That’s Rich

One of this weekend’s biggest news items was Governor Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Senator Obama. What made the endorsement so interesting was that the Obama camp for months has been arguing that the superdelegates should abide by their constituents and cast their votes according to the popular vote in their home districts or states. This argument is undermined by the fact that Senator Clinton won the New Mexico caucus by a little less than 4,000 votes. One might be swayed by Richardson’s arguments that the election was so close it’s not as much as an issue as a superdelegate from Georgia (which Obama won by 30 points) endorsing Clinton. Or the fact that Obama won Richardson’s former congressional district and therefore won Richardson’s core constituency.

These arguments are flimsy. What is the threshold for switching alligences? Less than 1%? 1%? Most states are considered swing states if the margin of difference is less than 5%. Furthermore, Richardson hasn’t held the seat in the 3rd district since 1997. He’s two different government jobs since then (both in unelected positions) and it was the people of NewMexico, not the people of Santa Fe County that made him governor.

Obama and his supporters cannot continue to play the “will of the people” card if one of their high-profile endorsers is in fact bucking that will. So what to do? The only sensibile solution is to say “thanks, but no thanks.” The campaign must forcefully announce that not only must the superdelegates abide by the will of the people but that the candidates will as well. Obama should make it his personal policy that he is appreciative of the support of big name superdelegates such as Richardson, but come the convention in August he will not accept their vote, especially if it puts him over the top. As the current delegate count stands right now neither Clinton nor Obama will secure enough pledged delegates in the remaining contests to cross the finish line, it’s going to come down to superdelegates or some very brave pledged delegates on the floor. By stating that he will not accept the a vote that stands counter to the superdelegates constituency Obama will lead by example and certainly take some of the pressure of off those undecideds. It might even pave the way for a deal before the convention


Slouching Towards Democracy

 The Supreme Court handed down a particularly interesting decision on Tuesday, but was largely hidden by the attention given to D.C. v. Heller. The Court ruled, 7-2, that the state of Washington was allowed to retain a two-party primary system in which the top two vote getters would move onto the general election. Theoretically, this means that two candidates from the same party could be running against each other in the general election.

Opponents of the state law (which was overwhelmingly passed as a state referendum) argued that the system restricts the parties’ First Amendment rights and it allows people who do not share the general views of that party to run under its banner (e.g. white supremacist David Duke ran as a GOP candidate in Louisiana which has a similarity structured primary system).  The Court, however, sided with supporters who argued it was the state’s power to control elections.

The argument that parties have the final say about who can run in elections is not only particularly vexing but also lies at the current crisis surroundings the Democratic primaries. “The ability of a political party to select its message and messengers is really what a political party is all about,” says John White, the attorney for the Washington State Republican Party. Anyone who has been near a newspaper, television or computer in the last decade can plainly see this assertion travels beyond the realm of preposterous. Political parties have the same ability to select their message as cows have the ability to select if they want to become a steak or a belt. Did the Democratic Party suddenly decide it wanted to discuss race this week? Did the Republican Party decide it wanted to discuss poverty after Katrina? The media decides the message and they’ve been doing it almost since the beginning of politics. Parties simply get to decide who they want to discuss the message the media decides upon. And the media even gets a role in deciding if those people are worthy enough.

The real purpose of the parties, as demonstrated by the argument presented by White, is to keep a strangle hold on the system. No one gets past the velvet rope unless the two major parties give the go ahead. For an excellent third party perspective see Ralph Nader’s Crashing the Party. Why do the parties despise this ruling so much? Because it allows third parties a backdoor, one that skirts them around the media and the money. They can attach themselves to a recognizable party name but bring new and dangerous ideas with them. It no longer becomes about passing an arbitrary electibility threshold, but about ideas. (People laugh at Clinton adviser’s saying that Obama needs to pass a national security/commander-in-chief threshold test this summer, but when you consider it an electibility threshold is just as silly).

Indeed, the argument is being made right now among Democrats that Clinton should step aside for Obama because he’s the people’s choice and the superdelegates should vote for him. People who make this argument completely miss the point of the superdelegates. The purpose of the superdelegates was to keep the decision out of the hands of the unwashed masses, to simotaneously avoid the 1968 Convention and the 1972 general election. Superdelegates are supposed to vote for the candidate who can do the most for the party, this is not necessarily the candidate who wins the popular vote. No one seems to understand that. Should the system work like that? Probably not, but that is the way it was designed. To think the party would ever allow the popular vote to actually select the candidate is naive.

The irony of the situation? The Court’s ruling essentially reverts the electoral process back to the 19 century. Every presidential election before 1804 had candidates of the same party running against each other. The 12th Amendment was enacted to ensure that candidates wouldn’t syphon votes off of each other and through the election into the House as they did in 1800. Candidates from the same party ran against each other two more times. In 1836 the Whigs ran four candidates against Martin Van Buren in hopes of throwing the election into the House. Van Buren crushed all of them, winning 50% of the popular vote and 57% of the electoral vote. In 1860 Breckenridge and Douglas, both Democrats, ran in the general. Douglas came in second in terms of popular vote, but only won 12 electoral votes.

