Posted by JewishJournal.com
This blog’s Grand Poobah, Raphael Sonenshein, was a featured guest at the Society of Professional Journalists L.A. mixer/meeting last night, and we have videos to prove it.
Here’s the first of six very dark and poorly-lit videos from the evening. Raphe’s political wisdom shines, however!
Go to Edward Headington’s YouTube Channel for the rest of the evening’s vids.
—The Web Guy
5.20.09 at 7:26 pm | Now that the voters have blown up the jury-rigged. . .
4.28.09 at 2:01 pm | Senator Arlen Specter (PA), has switched parties,. . .
3.17.09 at 10:32 pm | So far, I think Obama has done a tremendous job. . .
3.6.09 at 8:32 pm | The city elections on March 3 turned out to be. . .
11.22.08 at 4:14 pm | Barack Obama has one overriding task: he must. . .
10.28.08 at 2:43 pm | In the campaign's final days, McCain and his. . .
10.28.08 at 2:43 pm | In the campaign's final days, McCain and his. . . (4)
3.17.09 at 10:32 pm | So far, I think Obama has done a tremendous job. . . (3)
5.2.08 at 2:07 pm | The Rev. Wright story has its roots in black. . . (1)
March 24, 2008 | 3:32 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
The current flavor in politics is that Democrats should be extremely worried that their nomination battle is going to doom the party to defeat in the presidential election. I’d like to make the case that all this worrying is a waste of time and energy.
Now let’s remember that modern Democrats are born worriers. They are certain, to paraphrase their not-hero Ronald Reagan, that behind every gift horse must lie a pile of manure. Democratic pessimism is deeply ingrained. Here’s why I think it is wrong headed.
1. The notion that this is an election Democrats should win, but might blow, is wrong. The fact is that Democrats have always had to struggle to win presidential elections. There hasn’t been a true sure thing for Democrats since Lyndon Johnson smashed Barry Goldwater in 1964, and before that you have to go back to FDR. Only one Democrat since 1964 has won a majority of the popular vote, Jimmy Carter in 1976, who barely crossed 50% against an unelected incumbent, Gerald Ford, who had pardoned Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton never beat 50%. Republicans, by contrast, have piled up majorities numerous times. All other things being equal, Republicans should be favored in presidential elections.
Generic polling on the presidential race shows a Democratic edge, at least until you put actual candidates in the mix. And then it’s very close. So Democrats should stop acting like they are blowing a sure thing. It was going to be a challenge no matter what the state of the economy, the unpopularity of Bush, etc.
2. It’s only March. Sure, it would be great if the Democratic race were over, but consider that the campaign has only been really going on in earnest since late January. The election, may I remind you, is in November, several eons away.
3. Sticks and stones may break my bones…. The Clinton and Obama campaigns are saying nasty things about each other. Some of the stuff seems over the top. But then both camps spend days arguing about who is the most over the top. The latest battle is over who is more negative. I’d almost rather hear one of them say, “bring it on, give me your best shot”, and then laugh it off. Sometimes I find the high ground a little boring and pointless. For example, when Bill Clinton implies that only Hillary and McCain are patriotic, Obama ought to just say, “well that’s what people say when they’re desperate. Personally I’m looking forward to taking on John McCain in the fall. If they’re not up to that task, maybe they should get out of the way.”
Politics is kind of colorful and lively, and I wish people didn’t have to spend so much time apologizing for saying wild things about opponents. Democrats ought to spend more time practicing the art of political teasing because they will need it in the fall, and less time trying to win the argument about who is the most appropriate. This excessive sensitivity that is causing Democrats to say they will bolt in the fall if the other one wins the nomination has time to dissipate.
4. John McCain has plenty of problems of his own. Lately, the Democratic buzz is how incredibly strong McCain will be in the fall. The theme is also being pushed by the Clintons, who are trying to both make that point, and then form a tacit alliance with McCain against Obama. Sure, McCain is a strong candidate, with a great image.
