Monday, March 10, 2008

Ed's Clintonian spin (and a Client 9 bonus)

Notwithstanding the Clinton camp's attempts to paint last week's primary victories as evidence of "momentum," and notwithstanding their latest flurry of attacks on Barack Obama (he's not ready to command, he's just like that right-wing blue-noser Ken Starr, he's not a Muslim "as far as I know"), I wish to provide, as Hillary herself would put it, a reality check:

In the competition for pledged delegates last week, she gained almost no ground on Barack Obama. And she will probably lose ground again tomorrow.

No spin can mask that fundamental fact. For instance, the latest CBS-tabulated results show that, for all her electoral success in Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island last Tuesday, she has managed to trim Obama's lead by only six delegates. Then, when you factor in the results of Saturday's Wyoming caucuses (where she lost by another landslide), her net gain over the past week stands at four delegates. And when you factor in tomorrow's Mississippi primary (where African-Americans will vote heavily), and the resulting delegate allocations, Clinton's March gains are likely to evaporate completely.

In other words, Obama will have nearly the same pledged delegate lead (ranging, in various media estimates, from 110 to 142) that he had when the month began. It would not be a surprise, six weeks hence, if Clinton trims that gap by winning Pennsylvania; however, anything short of a landslide would not yield her enough delegates to truly change the dynamic. Moreover, her likely modest gains could well be erased again, two weeks later, in North Carolina (a large black electorate) and perhaps in Indiana (Obama has generally performed better in the red states).

Given these realities, it's no surprise that the Clintons keep trying to shift the goalposts, work the media refs, and consider all options, even nuclear. Clinton herself, in a Newsweek interview, has just hinted that she might be willing to violate the most basic Democratic rules of behavior in her pursuit of victory: "Even elected and caucus delegates are not required to stay with whomever they are pledged to." (italics mine)

Clinton surrogate Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, pitched in yesterday on Meet the Press, with all the subtlety of a buffalo attempting a balletic pirouette.

One of his basic goals was to denigrate all the contests that Obama was won. For starters, he dismissed all the Obama caucus victories, because, in his words, caucuses are "undemocratic" - which, if true, prompts me to wonder why Clinton spent so many months and so many millions contesting Iowa, where she repeatedly extolled both the people and their electoral tradition.

Overall, Rendell basically dismissed Obama as a guy who does "wonderfully well in Wyoming and Utah and places like that," somehow omitting the fact that Obama has waxed Clinton with primary victories in places like Wisconsin (critical Democratic state that was closely contested in the autumn elections of 2000 and 2004), Virginia (red state that is turning purple), Colorado (same description as Virginia), Maryland (reliable blue state), Missouri (America's bellwether, and a red state in 2000 and 2004) and Louisiana (potentially winnable southern state, especially if African-Americans are energized). And does Rendell really believe that reliably blue California and New York won't vote Democratic in November, even if primary loser Obama is topping the ticket?

Rendell also made the usual Clintonian pitch for Florida and Michigan, lauding her meaningless victory in the former, and claiming that her meaningless performance in Michigan - alone on the ballot, she got only 55 percent of the vote - was really a testament to her strength.

But enough of that. The most significant moment yesterday came when Tim Russert asked Rendell whether he thought that Obama was qualified to be president. Rendell replied, "I think he's qualified" - certainly qualified enough to be vice president, and, moreover, if Obama turns out to be the nominee, Rendell said he would work his heart out for him.

Well, those were certainly inconvenient remarks - given the fact that Clinton during the past week has suggested precisely the opposite about Obama's creds. Here she was last Monday: "I think it's imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander in chief threshold, and I believe that I've done that. Certainly Senator McCain has done that. And you'll have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy."

Rendell was then asked to square his assessment of Obama as "qualified," with Clinton's intimation that Obama is not.

His response: "Well, I, I think he's ready. He's not nearly as ready as Hillary Clinton is, there's no question about that. But, look, make no mistake about it, he's a talented, dynamic politician and, and a, and a good senator, and I think he would make a fine president..."

Russert, moments later, asking the key question: "But if, in fact, there's a possibility Obama may be the Democratic nominee, would it be better, in the interest of the Democratic Party, that the Clintons not suggest that he hasn't passed the threshold to be commander in chief?"

Rendell: "Well, sure. Look, there, there's rhetoric in a campaign on all, on all sides, and I, I think the, the issue should be framed as 'ready compared to Hillary Clinton.' And, and that's the way I would frame the issue going forward."

(Here's Obama on Monday afternoon, at an event in Mississippi, addressing himself to Clinton: "If I’m 'not ready,' how is it that you think I should be such a great Vice President?")

I bet the Clinton camp is less than thrilled with Rendell today. If Clinton's spinners are going to successfully distract the public from the fact that their delegate deficit remains unchanged, that they have won half as many contests as Obama, and that they have garnered 591,000 fewer popular votes than Obama in all the states that have awarded delegates, spin discipline is essential.


By the way, there are reports that Karl Rove has become an unofficial, informal advisor to John McCain. (Indeed, two weeks ago, Rove told an audience at the University of Pennsylvania that McCain should embark on a national tour to "reintroduce himself" to the American public, to highlight his biography...and, sure enough, McCain's campaign late last week announced that he intends to do just that.)

Democrats no doubt fear that Rove will concoct negative talking points to use against Obama, should he become the nominee. But why should Rove even bother, when Hillary Clinton is busy doing that work for him - by impugning Obama's commander readiness?

To Ed Rendell, the attacks on Obama by his own candidate are mere "rhetoric." To Karl Rove, they are the sweetest music since the Beatles.


Has George W. Bush lived up to Ronald Reagan's legacy? Not a chance, especially if one assesses Reagan the man as opposed to Reagan the myth. I explored this issue yesterday, in a book review for The Washington Post.


Hypocrisy alert, featuring "Client 9":

What is it with these male politicians, anyway? Do they have delusions of omnipotence, or what? Do they fool themselves into thinking that there are still secrets in this new world of transparency, and that nobody will ever ferret out a disconnect between their public and private behaviors?

Last year we had (among others) Senator David Vitter, the Republican whose "family values" image turned out to be at variance with his yen for mercenary nookie. And now, today, we have New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, billed last summer by USA Today as "one of the next great hopes of the Democratic party," a Democrat whose "reformer" image - including a 2004 crusade against a call-girl ring - appears to have been trumped by the revelation that, just last month, he paid for intimate services rendered in a Washington hotel a member of a call-girl ring.

His payment: $4300 (partly an advance, for future services).
His request, according to a prostitute quoted in a federal court document: "(H)e would ask you to do things, like, you might not think were safe."

Start an office pool on when this guy is going to quit his job. But don't dally.

By the way, there's a sentence that typically appears in news stories about the governor: "Spitzer, who is widely known to harbor presidential ambitions..." I don't suppose we'll be seeing that one again. Unless he tries to form a bipartisan rogue ticket with Rudy Giuliani.