Saturday, May 31, 2008

The End Is Near

"Fla., Mich. Delegates Each Get Half a Vote" (WaPo)
But it was the Michigan plan, approved by a 19 to 8 vote, that drew sharper opposition because of the way that state's delegates will be awarded. Under the plan, Clinton will be given 34.5 delegate votes in Denver to Obama's 29.5 delegate votes, a percentage distribution recommended by leaders of the Michigan Democratic Party but opposed by the Clinton campaign officials, who said it violates the results of Michigan's Jan. 15 primary.
"New Magic Number, 2118, Means Obama Needs Just 25 More Supers" (Al Giordano)
Today’s Rules and Bylaws Committee decisions mean that Obama has, in the bag, 2052 delegates, just 66 short of the 2118 needed at the convention.

Tomorrow in Puerto Rico he will pick up about 24 delegates. And on Tuesday in South Dakota and Montana he will pick up about 17, for a total of +41 more pledged delegates, bringing him to at least 2093 delegates, which means he needs only 25 superdelegates to clinch the nomination.

And for anyone that thinks this is going to the convention in any meaningful way, look at the pathetically small size of the pro-Clinton demonstrations outside the hotel in DC today. Tens of thousands had been promised. A few hundred showed up. Clinton’s convocatory power for those kinds of shenanigans is already done.

All these weeks of threats and tantrums have proved lame. And more evidence of that is coming in the next 72 hours.
"Obama used party rules to foil Clinton" (AP)
Unlike Hillary Rodham Clinton, rival Barack Obama planned for the long haul.

Clinton hinged her whole campaign on an early knockout blow on Super Tuesday, while Obama's staff researched congressional districts in states with primaries that were months away. What they found were opportunities to win delegates, even in states they would eventually lose.

Obama's campaign mastered some of the most arcane rules in politics, and then used them to foil a front-runner who seemed to have every advantage—money, fame and a husband who had essentially run the Democratic Party for eight years as president.
"DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee Reaches Agreement on Seating Florida and Michigan Delegations" (DNC)
"Today, after careful consideration and debate, the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee reached an agreement on the two challenges before the Committee on seating delegations from Florida and Michigan. The Committee voted to seat the full Florida delegation with a half-vote each. The RBC accepted the Michigan Leadership Plan as presented today by the Michigan Democratic Party with the exception that each delegate receives a half vote. In addition, the Committee agreed that delegates from both states should be slated under Rules 5, 6, 7, and 12, outlining the candidate's right of approval. With this decision, the revised total of delegate votes needed to secure the nomination is 2,118.
"No Road Map for Democrats as Race Ends" (NY Times)
Mrs. Clinton has kept her counsel about what she might do to draw her campaign to a close. But when the rules committee of the Democratic Party divided up delegates from Michigan and Florida on Saturday night, Harold Ickes, a committee member and Clinton adviser, said she was reserving the right to contest the decision into the summer.

Still, despite the fireworks, Mrs. Clinton’s associates said she seemed to have come to terms over the last week with the near certainty that she would not win the nomination, even as she continued to assert, with what one associate described as subdued resignation, that the Democrats are making a mistake in sending Mr. Obama up against Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Her associates said the most likely outcome was that she would end her bid with a speech, probably back home in New York, in which she would endorse Mr. Obama. Mrs. Clinton herself suggested on Friday that the contest would end sometime next week.

But that is not a certainty; Mr. Obama’s announcement on Saturday that he would leave his church was just another reminder of how events continue to unfold in the race.
"Obama Resigns From Trinity United Church" (Huffington Post)
The Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet has Obama's remarks at a press conference in South Dakota on his decision to resign from Trinity United Church Of Christ In Chicago:

"I have to say--this is one I did not see coming," said Obama. He said it has been months since he has been at the church, on Chicago's South Side. "I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subjected to such...scrutiny.

Obama sent a letter to the church with his resignation on Sunday; Obama called the press conference after the letter leaked to veteran Chicago journalist Monroe Anderson, a contributor to Ebony and Jet. Otherwise, Obama said, he would have not made his resignation known at this time.

"My faith is not contingent on the particular church I belong to and I do not believe that I am going through a religious test," he said.

Political Junkies and Geeks: "Watch The DNC Meeting Live"

Streaming video on The Huffington Post via democraticvideo's channel on (photo: Harold Ickes)

DNCC: "Seattle lawyer chiming in on rules committee"

Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Seattle lawyer David McDonald is in Washington, D.C., this weekend for a meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee -- an event that might normally elicit yawns, but in this unusual presidential campaign year is the focus of intense attention.
It is expected to draw hundreds of protesters to the hotel where the meeting will take place Saturday (and possibly Sunday).

The reason for the buzz is that the committee represents one of the very last ditches in Hillary Clinton's last-ditch effort to overtake Barack Obama in their fight for the Democratic presidential nomination as she attempts to seat the rogue delegations from primaries held in Michigan and Florida.

Obama holds an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates selected by party-approved primaries and caucuses. He's also ahead among the superdelegates -- the elected officials and party leaders automatically seated at the August national convention in Denver -- who hold the balance of power at the convention (though enough superdelegates remain uncommitted that he hasn't yet nailed down the overall delegate majority needed for nomination).

But the key is "party-approved": Michigan and Florida defied DNC rules and held primaries in January, before they were authorized to do so. As a result, the states have been stripped of their national convention delegates: 211 from Florida and 156 from Michigan.

Clinton and Obama agreed with that penalty early in the year, neither campaigned in either state, and Obama removed his name from the Michigan ballot (Clinton's name stayed).

But Clinton, who was the top vote-getter in both states, is pushing for the party to honor the primary results retroactively, which would give her a huge boost toward closing the delegate gap.

She can't significantly close the gap in the three primaries left on the schedule (Puerto Rico on Sunday, and Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday).

It will be up to the 30 members of the Rules Committee to decide what to do about Michigan and Florida.

The committee could do nothing and leave the zero-delegate penalties in place, but that risks alienating millions of Democratic voters in two key states in the November election -- and McDonald said in an interview that outcome is improbable. But McDonald said he is unlikely to favor the opposite extreme: validating the nonconforming primaries.

"The integrity of the rules has got to be maintained," he said. "I have difficulty just saying, 'Never mind.' "

Still, once it became apparent in the spring that the national party wouldn't simply roll over and accept the primary results, state party officials in Michigan and Florida made some effort to come into compliance with party rules, McDonald said.

Those attempts failed, in part, because of interference from the candidates' campaigns. McDonald said he does not begrudge the candidates for that, but said he'd like to give the offending states some credit for making the effort. The tricky part is how to do that.

Various proposals have surfaced to draw on the primary results, but to dilute the strength of the states' delegations -- although McDonald isn't comfortable with the idea of using an out-of-bounds primary in the calculation.

"Our rules say it's a nonevent, so to use it for some purpose is a stretch," he said.

McDonald also is wary of allowing the states even 50 percent representation at the convention, no matter how the delegation is selected. He fears that wouldn't be enough of a punishment to dissuade big, delegate-rich states from defying the DNC schedule in 2012 and holding early primaries in the expectation that, even at half strength, they would attract candidates and media attention in a way that zero-delegate primaries demonstrably did not.

The committee can devise some other means for selecting delegates from Michigan and Florida, McDonald said.

