What It All Means

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Democratic Party, elections, Republican Party

I don’t often agree with Mark Steyn — this may be the first time, in fact — but I’ve got to agree with him today.

The real story of the night, when you look at their rallies and their turn-out numbers, is that the Dems have two strong candidates either of whom could lead a united party to victory. Forget the gaseous platitudes: in Dem terms, their choice on Super Duper Tuesday was deciding which candidate was Super Duper and which was merely Super. Over on the GOP side, it was a choice between Weak & Divisive or Weaker & Unacceptable.

Steyn also says,

There was an explicit anti-Romney vote in the south. A mere month ago, in the wake of Iowa and New Hampshire, I received a ton of emails from southern readers saying these pansy northern states weren’t the “real” conservative heartland, and things would look different once the contest moved to the south. Well, the heartland spoke last night and about the only message it sent was that, no matter what the talk radio guys say, they’re not voting for a Mormon no way no how.

The Mormonism may not be the only thing. Four years ago, along with the swift boating, the GOP did a bang-up job characterizing John Kerry as an effete rich snot from (wink, nudge) Massachusetts. If you ask me, Mitt makes John look common, just as he makes John “Breck Girl” Edwards seem like testosterone on wheels. As Skippy says, “super tuesday has come and gone, and about the only thing that has been decided is what a loser mitt romney is.”

We also learned yesterday that southern Republican voters will not follow Rush Limbaugh off a cliff. Heh.

On the Dem side — although I don’t think the final delegate counts are established, but it still seems to be close to an even split between Clinton and Obama. Even so, some of the bobbleheads are already counting out Obama as an also-ran. Clinton won by not losing. California spoke for the nation. And, of course, Democrats lose by being Democrats. Lance Mannion writes,

The blonde, who is tougher in the mornings than I am, checked in at the New York Times website and found that Adam Nagourney has managed to see yesterday’s excitement as a loss for both Clinton and Obama. How did they both lose by winning a lot? Well, they’re Democrats, and the Democrats are divided, while the Republicans are rallying round.

I forgot one of the basic rules of Insider Thumbsucking: Everything that happens is bad news for the Democrats.

Third pot of coffee update: This Times editorial acknowledges that the Republicans look a little divided too. But the Democrats are worse divided. And of course Hillary’s being divisive.

Among us leftie bloggers and activists there’s a lot of back-channel Clinton versus Obama arguing going on in various listservs. Awhile back Michelle Obama said she would “have to think about” supporting Clinton if she’s the nominee. This has been turned into a blanket accusation by some Clintonistas that Obama supporters are losers who don’t understand political reality.

I think everyone needs to chill out. I clearly remember four years ago stumbling into nests of Deaniacs who swore they’d support no other Dem but Dean in the general election. Somehow, by November, this vow had been forgotten.

Clinton supporters paint themselves as pragmatists and call Obama supporters hopeless romantics, but in the past couple of days I’ve had close encounters with some Clinton supporters who were far more hysterical than rational. For example, one told me that a black man couldn’t possibly win in the South. (And Hillary Clinton could?) I’ve also been told Obama will disappoint me. Listen, politicians always disappoint me. I expect it. But the Clintons collectively have left me with a long list of disappointments that I doubt Obama could ever match. There are rumors Obama is some kind of right-wing Manchurian Candidate who will prove to be a Bush clone if he becomes POTUS. I say anyone who actually believes that has gone way beyond hysterical and is heading toward psychotic.

As candidates, both Obama and Clinton have strengths and weaknesses that, as the delegate count suggests, pretty much balance out. I agree with Josh Marshall:

The only arguments for one side or the other being a winner here come down to airy and finally meaningless arguments about expectations. And the result tells a different tale. It’s about delegates. It’s dead even. You’ve got two well-funded candidates who’ve demonstrated an ability to power back from defeats. And neither is going anywhere.

See also Brad DeLong and Jonathan Freedland.

Update: John Cole says,

Obama won more states, won more delegates, improved his numbers with key groups, widened his lead among minority voters, and over-all, outperformed Hillary. Period. The fact that the Clinton established machine has not been able to pull ahead should be a real clear sign of how much trouble they are in right now. This race was Hillary’s to lose, and last night she may have started doing just that. You will hear the Clinton camp talking repeatedly about winning the big prize- California. Winning California is irrelevant, as a Democrat is going to win Cali in the general regardless who it is.

