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.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Race and Religion on the Campaign Trail

A few days ago in Philadelphia, Barack Obama gave a major speech explaining his views on the status of race relations in the United States and the relevance of race in the Presidential campaign. The speech was prompted in part by continuing public discussion of some incendiary statements on racial matters that have been made by his long time pastor and friend, Jeremiah Wright, of the Trinity United Church of Christ. Obama has distanced himself from the remarks, but has not rejected the preacher personally. Wright, who retired from his pastorate last month, had a position on the Obama African American Religious Leadership Committee, but has now resigned.

Obama's race has continuously been referred to during the campaign in term's of "first viable African American Presidential candidate", just as Hillary has been similarly referred to as the first such woman. The 1984 Democrat V-P candidate, Geraldine Ferraro, while serving on the Clinton fund raising committee, took the discourse in another direction when she said Obama would not be where he is in the campaign today if he were not black. She inferred black men have a special advantage and implied that Obama was a sort of token. After her remarks were widely criticized, when given a chance to back off, Ferraro shot back that she was just exercising her free speech right and being honest, and she then said she was wrongfully being attacked as a racist, which she claimed was a tactic to intimidate white people from speaking out. Ferraro eventually resigned from the Clinton team, and Hillary handled her remarks about like Barack has handled the intemperate remarks of Wright.

The Obama speech has been well received from diverse quarters. He spoke of his personal experience as an African-American being raised by his white family. He referred to the sad racial history of America, but his focus was on the need to go forward to address and improve race relations as part of making progress on all the other issues we face as a nation.

That we have made great improvements in race relations in this country is apparent from the fact Barack Obama has a significant lead over Hillary Clinton. For historical perspective, consider that when John McCain's father was serving as a Navy Officer in WWII, the armed forces of the United States were still racially segregated, and non-whites were not even allowed to become commissioned officers in the Navy. The civil rights and "Great Society" programs of the 1960s helped many African-Americans achieve a piece of the American dream, but a disproportionate number of African-Americans today are still not realizing that dream. Until all Americans, regardless of color, more fairly share the economic benefits of living in this country, racial tensions will persist, particularly in hard financial times.

Polling to determine racial bias, and to a lesser extent gender bias, is subject to a unique factor of politically correct responses not accurately reflecting inner feelings that may be acted upon in the voting booth. In the past, pollsters estimated the size of the factor and adjusted the results for a black candidate accordingly. At best, the estimate was just a guess. If Barack Obama is the nominee of the Democrats, pollsters will have the opportunity to estimate or guess the racial factor on a national basis. Books will be written for years on the impact race played in the 2008 Presidential election, but I doubt we will ever have a definitive answer, unless all the polls show Obama favored by a decent margin and then McCain wins.

I think Obama's race will work against him with some Hispanics, Asians and blue collar and older whites. It will work in his favor with some of the small number of African-Americans who might otherwise vote Republican or not vote, and with some independents and normally uninvolved voters who see him as someone obviously different from the "typical" older white male candidate.

Particularly after the last two Presidents, a man with libido trouble and a stone throwing hypocrite, some Americans are concerned about the religious values of the next President. Those on the religious right, who normally embrace Republicans, are trying to close their eyes and hold their nose as they consider a tepid kiss on the McCain cheek. Hillary Clinton, correctly or not, is not seen as a religious person. The perception of her as a calculating decision maker does not endear her to those who believe decisions should be based on a strict moral compass.

I doubt one out of a thousand Americans can tell you who Hillary's pastor is, or John McCain's. Reverend Wright brought Barack to Christ, officiated at the marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama and baptized their children. I wonder who ministers to the Clintons and McCain and who officiated at their weddings and baptized their children. Ironically, this flap over the words of pastor Wright may actually work in Obama's favor, by planting the reality that he is a church going Christian, by reminding African-American church goers who have drifted Republican that he is one of them, and by laying to rest the false seed some have been trying to plant that he is a Muslim.

The Obama speech has now brought him another benefit. Bill Richardson was so impressed with it that he has announced his endorsement of Obama for President. I really like the idea of an Obama/Richardson ticket. Richardson has diverse experience which can be of great help to Obama, and being half Hispanic, he will have great appeal to Hispanic voters.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Hillary Reality Check

In her speech last night Hillary Clinton touted her electoral victory in Ohio, pointing out that in recent history no President has been elected who did not win the Ohio primary. She also mentioned her victory in Rhode Island. She said Texas was close but was hopeful she would win the vote, which it looks like she has by a small margin. She did not mention her defeat in Vermont. She said her campaign would continue, apparently all the way to the Convention. Let's look at the reality of what happened in the four primary elections yesterday and where the process now stands.