And once that's done, he said, he'll declare his support for Clinton or Obama. A DNC member and uncommitted superdelegate, McDonald has stayed publicly neutral to avoid compromising his position on the rules committee.

Six Washington superdelegates support Clinton, seven have endorsed Obama and four -- including McDonald -- remain uncommitted.

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Obama plans election kick-off at GOP convention site"

Ben Smith:
Senior political officials tell Politico's Mike Allen that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).is likely to hold a huge rally Tuesday night in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the site of the Republican National Convention from Sept. 1 to 4.

Tuesday is the night of the final Democratic primaries, and the choice of venue is a mischievous, aggressive way for Obama to unofficially kick off the general election campaign against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The location gives huge meaning to the moment, with Obama likely to frame a tough case against his new opponent in the very hall where McCain will accept his party’s nomination.

"TPMtv: Hey, Wha' Hoppened?" (video)

Veracifier, video (09:30)
In his bombshell new book, What Happened, former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan lashes out at his old employer in a massive Bush-administration-wide bus-throwing-under. Better late than never? To assist Mr. McClellan with his big media sales push, we thought we might go back and revisit some of the lowlights from back when what he said actually mattered.

"Pfleger's apology" (with video)

Ben Smith:
Obama's latest troublesome priest quickly apologized for his remarks, Lynn Sweet reports.

''I regret the words I chose on Sunday. These words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Senator Clinton or anyone else who saw them," he said.

Sweet's column is worth a read on this, placing Pfleger a bit in the Chicago political scene. He's also somebody well enough known to Obama that Obama's camp thought he would know better:

She writes:

Pfleger is a longtime Obama friend and was in the audience at the National Press Club for that Wright press conference, and when we talked afterward, he realized Wright created a problem for Obama.

I was told Pfleger's comments stunned some in the Obama camp because they expected him to be more politically savvy -- and not take on Clinton, especially at Trinity, of all places.

Howie P.S.: There's video of Pfleger's comments here, from WGN via the Chicago Tribune.

DNCC: "Blogs Credentialed For The Convention"

The full list here, including David Goldstein's posse from the Evergreen State,

"Scott McClellan On Countdown: Talks To Keith Olbermann About His New Book" (with video)

You can view my latest post on the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

WA State Dem Vice Chair Announces for Hillary

The Page (TIME):
Washington Automatic Delegate Eileen Macoll announced her support for Hillary Clinton today. Macoll is vice chair of the Washington State Democratic Party.

“I’m taking this step today because I have been inspired by Hillary’s bold commitment to solving our nation’s toughest challenges,” Macoll said. “On the issues that matter most—from establishing universal health care to improving our schools to ending the war in Iraq—she has never backed down and never wavered. Hillary has what it takes to beat John McCain this Fall and win back the White House.

“Hillary has a plan to bring an honorable end to the war in Iraq, and I know that Senator she and Senator Murray will ensure that our troops receive the care we should be proud to provide as they return home.”

Senator Patty Murray welcomed Macoll’s endorsement today. “Eileen has been a tireless advocate for the Washington State party, and I look forward to working with her to spread Hillary’s message of change in the weeks ahead.”
I'm not sure that Patty's loyal soldiering for Hillary is going to help my "Veep Buzz" campaign for her.

Veep buzz for Patty

You can view my latest post on the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"New Site Gives Users Political Ad Machine" (video)

Video from KCAL/KCBS Los Angeles, (01:57): allows users to create their own political ads. Rich DeMuro reports.

“We’ll Be Living in a Different World, Politically, a Week from Now” (video)

jedreport, video from NBC News (01:13):
Russert's report confirms reports by Ambinder and Al Giordano.

"DNC: Fla., Mich. Can't Be Fully Restored"--Obama campaign: "Don't demonstrate"

A Democratic Party rules committee has the authority to seat some delegates from Michigan and Florida but not fully restore the two states as Hillary Rodham Clinton wants, according to party lawyers.
Democratic National Committee rules require that the two states lose at least half of their convention delegates for holding elections too early, the party's legal experts wrote in a 38-page memo.

The memo was sent late Tuesday to the 30 members of the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which plans to meet Saturday at a Washington hotel. The committee is considering ways to include the two important general election battlegrounds at the nominating convention in August, and the staff analysis says seating half the delegates is "as far as it legally can" go.

Saturday's meeting is expected to draw a large crowd, with Clinton supporters among those encouraging a protest outside demanding that all the states' delegates be seated. Proponents of full reseating have mailed committee members Florida oranges and pairs of shoes to get their attention.

DNC officials are concerned about a potentially large turnout at the "Count Every Vote" rally outside the event and have asked the hotel staff to increase security to keep everyone safe. The DNC says the roughly 500 seats available to the public inside were taken within three or four minutes of becoming available online Tuesday.

The DNC analysis does not make recommendations for how the Rules and Bylaws Committee should vote, but gives context from the party's charter and bylaws for the committee to consider.

It underscores a prickly problem: If the Rules and Bylaws Committee decides to restore any of the states' delegates, there is not a simple way to divide them between Clinton and Barack Obama.

That's especially true in Michigan, where Obama had his name pulled from the ballot. He didn't have the option of removing his name in Florida, but all the candidates signed a pledge not to campaign in either state.

Clinton won the majority of the vote in Florida and Michigan and has been arguing that the delegates should be fully restored according to the results of the January primaries. But even if they were, it would not be enough for her to overtake Obama's delegate lead.

As it becomes clear that Obama likely will win the nomination, he has been working to win over voters in the two states with visits in recent days. He plans to return to Michigan on Monday.

The DNC staff analysis argues that the Rules and Bylaws Committee was fully within its rights to strip all 368 delegates from the two states when they scheduled primaries in January. Party rules said their nominating contests could be no earlier than Feb. 5. Michigan voted on Jan. 15, Florida on Jan. 29.

The analysis also said there is an option to restore 100 percent of the delegates _ by a recommendation of the Credentials Committee that meets later this summer. However, that would mean a final decision would not be made until the first day of the convention in Denver since Credentials Committee decisions have to be approved by the full convention as it convenes — risking a floor fight.

Alice Huffman, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee from California who is supporting Clinton, said she has been barraged with e-mails in the past few weeks. She said the senders include Floridians who are upset that they are being disenfranchised, and she has started printing out the messages so she'll have a record to explain her decision.

"This is a really, really significant issue to women. Obviously it's a significant item to people of color too. So I'm just preparing myself as best I can," said Huffman, president of the California NAACP.

The shoe shipments are being organized by and1 the orange idea was promoted by a group called Florida Demands Representation, which plans to bus Floridians to Saturday's rally outside the meeting. Blaine Whitford, a volunteer helping organize the effort, said they are unaligned with any candidate.

Susie Buell, one of Clinton's top fundraisers, has formed a political action committee encouraging women to support full seating of the delegates. The WomenCountPAC has taken out ads in USA Today and The New York Times promoting attendance at the rally.
Also: "Obama urges supporters not to demonstrate at crucial DNC meeting" (The Hill):
Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) campaign is urging its supporters not to demonstrate at Saturday’s highly anticipated Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting on how to handle the delegates of Florida and Michigan.
In an internal campaign e-mail obtained by The Hill, the Obama campaign states, “We look forward to the meeting proceeding smoothly — and we’re asking our supporters not to show up to demonstrate, passionately as they feel about this campaign.”

