Monday, January 28, 2008

Edwards as Attorney General?

Liam and I have both supported Edwards, and we've been discussing what his goal might be, now that the nomination seems to have slipped away for good. As I mentioned yesterday, Edwards still seemed energized during his concession speech on Saturday night, as if he were a man on a mission. But what, I wondered, was the mission?

Liam commented, "I'm trying to figure out Edwards as well at this point. Has he gone completely Quixotic or does he have something up his sleeve?"

Well, moments after reading Liam's comment's, I came across the following at Rassmussen Reports: "Attorney General Edwards?" Lord knows I hate linking to a Robert Novak column, but I did find the rumor interesting - and somewhat plausible. When I was ruminating on possible cabinet positions for Edwards, I somehow overlooked Attorney General. This is Novak's column in full:

Illinois Democrats close to Sen. Barack Obama are quietly passing the word that John Edwards will be named attorney general in an Obama administration.

Installation at the Justice Department of multimillionaire trial lawyer Edwards would please not only the union leaders supporting him for president but organized labor in general. The unions relish the prospect of an unequivocal labor partisan as the nation's top legal officer.

In public debates, Obama and Edwards often seem to bond together in alliance against front-running Sen. Hillary Clinton. While running a poor third, Edwards could collect a substantial bag of delegates under the Democratic Party's proportional representation. Edwards then could try to turn his delegates over to Obama in the still unlikely event of a deadlocked Democratic National Convention.
UPDATE: More on this from The Washington Post's "The Trail" blog:
John Edwards for Attorney General?

That's an idea that has been gaining currency among some of his closest supporters -- U.S. trial lawyers who gathered this weekend in Puerto Rico for an annual winter conference.

"I sure would hope there will be a role for him," said Gibson Vance, a Mongtomery, Ala., trial lawyer who has been a longtime friend and supporter of Edwards. "He would be a heck of a tough attorney general. Think about it."

Vance said he is still strongly supporting Edwards's presidential bid. But if that doesn't work out, he said many trial lawyers would like to see the eventual Democratic nominee find a role for Edwards on his or her team. Given Edwards's success as a litigator, they say, the AG job would be great fit.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

h/t NevadaDem at Daily Kos.

According to Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post, Ted Kennedy will announce his endorsement of Barack Obama on Monday at American University.

The elder Kennedy's decision came after weeks of mounting frustration with the Clintons over campaign tactics, particularly comments that seemed to carry racial overtones. Kennedy expressed those frustrations directly to former president Clinton, but to no apparent avail. Yesterday afternoon, as Obama was racking up a South Carolina rout, the former president compared his wife's chief opponent to Rev. Jesse Jackson, who won South Carolina twice, in 1984 and 1988, when it was a caucus state.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a front-page article this morning on Bill & Ted's recent exchanges: "Kennedy Chooses Obama, Spurning Plea by Clintons," by Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, rejecting entreaties from the Clintons and their supporters, is set to endorse Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid on Monday as part of an effort to lend Kennedy charisma and connections before the 22-state Feb. 5 showdown for the Democratic nomination.

Both the Clintons and their allies had pressed Mr. Kennedy for weeks to remain neutral in the Democratic race, but Mr. Kennedy had become increasingly disenchanted with the tone of the Clinton campaign, aides said. He and former President Bill Clinton had a heated telephone exchange earlier this month over what Mr. Kennedy considered misleading statements by Mr. Clinton about Mr. Obama, as well as his injection of race into the campaign.

The endorsement, which followed a public appeal on Mr. Obama’s behalf by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, was a blow to the Clinton campaign and pits leading members of the nation’s most prominent Democratic families against one another.

Mr. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, has worked closely with Mrs. Clinton, of New York, on health care and other legislation and has had a friendly relationship with both Clintons, but associates said he was intrigued by Mr. Obama’s seeming ability to inspire political interest in a new generation.
The article also mentions that three of Bobby Kennedy's children - Bobby Jr., Kerry and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend - are supporting Hillary Clinton. But their mother, Ethel Kennedy, evidently, liked Obama:
[N]ear the end of Mr. Obama’s first year in the Senate, Ethel Kennedy asked him to speak at a ceremony for her husband’s 80th birthday. At the time, she referred to Mr. Obama as “our next president.”

“I think he feels it. He feels it just like Bobby did,” Mrs. Kennedy said in an interview that day, comparing her late husband’s quest for social justice to Mr. Obama’s. “He has the passion in his heart. He’s not selling you. It’s just him.”
And, so, part of our American royalty pitted one against the other. It's interesting to see a friend and long-time supporter of the Clintons get so upset about their tactics over the last two weeks.

South Carolina and Beyond - The Democrats

Wow. Someone opened a big can of Whoop-Ass in South Carolina yesterday.

Obama - 295,091 - 55%
Clinton - 141,128 - 27%
Edwards - 93,552 - 18%
Kucinich - 551 - 0%

The delegate count: Obama 25, Clinton 12, Edwards 8.

It was an impressive win for Obama, especially after 10 days of ugly tactics by "the two-headed monster" (as the New York Post called the Clintons). Everyone always lauds Bill Clinton's political acumen (myself included), but did his tactics backfire this time? Or was South Carolina just the price paid for a successful longterm strategy? Have they turned Obama into a "black candidate" who can't win anywhere outside of the South? As one of the analysts said on TV last night, there had been questions earlier in the race if Obama was "black enough." The Clintons, she said, have made him black enough. Obama received an astounding 81% of the African-American vote in South Carolina. It's astounding because Hillary actually had more support among blacks only a short while ago.

After getting their asses kicked, the Clintons were graceful in defeat. Hillary fled the state and didn't bother to give a concession speech. Bill, the first Clinton to speak publicly after the results, said earlier in the day, "Well, Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88."

Just to clarify, the Associated Press reported: "Clinton campaign strategists denied any intentional effort to stir the racial debate. But they said they believe the fallout has had the effect of branding Obama as 'the black candidate,' a tag that could hurt him outside the South."

Well, thank goodness the Clintons are done with the race-baiting.

John Edwards finished in third place but vowed to stay in the race. Perhaps, after a few days to think things over, he actually will withdraw. Third-place finishes in Nevada and South Carolina mean any hope of the nomination - always a long shot - is really over. Watching his concession speech (not every candidate skips them), I was struck by the sense that he's a man on a mission. I just don't know what the mission is, exactly.

Still upbeat, he promised that those who are poor and unfortunate would have their voices heard, because he's staying in the race. I thought his strategy for a while was to stay close enough in case one of the top two candidates got into trouble and had to drop out. But that doesn't seem likely anymore. There have been articles about Edwards playing a king-maker role at the national convention. If he continues to gain delegates and neither Obama or Clinton have enough to win the nomination outright, Edwards would be in a powerful position. While I suppose that's a possibility, it doesn't seem likely to me. Does he want to be someone's vice president? That doesn't seem likely either. A nice cabinet position? Maybe. But can you really see Edwards wanting to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development? Last night, listening to him, it seemed like he had something in mind. Maybe just to raise the issue of poverty? I don't know. Though I hope he stays in the race, my gut feeling is that he will drop out, probably soon. But my gut feeling also told me the New York Jets (3-13) would be in the playoffs this year.

