RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE DAY: SPEAKER WURZELBACHER?

(First in a series? You tell me, dear readers)

The Speaker of the House is not constitutionally required to be a member of the House. So a future Democratic majority could draft Rahm Emanuel directly into service as Speaker without Emanuel needing to primary (please please) LWB Idol Tom Geoghegan for his old House seat. Unlikely to happen, right? Because even (maybe especially) after the pathetic performance of both houses through much of the Bush years, we can expect the House to show enough jealousy in defending its own institutional power not to put an outsider in the driver’s seat. And if not that, we can definitely expect individual members to show enough jealousy in defending their personal ambitions not to let somebody leapfrog to the top of the party leadership, even (maybe especially) if it’s a former congressman who bolted to run the White House.

But are there scenarios where this could happen? Republicans wide a wave of discontent over the still-terrible economy and frustration that Obama’s (GOP-engineered) legislative failures to take back the House in a few years, but John Boehner and enough of the guys around him flame out that a party turns its lonesome eyes to Newt Gingrich? Or Joe the Plumber?

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WOULD HILLARY CLINTON BE WINNING RIGHT NOW?

Seems pretty clear to me the answer is yes. Overall, I doubt Clinton’s apparent margin would be as big as Obama’s is at this moment; I’d guess she’d be doing better in Florida and worse in Colorado and Virginia. I doubt with Clinton at the top of the ticket we’d be considering the possibility of a new Democratic Senator from Georgia or (less likely) Mississippi or Kentucky. It’s hard to imagine her bringing in as many first-time voters or turning as many independents. But by all indications, Hillary Clinton would be beating John McCain right now for the most important reasons Barack Obama is beating John McCain, and the main reasons (which got a huge exclamation mark from this fall’s economic news) it looked a year ago like Clinton/ Obama/ Edwards would beat Romney/ McCain/ Thompson: eight years of right-wing Republican rule has devastated the Republican brand (so much so that conservatives are left to plead that it wasn’t right-wing at all).

If Clinton had been the candidate, I bet McCain could have convinced some more folks that he was the one in the race who would “turn the page” on politics as usual in Washington, and he could have kept his money out of Georgia, but it’s hard to imagine he would be poised to win the election right now. Conversely, while Clinton’s claims about McCain as a nominee – that he would throw the kitchen sink at the Democrat – proved true, her claim that Obama as nominee would wilt under the attacks proved laughably false (though unsurprisingly, her own gutter attacks on Obama proved to have long life on John McCain’s shelf).

Point being, what a wasted opportunity it would have been if the months of competition between Obama and Clinton had been settled just based on who looked to more Democrats like a safer choice to go up against John McCain.

WHOSE CHOICE?

Dahlia Lithwick notes the mendacity of choice language on abortion from anti-choice politicians like McCain and Palin:

In announcing that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant last week, GOP vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin used this puzzling locution: “We’re proud of Bristol’s decision to have her baby.” Pundits were quick to point out that Bristol’s “decision” must have been at least somewhat constrained by her mom’s position–as articulated in November 2006–that she would oppose an abortion for her daughters, even if they had been raped…So what exactly, one wonders, was young Bristol permitted to decide?

These rhetorical somersaults are, as Lithwick notes, the same ones John McCain employed in talking about a hypothetical Meghan McCain pregnancy eight years ago. There’s no mystery here: Americans like choice more than they like abortion. Republicans know this, so they dress up their hard-line anti-choice positions as though they were just about choosing against abortion, while never conceding that there should be a choice at all (in my college days the student anti-choice group was called Choose Life At Yale; they published an ad comparing voting for John Kerry – who also advocates choosing life but is pro-choice – to voting for Jefferson Davis). And the media too often plays along, as when the New York Times profiled women in an abortion clinic making painful choices that weighed medical, religious, economic, and social factors; the Times held up these women, who were doing exactly what the pro-choice movement defends women’s right to do, as representing a middle ground in the abortion debate.