This weekend’s meeting of the DNC’s 30-member Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) at a Marriot Wardman Park hotel in Washington, D.C. is expected to be a media circus, and will likely attract many supporters of Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

But the Obama campaign wants to avoid heated intraparty confrontations that would attract national headlines and be replayed on the cable news networks. Saturday’s potential public relations nightmare comes as the Obama campaign is taking steps to unify the party as the Democratic primary process appears to be winding down.

The DNC stated on its Web site that demand for the meeting was extremely high: “Just a quick note if you tried to register for the RBC meeting this morning. First, yes, it did go online. For about a minute. There was a lot if demand and we’re sorry if you didn’t get a spot...they were gone pretty quickly.”

The difference between nabbing a spot and falling short “was a matter of seconds,” the DNC stated.

The Obama campaign “talking points” e-mail cautions supporters not to speculate about what will happen on Saturday though it emphasizes that the Illinois senator will campaign vigorously in both states for the general election.

In a Q&A section of the e-mail, a question reads, “Sen. Obama has such a large lead that the outcome of this nomination is all-but academic. Why not just seat the delegates as they voted so that Sen. Clinton has one less reason to continue her campaign?”

The answer states, “That’s not Sen. Obama’s decision to make. The rules for this nomination contest were designed and are enforced by the Democratic National Committee. That’s why our campaign is working to forge a fair agreement that will ensure Democrats from Florida and Michigan will be able to participate in our convention.”

The Clinton campaign has repeatedly stressed that all the votes should be counted, including those cast in Florida and Michigan. Both states were punished by the DNC because they violated the committee’s rules by moving up their primaries.

The DNC bylaws meeting is seen as Clinton’s last-ditch effort to make up significant ground on Obama in the delegate count. Clinton won both states easily, but Obama pulled his name off the ballot in Michigan and, like the former first lady, did not actively campaign in Florida.

The talking points memo provides some answers to potential questions about Saturday. One reads, “I don’t think that any of us are in a position to speculate about possible outcomes at the meeting — but what I do know is that the Obama campaign is as eager as anyone to see this situation resolved fairly, which reflects the desire of these delegations to be seated and the fact that we and all the candidates competed under rules in which there were no delegates to be awarded and no campaigning took place.”

It adds, “Obviously, the May 31 meeting will be an important part of reaching an agreement that’s in the best interests of Florida and Michigan voters and in the best interests of the Democratic Party.”

Monday, May 26, 2008

"Our Sacrifice"

Dante Zappala (Huffington Post):
Sherwood would be 34, still a big brother, a father proud of his ever growing teenage son. He'd be holding it down somehow -- working like a dog, passionate about his family and the people he served. He'd know my son. They'd share on equal measure the endless newness and wonder of life.
Sherwood would be his father's hope as he fights cancer. He would be his mother's calm and his brothers' pride.

Sherwood would be here, present amongst the living, were it not for the war in Iraq.

Four years ago, in the emerging desert summer, an explosion rocked a suspected chemical munitions factory in Baghdad. A Pennsylvania Army National Guardsman patrolling the perimeter was fatally wounded when he was struck in the head with debris. His name was Sherwood Baker, age 30, recently promoted to Sergeant. He had a wife and a child.

My brother is dead. I must repeat that to myself with a quiet firmness. For many, Memorial Day represents the promise of burgeoning possibilities, a chance for a BBQ, afternoon beers and family gatherings. We, however, are consumed with flags, tears and the names of our dead.

For my family, Memorial Day bookends a season of anniversaries. For the fourth time now, we have repeated this litany. The last time I saw Sherwood was in February. The last time we talked was in March. His last e-mail came days before his death in April. His funeral was in May. And now we have this weekend to remember him amongst all of the fallen.

We remember Sherwood as we work amidst an inspired group of unlikely activists -- Gold Star and Military Families who want an end to the war in Iraq. We are regular folks, your every day nobodies, whose grief and vigilance is aimed at preventing further tragedy. We have banged on the doors in Washington, we have marched in the streets of America. We have relentlessly called for an immediate end to this hideous debacle.

Despite our efforts, and the efforts of millions of other dedicated citizens, the war has raged for more than 5 years. Memorial Day offers us pause, even as men and women, Americans and Iraqis, suffer death and injury.

In this moment as the eye passes over us, I find, perhaps, a single enlightening parallel. Our heroes who laid down their lives made courageous and selfless decisions to serve their country. They remind us that moral courage is nothing we can compensate. Rewards, we pray, are theirs heaven, for on God's earth they have lost everything they cherished.

We sift through the campaign season hoping against hope that the political process as we know it will end the war. We are wrong. No political strategy will end the morass, the corruption, the burning blanket on humanity that is Iraq. Only moral courage will end the war.

We who choose to stand on those grounds will not profit. The politicians who join us may not become Committee Chairs, they may not be re-elected, they may not have buildings named after them. They will simply do what is right.

As we plead our case, we will only be told intellectual lies about the need to continue funding the degradation and destruction of a sovereign society. We will only be asked to believe that our best interests are being served as death knocks on the doors of Anbar and America alike.

I have my purpose. Sherwood cannot enjoy the fruit of life -- he cannot watch his son become a man, he cannot counsel me, he can no longer raise his voice. There were no material possessions to inherit from my brother. Even his clothes were too big for me. What I carry of him now, what I speak in his name, what I raise my son with, represents all he has left me.

Memorial Day gives us each a chance to embrace the fallen as our own. Let us distinguish between the nobility of service and the nobility of this war.

Read the names of the 4081 servicemen and women who have been killed in Iraq. Each and every one of them is one of you. Common folks, unlikely heroes. Yes. Willing to sacrifice. Yes. Forever gone. Yes. Children will never be born, work will never be done, cries will never be heard.

Own their sacrifice and then ask yourself if you believe more of them dying in Iraq will bring justice to the world. Own their sacrifice for it is we who send them to war, and we who keep them at war.

"Barack Obama is master of the new Facebook politics"

Andrew Sullivan (Sunday London Times):
Last Tuesday night, as the results from Kentucky and Oregon gave both the Clinton and the Obama campaign something to feel good about, another statistic blipped up on the television. In April the Obama team had raised a further $31m (£15.8m) for its campaign. The Clintons managed $20m - and the broader financial picture was even grimmer for Hillary.
Barack Obama now has close to $38m cash in hand for the remaining campaign, compared with Clinton’s $6m. And her debts amount to $10m, not counting the $11m she lent herself. His debts are only $2m.

How did this happen? The Clintons are the biggest name in the Democratic party. Their campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, was once chairman of the party. In December, when Clinton was the favourite, she was able to use that leverage to persuade most big donors to go with her. She had star power and a pitch designed to appeal to Hollywood (the first female president) and to New York (she was its senator).

There is only one real answer to Obama’s financial success: the internet. What Howard Dean, a previous candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, presaged in 2004 - when he raised $27m online for his campaign - has come to fruition only four years later with a candidate who is primed to take advantage of web power and a generation that is now used to relating, thinking, talking and meeting online.

It was one of Clinton’s many huge errors that she bypassed Silicon Valley’s fundraisers in favour of more traditional areas of Democratic support. And she missed the key element of the new politics: social networking. She was still AOL; Obama was Facebook. Clinton was the PC; Obama was a Mac.