Though I continue to have serious questions about Obama as a candidate, I can't deny his impressive way with words. His victory speech last night may have been the best I've ever seen him give. While he continues with his hopeful message, it was mixed last night with a sense of righteous anger at what he's been through over the last two weeks. It worked well. He seemed tougher, to me, which I liked. At times last week, he seemed befuddled, unable to figure out how to handle the Clintons. With this speech, he seems to have found a way: Maintain the high road, keep focused on hope, but get a little angry at the cynical forces trying to deny or destroy that hope. Here are excerpts from the speech. [The video captures it better.]

[R]ight now, that status quo is fighting back with everything it’s got; with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face, whether those problems are health care they can’t afford or a mortgage they cannot pay.

We are up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as President comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to the White House. But we know that real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose – a higher purpose.

We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable or energy cleaner; it’s the kind of partisanship where you’re not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea – even if it’s one you never agreed with. That kind of politics is bad for our party, it’s bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.

We are up against the idea that it’s acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election. We know that this is exactly what’s wrong with our politics; this is why people don’t believe what their leaders say anymore; this is why they tune out. And this election is our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again.

And what we’ve seen in these last weeks is that we’re also up against forces that are not the fault of any one campaign, but feed the habits that prevent us from being who we want to be as a nation. It’s the politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon. A politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us. The assumption that young people are apathetic. The assumption that Republicans won’t cross over. The assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor, and that the poor don’t vote. The assumption that African-Americans can’t support the white candidate; whites can’t support the African-American candidate; blacks and Latinos can’t come together.

The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It’s not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white.

It’s about the past versus the future.

It’s about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that passes for politics today, or whether we reach for a politics of common sense, and innovation – a shared sacrifice and shared prosperity.

There are those who will continue to tell us we cannot do this. That we cannot have what we long for. That we are peddling false hopes.

But here’s what I know. I know that when people say we can’t overcome all the big money and influence in Washington, I think of the elderly woman who sent me a contribution the other day – an envelope that had a money order for $3.01 along with a verse of scripture tucked inside. So don’t tell us change isn’t possible.

When I hear the cynical talk that blacks and whites and Latinos can’t join together and work together, I’m reminded of the Latino brothers and sisters I organized with, and stood with, and fought with side by side for jobs and justice on the streets of Chicago. So don’t tell us change can’t happen.

When I hear that we’ll never overcome the racial divide in our politics, I think about that Republican woman who used to work for Strom Thurmond, who’s now devoted to educating inner-city children and who went out onto the streets of South Carolina and knocked on doors for this campaign. Don’t tell me we can’t change.

Yes we can change.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can seize our future.

And as we leave this state with a new wind at our backs, and take this journey across the country we love with the message we’ve carried from the plains of Iowa to the hills of New Hampshire; from the Nevada desert to the South Carolina coast; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope; and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people in three simple words:

Yes. We. Can.

One of the most exciting aspects about yesterday was the record turnout and what it could mean in a general election:
"More than 532,000 people cast ballots yesterday in a state that hasn't voted for the Democrat in the presidential general election in three decades. That is almost double the number who voted in the 2004 primary and 100,000 more than voted in the Republican contest a week earlier."
An interesting note: Though I haven’t seen any news yet, the polls in South Carolina were actually more off target than they were in New Hampshire. Just to give one example, Zogby, which has probably been registering the most accurate numbers in the primaries, had Obama at 41%, +/- 3.4 percentage points in their final poll on Friday. If you take into account the margin of error, Zogby still underestimated Obama's vote by 11%. In New Hampshire, Zogby underestimated Hillary Clinton’s numbers by 6.6%. This was true of other polling outfits as well. I suppose because the outcome was the same as expected, unlike in New Hampshire, no one bothered to mention it.

In both New Hampshire and South Carolina, a higher-than-expected turnout seems to have caused pollsters problems, but only in regards to the ultimate winner. Evidently, last-minute momentum swings for a particular candidate have been dramatic. For the other candidates, the poll numbers in both cases were fairly accurate.

And, if you somehow missed it, Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama today in an Op-Ed in the New York Times, "A President Like My Father."
OVER the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

Senator Obama is running a dignified and honest campaign. He has spoken eloquently about the role of faith in his life, and opened a window into his character in two compelling books. And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

Going forward, it's clear that the Clintons have the advantage on Super Tuesday. Hillary is leading in three of the four major states: California, New York, and New Jersey. Obama leads by 2-to-1 in Illinois. But Obama has three things going for him:

1) I think the Clintons angered a lot of people last week, and not just African-Americans in South Carolina. Bill Clinton's tactics have been called undignified by many leaders within his own party. And the media seemed much more willing to challenge him on his statements. They actually seemed angered as well, with a number of pointed articles and columns about his actions. (One of my favorites: Jon Meachem, Editor of Newsweek, appearing on Jon Stewart's show, said, "Now we have the husband running around loose. He's sort of King Lear with a southern accent.Wandering around out there ")

2) Obama's victory in South Carolina was enormous. Unlike all of the other contests to this point, this one wasn't even close. And it's not just about Obama getting 81% of the black vote. He also beat Hillary 2-to-1 among younger white voters, and did well in a race against a white male who was born in South Carolina (Edwards) and a white female. He won every age category, beating Hillary overall among 18-49 year-olds by almost a 3-to-1 margin. The huge turnout and the excitement of such a big win will be a big boost in the next ten days.

3) Obama has the momentum right now, among leading Democrats (Daschle and Kerry both slammed Bill Clinton last week for his tactics, and Ted Kennedy is about to endorse Obama), among the media (though they're not supposed to take sides, I think they were turned off by the Clintons over the last two weeks), and among the public. He has the money to compete across all of the states. And I think he's found his way to take on the Clintons.

It probably won't be enough to come out ahead on Super Tuesday, but I don't think Hillary Clinton will be so far ahead that Obama won't be able to compete afterwards. This is shaping up to be a long race.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Recent Screenings

Well, art is art, isn't it?
On the other hand, water is water.
And east is east and west is west,
and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce,
they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.

Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know.

Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers

A bit of a dry spell in my ongoing exploration of the cinematic universe. Seems like it's been two months of good but not particularly great films, along with several mediocre efforts, and one genuinely awful excuse of a motion picture. Some notes from the journey . . . .

I Am Legend (2007) - When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was The Omega Man, based on Richard Matheson's 1954 novel, I Am Legend. Scared the hell out of me in a most delicious way. It was one of those dark, gritty sci-fi films that were so popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Everybody was terrified of overpopulation (the "global warming" of its day) and just becoming aware of our destruction of the environment. Throw in all your revolutions, Vietnam, riots across America, assassinations . . . it all added up to a string of apocalyptic flicks like The Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and The Omega Man, all of which starred Charlton Heston. (Is it any wonder he became Mr. Gun after surviving all that?!)

When I saw the previews for I Am Legend, also based on Matheson's novel, I wasn't impressed. Just another big, probably awful Hollywood remake of a film I once loved. I mean, come on, the Fresh Prince of Bell Air carrying the whole burden of the end of the world? But a friend of mine highly recommended it (thanks, Paul), and said it had to be seen on a big screen, so La Reina and I headed off to the AMC 17 at some vague Long Island mall to watch the end of the world. A matinee. The day was still bright and sunny. When we came out 2 1/2 hours later, evening had descended, and I was freaking out, because I knew those shrieking, rabid mutants from the film were just waiting to tear us to shreds before we could get to the car. So, yes, it was fun.

