Thursday, February 28, 2008

Divisive Primary Holds Potential Fallout for the Women's Rights Community

As the battle royale between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continues unabated, there has been much talk about the worrisome issue of reuniting the Democratic party once the dust has settled. I have written a juicy blog about it myself, and even gone so far as to encourage Hillary to withdraw now and live to fight another day. It was heartfelt advice as the handwriting on the proverbial wall became clear -- at least to me. Hey, I have no dog in this particular fight -- I was an Edwards girl. I just want a Democrat in the White House on January 20, 2009.

But one aspect of the ever-widening gulf amongst progressives that has not gotten as much attention is the growing breach between established women's rights leaders -- many of them ardent Clinton supporters -- and anti-war women, who back Obama just as passionately. The dynamic is fascinating, and in many ways the gulf mirrors the core issues the women's movement has been wrestling with as it has worked to redefine itself over the past decade.

To reduce the feminist primary split to merely generational -- amongst both the organized leadership of the movement as well as the foot soldiers -- dramatically oversimplifies the issue and also misses some key points. That is not to say that generational differences don't play a role in defining certain aspects of the two camps -- college women crush on Obama and older women clearly identify with Hillary -- it's just that age is not the only factor in play, and may not even be the most important.

In fact, some of the most established, well known women's rights leaders of the past three decades are Obama supporters. As of Feb. 28, almost 1,500 "feminists for peace" had signed a petition endorsing Obama; signatories include prominent women's rights advocates such as writers Barbara Ehrenreich, Alice Walker and Katha Pollitt; Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women; political scientist Frances Fox Piven; and actor/activist Susan Sarandon. Former NARAL President Kate Michelman is also counted among Obama's supporters, having jumped to his camp after Edwards pulled out. And, of course, there's Oprah.

Because one of the things feminists do best -- like Democrats -- is kick the crap out of each other, a similar though smaller "Feminists for Clinton" effort was initiated in response. The group includes writer/activists Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, and Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner of Manifesta fame; MacArthur "Genius" Fellow economist Heidi Hartmann, President of the Institute for Women's Policy Research; Gloria Feldt, former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Peg Yorkin, benefactor of the Feminist Majority Foundation. Other Clinton supporters include Martha Burk (of Augusta National Golf Club fame), who came to the Clinton camp when her man Richardson bowed out. Hillary also has the endorsement of the National Organization for Women, and support of NOW President Kim Gandy.

But wait, there was a third feminist statement, this one by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, and Kimberlé Crenshaw, a well-known womanist professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University. This dynamic duo labeled the Clinton supporters as

"'either/or' feminists determined to see to it that a woman occupies the Oval Office..." who "...interrogate, chastise, second-guess and even denounce those who escape their encampment and find themselves on Obama terrain. In their hands feminism, like patriotism, is the all-encompassing prism that eliminates discussion, doubt and difference about whom to vote for and why."
Ouch. That's the women's movement for you -- we're just one, big, activist, dysfunctional family. But truthfully, as I said earlier, the best way to analyze the primary split is to break it down along philosophical lines -- it's no coincidence that the split follows the same political fault lines at the very root of the debate over the direction of the women's movement, and what it's ultimate goals should be for women in particular and society as a whole.

Let me explain. During the heydays of the second wave of the women's movement -- the late 1960s through most of the 1980s -- the problems were very well defined, the barriers very visible, the opposition very overt, and many of the solutions very clear. The movement's goal, as well, seemed just as specific and just as clear -- gender equality. But as the women's movement continued to change and grow, and as white women finally began to listen to what women of color had been telling them for decades -- over and over again -- branches of the women's movement began to redefine the movement more broadly as a social justice movement. This was particularly true for Third Wave feminists -- my generation. The intersectionality between gender, race and class became the mantra, and more traditional gender equality advocates -- while not unsupportive of broader social justice ideals -- wondered at the wisdom of supplanting gender equality from the movement's central focus, or subverting pure gender equality goals in favor of other progressive agendas and ideals.

It seems to me that the Clinton/Obama split in the feminist community in many ways mirrors these differing philosophies. Clinton supporters, while supportive of broader social justice initiatives, are nonetheless more focused on the women's movement as a gender equality movement, and on Clinton as an important, long-awaited first in a previously boys-only club. Obama supporters seem to be more focused on the women's movement as a vehicle for broader social justice action -- the focus on anti-war activities is a perfect example. Based on this analysis, it should not be surprising that younger women, less apt to identify with equality rhetoric, are more likely to support Obama, while older women -- more familiar with women's equality issues and the need not only for continued progress but for efforts to protect our gains -- are more reassured by Clinton.

So where does this leave the women's community, those of us actively a part of it and anyone who cares about the future of an active and vibrant movement for women's rights? We're a microcosm for what's going on in the Democratic party this primary season, in that we're having a pretty messy internal debate about which direction we think is best for the movement. This election, in many ways, could be a turning point. Hopefully, though, whatever the outcome, women's advocates can reunite and face the future -- together -- stronger for having the courage to engage in the debate.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Democrats: Make Redistricting More than a Post Script this Election

Every decade, the United States government takes on a massive, audience-participation math project. We attempt, as accurately and as expeditiously as possible, to count noses and houses. This constitutionally required activity is done to give us a handle on just how many people live here, the characteristics of those folks, and exactly where these people chose to hang their hats. So, come 2010, we will all be players in the 23rd decennial census. That's just two years away, and plans are already well underway for this massive undertaking -- yes, your government is planning ahead, even to the point of conducting a census dress rehearsal this year. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Uncle Sam isn't just inviting us to the party; we are required, by law, to join in the census fun. And everyone of us should stand up and be counted, because the numbers it generates will impact American politics not only for the following decade, but potentially generations to come. This head count has three main purposes:

  1. Apportionment: determining the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives
  2. Redistricting: determining voting district boundaries within states
  3. Funding: determining the allocation of government services
Democrats are rightly focused on the White House, as well as widening our margins in Congress. But we would be foolish to let the issue of redistricting be relegated to a post script in this election. As the saying goes, she who fails to plan, plans to fail. And, when it comes to redistricting, good planning requires paying attention to the down ticket races, too. It's often state legislatures and governors that redraw and approve new electoral maps. Sometimes, however, the process is overseen by an appointed state commission that might include elected officials such as the secretary of state. Sometimes, in fact, the secretary of state has a tie-breaking role on an otherwise partisanly balanced commission or task force. Whatever redistricting process your state is planning to use -- and it may have changed from 2000 -- it's important to exercise what citizen oversight we can so Democrats don't get taken to the cleaners -- and to protect against excessive Republican gerrymandering.

But this is not just about Congress, folks. Sure, the redistricting battle set to take place in 2011 -- based on the final census numbers due to the President on December 31, 2010 -- will redraw House districts all over the country. And, like so many things in politics, there will be winners and losers. States that have lost population since 2000 will lose House seats, and this will be painful for those states in a myriad of ways. But also remember that the loss of House seats will result in a loss of electoral college votes for that state, as well. Yes, redistricting affect presidential politics, too, because electoral college votes for each state are determined by the number of House seats that state can claim, plus their two Senate seats.

