Monday, February 11, 2008

Election Notes

(1) I'm fascinated by the Washington state GOP caucus debacle. There appears to be some possibility that the local GOP officials stole the election for McCain. That is, they waited until he edged ahead, and then -- with 13% still to go -- stopped counting the votes and simply declared him the winner. Bizarre. (See Talking Points Memo for more, e.g. here.) Huckabee's sending in lawyers; it could get messy. A story to keep an eye on, anyway.

(2) What's all this 'superdelegates should follow the will of the people' nonsense? I'm with Clinton on this one: it would defeat the whole purpose if they did not exercise their own judgment. (Why else have superdelegates at all?) Of course, they have most reason to favour Obama in any case...

(3) Stanley Fish bizarrely claims that the fact that Hillary Clinton would more likely lose the general election is somehow not a legitimate reason for thinking that she would not make the best Democratic nominee:
Electability (a concept invoked often) is a code word that masks the fact that the result of such reasoning is to cede the political power to the ranters.

Um, no. The political power of the right-wing ranters comes from their ability to vote (and advocate) in the general election. Given the fact that they have this power, we are faced with the question how best to deal with it. Burying one's head in the sand doesn't seem advisable. Assuming that it is of great importance that the Democrats win the general election, it is important that we do what we can to raise the probability of this vital outcome. That means: select a nominee who is more likely to win the general election. (That means: Obama.)

A surprising number of people declaim such reasoning on the grounds that it amounts to "blaming the victim". This assumes a strangely narcissistic conception of an election. The question is not who of Clinton or Obama we want to reward or 'deprive' of our votes. If you want to do something nice for Clinton, send her some chocolate. But the election is not for her. It's for the country. And electing Clinton as the Democratic nominee is not (ex hypothesi) what can be expected to do the most good for the country. End of story.


  1. 'superdelegates should follow the will of the people'

    If 'democracy' is meant to reflect the will of the people, then I think the better argument is: there shouldn't be super delegates.

  2. Hi Richard,

    Might the claim be that saying she isn't electable keeps the status qua in place? Similar to Nader being blamed for 'ruining' the election for the democrats. It is better in the long run for the U.S. to have a many party system and the only way we can do that is by letting other party candidates run even if it means short term losses...So too Hillary might be the best candidate in spite of he unelectability. It sets a precedent: gender shouldn't be a deterrent (if she is in fact the best candidate on other grounds, which I am not convinced of...I want to make the general point). So, your point seems to focus on the short term gain: Democrats in power ASAP. But Fish's point focuses on the long game.

  3. it would seem the main defense of the existence of super delegates was to pick an obama over a Clinton. I.e. pick a candidate that can win over one that might not. Having said that, the hidden reason for them might be to protect the interests of some sort of 'elite' (i hate how a lot of people use that word as if it is a single list of people in all situations).

  4. Assuming that it is of great importance that the Democrats win the general election, it is important that we do what we can to raise the probability of this vital outcome.

    As The Other Richard says, this does seem to treat winning the election as the one and only vital outcome of the run-up to it, a sort of electoral realpolitik. But from a party perspective the vital outcome is arguably not winning the election but having the most enduring and influential message, policy proposals, etc.; winning the election is merely one (valuable) means that can contribute to this, and neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for it. (I don't think a party perspective is the only or the best or even a very good perspective to take here; but it seems the only perspective in which electability becomes an issue at all.) Since we have no real way to determine how electable a candidate really is -- that depends on who actually turns out to vote, where they are registered as voters, and everything that happens between now and the actual voting -- it does seem that 'electability' is either a mere conjecture based on some scattered evidences that may or may not be misleading, or it is a masking word as Fish suggests.

  5. I do agree that those long term considerations may be important in addition to electability. But that doesn't undermine the fact that Democrats have pro tanto reason to support a candidate who is more likely to win the general election for them. It just may be outweighed in certain circumstances. (Of course, in this particular case, I think the long-term considerations count in favour of Obama too, with his ability to inspire young people and expand the party membership, etc. But that's another issue.) The point is simply that it isn't illegitimate to recognize electability as an advantage. (And it seems excessively skeptical to deny that we can, in fact, have some -- albeit fallible -- idea of how likely various candidates are to win a general election.)

  6. There is an argument that of all elections in recent history this one is a good one to loose. the point being that the US is likely to be a very difficult one - and if the democrats win then they may well get blamed for it.

