The boogie-woogie rumble of a dream deferred .. or is Democrat plot just starting to thicken?

Jan 9th, 2008 | By | Category: USA Today

In sober retrospect, it seemed just too improbable that Barack Obama would go from months of running well behind Hillary Clinton in the national opinion polls to suddenly dominating the US Democratic primaries. And it was. You can take your pick from the headlines: from “McCain and Clinton Win in N.H. In Major Comebacks” (Washington Post) to “Clinton edges Obama in N.H. primary” (San Francisco Chronicle). Almost all the last-minute pollsters were wrong – which is of course democratically refreshing. (Vide Marty Kaplan in the Huffington Post: “No matter what you think about Hillary Clinton, no matter how this campaign turns out, there is undeniable satisfaction in watching the pundit class being forced to eat the words of its premature obituaries.”) But has Obama’s dream suddenly been deferred for good? Hardly, as his deft concession speech made clear enough, with its continuing cry of “Yes we can!” On one instant analysis, the key in New Hampshire was the Boomer generation feminists, who were inspired by Gloria Steinem’s plea for Hillary in the January 8 New York Times. For greater depth, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. Meanwhile, the resurgent good news is that Democracy in America is still interesting again! (And, well, two-and-a-half cheers for Keith Olbermann and all his pundit-class friends at MSNBC!)

JANUARY 7 report: NORTHERN MINER’S GUIDE TO US PRIMARIES 2008 .. can Obama do it and/or why is Hillary crying?

The long process by which US Americans will be filling their highest public office in this maybe fateful year of 2008 has suddenly become a lot more fascinating than it seemed right up to the Iowa caucuses on January 3. The prospect that this year the choice of some party presidential nominees could be close to wrapped up as early as February 5 also draws attention to a manageable block of time that has already begun. Even for Canadian miners in the far north there are no longer any good excuses for not at least trying to pay a bit more attention.

Because, for a perhaps all too brief moment, it suddenly seems almost possible that something quite historic could happen this year. The early 21st century democracy in America actually may be going to elect a black man as president – an at least spiritual descendant of the African slaves who were officially liberated in the Civil War long ago, went on to invent the uniquely American classical music of jazz, and finally won something like free and just civil rights in the 1960s. In all the world that would or will be a remarkable thing. And the USA could stand tall again, in a new democratic republican age of change and reform … etc, etc. Amen. (Even if, just next door in Canada: “PM prepares as economy stagnates … Party almost over as US economist declares recession.”)

Obama in Iowa and the most he may mean : a select bibliography…

What Republican Mike Huckabee did in Iowa on January 3 is interesting too. But it is the relative magnitude of Democrat Barak Obama’s somewhat surprising 38% victory over John Edwards (30%), and Hillary Clinton (29%), that has finally made the primaries this year suddenly quite interesting. Some sample reactions:

(1) Even in places like Northern California, not everyone is misty eyed about the vast and potentially (or allegedly?) transforming prospects of President Barak Obama. Joe Garofoli’s arguments in the San Francisco Chronicle piece “Close race means California primaries may matter” are much more down to earth.

(2) Ruth Conniff in The Progressive had somewhat bolder but still guarded things to say about Obama. After raising some criticisms of his experience and known allegiances, she finally allows: “Still, the symbolism of his candidacy, and his victory, counts for something. Insider status, establishment support, and machine-like precision lost to pure grassroots passion and a more idealistic vision of what America could be (along with some very skillful organization and some very helpful cash). It’s pleasant to indulge for a moment in the feeling Obama stirs up.”

(3) At least some North American conservatives have grasped the attractions a Barak Obama presidency just might bring to democracy in America today with particular force. See, e.g., David Brooks on “The Two Earthquakes” in the New York Times, and John Ibbitson’s “Obama’s rise, America’s renewal” in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

(4) News of Obama’s surprisingly strong showing in Iowa (and now his dramatically improving poll numbers for New Hampshire on Tuesday, January 8) has already spread across the seas. According to The Independent in the UK: “Political earthquake propels Obama towards presidency … It’s now a real possibility that America will have its first black president after Barack Obama’s victory in the Democratic caucusus in Iowa.” Australia’s The Age from Melbourne reports that “AMERICA has taken a historic step towards electing its first black president, after Democrat senator Barack Obama seized victory in the opening presidential nominating race of the 2008 US elections in Iowa.” And even beyond the English-speaking world, it has been declared that “Europe discovers the ‘son of Kenyan goatherd’.”

