Indiana Wants Me (But Not That Much)
CNN's playing some footage of her in Mississippi the other day. She's addressing a presumably mostly black audience, the two men standing on either side of her black, and she's acknowledging that Obama has a lot of support in the state--"As he should!" She pays tribute to Medgar Evans. There's some obvious uncertainty as she speaks, a hesitation, as she tries to find the words that will finesse her way around...what? I'll hand it over to Neil Young, addressing Nixon in 1974: I never knew a man Who could tell so many lies He had a different story For every set of eyes How can he remember Who he's talking to? 'Cause I know it isn't me And I hope it isn't you. ----- There's a detailed delegate chart posted on the Atlantic's website. If I understand the headline correctly, it's the Obama campaign's own numbers, but I checked them against CNN's tally, and the difference is minimal. Take a look--the thing that jumps right off the chart for me is how consistently lopsided Obama's wins have been. Conceding that such margins have no great practical value, since they've mostly been run up in states with low delegate counts, and also conceding that the margins in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands are so laughably large that trying to extrapolate some statisti- cal significance becomes even more specious, I couldn't resist calculating the average margin of victory for each side: Obama (30 wins) = +29.3% Clinton (15 wins) = +12.9% Again, as a practical matter, not worth any bonus points if it ends up coming down to a convention showdown. But imagine if the situation were reversed. Imagine that the states won and pledged delegates were exactly the same, but it were Clinton who'd won 15 blowouts, while Obama had racked up 30 wins with consistently modest margins of 10 to 15 points. Does anyone doubt for a second that Carville, Davis, and the rest would be brandishing those same numbers as evidence that the nomination somehow belongs to her? The obvious flaw in this analogy is that if Clinton had won the same 15 contests in blowouts, she'd be ahead in pledged delegates. But I think the basic point--that Clinton will grasp at whatever creative math momentarily suits her purposes, and just as quickly declare the same information as meaningless as soon as it doesn't--is valid. ----- "Cranky Old White Women for Hillary" has lost its nominal leader. I love this: "The spin on the words has been that somehow I was addressing his qualifications. I was not. I was celebrating the fact that the black community in this country came out with pride in a historic candidacy, and has shown itself at the polls. You'd think he'd say, 'Yeah thank you for doing that...we want to say thank you to the community.' Instead I'm charged with being a racist." Do they give workshops over there in this kind of thing? ----- I sometimes ask Scott Woods to put together audio for my radio show, and he always exceeds expectations. Here's a Hillary mash-up he's pieced together from some horror- film sound files. It's a perfect summary of where the campaign is at right now--wait- ing, waiting, waiting, peeking warily through splayed fingers, wondering what's about to jump out of nowhere. NAFTA, Samantha Power, Michigan/Florida, Rezko, and now Elmer Griff, Friendly Neighbourhood Preacher. This one's worrisome. It doesn't really matter if Wright is more or less saying things that have been said many times before, just more stridently and theatrically. A reasoned analysis won't be enough to put the story to rest. Obama's post on Huffington's site yesterday, and his television one-on-ones last night, were all perfectly rational responses to the situa- tion, but I've still got a bad feeling. The Fox interview is an omen of where I fear this may be headed. The interviewer was very insistent about getting one thing on the record: if Obama had been subjected to similar sermons from Wright on an ongoing basis over the past few years (as opposed to one or two isolated examples, as Obama argues), would he have left Trinity church? After a couple of attempts, he got what he was look- ing for: Yes, Obama assured him, he would have left the church if that had been the case. You don't have to be a genius to see what's coming next: countless reporters comb- ing over every single Wright sermon since 1990, and matching what was said against recorded evidence of Obama's presence or non-attendance. If a pattern emerges, watch out. Jesus, I hate religion. ----- Trying to figure out where this debacle is headed is very time-consuming and, at the moment, very dispiriting. I haven't seen the whole speech--I watched about 10 minutes hunched over a computer in my school library (while the class pretended to read or look for books; most at least realized I didn't want any interruptions), and have seen another 5-10 minutes' worth of excerpts. I'll sit down and watch it from start to finish on You Tube over the weekend. What I've seen so far is beautiful, and for the rest of that day (Tuesday? Wednes- day? I lose track...), I rather pathetically thought the rest of the country would now gather together somewhere in the middle of Kansas, join hands in a gigantic circle, and sing a song of reconcilliaton and healing, just like at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Three guesses who'd get the role of the off-stage Grinch. But there were also clearly two problems, and I hadn't a clue how either would evolve. 1) The core issue of having stuck around for 20 years. That was the biggest flashpoint going into the speech, and it was something that could only be explained--brilliantly, awkwardly, credibly, incredibly, whatever--not erased. 2) The obvious shift in how much Obama was conceding he'd heard in person; without saying so directly, he acknowledged in the speech he'd heard more, possibly a lot more, than he had been ready to acknowledge 48 hours earlier. So I waited--for polls, for reactions, for the Great Pumpkin to show up and make everything better. The media din makes your head spin. Most reactions have been perfectly predictable from both sides, some genuinely surprising (Huckabee, Charles Murray, Bay Buchanan; con- versly, the Cuban guy on Dobbs' panel seems to have abandoned Obama, and that surprised me too). My favorite line of all came from David Gergen, a day or two before Jon Stew- art hijacked it: "He talked to us like we were adults." If the media din were all that mattered, I'd call it at least a draw, probably even an edge to Obama. But voters matter more, and the most recent polls are disastrous. Clinton has jumped ahead nationally (head-to-head, and relatively speaking when pitted against McCain), and in upcoming primaries she's either widening already existing leads or establishing leads that weren't there. On the one hand I keep reading assertions in the New York Times and elsewhere that Clinton's slim chance of winning is narrowing ever more rapidly, but