Just think for a moment how this could play out. Think of a pretty consistently blue state like Michigan, for example -- which also happens to be the only state in the union with a net loss of U-Haul trucks leaving the state. On the flip side, the five states with the largest numerical population growth -- and it's these numbers that decide the number of congressional seats -- accounted for more than half (52 percent) of the nation’s population growth from 2004 to 2005. All but one of these five states -- Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and Georgia -- were red states in the 2004 presidential elections. In our winner-take-all electoral college system, if these red states get more congressional seats and thus more electoral college votes, the deck becomes even more stacked against Democrats dreaming of Pennsylvania Avenue.

If it's not one thing, it's another. No rest for the wicked. Etc, etc, etc. But Democrats need to multitask this election, and remember that we're not only vying for control of the 111th Congress and the 44th presidency of the United States, we are also choosing state officials who could gerrymander politics at the federal level for decades to come.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rock the Vote: Youth Voters Empowered for Change

Just this morning (2/25), Rock the Vote released their latest poll of 18-29 year olds -- better known to pundits and bloggers this political season as the youth vote. This is the first poll of these critical voters since Super Tuesday, and it reveals an energized voting block that is increasingly aware of its power to change the course of the election -- and the country. Coming on the heels of an unprecedented uptick in youth voter turnout, the poll results are as interesting as they are encouraging -- for the Democrats, that is.

Key findings from Rock the Vote's poll include:

  • Conversations with friends (60%), online videos (34%) and campaign websites (24%) topped the list as resources young people use to obtain information about presidential candidates and the election.

  • The top concerns for under-30 voters include jobs and the economy (17%), the war in Iraq (12%), health care (11%), and college affordability (10%).

  • When it comes to economic issues, a lack of jobs that pay decent wages (20%), rising health care costs (16%), and expenses like childcare and college tuition (10%) were cited as the most important issues.

  • On the war in Iraq, youth voters were somewhat divided: 36% of young people are ready to bring the troops home, 33% feel we should withdraw some troops, and 20% believe we should keep the number of troops as it is now.

  • The poll affirmed what anyone with a pulse already knows about this election: young people are passionate and engaged: 80% say they are likely to vote in November and 69% are excited to vote this fall.

  • When asked about party affiliation, young voters considered themselves Democrats (47%), Republicans (28%) and Independents (16%).

  • Fueling the calls for change, 68% believe the country is on the wrong track.

  • An overwhelming majority (89%) believe they have the power to change our country and 75% believe young people are making more of a difference than usual this election season.

AND (drum roll, please...)

  • When asked which candidate they would send to the White House if the presidential election were held today, young voters favored Hillary Clinton (47%) over John McCain (35%), and Barack Obama (57%) over John McCain (27%). Clearly Obama is pulling in some of those independents, but Hillary beats McCain among this age group, too.
Needless to say, given the primary"youthquake" that portends off-the-charts youth voter turnout in the general election, these figures spell even more bad news for the Grand Old Party. But, the results say great things for democracy. You see, voting can be habit-forming -- start voting young, and you'll keep on voting. And teach your kids to vote. And they'll tell two friends. And so on. And so on. And it's about time, or so says Heather Smith, Rock the Vote's executive director:

"The country is finally witnessing what Rock the Vote has known since 2004 -- young voters are key in shaping the political landscape of our country. They are showing up at the polls, getting their friends to vote, and volunteering for campaigns in record numbers. Today's young adults are demanding action in our country and making known they are an invaluable group for candidates to win the election in November."

'nuf said.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

It's STILL the Economy, Stupid: Middle Class Dream Slipping Away

Here's a scary stat. Only 1 in 4 people in working families have a good job -- one that pays at least $17 an hour, and comes equipped with employer-sponsored health insurance and a pension.

No wonder at least 48 million Americans in working families lack the where-with-all needed to do a chin-up to the middle class. This dismal but not surprising news comes from a new report, released Thursday (2/21) by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

So let's break this down a little further. A total of 48 million -- that works out to about one in five working Americans struggling to make ends meet on incomes that are below a basic, minimum middle class budget for their community. And a full-time job at $17 bucks an hour adds up to an annual income of just over $35k. No one's living high on the hog on that paycheck -- and they aren't likely to be buying homes, paying for college, or saving for retirement either.

Movin' On Up: Reforming America's Social Contract to Provide a Bridge to the Middle Class, takes a look at recent research by CEPR in various sectors -- such as job quality, economic security, and unionization -- then outlines a set of nationwide policy reforms that would make it possible for more struggling families to live the middle class dream. Here's the gist of the report's recommendations:

  • Labor market standards and institutions must be strengthened
  • Access to post-secondary education and training must be expanded
  • The system of public and private health care benefits must be reformed

And, here's another "newsflash" that most working Americans could tell any government bureaucrat willing to listen: the country's current poverty standards do not accurately reflect the number of working families who are holding on to the middle class by their fingernails, or who cannot maintain a middle class lifestyle at all. Gee, ya' think? But of course, the government will disavow the military-industrial complex before they actually recalculate the poverty guidelines to mesh with the economic realities of everyday life. Even though, according to the report (and trust me, the good folks at CEPR are not the first to show such findings), almost half of all working families living below a middle class standard of living actually have incomes that put them above the official federal poverty line. This is not hard when the poverty threshold for a family of four is set at the unbelievable, wholly unrealistic level of $21,200.

CEPR rightly concludes that steps must be taken to bring some balance back to the economy and ensure everyone can take part in our nation's economic prosperity. Said co-author Shawn Fremstad:

"Tremendous increases in economic growth and workers' education levels over the last few decades should have moved millions of Americans into the middle class, but didn't because of policy choices that increased inequality. We must update America's social contract to make sure that the economy is working for all Americans."

The CEPR report dovetails quite well with an insightful New York Times op-ed by former labor secretary Robert Reich. He believes, like many of us, that we are sliding headlong into a recession -- hair-splitting terms like "stagflation" aside.
"The underlying problem has been building for decades. America’s median hourly wage is barely higher than it was 35 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. Most of what’s been earned in America since then has gone to the richest 5 percent."

"Yet the rich devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us because, after all, they’re rich. They already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, and thus stimulating the American economy, the rich are more likely to invest their earnings... The problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found ways to live beyond their paychecks... We’re finally reaping the whirlwind of widening inequality and ever more concentrated wealth. The only way to keep the economy going over the long run is to increase the wages of the bottom two-thirds of Americans."

And Reich has a similar formula to address this growing income inequality: better schools (including pre-K), stronger unions and government protections, and wage replacement programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit that allow poorer people to keep more of their income. One thing's for sure: we need to begin to look at these problems systematically, and come up with a nexus of solutions. For the first time ever, we have a generation of adults (Generation NEXT) who believe they will fare worse than their parents. That is the saddest commentary of all, and may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy if we don't act collectively to address it. This next President, whoever they are, had better be the "Economy President."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Open Letter to Hillary: Bow Out and Live to Fight Another Day

Dear Senator Clinton:

I know you're a little preoccupied, but I'd like a moment of your time. I promise I'll make it worth your while. I just think it's time for a little home truths from someone who cares.