The opening sequences take place in the empty streets of New York City, three years after some mysterious and apparently total catastrophe. Grasses and weeds have grown up between rusty, abandoned automobiles, and herds of deer run wild. Will Smith, the lone survivor, and Sam, his faithful dog, are on a hunting party, chasing after the deer in his bright red muscle car. These scenes of the city are stunning, and, as Paul had said, should be seen on a big screen. The whole eerie atmosphere of the film is a cinematic wonder. A little too much CGI at times, especially with the animals and the freaky mutants, but post-Apocalypse New York looks damned impressive.

Of course, it turns out that Will and Sam aren't alone. New York is also home now to "hives" of freaky mutants who only come out at night. (They were vampires in the original novel - here they're more like zombies crossed with rabid wolves.) Now, coward that I am, I would hit the road, head out west some place where these "night-seekers" wouldn't have anywhere to hide in large bunches during the day, and try to make my stand there, but not Robert Neville (Will Smith). Neville is a military scientist who tried to stop the mystery virus from spreading in its early stages, and, now that everybody's dead, is still working on a cure. He's obsessed. Conducting experiments, making reports, keeping himself in shape to fight the mutants. For fun, he's going through every single DVD at a local rental place. (He's up to the 'G's, so he hasn't gotten to The Omega Man.)

Even Charlton Heston had mutants he could converse with. The ones here just shriek, so Will Smith just has Sam and some mannequins he can talk to. As the film progresses, you realize how much the loneliness is getting to him. Through a series of flashbacks (and some taped news shows that Neville watches over breakfast), we slowly learn how this dreadful situation came about. It's all handled fairly well, though I love a good catastrophic viral mystery and could've used a little more of the back story. And I was wrong about Smith - I'm not sure who else could carry this film on his shoulders the way he does. It's impressive work. Though some credit has to go to Abby, the German shepherd playing Sam. Damn fine canine acting.

There are some problems with the movie. You will wonder afterwards about some plot holes and implausible turns. And I know one sci-fi fan who didn't like the ending. But if you don't take the movie too seriously (I mean, it's only the end of the world), and don't expect too much, it's a pretty good ride that has a power of its own. I always respect a film that lingers afterwards, and this one has a certain dreadful sadness that carried over to the next morning, despite a dose of Marx Brothers and a night of sleep. And 24 hours later, as the sun vanished and evening opened up its wicked maw, I was still waiting for the mutants to come.

RECOMMENDED, especially for fans of those 1960s/70s sci-films, and for New Yorkers. Should really be seen on a big screen, but should hold up fairly well on DVD.

Animal Crackers (1931) - Most cinephiles say Duck Soup is the greatest Marx Brothers movie, and I'm not about to argue with them. How can one argue against Duck Soup?! But I've always been a little partial to Animal Crackers, the Marx Brothers' second film, based on their Broadway show written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind.

Perhaps because they had performed this material on stage so often, the brothers seem perfectly at ease with the fast-paced insanity that ensues when Captain Spaulding (Groucho) returns from an African expedition to a party given in his honor. Don't watch it while you're tired, because this baby moves at 90 miles an hour. Mathematical research has proven that the first 2/3 of Animal Crackers contains the greatest ratio of brilliant wit per minute than any other motion picture. At times, the hilarious and intelligent lines are spilling out so fast that you have to stop and rewind the DVD. (Okay, not "rewind." Whatever one does to a DVD to make it go backwards.)

There are numerous classic lines and routines: "I shot an elephant in my pajamas;" the seven-cent nickel; "I see figgers, strange figgers, weird figgers;" and "Signor Ravelli's first selection will be 'Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping' with a male chorus." The list goes on and on. (For a good laugh, check out the Memorable Quotes at IMDB.)

More than any other Marx Brothers' film, Animal Crackers achieves a perfect balance between the potent combination of intelligent wit, physical slapstick, surrealism, and poetry that Groucho, Chico and Harpo brought to the screen. The action slows down (to normal) later in the film, with some musical interludes that include Chico's hilarious routine at the piano and Harpo's turn at the harp, but you almost need the breather after the first furious 2/3. All in all, if I had to show one Marx Brothers' film to someone who wanted to know what they were all about, this might be my choice. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006) - Directed by Steven Shainberg, starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise out of my recent screenings. Strange, poetic, and intelligently done, Fur imagines the crucial turning point in the life of photographer Diane Arbus. Daughter of wealthy New York furriers, Arbus begins the film as a 1950's housewife and capable assistant to her husband Allan, a commercial photographer. Her desire to break out of her staid, bourgeois environment and follow a creative path of her own coincides with the arrival of a mysterious, partially masked stranger who moves upstairs in the same building.

Arbus seems both frightened and intrigued by the new neighbor, and the film unfolds at times with the suspense of a horror movie before settling into a strange, lovely space somewhere between Cocteau's La Belle et la bête, Alice in Wonderland, and the off-kilter atmosphere of Arbus' own weirdly beautiful photography. Robert Downey Jr. delivers what may be his best performance ever as Leonard, the mysterious neighbor who's stricken with an unusual condition. Kidman does equally well as Arbus, restrained but yearning to break free, in love with her husband but driven by her creative inner life. The relationship between Leonard and Diane is rather bizarre, funny, and ultimately transformational.

Steven Shainberg directed the well-regarded,"quirkily erotic" Secretary, but Fur seems like a more mature, artistically assured work. Though it tips over a bit into sentimentality at the very end, this is a special and quietly powerful film. Strange, slyly funny, freaky, darkly delightful and ultimately touching. RECOMMENDED.

I Walked With a Zombie (1943) - Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre turned into an atmospheric 1940's zombie film. What more do you want? Directed by Jacques Tourneur, who also gave us one of the greatest film noirs of all time - Out of the Past - and the original Cat People. Delicious black and white photography by J. Roy Hunt, wit lots of crisp shadows, and light cutting harshly through slats of venetian blinds. Curt Siodmak, the screenwriter, also wrote The Wolf Man, The Beast with Five Fingers, and Earth versus the Flying Saucers. Frances Dee plays the heorine. A fun B-movie with some artistic touches, it's worth the 77 minutes of your time. Hell, it's Jane Eyre as a zombie flick! What more do you want?!

Ratatouille (2007) - Disney family film about rat infestations. Politically correct message about respecting those who are . . . uh . . . different. For some reason, though, the image of hundreds of rodents in a kitchen, climbing around on the food, just didn't seem that cute to me. Animation's good, everything else standard or clichéd. Set in Paris but might as well have been in Cleveland for the lack of any French flavor beyond a few long-exhausted stereotypes. (How about some nice French chanson, for one thing?) The Disney bean-counters probably thought rats would seem more palatable if they came from Paris. I prefer my rats mean and nasty and eating Ernest Borgnine alive.

Frances Dee, star of I Walked With a Zombie. She was married to actor Joel McCrea for 57 years.

Flightplan (2005) - You're better off canceling this flight and taking the train - like the one in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938), which Flightplan greedily rips off without bothering to acknowledge. Jodie, Jodie, Jodie. Didn't you bother reading the script before you signed on to this project? Did anyone bother reading this script? Wasn't there one person among the film crew or within Touchstone Pictures who could see that this was an impossibly dumb plot? A $55,000,000 budget and nobody in Los Angeles could do better than this?