the way that she wins is clearer than ever to me--clear for maybe the first time. She wins huge in Pennsyvania and wins six or seven of the other remaining contests, enough for her to move moderately close in pledged delegates and popular vote (even without Florida or Michigan, which now look dead). Two weeks ago, that would morally not have been enough--the party wouldn't have bought any kind of phony rationale for denying Obama the nomination. As of the last couple of days, there's now a rationale that, as much as it sickens me to admit this, is perfectly legitimate: if Obama's free- fall doesn't reverse itself, who wants to send someone into a national election with little realistic chance of winning? (Wait a minute--the two parties have done that quite a few times, come to think of it.) There's a huge block of people out there who cannot get past the 20 years. I wonder if anyone will draw an obvious parallel with a question that has dogged Clinton: why did she remain in her marriage all those years, knowing what she surely knew about her husband? The parallel extends to reasons honorable (marital bond, daughter; public good works, faith) and self-serving (in both cases, political self-interest). It's getting bleaker--people are yelling at each other on CNN as I write, a story has just broken about possible State Department snooping into Obama's passport files, and today (sigh) Barack uttered the words "typical white person." Jesus, I hate religion. And Hillary Clinton. And Lou Dobbs. ----- The Great Pumpkin? I've come across a couple of comments to the effect that this would have been more helpful before Texas. Disagree--this is something that's very much needed right now. Richardson now joins the bumpkin preacher from Arkansas as the two people who, to me, have acquitted themselves most honorably during the Wright uproar. Especially Hucka- bee--if you didn't catch his words a few days ago, there's video here (along with funny shtick about how he's now running a hot dog stand). Excellent. As for Richardson, the timing only yields itself to one interpretation, and it's got nothing to do with the Hispanic vote in Pennsylvania; it's Pee Wee Reese sidling up to Jackie Robinson in the midst of pile-on vilification from the opposing dugout, putting his arm around him, and essentially saying, "Grow up, everybody." (Well, two interpretations, the other one being a given in politics; he's looking for a nice post in an Obama administration. But Richardson's such a jolly fellow, we won't hold that against him.) ----- The polls have stabilized (I've tended to hit the panic button rather quickly since this thing started; you definitely don't want me taking any 3:00 a.m. phone calls), Clinton's got new distractions of her own to deal with (her fantasy Rambo-like international adventures, the usual rogue-husband problem), and the worst seems to have passed. Wright is not going to go away--far from it--and I'm still really wor- ried about North Carolina. The thing that's caught my attention the last couple of days is right-wing radio in the wake of Wright. My sister and her fiancee bought me a subscription to Sirius for Christmas, and I've basically parked myself on Patriot; it's like eavesdropping on some parallel universe that you've heard lots about but never really experienced up close. (I could maybe extend the rationale to Godfather territory, the idea of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, but I'm just not passionately political enough to make such a dramatic claim.) In the early part of the campaign, when I think it was generally assumed Clinton would eventually prevail--up to and including Super Tuesday, let's say, before Obama took 11 in a row-- all the focus on Patriot was on her, and whatever was said about Obama was neutral at worst, with occasional hints even of being caught up a bit in the swoon. No more: Mike Church (the, uh, "King Dude" or some such thing) repeatedly referred to Obama as a clown yesterday, in between affecting a "Negro accent" as he did a bit where he read fairy tales as delivered by Wright. Quite disgusting. Sean Hannity and Mark Levin haven't, from what I've heard, devolved that far, but they have gone full-tilt on the hysteria front. If it does end up Obama and McCain, there will be the usual two cam- paigns being waged. There'll be the largely high-minded one for public consumption, the one where they shake hands at debates, reiterate again and again how much they admire one another's public service, and pick over details of the war and the economy. And then there'll be the shadow campaign, the subterranean one that exists on Patriot, and I couldn't even begin to guess how ugly that one will get. ----- A poll came out today that has Obama up 21 points in North Carolina. The jump is so drastic in such a short time that you've got to be suspicious (I forget the name of the polling organization), but still, encouraging. In another poll, the gap in Penn- sylvania is down to 10 points. If he were to lose by 10 or less, that'd be pretty much it, I would think. Fifteen points (where multi-poll averages tend to settle in) would be...manageable. But what it he were to get blown out by 25 or 30? Shudder to think. If the movement back to Obama is real, I doubt the driving force is the speech or any fourth-quarter voter conversion; the rationale is likely more along the lines of "Enough already." If so, that'll do. Meanwhile, they need to muzzle that doofus who got off the (good) line about Lewinsky's dress. Lewinsky is the one and only trigger that transforms Clinton into a sympathetic figure with the American public--I think her favorable rating was in the high 60s when the scandal was at its worst, an all-time high. Absent any reminders of that ordeal, the entrenched animus towards her always reasserts itself. Incoming sniper fire, gotta run. ----- Very, very early in the campaign--before Iowa--I mentioned my support of Obama to an American friend, and he said he was surprised I wasn't instead rooting for the most Nixon-like candidate in the race: Giuliani. He was half-kidding--we both share a fasci- nation with Nixon that's part generational, part temperamental, an odd mix of empathy and revulsion, and we continue to monitor the unexpected ways his shadow reverberates through American life. I know next to nothing about Giuliani beyond his post-9/11 ubiquity, but it didn't matter anyway, I told my friend, there was clearly a much bet- ter Nixon out there if I wanted to go that route: Hillary. I haven't seen much evidence that I was wrong. She got off a line in her post-Bosnia-flap press conference yesterday that was Nixon through and through: "So I made a mistake. That happens. It proves I'm human-- which, you know, for some people is a revelation." Unless Obama masks his neuroses exceptionally well, he seems to be more or less without them; she seems nothing but. She's always a beat or three off when addressing crowds, she's no less awkward trying to make convivial small-talk with reporters (something that came easy to her very un- Nixon-like husband), and I bet she comes out of this whatever the result with a finely- tuned enemies list. Prediction: the #1 slot will be held down by a portly man with a beard. I don't want to give the impression that her neurotic scheming makes her a typical woman. It doesn't--it makes her a typical Nixon. In the week after she lost Iowa, when she seemed headed for certain defeat in New Hampshire and a humiliatingly early exit, I said to the same friend that her "You won't have Hillary Clinton to kick around anymore" speech was close at hand. In the end, she never needed to give it. She may yet still. ----- The Casey endorsement can only help--he's supposedly very popular, so maybe that'll be enough to keep Pennsylvania within 10 points. I was also initially happy to hear all the calls for Hillary to pull the plug, until it became clear that they were all coming from Obama's side. They need to give that rest--it's obvious that whenever they apply pressure, she's just going to dig in that much deeper. Just go into Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana, and get it done. Bill James had a great piece in Slate recently about a formula he's developed for knowing when an NCAA basketball lead is safe. Basi- cally, it's [(lead - 3) +/- 0.5 (add if your team has the ball, subtract if you don't)] squared; if the number that turns up exceeds the number of seconds remaining in the game, the lead is safe. I wish he'd develop something similar for Pennsylvania/North Carolina/Indiana. At the extremes, no calculations are needed. Obama wins Pennsylvania, it's over; Obama loses all three by margins of 25/10/10, I'd also say it's over. Both scenarios are highly improbable--being a pessimist in these matters, I count the first as the more improbable of the two. The gray area between, I don't know what combination it'll take to get her out. Off the top of my head...[(North Carolina + Indiana)/0.75 x Pennslyvania] - the root of how many sniper bullets she dodged on that Bosnian tarmac-- that sounds reasonable. ----- I made mention above of the formidable Geraldine Ferraro-led "Cranky Old White Women for Hillary" movement. There's a mirror "Cranky Old White Men for Barack" group to which I, and millions like me, belong. We have our own nominal leader: I've never been able to take much of Andy Rooney--curmudgeons get tired quickly--but Cafferty's got the dryest wit I've ever encountered on network news. (Respect, of course, to David Brinkley). At least once a day on CNN's "Situation Room" he clears his throat, narrows his eyes, and derisively says, "And, uh, don't forget to check mah blog." It's enough to single-handedly bring down the whole internet. ----- A friend of mine was hoping Gore would give it another run this year, and she's been telling me for months that she still considers him a viable default nominee should consensus fail to emerge. Wishful thinking, I assured her, but Joe Klein proposed exactly that last week, a Democratic congressman (forget who--Florida, I think) sec- onded the idea yesterday, and there seems to be a tiny ripple of hope out there that Gore will ride in on a white horse and extricate the party from looming meltdown. I still can't see it nohow. I know Gore now wears a permanent halo in the wake of his Nobel Prize, but doesn't anybody remember 2000? Whether or not you think Gore lost a close one or got cheated out of a win, the fact is he was terrible as a candidate-- he should have won that election in a walk. I was watching Bush sit in with Joe Morgan and Jon Miller on ESPN last night, and even though he's been reduced to a full-time caricature whose mere mention causes even my grade 7 class to snicker (primarily because they've been conditioned to), for about seven or eight minutes, as long as it took to play half-an-inning, you caught a glimpse of why voters twice opted to hand him the presidency (or once, if you insist); he passed that all-important comfort- level test, the one where people decide whether or not they can stand to have this person in their living rooms and in their lives on a daily basis for the next four years. You can argue that such a test is a false one, and that it invites in the incompetency of a Carter or a George W. administration, but I still think it plays a big role in who ultimately gets elected. Gore failed that test miserably--remote, robotic, supercillious, abstruse--and even though he seems considerably more at ease these days, I don't see that the American public would suddenly embrace him this time around, Nobel or not. (I'm also pretty sure that one's humility doesn't increase in proportion to the number of Nobel Prizes won.) Especially considering that he a) bears the stigma of having lost once already, and b) would be called in to replace one of two candidates who will have spent untold amounts of money by that point, undergone over a year of invasive scrutiny and bitter in-fighting, and won intensly passionate support from millions and millions of primary voters. If superdelegates are worried about Obama supporters bailing on a Clinton nomination, or Clinton supporters bailing on Obama, do they really think those same people will accept Gore, even if a VP slot for their candidate is part of the package? This is the "fair" compromise that Klein and others are floating? ----- Rassmussen has Pennsylvania down to 5 points. No chance--they must have been polling at either a campus library or a private yacht club. Clinton surrogates: most are human, a few are slime, and once they're in the blood- stream, they never go away. Larry King had two of the creepiest on last night, old stalwart Lanny Davis (pictured way up above, bottom right) and Kiki McLean, someone I'd never encountered till this year. You can't have a normal conversation with Davis-- he's always selling 11th-hour death-penalty arguments to the jury, circling around and trying to trap you into asserting something he can use later on. Last night he was try- ing to get Obama's guy, Jamal Simmons (who, big surprise, I quite like), to commit to a Florida write-in; he became increasingly shrill and insistent ("C'mon, Jamal--let's make some news right now"), and I think he actually believed that anything coming out of that show would be 100% binding. Unbelievable. McLean pretends to be all chummy, but she's condescending as all get-out, and she provided the evening's low point: Florida and Michigan must be allowed a revote because (getting really, really serious) 4000 Americans have died in Iraq and the Democrats must take back the White House. I'd never thought of it that way before. Hillary's selflessness in this matter is nothing short of heroic. Paul Begala's about the best of them. He seems to have some kind of moral compass; he advocates vigorously, but he'd never tactically elevate someone from the other party at the expense of his own, like Clinton's heresy a few weeks ago that McCain is more suitable than Obama to be president. He's one of the first people I'm hoping will make that call when the time comes: "Great try, but it's officially over." He was sparring on CNN with somebody this afternoon, but not all that emphatically, and--I wish I had a still--he looked somewhat tired and bored at one point. Maybe I'm projecting. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if he was thinking something along the lines of, "Six- teen years...I can't say this stuff anymore; I want out." Carville, of course, is just deranged. ----- If it breaks tomorrow that Barack has been secretly dealing Chinese babies on the black market, he'll probably still have enough time to recover before they vote in Pennsylva- nia. This is dragging on way too long. A lot of one-day stories since I posted last week, but with the exception of Penn's resignation, nothing especially interesting. Contrary to what I wrote above, the polls have definitely stabilized in the 5-8 point range. There's still one that has it at 15 points, but that's now the exception. Two things caught my attention today. Lanny Davis is in the Wall Street Journal with an editorial that documents his ongoing "unease" concerning Wright. He mentions in the piece that many people have told him it's unseemly to carp on this issue, specifically naming Joe Klein. I suppose by acknowledging his critics, he means to brush them aside as naive. Count me in--I think the editorial is pathetic. The verdict, or whatever you want to call it, on Obama's association with Wright is more or less in: it seems not to have hurt his chances for the nomination a bit, and it seems equally clear that it will hurt him come November. How much, nobody knows--you're talking about a relatively small percentage of the electorate (10% maybe?) who are going to mull over Wright's sermons when choosing between Obama and McCain. Davis wants Obama to speak more forthrightly about Wright. What exactly does he want him to say that a) he hasn't said already, b) you can't figure out for yourself anyway, and c) is going to change that 10% figure one way or the other? I'll repeat an analogy I made earlier: there's a clear parallel between Obama not leaving his church and Hillary not leaving her marriage. There were honorable reasons, and there were political reasons. I don't think the latter are that mysterious in Obama's case: he was a rising African-American politician in a city with a large black population, and Trinity gave him a base that a Kenyan-Hawaiian-Harvard background wouldn't necessarily provide. If I can figure that out, I imagine Davis can too. He's not really experiencing unease, especially as he has no real interest in seeing Obama win in November. He's just desperately making sure that the one thin thread on which Clinton's hopes hang is still out there dangling. Something else: Bill Bennett (whom I generally like, and who was consistently fair with Obama prior to Wright) and Karl Rove both called Obama "arrogant" today. Bennett was referring to his appearance at the Petraeus hearing yesterday, while Rove's indict- ment was more general. I would seek out Obama's questioning of Petraeus on YouTube or somewhere and judge for yourself. He sounded perfectly fine to me. He was neither overly aggressive nor deferential; he struck a tone that fell somewhere in between, which seems about right for someone who, you know, might be president by this time next year. Like it or not, language is going to be an ongoing minefield in this election. I always try to be careful with the words I choose, but I don't think I'm someone who crosses the line into nitpicking about every hidden slight. My internal censor initially balked at the use of "black market" above, for instance, but it passed quickly; it's a phrase with a specific meaning, and to read anything else into its use would be silly. (Try substi- tuting "underground economy" and see how awkward it sounds.) "Arrogant," though, that's a loaded word in this particular context. Go back to 2004 and rerun the same scenario with the young, relatively inexperienced John Edwards in Obama's place; I honestly wonder whether the word "arrogant" would come up. I find it very hard not to hear "arrogant" as "uppity." ----- Talking with a friend today about this latest sideshow--possibly the most ridiculous one yet--I said that the good thing about these Obama missteps (for the sake of argu- ment, let's set aside the truth-value of Obama's words and call it a political misstep at least) is that Clinton always jumps in immediately with a boneheaded move of her own. I think she may have topped herself today: "You know, my dad took me out behind the cottage that my grandfather built on a little lake called Lake Winola outside of Scranton and taught be how to shoot when I was a little girl...Some people now continue to teach their children and their grandchildren. It's part of culture. It's part of a way of life. People enjoy hunting and shooting because it's an important part of who they are. Not because they are bitter." Translation: six months ago I was supposed to be the next great standard-bearer of the Democratic Party, but for the next ten days I need to be Charlton Heston. As Marlon Brando put it in On the Waterfront, wow...Everyone in Pennsylvania has some time to think carefully about his words and carefully about hers. To me, there's a clear subtext on each side. Obama: "I'm going to trust that you're smart enough to understand what I mean." Clinton: "I'm going to trust that you're dumb enough to fall for even this." ----- If I ever organize my own "Compassion Forum," I'm only inviting two people: Jack Cafferty and George Will. There'll be so much compassion in the room, it'll hurt. I loved that they started right in on her tonight about her latest gambit; I'm looking forward to Wednesday's debate, where I'm positive he'll have her in full retreat. Otherwise, she got off one great line about how she's dying to ask God a few questions, had a long and meandering answer about the times when she specifical- ly "felt God's presence" (who wouldn't?), and all in all did not especially seem in her element. He was as good as ever, with a couple of awkward moments mixed in: sneaking in his belief that Gore won in 2000 was weirdly out of place, and when he started hypothetically talking about his daughters having unprotected sex, it re- minded me of Dukakis' infamous rape answer in '88. The usual back and forth on the Sunday morning shows concerning the current flap, but one thing surprised me: how relatively measured Carville was on ABC. I fully expected he'd be in full froth, but he took a step back, and even volunteered what I thought was some constructive advice for Obama (in connection to some recent remarks on his choice for VP): "Stop thinking out loud." Maybe it's finally dawned on the most loyal of Clinton acolytes that a) it's essentially over, and that b) fighting against that reality is only going to redound in the fall. Also encouraging is this, although I don't know why it would show up in a Scottish newspaper and (as far as I know) nowhere else. ----- I almost wish I didn't have an emotional interest in how all this turns out, that I could just sit back and take it all in as pure spectacle, like I did with O.J. and with Thomas/Hill. But for what I'm pretty sure is the first time in my life, I'm going to be very disappointed (maybe even bitter!) if an election result is not what I was hoping for--more so with regards to the nomination itself, but even a loss in the general would be disheartening. I'll hold off comment on the ongoing hysteria until after tomorrow night's debate, mostly because it's impossible to make sense of the situation as it stands now: B points to C, which contradicts D, except that E and F circumvent C, while G turns A on its head, but if and only if X, Y, and Z don't happen before H. Something like that. A quick salute instead to Andrew Sullivan, whose Daily Dish was the single biggest factor in getting me started on these posts outside of the candidate himself. I even sent a couple of e-mails to Sullivan early on that presumably found their way into the special "Canadians for Obama; Investigate at a Later Date" folder, hence I started posting here. He's been as pro-Obama (and often as rabidly anti-Clinton) as anyone the whole way, and at the key crisis points, he's been able to take a step back and turn up evidence that the sky isn't falling down as fast as everyone else says it is, and may not even be falling down at all. He's got four posts up today ("Rovism Isn't Working," "Nothing There," "The Acid Test," and "Texas All Over Again") that provide some much needed reassurance. ----- Michelle Obama was great a few weeks ago on Larry King, but I didn't think she came off all that well on Colbert last night. The problem was that events forced her into being what she's not: the somewhat meek, dutiful wife, cheerleading for her husband with hands folded, a natural born Holly Hunter trying to rein herself in for the Anne Archer role. (She actually reminded me of someone from the '92 campaign...) Colbert didn't help--per- haps a little intimidated (by events, if not Obama herself), he seemed a half-step off. In any event, she'll be the best-looking First Lady since at least--well, I kind of had a thing for Rosalynn Carter in her day, but I guess most would point to Jackie Kennedy. Speaking of role-playing, it's entertaining beyond words to see George Will getting all worked up over someone's alleged elitism. As I indicated above, I like George Will, a lot. But, um, it's primarily because he turns elitism into an art form; I've never really confused him with Walter Brennan. I'm George Will with my students a lot of the time--MSN chat, cell phones, American Idol, I dismiss it all with a wry shudder I partly learned from the master himself. George Will minus the elitism is like Sam Jackson with- out the profanity. I pray he doesn't feel the need to start hanging around neighborhood bars for future columns. The first and last time I'll ever say this: thank you, Bruce Springsteen. ----- I found it too numbing to get angry over. All the online screaming about contacting ABC to express outrage strikes me a hollow variation on Mickey Rooney's "Let's put on a show!" I'm an Obama rooter who views almost any grand designs involving more than, oh, one or two people as ultimately futile. I think it's valid to be angry that Stephanopoulos was fed questions by Sean Han- nity. I've heard the clip ("I'm taking notes") and it's creepy. I don't think it's valid to be angry that Stephanopoulos used to work for Clinton's husband. I watch him week in and week out, and he's generally scrupulously fair. He gave no indication before last night of any anti-Obama bias whatsoever. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I don't think it's valid to be angry that 45 minutes were spent on San Francisco, Wright, Ayers, and lapel pins. Maybe the latter-- not the first three. If they'd been going after Clinton instead, I wouldn't have minded at all. I would have loved it. And imagine how bizarre it would have been if, after six weeks away from debates, the night had ended without these things getting aired. San Francisco and Wright have far and away been the two most talked-about de- velopments since the last debate. You have to go there. There's no other choice. It was an awful night that can't be rationalized away. Each storm seems harder to weather than the last one. I still hope he does. ----- I was playing online Scrabble yesterday--don't ask--and my opponent laid cling. "Lol," I typed into the chat window, "Barack's word." (Shameful confession: when playing Scrabble or backgammon online, I will, on occasion, use the "lol" acronym, usually on the heels of a tepid attempt at humour. It's a lot quicker than typing in "That was sort of clever, but you'll have to do a lot better before I actually laugh.") As soon as I did, I wondered if the response would make me regret doing so. It's a site where the person you're playing could be from anywhere in the world: England, Australia, Israel, South Carolina, or 15 minutes up the road from where I live. If it is someone from South Carolina, I thought, it might be someone who likes Obama, and takes my com- ment one way, or it might be someone who doesn't, and takes it very differently--and if that's the case, brace yourself for the worst. Thankfully, after first expressing confusion, the person related she was from Canada and not completely up on the elec- tion. Close call. I should have immediately abandoned any thought of winning the game, and just tried to get "bitter," "lapel," "sniper," "pastor," and "elitist" onto the board. Especially "elitist," a 50+-point word I've never played; the letters are so common, I've probably had it sitting on my rack dozens of times. I lost the game on the final play: insole, with two blanks. ----- I knew it wouldn't take long: I played elitist yesterday for 60 points. Hannity's new favorite scare word is unrepentant, as in "unrepentant terrorist." That's gonna be almost impossible to get down--I'd need to hook around "pent" on a wide-open board. On the eve of Pennsylvania, my favorite photo of Obama. Sullivan posted it the day after Super Tuesday. You could put it in the dictionary next to either "wistful" or "dazed." The big scandal at the time was something a mid-level Obama adviser allegedly said about NAFTA to representatives from the Canadian government. Ah, the good old days. ----- Jonathan Chait and Hunter at Daily Kos have rational, well laid-out arguments as to why last night's not such a big deal if you take a longer view of the situation; John B. Judis has equally compelling arguments that last night was a very big deal, and an omen of worse to come. I'm too turned off at this point, and too wearied by the thought of at least two more weeks of it, to figure out who I think is right. Instead, some wild spec- ulation on what might happen next. No matter how large a win Obama gets in North Carolina, I think the whole thing now comes down to Indiana. If he wins there too, it's over; I think a bunch of superdele- gates will immediately declare for him, heading off probable big losses in Kentucky and West Virginia. If he loses Indiana, though--and again, I don't think the margin would matter--I think she'll end up with the nomination. There'll be a lot of ugliness from here to there, but I think the superdelegates will reluctantly hand it over to her in the end, with one non-negotiable stipulation: that she offer the VP slot to him. That'll be part of the deal, to avoid, or at least to minimize, a catastrophic civil war. She'll reluctantly agree out of self-interest; she's smart enough to know that she'd need Obama supporters on board to have a chance in November. Now, three months ago, I figured he'd never accept a VP draft under any circumstances; he'd instead let her lose the general and come back in 2012. A lot has changed since then. If the nomination were lost and the offer made today, I think he'd reluctantly accept, seeing that as his last viable path to the presidency. He'd never be able to go through the nomination process again--not a chance. Four or eight years as VP, though, would presumably render Wright and Ayers and the rest as footnotes; the American public would now "know him," and be alleviated of its seemingly growing fear that he's secretly plotting to round up small-town, church- going gun owners and have them deported to North Korea. All of which presupposes a Clinton/Obama win over McCain in November, which I think would likely be the case. ----- Way up above, in my first post on the election, I addressed something that is a fact of life if you maintain an interest in politics in this day and age: much more than the politicians themselves, it's their surrogates who make the whole process so repellent. Obviously, some are better than others, and invariably your feelings about the candi- date is the prism through which you view their surrogates--it won't come as a surprise that I consider Clinton's flunkies as being far more manipulative and dishonest than Obama's. The saga of their ever-changing proclamations concerning the legitimacy of Michigan and Florida--summed up well by this Terry McAuliffe tidbit from Daily Kos-- is a surreal journey unto itself. It's a sliding scale, though--if you took the time to track Obama's people closely, I'm sure they've had their fair share of 180-degree turnabouts. (One that I remember: Bill Richardson on whether superdelegates are obli- gated to follow the popular vote of their home state.) On Monday the sky is blue, because my guy needs for the sky to be blue on Monday; on Tuesday, well, I've taken another look and all of a sudden I'm seeing canary yellow. In the interest of combatting this, an admission that I don't think I've heard a single Obama supporter make (I haven't, by the way, elected myself an Obama surrogate; Barack and I socialize occasionally, but mostly I'm stuck out here in the hinterlands, cheering him on anonymously): if the superdelegates were to overturn everything and give the nomination to what's-her-name, I see that as perfectly defensible based on my understanding of why the superdelegates were created in the first place. I wouldn't be happy, but I can see why they'd do it. In fact, the way this race has evolved, it seems like the very model of a situation in which the super-delegates would be justi- fied in overturning the elected-delegate results. The superdelegates were created in '76, after the McGovern wipeout. They were created as a safety net, to avoid sending another irrevocably-damaged nominee into the general. You can definitely disagree about whether or not Obama has been damaged irrevocably at this point--I don't think he has, but many do--and you can also argue about the intra-party fallout if the nomination were denied Obama; I think the results in the general (and for at least the next couple of presidential elections) would be more or less as disastrous as a lot of commentators predict, but there are others who believe the party would come together in spite of itself. What I don't think can be rationally argued, though, is that the superdelegates under no circumstances whatso- ever should ever reverse course. If you subscribe to that idea, then what exactly is their purpose? It was the Democratic Party itself that created them, and they were created with a very specific (and presumably very rare) scenario in mind. If this year's contest doesn't fit the scenario, I'm not sure I can envision one that would. I really, really, really want Obama to win Indiana. I don't want him to back into the nomination; I want him to drive a stake into her heart, nail down the coffin, and get it into the ground before sundown. ----- Sigh. I sigh a lot these days. I thought Obama's decision to conduct a personable interview with Fox yesterday was the right one. Many commentators on the left are angry--here's a convincing overview of their dismay. Myself, when I try to envision Obama going after Wallace aggressively, I just see all kinds of damaging fallout, no matter how much such counter-punching may have been warranted. Somebody online (someone who approved of Obama's decision) drew a comparison with Reagan in '80; that if he was ever going to get elected, Reagan had to first convince the country that he wasn't some crazed wingnut out of Dr. Strangelove. Obama, too, has to reassure the country right now that he's the same guy everyone was so enamored of two months ago. A calm, likeable demeanor, especially in the face of all the ongoing chaos, does that, I believe. Making a big show of pouncing on a straw man like Fox, though, I'm not sure what that would have accomplished. (I thought he was guilty of one Clinton-like howler: his contention that he took a brave bi-partisan stance when he stood up for Democrats who voted for the Roberts nomination, even though he voted against the nomination himself!) And then there's the good Reverend, who I'm convinced will turn up on The Surreal Life five years from now, after America has learned to love him as the crazy uncle Obama dubbed him as a few weeks ago. When I turned on CNN last night, after Wright had finished delivering his NAACP address, the news people were gushing, calling the speech funny and wise and demonstrably unthreatening. Well...I think I caught about 15 or 20 minutes' worth on replay. Really, the totality and the specifics of the speech don't matter; all that matters is what the media chooses to extract from the speech, which will probably be collapsed into four or five clips. If Wright's educational theories-- primarily that black children learn differently from white children--get a lot of play, that's going to be a problem. I don't think his Kennedy and Johnson imitations will be a big hit either. It's not so much that there was any meanness behind Wright's mimicry, it was more on aesthetic grounds that I object--the imitations were kind of inept. It will be pretty funny, though, to see conservatives get all indignant over JFK and LBJ being mocked. A caller on Hannity today mistakenly referred to Wright as "Reverend White." That's not a Freudian slip, I don't think. I'm not sure what it is. ----- Great day: 1) The governor of North Carolina endorses Clinton. 2) The Supreme Court upholds a voting law in Indiana (requiring photo I.D.) that will almost certainly hurt Obama in the upcoming primary. 3) Howard Dean--who's just doing a wonderful job keeping everything under control-- announces that "one of" the candidates needs to drop out by June. Get it? Not the can- didate who's behind in delegates, but "one of" them. 4) The good Reverend holds a press conference, and even Andrew Sullivan vents some impatience in Obama's direction. I think there may only be one man alive who can save Barack at this point--please, say something stupid A.S.A.P.! ----- Tomorrow's headlines today: Phil Spector, Robert Blake, O.J. Simpson, and (the one that surprises even Clinton people) Charles Manson finally break their silence and endorse Obama. ----- Andrew Sullivan's still giving it his all, fighting the good fight--he's had two or three posts today counselling against despair, panic, surrender. Sorry, not feeling it--I sense it's over. Obama held the press conference this morning that everyone was clamoring for yesterday. He said more or less what people were urging him to say, and from the clips I've seen and heard, he was as clear, as unhysterical, and as credible as I almost always find him. So is it time to move on? No, not a chance. The din was unrelenting listening to the radio on the way home: why today but not three weeks ago in Philadelphia? Why today but not ten years ago? Why today but not yesterday? He has been painted into a corner--the brush held jointly by himself and by Wright--from which I don't see any escape. He's tied or behind in Indiana, depending on the poll, and he's losing ground in North Carolina. The finishing touch will be when John Ed- wards courageously steps forward sometime in the next few days and supports Clinton. I'm going to take a step back for at least a little while and watch the train-wreck play out. If something unexpected happens to restore my enthusiasm, I'll jump back in. Until then, what Sullivan calls a "mental health break": Francoise Hardy, from 1965 or so--wow. And also a couple of people I wouldn't mind hearing from right now. ----- I dramatically announced a couple of days ago that I'd be taking a break from this. I forgot that drama only works as drama if a sufficient number of forest-dwellers are around to hear the tree fall. I've got exactly two regular readers, Scott and Mystery Brampton Person. A few others, like Jamaica, New York (Rob? Chuck?), drop in periodi- cally. So, much to my disappointment, I didn't find my inbox flooded the next morning with pleas of "No, Phil, no--we need you!" Didn't even hear from Barack. Duly humbled, I'm back. I'm somewhat encouraged by today's big Clinton defection--could be an anomaly, or could be looked back upon as a major turning point when all of this finishes. I've also been thinking about Clarence Thomas. In a post above, I mentioned that I had no great emotional investment in the Thomas-Hill showdown 17 years ago (17--amazing.) But I was definitely riveted by the proceedings, and I also had a strong opinion as to who was telling the truth: Hill. I based my opinion on a) her credibility as a witness, and b) a logic matrix I worked out with regards to Thomas's contention that he didn't watch Hill's testimony. I don't know of any compelling reason to revise my conclusion today, least of all Thomas's bizarre record of never actually speaking up in session; I forget the exact time-frame, but he hasn't offered an oral argument, or a question, for a number of years, behaviour that to me would be consistent with a man who knows he doesn't belong there. Nevertheless, Thomas's famous charge of a "high-tech lynching" has been in the back of my mind these past few days. There are two clear points of intersection with Obama-Wright. In both cases, it was one black being trotted out from the past to bring down another black; if you're one who suspects nefarious orchestration, you can almost hear the words "But the act of betrayal must be by somebody black, too much suspicion will be raised otherwise" whispered in the background. And each case plays to one of the two great boogeymen that have always driven white America's fear of black America: black sexuality in Thomas's case, angry black militancy in Obama's. I really don't like talking about this stuff, and rarely do. But I think I have some (perhaps unwarranted) new-found respect for Thomas after the events of last week. ----- Is there an Obama supporter out there who's actually excited about the next three days? An hour with Russert tomorrow, Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday. A third chance (New Hampshire, Ohio/Texas, Pennsylvania; I don't count Super Tuesday) to once and for all shut this thing down, and I bet the spectrum runs from nagging unease to outright dread. Just to state the obvious, Wright will provide the key moments from Sunday's Meet the Press interview (and, most likely, whatever clips dominate the post-mortem for the next 24 hours). Russert's approach will matter. The thing that's worrisome is the widespread perception that NBC and MSNBC have been much tougher on Clinton. Post-SNL, we've seen how the media reacts when its neutrality is questioned. So if Russert jumps all over Wright with the intent of cornering Obama--and god forbid he starts rhyming off specific dates when Obama attended Trinity--that could be disastrous. Here's what I'd like to hear instead: "I'm going to ask you about Jeremiah Wright, Senator, and I'm going to limit myself to a single question--a long, open-ended question, with lots of time for you to respond. I know you're tired of this issue, and I know that you believe you've already said all that there is to say on the matter. Judging from polls, enough voters disagree that I think it needs to be revisited once again. So: Walk us through your relationship with Reverend Wright, from the day that you met him to last Monday's press conference. Help us understand your thinking when you joined the church; when you remained there for 20 years; when you launched your presidential bid absent Wright's presence; when the You Tube clips first surfaced; when you gave your speech in Philadelphia; when Wright reappeared last week; when you more or less reiterated what you said in Philadelphia the day of Wright's press conference; and when you did an about-face and severed your relationship permanently the day after