As Peter Leyden of the New Politics Institute, an influential California think tank, says: “What’s amazing is that Hillary built the best campaign that has ever been done in Democratic politics on the old model – she raised more money than anyone before her, she locked down all the party stalwarts, she assembled an all-star team of consultants and she really mastered this top-down, command-and-control type of outfit. And yet she’s getting beaten by this political start-up that is essentially a totally different model of the new politics.”

The new model really began thanks to John McCain. His 2002 campaign-finance law ended the era of a few big donors funding party politics. The maximum legal amount of any individual donation became $2,000 in 2004 and $2,300 in this election cycle. And so the key to raising money was getting people to “bundle” together as many friends and colleagues as possible to contribute the maximum of $2,300 each.

That’s how George W Bush did it – with his “pioneers” and “rangers”: friends and supporters who could corral dozens or hundreds of friends to pitch in. The usual means were living-room fundraisers and barbecues and phone trees, often involving the candidate himself or a surrogate.

But the Obama team realised that online social networking made such physical fundraisers redundant; and it also realised that a much better point of entry wasn’t $2,300 but less than one-tenth of that: $200. It transformed its website into a social networking zone, and its appeal to the young made this strategy viral.

Last month’s $31m haul – almost all of it accrued online – is all the more impressive when you discover that 94% of it came in sums of $200 or less. A million little donors became the model.

One of the men Obama hired to set up this new effort certainly knew what he was doing: Chris Hughes is a co-founder of Facebook.

When you hear Hillary Clinton call Obama an elitist, the flood of small donations is worth remembering. Obama’s campaign has in fact been the least elitist and most democratic fundraising operation in the history of American politics. He has more than 1.5m individual donors, who come with their own e-mail address books and social networks. And since most have not donated anything like the maximum amount, he doesn’t just have a list of names to thank; he has a huge list of names to ask for more. This is a money machine unlike any other.

Joshua Green, whose definitive report on Obama’s strategy appears in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine, points out something else: “During the month of February, for example, his campaign raised a record-set-ting $55m – $45m of it over the internet – without the candidate himself hosting a single fundraiser.”

That’s another staggering benefit of this kind of open-source, web-based operation: the personal drain on a candidate is lessened. He can spend less time at rubber-chicken dinners, fewer soul-sapping hours begging for cash on the phone, less time schmoozing possibly cheesy characters (remember how much trouble Al Gore got into in 2000?) and more time honing speeches, working on policy, engaging the media.

Obama’s trademark mass rallies must also be seen in this context. They aren’t just media draws. Everyone who wanted to get into the 75,000-strong rally in Portland, Oregon, last weekend had to provide an e-mail address.

By the time they came home from the event, an e-mail was waiting for them, asking them for money or for referrals to other friends, and encouraging them to form “affinity groups” to spread the network wider and wider.

It’s a new form of politics; it is likely to last beyond the Obama campaign and to change the shape of all campaigns to come. For Obama the new method was also bang on message. His liberalism is not a top-down, managerial variety; it’s more in line with progressive traditions of self-empowerment. A social network was the perfect medium.

I have seen this for myself. This spring, many friends who had never previously been interested in politics suddenly told me about their Obama fundraisers. I was stunned by their activism. No one had asked them. They were arranging the parties or performances or gatherings through Facebook and MySpace, without any formal leadership from Obama headquarters.

Just as Obama’s most famous web videos were never commissioned by the candidate – they were created and disseminated spontaneously online – so his fundraising began to take on a life of its own. The only other candidate who managed to inspire such energy was the maverick Republican Ron Paul. His message was not unlike Obama’s: self-empowered, antiestablishment, next-generation.

There is no question in my mind that this is the future of political organisation and fundraising.

The strongest criticism of Obama is his lack of substantive achievements in public life. He is a freshman senator, and his record is indeed thin in comparison with that of McCain or Clinton. However, if his abilities in government are in any way similar to the skills he has shown in managing – and brilliantly not managing – his campaign, then this is a candidate not to be underestimated. Clinton has been sideswiped. And, privately, most Republicans I know are terrified.

Maybe Obama’s model is a little before its time. If not, the online president of social-networking democracy is imminent. And his URL is

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Clinton Camp Stokes RFK Flap by Blaming Obama"

Zachary A. Goldfarb ("The Talk"-WaPo):
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign accused Sen. Barack Obama's campaign of fanning a controversy over her describing the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy late in the 1968 Democratic primary as one reason she is continuing to run for the presidency.
"The Obama campaign ... tried to take these words out of context," Clinton campaign chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said on "Fox News Sunday." "She was making a point merely about the time line."

The issue is particularly sensitive given longstanding concerns about Obama's safety as a presidential candidate. (He first received Secret Service protection last May.) The Obama campaign called Clinton's words unfortunate and circulated a TV commentary criticizing them, although Obama himself said Saturday that he took Clinton at her word that she meant no harm.

Hours after mentioning Kennedy's assassination, Clinton said, "I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive."

Obama senior strategist David Axelrod dodged questions about why the campaign was still circulating commentaries criticizing Clinton even after suggesting it wants to move beyond the controversy.

"We're beyond that issue now, so certainly we're not trying to stir the issue up," Axelrod said.

Asked if Clinton has personally called Obama to apologize for the reference, McAuliffe said she has not, "nor should she." He added, "Let's be clear. This had nothing to with Senator Obama or his campaign."

McAuliffe noted that Robert F. Kennedy's son -- who endorsed Clinton last November -- has said that Clinton's reference to his father's death did not cross the line.

"If Robert F. Kennedy Jr. doesn't find offense to it, why is it that everybody else should?" McAuliffe said. "They shouldn't. They ought to take Robert F. Kennedy Jr. -- he did not misinterpret it or misjudge it."

Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation", Clinton senior strategist Howard Wolfson said McAuliffe is "absolutely right" that Clinton didn't want to apologize to Obama for the remark and said: "I think it was unfortunate to attack Senator Clinton's remarks without knowing fully what she had said."

McAuliffe said Clinton is staying in the race to give hope to the millions of women who have voted for her and "she is winning races." And the campaign chairman made clear that his boss would strongly consider pressing on if the Democratic National Committee does not allow Florida and Michigan delegates to vote at the party's convention this summer -- a decision that would boost Clinton's delegate total. The DNC's rules and bylaws committee is scheduled to meet Saturday to discuss the issue.

"We are prepared to fight this so that all 50 states are included, that the delegates be seated. Let's have no questions about that. This race is still very close," McAuliffe said.

Wolfson said the campaign believes the DNC will reinstate Florida and Michigan "100 percent. That's what they should do. That will obviously help us, but it's the right thing to do."

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, delivered a strong signal that it expects the nomination contest to wrap up in the next 10 days, after the final primaries.

"We expect on June 3rd that this process will come to an end," Obama senior strategist David Axelrod said on ABC's "This Week."

"People in this country want change. They've identified Senator Obama as the candidate who can bring that change," he said. "And we're going to be united as a party after June 3rd."

Axelrod acknowledged, "There's an enormous amount of pride and investment in Senator Clinton among millions of women across this country," and that unifying the party after a tense nomination contest will produce "some tumult in the short run."

However, he said, Clinton's "strongest supporters understand how desperately we need change in this country, and I think that they understand that this is a critical election."

One prominent Clinton supporter acknowledged that virtually all hope for her winning the nomination is gone now.