And see point #1 above. But he’s got money problems. He just passed the legal limit for spending in the nomination phase despite a statement by the Federal Election Commission Chair that he can’t do that. He’s being hugely outraised by both Clinton and Obama. He’s showing confusion about foreign policy, mixing up Shiites and Sunnis, and seems uninterested in economic policy. Think the economy might be a big issue this year? His spectacularly supportive media coverage is being nicked a bit here and there, and reporters are beginning to show some interest in covering him not as their personal friend but in a more professional way.
5. Republicans are even more worried than Democrats. Republicans think they have a decent chance at holding the White House, and that makes sense. But they are extremely worried about the Congress, facing Republican retirements, a big fundraising deficit to Democrats, and issues that bode poorly for them. For Republicans, holding the White House is critical because they expect to do badly everywhere else.
So Democrats should put away their worry beads, and relax a bit.
It’s a long way to November.
March 21, 2008 | 4:10 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
Today, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama for president. I’d call this a turning point for sure, if all previous turning points hadn’t simply turned out to be wrong turns that take us who knows where.
But it certainly changes the chemistry of this race one more time.
The last few weeks have pushed the Obama campaign to the limit. Hillary Clinton’s case in recent months has been that the delegate count is less important than whether Obama is ready to be the candidate in November or to be the president in January. Nobody gets a free ride at this stage of national politics, here in the semi-finals. The scandal over inflammatory sermons by Obama’s former pastor led to a powerful Obama speech on race that garnered rave critical reviews, but we still don’t know where public opinion will end up on it.
Clinton needs to keep superdegates from moving en masse to Obama, which would effectively end the race. The last few weeks have given her a chance to make her closing argument, and to introduce “reasonable doubt” to the jury. She may even be getting help from Republicans who are being urged by Rush Limbaugh to re-register as Democrats and vote for Clinton to keep the battle alive.
But the refusal of Michigan and Florida to revote their primaries really hurt Clinton, and Richardson’s endorsement gives Obama a chance to refocus. It’s all been about black and white for a few weeks, and that’s a tough conversation for Democrats. Richardson opens the door to Latinos giving Obama a second look despite their strong support for Clinton so far. Mostly, his endorsement changes the subject and offers Obama some desperately-needed good news.
It has seemed for months that the race has been right on the knife’s edge. Clinton seemed done for, and then revived, and then the race thing seemed on the verge of almost knocking Obama out. The odds still strongly favor Obama because of his delegate lead, and it would take a sudden drop in national polls to change that. Like any good competitor, Clinton is “hanging around” meaning that she is in a position to take over if Obama falters.
If the Richardson endorsement is followed by others among the key superdelegates and former candidates, however, today’s events will be seen as the beginning of the end of the race.
Given the pack mentality of many politicians, it would not take many similar endorsements to set off a flood.
March 16, 2008 | 1:48 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
In the 1990s, the political aggressiveness of the Clintons, what some would call “ruthlessness,” was a tonic for Democrats used to being savaged by Republicans in national campaigns. Several weeks ago, Democrats had to face the fact that the Clinton ruthlessness was now being turned inward, against the party that seems on the verge of rejecting them in 2008. This is the significance of the set of comments made by Hillary Clinton praising Republican nominee John McCain in order to attack Barack Obama.
Ruthlessness is a topic of great ambivalence among Democrats. Democrats love to idealize Bobby Kennedy, and seem to think of him as a sort of hippie political poet of the 1960s because he quoted classical Greek poets. Actually, he was one of the most ruthless politicians of his time, and it was only near the end of his life that he was able to transcend that reputation.
Once upon a time, Democrats were a very tough party. Built on working class and rural voters, and with significant appeal to intellectuals, the Democrats could take a punch and throw a much harder one back. Listen to the speeches of FDR, Harry Truman, and Jack Kennedy, and you’ll hear confident politicians who used humor, sarcasm, and political rhetoric to fight, and often win battles.
The takeover of the party by its more intellectual wing in 1972 gave the party a more thoughtful approach, but also a less battle-hardened one. And as Republicans did better and better in national politics, they had an easy time smacking Democrats, who would often respond with “I won’t dignify that charge by responding to it,” or some other such nonsense. It’s a fairly short step to caving into an unpopular Bush administration on national security matters.