So, with history in mind, will the electorate be better off with this system in place? It certainly addresses the problem most voters have with the current system- the need to choose between the lesser of two evils. But it still fails to address the problem of a two party system. Only the top two candidates will face each other in the general. Even the Founding Fathers gave the people more credit than being only restricted to two candidates-the 12th Amendment sends the top three vote electoral vote getters to the House in case no gets a majority.

Taxing Stuff

Flipping through our world almanac we came across a rather interesting chart entitled  “Tax Payments in Selected Countries”, compiled from data provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It breaks the tax payments down into three categories- income tax, social security, and total payment (all are a percentage of gross wage earnings). The U.S. takes 15.7% in income tax and 7.7% in social security for a total payment of 23.4%. It sits at number 2o out of 30 countries ranked. Germany is number one, taking 42.7% total and Mexico is number 30 taking 5% total.

This is all very interesting in relation to the recent news that for the first time since World War II the U.S. is no longer the world’s number one economy. Before the new winner is revealed I encourage you to sit back for a minute and think about all the tax cut rhetoric that’s come out of this election. Based on what conservatives say, which country do you think unseated the premire global economic power for the last six decades? Is it Mexico? The country that only demands 5% from its citizens? Wrong. The new number one economy in the world is the EU. The very same EU of which Germany, a country that demands nearly that collects 21% of gross wage earnings in social security alone, is a part.

Admittedly, we’re not economists here at All Night Returns but we think the point is still a valid one. The tax cut rhetoric that is an easy sell on election day is not the cure all. Those slighty off balance individuals who advocate the repeal of the income tax all together and a return to something resembling a tariff based economy are just out for votes and their sense of history extends no further than tomorrow. Of course if the last few days are any indication it’s not looking like the professionals have any idea what they’re doing either.

The Best Laid…

The plan was to keep All Night Returns 100% Spitzer free, however, after reading this article in the Post today I could hold my tongue no more. I have noticed that nearly every news story for the past few days has been missing an irrefutable fact and key part of the story-

Ashley Alexandra Dupre is a criminal.

She knowingly and willingly entered in a criminal enterprise. The argument will be made that she had no choice, that she was forced into this business. No one is forced into becoming a $1,000/hour escort just as no one forced into defending soulless corporations for a $1,000/hour. Not only do you have to choose to enter this line of business but you must have developed certain contacts to do so and one can only find these contacts if one consciously looks for them. The idea of Ms. Dupre as a victim, when one considers that she was not being any more used for her body than Spitzer was being used for his bank account, is ludicrous. The client demands a service and the enterprise provides it. Both sides are culpable. Desire is not a crime, a transaction must be involved. The act of wanting drugs does not makes me a criminal, it is my purchasing of drugs that does. Spitzer needed a supplier and Ms. Dupre fit that role.

The real tragedy does not lie solely in the victimization of Ms. Dupre, rather it lies in the public obsession with Ms. Dupre as a whole. What does it matter that she came from a broken home or put some mediorce hip hop on her social networking website? None of the answers to these questions tell us what drove her to become an escort (the media is slyly hinting that her admission of abuse is to be read as sexual abuse and obviously this is what drives every woman to prostitution/pornography). The media has failed to ask the bigger questions about our society as a whole. Why do we hold our elected officials to these standards (keep in mind that Spitzer has not been formally charged with anything yet and adultry is not a crime), but more importantly why do we not hold ourselves to these same standards? How can we demand that our elected officials not pay for sex but accept that we live in a society where sex can be sold? How are we able to idolize one so-called victim but so easily forget that there are millions of women who will return to the street tonight making much less money in a much more dangerous environment? If the current media frenzy is any indictation these questions will never be answered.

Choices, Choices

Hendrik Hertzberg serves up some McCain VP talk in the New Yorker. Hertzberg blasts the usual short-listers (Pawlenty, Sanford, Crist, Romney) for being the height of banality, a string of unimaginative choices that add very little to the ticket other than the promise that they won’t rock the boat. Hertzberg goes on, however, to pick an equally unimaginative candidate: Condoleezza Rice.

Putting aside the very obvious fact that Rice has already declared she has absolutely no interest in the job, Hertzberg’s choice is fraught with a number of glaring miscalculations. “Her nomination to a constitutional executive office would cost McCain the votes of his party’s hardened racists and incorrigible misogynists,” he writes “[t]hey are surely fewer in number, though, than the people who would like to participate in breaking the glass ceiling of race or gender…..” I find such an assertion difficult to believe given that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism was seen as one of obstacles that denied him the nomination. Are we to accept that issuses of race take a backseat to religious preference? It is certainly a quaint notion, but highly unlikely.