(5) What is Obama all about anyway – beyond vague remarks on “change”? One place to begin trying to figure this key question out is the remarks he made when he first announced his current presidential bid just a little less than a year ago now – in Springfield, Illinois, capital city of the State of Illinois and home of Abraham Lincoln during his later legal and political careers. In these February 2007 remarks Senator Obama does seem to be leaving himself plenty of wiggle room, just in case he actually does become President of the United States. But the broad progressive thrust of his intentions is clear enough. For some related Canadian musings on the “economic populism” that has suddenly become popular among both US Democrats like Barak Obama and John Edwards and Republicans like Mike Huckabee, see “The curious absence of class struggle … It’s not so much the rich getting richer; it’s the very, very rich.”

(6) It’s about 6 PM, Monday, January 7, as we write here. And the Los Angeles Times (among many others) has reported that: “As New Hampshire voters prepare to go to the polls [tomorrow, Tuesday, January 8], surging poll numbers and crowd counts in the state today boosted Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to the top of the Democratic charts … Ignoring a doctor’s advice to rest his raspy voice, Obama told an overflowing rally in Lebanon, N.H., today that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they are given a chance.'”

Down the road to February 5, 2008 …

The simple truth does seem to be that the traditional US primaries process has been sped up as well as started much earlier this year – largely as an approach to killing the pain involved in having to wait still another year before legally getting rid of current President George W. Bush.

For us at least, the inanities of having effectively started the process as early as all too early last year have at last ended with the January 3, 2008 Iowa caucuses. Now it suddenly seems that, as long as Barack Obama’s campaign still has some serious energy, the presidential primaries and caucuses that lie ahead over the coming several weeks will be unusually interesting. And, at this juncture, for serious citizens in all free and democratic countries of the world, it is probably worth trying to learn a little more about the endless tedious details of American political life.

To start with, the process kicked off by the Iowa caucuses on January 3 will not finally end until the late summer, when both Democratic and Republican parties hold their presidential nominating conventions. The Democrats will be in Denver, Colorado, August 25-28, and the Republicans in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, September 1-4.

Perhaps especially for the Democrats, however, the name of the actual presidential candidate may be almost certainly known as early as “Super Duper Tuedsay” this coming February 5 – when more than 20 states will be holding primaries or caucuses, to instruct delegates on how to vote at the late summer conventions. Between now and then there has already been the Iowa caucuses on January 3 (won by Obama and Huckabee), and the Wyoming Republican caucus on January 5 (more or less won by Mitt Romney).

The current New Hampshire primary will be held tomorrow, January 8. If Barack Obama does win this, as the latest opinion polls seem to be suggesting, the Democratic race to February 5 will start to become very interesting. Even if Hillary manages to pull her candidacy out of the fire but Obama is very close, things will remain quite interesting. At the same time, our view would certainly be that even if Obama wins New Hampshire decisively, the Clinton campaign is far from over. (As far as the Republican campaign goes, that still seems less developed to us – and much less interesting in any case: too much all sliced white male bread.)

In any case, Canadian anglophone traditionalists (and/or more recent Commonwealth migrants) who still make a point of knowing as little as possible about the USA today may find the brief explanations for current and former British subjects in the Guardian and on the BBC website helpful. Those with a stronger sense of contemporary North American (i.e. Canadian) identity might want to consult the New York Times Election Guide 2008 and

Meanwhile, as best we can make out in a bit of a hurry, the road to February 5 looks something like this:

January 3:   Iowa caucuses

January 5:   Wyoming Republican caucus

January 8:   New Hampshire primaries

January 15:  Michigan primaries (maybe, in effect, only for Republicans: Obama and Edwards have withdrawn from Democratic primaries, in protest against early date: see * and ** below).

January 19:  South Carolina Republican primary; Nevada caucuses

January 26:  South Carolina Democratic primary

January 29:  Florida primaries (Florida breaking both parties’ rules by its early date this year, but believes it is nonetheless to big to ignore: see * and ** below).

February 5:  Super Duper Tuesday – Primaries or caucuses in (by our best hasty calculations): Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho (Dem only), Illinois, Kansas (Dem only), Massachusetts (Rep only), Minnesota, Missouri, Montana (Rep only), New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina (Dem only), North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island (Dem only), Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia (Rep only).

For additional clarifications (and no doubt further confusions as well) see in particular The Primary Season: 2008 Democratic Calendar and The Primary Season: 2008 Republican Calendar from the NY Times. And for more general amusement and historical interest: Dave Leip’s Atlas of US Presidential Elections. MAY THE BEST MAN OR WOMAN WIN!


