Monday, March 31, 2008

Mr. Obama and the Democratic Unity

It has become readily clear that Hillary Clinton will not win the nomination. As such, she must step aside to smooth the path for Barack Obama so that he can begin the long term healing process within the Democratic Party. This primary has opened up deep divisions within the party, something that, I imagine, took party leaders by surprise, and has turned out to be quite a debacle. But since they are here, the Democratic Party must take strides to address this. Just as the primary has opened these wounds, the primary must also serve to heal them. This primary, now, isn’t so much about getting a Democratic candidate into the White House; so much as it is getting Democrats on the same page to vote in November. As such, Mrs. Clinton should step aside to allow for Mr. Obama, the default candidate, to begin this process.

By no means should this be considered a "victory" by Mr. Obama and his supporters. . This has been such a competitive race between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, that any such declarations of "victory" by one camp might necessarily imply the other is the "loser." Losers tend to be disheartened. And "losers" tend to not come out to the polls to vote. Indeed, Mr. Obama now faces the difficult task of convince the Clinton supporters to support him. This is something he has not been able to do over the course of the past few months, and, now that polls suggest that supporters are clearly entrenched, will not make it any easier.

Mr. Obama needs to bargain with Mrs. Clinton’s supporters begins. By bargain, I mean that Mr. Obama needs to adjust his message to suit Mrs. Clinton’s followers. Mr. Obama needs to alter his message, to find a point to where Obama retains his own "voice" but also incorporates Mrs. Clinton's "voice." Mr. Obama cannot simply be the "anti-Hillary."

Nor do have his messages of “hope” worked. Mr. Obama needs to take a more pragmatic, less “high minded” approach to Mrs. Clinton’s supporters. He needs to climb down from the academic ivory tower and speak the language of blue collar workers, Hispanics, and the elderly: less liberal and more jobs and health care. How he can integrate that into his current message will be quite a challenge for him.

How then, does Mr. Obama bargain with Hillary's supporters, to make them feel like, despite not being able to vote in November for the candidate of their choice, they're still getting a "good deal"? How does Obama invite blue collar workers and minorities into his coalition when he hasn't been able to do so already? He can’t do this by simply attacking Hillary. They clearly support Hillary, so any more attacks might simply press them to dig in their heels more. Mr. Obama needs to find the right message but he can’t do that while trading barbs with Hillary supporters. The name calling needs to stop and the real work of building a coalition needs to get done.

How then, does Mr. Obama win over Mrs. Clinton’s supporters? There are two schools of thought on this.

The first is that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama continue to duke it out. While this is happening, Mr. Obama continues to find a way to reach out to these communities and tweak his message, in the hopes that he eventually these voting blocs come to realize on their own that Mr. Obama, is indeed, the right candidate for the Democratic party.

The obvious problem with this is that this is what he’s been trying to do and, so far, this isn’t working. In addition, the more this continues, the greater chance that, instead of gaining Mrs. Clinton’s voters, Mr. Obama provides more fodder for the press and the Republican Party, and risks alienating voters who are tired of two of the politicking between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.

The second option is simply for Mrs. Clinton to resign. In this scenario, the Democratic Party would cut its losses and at least stop the war. While it might put off some Hillary supporters indefinitely, it at least gives some time for Mr. Obama to claim his mantle and make more direct efforts to appease her supporters with the weight of the nomination behind him.

This follows a strategy similar to John McCain. While he doesn’t have the full support of the Republican Party, now that he has the Republican nomination as his bully pulpit, he can quietly go around the country meeting with Republicans who did not initially support him, in an attempt to sway them to his side.

The problem with this strategy is that the Republican nomination process did not have such deep divisions as the Democratic Party does. Because the hostilities in the Republican Party never existed, opposing party members might be more conciliatory at the bargaining table. Therefore, it’s more likely Mr. McCain will be able to gather the necessary support for November.

Mr. Obama faces a much more difficult task because the hostilities are deeper. Even still, Mrs. Clinton’s supporters will be hard to bargain with regardless. The key difference is that, with Mrs. Clinton resigning, he won’t have to fend off attacks from both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain, while supporting Hillary’s supporters. Just from McCain. This will allow him to focus his efforts on persuading Hillary’s supporters.

