As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Post-Mortem, Primary 2008

Crystal Strait, the political director for the California Democratic Party, Young Democrats of America board member and superdelegate (and, a friend), endorsed Barack Obama today, and by most accounts Obama pulled ahead this weekend in the superdelegate battle. There was very little chance superdelegates would start to move en masse back to Clinton absent some disqualifying information - she had the lead among those party leaders because she locked up as many as she could to begin with. It was part of the inevitability strategy. And so everyone who didn't already sign on with her was very unlikely to do so. And that's what we're seeing play out.

Obama has moved on to the general election, begun using hard-hitting attacks and has focused in on how he'll beat John McCain, and frankly, we all should do the same. Clinton can continue to look to dig up dirt on Obama (I don't know if I trust Carl Bernstein's reporting on this) or whatever it is she feels she has to do, but none of it is too relevant. With both Obama and Clinton defeating McCain in early polls despite being entirely focused on one another, with the structural advantages for Democrats among young people, independents and Hispanics (McCain is already running Spanish-language ads to try and overcome this gap), and with Obama seeking to capitalize on this new energy in the party with a massive voter registration and mobilization campaign, there's no need to worry about electability. The party has chosen, and they've chosen Barack Obama.

And it's worth looking back at the enormity of that moment. He will be the first African-American nominee of a major party in history, only 44 years after the Civil Rights Act, only 40 years after the shooting death of Martin Luther King, only 16 years after the Rodney King riots. As Chris Bowers notes, just a couple years ago Democrats made Nancy Pelosi the first female Speaker of the House. We are the party of women, of minorities, of gays and lesbians, of non-Christians, of Asian-Americans, of Hispanic Americans, of the "other" in American life (and yes we also have a few white guys like me).

A shift of electoral power toward the Democratic Party actually means a broad shift toward more pluralistic control of our government. The minorities, the downtrodden, and the freaks and geeks are taking over. While I have little doubt that I will continue to be something of a party gadfly, and that I will continue to hold an oppositional, progressive stance toward the leadership on fairly regular occasions, sometimes it is good to remember that the Democratic Party is, in some very important ways, actually pretty good. Today, I am very happy to be a part of it.

Me too, and more so because, despite the freak show of the past few months, we got to this point because of the Iraq issue. I said that the first time I saw Obama; if Iraq is the big issue, he wins. And it actually was the issue, even if it didn't seem like it from exit polls. Hillary Clinton, who would have also been a historic nominee, came into this race with enormous structural advantages, but her refusal to even try to justify her vote on Iraq, to remain true to her hawkish character, created space on the left for an alternative candidate. Barack Obama isn't even necessarily on the left, but on Iraq he took the position more favorable to the progressive movement and the grassroots, and he milked their anger and frustration for all it was worth. Despite being in the Congress when it failed to move us in a new direction in Iraq, he used the failure, whether deliberately or not, as an example of how Washington is broken and how we have to move beyond the left-right calculus (this is where Obama detractors always leave it, but Obama's answer to this is to move beyond by registering and involving so many Democrats that a partisan game is a game for losers on the Republican side). Clinton was more interested in running a general election right from the start, complete with a generally hawkish foreign policy that was a real difference between her and her major rivals, and a real reason why this unity ticket is not going to happen.

Clinton's "street cred" on national security consists, of course, of being massively wrong on the most important national security issue of her career. Paradoxically, a lot of folks find her massive wrongness on this hugely important issue reassuring because they and their friends were also wrong and they view having made the right call to be a suspicious quality. After all, the Iraq War may have led to thousands of U.S. deaths, tens of thousands of U.S. casualties, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and millions of Iraqi refugees all at a cost of over $1 trillion and in ways that's damaged the strategic position of the United States, but war opponents were all a bunch of hippies.

I say good riddance to that. I got the war wrong, and I think that gives me less "cred" than I would have had had I gotten the war right and I think that, politically speaking, it makes sense to put people forward who aren't tainted by the war. But most of all we need to ditch the mindset that says "cred" on national security is composed of being hawkish even when that means being wrong.

Then there's also, of course, those symbols of everything that went wrong in the 90s, everything that led to the Democratic brand getting trashed and demonized and sunk into the ground through triangulation and sacrifice of liberals in favor of the Clintonian Third Way, the Lanny Davises of the world, the Clintonites, which are far less appealing than Hillary Clinton the candidate. The combination of these things led to the opportunity for Obama to fill a space, and he ran a fabulous campaign to take advantage of it.

So, on to the fall. I think that the prospect of unmoderated debates throughout the summer might be really interesting. McCain's probably licking his chops at the prospect of showing off his experience, but that didn't exactly work for Clinton. In truth, McCain is a bad general election candidate, and his stumbles will be well-chronicled. He wants to be seen as a moderate, and thus the revelation that he didn't vote for Bush in 2000 probably helps him. But because he can't win without bitter-enders, he had to push back strongly on that statement this week, proving that he is constrained by far-right conservative ideology that is actually the best way to understand his career. He's been fighting for radically conservative judges ever since he supported Robert Bork for the Supreme Court in the 1980s, and his current views on executive power mirror George Bush's, believing that judicial review "shows little regard for the authority of the President," which is code for the most radical of Federalist Society agendas. Indeed, when the chips are down and the Republicans need a vote, they can count on McCain.

The presumptive Republican nominee arguably cast the decisive vote 14 times since 1999 to ensure Republicans got their way, and he had five other close cases where his vote may have made a difference, Senate records show. By comparison, McCain effectively handed Democrats a win on roll-call votes four times in the same period. On one of those occasions, Republicans could still have won if Vice President Dick Cheney had cast a tie-breaking vote.

The numbers are based on a review of Senate roll-call votes since 1999 that ended in a tie or were settled by one vote. The closest votes in that period included momentous, partisan-charged legislation, such as President Bush's tax cuts. More often, they were procedural votes on deal-breaking amendments to bills that would otherwise pass.

They partly reflect how rarely Senate votes come down to a single person, even though the chamber has been narrowly divided on party lines most of the past decade. But the votes also suggest that when McCain broke from Republicans, others often joined him, keeping the votes from being so close [...]

The voting pattern seems at odds with the popular narrative that McCain's maverick tendencies make him an unreliable conservative.

"He is a conservative who votes conservative on most issues," said Keith Poole, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego. "By no means is he a liberal or even a moderate."

He's also never met a lobbyist he wouldn't do a favor for.

So I'm looking forward to whacking the heck out of him for the next six months. I can't wait for politics to be fun again and to see all my allies on the same side. And I can't wait for this election to be a referendum on conservatism in the Age of Bush.

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