"Obama clearly has the momentum. I am a proud Hillary delegate. But I predict the race will be over soon," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.). "The loser will concede graciously. "And I hope that we build what I call a unity ticket, either with both of them on the ticket or with the people on the ticket strongly representing the two bases which we will need to combine if we're to win in November over a very strong Republican challenge."

"MSNBC: Clinton RFK Remark (Barbara Comstock & Ari Melber)" (video)

MSNBC, video (07:18).

"Master of the Senate"

Reihan Salam (The Current-The Atlantic):
A Jim Webb-sponsored proposal to expand education benefits for veterans was passed by the Senate as part of the latest Iraq War spending bill.
As Barack Obama considers his vice presidential options, he would be very wise to take Jim Webb seriously. By now the idea that Webb could help Obama connect with the Scots-Irish voters of Greater Appalachia is familiar to most of those who follow the presidential horse race. And Webb's military experience, together with his years in Ronald Reagan's Pentagon, give him national security expertise that few leading Democrats can match. Yet there is another reason the Virginia Senator would make an excellent vice presidential nominee. As he's demonstrated this week, Webb can be a masterful legislative tactician.

Though no one will ever mistake Webb for a gladhanding backslapper, he has mobilized an extraordinary coalition of Democrats and Republicans behind a dramatic expansion of veterans' educational benefits. After passing by an overwhelming margin in the House, Webb's Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act won 75 votes in the Senate. Because the measure was attached to the Democrats' Iraq War spending bill, which included a number of other spending proposals favored by Democrats and opposed by the Bush White House, there is good reason to believe that the entire package will be vetoed. But there is also good reason to believe that something like Webb's proposal will eventually be made law, thanks in no small part to the measure's overwhelming popularity among veterans and military families.

Moreoever, the popularity of Webb's "new GI Bill" has put John McCain in an extraordinarily awkward spot. McCain, along with Lindsey Graham, Richard Burr, and other senators known for their hawkish credentials, opposed Webb's proposal on the grounds that it would undermine the military's efforts to retain personnel; in its place, they proposed an educational benefit that became more generous the longer an individual service member served. (When Obama criticized McCain for opposing the Webb proposal, McCain responded angrily, accusing Obama of demagoguing a complex issue.) But whether or not McCain and his allies were right on the merits -- it is by no means obvious that they were not -- there is no denying that the Virginia Senator has successfully maneuvered the presumptive Republican nominee into the profoundly unpopular position of being against a measure designed to honor the service and the sacrifice of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Can Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius say the same thing? Or Ohio Governor Ted Strickland? Former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn has been praised for his national security expertise. But did he resign from the Reagan-era Pentagon, as Webb did, after resisting orders to downsize the Navy?

The question is no longer whether Barack Obama should select Jim Webb as his nominee. It is whether he can justify not doing so. Even if Webb murdered someone in an alleyway in a fit of pique or been paid vast sums by the Chinese Politburo for detailed intelligence about American naval vessels, he would still be a far stronger and more appealing vice presidential nominee than Hillary Clinton.
Howie P.S.: That last sentence is over-the-top, especially after the events of the last two days.

Race, gender, Democratic politics and the 2008 presidential election (video)

mediagrrl9, video (09:39) from Democracy Now:
Melissa Harris Lacewell and Gloria Steinem debate democratic politics and the 2008 presidential election.
H/t to Think On These Things, where you can view "TOTT’s Top 5 Female Trailblazers of the 2008 Democratic Primary."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Obama's formula: It's the network"

Christi Parsons and John McCormick (Chicago Tribune):
WASHINGTON — Joe Rospars, a young Internet-savvy operative, sat on an unpacked box in his new apartment on the morning of Feb. 10, 2007, excitedly watching two screens.
On television, his new boss, Sen. Barack Obama, was announcing that he wanted to be the next president of the United States. On Rospars' laptop, a dashboard of statistics was constantly updating, measuring visitors to the Web site he'd just helped launch. Click after click, a trickle became a flood.

Not only would thousands visit that day, but within 24 hours a staggering 1,000 of them would register the formation of an Obama group in their town.

"You see 'Idaho for Obama' pop up and you start thinking, 'We might be on to something,' " Rospars recalled. "You could just see it in the first few hours that something was happening."

That moment marked an important convergence, a politician with transformational potential meeting a technology with its own unprecedented possibilities. The Obama campaign would cross many such markers in the months to come: record fundraising of nearly $200 million, colossal crowds of up to 75,000, 1.5 million donors, 4.45 million views of its most viral video.

Since that first day, though, architects of the Obama campaign have avoided comparing their milestones to what came before. "We threw out the precedents," Rospars said.

These days, having won a majority of the Democratic Party's elected convention delegates, the Obama team is turning to Part 2 of its quest for the White House. Behind the scenes, the vetting process for potential vice presidential candidates has begun, while staff members make room for a continued stream of new hires. Already, the Michigan Avenue headquarters is getting crowded. Obama's strategic focus is clearly on the fall general election as the story moves beyond a historic primary season.

Defying 'inevitability'
When the narrative began that February day on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, it was with a sense of grand ambition that bordered on hubris. Even many fans thought Obama was too inexperienced to win, too small in the face of the political dynasty he was challenging.

Like the Illinois forebear who got his start in the same prairie capital, though, Obama had both a message for the times and an understanding of how to deliver it. He, too, was a man meeting his moment—not to mention his medium.

"When Abraham Lincoln started out, there was also a sense of inevitability about another candidate," said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, referring to New York Sen. William Seward. "But he understood the skills it took to beat the more experienced candidate, and he went state to state giving speeches and building a following. That is clearly what Obama has done."

From the very beginning, the people crafting Obama's strategy were thinking about exactly that: how their candidate might get around a Democratic power structure that favored rival Sen. Hillary Clinton and talk directly to voters.

Obama and his message already had demonstrated popular appeal. His tour of Africa in 2006 attracted the scrutiny that usually attends presidential visits. His books were best sellers, and fellow Democrats had clamored for him to campaign for them.

"We wanted this to be a grass-roots campaign, a campaign of people," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

Internet raked in funds
Most of all, the Obama campaign intended to exploit the growing power of the Internet. They hired a Facebook founder to help run, the campaign's social networking site. They brought on a former journalist to blog.

And when a CNN producer asked for access to film a documentary on Obama, the campaign offered her a job doing that for their own Web site. The campaign planned to take in money and information online—but they wanted the conversation to go both ways, to have what they took to calling a "holistic relationship."

Two months into the effort, it was clear those 1,000-plus Obama groups would not just make a splash—as had Howard Dean's Internet supporters four years earlier—but would help raise money in unprecedented sums.

Obama took in $25 million in the first quarter of 2007 from 104,000 donors, more than half contributing via the Internet, giving Obama instant credibility. One year later, 1.5 million people had contributed.

But the online supporters were doing something else too. In their homes, with their weekend cell phone minutes, on their laptops, some without even getting out of their pajamas, they were campaigning for Obama.

The campaign's Web site offered online training for phone-banking and provided supporters with names and numbers of targeted voters. The campaign blasted out responses to criticism in digestible bites, easily forwarded to a supporter's contact list or a friend with a question.

"There can be a tendency in campaigns to keep things closely held, or you can accept the risk and move forward," said Plouffe. "Our belief was that personal contact was the important thing."