So here it is: on the eve of what could be an ugly intra-party brawl, I have come to one inescapable conclusion. Pardon my bluntness, but you're done. Toast. Stick a fork in you. Etc. Though I have never been a huge fan of yours, as a women's advocate the fact that the first truly viable, give-the-boys-a-run-for-their-money candidate is washed up causes me more than a twinge of regret. I can only imagine how it must feel for you -- so close and yet so far. I believe you truly wanted to serve your country, and I think you would have been a great "first." But it's not going to happen.

But here's the other thing. I don't want you to lose outright. I don't want you to definitively get beat -- you've had a taste of that with Obama's 11-zip run. It's no fun, is it? But, if you employ the smarts and savvy you're known for -- if you can pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and see the forest for the trees -- there is still a way you can escape this Gordian knot with some of your reputation and cachet intact. But, I fear, if you continue in this mud-slinging slugfest, I believe you have much more to lose than a presidential campaign.

Hillary, you entered this election as the most recognized woman in the world. As the presumptive frontrunner with a prohibitive amount of cash on hand. When this whole saga started, you were known as an effective, tough advocate for children's issues. As a woman who has stood up to the swiftest of swift boat captains and spit in their eye for good measure. And, Hillary, despite your carpetbagger origins, you have also turned out to be a damned effective senator -- for your state and for the nation. You are savvy to the ways of Washington, familiar with the halls of power and the art of the deal, and you used your knowledge of both Senate rules and inside baseball to make things happen.

Here's the thing, Hillary. I believe there is important work left for you to do. Critical work that will improve the lives of working families in this county. But to do that work, you must retain your respect and clout within the Democratic party. Your presidential run may be over, but your political career doesn't have to be. As a neutral observer, as someone who is not in either your camp or the Obama camp, here is my advice to rebuild your political capital and lay claim to the political destiny that could still be yours.

Cease campaign operations -- NOW. Call a press conference. Preferably before another bruising, divisive, cringe-worthy debate -- definitely before the Ohio and Texas contests. Have your daughter and your former president husband at your side (who needs to do some image-burnishing of his own, as well). Also at your side, have your worthy adversary, Barack Obama and his why-doesn't-she-run-for-office-herself wife, Michelle (you should be able to relate to her, Hillary). If you ask him, I think Obama will be a class act and join you in ending this historic primary together. I believe he will be gracious, and you will need the respect of (hopefully) President Obama to continue to be the player I know you can be.

At this press conference, Hillary, you need to tell the American people in general, and Democrats in particular, that it's been an amazing campaign. A well-fought campaign. A campaign for the ages that you were privileged to have been a part of. Tell us that you fought the good fight, but that the time has come to keep our eyes on the prize. Hillary, you need to step up, take one for the team and party unity, and call it a day. I know this is hard. I do. But if you can deal with the entire world knowing your husband got a blow job from an intern and was impeached for his pleasure, you can certainly deal with this. You have nothing to be ashamed of -- you made a full court press towards a worthy goal, and fell short. Take pride in that effort, but also in the unselfishness that comes with knowing that this is bigger than you, and acting accordingly. Now that the handwriting is on the wall, you can bow out graciously and become part of the solution to the horrific problem of 8 years of a shrub in the White House.

And, Hillary, most importantly, you need to sincerely and enthusiastically endorse Barack Obama in the process. You need to join hands with him, literally and figuratively. Making this gesture with Obama at your side would be the ultimate signal that bygones are bygones, and let the party faithful know that the Big Blue Machine is once again one united force, ready to take on the Straight Talk Express, the Republican Party, the swift boat machine guns, the religious wingnuts, and whatever else is thrown our way. Thank your delegates and superdelegates, share their disappointment, but tell them it's a new day. Tell them that the ultimate goal -- the brass ring of CHANGE -- is still within our collective reach if we support Barack Obama and help him grab it.

Hillary, if you do this, I believe there is a future for you in the Senate. I have always thought you would make a great Senate Majority Leader. All due respect to current Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), but we need a leader who is not afraid to knock some heads together, twist some arms, play hardball, and move the Democratic agenda forward. We also need someone who is not even remotely afraid of the Republicans -- that's you to a capital T. Senate Majority Leaders have great power to influence legislation and national policy, not to mention the direction of the party. Look at what Lyndon Johnson did when he was Senate Majority Leader -- his tactics, and results, were legendary. You could be that revered-and-feared Majority Leader the Democrats need to actually get things done in the crazy world that is the Senate. But you need your clout and cachet to pursue that goal.

But that's my dream for you, Hillary. You have your own plans, I'm sure. Regardless, however, it's time to call it a day. An amazing, well-fought, historic, memorable, day. You can unite the party in the process, and we'll all thank you for it -- well, everyone but the Republicans.

All the best,
The Zaftig Redhead

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Real Price of Economic Stimulus

As an early valentine to the entire nation, George W. Bush recently signed a $168 billion economic stimulus package. About $110 billion of that payout will go to individuals and families, in the hopes that folks will go on a patriotic shopping spree with their surprise buckage. So, courtesy of Congress (and your tax dollars), millions of working Americans will be the recipients of hundreds of dollars in tax rebates right around Mother's Day.

But, really, how is this fiscal package going to affect us? And can it really provide a much needed boost to our faltering economy? My friends at OMB Watch have boiled down all the particulars into a user-friendly chart that will help everyone figure out if they should expect a check and just how fat that windfall might be.

The economic stimulus measure represents the largest legislative package ever passed in an effort stem an economic slowdown. Much political energy and capital was spent to push the measure through. Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even put down their dukes long enough to agree on this one. But can the bill really deliver on all that it promises? According to OMB Watch, the weighted value of the package comes out to about $160.4 billion, or $7.6 billion less than the actual cost of the total package. As a result, in OMB-Watch-ese, the "package can be expected to yield slightly less in short-term consumer purchases than it removes from the economy in the long-run in terms of additional debt, and considerably less when interest expense is factored in."

Ugh. In other words, or Zaftig-ese, not only does the economic stimulus package not do the trick in terms of stimulating the economy, it's going to cost us in the long run. Why? Because we have to borrow the money (from China?) to hand out all those checks, and pay the interest on the debt the nation incurred during its collective field trip to the mall.

For my money, as I wrote in an earlier blog, if you want long term economic stimulus, Congress should take a long, hard look at pay equity issues -- and remedies for the lack thereof. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (S. 1843) -- a bill the House has already had the good sense to pass months ago -- is still languishing in the Senate. The bill rights the Supreme Court's wrongheaded, unrealistic -- okay, I'll just say it -- dumb ass decision in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. If you really want economic stimulus that sticks to your ribs, write your senator today and tell them it's time to pass this bill. Tell the Senate that then -- and only then -- will you spend your rebate check. Happy shopping, folks.

Some Additional Info from the IRS:

How to make sure you get your rebate check
Facts About the 2008 Stimulus Payments

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Super Undeclared: Waiting for a Role at Convention?