The Clintons were a pleasant surprise in 1992. They were tough, savvy, and aggressive. Their campaign manager James Carville pointed out sarcastically that “Democrats have an instinct for the capillaries.” No more. They vowed that no charge would go unanswered. Bill Clinton could level a charge with a smile. They drove Republicans crazy.
Democrats flocked to support Bill when Republicans counter-attacked, and a loyal party base carried the Clintons through the impeachment battle. When Al Gore faced the crisis of his career in Florida in 2000, though, it was back to the “nice guys finish last” model. While Republicans fought the Florida recount like a pitched political war, Gore went to the courtroom. Would the Clintons have fought for every single, last vote and would they have tried to rally the public behind them? Would they have agonized about seeming too tough and calculating and ambitious? You tell me.
But there is one problem with the Clintons and their ruthlessness. Ultimately, is what gives them their strength, their energy not the Democratic party but their own survival? Once, in the 1990s, the two were identical. The survival of the Clintonswas
the survival of the Democrats.
But the Democrats have grown out of that era, and are ready to spread their wings. Now, Hillary Clinton is fighting for every delegate as she has every right to do. If only Al Gore had fought like this for every Florida vote! But she is also scorching the earth as she does so, elevating the Republican nominee and degrading her Democratic confrere. Some day soon, I imagine that the broader, more dynamic Democratic party will pull down the curtain on her campaign, through a movement among uncommitted superdelegates. The turning point may be the comments about McCain.
The Clintons have been great teachers of real political combat to a political party that needs to be believe not only in its ideas, but in its courage and effectiveness in fighting for them. Ironically, much of that party now finds itself fighting the Clintons to break free of their teachers.
(Image courtesy http://www.redstategraffix.com/)
March 11, 2008 | 11:18 pm
Posted by Raphael Sonenshein
“I think you’ll be able to imagine many things Senator McCain will be able to say. He’s never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.”
This quote from Hillary Clinton stopped me cold.
I’ve been thinking of it ever since she said it less than two weeks ago. I wracked my brain to find a time when a potential nominee placed the other party’s nominee above their own party’s possible nominee.
Well, I could think of two times when it might have made sense. Both were cases of ideological outliers on their way to party nominations. Rockefeller Republicans, ideological moderates, were devastated that conservative Barry Goldwater led in 1964, and many certainly thought Democrat Lyndon Johnson was more sensible. In 1972, many “Scoop” Jackson hawkish Democrats thought George McGovern far less reliable than Republican Richard Nixon.
It wouldn’t have been shocking for Nelson Rockefeller to harbor a greater preference for Johnson over Goldwater (although he never stated it), and the same with the Jackson folks for Nixon over McGovern (more often stated).
But here we have a case of two Democrats whose ideological differences are nearly non-existent. So what could Clinton’s comment possibly mean? it would make more sense to say that she is ready to be commander-in-chief and Obama is not? That at least counts as intraparty debate. It’s the McCain part that stands out.
I have finally decided that this nomination race is really not about two candidates with different constituencies, although that is certainly part of it. I wonder now if this is really about Bill and Hillary Clinton and their complex relationship to the Democratic party.
Let me play this out a bit, and you can tell me what you think.
The Clintons are clearly the most talented and successful Democrats since the Kennedys. Unlike the Kennedys, who rose up along with an ascendant Democratic party, the Clintons emerged in a time of Republican dominance. Although Bill was the candidate, they were certainly a team. Through sheer intellect, determination, and creativity they managed to create a small space for the Democratic party in the midst of a period of intense Republican political power. Their skill was to find a way to adapt to the Republican wave, and by going with it, and reshaping it, to win unlikely victories and even attain some progressive policy change in government.
What drove Republicans crazy was that the Clintons did not offer up a simple target of orthodox liberalism. They improvised, with mixed ideologies, and often got close enough to Republican beliefs to evade full scale destruction. Most of all, they survived. Clinton was elected, and re-elected, and survived impeachment to finish with a high approval rating. With a booming economy, they gave Democrats something to brag about.