Too bad, because the first 30 minutes show some promise. A cool, mysterious atmosphere in a foreign setting, with some appropriately moody music. And Jodie's a good actress. But then, you know, there had to be a story at some point. Jodie's husband dies and she has to take his body back to the U.S. Somehow, on the long flight, her daughter disappears. That part's fine - not new, but not necessarily stupid. The plot, however, gets sillier and sillier as the film progresses, and after a while you want to smack Jodie Foster for her character and her acting and getting into this dumb movie to begin with. It's like she's trying to be the new Sandra Bullock or something. Sean Bean is the only actor in the film who manages to impress, maintaining a dignity on-screen than seems disproportionate to the ridiculousness of what's going on around him. And by the end, it has become stunningly ridiculous. Then you really want to start smacking people, particularly the screenwriter.

But as bad as the script was for Flightplan, it pales in comparison to . . . .

The Fountainhead (1949) - Directed by King Vidor, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. One of the most dreadful films I've ever seen. Still not sure why I bothered sitting through it all, except for some morbid fascination in watching an actor I like (Cooper) struggle through a train wreck of a movie. (The train, evidently, loaded down with animal waste product.) Plus, at some point, I realized I wanted to write about this travesty, so I felt obliged to actually watch the damn thing. La Reina and I grew giddy with laughter as the movie progressed. By the end, we were almost disoriented.

The blame rests entirely on Ayn Rand's relentlessly preachy, pretentious, joyless, and ridiculous script, maybe the worst screenplay ever written for a major Hollywood motion picture. She makes Michael Moore and Oliver Stone look like Masters of Subtlety. Poor Gary Cooper. As architect Howard Roark, he struggles to turn her didactic twaddle into human dialogue, but the film is a fiasco from start to finish. A two-hour sermon that defeats all of the actors, who sound stiff (Cooper) or overact (everyone else) in order to compensate for the silly words they're forced to speak. At one point, it felt like watching a bad foreign film dubbed into English. There are a few moments of camp pleasure - Patricia Neal ogling Gary Cooper's power-drill (start at 1:00) - but they're few and far between. The best part of the movie is the cinematography. I suppose if you're a King Vidor fanatic, and a completist, you might have to watch this. Otherwise, as New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote at the time of the film's release : "'The Fountainhead' is a picture which you don't have to see to disbelieve."

[I stole "twaddle" from Crowther's original review. Great word, twaddle.]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Published in The New Yorker October 15, 2007

Bill Clinton: 'Screw It, I'm Running For President'

CHARLESTON, SC—After spending two months accompanying his wife, Hillary, on the campaign trail, former president Bill Clinton announced Monday that he is joining the 2008 presidential race, saying he "could no longer resist the urge."

"For too long has this nation been deprived of a Bill Clinton presidency, and for too long have I been deprived of being president. Now I get to experience all these wonderful things again myself."

"And the applause," Clinton added. "I look forward to the endless roar of applause perhaps most of all."

Since his announcement two days ago, Clinton has raised a staggering $550 million. He has also surged in national polls, rising from a mere 2 percent prior to his candidacy to a commanding 94 percent, ahead of former front-runners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who are now tied with 3 percent each. John Edwards withdrew from the race Tuesday, saying only, "I am not worthy."

Read all the shocking news here!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Obama Wins Nevada

In case you missed it in all the media coverage of the Nevada Caucus, Obama actually won more delegates.

AP: On the Democratic side, Clinton claimed the Nevada vote as a victory. "This is one step on a long journey," Clinton told cheering supporters in Las Vegas. She captured the popular vote, but Obama edged her out for national convention delegates at stake, taking 13 to her 12.

Howard Wolfson, communications director for Clinton, in The Washington Post on Wednesday, "This is a race for delegates. . . . It is not a battle for individual states."

Although they haven't said anything yet, I'm sure the New York Times, The Washington Post and other professional news organizations will cover this minor detail at some point. Right?

Total Delegate Count through the Nevada Caucus:
Obama - 38
Clinton - 36
Edwards - 18

UPDATE: The New York Times finally tackled the subject:

[T]he delegate count under the intricate rules of the caucuses appeared to favor Mr. Obama because of his support from a wide swath of the state, giving him 13 delegates compared with 12 for Mrs. Clinton.

In a statement, Mr. Obama noted that he had received one more delegate in Nevada than Mrs. Clinton because of a strong performance in precincts outside Las Vegas.

“We came from over 25 points behind to win more national convention delegates than Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Obama said, “because we performed well all across the state, including rural areas where Democrats have traditionally struggled.”

Strategists from both campaigns, as well as the Nevada Democratic Party, were poring over the returns several hours after the caucuses concluded. If the Democratic presidential race becomes a bare-knuckle fight to the nominating convention in August, the extra delegate for Mr. Obama could prove as important to him as the momentum that Mrs. Clinton might receive from winning the most votes in the state.

Still waiting on The Post.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dr. King

I'm re-posting this, because it's one of the most beautiful and moving videos I've encountered on YouTube. Kudos to "jarfilled," who produced it. His title is "Martin Luther King: From Birmingham to D.C." Run time is only 6:29. Music: DeVotchKa

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Martin Luther King III on Hillary's Comment

Martin Luther King III at Riverside Church in New York City, January 15, 2007.

I've actually been wondering what he thought about it all.

From today's Boston Globe article, "King's son says Clinton erred," by David Abel:

King, son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, said he thought the controversy had been blown out of proportion. However, he also said that Clinton's words were potentially denigrating.

"I wish it was said in a different way," he said before addressing a packed Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, where his father once preached.

He added later: "What I think, fundamentally, is that, between the media and the two candidates, a lot is being stirred up. What I assume she was trying to say is that a president needs leadership and vision. I don't believe her intent was to diminish my dad."

In an interview after his address, King said he has not ruled out making an endorsement in the presidential campaign.

"I've been neutral," he said. "I don't know if that's going to change. I was very excited about the fact that Senator Obama was able to win the Iowa primary. I think that was extremely significant. I'm not endorsing anyone at this point. You don't ever want to say you're not going to, but some of that will be a family decision."

He said he wants to see "the best candidate emerge to the top."

"We're blessed to have three candidates still in the race on the Democratic side who would make great presidents," he said. "On the Republican side, I'm not as clear. What I mean by that is that I haven't seen them come forward and embrace the agenda for black and poor people."

Interestingly, a year ago yesterday, King III was introducing John Edwards at an address Edwards gave at Riverside Church in New York City.

From Associated Press, January 15, 2007:
Edwards addressed about 1,200 parishioners Sunday at Riverside Church, a multiracial, politically active Manhattan congregation where King delivered his famous "Beyond Vietnam" speech on April 4, 1967. King was assassinated exactly one year later.

Edwards spoke from the same wooden pulpit King used and was introduced by King's son, Martin Luther King III. The younger King said his father would have admired Edwards' commitment to fighting poverty.

The Las Vegas Democratic Debate

After Tuesday night's debate, Frank Luntz at Fox News led a focus group from Las Vegas of thirty undecided Nevada Democrats. John Edwards did the best among the candidates.


"How many of you thought John Edwards won?" [1/2 crowd raises hand]

"How many of you came in supporting Senator Edwards?" [About 3 people raise hand]

"On issue after issue, we're going to show this to you tomorrow night, his language actually scored better than Senator Clinton and Senator Obama."

