Mojo - January 2008

Bring Back Jim Webb!

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 8:11 PM PST

It's hard to be a worse speaker than George W. Bush. But Kathleen Sebelius, the Democratic governor of Kansas, gave it a shot. Sebelius gave the Democratic response to the State of the Union. She's not a good speaker—she's obviously glued to the teleprompter, and the speech itself is awful. It's really too bad, because this could have been a great moment for the Democrats. Bush's speech is already being dismissed as a lame duck's list of unfulfilled plans and missed opportunities. Democrats could have capitalized on that. But instead of trying to draw a clear election-year contrast between her party and the huge numbers of congressional Republicans who are still loyal to Bush, Sebelius mailed it in.

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The State of Our Union

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 6:55 PM PST

George W. Bush has delivered the final State of the Union address of his presidency. There were (as we predicted) countless bold proposals, assertions of rightness, and, of course, standing ovations. Please hold your applause.

Our liveblog of the event follows after the jump, so if you didn't see the speech (or if you did and didn't get your fill of actual facts), read up!

"Mexican Americans...take Spanish...in Summer School...And Get B's"...: Or are we Buying Into The Hype?

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 6:21 PM PST

It's a long way to the Dem's August convention in Denver, but it's hard to see how Clinton can save herself from herself and her husband now. Her MLK vs LBJ Freudian slip was her last chance to stop the Billary race-baiting train and...she chose not to. Pissing on the South Carolina vote and the annoying little Negroes who dared to vote against her sealed her fate, it seems. Or it should have. We'll see. But, in any event, Obama is far from home free. Now that he's all but won the battle against old school white supremacy he can move on to new school black-Latino hostility. Are Latinos the new whites, the people who refuse to vote for blacks? The pundits are torn. From the SF Gate:

Sen. Barack Obama easily won the African American vote in South Carolina, but to woo California Latinos, where he is running 3-to-1 behind rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, he is taking a giant risk: spotlighting his support for the red-hot issue of granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
It's a huge issue for Latinos, who want them. It's also a huge issue for the general electorate, which most vehemently does not. Obama's stand could come back to haunt him not only in a general election, but with other voters in California, where driver's licenses for illegal immigrants helped undo former Gov. Gray Davis.
Clinton stumbled into that minefield in a debate last fall and quickly backed off. First she suggested a New York proposal for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants might be reasonable. Then she denied endorsing the idea, and later came out against them.
Asked directly about the issue now, her California campaign spokesman said Clinton "believes the solution is to pass comprehensive immigration reform."
"Barack Obama has not backed down" on driver's licenses for undocumented people, said Federico Peña, a former Clinton administration Cabinet member and Denver mayor now supporting Obama. "I think when the Latino community hears Barack's position on such an important and controversial issue, they'll understand that his heart and his intellect is with Latino community."

But what of blacks' hearts and intellects? Not only must Obama woo Latinos he must do so without alienating blacks who, as a group, have little interest in Latino preferences. When, it must be said, they're not actively hostile to them as with immigration and job competition.

In Endorsing Obama, Kennedy Anoints a Prince and Tells Clintons To Cool It

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 3:15 PM PST

Democrats don't come much more traditional than Teddy Kennedy, the grand man of the Democratic Party. So his endorsement of Barack Obama--implicitly an anti-endorsement of Hillary Clinton--has punch. Endorsements routinely don't matter much in presidential campaigns--with a few exceptions. A politician who controls a machine--say, a governor--can come in quite handy on Election Day. In this case, Kennedy brings two piping hot dishes to the Obama potluck.

By awarding him the Kennedy Seal of Approval--with Caroline Kennedy (daughter of John) and Representative Patrick Kennedy (son of Ted) chiming in--Kennedy makes it official: Obama is the Next Generation leader of the Democratic Party and, in that role, has a lock on the vision thing. And by pledging to campaign arduously for Obama in the coming days, Kennedy will be assisting Obama's efforts to reach out to traditional Democratic voters: working-class Dems. Clinton has been faring better among that core demographic chunk of the Democratic electorate. Kennedy is no white knight who will rescue Obama on this front. But if Kennedy pulls a few votes here and there, it could be significant--only if Obama on his own can close the gap between him and Clinton on blue-collar Democrats and Latinos. It is too late for any candidate--or any set of endorsements--to change the fundamentals of the presidential race in time for Supersaturated Tuesday on February 5. And Ted Kennedy on the campaign trail is no match for Hillary Clinton's hit man: her husband. Yet any bit of Kennedy magic dust the Massachusetts senator sprinkles for Obama can only help.