Former Veep nominee John Edwards. Sens. Joe Biden (D-DE), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), and Tom Harkin (D-IA). Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM). Fomer Veep and former presidential nominee Al Gore. What do these men have in common? Yes, of course, they all ran for president in their party's primary at some point -- in fact, Edwards, Biden and Gore have run for the roses a couple of times. At the moment, however, the most important thing these guys have in common is the fact that they have not endorsed either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Interestingly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have also held their tongues in the superdelegate endorsement race.

Edwards is the only one of these folks who is not also an undeclared superdelegate -- that mystical commodity in Democrat-land that has become increasingly sought-after as traditional delegates, awarded the old fashioned way (aka, by a populer vote), become harder and harder to come by. There is still clear talk that Edwards might endorse -- he apparently had a love-in with Hillary and is being hotly pursued by Obama, of course. Either campaign would happily offer up their first born to have Edwards on their team, but he may also decide to stay his own man and attempt to play a larger role. Richardson has also said he will make up his mind in the next few days -- but heck, he wants to be Secretary of State, so I think he's just hoping to chose the right horse. (BTW, there is nothing in the Constitution that would prevent Bill from being Secretary of State AND Vice President. Provocative idea, huh? Especially for Hillary, where the VP gig is already seen as actually worth less than 32nd Veep John Garner's much vaunted bucket of warm spit.)

However, even if you do subtract Edwards and Richardson, and add DNC Chair Howard Dean, you have quite the leadership council of the party. Hell, it's almost a cabal. Are these folks setting themselves up as supposedly neutral arbiters as the primary goes down to the wire, should it come to that? Gore in particular could be an honest, respected broker should intervention be necessary -- hell, half the country would like HIM to run (maybe he could pull a Cheney and pick himself as the nominee?). People like Pelosi, Biden and others have been talking to Gore in recent days, causing speculation that a fallback plan is already in the works. Question is, would this council step in only in the case of a brokered convention, or would they make a move before it got to that -- for the sake of party unity? And would this cabal, um, I mean, council of wise folks, have the power to really make either Hillary or Obama bend to their will?

Given that the popular vote in some states differs from the pledges of superdelegates, the worry of course is that the increasingly divisive primary race could fracture the party so badly that the general election goes down the drain right along with the civility. Pelosi has already said she believes the popular vote should decide the nomination, not the 795 super-special, superdelegates. I agree with Madam Speaker. This superdelegate system seems in many ways like the Democrats' own convoluted version of the electoral college, implemented after the party hierarchy's dissatisfaction with the popular choice of George McGovern back in the day, to ensure the people never made such a silly decision again.

Meanwhile, Hillary is busily spinning yarns in an effort to get Florida and Michigan included in the delegate count -- states that have been spanked by the DNC for daring to challenge the supremacy of Iowa and New Hampshire by moving up their primary dates -- and states that Hillary "won." I say won loosely since a full-scale campaign was not waged in either state, so while I admire the woman's chutzpah, it's really hard to say the gentlelady from New York won either contest fair and square.

It's clear the Democratic primary is going down to the wire. It also seems clear neither candidate is backing down, and that their respective supporters are becoming increasingly entrenched to the possible detriment of the party. While I am not a supporter of the superdelegate system, I do think it's a sound idea for cooler heads to prevail -- for some wise party leaders to try to negotiate a cease-fire. I don't want them picking the nominee -- that is for the people to do. But I wouldn't mind a reality check when the people's choice has become clear, and the honored also-ran needs a gentle push to the podium to make their concession speech. And hey, if the leader of that cabal is Nobel peace prize winner Al Gore, it could be a lot worse.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Democrats, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

If you think the air around Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has gotten more than a little frosty of late, the climate in cyberspace has gotten downright frigid -- and openly hostile. I am talking about the alarming number of Democrats squarely taking aim at each other, not at the Grand Old Party or the Flip Flop Express. The vitriol is breathtaking, deeply disappointing, and -- if we aren't careful -- has the potential to create emotionally-laden, divisive wounds amongst Democrats that could be tough to heal by November. The media's rabid coverage of the dog fight is also infecting the wound.

Come on, people. Democrats have nothing to complain about. We had an excellent field, and its been narrowed down to two worthy candidates. Unfortunately, the last two standing are now engaging in vigorous, damaging mud slinging -- so first off, both Clinton and Obama need to start leading by example and kick up the civility a notch or two. Their bad behavior is breeding more bad behavior, throwing red meat to impassioned followers who are taking up verbal arms against fellow Democrats -- with a vengeance. And it's getting personal on all sides. The level of discourse in political chat rooms and the blogosphere has sunk to new lows, with cyber pundits taking personal potshots at the candidates and each other, leveling charges of racism and mysogyny, vote fixing and who-knows-what else.

Bascically, it seems the fervent supporters of Clinton and Obama are doing the Republicans' work for them, for free and seemingly with great joy, by tearing the Democratic nominees to shreds before the general election has even gotten started. (By the way, Mr. McCain appreciates your efforts. He would send a personal note of gratitude -- but, truly, there are simply way too many of you engaging in the circular firing squad for him to express his personal thanks to each and every person. Just know you're in his thoughts and prayers.)

Please. We have got to keep our eyes on the prize. Say it with me: It's the White House, people. Write it 100 times. Make it your screen saver. Put a post-it note on your bathroom mirror. Whatever it takes to keep the preeminent goal in mind. Imagine four years of John McCain -- four years of Republican judicial nominations, four years of damaging Republican executive branch regulations and political appointees, four more years of the war in Iraq -- to spend regretting the nastiness perpetrated against Clinton and Obama within our own ranks. That would be bitter-tasting fruit indeed, and the results for the country would be devastating.

This campaign has been exhilirating, truly one for the ages. It has generated unprecedented interest in not only the candidates but the electoral process itself. This is fantastic news no matter how you look at it. Let's not spoil it by shooting ourselves in the foot. Democrats need to get out of our own damn way. We need to channel all that positive energy for change into our mutual goal -- and it is our shared goal -- and that is getting rid of George W. Bush and ensuring a Democrat takes his place on January 20, 2009. Cheer for your favorite now, argue the merits of various proposals, be enthusiastic about the prospects for a new day, but remember that overzealousness today might well come back to haunt us tomorrow. Democrats must be able to wholeheartedly unite as one party around the eventual nominee if we hope to prevail in the end. I believe we demagogue our primary candidates at our own peril, and risk the general election in the process.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Piling on Hillary with Obama's Naiveté

So, I've been trying to put myself in Hillary Clinton's shoes. While I'll be the first to admit I have never been a huge fan, I don't think she's the antichrist, either. In fact, I have been feeling more than a little chagrined at the glee with which the exaggerated reports of Hillary's demise are being spun by the media, pundits, the blogosphere, and so on. Apparently some other folks aren't too wild about it either. When the news surfaced that Hillary recently loaned her campaign $5 million, it spurred $10 million in online contributions. If Hillary loses the nomination -- even steven, fair and square -- that's fine, that's politics. But I don't want her to lose because her campaign imploded (Bill, please be quiet, just for a while, okay?) or because pundits have demonized her and dissected her like a lab rat. Lately, I have been feeling some sympathy for Hillary -- imagine being this close to your goal, and perhaps sensing it slipping away despite all your preparation and efforts. Imagine people you don't even know saying hateful things about you, in print, on tv, whenever they feel like it. Imagine carrying the hopes and dreams of a generation of women on your shoulders -- and not delivering. I feel for the girlfriend, I really do.

