“The momentum is shifting to us right now. If we are the leader in the popular vote and we have closed the gap in pledged delegates, that’s a very persuasive argument.” In a revealing piece in the Sunday Times, the Clinton campaign seems to concede it has lost the delegate race, instead placing their hopes on the popular vote. (At the moment, they’re down 600,000, not counting rogue states Florida and Michigan.) This is basically akin to the New England Patriots arguing they should be given the Super Bowl trophy because, even if they lost the game, they got more yards. (They didn’t, but you get what I mean.) Of course, since getting that lead looks hard for them, the Clinton campaign reserve the right to try to change the most-important stat again if need be. (“The argument is being made privately as winning the most votes still presents a formidable challenge. She might, in the end, have to rest her case on her ability to win key battleground states.“)
The Times piece is also notable because it has Bill Bradley calling the Clintons out (again) as liars: “‘The bigger the lie, the better the chance they think they’ve got. That’s been their whole approach,’ he said. ‘She’s going to lose a whole generation of people who got involved in politics believing it could be something different.’“
Meanwhile, the sinking Clinton campaign finds a lifeline in this front-page WP story on undecided superdelegates, which states that [a] many undecideds seem to be planning to wait for now and, more troubling, [b] at least a few undecided super-delegates are comfortable with overturning the pledged delegate count. Says Oregon super Bill Bradbury: ““If the pledged-delegate total is within 100 votes or whatever, I don’t think there’s a great deal of significance in that.’” Hmm. Well, I’d be more concerned about this statement if all the data didn’t suggest Obama is a stronger national candidate with bigger coattails (see also tonight’s Foster win), so I’m guessing supers would be more inclined to back Obama in the end anyway. That being said, I’m absolutely positive Bradbury here significantly understates what the reaction would be if the supers reject the pledged delegate leader en masse. It would mean clear defeat in November, if not a lasting party schism. Fortunately, whatever Bradbury’s personal opinion, this scenario isn’t at all likely, particularly given that super-supers with more pull — Pelosi, Biden, Richardson, etc. — have all specifically argued against Bradbury’s position.
“I think Barack Obama has a much stronger chance of beating John McCain in the general election. I think Hillary is flawed in many ways, and particularly if you look at her husband’s unwillingness to release the names of the people who contributed to his presidential library. And the reason that is important — you know, are there favors attached to $500,000 or $1 million contributions? And what do I mean by favors? I mean, pardons that are granted; investigations that are squelched; contracts that are awarded; regulations that are delayed.” Former Senator Bill Bradley, who endorsed Obama back in January, asks some tough questions about the Clinton library’s shady financing. (And before anyone accuses Sen. Bradley of raising a phantom scandal, consider Frank Giustra and Boratgate.) Update: In related news, USA Today reports that Clinton library archivists are blocking the release of papers involving the Clinton pardons.
Reagan aside, I do respectfully take issue with Greenberg’s prior Slate piece comparing Obama to a long list of well-meaning losers, including Adlai Stevenson and Bill Bradley. Greenberg writes: “Obama exhibits other elements of this Stevensonian style as well. It’s a style — an ideology, really — that links the quest for common ground with a language of enlightened reason. It disdains the passionate and sometimes ugly politics of backroom deals, negative campaigning, sordid tactics, and appeals to emotion. It extols sacrifice and denigrates self-interest…What he doesn’t seem to understand — as Stevenson did not — is that democratic politics fairly demands a measure of thrust and parry, of appeals to self-interest, and of playing the political game. And so does being a good president.“
I would argue that these constant appeals to individual self-interest is exactly what’s what wrong with Democrats today. Put simply, our civic life has nearly wasted away, with devastating consequences for the Left in this country.The major operative question our politics seeks to answer today is not “How should we live?” or “What can we accomplish together?” but “Where’s my stuff?” And, due to this narrow, limiting absorption with individual self-interest, lefty candidates of late have mostly based their proactive appeals on small-minded ideas like bribing elderly voters with prescription drug benefits and everyone else with tax cuts. That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?
