Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Campaign Notes

There aren't many specific issues going on in the current presidential campaign that merit their own post, but there are a number of developments that may be worth a short mention. As a result, this entry will be a lightning look at the current state of affairs and a possible preview of the coming days and weeks.

1. Obama and Race

The Reverend Wright controversy seems like so much nonsense to me. With all the important things going on in the United States and the world, the fringe rants of a pastor are only important to the mainstream media and the gutter campaigning of the current environment. The association of Obama with Reverend Wright is certainly worthy of some critique, as are the endorsements of several controversial preachers in the McCain campaign, but it's only so revealing about the candidates themselves. Obama is a fairly straightforward political character. He isn't the type to have radical skeletons in his closet. On the topic of race, there is little doubt in my mind that he is a healing force with a distinctly balances perspective that reflects much of mainstream America's lukewarm sentiment on the issue in this new millennium. I thought his speech was very good and accomplished a lot of things simultaneously. The irony is that the larger audience will still hear whatever they want to hear from the speech, regardless of its overarching treatment on American racial environments. Personally, if I want to hear an honest discussion of race (particularly African-American perspectives) I will turn to Cornell West everyday and twice on Sunday.

For the record, since this early campaign moment Cornell West has said some intriguing and supportive things about Barack Obama, available here in this Rolling Stone article.

2. Hillary's Sniper Story

Dueling controversies in the Democratic Primary campaign seem to be the state of things. Hillary Clinton has run her campaign on "experience" and has largely been unchallenged by the mainstream media on precisely what experience she's talking about. Her recent accounts about coming under fire in Bosnia during her co-presidency of the 90's has been debunked in the most harsh and telling fashion as video has been put out showing her photo op on the tarmac in Bosnia well after the peace accords had been established. Combined with her debunked story about assisting in the brokering of the Northern Ireland peace accords, her experience is looking a lot less "3am-worthy" than it did only a week ago. If this incident has legs and turns into a greater scrutiny of her "experience", perhaps a new perspective will emerge in that debate over who's ready on day one.

3. John McCain's Free Pass

McCain has been stumbling along the campaign trail with multiple misstatements about Iraq, Iran, Al Qaeda, and his endorsements. If this were a general election season, he'd be facing the music in the polls and probably sinking like a stone. Since the focus has been squared so firmly on the Democrats, McCain has relied on his buddy-buddy relationship with the mainstream media to soften the mistakes and hide in the shadows. I look ahead a bit to a one on one campaign with Barack Obama (probably) and think that John McCain is in serious trouble. That leads me to my next point....

4. Iraq and 4,000

The death toll at the 5th anniversary of Mission Accomplished hit the round number of 4,000 in the wake of renewed violence in Basra. The Mahdi Army of Al Sadr has set aside the tentative cease fire with the US military and are now clashing with Iraqi forces on multiple fronts. The last two weeks have been the bloodiest since the Fall and the so-called Surge is looking a lot less like a success and more like a bloody stalemate. The neoliberal economic system imposed by the Coalition Provisional Authority is stalling in Iraqi Parliament and any reasonable observer of the Occupation has to admit that reconciliation of any kind cannot happen under the current arrangement and in the current climate. To be honest, as a Progressive, I support the idea of an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq but I also have my doubts. I consider my perspective to be more pragmatic, and I think there's a reasonable chance of genocide should we pull out quickly, leaving a military void.

That may sound like the product of the neocon fear campaign, but I would ask anyone watching the situation on the ground to offer evidence to suggest that outcome is unrealistic. I think our presence is divisive and counterproductive, but I think our absence is potentially a humanitarian disaster. We can thank Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, and the rest of the neocon lurkers for putting us in this impossible situation. McCain would have us stay to preserve the peace and give the Iraqi government 100 years of opportunity to realize a stable national identity. The Dems would have us walk away. Neither seems right to me. Were I president, I think I'd engage in a 2-year, phased withdrawal of troops but only after securing United Nations support in the form of ground troops to ease the transition and a more balanced economy built on nationalizing oil and other key resources until such a time that Iraq is prepared to deal with opening its markets voluntarily.

UN help with reconstruction is a must, as is a nationalization of profits from the resources of the people. If 100% of the money from oil sales are put back into reconstruction, it seems reasonable that Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds would equally benefit from the resource. Water, electricity, and human services could be supported across the board and the basic needs of the people could establish a more lasting peace. If life looks good, the attraction of death as an insurgent is less prevalent. Less insurgents means more stability. Nationalization of resources would seem to accomplish this best.