[Fox News, 1/15/08]

Hat tip to Susie Madrak for the lead.

Her take: "Not that it will actually change the media coverage, but I thought you’d like to know."


Friday, January 11, 2008

The Race Card and the Gender Card

UPDATE: The New York Times has a front-page article this morning, entitled, "Race and Gender Issues Erupt In a Tense day for Democrats." This is getting ugly, folks.

I have to respond to a comment in the article made by Geraldine Ferraro:

“As soon anybody from the Clinton campaign opens their mouth in a way that could make it seem as if they were talking about race, it will be distorted,” Mrs. Ferraro said. “The spin will be put on it that they are talking about race.”
This remark is untrue and unbecoming of Ferraro, if you ask me. So far, Obama and his supporters have responded to very specific comments made by the Clintons or their campaign people. 1) Andrew Cuomo saying you can't "shuck and jive" at a press conference. 2) Hillary's comment about Martin Luther King. 3) The reprehensible email sent out by a Clinton campaign staffer in Iowa claiming Obama was secretly a Muslim who studied in a Madrasa and used the Koran at his swearing-in ceremony. 4) A questionable comment made by Billy Shaheen, the co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire about Obama's drug use. (Shaheen was fired afterwards.) 5) A comment made yesterday by Bob Johnson, one of Hillary's biggest African-American supporters, suggesting that Obama may have been dealing drugs. 6) Bill Clinton's comment about Obama's campaign being a "fairy tale."

According to Ferraro, it sounds like Obama and his supporters are just supposed to keep their mouths shut if the Clintons make questionable comments that could be insulting to people of color.

ORIGINAL POST: A series of statements by Hillary and Bill Clinton have ignited controversy within the African-American community. In my previous post, I mentioned Hillary's comment about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, and it has - unsurprisingly - grown into a much bigger issue in the last 48 hours.

But that's not the only statement that has upset African-Americans, and some are now claiming a purposeful attempt on the part of the Clinton campaign to introduce the race card into the 2008 Election. While I thought that race would raise its ugly head in the presidential campaign, I'm a little surprised that it's becoming an issue in the Democratic Primaries, rather than in the general election.

Like others, I was stunned by Hillary's comment that "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. . . . It took a president to get it done." (Here's a video of her making the comment.)

By itself, at any other time, that would be a stunningly stupid remark. Kind of like "Jesus' dream began to be realized when Pontius Pilate passed the Crucifixion Order. . . . It took a Roman governor to get it done." Johnson and Kennedy, left to their own devices, would never have done anything for the blacks without the pressure of King and the civil rights movement. Not when so much of the Democratic Party at that time was made up of racist southern whites.

But to make this statement when running against an African-American candidate, especially just before a primary vote in South Carolina, where 50% of the Democratic voters are black, seems incomprehensibly dumb. It's also a strange thing to say in an election where the public has made it clear that it distrusts politicians and wants a big change. Hillary seems to be saying that it wasn't really a courageous black minster who brought about a change in civil rights, but a white politician.

My first thought was: How could the Clintons - so expert in politics - do something so colossally dumb and seemingly amateurish?

Needless to say, the remark didn't go down well with African-Americans.

Yesterday, the New York Times, with a front-page headline, "Clinton's Comments Annoy a Black Leader," (the title differs on the web), reported that the highest ranking African-American in Congress, Rep. James E. Clyburn, from South Carolina, found the remark "as distorting civil rights history" and was reconsidering his neutral stance in the primary.
“We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics,” said Mr. Clyburn, who was shaped by his searing experiences as a youth in the segregated South and his own activism in those days. “It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal.”
The New York Sun, in its article "Slight of King Could Linger for Voters," reported on other reactions among African-American political figures:
Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Democrat who represents Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and who is supporting Mr. Obama, said, "I got calls from constituents and from other elected officials and from pastors who were surprised." . . .

Mrs. Clinton's words could affect the outcome of the campaign, particularly in the religious community. King, after all, was not only a black leader but an ordained minister.

"I believe churches are very sensitive to the language we use," Mr. Camara said. "This can have a tremendous impact in increasing their level of churches in going out and supporting Senator Obama." . . .

"I thought her comments were not only out of line but it seemed to me to be desperate and a misreading of history," the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, Michael Meyers, said. "To say that President Lyndon Johnson was the one who did that when we know he could not do that without President Kennedy's assassination and death and the change in the national mood on civil rights is astonishingly ignorant." He added that the statement was also "ignorant of the participation of everyday people, including Dr. King."

The debate could get additional mileage with the approach of Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday that this year is observed Monday, January 21. A national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, Niger Innis, attributed Mrs. Clinton's statement to her determination to block Mr. Obama's rise and save the nomination for herself. "It seems to me Hillary was trying anything to stop the momentum that seemed unstoppable until yesterday at 10 o'clock," Mr. Innis said.

And the comment wasn't getting any better play among African-American bloggers. In Hillary and Bill Clinton Invoke "Race Card" Into 2008 U.S. Presidential Campaign, African American Political Pundit wrote:
This is not the first time the Clinton's actually invoked race into the contest to beat Obama. It's unfortunate that "Team Clinton" have been able to inject racial tension into what should have been — and still should be — an uplifting contest. They have actually implemented a strategy of racial divide. As reported in the blog A Moderate Voice and Jack and Jack and Jill Politics, The Clinton's have used very cloaked racial terms, comparing Obama to MLK while Hillary Clinton was LBJ who, you know, was the one who actually got things done. The Clinton's also have their buddy Andrew Cuomo out there acting a fool saying to Obama: 'You Can't Shuck And Jive' at a press conf. Now Team Clinton is going south in order to explain to black voters that if they, black voters, have the audacity to hope that Obama will be the real first black President, black voters dreams and Obama 's audity to run for President is nothing but a “Fantasy.”
As AAPP mentioned, it wasn't just the King-Johnson comment, but a series of recent statments that have raised suspicion among African-Americans. From Ben Smith's Politico article, "Racial tensions roil Democratic race":
“A cross-section of voters are alarmed at the tenor of some of these statements,” said Obama spokeswoman Candice Tolliver, who said that Clinton would have to decide whether she owed anyone an apology.

“There’s a groundswell of reaction to these comments — and not just these latest comments but really a pattern, or a series of comments that we’ve heard for several months,” she said. “Folks are beginning to wonder: Is this really an isolated situation, or is there something bigger behind all of this?” . . . .

“For him to go after Obama, using a ‘fairy tale,’ calling him as he did last week, it's an insult. And I will tell you, as an African-American, I find his tone and his words to be very depressing,” Donna Brazile, a longtime Clinton ally who is neutral in this race, said on CNN earlier this week.

Asked in an e-mail from Politico about the situation Friday, she responded by sending over links to five cases in which the Clintons and their surrogates talked about Obama, along with a question: “Is Clinton using a race-baiting strategy against Obama?”
Pretty strong language coming from a "longtime Clinton ally."

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) - From Houston, Texas - the first African-American woman from the south to be elected to Congress.

There's also an uncomfortable feeling that the battle between Clinton and Obama could begin to turn on an axis of gender versus race.