* “Have the Democratic and Republican parties attempted to stop states changing the electoral calendar? Yes. The Democratic Party is punishing Michigan and Florida by refusing to accept their delegates at the national convention. So neither state’s Democratic primary will count. (The main Democratic candidates have said they will not campaign in either state.) The Republican Party is penalising Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Wyoming, by reducing their quota of delegates by half. Do these penalties matter? They could, in theory, if it’s a close race. The Democrats have closed the door to about 8% of delegates, the Republicans to about 5%.” BBC News.

** “The Democratic presidential candidates have signed pledges not to campaign in Florida before the primary. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said recently that the party nominee would probably allow Democratic delegates from Florida and Michigan to be seated at next summer’s convention.” New York Times.

jANUARY 5 report: 2008 .. ARE WE READY FOR CHANGE IN AMERICA .. and at least the unexpected in Canada?

Watching mostly MSNBC (with glances at CNN) on the January 3 Iowa Caucuses made our political focus group suddenly realize that the next several weeks’ road to the White House finals will probably make for quite interesting TV. The report on which this is a timely update is still about policy implications for a Canadian federal election. But even that may now be more interesting than we thought?

In any case our focus group was impressed by the sudden enthusiasm for change finally shown by some excellent journalists on MSNBC. We still think Marvin Kitman in the Huffington Post has a point with: “remember, as Iowa goes, so goes….nothing.” But it is a bit surprising that both Obama and Huckabee have done as well as they have. And what a world it would be, if Senator Barak Obama could be elected President of the USA in 2008! Who knows? It may be closer today than yesterday, but still a ways ahead yet? We will just have to wait and see …

Quick review of the results …

As summarized in the Washington Post, the Iowa Democratic Caucuses gave 38% of their support to Barack Obama, 30% to John Edwards, 29% to Hillary Clinton, and only 3% to all the other candidates.

The Iowa Republican Caucuses gave 34% to Mike Huckabee, 25% to Mitt Romney, 13% to Fred Thompson and 27% to all the other candidates.

The candidacies of both Obama and Huckabee can be viewed as “populist” challenges to their respective party establishments. What everyone seems to be saying is that at least the highly activist kinds of voters who turn out for the Iowa Caucuses are placing a very high value on “change” in America these days. Whether the rest of the vast and diverse US federal electorate has the same priorities is a nice question – that will somehow be answered over the next several weeks. Whatever the answer, you can sense a certain excitement, even over just the TV waves.

The other big news is that at least or especially in the Democratic Caucuses in Iowa 2008 turnout was “Off the Charts.” As reported in the Washington Post, again: “With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, the Iowa Democratic Party reported a record turnout of 239,000 caucus attendees … The unprecedented surge in attendance at the Iowa caucuses was apparent as soon as the meetings began. A veteran caucusgoer in Iowa City’s Precinct 16 said that … the gymnasium at Lucas Elementary School was packed, hot and confused: 496 people had walked through the door and more than 100 more were lined up in the hall … “

Impact in Canada?

You might think that especially these last hints of surging Democratic strength and desire for “change” in the USA today spell bad news for both the Republicans and Stephen Harper’s somewhat warmly related new Conservative Party of Canada.

But John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail seems to be advising all somewhat traditional right-wing thinkers – and especially including members of the Conservative Party of Canada perhaps – not to become too gloomy about exactly what the Iowa Caucuses may or may not portend. There may be different winners in New Hampshire some four days from now, e.g.

Mr. Ibbitson goes on: The whole process of choosing Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in the USA in 2008 “has only begun. If different candidates take Iowa and New Hampshire, then Nevada, Michigan, South Carolina and Florida come into play when their turn comes later in the month. And if the January states split the results, then the whole thing will be thrown into the great national poll of more than 20 states on Feb. 5.”

Finally, Mr. Ibbitson offers this wisdom (which again may be especially directed at Stephen Harper and his colleagues in Ottawa): “No one should write off the Republicans’ chances. Whoever wins the nomination will have all year to recast himself as a compassionate conservative reformer, and to run attack ads seeking to tarnish his Democratic opponent … After all, it’s politics. Anything is possible. And the only constant is longing for change.”

jANUARY 3 report: 2008 .. GREAT EXPECTATIONS .. NAGGING FEARS .. and what if there is a Canadian federal election too?

We have great expectations for at least some better things this new year. Like Democratic triumphs in the US congressional as well as presidential elections – for which today’s Iowa Caucuses are starting to set the stage. But we were also spooked by Anthony Westell’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Toronto Globe and Mail, on the “possibility … that a perfect economic storm is forming with the capacity to knock the global economy into a full-blown depression.”

Setting aside strictly economic worries, there may be a Canadian federal election in 2008 too. Some claim that the opposition Liberals (and others) are primed to defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority government in Parliament as early as February. Who knows? What happens to US national politics in the Iowa Caucuses may even have some bearing on political prospects in Canada and many other parts of the world. Which is why they are interesting outside the USA. (And even if, as Marvin Kitman in the Huffington Post has just explained: “remember, as Iowa goes, so goes….nothing.”)

