Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Final Four

It looks like we are down to the final four, Hillary, Barack, McCain and Romney. Never mind Ron Paul, the libertarian, and Preacher Huckabee. Libertarian views attract few voters. Huckabee draws the shrinking evangelical vote. The winner take all nature of the Republican race makes it unlikely Huckabee can actually play a role in the selection process, but a strong showing on Super Tuesday could put him on the list of possible running mates or cabinet appointees.

Giuliani's failure was predictable. Mayors do not become President. The man is a personal mess who is shamelessly cashing in on 9/11. It didn't work for political offfice, but it has brought him tons of money in his security related business ventures. The over $50 million people gave Rudy resulted in one committed delegate. His endorsement of McCain is generally viewed as not significant.

Edwards had the sense to get out of the way and let the voters more clearly choose between Hillary and Barack. His message was sounding too repetitious and he lacked the star power of the two front runners. I doubt he would be a running mate again, but maybe a cabinet position would interest him, perhaps Secretary of Labor. I don't know that he has judicial ambitions.

McCain is edging away from Romney. They obviously despise each other. Huckabee nailed Romney as looking, not like the guy you work with, but rather like the guy who laid you off. Romney loses the likeability race to McCain. McCain benefits from the emeritus and sympathy vote, as well as the anti-Mormon sentiment.

Doris Kearns Goodwin nailed Bill Clinton when she said he is like former President Teddy Roosevelt, who ran as a third party candidate in the 1912 race. They both have a need to be center stage, and Doris reminded us of what Alice Roosevelt said about her father, that he has a need to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral and the child at every christening. Bill's grandstanding with gleeful joy while taking shots at Barack has repulsed a lot of people, most notably Ted Kennedy who has now loudly endorsed Barack. Seeing Bill Clinton disrespect the status of former President reminds us how he disrespected the office of the Presidency by his adolescent-like sexual dalliance, thereby squandering the power we had given him by our votes. We are getting rid of one shadow President, Dick Cheney, and we don't need to have another one in Bill Clinton.

I have not taken the time to try to understand the extensive demographic breakdown of the voting that has been taking place. Black voters largely go for Democrats and are now going for Obama. Older white women are going for Hillary. Most interesting to me is how young voters feel. We older people who grew up in the pre-civil rights era are dying off, and many of our prejudices with us. Young people don't carry the burden of those memories. The same is true of the Vietnam War, though it is being replaced with the similar mess in Iraq. I suppose the old racial and gender prejudices are now in some ways being replaced with immigrant and homosexual bashing, but those attacks are being made more to attract older voters than young. The young are more open and accepting of diversity. Their discontent is with the old white folks who have been doing such a poor job of running the show.

In 2004, here on Sense, I predicted young voters would be motivated to dump Bush and would vote for Kerry as an agent of change. Sadly that did not happen, as young voters did not turn out in large numbers to vote. But Barack Obama is seen by the young as a genuine change agent. He is a youthful 47, African-American, charismatic and preaches pragmatic hopefulness. I remember the feeling my young friends and I had when JFK ran against Nixon in 1960, proposing inspiring programs like a Peace Corps. That seems to be what many young people are feeling now about Barack. Caroline Kennedy and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri were encouraged to endorse Obama by their children. There is so much to be discouraged about by American politics, which is all part of a plan by the rich Republican establishment to disenfranchise the majority of voters who are sincerely interested in seeing American politics return to a genuine concern for all Americans, not just the rich and powerful. Obama's message of hope is the only one addressed to those who truly want change for the better.

We'll see what happens Tuesday. McCain might end up with enough victories to be the Republican nominee. The Democrat vote may be close enough to make later contests, like here in Washington State February 19th, more interesting. In fact, considering the non-committal of the unelected super delegates, the battle between Hillary and Barack may come down to the Convention. I think Hillary still has the edge at this point, but it could be turning against her. If Barack can get it to the convention, those super delegates may realize that Barack is the better choice and that he will offer a better match to the Republican. I would really like to see a surprisingly big swing toward Barack on Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Campaign Update

The field of Presidential aspirants is thinning. For the Democrats, Edwards faded in New Hampshire and Nevada, and no longer seems viable. With Clinton and Obama running so close, they have unfortunately embarked on attacking each other personally. Such sniping is bad for the Democratic Party and for the American people. Whether it is good for the candidates is arguable; some say negative attacks work, while others say they backfire. Whether or not Bill Clinton is an asset or liability to the Hillary campaign is also arguable; he remains popular with many voters, but the sight of a former President acting as a campaign cheerleader and hit man does not sit well with many Americans.