Let’s face it. For that period of time, the Clintons were the Democratic party at the national level. Their survival was remarkable. And yet the party was weaker when Bill Clinton left office than when he arrived. Republicans took Congress in 1994, and their power was shown when a Republican Supreme Court handed the White House to George W. Bush without major upheaval.
Gore’s exclusion from the White House and subsequent low profile maintained the Clintons as the party’s leadership. Republicans gained seats in Congress in 2002 and 2004. Kerry’s 2004 campaign merely borrowed the party mantle from the Clintons and moved toward yet another party failure. The less successful the party was, the more the Clintons were its sole proprietors.
Democratic rage at the Bush regime and the Iraq war fueled the first signs of life in the party in the 2006 midterms, which the Democrats dominated. And that set the stage for the possible resurgence of progressive politics and the Democratic party. Since then, party fundraising has skyrocketed with new donors by the hundreds of thousands coming across the Internet. New types of candidates, including Iraq War veterans, won House and Senate seats. The party was coming alive, perhaps for the first time in years.
Did that mean that the Clintons were no longer the be-all and end-all?
These changes meant that the 2008 election would be fought on terrain less dominated by Republicans and their ideas. Democrats might be able to put some distance between the parties and take some solid swings at their own agenda. And had the Democratic field been comprised of the usual suspects of Democratic wannabees, Hillary Clinton might have ridden that wave. But instead she faced Barack Obama, who was built to thrive in this new environment.
Suddenly, the Democratic Party was not a needy, dysfunctional organization unable to win an election. The Republicans didn’t look quite so formidable. The party was changing, and the emotional grip of the Clintons on the party might be shaken. But of course, these changes happen slowly and 2008 turned into an election that painfully illustrated the transition. The skill of getting Republicans into a close clinch and then eaking out a policy victory seemed a lot less appealing than “hope” in this new environment.
It must feel to the Clintons that an ungrateful party is deserting them. After all they have done, shouldn’t they get their just reward? How could party voters turn to a new, fresh face? Is there a sense that if the Democrats do this, then the heck with them?
To be continued . . .
March 5, 2008 | 9:10 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
I was right on the button about Tuesday’s results when I swore that I had absolutely no clue what was going to happen. But now that it has happened, and Hillary Clinton has had a really big night, we can certainly try to make sense of where things go from here.
The main story is no secret. Clinton came off the mat to push back, hard, against Obama, and is back in the race. She’s still the underdog but unquestionably this is a significant momentum shift. If there is a revote in disputed Michigan and Florida, she could pick up a lot of ground. Michigan’s auto workers and Florida’s Jews and Latinos are right now Clinton constituencies.
So much for the obvious…
I like to keep my eyes open for the side story we might miss. One is the role played by the Canadian Conservative party leadership in tripping up Obama in Ohio. A memo suddenly appears (we later find that it was leaked from a top staffer in the PM’s office) that says that Obama’s people dismissed his opposition to NAFTA as pure rhetoric not to be taken seriously. Now nobody asks whether a second hand statement about comments allegedly made by an unofficial Obama aide mean anything. And as the days have gone by, the memo has seemed to be less and less solid. Nobody asked the obvious question: who benefits from the timely leak? My guess is that Canada’s conservatives wanted to derail Obama’s momentum, and if that meant helping Clinton to keep the two-person race going, that’s a two-fer. The memo story hurt Obama badly in anti-NAFTA Ohio, with its strong blue collar base.
Looking back, Obama should have done what John McCain did when the New York Times story on his ties to lobbyists hit: attack the messenger. Who in Canada’s politics wants to derail my campaign, and why? instead, the media treated the charge as solid, and ignored the origin of the memo. Of course, Obama had to wait to see if the story was true, and that was time lost. (Meanwhile, there is a hot debate in Canada over the politics of the memo.n As usual, we are always the last ones to find out what’s going on in our own politics.)