I opt for the latter strategy, Mrs. Clinton should step aside. Indeed, there are deep divisions within the Democratic Party, with each candidate representing various factions. This is a long term problem that may actually, never be solvable by the Democratic Party. I hate to say it, but Democrats might be too diverse right now. The Clintons had their chance in the 90s. They did a tremendous job in the White House and history will remember it. It is, however, time for someone else to get a shot at reconfiguring the Democratic Party. Mr. Clinton’s “third way” of governing has long since passed and it’s time for a new political theory on governance to take place.

While admittedly, I have yet to be persuaded by Mr. Obama, I am also not totally satisfied with Mrs. Clinton. In this, sense, I have supported Mrs. Clinton, simply by default. She’s a strong, competent candidate, who will do a solid job in the White House. However, I’m not sure if she’s the right person to lead the Democratic Party to form a new coalition.

Because I think unity within the party is important, Mr. Obama gets a nod, also by default: he’s simply someone other than Hillary. Can he provide the sound policy and legislative mastery that Mrs. Clinton has? This is clearly untested and is why I’m hesitant with Mr. Obama.

In the end though, long term objectives of party unity are more persuasive to me. While I’m still far from convinced about Mr. Obama’s chances in the short term, in November, I’m far less convinced about Mrs. Clinton’s chances in the long run.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

New research on age expectancy

Found an interesting article in old favorite The New York Times today. Apparently as life expectancies for Americans, generally, are increasing, affluent people are seeing the greatest rise in life expectancy. In turn, this is creating a wider gap in the life expectancy between rich and poor. On the one hand, this is somewhat unsurprising given our lack of universal healthcare and the rising cost of private insurance. But on the other hand, whether or not this is expected, it still seems inherently "wrong." Not only does an underprivileged upbringing restrict access to education and social opportunity, but now even to the opportunity to live a full life. Quite disheartening.


After conducting a running debate with Dave the last few days, I felt it necessary to revisit this subject and clarify a bit. I do not mean to place my focus and emphasis solely on the issue of "equality." Meaning: it is not the notion that there is a gap between rich and poor that offends me. In my heart I'm saddened by a widening rich/poor gap, mostly because I do not believe the factors contributing to that gap are within the realm of control of the people at either end of the spectrum; but from an analytical standpoint I recognize that that is an argument of passion, not of logic, and that there will always be a gap between rich and poor. Any efforts to eliminate that gap pull the masses towards the bottom, rather than lifting those at the bottom toward the top. To go further with this, I also understand and accept the notion that most of the strides made towards access to healthcare at the bottom are the result of actors at the top striving towards new and dynamic approaches to medicine. Again, I accept and recognize that independently funded research by the wealthy leads to discoveries of new technologies and cures that are then put into broader use. 
The study cited specifically notes that while life expectancies for the wealthy are increasing at a more rapid rate, the life expectancy for the impoverished is also increasing. So long as baseline access is increasing in its own right, "equality" should not be the chief concern--so goes the logic.
However, I can only accept this logic if access to baseline healthcare is adequate. I am tempted to use more impassioned language describing healthcare as a fundamental human right and defining adequate as preserving the dignity of human life. But in an effort to avoid an overly passionate, bleeding-heart-liberal rant, I will stick with adequate. Aspects of the cited study clearly reflect that access to baseline healthcare for impoverished people is not adequate--one need look no further than the mention of growing infant mortality rates. Access to prenatal care and education is an area I would define as a "baseline," and if infant mortality rates are on the rise in classes defined by both wealth and race, I would say the baseline is woefully inadequate.
The answer, of course, is not to enforce policy or controls that have the effect of setting an "age-limit" on the rich (though I will admit to chuckling at that response...well played Dave). And the results of the study might not necessarily show a direct link between access for the rich and lack of access to the poor. To me, the value of the study is largely symbolic. What the study indicates is that we're capable of great things in medicine, great advances and startling new technologies. We are not a country incapable of providing for our citizens. Yet in a country where so many have so much, too many have far too little. A country capable of the advances in medical research and technology like ours should not tolerate a rise in the infant mortality rate. We are not simply dealing with a situation where more affluent people are living to 78 and less affluent are living until 72 on average. Had that been the case, I doubt I would have reacted with much vigor to the study. However, in my opinion it is not enough to say our system is "OK" because life expectancies are higher across the board when we live within a system that fails to provide such basic, fundamental medical care that we have seen a rise in infant mortality rates. And when the available data indicates that the "gap" in care and access is divided along lines of race and wealth, I cannot help but see those results and ask: Is this really the best we can do? 
Whether there is a "better" system to be had, I do not know. And the answer may be that there is not. I will not pretend to be situated in a way to rationalize all the socio-economic dominoes of socialized health care, or universal health care, or however one would label it. I will also announce in open space that I am not an advocate for a plan that follows the European system. But I think an inquiry needs to be made. And if my offense to the results of this study is based not on reason or logic but on blind passion and misplaced concern for "equality," then so be it. I will accept that my offense is simply blind passion--sometimes blind passion is necessary to illuminate issues, even if the issues are more complex than the person spewing the blind passion can realize.
And as a final note, I want to say directly to Dave: none of this is meant to "argue" with you exactly, to say I'm right and you're wrong, or to accuse you in any way, shape, or form of "caring" less than I do. I don't mean to say any of that, and I wouldn't do that as I don't believe our debate was based upon what is "right" and "wrong." In fact I have generally found from our conversations that our vision of right and wrong is fairly well aligned. The purpose of this updated post is only to explain my reaction to the study more fully and to not throw up a knee jerk reaction filled with holes. If my argument still misses the mark, so be it...but at least now I feel as if this is much fuller description of why I reacted the way I did to the study.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More on polls