This week, Gloria Steinem wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times entitled, "Women Are Never Front-Runners," in which she said:
"Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter)."
Which led blogger Angry Black Bitch to respond in "I'm Worried Too, Ms. Steinem...":
I think of the women and men in my family who were not extended the protected vote until 1965. I wince at the lack of acknowledgment for the black women of Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery who had to march with their brothers in the 1960s to attain the vote because the suffrage movement abandoned them in a Southern strategy to get the vote in 1920. . . .

This isn’t an easy post to write. I am a proud black feminist who holds a deep respect for feminist leaders and has done a lot of inner work to come to terms with feminism’s history with race and class.

Yeah, this is not an easy post to write...but a sistah’s got to do what a sistah’s got to do. . . .

After reading Steinem’s Op-Ed I felt if black and woman can’t exist in the same body. I felt undocumented…as if the history of blacks and the history of women have nothing to do with the history of black women. . . .

When I consider Steinem's “So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?” I’m left confused.

What country does Gloria live in where race barriers are taken seriously? I’d love to know…shit, maybe I’ll move there. But I’m a black woman and this is America where none of my barriers are given more than a token consideration and I’ll present this Op-Ed as exhibit A in that argument.

Steinem goes on to say, “I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.”

But this article is soaked in the fluid of competition. It reeks of frustration that I fear is born from a place of entitlement even though it is dressed in the language of the oppressed. And I’ll point out again, the suffrage movement progressed without racial or true class unity and many a sister were damaged by that division.

We should remember that, but first we have to know it.

What worries me is that Gloria bought that bullshit about Obama’s race being a unifying factor. C’mon now, these are early dates yet and campaign operatives have already taken a dip in the race baiting pool. Not for one second do I believe that the unifying power of Senator Obama’s blackness will not eventually collide with the same elegant condescension contained in Steinem's Op-Ed.

What worries me is that this is kind of article that makes some black women wary of feminism…wary of the sisterhood…because eventually, just give it time, it will all come down to black and white or women and men with black women vanished from the equation.

What worries me is the ease with which Ms. Steinem tossed out the insult of implying that Iowans, when faced with a black male candidate, went with that candidate because they are somehow more comfortable with black male leadership than female leadership. It begs the question how John Edwards failed to win by a landslide.

What worries me is that the author is frustrated that Obama hasn’t been accused of playing the race card for his civil rights references and feels that Hillary is getting a raw deal when she gets accused of playing the gender card. Let’s keep it real…Steinem is just frustrated about that race card because a black man is supposed to get called on that shit and she didn’t give permission for any rule change.

What worries me is the patronizing tone with which Steinem dismisses the choices of young women voters. Is it any wonder that young women pause before embracing the feminist movement? Steinem concludes that young women are not radical yet. Will she conclude the same of black women should Clinton lose South Carolina?

I agree with Ms. Steinem that we have to be able to say that we are supporting her, a woman candidate, "because she would be a great president and because she is a woman."

But we also have to be able to say I’m not supporting her because I’ve evaluated her and examined her resume without being labeled a victim or self hating or not radical enough or not feminist enough or easily dazzled by great oratory skills or more black than woman or just too darn stupid to do what Ms. Steinem thinks we should do.
I find the the possibility that race and gender could be played off each other in the Democratic primaries to be profoundly disturbing. (Though not entirely surprising.) Maybe it's good practice for the general election. If either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama receives the nomination, it's only going to get worse when the Republicans come after them. But this would be a particularly ugly situation if race and gender issues keep coming up "within the family." The last thing the Democrats need is to batter each other in such an undignified way in the primaries.

I've made it clear that I don't really like Hillary and Bill Clinton. I've tried my best to give her a fair shake, reading her book so that I could understand her better, looking for the good aspects in her as a candidate - her experience, her genuine concern for women and children. But I believe the burden of responsibility falls squarely on the Clintons right now. I'm not ready to say that the race card or gender card are being used on purpose because they're freaking out over Obama's success. But for a privileged white woman in a position of power to make a needlessly stupid remark that denigrates Martin Luther King is a major concern. For another priveleged white woman and Clinton supporter, Gloria Steinem, writing in the nation's paper of record in a way that does seem to pit race against gender is a major concern. For a white former president to call an African-American candidate's campaign a "fairy tale" is a major concern.

There was absolutely no reason for Hillary to use the Martin Luther King-Lyndon Johnson relationship as a means of stressing the importance of political experience. She could've brought up thousands of other examples. There's absolutely no reason for Gloria Steinem to bring up race in a competitive way when writing about the real problem of sexism. Even if these moves weren't intentional, they were both stupid and disrespectful, not just of African-Americans but of all people of color who've had to struggle their entire lives in this country, and in some cases been lynched, burned to death, raped, tortured or murdered trying to bring about change. If not the worst of political ploys, they show disregard and ignorance on the part of privileged white people in power.

In that light, whatever my reservations about Barack Obama, I much prefer his talk of working together with hope to bring about needed change. Maybe it is naive in the political process, but it's a far better alternative than cynically playing the race card or the gender card, or being too out-of-touch with ordinary people of whatever beautiful color who yearn to live the lives that we were ALL created to live.

On that note, I'll let Martin finish out . . .
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Polling Thing in New Hampshire

CNN pollsters hard at work

So, the media's freaking out because they say the polls were terribly wrong in New Hampshire. But, really, they're paying about as much attention to the numbers now as they did before the primary.

I highly recommend reading, "New Hampshire: So What Happened?," by Mark Blumenthal, Editor/Publisher of It's the best article I've come across on the subject.

If you look at the last polls before New Hampshire, and look at the actual results, and you take into account the "margin of error" that the polls always mention and everyone always ignores, the numbers for all of the candidates in each party were on target.

With the single exception of Hillary Clinton.

And I think that can be easily explained by the fact that Diebold machines were used for the voting and the Clintons hacked into the system.

I'm kidding.

Well, I'm kidding about the Clintons hacking the system. Although, some bloggers are shouting "Fraud!" And one blogger claims "Those Diebold op-scan machines are the exact same ones that were hacked in the HBO documentary, Hacking Democracy." And, now that I think about it, Hillary did compare herself to Lyndon Johnson the other day, though I still can't figure out why. She said that Martin Luther King Jr. may have had the dream, but it was President Johnson that brought about the change with the Voting Rights Act. Which is about the stupidest remark I've heard in the entire campaign. Why a woman who voted for the Iraq War would want to compare herself to LBJ, while comparing Obama to Dr. King is really beyond me, as much as I think LBJ was a better president than he's given credit for. But now that I've spoken poorly of Mrs. Clinton and planted seeds of doubt about her victory, what about the real story?

The question is: Why were her numbers so far off? Some last-minute swing? The choking-up thing? Women feeling sorry for her? Actually, several of the 3-day polls, if you look at them more closely, showed Hillary gaining significant ground the last day or so. But they were 3-day polls, so the numbers didn't reflect that momentum much.

Jeff brought up the problem of cell phones not being counted in polls, and that is a concern in general. I would argue, though, that by excluding cell phones, which are used more by younger people, the numbers - if the were really impacted - would have been better for Obama in the end, as many of his supporters would've been ignored before the primary.

New Hampshire had a huge amount of voters who didn't make up their minds until the last day - 17% for the Democrats and 19% for the Republicans. And 21% more of the Democrats didn't make up their minds until the last 3 days. So, 38% of the Democratic voters didn't know until the end. Hard to poll that.