    So you might choose to elect Hillary with the idea of loosing whilst trying to win and then the republicans

    1) having a potentially cleansing experience of having McCain as their leader
    2) despite that facing the next election with no chance of winning and the winner of that election getting the carte blanch of a landslide win.

    the dangerous alternative being the democrats winning with Obama - the country going to 'hell in a handbasket". Obama being crushed in the next election causing massive disillusionment - while the republicans lurch to the crazy right feeling 'punished' by the mistake of picking a moderate like McCain and righteous about how much worse Obama's term was than Bush's.

    Well there you go - another option.

  7. And it seems excessively skeptical to deny that we can, in fact, have some -- albeit fallible -- idea of how likely various candidates are to win a general election.

    I'm excessively skeptical, then; I see no principled way to do it; the best genuine evidence we have are polls, and they face every survey problem in the book when it comes to elections. The only evidence we have at all beyond that is performance up to this point, and it is clear that all the Democratic And there are special obstacles arising from the nature of U.S. election patterns. Between now and the election there will occur the big campaign shift: the candidate will move from a focus on trying to persuade party members that he/she should be nominated to a focus on trying to persuade the general public, and that always has unpredictable consequences because the target demographic shifts rather significantly: instead of focusing on undecided Democrats the candidates have to start focusing on undecided Independents and Republicans. Another major shift will be the choosing of running mates. Likewise, the Electoral College system guarantees that where people actually turn out is crucial: it's not enough to have sheer numbers, you have to make sure your numbers aren't in too narrow a demographic (e.g. smaller urban states), in addition to having to make sure that they aren't too heavily padded with people who won't actually be voting. And so forth. So perhaps we can make an educated guess -- but I don't see that it is ever anything more than that, and because of that it is an odd thing to factor into one's evaluation of a candidate.

  8. Have you considered that perhaps Obama actually isn't the most likely to win the election vs McCain? Obama is definitely more right-leaning than Hillary is, and if it comes down to which side can win supporters off the other, then Hillary will win more of the republicans than Obama will, which gives her an advantage.

    Then, consider that perhaps the republicans know this. Perhaps all the media furvour over Obama, which is pretty much unprecidented for a 1st term senator that no one knew about 2 years ago, but suddenly he's fundraising the most and getting more support than Hillary, who has obviously had her eyes on the presidency for the last 8 years. Did you know that Obama has some very suspect connections with organised crime in Chicago, yet this is nothing but a footnote in the mainstream media? Expect that if Obama does win the primary, all of these skeletons will be trotted out, destroying his credibility and all but gauranteeing a republican win. On the other hand, there probably isn't much muck left to rake against Hillary - all of it was trotted out for the elections in the 90's, and undoubtedly she's tried to keep her reputation as sqeaky-clean as possible since then, so she is definitely a much scarier opponent to the republicans than Obama.

    Did you know that Obama co-sponsored the renewal of the Patriot Act? Not just supported, but co-sponsored. Funny how this hasn't been reported widely, given how many people feel about the patriot act.

  9. 1) Almost everyone voted for the renewal and the original patriot act
    (so the consensus seems to the right of what we might think)

    2) read this from Obama

    "Let me be clear: this compromise is not as good as the Senate version of the bill, nor is it as good as the SAFE Act that I have cosponsored. I suspect the vast majority of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle feel the same way. But, it's still better than what the House originally proposed.

    This compromise does modestly improve the PATRIOT Act by strengthening civil liberties protections without sacrificing the tools that law enforcement needs to keep us safe.

    In this compromise:

    * We strengthened judicial review of both national security letters, the administrative subpoenas used by the FBI, and Section 215 orders, which can be used to obtain medical, financial and other personal records.
    * We established hard-time limits on sneak-and-peak searches and limits on roving wiretaps.
    * We protected most libraries from being subject to national security letters.
    * We preserved an individual's right to seek counsel and hire an attorney without fearing the FBI's wrath.
    * And we allowed judicial review of the gag orders that accompany Section 215 searches. The compromise is far from perfect.

    I would have liked to see stronger judicial review of national security letters and shorter time limits on sneak and peak searches, among other things. "

    Not sure what you refer to in terms of organized crime, maybe Rezko?

  10. Yes, Rezko. Read the link I posted (it kind of got cut off, but if you select it and copy & paste you can still visit).

    I'm not pretending this is the be-all-and-end-all that proves Obama is a crook and is going to lose the election, but it is a side of the current campaigns that is NOT being covered by the mass media, so you have to ask why that is.

  11. Hmm... the media likes a good story - if you are the hero they will tend to only report the "hero stuff". If you are a victim they will just report the victim stuff. Otherwise they undermine their own story by confusing the masses. I've seen that in practice.


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