Clinton had a huge early lead in the polls for Ohio. That lead shrunk over time as Obama became more known to voters. It is interesting that Clinton saved the line about Ohio primary victory as a Presidential pre-requisite until she actually won. Even she apparently was concerned she might lose the Ohio vote. Her peer group, older white women, delivered the victory, apparently somehow questionably identifying with the campaign struggle of a multi millionaire, high-powered attorney from middle class middle America who accompanied her husband on a political career in Arkansas that surprisingly led to eight years for her as First Lady, after which she relocated to New York in order to take a seat in the United States Senate. I suppose the secrecy of her income tax returns and of her White House records is intended to protect her voter base from realizing she is not really that much like them. According to the delegate selection formula, though Clinton had a fairly substantial electoral lead in Ohio, her delegate total will be only marginally larger than Obama's.

Rhode Island and Vermont are small states, but the electoral vote from either of them could be enough one year to decide a close election (though not in 2008, which I expect to be quite favorable to the Democrats). It was not nice of Hillary to snub Vermont in her comments, just because voters there rejected her readily. Fact is, the two states are a wash.

In Texas, where at one time she had a comfortable lead in the polls, Hillary prevailed due to the Hispanic vote, supposedly in part because she and Bill spent a time registering Hispanic voters there one summer back in their school days. But, because of the formula for allocation of delegates and because Texas also was choosing some by caucus, at which Obama does better, the expectancy is that the slim electoral lead of Clinton will be reversed into a delegate lead for Obama.

So Clinton will continue her campaign. But of the remaining states, it appears Obama will do better than Clinton, and it is highly unlikely Clinton will able to surpass him in delegate count. The best she can hope for is to win the Pennsylvania primary fairly convincingly. It is a closed primary and supposedly Obama has not won one of those, at least one that counted for delegates [he won the beauty contest closed primary here in Washington State]. To me that confirms that Obama has broader appeal, attracting support of independents that Clinton cannot.

Recently Clinton has run negative ads attacking the ability of Obama to handle a security crisis. Never mind that the biggest crisis Hillary has had to deal with was the improper placement of the sex organ of her husband. The Clinton campaign will do whatever it takes to win, regardless of what it does to the Democratic Party or to the country. Obama will defend, but not stoop to the Clinton attack level. That is the fundamental character difference between the two and that is a large part of the appeal of Obama. Now that McCain has locked up the GOP nomination, all attention will be on the Democrats, but Clinton will not use the free attention to put the Democrats ahead of McCain. Instead she will use it to sow doubts about the suitability of Obama. It is one thing to say she is better than him, but quite different to say he is not up to the task.

The Clinton approach is divisive. She clearly thinks in terms of red states and blue states, playing right into the hands of Republican long term strategy. Obama thinks in terms of one America, offering the genuine hope for change for the better that has attracted so many young people to his brand of Democratic politics.

One thing clear is that the Democratic Party process for selecting its nominee is not truly democratic. The super delegates represent the hypocritical compromise too often made in democracies, giving inside elites a power to override the voice of the people. The Republican approach of winner take all mirrors the electoral college process, so is more predictive of Presidential election prospects. As an advocate for the elimination of the electoral college, I would like to see the Democrats go to a process where the candidate who amasses the greatest popular vote in the primaries becomes the nominee. That leaves open the question of how to schedule the primaries, one time of national voting or a series of regional or State votes.

In scheduling sequential primary voting, conflicts between the national and state parties need to be avoided, to prevent rogue primaries like those in Florida and Michigan. In order not to disenfranchise voters in those two states and because the contest between Clinton and Obama is fairly close, elections will probably be rescheduled in both. Ironically, the two states who jumped the gun to be able to play a decisive role before Super Tuesday, may now be placed at the end of the sequence and play a decisive role from that position.

The fact is neither candidate can win without the super delegates. By convention time Obama will have the lead in popular vote, delegates and number of states won, all of which he will argue mean the super delegates should confirm him. Clinton will argue the supers should consider the big states that she won as more important and anoint her. Each will argue that they are a better match up against McCain, Obama because of his appeal to independents, new voters and anti-Clinton moderates, and Clinton because of her appeal to older white women who are faithful voters, Hispanics reluctant to vote for an African-American and those who see Obama as inexperienced.

In spite of talk of friendship between Hillary and Barack, I do not see either being the running mate of the other. I think Barack should choose Bill Richardson, who would provide the Hispanic and experience factors to the ticket. Since the only way I see Hillary getting nominated is if the super delegates override the vote of the people, I don't even want to consider who she might choose for a running mate.