Gallup polls for the last few days show Mrs. Clinton in about a 5% lead over Mr. Obama--her first statistically significant lead since early February. There are a few potential explanations for her new lead: momentum from her wins in Texas and Ohio, her expected win in Pennsylvania, and the backlash against Mr. Obama from the now infamous sermon from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr.

The question, of course, is just how much of the increase is based on Rev. Wright's speech, and how will the fallout from that speech affect the polling numbers? When Mrs. Clinton initially moved ahead in the polls, the polling data was taken in the immediate aftermath of Wright's remarks. However, as we all know, Mr. Obama made what was widely regarded as a moving and poignant speech on race in America on Tuesday. Gallup reflects that Wednesday's numbers improved for Mr. Obama--indicating that perhaps his response stemmed the tide, so to speak. The telling information should come in polls the rest of this week and early next week to see how voters react to Mr. Obama's response.

For some information on how general election polling has shifted because of the "Wright-Controversy," see this article on Real Clear Politics. And lest we ignore the inevitable inter- and intra-party sniping that Rev. Wright hath wrought, here is a nice summary from Citizen Kendrick's old favorite, The New York Times.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In national polls, McCain is beating both Hillary and Obama

An interesting tid bit, according to the widely respected Zogby poll, John McCain is beating both Obama and Hillary in a national poll.

McCain 46 - Obama 40
McCain 48 - Clinton 40

This reverses many months of Democrats clearly out polling Republicans on the national scope. Could it be that while Democrats have loudly been beating up on each other, Republicans have quietly been rallying around McCain?
It is always refreshing to see a politician take a position that is entirely self-serving.

My personal favorite parts:

1. Sen. Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said it was "un-American" to not count the votes in Florida and Michigan...

Oh boy, invoking patriotism to support your position? Sooweey, I'm on your side now! As long as felons are barred from participating in general elections, I don't think it's "un-American" for a private group to not count the votes of certain people based on the by-laws of their organization.

2. "Sen. Obama speaks passionately on the trail about empowering American people. Today I am urging him to match those words with actions to make sure people of Michigan and Florida have a voice and a vote in this election,"

Twisting your opponent's words, altering the context, and then using them to support your own position? Great strategy. Again, the rules were the rules and it's not as if Michigan and Florida citizens have been stripped of their right to vote. They could have voted in the Republican primary, and let us not forget there is a little thing called the "general election" coming up in November, pretty sure they'll be permitted to have a voice in that contest.

