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January 26, 2008


Sisyphus- You are, of course, correct. Politicians are rationally selfish creatures. Parties are a means to an end for all of them, and nobody gets to the level of Presidential contender without a healthy ego. The thing is, I think some politicians are more committed to the values they espouse than others, and will not act in a way that hurts their party if doing so hurts the cause of those values. The Clintons appear perfectly willing to undermine party unity by alienating African-Americans, despite the fact that doing so hurts the party's chances in November and hence, has a significant chance to hurt progressive causes. That's what I think a lot of people are worked up about.

Xeynon - I would contend that the Clintons are going out of the way to not alienate African American voters. Bill Clinton made the Jesse Jackson statement once and left it alone. It was merely an attempt to take the sting out of the defeat, something that politicians do regardless of why they lost. There is a compelling argument, with factually accurate premisses, that South Carolina's Primary turned on race, and Barak Obama won because of his race. I believe this argument is more accurate than Barak Obama's claim that his primary victory transcended race.The argument would go something like this:
80+% of African American voters voted for Barak Obama.
70+% of white voters voted for white candidates
53% of all voters were African American.

What I would conclude from those numbers is that Barak Obama won because racial politics is alive and well, not because we have some how transcended them.
Barak Obama won SC because African Americans, like whites, voted along racial lines. Barak Obama had the benefit of being in the larger group, and not having to split votes with another African American candidate.
The Clinton campaign could make this argument, but they don't, just because they don't want to alienate African American voters. They have been the beneficiary of African American block voting in the past, and hope to use it in the future.

"But I also think that it shows that Hilary Clinton cares more about winning than she does about her party....."

Gee you think? Really? However did you figure this out? Your powers of deduction are amazing, it only took you 17 years to hash this all out. Wow.

Sisyphus, I think you're being far too charitable. Bill Clinton didn't have to mention Jesse Jackson by name. He could have gone for John Edwards in 2004 as a more recent example of a candidate who won SC but failed to win the nomination. Given the fact that the Clinton campaign has been repeatedly criticized in the media for injecting race into the campaign over the past two weeks, and campaign staffers have been quoted anonymously as rather smugly noting that pinning Obama as "the black candidate" will hurt him with white and Hispanic voters, I think it's naive to think that Bill chose the example he did because he wanted voters to make the connection between Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson, failed Presidential candidate, rather than Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson, angry black man and standard bearer for black identity politics. The fact that so many in the black community have been critical of Clinton's conduct, and of that comment in particular, I think provides ample evidence that many African-Americans were offended - and I'll take their word on it over yours.

Sisyphus, I'd like to clarify your position. Is it your argument that when Bill Clinton insinuated that South Carolina overwhelmingly voted for Obama primarily because Obama is black (thereby implying that black voters cannot see past color), he was going out of his way not to alienate those voters, because he could have actually made his case in full instead of just hinting at it?

Also, do you feel it would have been more or less respectful to African-American voters to have just left Jesse Jackson out of it? How would it have compared with, for example, congratulating Obama for a well-run campaign, which is what is traditionally done in such cases?

If people say they're offended, I take them at their word. Surely they have better access to their own Pshyce than I.

However, I am entitled to my own opinion as to wheather the offense is justified.

Bill Clinton did not use John Edwards as an example, because John Edwards example would not have illustrated his point. He was not saying that you can win SC and still lose the nomination, that's way to obvious. He was making the point that Hillary was likely to lose, not because Barack would be a better President, but rather because African Americans were unlikey to pass up the opportunity to elect the first African American President.

I think it's worth pointing out that he was correct.

It is difficult to believe that Barack would have won a similarly united African American Vote, over HC, had he been white.

It's is unfair for Obama supporters to say, oh you can't talk about that.

If Bill Clinton doesn't have enough credibility to discuss race, with out being accused of Racism, who does?

Just Obama supporters I suppose.

Who accused Bill Clinton of being racist?

Pointing out that he used an example which, though factually correct, and even then marginally, as a way of making, in people's minds, a comparison between Jackson and Obama, is not the same as calling him a racist.

"It is difficult to believe that Barack would have won a similarly united African American Vote, over HC, had he been white."

I don't particularly think so, as I don't believe she is a ridiculously strong candidate. Also, the evidence indicates that Edwards won a large percentage of the 'white' vote vs. Clinton so we have a test of your hypothesis right there.

I hope no one minds if I cross-post a long comment from the other thread in response to this comment by hilzoy:

Lemmy: my worry is that predicting the long-term consequences is pretty hard to do with any confidence. Predicting all the short-term consequences is hard to do, but predicting some of them is not, and all the consequences I feel confident about if a Republican wins in 2008 are bad. I mean, the Supreme Court alone would be a disaster.
I think there's a lot to be said about the long-term consequences that are likely to result if we don't make some very quick moves in the short term.