The article goes onto say that by choosing Rice McCain shackles himself to the Iraq War, as if this were a positive thing. President Bush’s approval ratings have been hovering around 30%. If the GOP primary has proved anything it’s that the candidates are trying to run away from the current administration as quickly as possible. Witness the general dodging here (around the 3:30 mark). Voters, for the most part, still psychically associate McCain with the image of a maverick, of someone who was initially opposed Bush in 2000 and still fought pitched battle with him up until 2007. If he ties himself too closely to what is quickly becoming an administration associated with complete and total failure then his own failure in the general election is not far off.

Hertzberg apparently has settled too deeply into this fairyland fantasy world he has come to call home when he postulates that Rice’s feel good story will trump her failures. A splendid idea, but unfortunately one that does not operate in our reality. Thomas Eagleton obviously springs to mind, as does the soon to be former governor of New York Eliot Spitzer. The media, fueled by the Democratic candidate, will sink their teeth into Rice and certainly find things that will make her an unworthy candidate in the eyes of many people. It’s the stuff of politics.

The final point that needs to be made is the obvious one- McCain is old. If he loses the general election he will not be in a position to seek the nomination again in 2012, that responsibility will fall to whomever is given the number 2 position. McCain has to think long and hard about choosing a standard bearer, someone who will shape the party for years to come.I agree with Hertzberg on the point that the list of usual suspects rings of vanilla, but I believe that a truly imaginative choice lies in the future, not in the past.

Foreign Away

As an American living overseas I am consistently amazed at how much support Obama generates among foreigners. He’s incredibly popular among people who are in no way able to actually vote for him. Some may point to this as one of Obama’s greatest assets, that he is able to put America on sold ground again with the rest of the world. But this is an incorrect assertion for a few reasons.

First, the President of the United States is not representative of Americans as a whole. If this were true then every American is a born again Christian who advocates preemptive strikes against anyone who looks at them funny. This goes the other way as well, not every Iranian is hell bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and spurning the Western world.

Second, as the Economist as rightly pointed out, a Muslim name does not necessarily equal bold leadership skills. It will take more than just an appearance of diversity to correct the festering foreign policy mistakes of the last eight years. And certainly if Obama’s stance towards Pakistan is any indication of the kind of foreign policy he espouses then I am afraid we may have a much longer road ahead.

Finally, I think it’s important to point out that the people who are using foreign support of Obama to promote his credentials as a future commander-in-chief to a domestic audience are wasting their time. Any voters who believe Obama will be able to heal America’s image abroad are already in Obama’s camp, those people on the fence are not going to be swayed by what a Danish or French citizen thinks of our elected officials. And rightly so. The President is not just concerned with foreign policy, domestic policy takes up a good deal of him time as well. It was general discontent with the economy that unseated George H.W. Bush, despite near universal acclaim among voters for his handling of the first Gulf War and it was domestic stumble after domestic stumble (Katrina, Miers, immigration, social security) that brought the current President Bush’s opinion polls to historic lows and certainly contributed to the election of a Democratic controlled Congress.

Foreign opinion certainly matters, but it doesn’t win elections.

Obama’s Gamble

Carrie Budoff Brown via Ben Smith of Politico delivers Obama’s response to the notion of him filling up the bottom half of the ticket — it’s the White House or bust. But is this a truly wise move on Obama’s part? He correctly points out that Clinton is in no position to make such an offer, but Obama is not exactly in the position to turn the offer down either.
In order to lock up the nomination before the candidates arrive on the convention floor Obama needs to win roughly 75% of the delegates still in play. It’s a daunting task, but by no means impossible and is a road take us through March into April and possibly June. By declaring that he is interested in nothing less than the presidency Obama has committed himself, as well as the voters and more importantly the party, to this schedule. His refusal to compromise will allow the Clinton camp to frame him as the one who’s denying the voters what they really want — some variation of an Obama-Clinton ticket.

It is obvious that these two have mobilized the Democrats like few candidates in history. If anyone doubts this all they need to look at is the election results from the Texas primary last week. Obama received 1,358,785 votes. The entire turnout for the GOP primary that night was only 1,320,653.  Democrats have been outvoting Republicans 2:1 this primary season so this should come as no shock. The real story, however, is that the number of Democrats who voted last Tuesday (2,818,599) in Texas is only about 14,000 people fewer than the total number of Democrats who voted for John Kerry in Texas in the 2004 general election. Turnout for the Democratic primary may have only been 22% of registered voters, but it was over a three fold increase from four years earlier. Imagine what kind of turnout a general election could bring.

From a purely mathematical point of view there is no either/or, the best thing for the party would be a ticket that brings together Obama and Clinton regardless of who gets the briefcase with the nuclear codes and who gets the warm bucket of spit. Obama’s refusal to accept anything less than the nomination not only makes such an event unlikely but it allows Clinton to step into the role of unifier, of the one person who was willing to swallow her pride. Obama, on the other hand, sounds like a stubborn child.

Looks like we’ll have to make due with only one ticket that hates each other.