Results so far are not surprising in showing women going for Hillary and African-Americans for Barack. Hispanics in Nevada went for Hillary, which may indicate a negative racial attitude toward Barack, but it might also be due to resentment over the Culinary Union pushing so hard for him. Polls show Barack with a bit of a lead in South Carolina, but Hillary with a much larger lead in Florida. This one may go on a while, though there is only one Democrat debate left. With McCain having crept back in on the Republican side, I would like to see the Democrats jointly use some of their campaign energy to point out how unsatisfactory his voting record is on many important issues that separate Democrats from Republicans.

McCain does seem to have staged a surprising comeback on the Republican side. I think that is mainly because their field is so weak. Romney spends huge fortunes with disproportionately low results. His Mormonism and flip-flop record won't do well with traditional Southern voters. Huckabee appeals to the Evangelicals, but has exposed himself as a man who has no concept of the separation of church and state, thereby limiting his appeal to all but the most religious minded. Giuilani has a one note campaign which has been scoring only one digit votes. He expects to do well in Florida, yet the polls do not bear that out. It is beginning to look like McCain first and Romney second.

Democrats may be focusing on electability issues more than Republicans are, probably because Democrats want to think any Democrat should be able to beat any Republican this time around, but are concerned about the possibility of missing the opportunity by nominating the wrong candidate. This leaves the Democrats wondering about Hillary's high negative number with many voters, as well as her gender, and Barack's perceived lack of experience, as well as his race. An experienced white male candidate would seem to have been an easy choice, but two men who qualified that way, Senators Biden and Dodd, barely got any votes and dropped out. Republicans realize they have an uphill battle and may choose their candidate more on principle, or on what John from Phoenix seems to be registering as an emeritus vote for McCain.

Head to head against McCain, I think Barack would do better than Hillary. For those who want change to happen, youth and color will be more appealing than gender, especially when gender comes coupled with the Clinton name. If Hillary had made it on her own, rather than by way of First Lady, she would have much greater appeal as a female candidate. Many traditional voters of both genders will be more concerned about a woman President being weaker, than an African-American President being _____ [they will supply their own stereotype]. African-Americans will go for Barack in droves. Women who preferred Hillary will still choose Barack over McCain. Some who would not vote for another Clinton might vote for Barack. Some who would be inclined to vote Green Party (like maybe a couple of my sons), might be willing to vote for Barack, but not for Hillary. Libertarians, who have been giving Ron Paul better numbers than Giuliani in some states, are not too likely to vote for McCain, and will probably not vote in the Presidential election or else they may vote for the official Libertarian candidate.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More Fundamental Change

Even normally good pundits seem to be going bonkers while over-analyzing the New Hampshire primary results and trying to reconcile the different outcome in the Iowa caucuses. It should not be that difficult to discern the main messages from the composite American voter. Here is what they are saying. "We want a Democrat for President. Hillary and Barack seem the most viable choices. We like the fact that each would also be a first, either a woman or an African-American. It is a close call. She is experienced but calculating and a bit of a throw back. He is charismatic and fresh, but lacks much experience on the national stage. We're watching them closely and will make our decision shortly before we vote. We don't much care who the Republican candidate is, since we will be voting for the Democrat."

As pointed out many times here on Sense, there are significant differences between Democrats and Republicans, particularly on domestic issues. But those two parties have an unhealthy monopoly on our political process. Occasionally a third party emerges to play a disruptive role in our Presidential elections, usually for just one or two times in a row. The Republican party arose about 150 years ago as a third party alternative to the Democrats and Whigs. The 1860 three way split election put Republican Lincoln in the White House and buried the Whig party. Now would be a great time to replace the Republican party; but who should be the replacement?

The Republican Party traditionally was based on supporting business and ending racial oppression in the South. Business interests quickly prevailed and the party allowed Reconstruction in the South to fall by the wayside. Teddy Roosevelt fought within the party for progressive reforms to stop the corporate robber barons, but ultimately was forced out of the party. His attempt to form a viable third party was unsuccessful. The Depression relegated the Republicans to minority status until Nixon and Reagan were able to harness the white backlash against civil rights and turn it into Republican votes. As the backlash diminished, Republicans wooed voters with hypocritical talk of "tax reform" and "getting the government off our backs", then with Bush II, turned into a religious party, courting evangelical Christians. Republicans have solicited Libertarian voters with support for gun rights, and less successfully with appeals for limited government. Lately, the tactic of cultivating racial backlash has been resurrected in the form of an immigration policy targeting Hispanics.

The Libertarian Party has an attraction for a limited number of people, as Ron Paul's candidacy has shown. To most people it seems impractical, somewhat of a limited anarchy. Fiscal conservatism is not a wide enough philosophy on which to build a party. Fiscal soundness can and should be embraced by all parties, including somewhat progressives, as Bill Clinton demonstrated. In fact the Clintons, and the Democratic party in many ways, is not really very progressive. True progressives, like Kucinich, garner little party support. Obama may in fact be even less progressive than the Clintons.