A somewhat wonkish angle on this is that there's an enormous amount of legal repair work that needs to be done on the Executive branch, and it'll likely require some reconciliation -- however fleeting -- which I don't expect that Hillary would either offer nor be met halfway on, despite that many people in DC understand the need to put the brakes on the the continual stakes-raising of the recent election cycles.

Obama's approach at least seems to open a door for the GOP to step back from the brinksmanship without losing face, which I think is key. They're not really in a position to make terms right now, but they have nothing to lose -- the main obstacle will be disarming the radical conservative wing's cries of appeasement. (And I have no doubt we'll hear similar screams from the partisan left -- lots of people are, unsurprisingly, out for blood after the last 8 years.) The fact that Obama's a constitutional law scholar doesn't hurt either. More than anything else, I worry about rolling back the "VP as superbranch theory," signing statements for everything, invoking executive privilege in instances where it clearly wasn't intended to be used, abusing interim appointments, politicizing the DoJ and the other "professional" agencies...

I could go on, but my point is that these changes are already making the government dysfunctional, and the pattern I see for the near future is that the next President will happily accept all these neat new toys and use them to abuse the GOP for a few years -- which has a certain appeal to it, of course -- but that once that happens, there's no going back. The next Republican President will come in and do the same, and by then the new, all-powerful Executive Branch will be institutionally entrenched in our political system and nearly impossible to dislodge. If these changes aren't confined to aberrations of the Bush WH, I think they'll likely become the tacitly-accepted norm instead, and that's a scary thought.

The hidden cost here goes way beyond nepotism and gamesmanship, I think. To my mind, one of the worst legacies of the Bush years has been the way the politicization of the branch has hamstrung critical Executive agencies by chasing away or marginalizing so many of the career officials who have been the heart and soul of those agencies through Republican and Dem administrations. Daniel Metcalfe is the person who represents this problem for me, but the problem reaches all the way to the top -- I'm thinking of people like Pat Fitzgerald, James Comey, Richard Clarke, the fired US Attorneys, etc. It's worth noting that these people were, for the most part, a much more effective bulwark against the Administration's abuses than our elected Democratic officials.

The most horrible thing the Bush Administration has done (in my current opinion) is destroy whatever hint we had of a professional government run in large part by career civil servants. If we don't do something to reverse that process, we might get some schadenfreude over the next four years, but we'll more or less be guaranteeing that the next Republican president will screw us right back. I've seen nothing to indicate that Hillary, nor any of the GOP candidates, would do anything to step back from the brink, or that any olive branch extended would even be accepted. Obama has a long history of doing just such rebuilding (see, e.g., Harvard Law Review, Illinois Senate career, Senate term, etc.), and that by itself is probably enough reason for me to support him. I support him on policy grounds as well, but if we don't get these basic structural problems fixed, I don't have a lot of confidence than any policy gains we make in the next 4 years will last.

Steven - I'm not sure how it happened but I did not see your post until after I posted mine.

Neither I nor Bill Clinton said that Black voters can't see past race. I think that by and large voters do a pretty good job of picking the party and candidates that represent they're interest. That's true of African American's and White alike.

But considering that on policy, Hillary and Barack are so close, the opportunity to elect the first Black President out weigh the other differences for African American voters.

For exapmle, in early '07 I told my wife that I didn't care which of the main three Dems won the Nomination because I liked them all.

She responded: "If you don't care, you better support Hillary."

Her point was not that in all cases she would support a woman over a man. She would not support Kay Bailey Hutchinson over Barack or John Edwards. I believe her point was that she would like to see the string of 43 consecutive white male presidents broken, and for her (w/f), apparently she would like to see the gender barrier broken first.

My wife is not sexist or racist. It's just that seeing that glass ceiling shattered would be very meaningful to her.

I believe that the African American voters have a similar view of Barack's candidacy as my wife does of Hillary's.

I said that Bill Clinon was going out of his way not alienate black voters because he only made the Jesse Jackson comment once, because it was his accurate assessment of the situation, then he dropped it. He could have kept making that valid point, but he didn't because, in my view, he did not want to insinuate that their votes were not as important as everyone elses. They are, but this is the last time in this cycle that you'll see African Americans as a majority of the electoate.

My wife is not sexist or racist. It's just that seeing that glass ceiling shattered would be very meaningful to her.