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  1. phastphil  •  Feb 6, 2008 @11:00 am

    I think Michelle Obama said she would have to think about “working” and supporting Hillary Clinton. Having run for office locally three times and been a local Democratic County Chair I totally understand and empathize with what Mrs. Obama was saying. After losing you are tired and just plain burned out. This election stuff can be personally draining. Everyone is taking her statement out of context.

  2. Swami  •  Feb 6, 2008 @12:19 pm

    I agree with John Cole in your last update. Obama is not going to be a panacea, but he’s—IMO— the best shot we have. Of course I would get behind Hillary if that’s how it goes down..anything to put the GOP holy war in its proper perspective and end the nightmare we’ve been in.
    My objection to Hillary is that I see her as a political chameleon, her steps, as I see them, are not guided by the necessity to achieve the best for the American public with honest negotiation, but more to advantageously position herself politically for her own self interst.
    For me, the essential quality in leadership is honesty ( why do you think Bush is such a joke?)..and if Hillary conveys to me a sense of not being honest and forthright…How can I follow her willingly?

    I’m reminded of a saying I read once in the book, Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.. I believe it was Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe who said..” I make peace with the white man like the wounded buffalo makes with the hunter”…For some reason that sentiment comes to me when I consider Hillary Clinton.

  3. Sachem  •  Feb 6, 2008 @12:48 pm

    I have no doubt that the non-nominee (avoiding the word “loser) will whole heartedly be supporting the ticket and the Senate / House effort.

    From a HuffPo user named Polcomm comes this disturbing scenario:

    “The media has been cheering every time Obama smiles. But, Republicans know Hillary will be much more difficult to defeat because she has been tested and she has been vetted. They are hoping the Democrats blow it again and nominate Obama.
    If they do, McCain can walk into the White House without putting up his umbrella. Obama cannot beat McCain, especially if there is any type of incident involving national security.

    Knowing Bush & Cheney like I do, you can bet your life there
    will be a national security incident before November”.

    Regardless of what Al Qaeda may or may not do in the next nine months, it does appear that Pakistan is going to get several unpleasant surprise airmail packages, probably after the conventions.

    I remained convinced that Conyers lack of spine is going to cost us more than his calculation was worth.

  4. joanr16  •  Feb 6, 2008 @1:15 pm

    Wouldn’t be the first time the candidate’s wife’s remarks were taken completely out of context. I seem to remember a certain “tea and cookies” comment by Hillary in 1992 (referring to the unfortunate lot of political wives), that the Right tried to twist into a snotty remark toward the lives of women in general.

  5. Dave  •  Feb 6, 2008 @1:22 pm

    I haven’t been inspired by a politician since …. oh, Lord, it’s been decades. I find that Obama inspires me. I feel better about America when I hear him speak. I believe he’s our best shot.

    I have no problems with Clinton. Mark Steyn got it right – they’re both perfectly acceptable. But she’s just a choice between standard politician model #1 (left-leaning) versus standard politician model #2 (right-leaning). And I do not look forward to 4 or 8 more years of Clinton Derangement Syndrome. But that said, I’d vote for a turnip or any other root vegetable ahead of any Republican right now.

  6. felicity  •  Feb 6, 2008 @2:14 pm

    Hillary is a very polarizing figure – some idolize her and more than some absolutely detest her. Obama is not. I’ll take the latter if for no reason other than I’m really tired of living in an environment of hatred.

    Other than that, Obama has the skills in spades to play the international scene brilliantly. Since threat of annihilation can never elicit respect, concern or cooperation from others, we just might try a little deplomacy. Obama can pull it off.

  7. Ian  •  Feb 6, 2008 @3:44 pm

    I think the idea that the right is hoping for a Obama candidacy is pure bullshit. If you listen closely to what they are saying, particularly to what they are saying to each other (ia radio shows, blogs, etc) it is clear they would MUCH rather run against Hillary,just because so many people hate her irrationally already.