The second thing that stuck out for me in the midst of all this is the odd visit John McCain made to the White House to pick up George Bush’s endorsement. McCain showed up late, and Bush had to hop around (literally) and make conversation until McCain appeared. Then, when a reporter asked how McCain would change Bush’s policies, Bush jumped in and said McCain wouldn’t change a thing.
Did anybody realize that Bush and McCain were writing the Democratic nominee’s campaign commercial for the fall, tying McCain to Bush? Did they think nobody would notice the event, with the excitement over the Democratic voting? Who in the Bush and McCain camps planned this particular fiasco? While Democrats are terrified that the continuing nomination battle will hurt them in the fall, they could draw some satisfaction from this White House visit.
Obama has some work to do over the next few weeks to regain his lost momentum. Being tag-teamed by Clinton and McCain (with Clinton even saying that McCain is ready to be president, but Obama is not) he is going to have to up his game a bit. If he does, he should be able to hang on to win the nomination. Superdelegates who were ready to jump to Obama are now watching warily, and wondering if they were moving too soon. In part, that’s Obama’s audience right now.
Clinton is doing something pretty smart, which is talking up a ticket with Obama. If conflicted Democrats come to believe that they will be two for the price of one, they may find a vote for Clinton to be safe now that Clinton has made Obama seem a little more risky. That’s why Obama has to get moving before that possibility settles in.
I don’t think this extended race is fatal for Democrats. Democrats, born pessimists, are certain that bad things lie around each turn in the campaign. In fact, every state that is voting in these primaries and caucuses wants to be heard, and the turnouts are gigantic. Texas alone was historic in the size of the Democratic vote. My guess is that the worst bitterness will be among the staffs and families of the candidates, and that can be an ugly thing. But it probably won’t reach into the grass roots, where there is still lots of enthusiasm for both. And it’s only March!
This front-loaded nomination process had happened so quickly and so dramatically that it seems as if the conventions are around the corner.
They are still a long way away.
March 3, 2008 | 12:06 pm
Posted by Pol Observer
I don’t have a clue what is going to happen tomorrow in the Ohio and Texas primaries.
We keep learning the hard way that when it comes to the 2008 election, nobody knows anything. This year, we are much better at figuring at how what it all means after each event happens than we are at knowing what will happen.
A month ago, Clinton owned Ohio and Texas. Obama began to gain and moved into a tie in both. It looked as if he would keep going and knock her out. But now polls are showing Hillary gaining in Ohio while Texas remains close. The uncertainty is so great that both camps are already posturing on the post-election interpretation.
Obama’s turnout machine could win both states, and effectively end the race. Or Clinton could win both. I could easily see a result that is so ambiguous that the race goes on at least until the April 22 Pennsylvania primary.
That brings Jewish voters back into the story since unlike Texas and Ohio, the Keystone State has a large Jewish population. But wait, remind me to remind myself: nobody knows anything.
This delicious uncertainty is turning 2008 into the most extraordinary election year. We are all spectators.
Clinton’s campaign at this stage reminds me of the agent played by Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire, whose client played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., says, “You’re hanging on by a very thin thread, Jerry. And i dig that about you!”
The staff and consultants are jumping ship, saying they played no role in the campaign (e.g., Mark Penn), others are blaming others in the campaign, everybody’s blaming Bill, superdelegates are deserting, and the end seems nigh. Yet Clinton raised $35 million in February with 200,000 new donors, and is scoring punches on Obama.
The Clinton campaign is bleeding, fighting against getting knocked out, and may yet throw a winning haymaker. The pre-primary pressure on Clinton to pull out after tomorrow has undoubtedly backfired by steeling the Clinton spine.
Meanwhile, Obama is facing test after test, including the dreaded “red phone” commercial, and finding himself challenged both by Clinton and by John McCain. He’s raising money like there is no tomorrow, and hoping to pull out a win in Texas with a high turnout from his enthusiastic supporters.
We will leave for another day the question about whether this incredible, unprecedented nomination campaign between two popular, well funded Democrats is good or bad for the party. There are good arguments on both sides.
Right now, it’s time to get out the popcorn and see what happens next.