Yes They Can

After two nights of successful speeches by the two Clintons who have dominated Democratic politics for two decades, the world’s oldest party has finally shown the world that it actually can get its house in order and its act together.  Which is no small accomplishment for a political party that has delighted for decades in playing Lucy to its own Charlie Brown, yanking the political football out from under itself.  (Can you say Kerry, 2004; Gore, 2000; Dukasis, 1988; Carter, 1980; McGovern, 1972….).   Tonight all eyes turn to Denver’s Mile High to see if the newly anointed heir of the party can deliver and knock one out of the park, across the country and all the way to the White House.

And Obama is far better situated to do so today than he was at the beginning of the week.  Three days ago—which, in this case, is about two centuries in political terms—the media and punditocracy was abuzz over the looming self-immolation of the Democrats.  Hillary would withhold her support of Obama to do him in this November and claim the nomination in 2012.  Bill would finish the job with a political dagger in Barrack’s back.  Democrats would erupt into a 1968-style riot on the convention floor during the roll call vote.

Three days later, none of that has come to pass.  The Democrats have closed ranks.  The Clintons, placing their legacy ahead of short term political ambitions—and resurrecting the reputation of one ex-Clinton president and preserving the possibility of one more future Clinton President, in the process—rendered all the insta-adds by the GOP over Clintonian sour grapes irrelevant.  And, if Obama delivers the speech he has, to it may all be over but the shouting before the Republicans even gavel things to order next week.

And pity the Republicans their moment in the shadows.  Coming after the Democrats should give the GOP the chance to steal the national bully pulpit back as the bright spotlight of media attention swings to the Twin Cities.  But no matter who John McCain picks on Friday for veep, the GOP convention lacks the drama and poignancy the Dem’s had.  There is no contention over the roll call vote, no “Will Rudy give a tepid endorsement?  Will Huckabee’s fan base riot in the hall?”intrigue.  What will happen next week in Minnesota will be about as exciting as everything else that happens in the land of smoked white fish on any given day.  (No disrespect intended: Minnesotan like things unexciting.)

The Democrats had the twin anniversaries of Women’s Suffrage and Martin Luther King’s immortal “I Have a Dream Speech” to frame their most critical speeches.  What will McCain have?  The anniversary of his former senate leader Trent Lott saying how much better things would have been had segregationist Strom Thurmond been elected president?

When McCain gives his Big Speech next week it will be framed in comparison to Obama’s tonight.  After that, the difference between the two candidates—a mile high and 3000 miles wide–will be clearly manifest to the American people.

And Obama leaves well-intentioned, nice, heroic but a generation or three out of date John McCain miles behind in the political dust.

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Wedding Bell Blues

Today’s ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of gay marriage throws yet another twist into the 2008 Presidential campaign. A similar ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2004 helped to mobilize social conservatives-especially in the swing state of Ohio—to come out in election-winning droves to vote for George W. Bush. Bush and the GOP enticed conservative voters by dangling the prospects pushing through a marriage protection constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the second Bush term.

Alas, like many campaign promises, this one went unfulfilled. Disappointing, to be sure, for social conservatives but lack of action on Bush’s part meant the anti—gay marriage drum could be kept to beat on in the 2008 campaign (much as much touted anti-abortion, term limit and balanced budget constitutional amendments have been dangled by the GOP in front of conservative voters for decades.)

I wrote in April of 2004 that the Massachusetts gay marriage decision had probably handed the fall election to the GOP on a silver wedding platter. Turned out I was correct. This time, however, the impact of the California decision of the fall election will be more complicated. That’s because, of course, GOP standard bearer St. John The Moderate broke with his party in 2004 to vote against the Marriage Protection amendment. The California decision will agitate and invigorate social conservatives but, with McCain leading the GOP ticket, they have nowhere to electorally go. Sure, there may be a big proposition fight in California over a proposed anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendment that may or may not make the November ballot. But this brouhaha will hurt McCain more than it helps him as it will soak up state and national political money that otherwise might have found its way into his campaign pockets. It won’t provide him with anything approaching the pro-Bush push the gay marriage issue provided the GOP in 2004.

Hillary Clinton supporters are increasingly saying they’d vote for John McCain over Barack Obama (up to almost 30% of the pro-Hillary voters in West Virginia, for instance.) If that happens Obama’s electability drops significantly.

Meanwhile conservatives are expressing increasing doubts about John McCain–especially after his remarks on global warming. (just listen to the talking heads of conservative talk radio lambast the fellow. You’d think McCain was Jimmy Carter’s long lost brother.) If McCain doesn’t come out against the California gay marriage decision (which he can’t do without looking like he’s doing what he’d be doing if he did it—pandering too the grossest extreme) social conservatives are liable to stay home come in election-losing droves. Worse for McCain, social conservative might vault the GOP to vote in protest for third party candidates yet unnamed, like former Republican representative and bane to Bill Clinton’s existence Bob Barr who’s trying to secure the Libertarian party nomination. Losing conservative voters makes McCain’s electability drops significantly.

Which leads to the interesting conclusion that, come November, neither Obama, McCain or anyone else can win! Constitutional Monarchy, anyone?

And the Winner Is?