Kennedy's endorsement speech--held before an enthusiastic crowd at an auditorium at American University--was a roar. He noted that Clinton and John Edwards were fine people and his friends. "But I believe," he said, "there is one candidate who has extraordinary gifts of leadership and character, matched to the extraordinary demands of this moment in history." He completely adopted Obama's own arguments: "He is a leader who sees the world clearly without being cynical. He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view." That last line, an echo of a remark Obama made on Saturday night after winning the South Carolina primary, was a dig at the Clinton camp.

Edwards Campaign: "Hey, We're Still Here!"

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 2:47 PM PST

john-edwards-campaigning.jpg The Edwards camp shot a campaign memo around to reporters today explaining Edwards' "path to the nomination."

"Ultimately, we expect the race to narrow to one of the two celebrity candidates and us," it says, "and when that happens, we are confident that the remaining contests will break in our direction as voters are finally offered the choice the national media has ignored all year—the most progressive, most electable candidate in the race, John Edwards."

That last phrase—"the most progressive, most electable candidate"—is used throughout the memo.

The campaign goes on to mention that only a handful of delegates have actually been awarded (counts vary, but the Edwards people identify about 130), while there are over 4,000 total to be awarded in primaries nationwide. That means that a candidate needs to take over 2,000 delegates to win. The point is, Edwards has time to make a comeback.

So that's the plan (or, that's the plan they'll make public)—stick around and hope that one of the "celebrity" candidates stumbles so badly that he or she has to get out of the race. Not a great bet, but the only one Edwards can make.

The problem is, there isn't a whole lot of retail politics from here on out. As the Edwards people point out, "once people have a chance to hear directly from John Edwards, the numbers move." But on Super Tuesday, Edwards will not be able to work the small towns of any particular state, the way he did in Iowa and South Carolina. He has to rely on big ad buys and free media (aka press coverage). Neither of those things are really within Edwards' reach right now.

Bush's Economic Growth: Not So Impressive

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 12:25 PM PST

Dean Baker takes a look at this paragraph from a NYT analysis of Bush's economic record:

Mr. Bush has spent years presiding over an economic climate of growth that would be the envy of most presidents. Yet much to the consternation of his political advisers, he has had trouble getting credit for it, in large part because Americans were consumed by the war in Iraq.

Not so fast, says Baker. He pulls up the rankings of the presidential terms since 1960 by average annual GDP growth:

Kennedy-Johnson — 5.2%
Clinton — 3.6%
Reagan — 3.4%
Carter — 3.4%
Nixon-Ford — 2.7%
Bush II — 2.6%
Bush I — 1.9%

That list says an awful lot. (1) The Family Bush really doesn't know how to manage the economy. (2) Democrats are pretty good at it. (3) Carter probably gets more crap than he deserves for his economic performance.

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Thinking About Endorsements: Do They Matter?

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 8:18 AM PST

David discusses Obama's endorsement from Teddy Kennedy below; it will be valuable to BHO if Kennedy can campaign effectively amongst older voters, Latinos, and labor. Those are three constituencies in which Kennedy has some real juice, and Obama trails Clinton. Also, it gives Obama some old-guard cache.

But color me dubious. I'm just not sure endorsements matter. Imagine the thought process that would be necessary: "Well, I've seen these candidates in debates, on the late night talk shows, on the front page of my newspaper, on the internet, in their ads, on cable TV—I've seen these candidates everywhere in the last few months and have all the information I could possibly need to make a decision. But I'll just do what Teddy Kennedy says." Really? In this supersaturated news environment?

