First is that I know she will be a partisan warrior. I'm not ready to give up the fight that they started but that we've been waging over the past several years; I'm not ready to give in to the Broders and Brooks's who insist both parties are equally culpable in the havoc that the Bush administration and a Republican congress has wrought and that unity, in and of itself, is the answer. I've been saying all year that a unity message does not have to be a post-partisan message; you can unite the country by branding the values of the majority of Americans as what they are: Democratic values opposed to the regressive and destructive Republican values that have almost run our country into the ground. While I have no doubt that Barack Obama is a committed Democrat and wants Democrats all over the country to win, I'm disturbed at times by his reluctance to state proudly that he is a Democrat; he has a real opportunity to rebrand the party but he almost perpetuates the idea that it's a dirty word.

The second reason is that I actually believe Hillary Clinton is prepared to take full advantage of the progressive moment we find ourselves in to set a challenging domestic agenda that will not only, as she puts it, "clean up after this Bush," but will also set us on a track for a longterm progressive majority. I know she's seen as a cautious DLC centrist, but what's interesting is that people who claim to be so concerned with moving forward into the future assume Clinton will govern as president with the same instincts that led to some of her worst votes as senator. I actually believe with workable majorities in both houses of congress and with a strong electoral mandate from the country in November, President Hillary Clinton will be a friend and champion of progressive causes. Sure, I fully admit that requires a leap of faith on my part, but she inspires me to take that leap.

Why don't I see Barack Obama as that guy? Perhaps because in his effort to woo more conservative voters he's running to Clinton's right on health care and using right wing language on anything from Social Security to tax cuts. It used to matter to progressives how a candidate talks about issues; it still matters to me. It's not that I think Barack Obama isn't a progressive, certainly his voting record is, but the idea that he would run right to make distinctions from his opponent in a Democratic primary goes against everything we've been fighting against; and how else am I supposed to judge how he'll be as president than by the policies he's offering as a candidate? Whenever Obama does something questionable to progressives, it's fascinating to see the bending over backwards that goes on throughout the blogosphere to justify it. I don't think we should be trying so hard to look for signs that Barack Obama is a friend to the progressive movement even as he boasts about wanting to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Maybe he is sending some complex series of coded messages, which is essentially what some bloggers have argued, but all it does is make me question even more exactly the kind of president he would be. I don't have that same question with Hillary Clinton.

So, for me, a vote for Barack Obama is a leap of faith, one I'm not prepared to take. While Barack Obama certainly has inspired me and I believe him to be a good and honorable man, Hillary Clinton has inspired something far more important for my vote: confidence. I have no doubt that Obama could continue to nurture the movement he's started, perhaps as a VP candidate (yes, Clinton-Obama would be my ideal ticket) or just as a senator/orator; he doesn't need to be president to make the change he says he wants to bring to our nation. As he himself tells us often, it's not about him, it's about us. Right now, after a president who has systematically undermined every aspect of government, I need a president who will focus on making it work again; I believe in the power of government to be a force of positive change in people's lives and I know Barack Obama does as well, but only Hillary Clinton has inspired me to believe that she is the one to fix it and indeed to restore faith in government to usher in a longterm period of progressive -- and competent -- governance. Now that would be quite a change indeed.

I went back and forth on whether I should write this, curious your thoughts. I don't know if it's to my credit or not that I've been accused of being both an Obama booster and an Obama hater but now you know where my vote lies, the truth is out. But quite frankly, I've tried not to use this blog as an outlet of candidate promotion, I've tried to call it as I've seen it, regardless of my vote, so I will continue to write about Barack Obama in a positive light and criticize Clinton when warranted. These are both great candidates, we're lucky to have this choice, as tough as it's been.

For progressives to win for a period of a generation or more, it is critical that we build the progressive movement and the Democratic brand, around progressive principles and framing. We can agree to disagree on Sen. Clinton's Iraq vote and what that means in terms of how she governs. I happen to believe she understands the need to build progressive infrastructure and a progressive movement around Democratic principles - not vague principles of hope and unity. That is one of the key reasons why, despite her Iraq vote which on balance I disagreed with (despite her partial justification for it), I came out in support of her in December. I've not seen anything significant that would make me change my support for her.

eriposte :: 7:31 AM :: Comments (111) :: Digg It!