    People seem to forget Obama is NOT some dewy-eyed innocent, newly come to politics … he comes from Chicago politics, which is some of the roughest anywhere. Furthermore, his original experience is in Chicago community organizing, which is even more so… I’m positive he knows how to knife fight with the best of them when needed, but his whole deal is that politics shouldn’t BE knife fighting.

    We’ll see. I’m very encouraged by yesterday, particularly in light of the fact that Obama has a very friendly February coming up.. A dead heat on super Tuesday followed by a solid month of wins could put him over the top, in the public eye anyway.

    -me

  8. Textor  •  Feb 6, 2008 @5:21 pm

    … I’m positive he knows how to knife fight with the best of them when needed, but his whole deal is that politics shouldn’t BE knife fighting.

    Which is the point: If Obama succumbs, and plays tit for tat with the many various and asunder attacks that will, most assuredly, come his way, he will be seen as the typical politician. One of his strengths as a candidate has been the perception that he is above petty partisanship, and will be the best to forge a coalition of independents, republicans, and democrats to create a new political reality. When his armor cracks, and it will, the republican attack machine will fill it with all kinds of innuendo and falsehoods, fracturing the myth and his candidacy.

    Make no mistake, neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will walk into the White House unscathed. The general contest will test our wills, as voters, and those of the candidates. The higher our esteem for our candidates and their cause, the more likely we, and they, can sustain the onslaught. We, the majority of Americans, have much to gain; the opposition has much to lose. Who do you think will fight harder?

    Regardless of the outcome to the primary process, we must not lose sight of the general goal: to occupy the White House and the levers of power. We should support our favorite candidate, but, when a choice has been made, coalesce around that candidate, and, at minimum, vote.

  9. joanr16  •  Feb 6, 2008 @6:27 pm

    People seem to forget Obama is NOT some dewy-eyed innocent, newly come to politics … he comes from Chicago politics, which is some of the roughest anywhere.

    That’s an excellent point. The Toronto Star recently wrote about novelist Sara Paretsky’s dilemma over the Illinois Democratic primary. She recalled Obama as the bright, effective young representative for her district, in a state legislature that is “kind of like the largest collection of crooks out on parole that you can imagine.” Like me, though, Paretsky was concerned about how Obama intends to repair the worst aggregate of messes this country’s seen since the Civil War. (I felt much better reading that; I thought I must have missed something while I was focused on all of John Edwards’ specific ideas.) Also like me, Paretsky had even fewer kind thoughts about Clinton.

    Well, at least we’ll have an interesting convention. All the Republicans will have is a four-day infomercial for stupidity.

  10. Doug Hughes  •  Feb 6, 2008 @6:28 pm

    It took me an hour to find the info, but I find this tally on the dem side intersting. (Feb 5 primaries stats courtesy of CNN).

    Total votes counted (as of midday) 14,645,638

    Clinton 7,295,400 (50.2 %)
    Obama 7,295,400 (49.8 %)

    Clinton has 1 pledged delegate more, but she has a big jump when you include superdelagates.

    We are less than half way thru the process 1,574 delegates awarded of 4,049. We all have our opinions about what we HOPE will happen, but if anyone thinks they KNOW, they must be looking at numbers I have not seen.

    This race is still up for grabs.

  11. Lynne  •  Feb 6, 2008 @7:31 pm

    Very well put, Barbara.

  12. maha  •  Feb 6, 2008 @7:59 pm

    Doug — the number of votes doesn’t necessarily mean much, because some of the states held caucuses rather than elections.

  13. Doug Hughes  •  Feb 6, 2008 @8:51 pm

    Barbara – I got Clinton’s number wrong. It is: 7,350,238 Why does it matter since the delagate count – not the popular vote will determine each partys selection? IMO, the popular vote maters because it is a measure of strength. My point is that it’s so incredibly close. (Maybe a Republican can call an advantage of .004 a madate, but I can’t.)

    Now folks are going to spin this. And I have my preferance, but for a moment, I have to stand back and marvel at the balancing act, and I predict it will get tighter still. If I could script the next debate, BOTH candidates should commit without reservation that they will support the nominee if they lose. I will.