Let me be clear. I'm not sure the gentlelady from New York is the best choice for the Democrats to run against Mr. Maverick in the fall. The speed with which she riles the Republican base is positively breathtaking, and her negative poll numbers -- while in many ways unfair -- are immovably embedded in concrete. In truth, I know people who wouldn't spit on Hillary if she was on fire. This is not a good start for someone trying to win the hearts, minds and votes of the mushy middle and, in the process, the White House. Truthfully, I also am not completely enamored of her politics. While a ziploc sandwich bag has more depth than our current president -- we have no where to go but up, folks -- I still could wish for someone less, well, mainstream. Ironic, huh, since the right has labeled Hillary Clinton as a feminista devil incarnate, straight from the lunatic fringe. She's soooooo not that. In fact, she's got some distressingly Blue Dog-like tendancies -- don't forget, she and Bill did that whole New Democrat thing: read, not progressive.

But I am intensely ambivalent about Obama as well -- albeit for different reasons. As is so often the case, I dearly wish I could combine the best qualities of the two candidates. No, I don't want a hermaphrodite for president -- I'd stick with the XX chromosomes in this instance, because I'd love to see a woman president. And I'd keep Hillary's experience, too -- including her DC, insider savvy -- which seems to be something of a dirty word these days. While Obama's rhetoric about change in Washington -- a new day, the audacity of hope, etc. -- are all very attractive and even occasionally inspiring, they are simply not realistic. No, no, I am not being overly cynical; I just remember what happened to Jimmy Carter. He, too, inherited a country in the midst of an oil-inspired economic downturn. He, too, had little DC experience, and pledged to change the tone. It made for great commercials then, too. And the Republicans ate his lunch, handed him his hat, and sent Carter packing in four years. And, oh yeah, followed up with the Reagan Revolution. I fear the same stonewalling, the same set up would happen to Obama. I believe his intentions are honorable. I believe Obama would sincerely try to change the tone. But it takes two to tango, and the Republicans will have no part of it. In fact, they will take great delight in cutting Barack off at the knees. The Grand Old Party is not magnanimous in defeat, and they'll be plotting Obama's downfall before the ink is dry on his inauguration speech.

I also fear that, in the name of changing the tone and the spirit of compromise, Obama will negotiate away much more, policy-wise, than I would like him too. In short, I fear his good intentions could get us all taken for a ride. Okay, maybe change has to start somewhere, and let it begin with me, blah blah blah... but the Republicans regularly eat their own young and ask for seconds. I just don't know that Obama has the experience and savvy to use the machine, the system, to have even a snowball's chance in hell of creating the change in tone we all want. But, because of his lofty promises and inspiring rhetoric, you can bet Barack will take the fall if change does not come to pass. And, on the political side, Obama has some Libertarian tendencies that don't sit well with me -- there is a reason why those independents and "Obama Republicans" kinda like him. Still, young voters adore him -- for good reason, he's one of us -- and are turning out in record numbers to pay homage.

I know, perhaps I am whining just a bit. We have two good candidates -- history making, talented candidates -- in the Democratic contest. I just can't make up my mind which one I like better, and in truth it comes down to who can beat McCain. Above all, I do not want four more years of a Republican president. Hillary is a tough cookie who has taken everything the right wing can throw at her and come out the stronger for it. She knows what she's in for if she's the nominee, and she's got the best politician in a generation at her side. Barack is inspiring but lacks experience -- though certainly the primary is helping to harden him as a candidate. Still, he has no idea what's in store for him when the swift boat machine starts firing indiscriminate half-truths and veiled innuendos -- and when all those independents who think they like him suddenly become turncoats after the Republican search and destroy mission. Remember, America does not know Barack Obama very well. Hillary -- she's a known quantity. And she can fire up our base, too.

Still, after writing this I have not managed to talk myself into either candidate. I just know that I'll support whoever's the lead dog come November. But a part of me, the girly part, sure hopes Hillary comes out of it okay -- win or lose. She's a trailblazer, and she deserves better than she's getting... and so do the women who I hope will follow her in quick succession.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Republicans Dropping Like Flies: Life in the Minority No Fun

Don't know if you've noticed it, but Republican members of Congress are announcing their retirements at a very fast clip. Seems that life in the Minority doesn't agree with them, and lots of senior Republicans decided there were more enjoyable ways to spend their golden years.

According to Roll Call's Casualty List, there are 24 members of the House not seeking a return engagement -- 22 of them are Republicans. On the Senate side, there are five announced retirements -- ALL Republicans, and some pretty big names like Sens. Chuck Hagel (NE), John Warner (VA), and Pete Domenici (NM). That's a lot of folks punching a one way ticket outta town. Combine that with resignations and the strangely high number of deaths in office this Congress, plus the usual politicians with higher aspirations, and there are a lot of open seats in this election.

Still, though, that doesn't mean a lot of these seats are really open. Thanks to the wonders of gerrymandering, a fair amount of these House seats will simply go to the latest crop of Republicans -- same shit, different Congress. Only 23 seats are thus far handicapped as toss ups. Add in the seats just leaning towards one party or another, and there are still only 47 seats truly up for grabs. That's 47 out of 435, folks -- barely more than 10 percent are going to be real contests. Good thing the presidential race is proving to be a real barn burner -- most of these congressional races will be about as exciting as licking a wall.

The Senate races are always more exciting -- our politicians can't gerrymander state boundaries, despite Tom DeLay's delusions of grandeur about redrawing the nation's electoral map in his own image. Of course, there are red states and blue states, but the twain do meet in those lovely purple states -- the states that lean slightly right or left, and can make for a very exciting Senate race. This time around, there are nine Senate seats that fall into this toss up or lean category, with all but one of the Senate seats vacated by retirement represented in that group. You can bet there was some backroom arm twisting trying to get these guys to hang around, but no dice. With only 35 seats up for grabs -- two more than usual due to some special elections -- that means more than a quarter of the Senate races are in play this year.

Yep, the lure of the political rocking chair is apparently much more alluring to these retiring Republicans after a year in the Minority -- and this mass exodus was not unexpected. In fact, it's fairly typical after a powerchange -- lots of Dems headed for the hills after the Republican Revolution in 1994. Strangely enough, though, even with all these departures, the overall make up of the House likely won't change dramatically. And while the Senate Dems can increase their majority, they won't make it to that magic number -- 60. So, for all of you looking for change this election season, keep paying attention to the presidential race. That's your best bet, since Congress will look pretty much the same come 2009 -- some new people, but the same parties, and the same power splits.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tea Party on the Potomac: It's Time for DC Voting Rights

Tuesday marks the Potomac Primary -- all eyes are on Maryland, DC and Virginia as the presidential primary season marches on. As a resident of our nation's capital, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind the rest of the country that while our votes at the polls will give delegates to the Democratic and Republican nominees, the same folks who go to the ballot box have no voting representation in Congress.

