Appearing on Hardball last night to support Barack Obama, Texas State Senator Kirk Watson couldn't name a single piece of Obama legislation. In one of the most painful minutes of live television in recent memory, Chris Matthews wouldn't let him off the hook:
Score one for the empty-hope meme.
The segment would have been more revealing, and fair, if Matthews had posed the same question to the Clinton supporter. Perhaps he was too afraid. Matthews, who is normally unfriendly to just about everyone, has nonetheless taken heavy flack for several particularly harsh attacks on Hillary, most notably last month on MSNBC's Morning Joe:
The reason she's a U.S. Senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front runner is her husband messed around. That's how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn't win on her merit.
On Morning Joe Matthews went on to describe Obama's January 9th New Hampshire concession speech as "the best speech I've ever heard" and confess to tearing up as he listened. So much for equal opportunity invective.
If Matthews singled out Watson last night to make up for being too nice to Obama (a common charge against the press by the Clinton campaign), he certainly succeeded.
This morning the shell-shocked Watson faced the world on his blog, in perhaps the only way he could: with humor.
"So. . .that really happened," he began.
He went on to list the Obama legislative accomplishments he'd forgotten. "Most of all," he concluded, "he has the record to prove that all of this is possible. It's something no one should forget."
The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), a new organizational construct intended to unify the entire African continent (except Egypt) under a single U.S. commander, is due to become fully operational later this year. Since its founding in October 2007, it has been based in an old German military barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, until a suitable African location can be found to house its command infrastructure. But according to the BBC, AFRICOM has now stopped searching for a permanent home due to a lack of interest among all but one of the 53 African nations falling under its area of responsiblity:
Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua announced in November that he would not allow his country to host an Africom base and that he was also opposed to any such bases in West Africa.
South Africa and Libya have also voiced strong reservations.
Only Liberia, which has historic links to the US, has offered to host it.
There has been concern that Africom is really an attempt to protect US oil and mineral interests in Africa, amid growing competition for resources from Asian economies, says the BBC's Alex Last in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
Then there are fears about the continent being drawn into the US war on terror, our correspondent adds.
At a press conference held earlier today in Ghana, the latest stop on President Bush's tour through Africa, the U.S. commander-in-chief tried to reassure his African audience about American intentions on the continent. An excerpt from the transcript on AFRICOM's website:
We do not contemplate adding new bases. In other words, the purpose of this is not to add military bases. I know there's rumors in Ghana, 'All Bush is coming to do is try to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. (Laughter.) Or as we say in Texas, that's bull. (Laughter.) Mr. President (Kufuor) made it clear to me, he said, look, we -- you're not going to build in any bases in Ghana. I said, I understand; nor do we want to. Now, that doesn't mean we won't develop some kind of office somewhere in Africa.
Unless that office is to be located in Liberia, it's unlikely to open any time soon.
I attended an event at the left-leaning NDN think tank that featured Joe Trippi, former chief strategist for John Edwards, Simon Rosenberg, NDN's President, Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, and Andres Ramirez, NDN's Vice President for Hispanic Programs. It was a typical inside-the-beltway panel discussion where intellectuals pontificate in front of other intellectuals about the future of politics and the political parties. I say that dismissively, because in a macro sense events like these are a touch ridiculous. But some fairly interesting things were said, which I'll reproduce here, with some links for additional reading.
Amy Walter pointed out that though Hillary Clinton's attacks on Barack Obama's lack of experience don't seem to be working now, they may work in the general election. The problem with the current attacks may be the messenger, not the message, she said.
Andres Ramirez took at a look at the electoral college map and made the following observation: if you take the states that are safe blue states and you add four states that have expanding Latino populations, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado, you've got an easy presidential victory for the Democrats in every cycle. This was a reason for substantial Democratic Party investment in the Latino demographic, Ramirez argued. He also produced a number of figures and charts that are very likely available here.
Ramirez also tried to debunk the notion that Democrats lose their advantage among Latinos, earned while defending immigrants from the GOP's nativist insanity, if the general election is between John McCain and Barack Obama. The argument is that McCain led the fight for comprehensive immigration reform (the humane approach to immigration reform), which Latinos like, while Obama is black, which Latinos supposedly don't like. Ramirez said that turnout numbers from the states that have already voted in primaries don't support that theory.
The word of the day was "bottom up." The assembled politicos seemed to think that Obama's success was a product a newly energized electorate that for the first time in ages were invested in their nation's politics. This was the cause of the increased number of small-value donations, the increased number of volunteers, and the dramatically increased number of voters. Democrats, starting with Trippi's work for Howard Dean in 2004, have worked and reworked their approach to "bottom up" politics, while the Republicans are years behind. Simon Rosenberg pointed out that if all of this citizen excitement (which the assembled said has "renewed our democracy") is subverted by superdelegates who want to hand the Democratic nomination to the less-popular choice, it would damage the Democratic Party in critical ways. Ways that could very well hand the election to John McCain.