I’d add that watching Palin’s gymnastics on choice is probably the most interesting part of the 2006 gubernatorial debate re-aired on C-SPAN over the weekend. For someone who wants the government to criminalize a woman’s choices about her future, Sarah Palin’s rhetoric is awfully “personal.” She answers the first question on choice – about whether as a public official she would attend a public event to publicly support legislation banning abortion – by saying that she’s pro-life and “I don’t try to hide it and I’m not ashamed of it.” When asked whether a rape victim should be able to choose abortion, she objects that it wouldn’t “be up to me as an individual” whether that woman was forced to carry the fetus for nine months – leaving unsaid that if she had her way, it wouldn’t be up to the woman as an individual either. But Palin makes clear that she’d force the rape victim to carry the fetus by specifying only the life of the mother as acceptable grounds for abortion. Then she answers the follow-up question by saying rape is “a very private matter also, but personally, I would choose life.” The hypocrisy here is glaring: if Sarah Palin indeed wants that woman’s choice to be private, she should oppose government outlawing it. But she doesn’t.

So it should come as no surprise a minute later when she addresses euthanasia with the same rhetorical sleight of hand: “This is a very personal and private and sensitive issue and I do respect others’ opinions on it, but personally I do believe that no, government should not be sanctioning or assisting taking life.”

QUICK THOUGHTS ON OBAMA’S SPEECH

To choose a favorite talking head buzz phrase, I think Barack Obama did what he had to do tonight. And he did it quite well.

First, closing a convention that erred too far on the side of nice (that means you, Mark Warner), Barack Obama came out swinging against John McCain, and I think he managed to do it in a way that’s hard to characterize as “nasty” or “shrill” or “too angry,” unless you’re one of the people who characterizes Democrats that way for a living. He crossed that threshold John Kerry or Al Gore never quite did, where you take on political opponents with a toughness that suggests you could take on enemies as President. And he maintained his sense of humor while doing it.

Second, Obama also addressed the imaginary lack of specificity in his policy proposals (the only thing more imaginary may be the desire among voters to hear specifics of policy proposals) by laying out a series of them (including improvements to the bankruptcy law that his running mate helped worsen). He had to do it; it’s good that he did. But it’s an especially silly expectation coming from a press corps that lets John McCain continue praising himself for having championed policies he currently opposes. It’s a good sign that the speech gets compared to a State of the Union address (or is that too presumptuous!).

Third, Obama talked about his own story, not in the linear way he has in the past and others have at this convention, but by explicitly comparing experiences in his life to experiences of Americans he’s met. Of course it’s sad that he has a higher bar to clear here than would a White candidate. That said, he did a compelling job connecting Americans’ stories and his own and explaining how they inform where he’ll take the country.

And the uplift was there too.

As for the disappointment, of course some of the self-consciously non-that-kind-of-Democrat stuff (are we reinventing government again?) is bothersome.

And in a speech that was more aggressive than we’ve come to expect from Democratic nominees, there was some needless defensiveness. If you’re going to talk about the importance of fatherhood, why say it’s something we “admit”? Aren’t you undercuttng yourself? Why say “Don’t tell me Democrats won’t defend America,” as though you concede that that’s the perception – and why respond to the criticism you brought up by naming presidents from forty years ago? Obama seems unable to help himself from rehearsing potential counterarguments in a way that doesn’t really help him – as in “Some people will say that this is just a cover for the same liberal etc…” And I think Obama made himself seem a little smaller when he followed talking about the struggles his family has overcome by protesting that he’s not a celebrity. Finally, while he effectively seized the high ground on patriotism, it seems overly restrictive for Obama to say he won’t suggest that McCain takes his policy positions with any eye to political expediency – I hope he doesn’t really mean that part, which would seem to leave John Kerry’s “Senator McCain v. Candidate McCain” line of attack off limits.

YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY

Jimmy Carter has apparently issued another non-endorsement endorsement of Barack Obama, this time saying that while he “has not yet announced publicly,” after June 3 “a lot of the superdelegates will make a decision…announced quite rapidly,” and then “it will be time for her to give it up.” In other words: I haven’t made up my mind, but “my friend” is planning to endorse Obama soon, and when he does Hillary Clinton should concede…Of course the main difference when Carter ends the suspense and makes a “public” endorsement is that that’ll be a plum opportunity for John Hagee’s friends to call Obama an antisemite.

Speaking of hiding your love away, Senator Byrd endorsed Obama a few days after Hillary Clinton’s big-though-ultimately-insignificant win in his state. Which is funny only because I don’t think anyone doubts that Robert Byrd knew whom he supported before the West Virginia primary, and West Virginians are presumably the Democrats most influenced by a Robert Byrd endorsement. But Byrd and/ or Team Obama must have concluded (correctly) that an Obama endorsement before the WV primary only would have helped Team Clinton by raising expectations for Obama and drawing attention to the state (as well as maybe making Byrd look bad). Which just goes to show yet again how twisted election coverage is.

This was also probably the first time in a while that Robert Byrd’s seen his former KKK membership touted as a political asset. Maybe Joe Biden can help his veep chances by resurrecting his boast about Delaware being a slave state.

DISTINGUISHING

I have to believe Frank Rich knows better than this:

Even leaving aside the Giuliani record in New York (where his judicial appointees were mostly Democrats), the more Democratic Senate likely to emerge after 2008 is a poor bet to confirm a Scalia or Alito even should a Republican president nominate one. No matter how you slice it, the Giuliani positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control remain indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s.

Look, I like to gloat as much as the next guy, but let’s not do it at the expense of reality. And Rudy Giuliani has indeed gotten more traction than many (myself included) thought he ever could, despite James Dobson et al’s significant discomfort with him. But he’s not a pro-choice candidate (he’s not a pro-gay rights or pro-gun control candidate either). He believes abortion is immoral, and he’s made it clear to anyone who’s paying attention that he’ll appoint judges who will make abortion illegal. The intermediate question of whether he has nice things to say about laws banning abortion is a detail (he’s also reversing himself on laws that make it more difficult for women to access the right to choose). While the Senate on a good day can hold back particularly crazy nominees, the only people who come their way for confirmation are the ones the president sends over. And in case you haven’t noticed, drafting strategies on how to overturn Roe isn’t enough to deny you confirmation votes from Democrats.

A SORT OF CONVENTIONAL CAMPAIGN BOOK FROM A LESS CONVENTIONAL SENATOR

Just finished Paul Wellstone’s memoir The Conscience of a Liberal. It reads like a campaign book, which is what it is. Too much of it is taken up with descriptions of how much he respects colleagues who disagree with him, and how impressed they are with his courage. And Wellstone raises and then retires too quickly some questions that could have been the core of a better book – how effectively can electoral politics complement local issues-based organizing; did he vote for DOMA for the sake of re-election; how could Bill Clinton have pushed through more progressive policy. That said, Wellstone offers some telling reminders of the difference between merely opposing a bill and moving heaven and earth to stop it, and between paying lip service to a different kind of campaign and actually running one. And it needn’t cost you your job or your usefulness at it.

WORLD’S SHORTEST POLITICAL QUIZ

Guess where you can read the following political history:

You know, it is a word that originally meant that you were for freedom, that you were for the freedom to achieve, that you were willing to stand against big power and on behalf of the individual. Unfortunately, in the last 30, 40 years, it has been turned up on its head and it’s been made to seem as though it is a word that describes big government, totally contrary to what its meaning was in the 19th and early 20th century.

Is it the pages of Reason Magazine? The declaration of some self-described “classicaly liberal” professor? Nope. Those words were spoken at last night’s Democratic Debate by the party’s frontrunner.

This is what people mean when they complain about the Clintons’ much-vaunted triangulation – although this particular argument is really worse than triangulation, in that rather than positioning herself between two bad boogeymen of the hard left and hard right, she’s just defining her politics against left-wing “big government” (didn’t her husband already declare it over?). And she’s defining “individual freedom” against “big government” too.

It’s not a mystery why she would do this. Conservatives have done an impressive job of convincing people over the past decades that more government means less freedom. That’s how they’ve peddled their attacks on the majority’s ability to legislate against plutocracy. It’s how they’ve pushed forward an agenda that leaves Americans less free – prisoners of fear of disaster, dislocation, and disintegration of their communities and their hopes for their families.

Democrats have not done a great job over the past few decades of framing the debate in a way that elevates freedom from want and freedom from fear and challenges the idea that we are more economically free if your boss can fire you for being gay or fighting for more money. Right-wing frames are powerful. That means contemporary candidates need to either co-opt them or challenge them. Which choice they make is telling.

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON DEMOCRATIC DEBATE NUMBER THREE

Is it just me, or was the difference between the questions asked and the questions answered more pronounced in this debate than the previous ones? Maybe because the questions asked the candidates to speak about the extent of racism in America or its role in exacerbating social ills. Maybe the most marked contrast was when the candidates were asked why Blacks with high school degrees are less likely to find jobs than Whites without them; most of the answers were about how to get more Blacks high school degrees.