Really. It's true. Taxation without representation is alive and well and being inflicted upon the denizens of Washington, DC. Imagine my surprise, moving here as I did to work on Capitol Hill, to find that my newly minted DC driver's license also instantly disenfranchised me. Yeah, yeah -- we have a non-voting Delegate, but Eleanor Holmes Norton is only allowed to vote in committee and then only if she doesn't cast the tie-breaking vote. In other words, she only gets to vote when it can't make a difference. She has no vote on the floor whatsoever. Meanwhile, DC residents -- many of whom are also, ironically, involved in politics like myself -- also have no senators whatsoever. The District of Columbia, in other words, has the same congressional status as Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. But, um, those folks DON'T PAY TAXES to the United States Government. DC residents do.

How can this be, you ask? Well, the U.S. Supeme Court, in its recent decision, said it's because DC is not a state. They were sympathetic to our plight, but the U.S. Constitution says only states get such representation. So, the only alternative is for DC to become a state, or for there to be a constitutional amendment allowing DC representation without statehood. There has also been this fairly silly compromise that's been voted on in the House and the Senate this Congress that would give DC voting rights in the House in exchange for Utah also getting an additional seat. Why? Well, the Republicans would only go for the radical idea of DC voting rights if the additional vote -- most assuredly a Democratic vote -- would be a wash. Utah has been whining since the last census -- they felt they got the shaft, with all the Mormons off on missions -- and that they actually should have gotten another congressional seat back in 2002. Of course, this compromise comes with all kinds of Constitutional questions, and of course does nothing whatsoever for Senate representation. That particular conundrum is further complicated by both politics and procedure, since the Republicans do not want the Democrats to gain two Democratic Senators from the District, and Senate rules allow filibusters and holds that would make any kind of vote on this issue -- voting rights, a constitutional amendment, whatever -- a very, very high hurdle indeed. The fact that my voting rights, however, are subverted for such narrow partisan interests is the very definition of hypocrisy.

The worst part about all this is that, despite the lack of representation, Congress still feels free to impose its will on Washington, DC in the worst ways possible. They like to use us as an incubator for their crazy ideas -- the Republicans are particularly good at that. Can't get school vouchers that siphon off public monies to private schools, that bypass civil rights, passed nationwide? Nope -- but go ahead, impose them on the District, whose people don't want them. Mad that those same people voted in a gun ban, which has made the streets safer and kept the nation's capital from being the murder capital of the country as well? Sue the city, and take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court because you don't think district residents have the right to govern themselves -- never mind that the gun ban has been in place for decades. Oh yeah, and forbid DC from doing any kind of needle exchange program, too, despite the fact that 1 in 20 residents is infected with HIV. There are lots and lots of examples where congressional conservatives try to -- and sometimes successfully -- impose their narrow will on a population that doesn't even have a vote in their chambers. How friggin' insulting is that?

Remember what happened the last time Americans got fed up with that kinda treatment from the powers that be? With taxation without representation? Patriots dumped a bunch of tea into Boston Harbor and the rest is history. My friends, after over 10 years in DC with very little progress made on DC voting rights, not to mention being treated like a guinea pig by Congress whenever they couldn't manage to impose their will nationwide, I'm about to throw some Lipton in the Potomac River and see if I can't foment a little rebellion myself. I'm glad we're getting some attention this primary season, but it's past time for real DC voting rights.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Exit Polls: It's Still a Boy's Club

It seems that Barack Obama won the trifecta Saturday, winning all three contests being waged. And then Sunday, he won Maine for the weekend sweep -- damn, they just love him in the caucuses, don't they? Now it's off to the Mid-Atlantic for the Potomac Primary. While the Democratic horserace continues, there is one undeniable fact that puts a smile on the face of everyone down at the DNC: voters are stampeding their polling places, shattering all previous turnout records. This, of course, is a signal of trouble ahead for the Republicans -- but really, who needed another sign? Huckabee's staying power and Ann Coulter saying she'd vote for Hillary if McCain got the nod pretty much assures me the Grand Old Party is in wonderful disarray (although one could've wished Mitt woulda stuck around for a few more weeks -- I mean, it's not like he didn't have the buckage. Bet his sons are glad their inheritance is preserved, though).

But despite this good news, I received a question recently from one of my readers that prompted a little deeper introspection about recent results. Now, I don't want to dampen anyone's spirits, or rain on anyone's parade, or take the air out of anyone's balloon, or... well, you get the picture, and I've run out of metaphors. But given the demographic breakdown of the voters in the contests held thus far, it seems there is a question that must be asked: what's up with the white guys? They have hopped on board the Obama Express with unpredicted enthusiasm. Not to take anything away from the senator from Illinois, but the white guys have broken for him in such large numbers it begs the question asked by my learned reader: is change from a white man to a black man the only acceptable kind of change to that particular voting block? This question becomes even more noteworthy when recent horserace polls reveal that lots of white guys who vote for Obama against McCain, change their minds and vote for McCain in a hypothetical against Clinton.

The initial, general consensus was that Barak Obama would never fly in Middle America: African American, funny name, not enough experience, up against the Clinton Machine, blah, blah, blah, etc. But the exit polls have told a very different story. Obama didn't just clear the continental divide, he soared over purple mountain's majesty and vaulted amber waves of grain. I am inclined to agree with my learned reader on at least part of the reason for Obama's success, and it is simply this: at the end of the day, race trumps gender in this country -- at least for the white guys. It's been a running debate, long before this momentus election -- which would come first, a black president or a woman president. Interestingly enough, in this election we are faced with a direct test of that conundrum. And, while Obama and Clinton are pretty much neck and neck, amongst white men the choice is crystalizing: they prefer that the presidency stay a boys' club.

Now, before I get any angry messages from other readers, of course I understand that voters' choices are also informed by the particular qualities of that specific black man and the qualities of that specific woman who happen to be running. Lots of folks are voting for Obama because he is downright inspiring, and lots of folks are voting for Hillary because she's got gold star experience. Likewise, there are folks who aren't voting for Obama because they're concerned he's not quite ready for primetime, and not voting for Hillary because of the rather noticeable suitcases permanently strapped to her back.

Nevertheless, all that aside, the exit polls for white men nationwide are still striking, and not only worth the mention but worth the deeper question as to whether the nation as a whole is comfortable with the idea of a woman president. Bravo, as my reader notes, to the Hispanic guys who are apparently secure enough in their machismo to pull the lever for Hillary in really high numbers. And, white and Latino women and older people still love Hillary, and they really really like to vote, too. This has balanced out Obama's huge popularity amongst African Americans and his clear advantage with white men. What's interesting and notable, though, is that women supporters of Hillary say they'll happily vote for Obama in November if he's the nominee. Likewise African Americans should Clinton prevail. The white guys, though, have not made the same unity pledge to Hillary. Is it her? Maybe? Is it her gender? Sadly, that answer is also... maybe.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fat Tuesday and Dueling Kennedys: No Closure Yet

In some sort of strange cosmic convergence, Fat Tuesday and Super Duper Nuclear Tuesday fell on the same day. Add to that the surprise Super Bowl victory of the underdog New York Giants and their Manhattan ticker tape parade on the same day, and there were a fair amount of people not even sober on February 5th. However, time marches on, 24 state primaries and caucuses were held, and turnout was gratifyingly high. Alas, for those of you looking for closure, however, this was not to be the day.