I may be wrong. There may be a number of what political experts call "low-information voters" who use things like endorsements as shortcuts. And perhaps there is a generation of Americans whose allegiance to the Kennedy brothers is so strong that an endorsement matters. I'll concede that—but does anyone care who Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI, if you were wondering) supports?

While we're on the topic, here is how Clinton's and Obama's Senate endorsements break down:

Edwards v. Dellinger: Gossip Over The Next AG

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 8:00 AM PST

dellingerw.jpg
Since Jonathan has waded into the gossip mill over the future attorney general, I thought I'd chime in with some other, equally unsourced gossip along those lines. With rumors flying that Obama would pick John Edwards as his AG, conventional wisdom among liberal lawyers in the know is that Hillary Clinton would tap former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger III for the post.

Personally, I see this as far more plausible than Obama selecting Edwards, despite what Bob Novak says. After all, Edwards has never been a prosecutor, which is a basic pre-req for anyone hoping to get confirmed by the Senate. Also, the AGs job is an administrative position. Edwards is, despite his recent transformation, a plaintiffs lawyer, and good plaintiffs lawyers tend to suck big time at desk jobs. The things that make them good in a courtroom—willingness to take big risks and an unwillingness to compromise—often make them terrible at running things. (See A Civil Action.)

Just as Ted Kennedy Endorses Obama, RNC Discovers - Omigod! - EMK Is a Liberal

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 7:58 AM PST

ted-kennedy250x200.jpg Yes, the Republican National Committee has shocking news. Teddy Kennedy is a—yikes!—liberal. The vaunted opposition research department of the RNC somehow unearthed this information, and on Monday morning, hours before Kennedy was to appear at a rally to endorse Barack Obama, the Republican Party sent out an email to reporters reminding them of this sinister nexus: Kennedy = liberalism. Its point: Kennedy's endorsement "highlights" Obama's "true liberal credentials."

It's hardly a given that Obama will win the Democratic nomination, but it's clear that if he does, the RNC is ready with its traditional playbook: brand the Dem a liberal. No doubt, the same stratagem is set for Hillary Clinton. This traditional attack has often paid off for the Republicans. (Ask Michael Dukakis and the first George Bush.) But it could wear thin this time around. Obama, though obviously a progressive, has shown an ability to attract independents and even a few Republicans. Remember, voters are not nearly as ideological as the partisan activists of both sides. And in the case of HRC, after eight years of triangulating White House Clintonism and eight years of intermittent centrism in the Senate, the old Hillary-is-a-radical-socialist routine doesn't resonate much these days, except among die-hard, living-in-the-past, Hillary-hating conservatives.

Nevertheless, the Republican Party will bang the he's-a-liberal! (or she's-a-liberal!) drum. Though it remains the GOP's favorite beat, voters may not dance to it as they once did.

South Carolina's Lasting Impact

| Sat Jan. 26, 2008 7:39 PM PST

The true legacy of this election cycle's South Carolina slimefest remains to be seen.

In 2000, John McCain faced a do-or-die contest in South Carolina and got slashed by allegations that he had fathered an illegitimate black child and abandoned his fellow POWs in Vietnam. McCain lost in South Carolina by 11 points and his campaign never recovered.

This time around, the mudslinging occurred on the Democratic side. Clinton attacked Obama for supporting the policies of Ronald Reagan, a false claim, and many Clinton surrogates found ways to mention Obama's religion or past drug use. And Bill Clinton called Obama's record on Iraq a fairy tale, compared him to Jesse Jackson, and repeatedly brought up race, all while chastising the press for trivializing the campaign. Obama was baited into responding with his own nasty ads.

The result, even the Clinton campaign admits, is that the candidate who was once transcendent and post-racial is now very clearly "the black candidate." That may serve Obama well in a Southern state like South Carolina, where half the Democratic electorate is African-American, but it will take off some of his sheen in the eyes of white voters across the country. And that's why South Carolina's role in this campaign will not end until the February 5 primaries (and possibly even later ones) are decided. If Obama loses even a small share of the white vote in those states, he will struggle mightily to beat Clinton.