I crunched some numbers, and McCain got 38,000 votes from people who made their minds up in the last day or last 3-days. Obama lost by 7,500 votes. A lot of Independents were torn between McCain and Obama, and I think Barack lost some votes that way, because people thought he was far enough ahead that it didn't matter. But again, his numbers were actually on target.

So, something last-minute got missed in Hillary's numbers. As time goes on, I'm sure more thorough explanations will be forthcoming.

Pollsters certainly aren't perfect, but a lot of the blame lies on the way the media covers the polls, and on us for not paying more attention ourselves. I'm not that worried about the polling. It is what it is. You wanna bet on horse racing using only speed ratings? Go ahead. But those numbers are only part of the picture.

What happened in New Hampshire is probably a good thing, because pollsters will have to be even more careful and attentive with their polling, reporters and pundits will actually have to look more closely at the numbers, and the rest of us will have to take these things with a bigger grain of salt. That's never bad.

It's My Fault

Bill Richardson has dropped out of the race.

Back in the fall, Bill was gaining momentum. He had pulled into a 3rd-place tie with Obama in some Iowa polls and even moved ahead of Edwards in some New Hampshire polls.

Then I posted about a possible Richardson surge. (It wasn't even my phrase.)

Here's a graphic showing Richardson's polling graph on the day I posted.

Lookin' good.

Here's his final Iowa poll graph:

I got out my magnifying glass and checked to see the date when he started to plateau and then tank. It was the day after my post.

I'm so sorry, Bill. If I had just kept my big mouth shut, none of this would've happened.

I still think you were the best candidate.

Despite the doddering and confused comments of some of my fellow bloggers. Philistines! :-)

This is my lot in life - to root for the losers. There's only been one Presidential election since I started voting in 1984 in which my candidate won, and I didn't even like the guy. I'm thinking of offering up my services to candidates who want to do in their opponents. Pay me $50,000, and I promise to root for the other guy (or gal). Guaranteed loss for the candidate I support or your money back.

So, as I consider which candidate to throw my influential weight behind, I'm torn. Do I want to see Edwards or Obama fail? Perhaps I should get cozy with the Romney campaign.

Uh . . . by the way . . . Bill, do you still need that last contribution I sent? If not . . . you know . . .

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

News and No News

Glenn Greenwald at Salon on the "Surge" you haven't heard about, and why:

Is there any distinction between what a "reporter" does and what a "pundit" does covering this campaign? There doesn't seem to be any.

As but one example, consider this new daily tracking poll today from Rasumussen Reports. At least according to this poll, it is true that there has been one candidate who has been genuinely surging in the last week or two among Democratic voters nationally -- John Edwards:

Edwards -- who, just one week ago, was 10 points behind Obama nationally among Democrats -- is now only two points behind him. Less than a month ago, he trailed Clinton by 29 points. Now it's 13 points. He is, by far, at his high point of support nationwide.

Yet to listen to media reports, Edwards doesn't even exist. His campaign is dead. He has no chance. They hate Edwards, hate his message, and thus rendered him invisible long ago, only now to declare him dead -- after he came in second place in the first caucus of the campaign.

There are certainly horse-race counterarguments to all of this. This is only one poll. Obama is ahead in New Hampshire, where his support has increased, etc. etc.

But I'm not focusing on the accuracy of horse-race predictions here, but instead, on the fact that the traveling press corps endlessly imposes its own narrative on the election, thereby completely excluding from all coverage plainly credible candidates they dislike (such as Edwards) while breathlessly touting the prospects of the candidates of whom they are enamored. Their predictions (i.e., preferences and love affairs) so plainly drive their press coverage -- the candidates they love are lauded as likely winners while the ones they hate are ignored or depicted as collapsing -- which in turn influences the election in the direction they want, making their predictions become self-fulfilling prophecies.

It's just all a completely inappropriate role for political reporters to play, yet it composes virtually the entirety of their election coverage.
And now for a newsflash from across the pond . . .

BBC: Recession in the US 'has arrived'
Times (London): Merrill calls US recession
Daily Telegraph: US recession is already here, warns Merrill
Banking giant warns US economy in recession

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .

New York Times: Bush Admits Economy Faces Challenges
“We cannot take growth for granted,” Mr. Bush said in a speech to a group of business leaders in which he acknowledged that “recent economic indicators have become increasingly mixed.”
On top of it all, the beloved Golden Globe Awards show has been canceled because of some scruffy, sushi-eating, latte-drinking, left-wing, pinko writers out on strike.

(In my book, anyone who can get an awards show canceled should be considered a HERO!)

But don't despair, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have returned.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Iowa and Beyond - The Democrats

As political sage David Bowie once said: "Ch-ch-ch-changes. . . ." Obviously, Barack Obama listened to early Bowie more than Hillary Clinton did. (That's not so hard to imagine, is it?) After a year of waiting and wondering, Iowa Democrats took the first concrete step in choosing a candidate for the 2008 Presidential Election, deciding that Change was more important than Experience. Obama won a stunning victory, with 38% of the complicated caucus vote. Clinton, the front-runner for all of 2007, wound up with a humbling third place finish, at 29%, just behind John Edwards, who pulled in 30%.

"Can Bring Change" was the Top Candidate Quality chosen by Iowa Democrats - 52% of them - according to CNN's survey of people entering the caucus on Thursday. That was far ahead of "Experience," which was most important for only 20%. Obama completely dominated the first quality, while Hillary dominated the second. In fact, Obama only got 5% of the vote among the latter group.

"Cares About People" was third most important quality, at 19%. Edwards dominated that quality and also did best among those who thought "Electability" was most important - but only 8% of the voters did.

Obama also won overwhelmingly among 17-29 year olds, receiving 57% of their vote, compared to 14% for Edwards, 11% for Hillary and 10% for Richardson. That's not really surprising, as Obama has been leading among younger voters for a long time; the biggest surprise was that the 17-29 year-olds actually got out and voted this time. They accounted for the same percentage of voters (22%) as the 65+ age group, a highly unusual result. One wonders if this portends another effect of the internet on political campaigns. Can MySpace and Second Life really get young people to hit the voting booths? Maybe more than I thought.

One of the most interesting aspects of Iowa was that voter turnout for Democrats was the highest ever recorded, and most of the new voters went for Obama. It will be interesting to see if new voters and younger voters continue to turn out in other states. If so, Obama will probably be the main beneficiary.

Interestingly, support by age for Obama and Clinton was directly converse: Obama's numbers went down as the voters got older - 57% of 17-29 year-olds, 42% for 30-44, 27% for 45-64, and only 18% for the 65+ group; whereas Hillary's numbers went up - 11% for 17-29, 23% for 30-44, 28% for 45-64, and 45% for 65+. Traditionally, this would be an advantage for Clinton, as voters have tended to be old white people, but this election might be different.

Then again, it might not be, and Obama may face trouble in the long run.

On the other hand, at least Barack has the rich folks behind him. In Iowa, he easily topped the other candidates among people with incomes of $100,000 or more, with 41% of their votes, compared to Edwards, who got 28%, and Clinton, who only received 19%.