  14. skippy  •  Feb 6, 2008 @9:11 pm

    well, i am flattered to be quote by maha any time.

    i am still undecided which candidate has the best shot, tho to be honest i voted for obama in my cal. primary yesterday.

    obama really inspires people, but i distrust his “hands across the aisle” meme. anyone who thinks you can work with the current gop hasn’t been paying attention the last, oh, 20 years or so.

    i enjoy hillary’s specific policy stances, except for a tiny little thing called voting for the iraq war. and also, i am quite afraid that the baggage she brings to the table could turn off the very voters the dems would need to win next november, ie, disenchanged repubbbs and independents.

    to be really honest, i don’t see much difference, poltical agenda-wise, among hillary, obama and mccain, domestcially-speaking. they’re all within spitting distance of the center.

    edwards was my guy. i will probably vote for whatever dem gets the nod, but i will probably do so without excitement.

  15. Swami  •  Feb 6, 2008 @11:13 pm

    “We are who we’ve been waiting for”

    You can’t get more profoundly simple and truthful than that,no?. I think it might mean something close to…. “We the people”

  16. Ian  •  Feb 6, 2008 @11:57 pm

    I can see not seeing much of a difference between obama and hillary domestically (altho the difference IS there … it’s just they’re in agreement on most of the major big-picture items … it’s the details that differenciate) …. but how on earth could you not see a difference between them and mccain??

    Yah, obama and hillary are more moderate than edwards (altho not by much, really … edwards is no radical himself) … but mccain is conservative all the way.

    As for distrust for obama’s ‘hands across the aisle’ theme … well, I would agree that it will be very difficult for him to implement, with today’s GOP. But, I firmly believe it must happen some time, before political healing can begin in this country, and he’s got the best chance of doing it.

    “Regardless of the outcome to the primary process, we must not lose sight of the general goal: to occupy the White House and the levers of power. We should support our favorite candidate, but, when a choice has been made, coalesce around that candidate, and, at minimum, vote.”

    Absolutely. Anybody, clinton or obama supporter, who wouldn’t support the other side if they win is insane, in my opinion. Democrats must be exceedingly careful, I think, not to turn this into a feud between now and the convention … arguing amongst ourselves about who would be the better nominee is healthy. Bitterly bickering among ourselves about who is the only possible nominee is not healthy.

    -me

  17. Bron  •  Feb 7, 2008 @5:39 pm

    Can’t anybody give Hillary a break? The media pundits are enamored with Obama, many on the left are enamored with him, everyone overlooks *his* flaws and attacks, *his* misstatements of fact and policy, *his* misrepresentations of his opponents policies and so on. Yet Hillary can’t get a break. Every action or word is cast into the most negative perspective possible.

    I’m OK with a fair, political contest, but Hillary deserves better. She has spent her whole life working to improve this country. I don’t get the people who say it’s for her “self-interest” – that just does not fly or even make sense. No one would put themselves through what she has gone through unless they believed in what they were doing.

    She’s not a natural speaker or politician. She does not have the flair and easy way that Obama has, nor the charisma and charm. But she has a much better understanding of how to get things done and of what needs to be done. Her policies are better crafted and she is much more grounded in the realities of governing.

    I don’t understand people who think Obama is not as “political” or as “ambitious” – he’s one of the most political, ambitious and self-interested people I’ve ever seen. Just look at his career history and past the rhetoric and charm. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But celebrity buzz alone does not necessarily make for a good President.

    I just wish everyone would judge all the candidates on their policies, their merits and the facts and not on a bunch of irrelevant “noise” and highly subjective crapola. And I wish people would take each of candidate at face value and not drape them with preconceptions and tabloid personas.

    At least give Obama the same amount of vetting, scrutiny and skepticism that’s being heaped on Hillary (and formerly on Edwards as well). What is he going to do? How is he going to do it?

    And please take him to task for his attacks and fibs – I guarantee the Republicans will have no reticence to do so. Better to find out now how he will weather the storm.

    I was for Edwards and am now favoring Hillary. I saw her once in 92 speaking for Bill during a campaign stop (his voice was hoarse so she did most of the speaking). I went home that night and told my wife, “I don’t know about Bill, but I think Hillary might make a good President.” Her passion, sincerity and conviction were palpable in person, but do not come across as well on TV.

    She’s worked so hard and done so well quietly behind the scenes for many years, I think she deserves serious consideration and not the cursory dismissal she is getting from so many quarters.