As predicted, the battle for the Democratic primary is far from over. While Hillary Clinton won the big prizes -- New York, California -- Barack Obama won more states overall (13 to Clinton's 8; New Mexico at this writing was too close to call.) In political speak, this she did/he did stuff simply means the spin doctors from both camps can claim "victory." Clinton leads in the delegate count, but it's close. Clinton's 2 to 1 edge in superdelegates could loom large here... but there are still enough superdelegates left uncommitted to keep us on the edge of our seats. Obama did well enough on Super Tuesday -- including winning a squeaker in Missouri that was at first called for Hillary -- to perhaps move some of those uncommitted members of Congress and Govenors and DNC dignataries off the endorsement dime. However, Hillary also did well enough to at least in part stem the Obama tide that seemed to be rising over the past week -- meaning that the Big Mo is no longer as sqarely in his camp, and thus might keep those waffling superdelegates waffling a while longer.

At the end of the day, the much vaunted and various Kennedy clan endorsements did not seem to make as much of a difference as they did for headlines and juicy gossip. Obama is running ad's with flashes of Camelot and JFK's kid, Caroline. He's also been campaigning with JFK's brother, Teddy, in the senator's home state of Massachusetts and elsewhere; but Hillary carried the Mayflower state. Kennedy Cousin Maria Shriver came fresh from her kid's riding lesson (how Kennedy-esque!), unplanned and sans makeup, to endorse Obama at a rally with pal Oprah (they started in Baltimore broadcasting together). But Hillary carried California -- perhaps with the help of the son of Ceasar Chavez (60 percent of the kids in CA schools are Latino). RFK's kids -- RFK, Jr., former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleeen Kennedy Townsend -- are in Hillary's camp, and Hillary had her own retrospective add using RFK, Jr. and flashes of Bobby. We'll see how that bit of nostalgia plays in next week's Potomac primaries in DC, Marlyand and Virginia -- where apparently outraged voters were calling state offices wanting to know why their polling places weren't open on Super Tuesday. I like the enthusiasm even if the aim was a little off. Here's hoping they show up next week too.

Speaking as a resident of our nation's capital -- the land of the great disenfranchised, of taxation without representation, where we have monuments to our great democracy but no application of federalized democracy for city residents -- where we have one non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives and absolutely no senators whatsoever, it's very sweet to have our votes actually mean something -- but that's another rant, and another blog.

Meanwhile, Republicans are still proportioning out their affections in a fairly miserly fashion. Fat Tuesday's results gave new life to Mike Huckabee, and pissed off Mitt Romney (back to the bank account, Mitt). Actually, for Huckabee, his showing in the South pretty much put him front and center in the VEEP sweepstakes for plurality winner John McCain, who appears to be the metroliner candidate -- carrying the northeast corridor with ease. However, when it comes to the Bible Belt, McCain's not fashionable -- even if it is Fashion Week. Preacher Huckabee could be just the accessory McCain needs to appeal to disgruntled evangelicals -- perhaps together, they can take on the history making, record-turnout producing, change-making machine of the Democrats. No rest for the wicked --the political strategists are huddling even now, plotting their next moves.

Monday, February 4, 2008

WWSD: What Would the Suffragists Do? or, Will Women Vote Their DNA?

Once again, women voters are in the driver's seat and charting the course of the Democratic Party -- and it's not because the men would not stop to ask for directions. That's right, ladies. When you line up at the polls on Super Duper Nuclear Tuesday, your shear numbers will once again be determining the fate of the Democratic nominees. You Go, Girls!

There are basically two sentiments running through the girl-power set these days. It goes something like this:

  • If you're a woman, you vote for Hillary because of what it means to women everywhere. It's past time one of our own was in the White House, dammit, and she's ready for the job.

  • If I'm supposed to vote for Hillary just because I'm a woman and she's a woman, isn't that almost as sexist as NOT voting for her because she's a woman?

That's the issue many of us have been mulling, especially when both candidates clearly have much to recommend them. Do you vote for a woman to finally and forever shatter that particular marble ceiling? Or do you make a decision that is not confined by gender but rather empowered by your own conscience. Hmmm.... it's a tough call, especially when Obama's bid to become the first black president is every bit as historic as Clinton's run for the record books. And when McCain is breathing down our necks. Baby boomer women (mid-40's to mid-60s) seem particularly torn about their choice, wavering between honoring their mothers and listening to their daughters.

Are women who vote for Obama somehow traitorous? Oprah, Caroline Kennedy, Maria Shriver, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Clare McCaskill (MO), Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Jan Schakowsky (IL), Gov. Janet Napolitano (AZ) and writer Alice Walker would argue otherwise -- none of them are slouches when it comes to women's equity. Women's rights advocate Kate Michelman, an Edwards supporter, has joined the Obama camp now that Edwards has bowed out. Among women "Barack stars," there does not seem to be any sense of opportunity lost in supporting Obama over Clinton. They simply believe in their candidate, and they also believe there will be another woman in the near future. The women for Obama seem to be saying to women nationwide, "it's okay, there's still time to change your mind." There is real confidence that, once busted, this particular barrier will be down to stay -- that Hillary is just the first of many (Margaret Thatcher might beg to differ, but that is the sentiment).

I think there will be other women in my lifetime who will run for president. This isn't going to be women's only chance to vote our DNA, should we chose to do so. And perhaps that is the crux of the matter: this inevitability divide is also often a generational divide. It's no coincidence that Hillary's biggest fan base is women over 65 -- women who've been waiting their whole lives for the chance to vote for a woman. Women who are the least likely to pass this way again. Women whose grandmothers were suffragists.

On the other hand, women can often be our own worst enemy. Women are often the most critical of women candidates, holding them to a higher standard and personalizing our decisions about them. Some women's disdain for Hillary's decision to fight for her marriage rather than leave her philandering husband is a good example; using this as a basis for a presidential vote is rediculous. While Obama has been closing fast in the polls, lots of women could wake up Tuesday -- as they seemed to do in New Hampshire a few weeks ago -- look in the mirror and think to themselves: "Am I smokin' crack? Am I really going to vote against the first viable women candidate? Put down the pipe!"

All this leads me to wonder, what would the suffragists do if faced with this dilemma? I mean, besides a little happy dance that such a wealth of choices is ours to begin with? These women were all about the vote, the franchise, the fundamental right of women to speak their minds at the ballot box. They would rejoice at the pivotal role women's votes now play in most elections, marveling at the gender gap but also encouraging ALL people to exercise this basic responsibility of citizenship. Somehow, I can't imagine the suffragists would want us to vote for Hillary just because she is a woman. In fact, Hillary has said repeatedly that she doesn't want that kind of support, any more than Obama wants us to vote for him just because he's a black man. Both these candidates have encouraged us too look into our hearts, our guts -- but not our DNA. To cast a vote on such a simplistic notion disrespects the right those suffragists fought and even died for not all that long ago.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Who's the Better Bet Against McCain?