5. Where All This Goes

I see no clear path to the nomination for Hillary Clinton. She will continue to take from Obama in an effort to steal the nomination via superdelegate coup, but it won't happen. Think about it. If Clinton were to steal the nomination by garnering the support of the superdelegates there would be a civil war. Increasingly, there is a sentiment that a Clinton coup would split the Party and no reasonable superdelegate would let that happen. The strikes against Hillary are far more daunting than the media currently reports. She has a huge chest of money that compares favorably to Obama at first glance, but she also has a huge debt that is unaccounted for, where Obama has none. Her money looks good on paper, but dissolves substantially when we consider that she has to use much of it to pay off that debt. It looks worse when we realize that the bulk of the remaining money is earmarked for the general election. By all accurate accounts, Obama's money advantage is beyond enormous.

Likewise, the sentiment among Party insiders is strongly in Obama's corner, particularly among the DNC crowd, governors, and congressional committees. They know that Clinton's national "coattails" are nearly non-existent in a season where Democrats hope to score 25-30 additional seats in the House, and several in the Senate. There are a few governor's jobs that could also swing in 2008. Obama has shown his ability to drive local elections in Democrats favor, notably in the recent win for Bill Foster in Illinois's 14th District. That area is squarely Republican and was formerly occupied by House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The win is emblematic of the type of victory the Democratic Party is looking for across the country. It is widely believed that an Obama candidacy would sweep up competitive races and deliver for the Party, while Clinton's national profile is divisive enough that local elections may be less successful with her at the lead. This was certainly true in both 1994 and 1996, when Bill Clinton failed to deliver for the Party and ended up presiding over a huge net loss of Democrats in government, giving up the majority to the GOP and ushering in the era of the Bush Administration.

John McCain's money situation is bleak. He'll get about $84 million via public funding in the general election, while Obama (probably) can expect to bring in double that total, if not more. Likewise, the turnout for Democrats in the primary elections bodes ill for the GOP as the economy sinks deeper into recession and Iraq sinks back into chaos. The money, domestic climate, foreign climate, and image advantage all go to Obama. What looks like a McCain strength now, might look a lot different once Obama gets the nomination and stands on the stage in Denver to raucous crowds of Party loyalists. I expect the polls to stay close until Denver, at which point every week will bring a wider gap for Obama....


mike's spot said...

Hey Mike- Good to have you back. I don't think McCain has a 'Buddy Buddy' relationship with media. I think its very much the opposite. Much of the major television and web based media is very liberal (obviously excluding fox) and IGNORES McCain because they don't even want people to realize he's in the election. They want it to appear like the democratic nomination is the general election, and everything afterwards is just formalities.

Mike Plugh said...

I think your comment is patently wrong. Read Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media?" and see for yourself how the conservative media (think Limbaugh) and the conservative political machine (think Rove) worked together to move the goalposts on media bias.

If anything, the media bias that exists is a free-market, business friendly, socially moderate media that resembles the Ronald Reagan society FAR more than the FDR society.

Paul Waldman and David Brock have written a very compelling book about McCain and his media free ride, highlighted in Newsweek here.

Matt C said...

Hey Mike - good to be able to read you again. Great return post; you hit a ton of key points, and I especially liked your reflections on Obama's speech. I actually wrote something last night about a topic you touched on - that people are going to take the speech for whatever they want it to be. If you get a chance, take a look at it here.

To touch on what you and Mike were discussing, I think you are right in that there is a conservative bias, but I don't think it's the case with McCain - I just think the media is having way too much fun with Hillary and Barack to bother with anything else (Britney Spears and/or Paris Hilton aside). We'll see what happens in the general election.

mike's spot said...


Thanks for the links! I'm not sure I'm convinced that there is a conservative bias on the TV medium though. Limbaugh's audience is predominately radio is it not?

I would say the breakdown is as follows:

Talk radio: very conservative
TV: Liberal excluding fox
Paper: mix

the Free Market aspect is interesting. Maybe the media appears conservative in this instance just because it's cheaper and gets them more views to cover hillary and Obama?

Mike Plugh said...

Okay. Let me put it to you this way. Even William Kristol, the world's most twisted neocon, admits it's a myth. Read this comment from Alterman's book:

"And even William Kristol, without a doubt the most influential Republican/neoconservative publicist in America, has come clean on this issue. “I admit it,” he told a reporter.

“The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures.”12 Nevertheless Kristol apparently feels no compunction about exploiting and reinforcing ignorant prejudices of his own
constituency. In a 2001 subscription pitch to conservative potential subscribers of his Rupert Murdoch–funded magazine, the Weekly Standard, Kristol complained, “The
trouble with politics and political coverage today is that there’s too much liberal
bias. . . .

There’s too much tilt toward the left-wing agenda. Too much apology for liberal policy failures. Too much pandering to liberal candidates and causes.”13 (It’s a
wonder he left out “Too much hypocrisy.”)

Read the into to the book yourself, here: