So Much For The Whole “Change” Thing…

President-Elect Obama has unveiled his national security team, and it’s hardly what his supporters would have suspected. Hillary Clinton gets the thankless job of Secretary of State, ensuring that she’ll never be President and keeping her well away from Washington. Robert Gates remains as Secretary of Defense, meaning that the chances of Obama “ending” the war in Iraq any sooner than McCain would have seem slim. Former General Jim Jones, who probably would have served in a McCain Cabinet, will be National Security Advisor.

Putting Clinton in as Secretary of State is an excellent way that she’ll be sidelined for the next four years. Secretaries of State tend not to have political careers after their service, mainly because it is nearly impossible to build up political capital when you’re rarely in the US. Not only that, but Obama knows quite well that the position will not be a very happy one. Tasking her with something like the Israel-Palestine crisis is Obama’s way of ensuring that she’ll be set up to fail from the beginning.

Keeping Gates at Defense is a smart move. The military was quite pro-McCain, and is suspicious of what Obama’s brand of “change” will be. There is little doubt that Obama will not pull us out of Iraq any faster than McCain or Bush would have. The war is largely won, and the media will happily ignore what bad news there is. The anti-war faction was played for the fools they are—Obama’s policies towards Iraq will be the same as if Bush got a third term, and keeping Gates is just one sign of that. It’s bad news for the Kossacks and Code Pink, but a smart move on the part of the President-Elect.

Gen. Jones is a strong pick for NSA. Obama needs military advisors who aren’t Wesley Clark, and Jones’ records seems relatively strong. That pick is another sign that Obama will not pull out of Iraq on an arbitrary timetable. It would be even better if Obama put Gen. Petreaus on the Joint Chiefs and Col. H.R. McMaster in at CENTCOM—it would drive the left nuts, but it would also be a continuation of Obama’s independent-minded defense policy choices.

Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder are less strong picks. Napolitano has a mixed record on immigration, and it doesn’t look like Obama has much interest in defending this nation against illegal immigration—not when they can be used to buttress Democratic numbers through voter fraud. Eric Holder made some very questionable choices with the pardon of Marc Rich, and is anti-Second Amendment. Both, however, will be confirmed, and probably by a large margin.

The Obama national security team does not stand for “change”—which is a reassuring move on his part. In a time of turmoil, making dramatic moves like pulling out of Iraq is not smart policy. Instead, Obama seems to be making pragmatic moves when it comes to foreign policy. Rather than providing a clear break with the policies of the Bush Administration, Obama is likely to continue many of them, including the Bush Doctrine.

Unsurprisingly, Victor Davis Hanson puts it adroitly:

I think we are slowly (and things of course could change) beginning in retrospect to look back at the outline of one of most profound bait-and-switch campaigns in our political history, predicated on the mass appeal of a magnetic leader rather than any principles per se. He out-Clintoned Hillary and followed Bill’s 1992 formula: A young Democrat runs on youth, popular appeal and charisma, claims the incumbent Bush caused another Great Depression and blew Iraq, and then went right down the middle with a showy leftist veneer.

At least in foreign policy, that may be the case. But the reality is that even if Obama really wanted radical change, it would be politically suicidal to do so. The world is dangerous, and getting more so by the moment. Obama the freshman Senator could play fast and loose, but President Obama will not have that luxury. Why the left may hate it, the “change we need” in terms of foreign policy may end up looking much more like “staying the course.”

For Democrats, The End Of The Road

The AP is reporting that Sen. Barack Obama has the delegates to be the Democratic nominee. However, it appears that Hillary Clinton may not concede tonight, but will make an almost certainly futile attempt to get superdelegates to swing to her side. No matter what, it appears as though Hillary will not be the top of the ticket.

Despite all the rumors, fanned by Clinton herself today, I don’t see her as VP either. If Obama needs a woman, why not Gov. Katherine Sibelius of Kansas? If he needs to get someone who can resonate with red state voters, why not Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia? The “dream ticket” could just as easily be a nightmare—why share the stage with someone like Hillary Clinton? (Not to mention Bill…)

The other winner tonight is John McCain. Obama is an untested candidate who only just won a battle among his own party. Obama has made rookie mistakes, which can damn a candidate. Even an accomplished politico like John Kerry can die the death of a thousand cuts in a long campaign. Someone like Obama who has never had a competitive campaign outside a state legislative race faces a truly great challenge.

With luck, tonight ends the dominance of the Clinton machine—and good riddance. However, like Freddy Krueger, Hillary Clinton may just come back to terrorize our political discourse again—but not this year.

The Democrats’ Blue-Collar Dilemma

Jim Geraghty has tonight’s big win for Hillary Clinton in West Virginia. He makes one valuable point for the Democratic echo chamber:

You’ll see the press, and Obama’s surrogates (perhaps I repeat myself) insist that tonight’s result means nothing, and indeed, in the delegate count, the effect is marginal. But superdelegates ought to be sweating. White working-class voters, and various overlapping demographics – the elderly, Catholics, Jews – just aren’t warming up to Obama, and they’ve been the backbone for the party for generations. Liberal bloggers (and Saturday Night Live, and arguably the Washington Post) are responding by suggesting Hillary’s supporters are racist; these people may not be so eager to vote for Obama in November as the pundits insist. Once you insult a voter by calling them racist, they may not be eager to meekly repent by doing as their moral betters in the pundit class demand.