The online groups formed ready-made networks in every state. Staffers landed in those states to help organize. And that would prove crucial to Obama's tactical strategy.

Steady despite stumbles
In the early days of the campaign, Obama struggled. Reviews of the early debates called Clinton "commanding," while Obama came off as deferential and prone to missteps.

As the campaign churned on, critics wondered whether the junior senator from Illinois was up to the challenge. Last fall was especially rough, as Clinton surpassed Obama in fundraising and outstripped him in national polls.

Oddly enough, Obama thinks that is when he began to take off.

"After the summer, into the fall, I became much more comfortable talking about why I was running and what particular skills and vision I brought to the race," he told the Tribune the day before his crucial win in the Iowa caucuses. "That, I think, helped clarify my message of change."

He tried not to get "too up" when things were going well, he said, nor "too down" when they weren't. "Relative calm has, I think, been embedded in the culture of our campaign," Obama said.

There was no spate of firings when things seemed bleak. Obama, Plouffe and top strategist David Axelrod aimed for what Obama called "a steady execution."

Small victories
Obama's win in Iowa signaled to potential supporters that he could attract white voters. And his defeat in New Hampshire a few days later was the first hint that this might be a long, drawn-out primary season.

The senator watched the disappointing numbers roll in alongside his wife, Michelle, his sister Auma, and Valerie Jarrett, an adviser and close family friend.

"People were in shock. We were not prepared for it," Jarrett said. She looked over to see that Obama was going quietly from person to person.

When he got to Jarrett, she said, "He put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the face and said, 'This will prove to be a good thing. ... We are going to have to redouble our efforts.' "

No one in politics guessed what would follow. Obama and Clinton were embarking on a long, rocky road through the primary states, where they would trade victories and split the vote.

Even Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, the night the Obamas feared the most, ended with what looked like a draw. Clinton won the grand prize of California, while Obama took more states around the country. In retrospect, however, Super Tuesday was perhaps the pivotal victory for Obama; by failing to knock him off, Clinton opened the door to his strategy of steadily accumulating delegates through small states and caucuses.

By the Texas and Ohio primaries a month later, a clear pattern showed Obama was favored among African-Americans, wealthy voters and those with college degrees, while Clinton was more often the choice of older and blue-collar voters as well as white women. Clinton also scored some successes by dismissing Obama's impassioned rhetoric as "just words," with little substance behind them.

Along the way, his audiences were large and adoring. One afternoon, before a crowd of 17,000, Obama took a break to blow his nose. The audience applauded.

As crucial as the Internet was to this effort, it could also turn on the candidate. Early on, e-mail folklore developed about Obama's life as a Muslim. The truth — that he is a Christian who has never practiced Islam—was no match in some quarters for the electronic chain letters.

The Internet also gave life to the most damaging story to arise about Obama, originally on cable television. The controversial highlights of sermons by Obama's longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., were available on YouTube at all hours.

The first YouTube election
Now that he is entering the general election, Obama hopes the prairie fire ignited by his announcement in Lincoln's hometown will spread.

Ted Sorensen, former speechwriter to John F. Kennedy, thinks it will.

"At the root of all this is his remarkable ability to transcend traditional politics and reach across lines—regional, political, racial—just as John F. Kennedy did," said Sorensen, author of the new book "Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History." "When Kennedy, the 'Catholic candidate,' won in Protestant West Virginia, that electrified the country."

What is sometimes missed in Obama's story is that his message of change was ideally suited to the new medium of the Internet, with its appeal to young people and independents. While Dean had had to develop his own video tools, YouTube was up, running and ready to spread everything from Obama's 37-minute speech on race to the award-winning video by setting the candidate's words to music.

"Obama didn't just defeat any top-down campaign," said Joe Trippi, the original manager of Dean's pioneering campaign. "He beat the best top-down campaign in Democratic Party history, by far. And the Obama campaign puts them on their heels. If they had tried the old way, they would have raised $40 million bucks and been dead."

The country has seen this before, Goodwin noted. Obama used more modern tools than Lincoln, she said, but he dealt in the same currency.

"It shows there's still a hunger in people," she said, "to be inspired by words."

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on Hillary Clinton's RFK Assassination Remarks" (video)

MSNBC, video (10:44).

"Obama's talk with The Palm Beach Post" (with audio)

Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau (FL), with audio:
BOCA RATON — Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama spent time with The Palm Beach Post this morning, talking about the impact of the Florida's primary on his race with Hillary Clinton, whether to seat the state's convention delegates and what a national catastrophe fund should look like.

Here's the interview, which has been partially edited.
Q: At this point in the race, why not seat the entire Florida delegation with a full vote based on the Jan. 29 primary?

A: They're definitely going to be seated. We're not the final decision maker on this. But we've said to the DNC that we want the Florida delegation to be seated, and I'm confident that it's going to be worked out sometime in the next 10 days. I expect that the delegates are going to be participating at the convention.

These weren't rules of my making. We just followed the rules. But Florida is too important to have this linger into the fall. I'm confident in a weeks time this thing will be resolved to the satisfaction of the people of Florida.

Q: Senator Hillary Clinton was in Palm Beach County this week calling for the delegation to be given a full vote. At this point in the race, is there any reason you haven't taken the same position in public?

A: The key for me is just making sure the Florida delegation is seated.

I don't want to get too deep in the weeds of the DNC rules.

Keep in mind that the people who put these rules together and people who made these decisions are generally not people of my selection. I'm not yet the nominee or at the point where I'm the person who's helping to shape the DNC. I'll have more public commentary about.

Right now, my goal is to make sure I'm focusing on letting everybody now that I want to make sure they're seated and our team is working actively with the DNC to make that happen. Obviously, Senator Clinton's people have say-so as well. I'm confident that it will get resolved.

Q: If voters care more about health care and economic issues than the flap over its primary, why do polls show Clinton ahead of John McCain in Florida and you in a statistical tie, if not trailing the Republican presidential candidate?

A: It's because we haven't campaigned down here. It was a huge disadvantage to me not to have a full primary process in Florida. If I hadn't campaigned in any states, I'd be behind everywhere we go.

The reason we ended up winning twice as many states is because I actively campaigned there. People became more familiar with me. Starting off from scratch, Senator Clinton had much higher name recognition and greater familiarity, given her work as first lady and people's familiarity with Bill Clinton.

That's part of the reason we're devoting three days to Florida now and why I expect to be here a lot during the summer and fall. We're very confident that as people get to know me and know my track record and where I want to take the country, we'll do very well here.

Q: Assess the Florida's impact on the primary race. You've done well in many states, but have had trouble in bigger states.

A: The truth is that the states where Senator Clinton has won a lot of these bigger states, it's just a lot harder to campaign in bigger states. And I benefit from one-on-one interaction with voters.

The really big states where it requires a lot of time because you've got a lot of media markets, overcoming the name recognition disadvantage is more significant. But I don't think anybody doubts that I'll win California for example.

Q: Did it help your campaign heading into Super Tuesday states for votes in those states to know that the election results in Florida did not count?

A: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. If you think about it, on Feb. 5, we did very well in a lot of states. States like California where we lost by single digits, the issue there was we really didn't have enough time to campaign there. We had one day or two days to campaign in California. It would have been the same situation in Florida.

