Saturday, May 31, 2008

DNC RBC Decision--Background

emptywheel (naturally) has a very good primer on the lead-up to the Florida and Michigan primary decisions here.

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Decisions

Tonight the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee made its decisions regarding the seating of Florida and Michigan delegates at the party’s convention in August.

The Florida delegation will be seated at full strength, but each delegate will have only half a vote. That represents a turnaround from the committee’s original decision to impose 100% exclusion, but is consistent with the committee’s stated rule that disobeying the rules will result in a reduction of voting strength to 50%. The Clinton camp had, of course, lobbied for a complete restoration of the Florida delegates with one vote per delegate while the Obama campaign had called for a 50-50 split. The committee’s vote seemed to split the difference and although the Clinton people opposed the decision, it was obvious they weren’t going to fight about it. There was first a motion to restore the Florida delegation to full strength, which failed, 15-12. The second vote was for the compromise and the many Clinton supporters on the committee voted for it, passing it unanimously. A peaceful resolution and unity seemed close at hand.

Michigan was another story entirely. A GOP-dominated state legislature had voted to schedule that state’s primary between those of Iowa and New Hampshire (as had the GOP-controlled Florida legislature). As punishment (and to ward off other states that also wanted to reschedule their primaries similarly), the Rules & Bylaws Committee imposed the 100% penalty on Michigan (as it had on Florida). Both states were told that their primaries would not count, the crucial difference between the two being that while neither Clinton nor Obama appeared on the Florida ballot, Clinton (who publicly stated at the time that the vote would not count) did leave her name on the Michigan ballot while Obama did not. Since Michigan went ahead with the primary regardless, all candidates whose names were not on the ballot were represented (if that’s the word for it) by the category “Undecided”. Adding to the confusion, Michigan has a law whereby write-in votes are not counted unless explicitly authorized by the candidate in question prior to the vote.

As it happens, Clinton won a majority of the (then) non-binding vote, while Undecided got about 40% of the vote. Approximately 30,000 write-in votes were cast, but for the reasons already mentioned, they were not counted.

All the candidates agreed at the time the penalties were imposed that the Florida and Michigan primaries would not count. Indeed, Harold Ickes and Terry McCaulliff were among the committee members who voted to exclude the results of both primaries. However, as Henry Adams once observed, “the vast majority of men choose interest when deciding morals,” a principle that certainly seems to apply to this controversy. Once Hillary Clinton’s campaign found the delegate requirement for the nomination slipping out of reach, they suddenly became ardent opponents of the “disenfranchisement” of Florida and Michigan voters, something the candidate herself recently compared to the situation in Zimbabwe and the 2000 fiasco in Florida.

In any event, the Rules and Bylaws Committee was presented with 3 proposals for resolution of the Michigan situation:

1. The Clinton campaign argued for complete restoration of the Michigan delegation with one vote per delegate.

2. The Obama campaign sought a 50-50 split with one vote per delegate.

3. The Michigan Democratic Party tried to split the difference, diviining an allocation of delegates based on a combination of the percentages of the actual votes plus the write-ins and undecided votes, based on the assumption that the latter two would have been for Obama had he left his name on the ballot.

The Clinton campaign objected to options 2 & 3 on the principle that an arbitrary split would violate the principle of reflection; i.e., that the apportionment of delegates would not mirror the relative percentages of the actual votes cast. The Obama campaign countered that the Michigan primary was a seriously flawed process; as such, there was no basis for the claim that the actual vote totals represented the will of the voters, since many who might have voted probably refrained after learning that the primary wouldn’t count, and since there’s no way of knowing how many write-ins and undecided votes would have been for Obama (or John Edwards, who also was not on the ballot).

In the end, the committee voted to restore the full complement of Michigan delegates, but apportioned according to option 3, and with half a vote per delegate. The vote was 19-8 in favor. Harold Ickes made an impassioned speech afterwards in which he decried what he termed the “hijacking” of the process, the loss of 4 delegates to Obama, and informed the committee that Hillary Clinton had authorized him to take the issue to the Credentials Committee. And that, folks, means they’ll fight on to the convention in August, general election be damned. Clinton supporters in the gallery began chanting “Denver, Denver, Denver.” We may be headed for a long, hot summer.

Here’s what puzzles me: Why did the Clinton campaign acquiesce in the Florida decision but declare holy war over Michigan? Both states are delegate-rich. The Rules Committee’s position with respect to the Clinton campaign’s arguments in re both state primaries was that, as Donna Brazile put it memorably, “my momma told me you don’t change the rules after the game is played.” So what’s the distinction between the two outcomes as far as the Clinton campaign is concerned? Is there a distinction between the two processes, or is it a matter of sequence—the second determining conclusively that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is over?

Please feel free to educate me on this in the Comments section.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Good Day for Rove Watchers

Majikthise has an exchange from today's This Week on ABC in which Karl Rove tries unsuccessfully to weasel away from identification as an unofficial advisor to the McCain campaign.

Meanwhile, TPM has a video clip from the same interview in which Rove bobs and weaves when pressed by George Stephanopolous on his role in the Siegelman prosecution.