Is this heaven … No, it’s Iowa“?

As far as Iowa itself does go, Mr. Kitman seems to have summarized the main point. The Iowa Caucuses make for a strange opening event in the present-day US presidential primary races. (Which will be close to all wrapped up this year by early February anyway?) And strange things can happen there, that don’t start lasting trends elsewhere.

Younger people may point out that since 1992 for Republicans and 1996 for Democrats, the winners of Iowa Caucuses have in fact gone on to win their party’s nomination as candidate for President of the USA.

Yet older veterans of the political struggle can nonetheless stress that Jimmy Carter lost Iowa to an “Uncommitted” delegation in 1976, but went on to win both his party’s nomination and the presidential election. Michael Dukakis lost Iowa to Richard Gephardt in 1988, but won the Democratic nomination in the end. Bill Clinton managed only 3% of the 1992 Iowa vote, and then went on to become the first Democrat elected president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Similarly, for George H.W. Bush (father of the current mere George W.) winning the Iowa Caucus proved bad and losing it proved good. When he won Iowa in 1980 he lost the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan. But when he lost Iowa to Bob Dole in 1988, George H.W. Bush went on to win both the nomination and the presidency.

So don’t get too excited if Obama wins Iowa today – or even Edwards. Or too amused if Huckabee actually does finish first for the Republicans.

Meanwhile, this may be a case where Wikipedia has summed up everything anyone really needs to know about the Iowa Caucuses in two simple sentences: “The caucuses are closely followed by the media and can be an important factor in determining who remains in the race and who drops out. However, the only non-incumbent candidate to win his party’s caucus and go on to win the general election was George W. Bush in 2000.”

Re-electing Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

Stephen Harper, you might guess, will be paying some attention to the Iowa Caucuses – as a North American political junkie if nothing else. But the question of what if any impact the event might have on his own political prospects in Canada is very subtle indeed.

To start with, a Canadian federal election is not inevitable in 2008. To make the scenario work, the Harper minority government has to be somehow defeated in Parliament. Not everyone believes this will happen. The often shrewd Warren Kinsella, who predicted it would all transpire last year and then it didn’t, has become unusually humble: “For 2008, now chastened and properly informed, I don’t really see a federal election happening at all.”

On the other hand, “New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton is hoping to inspire an orange wave across Canada during a general election in 2008 to change the country’s direction on fighting global warming, the war in Afghanistan and reducing the gap between Canadians who make the most money and those who make the least … We had some exciting growth (for the NDP) in 2007, and would certainly hope to see that continue,’ Layton said in an end-of-year interview with CanWest News Service on Monday. But most important, I’m hoping that the country will change direction as a result of an election.'”

Layton’s hopes may be quite vain. But they may also be the best music available for Stephen Harper’s ears. The view (some would say vast delusion?) of some influential federal New Democrats that they actually can replace the Liberals as the party of the left-wing majority in Canada could be the single best thing the Harper Conservatives will have going for them in 2008. Especially, perhaps, if the January 3 Iowa Caucuses do seem to signal – or at least still leave quite open – the prospect of a somewhat dramatic fresh shift leftward in US politics? (As hard as some still find that to seriously believe.)

On our own current and very provisional working view, there probably is a good enough chance that Canada will have yet another federal election sometime in 2008. Both the Liberals and/or the Bloc Quebecois may well have reached the point where continuing to prop up the Harper minority government can only damage their standing with the electorate, no matter how gloomy their immediate electoral prospects may otherwise be.

Even more provisionally, it still seems to us that if there finally is another Canadian federal election in 2008, the resulting new Parliament produced by the final results probably won’t be all that much different from the one we have now. I.e., Stephen Harper will remain prime minister, but only with a minority government.

The best thing you can say about the Harper government so far is that it has given Western Canada a stronger voice in federal politics. But it has still yet to convince Canadians from coast to coast to coast that it deserves any kind of majority government – to implement the kind of knee-jerk right-wing neo-con economic and social policies to which the Harper Conservatives still do seem vaguely attached. Or there hasn’t yet been the kind of sea-change in the Canadian federal electorate that would give Mr. Harper’s aggressive right-wing ideology majority appeal. Especially when most Canadians still vote Democratic in American elections. And when the left is at least somewhat resurgent, even in US politics, maybe?

Meanwhile, stay tuned for the results of the Iowa Caucuses south of the still unfortified border … which we will report on briefly, once the complete picture is clear …

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