And while John Edwards may care about the poor, the poor, it seems, don't really care about John Edwards. In fact, if I'm John Edwards, and I'm looking at the results from Iowa on Friday morning, I've got to wonder about the American Electorate. At least the folks in Iowa. (Or about my own ability to communicate my message.) As many commentators have pointed out, it has probably been decades since a major Democratic candidate has run a campaign as economically leftist as John Edwards. He has been the only candidate to talk consistently about poverty. He has attacked greedy corporations so much that the Des Moines Register refused to endorse him (after doing so in 2004) because of his "harsh anti-corporate rhetoric." He worked hard to court Labor Unions. His Health Care Plan has been touted by several left-leaning commentators. And Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, in her post-Iowa editorial, "Keep Edwards's Hope Alive, offered the following:

Some have compared Iowa's winner Barack Obama to JFK, and his elegant, broad-gauged and inspiring words of change and hope brought home the historic moment he embodies. Yet Edwards, in these last months, has reminded me of another Kennedy--Bobby--whose political and intellectual odyssey was linked to the passion and, yes, anger he felt as he witnessed grinding poverty in Appalachia and racist inequality in the barrios of the richest country in the world.
So how did Iowans respond? Among people who earn less than $15,000, Edwards did terribly, only getting 17% of the vote. (Obama got 37% of their vote and Clinton got 30%.) Edwards' best numbers, in fact, were among those making over %100,000. In terms of political ideology, Edwards did poorly among the most Liberal, only getting 16% support, compared to 40% for Obama and 24% for Clinton. Instead, he dominated among Democrats who consider themselves Conservative, getting 42% of their vote, compared to 22% for Clinton and 21% for Obama. This, of course, may simply mean that terms like "liberal" and conservative" now primarily mean "socially liberal" and "socially conservative," rather than having anything to do with economics.

But results from Union households were also bad for Edwards. Back in 1992, when Clinton I was just a governor from Arkansas, he promised Labor that he wouldn't support NAFTA, only to shove it through over their objections once he was president. So, naturally, Clinton II did well among Union households, receiving 30% of their support. Obama got 30%. Edwards, whose "anti-corporate rhetoric" was so harsh, only got 24%. Health Care? Edwards came in third again.

And despite taking an early and vocal stand against the war in Iraq, after his initial vote to support it, Edwards could only manage 17% among voters who thought Iraq was the most important issue. Hillary Clinton, who continued to support Bush and his war long after the rest of her party, received 26% of this vote.

Of course, these results are only for Iowa. There will probably be some differences from state-to-state as the primary season continues.

But there are definitely some interesting numbers to note. For example, Obama did better among women (35%) than Clinton did (30%). He also received the same percentage among male voters, whereas Clinton only received 23% from men. Edwards did equally well among both sexes.

Among African-American voters, Obama received 5 out 7 votes. The other two, Janice Jefferson and Trudy Vaughan of Des Moines, voted for Hillary.

(That was a joke. There were no results in CNN's Entrance Poll by race. Iowa is 91% white.)

While we can speculate a lot about what the Iowa results mean to the rest of the campaign, there was one concrete effect: Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd both dropped out of the race.

Who will their supporters go for now? Though their numbers aren't great - maybe 4% combined - a shift over to one candidate more than another could be important in a tight race, as New Hampshire is shaping up to be.

Richardson might also benefit from a smaller field. In New Hampshire, ABC is only including Obama, Edwards, Clinton and Richardson in their televised debate this weekend. Will Bill be able to stand out more now that he's only on stage with the other three? While he doesn't figure to do well in New Hampshire, he has said he hopes to last until the primaries move west, where he feels like he can be more competitive. My guess is that some of Biden's supporters might go towards Richardson because of his experience. Richardson actually came in second in Iowa among those who said Experience was their most important factor, and Biden also did well in that area, coming in third.

But again, there's the Bowie factor - Changes. People want a change.

Or at least the appearance of Change.

While Obama has, politically speaking, done the most to capitalize on the desire for change, is he really the candidate who could best accomplish the changes needed? Certainly being the first African-American President would be a huge and welcome change. But in terms of actually transforming policies that affect all of us, there are legitimate questions about Obama. Paul Krugman, in his December 17 New York Times column, "Big Table Fantasies," brought up the issue:
[T]here are large differences among the candidates in their beliefs about what it will take to turn a progressive agenda into reality.
At one extreme, Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics.”

At the opposite extreme, John Edwards blames the power of the wealthy and corporate interests for our problems, and says, in effect, that America needs another F.D.R. — a polarizing figure, the object of much hatred from the right, who nonetheless succeeded in making big changes.

I have to say that Mr. Obama comes off looking, well, naïve.

Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.

Which brings me to a big worry about Mr. Obama: in an important sense, he has in effect become the anti-change candidate.

After reading Obama's Audacity of Hope and following his campaign to this point, I think Krugman is right to be concerned. Obama does come off at times as being a bit too precious and naive. I'd love to see everyone getting along more in this country - the lions lying down with the lambs and all that - but I think history points to conflict in accomplishing things politically. And after eight years of the Bush II administration, we need to bring about many real and consequential changes.

I would argue that Edwards would represent the biggest change in terms of economic policies, which ultimately affect so many aspects of our lives. And Richardson has consistently been the strongest - by far - about ending the war in Iraq and re-focusing our efforts in a new strategy against terrorism. And ending the war quickly would have dramatic changes on economic issues. Obama seems the most willing to change attitudes. Or at least to try. But do right-wing Evangelicals or Corporate CEOs want to change their attitudes?

Confronting Obama's rhetoric of change will now be one of the main strategies of the other Democratic candidates. In fact, the Edwards campaign started the day after Iowa, as Sam Stein pointed out on Huffington Post:
In an appearance on MSNBC, David Bonior, Edwards' campaign manager, ripped into Obama's record on health care from the time when he served in the Illinois State Senate.

"Barack Obama's kind of change is where you sit down and you cut a deal with the corporate world," Bonior said. "If you look at his record in Illinois when he had a major -- sponsored a major health bill that's what he did. He watered down with the help of the corporate lobbyist and they got a weak product out of that."

. . . [A]s the Boston Globe reported on September 23, 2007, in the process of crafting the legislation, Obama consulted with "insurers and their lobbyists" and amended the bill "more to their liking."
While Edwards and Richardson might have some luck in taking on the mantle of CHANGE, Hillary Clinton has positioned herself in such a way that it's going to be hard for her to make the same move. She also has the additional baggage of Clinton I, who - despite his popularity with many Democratic voters - doesn't exactly represent CHANGE to new and younger voters.

Still, there's a long way to go in this race. Clinton has the money and the political machine, and an expert strategist in Clinton I, to become the nominee, though Iowa was definitely a big blow. Obama can't afford to make any mistakes, especially against the Clintons. We'll see how he does as a campaign strategist over the long haul. He has the early momentum, but the race is going to remain close for a while, and momentum can change.

Edwards is going to need a substantial finish in South Carolina, along with a lot of other help. I'm not sure he has the money or the infrastructure to compete in the long run. He gambled almost everything on Iowa, and coming in second, eight points behind Obama, was a disappointing result. Richardson may stay in the race a while, though I'm not convinced that he'll suddenly win in the west, as he seems to think. But if some big story brings down one of the other candidates, it's possible he could start to compete more, but that's a long shot.

Meanwhile, as I write this . . . Andrew Sullivan tells me that Barack Obama has jumped out to a 10-point lead in New Hampshire.

My, my. Looks like we have a genuine race on our hands.