As a result, more and more citizens are tuning out of the process completely. Without vision, the people perish. People find the grasping individualism at the center of politics today inherently unsatisfying, and they look for a deeper common purpose wherever they can find it. And, since Democrats too often can’t stop speaking in uninspiring technocratic policy-wonk, a consequence of their limited vision and ambitions, voters have been inclining in recent years toward the GOP, who at least offer a flawed but workable story, often rooted in gung-ho nationalism and unpacked ideas like “Freedom, Yeah!”, about who we are as a people. The story is everything (which is one main reason why I was drawn to American history in the first place.) To be successful, to be anything other than GOP-lite — a pathetic state we’ve been floundering in for decades — Democrats need to tell the nation a story about our shared history and our shared goals, and stop pandering to voters’ immediate self-interest all the live-long day.
Greenberg may argue that civic-mindedness in a political candidate is the province of losers, but I disagree — It’s all in the telling. After all, it was the extremely popular John F. Kennedy who reminded us to ask what you can do for your country, and his slain brother RFK obviously talked a great game in that respect too.
In this piece, Greenberg also discusses the retreat from the “the Mugwumps’ and Progressives’ moral uplift in favor of a pragmatic approach” under FDR. (This is also the ground my dissertation covers.) And, yes, the broker-state model of governance honed by the New Deal worked for a long time. More importantly, the idea of interest-group pluralism it cultivated has had many critically important successes to its name, not the least the civil rights revolutions of the past few decades (although those too have a strong civic component — MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech makes it explicit: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed…And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.” This is not the language of self-interest but an appeal to a shared narrative as Americans.)
But I would argue that the enthronement of individual self-interest above all else in politics has reached its logical endpoint, and as a result our system is on the verge of falling apart — half the country doesn’t vote, money constantly bends the rules and everyone knows it, people are losing the inclination (or even the capacity) to act as informed, independent citizens. Indeed, you could argue Hillary Clinton’s failure with health care reform in the nineties exemplified the problem with broker-state leadership: When setting out to confront the issue, the Clintons cut everyone in on the deal, from insurance companies to HMOS to the AMA, in true broker-state fashion. As a result, no reform at all was forthcoming.
This was mainly because, as I’ve said before, the individualistic/broker state model of liberalism has no theory for coping with corporate power — It serves the wants, needs, and interests of consumers, what’s wrong with that? But a civic-minded progressive would argue that there are more important goals than the sating of individual desire, that the government is an expression of our common aspirations and should be more than just a dispensing machine, and that undue corporate influence over — and outright corruption in — our political affairs in fact represents a dire threat to the republic and to our way of life.
The progressive idea of citizenship both offers and demands higher aspirations of people than the lowest common denominator of individual self-interest that both parties appeal to today. We’re fast becoming a society where freedom is measured at best by what choices we make, but more often by what we can own as consumers. Progressives envison a society where freedom is also measured by what we can accomplish as citizens. Ultimately, freedom isn’t a state of being — it’s a state of becoming, of improvement, of progress. A political candidate who could tap into this progressive vein, I think, could inspire people like they haven’t been inspired by politics in a good long while. So, this is my crux of disagreement with Greenberg here — I don’t subscribe to the notion that common-good, public-interest progressivism is inherently a losing proposition. Quite the contrary.
Still, Greenberg’s article does a solid job of delineating the origins of Obama’s progressive appeal, and, at the very least, we agree that Obama is considerably more progressive than Clinton.
“It is not quite the ‘right wing conspiracy’ that Hillary Clinton described, but it is an impressive organization built consciously, carefully and single-mindedly. The Ann Coulters and Grover Norquists don’t want to be candidates for anything or cabinet officers for anyone. They know their roles and execute them because they’re paid well and believe, I think, in what they’re saying.” By way of Blotter Spotter and The Late Adopter, Bill Bradley emerges from hiding to dissect the organizational problems of the Democratic Party. “If Democrats are serious about preparing for the next election or the next election after that, some influential Democrats will have to resist entrusting their dreams to individual candidates and instead make a commitment to build a stable pyramid from the base up. It will take at least a decade’s commitment, and it won’t come cheap. But there really is no other choice.” I agree wholeheartedly…but to help build this pyramid, Senator Bradley, we need to hear much more from you more often.
“The 50-50 split is not between Democrats and Republicans, but those who vote and those who don’t. That’s right: nearly 50% of eligible voters chose not to vote in 2000. The underlying challenge of our democracy is to change this non-participation and to ensure that the core values of citizenship and active participation in the electoral process overshadow the domination of big money and corporate power.” Sent to me by Chris at Do You Feel Loved, the inimitable Bill Bradley emerges from hiding to admire the Vote for Change tour in USA Today.