And then there was a lot of front-loading going on and that was to the advantage of the candidates who were best known. But moving forward, I'm very confident we've got five months and a state like Florida is absolutely critical to our success. And we're going to spend a lot of time here and a lot of resources and put a lot of staff on the ground.

One good thing that has happened in this primary process is we've seen enormous interest on the part of voters: A lot of new voters getting registered, a lot of new voters going to the polls. I think that's going to be true in Florida and I think that's going to be helpful to our cause.

Q: During the past two years, Gov. Charlie Crist has distanced himself from President Bush and been one of the few bright spots in the country for the GOP. Will his support of McCain hurt your argument in Florida that McCain represents a third term for Bush?

A: There's no doubt that Gov. Crist is an effective communicator and popular governor. But ultimately the voters in Florida are going to make their decision based on the person at the top of the ticket. And John McCain's positions are almost identical to George Bush's on the big issues that people are really focused on.

His economic policies basically revolve around the continuation of the Bush tax cuts. His health care plan doesn't provide universal health care, but is almost identical to George Bush's tax breaks for people without any regulation on the insurance market or assurances that people can get coverage and afford coverage. His policies on Iraq are almost identical to George Bush's.

So I think people are going to be making their decisions based on what John McCain says and not what Gov. Crist says.

Q: The U.S. House approved a national catastrophe fund in November. Do you support that bill?

A: I think it's a good start. I think that we need a national catastrophe fund. The key is to make sure that it's run efficiently, that its adequately funded and that we build in smart incentives to assure that developers are mitigating risk when they're making decisions on where to locate homes or businesses.

If we do that, then I think it will help not only Florida but states across the country where the problem of getting homeowners insurance has become increasingly difficult.

Q: Building incentives?

A: There are a number of ways to do it. But the key is to make sure you're not setting up a fund where developers don't have to have any regard as to whether they're building in a flood plain or whether they're creating more risky situations.

But the bottom line is for the residents of Florida, they need protection in the same way that people in the Midwest need protection from tornadoes or other natural disasters. And I think its important for us to make sure the federal government is playing a role as a backstop in that process.

Thought For Today

You can view my latest post on the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog here.

"Republicans and Our Enemies"

Joe Biden (Wall Street Journal):
On Wednesday, Joe Lieberman wrote on this page that the Democratic Party he and I grew up in has drifted far from the foreign policy espoused by Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy.
In fact, it is the policies that President George W. Bush has pursued, and that John McCain would continue, that are divorced from that great tradition – and from the legacy of Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Sen. Lieberman is right: 9/11 was a pivotal moment. History will judge Mr. Bush's reaction less for the mistakes he made than for the opportunities he squandered.

The president had a historic opportunity to unite Americans and the world in common cause. Instead – by exploiting the politics of fear, instigating an optional war in Iraq before finishing a necessary war in Afghanistan, and instituting policies on torture, detainees and domestic surveillance that fly in the face of our values and interests – Mr. Bush divided Americans from each other and from the world.

At the heart of this failure is an obsession with the "war on terrorism" that ignores larger forces shaping the world: the emergence of China, India, Russia and Europe; the spread of lethal weapons and dangerous diseases; uncertain supplies of energy, food and water; the persistence of poverty; ethnic animosities and state failures; a rapidly warming planet; the challenge to nation states from above and below.

Instead, Mr. Bush has turned a small number of radical groups that hate America into a 10-foot tall existential monster that dictates every move we make.

The intersection of al Qaeda with the world's most lethal weapons is a deadly serious problem. Al Qaeda must be destroyed. But to compare terrorism with an all-encompassing ideology like communism and fascism is evidence of profound confusion.

Terrorism is a means, not an end, and very different groups and countries are using it toward very different goals. Messrs. Bush and McCain lump together, as a single threat, extremist groups and states more at odds with each other than with us: Sunnis and Shiites, Persians and Arabs, Iraq and Iran, al Qaeda and Shiite militias. If they can't identify the enemy or describe the war we're fighting, it's difficult to see how we will win.

The results speak for themselves.

On George Bush's watch, Iran, not freedom, has been on the march: Iran is much closer to the bomb; its influence in Iraq is expanding; its terrorist proxy Hezbollah is ascendant in Lebanon and that country is on the brink of civil war.

Beyond Iran, al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 – are stronger now than at any time since 9/11. Radical recruitment is on the rise. Hamas controls Gaza and launches rockets at Israel every day. Some 140,000 American troops remain stuck in Iraq with no end in sight.

Because of the policies Mr. Bush has pursued and Mr. McCain would continue, the entire Middle East is more dangerous. The United States and our allies, including Israel, are less secure.

The election in November is a vital opportunity for America to start anew. That will require more than a great soldier. It will require a wise leader.

Here, the controversy over engaging Iran is especially instructive.

Last week, John McCain was very clear. He ruled out talking to Iran. He said that Barack Obama was "naïve and inexperienced" for advocating engagement; "What is it he wants to talk about?" he asked.

Well, for a start, Iran's nuclear program, its support for Shiite militias in Iraq, and its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Beyond bluster, how would Mr. McCain actually deal with these dangers? You either talk, you maintain the status quo, or you go to war. If Mr. McCain has ruled out talking, we're stuck with an ineffectual policy or military strikes that could quickly spiral out of control.

Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without "preconditions" – i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.

President Nixon didn't demand that China end military support to the Vietnamese killing Americans before meeting with Mao. President Reagan didn't insist that the Soviets freeze their nuclear arsenal before sitting down with Mikhail Gorbachev. Even George W. Bush – whose initial disengagement allowed dangers to proliferate – didn't demand that Libya relinquish its nuclear program, that North Korea give up its plutonium, or even that Iran stop aiding those attacking our soldiers in Iraq before authorizing talks.

The net effect of demanding preconditions that Iran rejects is this: We get no results and Iran gets closer to the bomb.

Equally unwise is the Bush-McCain fixation on regime change. The regime is abhorrent, but their logic defies comprehension: renounce the bomb – and when you do, we're still going to take you down. The result is that Iran accelerated its efforts to produce fissile material.

Instead of regime change, we should focus on conduct change. We should make it very clear to Iran what it risks in terms of isolation if it continues to pursue a dangerous nuclear program but also what it stands to gain if it does the right thing. That will require keeping our allies in Europe, as well as Russia and China, on the same page as we ratchet up pressure.

It also requires a much more sophisticated understanding than Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain seem to possess that by publicly engaging Iran – including through direct talks – we can exploit cracks within the ruling elite, and between Iran's rulers and its people, who are struggling economically and stifled politically.

Iran's people need to know that their government, not the U.S., is choosing confrontation over cooperation. Our allies and partners need to know that the U.S. will go the extra diplomatic mile – if we do, they are much more likely to stand with us if diplomacy fails and force proves necessary.

The Bush-McCain saber rattling is the most self-defeating policy imaginable. It achieves nothing. But it forces Iranians who despise the regime to rally behind their leaders. And it spurs instability in the Middle East, which adds to the price of oil, with the proceeds going right from American wallets into Tehran's pockets.

The worst nightmare for a regime that thrives on tension with America is an America ready, willing and able to engage. Since when has talking removed the word "no" from our vocabulary?

It's amazing how little faith George Bush, Joe Lieberman and John McCain have in themselves – and in America.