The gap left by a demise or demotion of the Republican party would be best filled by a more progressive voice than that of the Democrats, at least if the long range good of the country is considered. That voice does exist in the Green party, but it is not being well heard in the country. Look at the Green party platform for 2004, and the vision it has for America will impress you. But the Greens have not done a good job of positioning themselves to take advantage of an opportunity like the current disabling of the Republicans. Their focus has been on getting Greens elected to local offices, and working from the grass roots up, but that takes too long. Their website is staid looking. Ralph Nader continues to be the only Green member widely known, and resented by many over the 2000 election. The party needs a make over and a new face. Young people should be drawn to it. It should be dynamic. But look at its web site, how staid and unattractive, with the lackluster logo. It should be popping with streaming video, flashes and shockwaves, photo shows, news scrolls and feedback intense forums. The Greens should target one state, say Vermont, with a well financed campaign for a Senate seat, with a charismatic Obama type candidate. Once gaining that office, the Green Senator will have a national stage and play an important Congressional role, and can then become a Presidential candidate to spread the party message.

But meanwhile, we are faced with the current campaign. The caucus in Nevada, to be a rubber match between Hillary and Barack, will be attended by my sister-in-law,who has not told me who she leans toward [if you read this before January 19th Shirley, maybe you will post some thoughts here]. These two candidates are close enough where the Democratic race will be continuing for a while, maybe still being alive by the time we vote in our February 19th primary here in Washington. I will post my vote here and encourage any other readers who are Washington State voters to do the same. As for the Republicans, Michigan is next and if Romney does not win there, his goose is probably cooked. So far, the Republican race is just Huckabee and McCain, with the preacher expected to win in South Carolina. Giuilani is hoping to get into the voting action on the big Tuesday in February. Let's hope whoever the Republicans nominate ends up a footnote in history as the last time a Republican candidate for the Presidency ever made a viable showing, with 2008 having been a Democratic landslide.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Change Is on the Way

Last year, all the political talk was just that - talk. With the arrival of 2008, the talk has turned to action, first with the Iowa caucuses and tomorrow with the New Hampshire Primary. Change seems to be the buzzword - out with the old and in with the new. By this time next year Bush will be heading out the door - and setting an all time record for Presidential pardons. Most voters want to turn the reins over to a Democrat. Hillary was the front runner for the past year, but the Iowa results confirmed that voter reluctance over Hillary personally and over the deja vu feeling of having another Clinton Presidency can translate into a win for Obama. Polls show he may win in New Hampshire also.

On the personal level, after a Christmas break from blogging, but not from following the campaigns, I think I feel like a lot of the Democratic faithful. There is an excitement of hopefulness about seeing an up and comer defeat an established power holder (reminiscent of JFK beating LBJ in 1960). But there is also a tinge of concern about the electability of Obama, because of his lack of experience on the big stage. Obama's African-American heritage pulls diversely. Will voters consider his racial heritage in making their decisions, and if so, will it be considered a positive or a negative? Having a father from Africa makes Barack's story different from that of most African-Americans, but his life experiences as an American of mixed race are relevant to all Americans of color, and the absence of his father from his upbringing is a familiar experience to many people regardless of color. His story of rising from a childhood of confusion and little promise to a real possibility of becoming President is as idealistically American as it gets.

Hillary suddenly has found herself running from behind. The perception of inevitability has been shattered and her tactics now are changing to more negative, which is exactly what voters are trying to put in the past. Obama's positive message of hope and change sounds especially good coming from the position of front runner. The Iowa caucuses may not be demographically representative of America, but they definitely affect campaign bubbles, popping some, deflating others and raising a few to new heights.

Using electability as a criterion for nomination is risky, especially when it is not clear who the opponent will be. The Republicans are in shambles. Iowa chose the likeable preacher. New Hampshire may go for the old maverick. The handsome Mormon spent the most by far but doesn't have much to show for it. Mayor 9/11 is waiting like a snake in the grass for Super Tuesday. Voters don't seem to care much who the Republicans choose. Attendance at the Iowa Democratic caucuses was overwhelming, while Republican attendance was mediocre. Against any of the Republicans, Obama should be seen as the most hopeful agent of change and bi-partisanship. On the issues, his positions are actually fairly mainstream, so the change would be to go away from the greedy, dictatorial aberrations of the Bush administration. Bush fraudulently ran as a "uniter, not a divider", all the while engaging in divisive rhetoric. By contrast, Obama speaks in terms of inclusion and projects a genuine willingness to work not only with those who agree with him but also with those of opposing views.

When this blog started during the 2004 campaign, there was a fair amount of reader input on the election prospects. It would be interesting during this 2008 campaign to hear from you few remaining readers. What are your thoughts on the candidates?