3. The Clinton camp also pointed out that Obama agreed to comply with DNC rules, which prohibit cross-over voting

Oh the irony! First, the counter is silly because whether Obama's camp encouraged Michigan Dems to vote "uncommitted" is moot. The fact remains that no doubt some Michigan Dems did vote in the Republican primary under the assumption that their own party's primary would not count. Second, and more amusing to me, I think it's great that Clinton is citing the DNC rules against Obama when a violation of the DNC rules is what started this entire debacle in the first place.

That is all.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

D.C. v. Heller--post oral arguments

While it is premature to make any guarantees about how the opinion will ultimately shape up, coming out of the argument today it seemed pretty clear there were essentially four views about the case. This humble blog contributor will give a shorthand review of the way things broke today, since there are various other blogs with many more intelligent words already written than will ever appear in this cyberspace. Anyway, the arguments broke down thusly:

Scalia/Thomas: The two clauses of the Second Amendment (the "militia clause" and the "right to bear arms clause") are not contradictory. As Scalia said in argument today, the entire Amendment can essentially be read as "because we think a militia is so important, people should have the right to bear arms." Under this reading, Scalia and Thomas would define the right to bear arms as a fundamental right and require strict scrutiny.

Roberts: The two clauses are severable, and there is therefore a private right to bear arms. Roberts never specifically articulated the right as a "fundamental" one, nor did he necessarily describe the level of scrutiny to be applied. He did, however, throw out several different restrictions he believed would be perfectly reasonable: restricting access to machine guns, to plastic guns that could pass metal detectors, or restricting handgun ownership to person over the age of 21.

Kennedy: The two clauses are severable, and there is therefore a right to private ownership of firearms.  Specifically, the Amendment was crafted to ensure a right of self-defense. The Amendment was drafted as a means of allowing settlers to protect themselves from animal and Indian attacks. Kennedy also appeared to suggest some sort of intermediate scrutiny.

Breyer: There is a right to private handgun ownership, but the militia clause should be read to mean gun ownership is subject to governmental regulation. Breyer seems to suggest a Rational Basis review, and would find the D.C. law to be reasonable.

Stevens/Souter: The militia clause and the right to bear arms are not severable. Any private right to bear arms is limited to the context of a state-regulated military.

Given the way things played out today, it seems apparent that the majority opinion will be authored by either Roberts or Kennedy (I got the impression it would be Kennedy when reading transcripts), with a concurrence by Scalia arguing for Strict Scrutiny, a concurrence/dissent by Breyer, and a dissent by Stevens. Mike O'Shea over at Concurring Opinions came to essentially the same conclusion, and explained the breakdown in greater detail. SCOTUSBlog has quite a bit of coverage and links to numerous opinion articles. And of course The New York Times weighed in, but didn't really say much besides a generic summary. Dave (friend of this blog) also, as usual, has quite a bit of insight to lend. I am not sure if he plans to update his Traditional Notions with his take on this case, but readers are encouraged to check in the coming days, or to simply talk to him around campus.

Monday, March 17, 2008

D.C. v. Heller

To whomever reads this blog, tomorrow will bring oral arguments in the now somewhat infamous D.C. guns case. This is, of course, a 2nd Amendment case: the District of Columbia banned private possession of handguns, but still allowed possession of shotguns and rifles. Respondent argues that this violated the 2nd Amendment's guarantee of a right to bear arms.
The humble directors and contributors of this here blog urge our underwhelming readership to follow coverage of the case throughout the day. However, for those of you who do not, we will be posting in this cyberspace a summary of the day's events after the dust settles.
For those of you who are interested in beat-by-beat coverage, SCOTUSblog appears to be providing a streaming "LiveBlog."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Some SCOTUS Insights.

In an effort to supplement the CLE seminars of his company, Bryan Garner conducted interviews with almost the Supremes (no interview from Davey Souter) concerning their views on "their legal-writing pet peeves and their opinion-writing philosophies."

I'm only halfway through part 1 of Scalia's interview, but I'm finding it quite compelling.

You can find all the videos here.