Given that Rove has been subpoened by the House Judiciary Committee to testify on the latter, I wonder why he consented to this interview. Granted, he’s not under oath in this venue, but surely he must have expected to be asked about these issues. Is it that he’s so arrogant as to suppose that neither the media or Congress can touch him? Did he consent to the interview as a practice run for his congressional appearance, knowing there was no legal jeopardy for him in today’s appearance? Did he see the interview as an opportunity to feed a self-serving argument to his base? Or was it something else entirely?

Any thoughts on this?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is Obama a Muslim?

As per Matt Iglesias, I'm linking to this site in the hope that its Google rank will be thus increased.

It's absurd that we even have to bother with such things, but we all know what the GOP is made of...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Will McCain Be Worse Than Bush?

(Originally posted April 30th, 2008 at 11:54 pm EDT on Ye Olde Low Budget Ideaworks)

Impossible, you say...

George from Wilmette, IL writes:

I have a hard time believing that McCain is worse than Bush. His most off-the-wall ideas will never be put into effect. I have to agree with Senator Obama that any of the three credible possibilities to become our next president would be an improvement over Bush.

I realize that it’s a hard thing to wrap one’s mind around. After all, Bush is a nightmare wrapped in a catastrophe inside a disaster. It’s a real challenge to think of a single thing Bush has touched that hasn’t turned into a flaming wreck. The idea that John McCain, with his carefully cultivated image as a maverick, could be somehow worse than that requires imagination of even worse problems than we’ve faced for the past 7 years. What could be worse? is the obvious question that comes to mind.

McCain has famously said he doesn’t care if American soldiers are in Iraq for 100 years. He clearly envisioned their role during that period as peacekeepers, and mentioned Korea as an example of what he had in mind. Evidently someone forgot to tell him that North & South Korea are two distinct countries. They have borders and each has a flag. They have armies. Their soldiers wear uniforms, making them rather distinctive. It’s pretty easy to tell when you’re in the presence of one side or the other.

Compare that to the situation in Iraq. Our soldiers are caught in the middle of sectarian strife, a sort of low-level civil war. Unlike our civil war (and the standoff between North & South Korea), the antagonists do not have uniforms, defined territory, flags or a demilitarized zone. Rather, the situation is characterized by random acts of horrific terrorist violence, widespread corruption, enormous internal migrations and generalized chaos. To the extent that there has been a recent decrease in violence (although that’s starting to pick up again), it has largely been due to decisions made by local sheikhs based on increasing hostility to foreign terrorists and largess from the U.S., which has been buying temporary peace at the expense of long-term stability. The Sunni sheikhs make no secret of their continued enmity towards the Shiites, and with U.S. military assistance have been stockpiling arms in anticipation of future conflict with the Shiites once our forces leave the country. Having destroyed the (admittedly hideous) standing government (as well as the country’s infrastructure) and dismantled the Iraqi military, and failed totally to plan for the aftermath of the conflict, we seeded the ground for the insurgency that subsequently developed. Having done so, we essentially gave Iran much greater influence over events in Iraq than it might have otherwise had. So having set the stage for sectarian antagonism, we’re now funding and supplying with arms one side in the conflict with the expectation that that will tamp down the tensions long enough to give us a graceful exit. But given the conditions we’ve established in Iraq, what reason do we have for expecting the outcome, at some point after our departure, to be an explosion of sectarian violence on a scale heretofore unseen in Iraq?

There’s a lot more to the situation, making it even more complicated than I’ve indicated above. For much more learned discussion on all of the above plus much more see the following:

Fact Check on McCain and Political Progress in Iraq

Not a Great Day for Iraqi Politics

The Myth of the Surge

Yet McCain sees Korea as a model for the future? How can this be? Well, it happens that McCain’s foreign policy team is dominated by neocons—yes, that same illustrious bunch who touted the war i Iraq with visions of Iraqis greeting our soldiers with flowers—just like Parisiennes in 1944. When Barack Obama talks about changing the mindset that got us into the war, this is a prime example of what he’s talking about. These are people who view every conflict through the lense of World War II, never mind the evidence. Because they can’t conceive of a conflict in terms other than of established states with armies, fixed territories, etc., they continually misread modern conflicts as outward manifestations of traditional warfare conducted by other means. Many of the same people, by the way, misread Vietnam in a similar way—Vietnamese nationalism couldn’t possibly have been a significant factor—instead, war supporters tended to describe the conflict as one directed from Moscow and/or Beijing. This despite the fact that Ho Chi Minh’s government was extremely distrustful of both & played one against the other to maintain support while avoiding being swallowed or manipulated by their putative allies. Thus the U.S. negotiated for a long time with the Soviets but avoided negotiating with the North Vietnamese and NLF for as long as possible.

The upshot of all this is that persistent misidentification of a problem precludes a solution. We have every reason to expect, therefore, that a McCain presidency will result in a significant extension of our involvement in Iraq because the mindset dominating his foreign policy shop has managed over the past 7 years to learn absolutely nothing from experience.

There’s an old joke that went around the Soviet Union during that country’s occupation of Afghanistan:

Question: Why are our troops still in Afghanistan?
Answer: They’re still trying to find the people who invited them in.

Let’s do whatever we possibly can to ensure that we don’t end up telling that joke about ourselves.