Following up on a Franklin Foer TNR article I first saw over at Value Judgement, Hannah Rosin examines the plight of DC’s Deaniacs now that the party’s over. Although it wasn’t nearly as well reported, I remember a similar purge happening after Bill Bradley went down last cycle, and, trust me, they can get ugly. (But, at least last time, all was forgiven after Al Gore screwed up the general.)
So…New Hampshire has spoken, and John Kerry wins by 12 over fellow New Englander Howard Dean, Clark and Edwards tie for a distant third, and Lieberman falls to fifth. The game now shifts to the South and Midwest, including South Carolina.
Well, while it’s a bit off-putting to put this race in the fridge after only two states have spoken, I say it’s now definitely looking to be John Kerry’s year. That is, barring a strong showing by John Edwards on more favorable terrain, who has to win South Carolina convincingly next week to stay alive. As everyone’s known for months, Lieberman is clearly done, despite his ridiculous talk of a three-way tie for third in NH. (So much for the vote-swinging ability of the New Republic.) Wesley Clark may be able to pick up Oklahoma, but momentum counts for a lot, and he was fading fast all last week. So, barring something crazy happening, I’d say the general is also on his way out.
And Dean? Well, obviously he’s still got a large war chest and the frenzy of the Deaniacs to fall back on…but where does he go from here? The pre-NH polls have him dropping to fourth or fifth in every one of the polled February 3rd states, except New Mexico (and even that’s based on pre-Iowa numbers.) It’d be one thing if he had pulled closer to Kerry in New Hampshire, or even to within ten points, but a twelve-point loss is pretty decisive in terms of being a momentum-killer. (Consider in 2000 that Bradley got to within four points (52%-48%) of Gore in NH, something that was also spun by the pundit class as a “still-kicking” comeback after Iowa, and he got hammered in all 15 states the Tuesday next.) As Chris Suellentrop notes, Dean’s only hope may be to go “underground” for awhile, but it’s hard to see how a hail-mary play like that will have generated much mojo once the big states actually vote. It’s remarkable how Dean and Kerry switched places so quickly, but they did…and just as Kerry would be toast had he not won New Hampshire, the same now looks true for the governor of Vermont.
Well, so much for that dream ticket: Clark says no way to serving as Dean’s running mate. In happier news for the frontrunner, Bill Bradley is expected to endorse Dean tomorrow (by way of Value Judgment.) I’ve been wondering when Dollar Bill was going to emerge from hiding…frankly, I’m a bit disappointed he hasn’t been more visible throughout this cycle. After all, barring something crazy happening in the next two weeks, the board is basically already set until Iowa…the only real question left is which candidate the anti-Deans will coalesce around, and most of ‘em have sounded so desperate lately that even they seem to know it’s over. Update: It’s official.
Oh, there’s nothing halfway about the Iowa way to treat you when they treat you which they may not do at all. Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman plan to skip the Iowa caucus in 2004…I’d say that’s a smart call for Clark (my thoughts on Lieberman are below), given how Iowa treated Bradley and McCain respectively last time around — Bradley came in second after Gore’s debate lie (actually penned by my roommate at the time), while McCain had the sense to stay out in the first place.
This is old news at this point, but I missed it back in the day. 2000 Presidential candidate Bill Bradley comes out against the Iraq war after hearing Dubya’s State of the Union address. Particularly with Moynihan now gone, we could use Dem statesmen like Bradley to cultivate a higher profile. The questions facing America today aren’t going to get any easier, even if we took out Saddam tomorrow.
One of the many nice things about living in New York rather than DC these days is not having to listen to ex-Gore flunkies gleefully recite war stories from the 2000 primary. But, I must admit, the admission in this article sent to me by a friend brought all the Gore fear and loathing of 2000 (lI’m sure many long-time readers remember it well) roaring back like a mouthful of bile. Seeing that Bill Bradley was up in the New Hampshire polls, Gore ops created a traffic jam on I-93 to discourage Bradley supporters from voting. So, next time you hear some Dem flak blaming Nader voters for the results of 2000, remember it might just have been those same flaks purposely clogging traffic to give us Mediscare Al as our choice of candidate. Grrr…
According to several sources, Torricelli has dropped out of the New Jersey race, complicating a Senate situation already fraught with peril for the Democrats. Could this pave the way for Bill Bradley‘s return to the political scene? Let’s hope so. To be honest, even Lautenberg, who’s pretty mediocre, would be an improvement over the Torch. Update: He’s officially out…no word yet on who’s in.