Wright's press conference." Hey, Brian Linehan's questions used to be even longer than that...If Russert asks the question that way, fine; I would hope Obama would be prepared, and I would hope he'd finally connect the dots in a way that would close the book on Wright. (I'm still not sure, by the way, how he's ever going to satisfy a certain percentage of people out there. Nothing will do.) But if Russert goes all Perry Mason on Obama, I'll be cov- ering my eyes like when I watch a horror movie. A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Sullivan predicted that a 9-point loss in Pennsylvania would be the "nightmare scenario." By nightmare, he meant not the worst possible result for Obama--obviously a much bigger margin would have been even worse by that metric-- but the result that would create the maximum ambiguity, the one that would most ensure the torture continues. I think the nightmare scenario for Tuesday might be exactly what we appear headed for: a 4-8 point win by Barack in North Carolina, and a similar margin for her in Indiana. If Obama does just a little bit worse or a little bit better than that, maybe that'll be enough to get nervous superdelegates coming forward for him. If he wins both--extremely unlikely at this point--it's over. If he loses both--also unlikely, but minus the "extremely" qualifier--I'd also say it's over. A 4-8 point split freezes everything--this time, right until June 3, I'd say. Yuck. ----- I think Howard Dean's que sera, sera stewardship of the Democratic nomination deserves a significant measure of blame for the ongoing chaos, but I caught some of his Fox appearance on replay today, and I give him major credit for the following (I've edited out some tangential back-and-forth): WALLACE: Governor, has the Reverend Wright controversy made Obama radioactive among Democratic candidates down-ticket? DEAN: First of all, I'm not going to get into the Reverend Wright at all. I think we've spent enough time on Reverend Wright...Chris, the Republicans--for the last 30 years, the Republican book is to race-bait and to use hate and divisiveness. In 2006, the American people said no to that, and I think they're going to say no to that in 2008. WALLACE: Governor, are you suggesting that bringing up Jeremiah Wright is race-bait- ing, and hate and divisive? DEAN: Yeah, I am suggesting that kind of stuff. I think when you start bringing up candidates that have nothing to do with the issue--when you start bringing up things that have nothing to do with the candidate and nothing to do with the issues, that's race-baiting, and that's exactly what it is, just like Willie Horton was race-baiting so many years ago. I think we're going to take a--we're going to turn the page on this stuff. I tell you, you know, there's a lot of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats on issues, but the biggest issue of all is we don't use this kind of stuff. We never have used this kind of stuff, and we're not going to start now. 1) Democrats do use that kind of stuff, when convenient (cf. Hillary for President, 2008), but 2) they don't use it nearly as much as Republicans, so bravo anyway. The thing that turned my head around was how surprising Dean's response was; when Wallace finished his "Governor, are you suggesting..." set-up, I absolutely expected--have been conditioned to expect nothing but--an immediate retreat: "No, Chris, I'm not suggest- ing..." To hear someone say, "Yeah, you got it, that's exactly what I mean," that was a shock. (Ever done an image-search on Howard Dean? For some reason, in three-quarters of what comes back he's punching the air madly, seemingly in the midst of some kind of meltdown.) I guess it's redundant to say that I thought Barack was pretty great on Meet the Press this morning. The Wright questions led, they were thorough, and--I hope this is the last time I have to say this (doubtful)--nothing more ever needs to be said on the matter; you either accept Obama's explanation or you don't, you either consider it a crucial issue or you don't, and you either vote or don't vote for him accordingly. Once again, he just seemed so eminently sane and unphony to me throughout, exactly the kind of steady, reflective head-of-state I'd want in the midst of a crisis. He fibbed once: when asked about his line a few weeks ago--before Wright reemerged, when he was leading in both North Carolina and Indiana--that "Indiana was a tie-breaker," he came up with an, um, alternative reading of what he meant that wasn't especially convincing. Great ending: when asked if he would accept the superdelegates overturning his lead at the wire, he genially ducked the question in a way that could only mean, "Dream on, pal." Afterwards, I watched the beer-drinking elk-hunter on This Week give hell to all those elite economists who've suggested her gas-tax holiday might just be a ruse. ----- Russert had at least one spectacularly pointless softball this morning: "You're done with [Wright]? If you're elected president, you won't seek his counsel?" I suppose it was meant as a gift after five minutes of fairly rigorous cross-examination. Wouldn't it be great if you could have some fun with a question like that? "Not necessarily, Tim. Through all the recent controversy, I never stopped believing for a minute that Reverend Wright wouldn't make an excellent Secretary of State. His views on America's role in the world are both challenging and forward-looking. But in all honesty, I haven't made up my mind yet--he's on a short-list with three or four others...Whoa, just kidding!" ----- Maybe the least convincing thing I've yet heard from Andrew Sullivan is his recent proposition that it might not be such a bad idea for Obama to offer Clinton the VP slot. It came right out of left field, and his readers have been kicking it around for a couple of days--most of the published reaction has been strongly negative. I've got to be honest: I think he's whistling past the graveyard, extremely nervous about tomorrow. I am too, but assuming Obama does hold on--whether he clinches a month from now, or at the convention--I think you want to politely show her the door posthaste. This persona she's adopted the past month--some kind of Twilight Zone mash-up of Spiro Agnew, George Wallace, and Roseanne Barr--is a comical fabrication that will stop earn- ing the love and admiration of Bill Kristol and Pennsylvania bowlers about two seconds after she's officially on the Democratic ticket in either spot. I understand the Ken- nedy/Johnson and Reagan/Bush precedents, and I think an Obama/Clinton ticket would very likely win too. But to take it right back to square one, the main premise of the Obama campaign, as Sullivan often reminds us, is to bring an end to what he calls the Rove/ Morris Era, and what I'll instead call the Lanny Davis Parade of Creeps. I don't think you get very far in that direction unless she's right out of the picture. ----- Sorry--can't resist.