Wednesday, February 6. 2008
We did go to the Democratic Party caucus here in Wichita KS yesterday. I was ambivalent to start, and by the time we spent an hour in sleet turning to snow waiting to get into the building I was pretty damn unhappy too. I had to change my registration from Independent to Democrat to get in, and I was unhappy about that too. Granted, I haven't had any Republicans to vote for since I turned 21 (well, except for anyone who ever ran against Vern Miller), but I never identified with the Democrats. Maybe it was blood: my father's father and his father both had Lincoln in their names; my mother's grandfather fought for the Union from Ohio, moved to Arkansas, and served as a Republican in a Reconstruction government. Or it may have been from thinking about how many kids, friends and neighbors and relatives, LBJ killed. When I studied political history, I naturally tended to think fondly of progressive Republicans while despising reactionary Democrats. Of course, since Wayne Morse left the GOP in 1956 and Strom Thurmond joined in 1964 it's been hard to see any good in the one even if the other is often little better.
I was ambivalent about Obama as well, and when I saw caucus signs for Kucinich and Richardson I had fleeting thoughts of bolting for candidates with stronger stands against the war, but their chairs and tables were empty. Besides, I was caught up in the cattle car rush of humanity, trying to get out of the packed quarters faster than they had managed to get in. The whole process was hopelessly inadequate, with four times as many people showing up as they had expected, and little indication that they had been prepared for even the expected turnout. To change my party affiliation I had to fill out a blank sheet of paper because they had no forms or records. They then ushered most of us into a lobby, Clinton supporters to one side, Obamas to the other, then quickly marked x's on our hands and chicken scratches on a tablet to count our votes. The Obama side outnumbered the Clintons 2-to-1, maybe more, but the Clintons had more printed signs and made more noise. Don't know what that signified. Then we were dumped outside in the snow, and went home to watch the results. Kansas gave Obama 73.3% of the vote, so our sample wasn't atypical. One person figured out how to vote for Richardson. Kucinich got 35 votes, Edwards 53.
I found some results for Wichita. The caucuses were organized by State Senate district. Ours (district 25, downtown, north and west) had 863 votes, 64.7% for Obama. District 29 (near northeast, mostly black) had 1587 votes, 86.5% Obama. District 30 (further east) was 1758 total, 77.9% Obama. District 27 (southwest), 823 total, 62.9% Obama. District 26 (southeast, Derby), 586 total, 56.3% Obama. District 28 (south-southwest, Haysville), 502 total, 52.8% Obama. Clinton won two districts statewide: Parsons 51.8% (471); Paola 50.8% (500). (District 18, Topeka, held two caucuses because it stradles congressional districts. The part in CD 1 gave Clinton 52.2% of 23 votes; the part in CD 2 gave Obama 70.4% of 901 votes.) Obama's best showing was district 4, Kansas City, 93.5% of 2202 votes. District 2 in Lawrence gave Obama 80.3% (1402); District 19 in Topeka 80% (900).
By the time I went to bed last night it looked like Clinton's sizable (10-17 point) wins in the big states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California) put her into a slight but probably insurmountable lead. The remaining big states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas) are more similar to the ones Clinton won than to the ones Obama won. And so, I found myself predicting a Clinton-Obama ticket, running against a similar McCain-Huckabee compromise. There are a set of factors which have historically led to such compromises, such as Kennedy-Johnson, Reagan-Bush, and Kerry-Edwards, and those factors are present in spades this year.
Today it looks like I may have been premature. Obama got very nearly the same popular vote as Clinton -- less than 1% separated them -- and may have come up with more delegates (although Clinton still has a super-delegate margin). Also, it looks like Obama has more money going forward, and it's not inconceivable that could make a difference. So I'm wondering now whether Hillary would be mensch enough to take the second slot. Not that she would be my pick, but it would reduce her negatives quite a bit; e.g., it would show some humility few see in her, and it would push her lame duck husband further into the background. (An Obama-Edwards ticket is another possibility, which would work for much the same reasons.)
Basically, there are three reasons for opposing Hillary Clinton. The first is that the dynastic thing has to be buried once and for all, and there's no way to extricate her from it. I won't belabor the point here, but I'm pretty hardcore against nepotism, in favor of confiscatory estate taxes, and downright contemptuous of every facet of aristocracy. She's probably more competent than George Wallace's wife was to be governor of Alabama, but she's still not a marginal case.
The second is the war. No Democrat is ever going to be able to serve their constituency, which is most of the people in the US, unless they can break the war-empire cycle that the US has sunk into. She's got a bad track record, and not just on Iraq. She's developed into a reflexive hawk. Even if it's just to counter the idiot notion that she's not strong enough, either because she's a woman or because she's a Clinton or both, and Republicans and the media know damn good and well how to push her buttons. So even if she knows better about Iraq by now (and that's not all that clear), she doesn't know enough better to stay safe.
The third is that her every instinct is to support business rather than provide a counterweight against corporate excesses. Obama might very well do the same things -- anyone who can raise enough money to run for president has already sold a lot of soul, and he's certainly competitive even if it looks like he may be smarter about it. And realistically, until voters wise up and start voting against the money, nobody's going to be much good in this regard. (I'm not looking for an economics retard like Ralph Nader to stand up to corporations. I'm just looking for someone who can see all sides of a problem, not just the ones the lobbyists point out.)
Obama beats Clinton on 2.5 of these points, so he's an easy choice. (He may be too friendly with his donors, but at least he's never sat on WalMart's board of directors.) He also seems more capable of looking at problems from several different sides, which gives him an intangible edge over politicians who are bred and selected for their kneejerk reactions -- Bush is probably the all-time champ for decisiveness without the slightest shred of understanding, but Bill Clinton wasn't much better.
On the other hand, Hillary might not be the tragic success Bill Clinton was. He had more empathy for everyday Americans than Hillary will ever be able to fake, but she at least doesn't expect everyone to like her (or if she did, she sure knows better by now). His greatest weakness was to compromise not only his principles (which never was a strong suit) but his better judgment to suck up to the powerful, and his reward was getting bitch-slapped by the Republicans for eight full years. He wound up with none of his initial program enacted and his party so lame George Bush was able to steal an election. That lesson can't be lost on Hillary. She knows she'll have to fight back. Good chance she's even brushed up on her Truman and Lincoln. But also the Republicans won't be in the position to rape her that they were with Bill. They've shot their wad and totally disgraced themselves. They'll try to get it up, but most people will see right through them. To carry the analogy one step further, the Republican Noise Machine will be unmasked as the emperor's new dildo. Hillary should have fun with that.
How it turns out will depend on the big primaries to come. Clinton won big states in the East with a strong base of white working class ethnics (like Ohio and Pennsylvania), and California with a lot of Latinos (like Texas). It's not that Obama has to show that a black man can win those votes, but the numbers mean that he must. If he can, he wins. If he can't, he should get a shot at the VP slot because he has proved he can add votes to the ticket, and he should take it because winning will put an end to the question of whether he can win. Hopefully, he'll drive a hard bargain, and become a Cheney-weight VP, not another John Nance Garner. That kind of deal would be good for Clinton as well, not least by changing the chemistry of her crony-machine.
Whoever wins will have to do a much better job than Clinton or Carter did, because there will be rough times ahead.