There are clear and obvious differences between both Democratic candidates and Republican frontrunner-again John McCain. Lots of folks, however, think that Clinton and Obama are similar enough on the critical policy points -- despite style differences -- that the larger question facing party loyalists is which of the two makes a stronger showing against the Maverick.

One of the biggest bones of contention between Democrats and Republicans is, of course, the war in Iraq and the overall conduct of the War on Terror. While I think both Democrats could score easy points against McCain's intractable position, there is no denying that Obama has an advantage here. It's a no-brainer for McCain (or some swiftboat-like entity) to accuse Clinton of being just as complicit in the move towards war because she also voted yes on the Iraq War resolution. Obama, on the otherhand, can say McCain showed poor judgment on the Iraq War from the get go, and Mr. Surge has no defense against that. (As Obama said in the most recent debate -- sure, Clinton has experience from day one, but it's better to be right from day one.) Democrats looking to cast their vote strategically might not want to let this obvious rhetorical and policy advantage slip through their fingers by choosing a nominee that also voted for the war.

Of course, the war has a flip side as a voting issue. There is no denying we are waist-deep into the mess, and the idea of experienced leadership to pull us out of it is not only attractive but reasonable. In times of war, Americans have often been reassured by turning to veterans. The Republicans have a bona fide war hero in McCain. While the top two Democrats don't have military experience, Clinton does have a lot of experience, period -- which could be an important counterpoint to a nation weary of war that's also in the process of selecting a new president. Of course, there are still lingering gender stereotypes about a woman as commander-in-chief, but I think Clinton's confident manner puts a lot of them to rest.

There is another factor to consider. The right-wing base -- including the all-important talk radio royalty as well as TV talking heads and bloggers -- has its knickers in a twist over the idea of riding the Straight Talk Express all the way to the White House. They are scared spitless that McCain is a closet liberal -- there are even attack ads running to that effect, designed with an eye towards derailment. Interestingly enough, while Republicans like to bash Clinton as a lefty liberal, it's Obama who has the truly liberal record. In fact, for 2007, the National Journal rated Obama as the most liberal senator in the U.S. Senate -- compared to a relatively middle of the pack composite rating of 16th for Hillary. This liberal tag is sure to be used against Obama, but then again it will be used against Clinton, too, however inaccurately -- so this one's a draw. Besides, I'm tired of running from the word liberal like my mama's coming after me to wash my mouth out with soap. It's time we reclaimed it, with pride.

Unfortunately, about the only thing that can rally the entire vast right wing conspiracy behind John McCain might be -- Hillary Clinton. I've always thought the way she's been demonized was grossly unfair, not to mention inaccurate -- then again, considering the source, truth-telling was not exactly the first priority. I mean, what has Hillary really done to earn such animosity, besides stand by her hugely successful, philandering husband? Wait, maybe it's the hugely successful husband part -- despite the mud and special prosecutors and impeachments thrown his way. Hillary Clinton is polarizing by association, because right wingers have spent the better part of two decades unsuccessfully trying to convince the American people that Bill Clinton was the devil incarnate. Fair or foul, the right wing can't wait to go to war against the Clintons again -- and they will marshall resources the likes of which we've never seen to stop a Hillary presidency. Conversely, if it's Obama versus McCain in the final round, they just might dislike McCain more -- due to simple muscle memory. But, let's face it, the reflex to hate Hillary is stronger. No way around it -- it's a liability that has got to be factored into the equation.

Perhaps most importantly, voters are overwelmingly in favor of change this election cycle. If Obama is running, he is clearly the candidate of change. If Clinton is running, McCain could almost make an argument that you would get more change out of a Maverick White House than you would under another Clinton administration. It's that whole Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynasty thing. We've had a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket since 1980 -- think about it. Then again, Hillary's assertion that it took a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, and it well might take another Clinton to clean up after the last Bush, has a certain appeal.

Then again, all this strategic analysis about who's a better bet against McCain might not be as relevant as in prior election cycles. This year, I think it's universally understood that a pure base strategy loses in the end. You need independents, and you need the youth vote who -- while more reliably Democratic, also has an independent streak. Given the whole John Kerry debacle, I'm not sure that voting for the person you think is the most electable is the best choice. I say, go with your gut -- and go for a historic first in the White House in November, as long as it's a Democrat.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Youth Action Can Make Political History...Again

The first day of February is a course-altering day in American History. It was on this date in 1960 that four men first walked into a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, NC. They purchased books and school supplies, and then sat down at the lunch counter. The men, freshmen at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, pretty much knew they wouldn't be getting a hamburger and fries that day. You see, they were black and this particular lunch counter was segregated-- whites only.

That very first sit-in didn't accomplish a whole lot. The store manager was all too happy to let the guys just sit there until closing time. But the students had this idea -- radical at the time -- that if they bought goods in one part of the store, there was no reason why they shouldn't be able to purchase services in another part of the store. And when a larger group of students returned the next day, well.... you know the rest of the story. The media moved in, civil rights groups spread the word to other campuses north and south of the Mason-Dixon line, and in two weeks students in 11 cities held sit-ins. By the summer of 1961, similar acts of civil disobedience had attracted over 70,000 people and resulted in more than 3,000 arrests. Sit-ins became an integral tactic that marked a change in the civil rights movement, demonstrating that nonviolent action -- and most importantly, that young activists -- could be effective weapons in the fight against segregation.

Young people changed the world that day back in 1960. And their youth movement continued to push the envelope well into the '70s, with a counter culture that stopped an unpopular war and reshaped restrictive values and old social norms. Hmm, I'm getting a sense of deja vu, here. Why? Because I believe young people are set to make another kind of history this election season. Perhaps it won't feel as world-altering as the achievements of the hippy generation, but I think it has the potential to have long-term consequences. This is going to be the election where young people not only find their voice, but assert their power at the ballot box as well. And in so doing, young voters will chose the nominees for both parties and -- if they trouble themselves to vote in November at the same rates they have in the primaries -- could well be the determining factor on the final outcome this fall.

Just look at the numbers:

  • Iowa: Turnout up 315% to 65,230 votes

  • New Hampshire: Turnout up 274% to 84,232

  • South Carolina: Turnout up 145% to 118,565

  • Florida: Turnout up 355% to 285,970
To keep mixing my generational metaphors by quoting a '60s tune, "there's something happening here." Except, I think what's happening here is exactly clear. The youth vote, as it's being called, will make or break the candidates on Super Duper Nuclear Tuesday. And the nominees that these new voters coronate will usher in a new era in American politics in a variety of directions: Clinton is the first woman, Obama the first African American, McCain would be the oldest to win the nomination, Romney would be the first Mormon. It seems fitting, actually, that a generation that has grown up with diversity as the norm would usher in this era of firsts. This is also a generation sick of their elders telling them what's best, and tired of political business as usual. Frankly, they don't think we've done such a great job on their behalf. It's about time these young voters stepped up to the plate, and I can't wait to see where it takes all of us. The Rock the Vote pledge says it all:
"I pledge to vote. I've had enough of politicians making decisions about our lives without our input -- this year, we're picking the president."