    Thanks for a great site!

    Bron

  18. maha  •  Feb 7, 2008 @6:36 pm

    Yet Hillary can’t get a break.

    Listen, I’ve met her, and thought she was lovely. I voted for her for Senate twice. I don’t want her to be President. The nation needs to go forward, not backward to the 1990s even if the 1990s were better than the 2000s. If she’s the nominee I’ll support her, but I think the Dems would be making a huge mistake.

  19. Davidson  •  Feb 8, 2008 @11:16 am

    The nation needs to go forward, not backward to the 1990s even if the 1990s were better than the 2000s.
    @maha:
    How the hell are we going backwards if we pick her as nominee? If it’s the “polarizing” issue: do you honestly think that Obama will escape such a fate? My God, her policies are about the future, not the past.

    @Bron:
    The media pundits are enamored with Obama, many on the left are enamored with him, everyone overlooks *his* flaws and attacks, *his* misstatements of fact and policy, *his* misrepresentations of his opponents policies and so on. Yet Hillary can’t get a break. Every action or word is cast into the most negative perspective possible.

    Exactly right. There’s a glaring double standard at play where Obama is allowed to get away with anything and Clinton is called out for things that are not even true. If there was any semblance of objective reporting there’s no way Obama would be in competition b/c his entire campaign is based on a lie: him being a transformational candidate who’ll transcend partisanship. He’s a status quo politician. The fact that he didn’t clobber Clinton on Super Tuesday in spite of her being relentlessly demonized by the corporate media and now most “liberal” blogs is a testament to his profound weakness. He won’t be able to beat McCain because his candidacy is based on blind faith and once the corporate media begins to expose him–on just legitimate grounds–his supporters will be absolutely disillusioned with him.

    Clinton was never my first choice, but she’s far stronger than Obama on domestic policy, rhetoric, and being able to whether a firestorm (It’s amazing she’s still doing well in spite of the corporate media hellbent on smearing her).

  20. Bron  •  Feb 13, 2008 @5:24 pm

    @maha

    Thank you, I certainly respect your personal choice. I guess I just don’t buy the “going back to the past” thing. But if I did, going “back” to a balanced budget and no federal deficit would be OK with me. Then we’d have the money to implement some of the programs being discussed.

    I have not heard a single new idea from Obama. All of his programs seem to be derived from Edwards and Clinton. I do not dislike Obama, I just think Hillary is way ahead in knowing how to get something done. Competence is key for me. Understanding the policy details and how our Federal Gov. should work and how it is broken and should be fixed is crucial. Talk is easy, doing is hard.

    If Obama wins, I will support him. I just see Hillary as the better choice. What’s Obama going to do with all those people not covered under his health care plan? I’ve never heard a good answer. His plan takes the easy way out, Clinton bit the bullet and did it right, Just one example.

    The good news is that either Obama or Hillary will be a huge improvement. ;)

    @Davidson

    Thanks. Of course, we agree. I think it’s the obvious media bias that bothers me the most. But then, the Clintons have never gotten a fair deal from the media. “The Clinton Wars” is excellent on that point. A good read in any case. Cheers!

  21. maha  •  Feb 13, 2008 @5:46 pm

    Bron — you say competence is key. That’s fine. Please read today’s post and then and explain to me what Hillary Clinton is competent at, and tell me what she has accomplished. Not her husband; her.

  22. Bron  •  Feb 17, 2008 @6:13 pm

    You’ve got to be kidding, right? Her entire life has been a long string of very notable accomplishments. I could not possibly list them all here. Just google her or read a bio. She has worked tirelessly for women’s and children’s rights and needs, served on numerous organizations, founded quite a few herself, pushed a lot of programs, bills, and policies to a successful implementation. Come on! You must certainly know her background? She has had a long list of notable people on both sides of the aisle praise her over the years for her work in many areas.

    She has had quite a life and done a lot on her own and, in fact, made quite a point of separating herself from her husband during her early years. When he ran for President, then she moved to take herself more out of the limelight.

    Criminey, she was elected as a US Senator in New York and re-elected over-whelmingly getting much Republican support. That’s not an accomplishment and a sign of competence? She has received a great deal of praise from some pretty hard-core Republican Senators on her ability to work with them in the Senate to get things done. That’s quite an accomplishment in itself.