Not arguing against the overall point of your comment (I do see what you mean; I still agree with others that Bill's Jesse Jackson comment was motivated by politics of race), but as a feminist man, I really think it's too bad that women have to settle for Clinton as the glass-ceiling breaker. It's a nominal victory for women at best, especially after the past few weeks -- she's accomplished, of course, but she is never going to be able to say convincingly, "I did this all on my own, and not because I was married to one of the most powerful men in the Democratic party." It's hard to make a direct analogy, because a presidential race is such a different beast from any other kind of job application, but in any other case, if a husband like Bill was as involved in getting his wife a job as he has been, no one would say, "Women have finally proved they can do it without help from men!"

moff: no one would say, "Women have finally proved they can do it without help from men!"

I'm a little agog at this. It's news to me that every man who became President of the United States did it without help from men. But apparently, until a man does that, no one will be able to say "Men have finally proved they can do it without help from men!"

It has never happened before that the spouse of a Presidential candidate was previously President himself, so there's no etiquette arranged for it, but it's news to me that a spouse isn't allowed to join the candidate on campaigning...

Well Moff, let me see if I can't make you feel better about a potential Hillary victory.

Here we go:

1. She's smart as hell - nobody is going to argue that she doesn't have the capacity to do the job.

2. She wasn't born into political staus - She was from a middle class family, and by the time she met Bill she was already in Yale Law school, on her own merit - and at the time she had been in more national magazines than he had.

3. She deserves a lot of credit for Bill Clinton's success. She's been with Bill every step of the way, and not just standing there looking pretty. She spearheaded education intiatives in Arkansas and Health Care in Washington.(you can't win them all)

4. If the above three don't do it for you, try this one on for size: Most of the time the job does not go to the person who would be the best President. Why should the job always go to some lesser man? Shouldn't lesser women have the same opportunity to be suboptimal presidents as men? This would still be the first time that a woman became president, nepotism or not, and she's competent. So, you don't have to worry about her screwing it up for future women.

"Why should the job always go to some lesser man? Shouldn't lesser women have the same opportunity to be suboptimal presidents as men? This would still be the first time that a woman became president, nepotism or not, and she's competent."

Even in a vacuum the 'why can't we have a lesser woman win' argument strikes me as weak. But when you have Obama as an alternative, it seems to lose any small amount of force that it had.

I am all for shattering the glass ceiling. I mean: I've been a feminist forever, and besides that, I have spent lots of precious time and emotional energy being the first woman in various positions, and trying to neutralize the fears of some of my male colleagues, in ways that I thought I pretty much had to do, if only for the sake of whoever came next, but that I also thought were pretty unfair. I didn't spend a lot of time getting all worked up about it -- that would have amounted to handing them even more precious time and emotional energy, which I didn't much feel like doing -- but still.

That said, I'm as excited about the idea of having an African-American President as I am about the idea of having a woman President. Other things equal, I'd find it pretty hard to say which I think is more exciting. I lean slightly to preferring the African-American candidate, since I think it would be (in the abstract) likely to take longer, and be harder to pull off but both are great. (I mean: I have for years expected a woman President in my lifetime. As of a few years ago, I was not at all clear that I would see an African-American President, and if not for Obama, I would still be inclined to doubt that I would.)

(Though in neither case would this excitement trump other stuff, like policy: I am not about to support Liddy Dole or Allan Keyes or Al Sharpton. This is about finding this to be a good thing, not thinking it's the cosmic deciding factor in my vote.)

I'm often puzzled by people who seem to notice one of these good things but not the other.

@Jesurglisac & Sisyphus: I certainly get what you're saying, and I'm certainly not saying she's not competent. Nor am I saying that anyone makes it to the presidency, or any office, without a lot of help from others, both men and women. Nor am I saying she couldn't have done it without Bill. And I'm not saying it won't be historic if she gets elected.

But the truth is that it is different for men and women. If a man marries into an influential family, obviously no one is going to say that men can't obtain power without riding on a woman's coattails, because the playing field has been slanted in men's favor for ages. The playing field has been long slanted against women, and part of the point of feminism is to show that women can operate on the same level as men, without resorting to quote-unquote historically feminine tricks like marrying well and relying upon the subsequent nepotism.

Again, I want to stress that I'm not saying Clinton couldn't have done it without Bill. (And I will gladly acknowledge that he might not have been able to do any of what he did without her.) I'm just saying that you can also make a plausible argument -- especially with his heightened involvement in the past few weeks -- that she got there because of a powerful man. It's a very different case from, say, Geraldine Ferraro's or Margaret Thatcher's, both of whose husbands, as far as I know, had much less direct influence on their political accomplishments. It's a very strange case, and as I said before, hard to analogize cleanly, but I think it will color any victory of hers insofar as it's a victory for women per se.

Actually in Florida it is against the law to remove their names from the ballot, so Obama and Edwards had no choice but to remain in the Democratic primary. It is very cheap and undermining for Misses Clinton to be using the cynical tactic so late in the game, why not speak up and champion this when the possibility first arouse?

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