CNN: "An offer must be made" (with video)

CNN via Raw Story (David Edwards), with video (04:26):
CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux reported that formal talks are underway between Barack Obama’s campaign and Hillary Clinton’s campaign which could end Clinton’s campaign for President and result in an offer of the VP spot to Clinton. Clinton insiders say if some type of compromise is not reached it could mean “open civil war” within the party.
In a report for CNN, Malveaux reported on three possible scenarios.

Partial Transcript

MALVAEUX: Sources inside of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle are pushing for compromise. They have reached out to the Obama campain and it’s all about saving face, a graceful exit strategy. They say it’s very difficult.

What they’ve done is they have reached out and presented Obama insiders with three possible scenarios. they say obama can ignore clinton and her supporters and make this vice-presidential offer to someone else, which several people say would be a total dismissal of her. It is considered unacceptable. One person told me this could mean open civil war within the party, and so they believe that this is scenario number one is going to have consequences.

They say it doesn’t mean that Clinton would not campaign for Obama, that she would, but she would do so like her husband did campaigning for Gore, quite aloof. They also say perhaps women’s groups will be less willing to raise money for Obama.

The second scenario that they’re looking at here is that Obama could publicly offer Clinton the VP spot knowing that she would reject it. Now, this isn’t acceptable to the Obama camp. They are afraid if Obama were to publicly make this offer to Clinton, that she would in fact accept it and the problem the Clinton insiders say is these two don’t trust each other. That’s something that’s been rejected by the Obama insiders.

Now, the third scenario is that both of these two could get in a room, try to talk it out, and emerge to agree to disagree here. Come up with whatever they find suitable and present it to the public. For example, Clinton could get her debt covered or Obama could pledge to support her in a run for the Senate Majority Leader position later on. These kind of things. But clinton, whether or not she even wants the job, is something that insiders say, look, she’s not thinking about. She’s aware of these discussions, but she’s still looking forward to all the contests. She’s still looking forward to the number one spot.

This video is from CNN’s American Morning, broadcast May 23, 2008.
Howie P.S.: The New York Times has its own version of the current situation.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The "Nuclear" Option? (video)

TPMTV (Greg Sargent) video (04:48):
May 31st, 2008: the survivors will call it Judgment Day, the day that Hillary Clinton tries to push the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee to achieve the full seating of Florida and Michigan's disputed delegates and perhaps wrest the nomination away from Barack Obama. But wait... can this really happen? We take a look at the actual situation behind the hype in today's episode of TPMtv ...

MerkleyForOregon: "Just a Kid" (video), video (00:31):
Jeff Merkley's campaign for U.S. Senate released a new television ad featuring Merkley's ten year old daughter Brynne.

She knows exactly why Gordon Smith is attacking Jeff Merkley.

It's because Merkley has plans to change Washington D.C. and fight for kids and families, not the special interests.
Howie P.S.: In case you hadn't heard, Merkley defeated Steve Novick in the Oregon Democratic primary Tuesday to become their U.S. Senate candidate in the election this November.

"Obama suggests halving Florida delegation"

St. Petersdburg Times (FL):
KISSIMMEE — Delving deeper into Florida's Democratic delegate debacle than he ever has to date, Sen. Barack Obama said Wednesday that "a very reasonable solution" would be to count Florida's disputed primary votes and cut the state's delegation to the convention in half.
Still, in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Obama brushed off Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's emphasis on counting Florida's primary as a meaningful indication of the popular vote. She in turn called that stance an insult to 1.75-million Democrats who voted on Jan. 29.

"In all these races if I didn't campaign at all and this had just been a referendum on name recognition, Sen. Clinton would be the nominee,'' Obama told the Times during his first campaign trip to Florida in eight months. "It's pretty hard to make an argument that somehow you winning what is essentially a name recognition contest in Florida was a good measure of electoral strength there."

Obama is trying to move beyond the primary dispute and make up for lost time in America's biggest battleground state, but Clinton isn't making it easy.

On a day when both returned to Florida to campaign, she was in the heart of 2000 recount country calling for Florida's votes to be counted. And in her own phone interview with the St. Petersburg Times, she chastised Obama for discounting the significance of the Jan. 29 election.

"I think that is disingenuous but it's also insulting to the 1.7-million Floridians who actually turned out to vote,'' she said, recounting a South Florida canasta club that fervently followed the primary and noting that Obama ads ran on cable TV in Florida.

"They listened to the candidates and they researched the issues. We do live in a rather intense global media environment and as the ladies in the canasta club did, they took this decision very seriously."

Florida leaders set a January primary to enhance the state's influence on the nominating contest, and the national party stripped away all its delegates as punishment for violating the official party schedule. On top of that, all the Democratic candidates signed a pledge not to do any campaigning in Florida except for private fundraisers.

Obama, who has declined to speak to any Florida reporter since August, made no apologies for that pledge. He said he had no choice politically.

"Had we not agreed to that, we would be in a position where on the one hand, the DNC was telling you, 'This won't count.' On the other hand, you've gone out of your way to offend the first two states where you know that it will count,'' he said, referring to the pivotal contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. "I would hardly call that voluntary."

The Illinois senator, just shy of securing the nomination, stressed that he intends to win Florida and doubted the controversy over Florida's primary would cause any serious damage to his prospects.

"I don't think that the average Floridian is spending all their time thinking about this," he said, as his campaign bus cruised from Tampa to Kissimmee.

"I think what they're thinking about is $4-per-gallon gas. I think what they're thinking about is 'my health care premiums have gone up 25 percent and my deductibles have gone up and I'm trying to hang on to the health care that I've got.' ''

Clinton, though, insisted that counting votes is a fundamental principle for Americans, especially Democrats and especially in Florida.

She stood by her position that all the votes from Jan. 29 should be counted. That could net her another 38 delegates, which still would not be enough to catch up to Obama's elected delegate majority.

A DNC rules committee is scheduled to take up the matter again May 31, and many observers expect they'll most likely divide Florida's delegation in half based on Jan. 29.

Why should Florida and Michigan avoid any penalty for violating rules that 48 other states abided by? Clinton noted that Republicans controlled the Florida Legislature but said perhaps the Florida Democratic Party might face a sanction of some kind, rather than rank-and-file voters.

"If there were to be some penalty, it should be aimed at the state party,'' she said. "I'm sure there could be a creative approach to this. I'm not making the decision, but I still believe that the voters should not be penalized."

Obama repeatedly stressed that as the likely nominee, he will make sure Florida has a voice in the actual nominating process.

But taking her count-all-the-votes message to Florida just as Obama was kicking off a three-day campaign swing in the state made it harder for him to make up for lost time.

"What is it the State Department says? It's not helpful,'' said Rep. Robert Wexler, a top Obama supporter in Palm Beach County.

Obama was eager to talk about other key Florida issues:

• He promised to stand firmly behind a moratorium against drilling off Florida's coast. "Compromising a national treasure that is the Florida coastline for a short-term fix to a long-term problem, I think, would be a mistake."

• He said that as president he would ensure the federal government follows through on its commitment to evenly split the cost of Everglades restoration.

• He emphasized his support for a national catastrophe fund to alleviate Florida's property insurance crisis, though he was vague about how that measure might ultimately get passed.

"It's important to figure out how to structure something that helps homeowners here in Florida but also preserves incentives not to develop right in the path of potential disasters," Obama said, sounding much like Republican John McCain, who opposed current national disaster fund proposals.