    I thought of trying to make a list, but it would take a long time and I don’t think it would really accomplish much. As I’ve said, her hsitory is well known. It’s hard to think of a more driven woman, offhand, she has worked so hard all her life to make this country a better placed for everyone.

    And, btw, I give her high marks for her attempt to get Universal Health Care done. So she failed. She was the first to go up against the over-whelming odds and make the effort. Most studiously avoid such hard battles, preferring to tackle only the ones they know they can win. It took a lot of guts and courage. And she laid the ground work for a lot of that which is being discussed now.

    By the way, a few more comments. First, I’m still waiting for that “single new idea” from Obama. Haven’t heard it yet.

    Second, I’ve tried hard to be objective and look at how these two are running their campaigns, and by any measure, there are far more misstatements of fact, misleading ads and mailers, whisper campaigns, and all the rest coming from the Obama side. Both campaigns stretch the truth here and there, but it’s far more prevalent on the Obama side. One egregious example, I heard him with my own ears repeatedly say he has a Healtch Care plan that covers everyone. Simply not true. He has stopped making that claim since, having been repeatedly called on it. And he repeatedly misstates Hillary’s positions even after being corrected. That’s just lying.

    In the general election John McCain and the Republicans will eat him up. He’s already tripped himself up over public campaign financing. If he is elected and he does try to “reach across the asile” – he’ll draw back two bloody nubs. We ned someone who can fight. That does not preclude working with the other side, but they have to respect you first. Hillary has that respect.

    Best scenario I can see is that Hillary wins the nomination, Obama runs as VP and you get 16 good years in the White House. That would be best for the Democratic Party (I’m an Independent, by the way). If Obama wins the nomination, then you are, indeed, rolling the dice, just as Bill Clinton said.

    Re the campaign – yes, a lot of problems with the message, but a lot of that is because they decided early to position themselves to win in the general election, even if it hurt them in the primary race. They made the mistaken assumption that Obama would wait and not risk hurting the Democratic Party’s chances by provoking a divisive contest. They underestimated his ambition and drive. They also underestimated the fickleness of black voters (i.e. they’re the same as all other voters). I’m sure they have learned from those mistakes. (I could go on, but I really don’t have the time.)

    I’m a “civilian” not an activist (any longer) or a blogger. In fact, I seldom post on blogs. I did so only out of frustrationa and because I like your blog. So I’ve said more than enough.

    Regards and may the best man or woman win.

    Bron

  23. maha  •  Feb 17, 2008 @6:40 pm

    Her entire life has been a long string of very notable accomplishments.

    Also true of Obama. But try to come up with a list of what she has accomplished as a senator or through political processes, and it gets thin. Real thin. Essentially, she tells us over and over again how competent and accomplished she is, and people figure it must be true.

    I’m not saying she’s a complete loser. I voted for her twice for Senate, after all. But she’s let us down several times, and I think the evidence shows that Obama is the more electable of the two.

  24. Bron  •  Feb 17, 2008 @6:58 pm

    Fair enough, but by that standard Obama has accomplished practically nothing. Advantage Hillary.

    If you think those polls are a good guide to the general election coming up, then I may have to rethink my great respect for your judgment. ;)

    A lot can happen between now and November. I’ve made my own analysis of who would do better in the general election and I think it would be Hillary. I trust my thinking a lot more than some poll. Polls are like the weather, they change often and without warning. The reflect what is now, not what is to come. That’s a big mistake a lot of people make.

    Time will tell. Thanks for the civil discussion. Something else getting more and more rare these days.

    Bron

  25. maha  •  Feb 17, 2008 @10:20 pm

    but by that standard Obama has accomplished practically nothing. Advantage Hillary.

    By that standard they aren’t that far apart.

    A lot can happen between now and November. I’ve made my own analysis of who would do better in the general election and I think it would be Hillary.

    And I think just the opposite. Most of the country has a fixed opinion of her. They either think she’s OK or they hate her. I’m afraid her positive numbers can’t go much higher than they are now. Obama, on the other hand, is something of a blank slate and is very good at selling himself to people.

    As you say, a lot can happen between now and November, so there’s not much point arguing about it.

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