Well, not my homies in the California Community Colleges. We saw our ballot Prop 92 go down to a 3:2 defeat tonight proving that in politics, like in comedy, it’s all in the timing. Had the prop cutting tuition fees and raising funding for the Cal Comms been on the ballot in November 2006 my bet is it would have passed by 55% or more. Such is life. The pity is, of course, it is in the economic hard times that funding for higher ed — especially Community Colleges–is even more of a public need. You can send people to colleges or prisons when the economy heads south. Colleges cost less and yield a heck of a lot more.

Californians proved they’d rather lose their money to Indian Casinos than the tax man approving all four casino compacts. And Californias also proved they don’t like their legislators but they also know the current system of term limits doesn’t work that well–notice the narrow 4% points the prop lost by is much narrower than the 16% (58% to 42%) Governor Gray’s term limit proposal was defeated by in 2002. Most striking, both the liberal Bay Area and conservative San Diego and Imperial Counties voted for the measure while liberal LA and the conservative Central Valley voted against it. Go figure.

Oh, and there was something about presidential primaries going on tonight too, as I reccall. Romney is a dead man walking. I expect him to pull a John Edwards sometime in the next fortnight and drop out of the race even as he insisted tonight he was in it to the convention. And Huckabee has VP, not P, written all over his primary showings.

Meanwhile the Hillary and Barack dance continues though her heir-apparentness’ large victory in California has got to give the party pause. Given the size of her victory and the distribution across the state, I figure she wins 260+ of the 441 state delegates which will put her clearly in the delegate lead. Clinton won New York, New Jersey, Florida and California — exactly the big states Dem’s have to win to triumph come November. Barack (like Romney) did best in the smaller state caucuses where turnout is skewed to the party left (or right, in Mitt’s case.) I’m still betting that post-Super T day the double big Mo’s — momentum and money-swing back to Clinton. Then Obama will have to decided how long he wants to draw out the Democratic contest to the Republican’s benefit.

OK, time to pack it in. Just spent 4 1/2 hours in the studios of KGTV with Hal Clement (yes, he’s as nice in person as he seems on TV) doing election pontificating. Tomorrow it’s These Days with Tom Fudge and Gloria Penner (9a-10a on KPBS 89.5) and then a keynote speech tomorrow night to the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community College Association’s annual Trustees dinner at USD. Topic: today’s election, of course.

And if you have a chance, check out my article in this week’s print edition of City Beat.

On to the Conventions.

As The Kids Say

Out of the Mouth Of Modern Babes

The question of the day on this morning’s KPBS radio was whether or not the Chargers doing well in the playoffs will affect their quest for a new stadium.

The answer, as the kids say, is a resounding “DUH!”

The Chargers spent 2007 preparing to clinch a playoff berth on the field while, off the field trying to clinch a location for a new stadium. Considering almost as many alternative locations as the Regional Airport Authority did looking to replace Lindberg (at least the Spanos family didn’t consider trying to build a floating stadium, though then again…) they zeroed in on Chula Vista—a city apparently in even worse fiscal shape than San Diego. The Chargers real end game is to put so much pressure on Jerry Sanders and Mike Aguirre in their respective reelection years—“What, you let them become the Chula Vista Chargers?”—that they finally get some concessions on their field of Dreams. And, just like the Padres understood, it doesn’t hurt to having a winning team while trying to woe the local pols and public. Meanwhile if Sander’s and Aguirre’s most likely serious challengers—that would be Steve “Let’s Spend Another Million” Francis and Alan “I’m betting the MEA hates Aguirre more than the SDTA hates me” Bersin, respectively—want a ready-made issue for June, Charger fever could become their best political lightening bolt.

Dream on Chula Vista – you’re just a shill in the Chargers’ end game.

Meanwhile, in case anyone is paying attention amidst all the Bolts’ hoopla, the Iowa and New Hampshire contests have come and gone and now its on to Michigan, South Carolina, Florida and Tsunami Tuesday and who are leading their respective packs? Ahem. That would be Clinton and McCain. And who has said since spring they were going to win the big enchiladas? Ahem.

Children of the Corn

The Iowa caucus results are in. A rational person may, of course, be tempted to say—would be justified to say, even—“So what? A couple of hundred thousand Iowans have had their say. Let’s get on with life.” But politics, like other, more worthwhile things in life, is occurs largely between the ears. And in American politics Iowa does matter to some degree, rationality be damned.

So what does a reading of the corn husks tell us? On the Republican side, John McCain may turn out to be the bigger winner. Mike Huckabee can win the rural heartland vote but before he returns to those fertile, evangelical fields, he has to face more secular New Hampshire where he will probably still, despite Iowa, come in third behind McCain and Romney. Huckabee might survive a bronze in NH and go on to silver or gold in South Carolina but doesn’t have the legs or pockets to carry both the home of the Confederacy and the home of old northeasterners (that would be Florida) within twenty four hours of each other.

Romney, meanwhile, may have taken the biggest hit yesterday having outspent Huckabee decisively only to come in second. While McCain’s finishing fourth behind Thompson wasn’t stellar, a) he didn’t contest the state heavily; and b) He’s more popular in NH. Thompson and the rest of the GOP crowd–except for Rudy—meanwhile, may limp through NH but will be gone before the first votes are cast in Dixie. If McCain can pull out a first or second in New Hampshire and South Carolina and a win in Florida, he’ll be well established for a decisive upset win on Super Tuesday. Move over Bill Clinton. Meet the new comeback kid. Read the rest of this entry »