On a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning, Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's communications director, was asked if within the Clinton camp there was any sense that the campaign needs to "retool or overhaul." The answer: no. In fact, throughout the call, Wolfson and Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, showed no signs of any shifting. Instead, they signaled that the campaign's gameplan is to continue to pound away at Obama. Wolfson pushed two points: Obama "lifted" portions of a speech from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Obama seems to be backing out of a promise to participate in the public campaign finance system (and thus live within a spending limit) in the general election. "He's running on the power of his oratory and the strength of his promises," Wolfson said. Yet, he asserted, Obama's oratory is plagiarized and his promises are broken.
The problem: the Clinton campaign threw all this (and much more) at Obama before Wisconsin, and it didn't stick. Perhaps Clinton and her aides believe they have to pump up the volume on the attacks to have a fighting chance in Ohio and Texas on March 4.
Why do they believe they can triumph in those states? Wolfson and Penn were asked. "Growing scrutiny," Wolfson replied, is being paid to Obama--by the media, by the Republican Party, and by Senator John McCain, the likely GOP nominee. In other words, Obama's due for a fall--eventually. And the Clinton people will do what they can to bring about such change before Ohio and Texas. Their strategy appears to be to help tear him down, rather than find a better way to lift her up. The race got nasty before Wisconsin--and it looks as if it's going to get nastier.
Just a few hours ago, a smart chick I know predicted that the unscrupulous right would expand their smear-scope to dog Obama's mama. She figured: 'tramp who married a Kenyan then an Indonesian, getting her nice white genes all dirty. She's a 'ho.' Foolishly, I couldn't buy it. Well, she was right, but it's even worse. Mrs. Obama had to have been a Commie (no doubt also a tramp). What else explains why a nice white girl went crazy enough to marry so suspiciously since it couldn't possibly be love?
...all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League. Or maybe a different arm of the CPUSA. But, for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics. (During the Clinton Administration we were all introduced to then U. of Pennsylvania Professor Lani Guinier — also a half black/half Jewish, red diaper baby.)
I don't know how Barak Obama's parents met. But the Kincaid article referenced above makes a very convincing case that Obama's family, later, (mid 1970s) in Hawaii, had close relations with a known black Communist intellectual. And, according to what Obama wrote in his first autobiography, the man in question — Frank Marshall Davis — appears to have been Barack's own mentor, and even a father figure. Of course, since the Soviet Union itself no longer exists, it's an open question what it means practically to have been politically mentored by an official Communist. Ideologically, the implications are clearer.
They're not serious, are they? You can't scare the kids with that played out nonsense. But maybe the plan is two-pronged: McCain's refining his message that not only is Obama inexperienced (i.e. not in danger of a cardiac event), but he's so focused on what's wrong with America that he won't pay attention to the dangers of terrorism. That message may not focus the kids, but it should bring out the greatest generation in droves. Just in case the right thinks they might give in to silly notions like returning to our bedrock values and not fighting a war we've already won.
Update: Those delegate totals are from Real Clear Politics, which has changed its numbers since I checked them this morning. They've been changed to reflect RCP's update. Also note that many news outlets have different delegate totals.
A survey of more than 3,400 senior U.S. military officers by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think-tank, and Foreign Policy magazine has some grim findings (.pdf):
Of the more than 3,400 active and retired officers surveyed, 60 percent say the U.S. military is weaker today than it was five years ago. Asked the reason why, more than half cite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the pace of troop deployments those conflicts require.
Nearly 90 percent of the officers—all of whom hold the rank of major or lieutenant commander and above—say that the war in Iraq has "stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin." Asked to grade the health of each military service on scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning the officers have no concern about the health of the service and 10 meaning they are extremely concerned, the officers reported an average score of 7.9 for the Army and 7.0 for the Marine Corps. However, asked if they believe the war in Iraq has broken the U.S. military, 56 percent of the officers say they disagree.
Hillary Clinton's historic presidential campaign--once the political handicappers' favorite in the Democratic contest--now appears to depend on two things: Ohio and Texas.
On Tuesday, Barack Obama racked up his ninth win in a row, defeating Clinton by an embarrassing 17 points in Wisconsin. And once again, the nature of his win made the night worse for the Clinton crowd. As Obama had done in Virginia and Maryland a week earlier, he outdrew Clinton in voters in most demographic slices. In a state full of working-class voters, Obama demonstrated once more that he can appeal to lunch-bucket Democrats, outpacing Clinton among voters making $50,000 or less a year. Among voters below 30 years of age, Obama walloped Clinton 73 to 20 percent. He had a 2-to-1 edge with independents and Republicans who voted in the Democratic primary. Clinton did have an edge among those 65 and older: 60 to 39 percent. But among voters who said the economy was the top issue, Obama pulled 55 percent--a big gain from the 44 percent he collected among these voters on Super Tuesday. In Wisconsin, he won 54 percent of the vote of Democrats who have not attended college--presumably blue-collar Dems. On Super Tuesday, he collected only 42 percent within this group.
At this point, Clinton's base seems to be composed of one group of loyalists: older, middle-income women. (Among all Democratic women, Obama beat Clinton 50 to 49 percent in the exit polls.) Though women voters propelled Clinton to victories in New Hampshire and Nevada, they have not carried her to success since those two states. At the same time, Obama has expanded his core.