The order of the candidates led to the delightful spectacle of Chris Dodd making funny faces every round about having to follow Mike Gravel saying something about how craven and nasty everyone else on stage was. And it gave Barack Obama repeated chances to echo John Edwards, one time even saying he was finishing his sentence – does that mean he doesn’t take Edwards seriously as a threat at this point?

The biggest revelation of the night though was that Joe Biden organizes rallies for Black men to tell them they can be manly while wearing condoms. When I say progressive masculinity, you say Joe Biden! Where’s YouTube when you need it? Someone should name a line of condoms after the guy.

PUT DOWN THE FEMALE CANDIDATE AND NOBODY GETS HURT

Andrew Sullivan approvingly cites a reader’s nasty argument against Hillary Clinton:

If everyone is admitting that a Hillary Clinton’s potential nomination to the Democrat Presidential ticket is only fuel for the religious right, then what do you think Senator Clinton’s view is on that? Why is it that this either doesn’t concern her, or she thinks she can overcome it? If I were in the same position, I would realize that winning the nomination, only to further create a dichotomy between the American politic, would be disastrous for the country.

Now it’s one thing to say that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t run because she’s too unpopular to win the general election (though the polls won’t be much help to you there). It’s another thing to say that running for president even though a lot of people hate you shows “fathomless narcissism” (Sullivan’s phrase). In other words, if you love America, and there are a bunch of people in America who hate you, you shouldn’t run for election in America because it will divide America and that’s too great a price to pay.

There are good reasons not to like Hillary Clinton. Those are not the ones that make her unpopular with the religious right. Hillary Clinton, for all her caution with the personal and the political, is a lightning rod for anti-feminist forces in American politics who don’t believe women should exercise power traditionally reserved for men. Andrew Sullivan knows that.

It’s silly, though all too common, to suggest that the main problem facing this country is a lack of consensus about where it should go or what kind of person should lead it. And it’s outrageous, though by no means unusual, to argue that the enlightened response to the troubling views of a certain number of Americans is to accommodate them rather than to engage and challenge them.

Some people in this country think Hillary Clinton is a bitch because she wields power and wants more of it. It’s a shame to see pundits who should know better suggesting she’s a bitch for not acceding to those people’s wish that she would disappear.

THEY DON’T DO THAT, DO THEY?

Can anyone offer me an example of a staffer for a right-wing presidential candidate resigning in response to a campaign waged by a relatively low profile left-wing organization whose claims of offense on behalf of a large chunk of the population were repeated loudly and uncritically by the mainstream media without any substantive investigation into the nature of the organization?

For that matter, can anyone think up a scenario in which such a thing credibly could take place?

Can you see a Mitt Romney staffer leaving as a casualty of a campaign to off him by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund? What are the chances such a campaign would even make it into the New York Times? And if it did, wouldn’t it be in an article full of right-wing Mexicans bashing MALDEF as a Democratic Party organ?

"ANATHEMA TO FREE-MARKET SUPPORTERS"? I’M QUAKING IN MY BOOTS

From Jon Chait’s rebuttal of the aforementioned indecent proposal:

If I understand Lindsey, he is proposing the following bargain: Libertarians will give up their politically hopeless goal of eliminating two wildly popular social programs that represent the core of liberalism’s domestic achievements. Liberals, in turn, will agree to simply eviscerate these programs, leaving perhaps some rump version targeted at the poorest of the poor. To be fair, Lindsey offers these ideas only as the basis for negotiation, but the prospects of bridging this gulf seem less than promising.

It’s worth noting that even the libertarians at the Cato Institute, in a study Lindsey touts and Chait pokes some holes in, could only come up with 13% of the population to label libertarian. And half of them are already voting for Democrats, despite the “anti-nafta, Wal-Mart-bashing economic populism” that Lindsey warns will be the party’s undoing. You wouldn’t know it from visiting most elite universities, but libertarianism is not a big hit. That’s why Bill Kristol urged congressional Republicans not to go wobbly against the Clinton healthcare plan: Not because an expansion (insufficient and needlessly complex though it was) of the government’s role in the healthcare system was contrary to the will of voters, but because if it passed it would cement the popularity of the party that passed it.