The shameful way that some in the Democratic Party are treating their own voters is shocking. The same sort of political smears usually reserved for Republicans are being used against their own. What will the Democratic message for West Virginia voters be in the fall? “Vote for us, you racist hick morons”? That’s hardly a compelling message for the Democrats.

The Obama coalition of wealthy white urbanites and black voters is not enough to win. The Democrats cannot win when they abandon the working-class voters that make up a critical portion of their base. Yet those are exactly the groups that Obama can’t seem to win.

Their are, of course, good reasons to want to be rid of Hillary Clinton, but her being unelectable is not one of them—certainly not as she keeps defying all the political odds. The Democrats have a choice, go with their heart or go with their brain. I shall leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine what course the Democrats are taking.

Clinton’s Fictional Gas Tax Plan

Sen. Hillary Clinton is pushing her own version of a summer “gas tax holiday”—except that her plan would end up doing absolutely nothing to help consumers. Sen. Obama has been attacking her plan (and McCain’s) as an effort to “pander:”

On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., was asked repeated to name an economist who supports her plan to suspend the 18.4 cent federal gas tax. Either she could not or chose not to. “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists,” she said, presenting her tax hike plan as a way to life the burden of soaring gas prices off middle class Americans.

Rival Barack Obama has called the plan, which is also backed by Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting, Sen. John McCain , “a pander” that won’t solve the high cost of gas. Asked about the gas plan in his interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Sen. Obama, D-Ill., framed the proposal as a “classic Washington gimmick.” “You’re looking at suspending a gas tax for three months. The average driver would save 30 cents per day for a grand total of $28,” claimed Obama.

Although Clinton did not offer her own estimate as to how much relief the holiday would provide, she did try to distinguish her plan from McCain’s. “Senator McCain has said take off the gas tax, don’t pay for it, throw us further into deficit and debt. That is not what I’ve proposed. What I’ve proposed is that the oil companies pay the gas tax instead of consumers and drivers this summer.”

So, what Sen. Clinton proposes is that the oil companies pay the gas tax instead of consumers—and somehow those costs won’t end up getting passed right back to the consumers in the form of higher oil costs. No wonder Sen. Clinton doesn’t want to listen to the advice of people who actually understand economics.

Sen. Obama’s criticisms over the tax aren’t too far off—it is questionable how much a gas tax holiday would actually help consumers, and from a policy standpoint it’s also questionable whether we really want the government encouraging people to use more gasoline than they might this summer.

The Clinton gas tax plan takes the flaws of the McCain plan and magnifies them. At least the McCain plan would actually lower gas prices, while the Clinton plan would just pass the costs right back to consumers. The Clinton plan is definitely a pander—it panders to consumers by pretending to lower gas prices and it panders to anti-corporate sentiment by pretending that the oil companies will take the costs.

Clinton keeps demonstrating that when it comes to economic matters, she’s absolutely clueless—and the fact that she doesn’t want to listen to economists when she formulates economic policy should serve as a reminder why she and the other Democrats not qualified to be deciding this nation’s economic policies.

Lincoln/Douglas, Obama/Clinton

Hillary Clinton is challenging Barack Obama to a series of one-on-one debates in Indiana, in the style of the Lincoln/Douglas debates in the 1850’s:

So here’s my proposal – I’m offering Senator Obama a chance to debate me one-on-one, no moderators.

Just the two of us going for 90 minutes asking and answering questions. We’ll set whatever rules seem fair. I think that it would give the people of Indiana, and I assume a few Americans might tune in because nearly 11 million watched the Philadelphia debate, and I think they would love seeing that kind of debate and discussion.

As much as it pains me to agree with Senator Clinton, that is a rather good idea. The moderated debate format is stale and insipid, and the result of these debates are generally candidates spouting the same canned responses that they do on the stump. It’s rare that a candidate says anything interesting—the risks are usually too great, and the moderates rarely push them far enough to get them to truly go off script.

A one-on-one debate allows the candidates to really clash with each other. It lets them demonstrate their real mastery of the issues and it ensures that just reciting the same canned answers won’t fly.

Of course, that’s why such a debate has a snowman’s chance in Hades of happening. No candidate is going to take that risk in today’s world of blogs and YouTube. Candidates live in perpetual fear of saying something in a debate that might turn into the next “macaca” or “global test” moment.

Sen. Obama has no real reason to want to take up Sen. Clinton’s challenge—he’s still the frontrunner, and his best move is to let the clock run out and ensure that Clinton doesn’t receive any additional momentum. Even though he’s the more rhetorically gifted of the two, the cost/benefit calculus to him just doesn’t add up.

Still, if we really want a debate that puts political candidates on notice, that would be the format to do that. We want political leaders that can think on their feet and respond to the harshest criticism. We want political leaders who can face a challenge. We want political leaders who can give us answers that haven’t been processed and focus-grouped and analyzed to death.

In fact, Sen. Clinton’s idea should be extended to the general election debates. Let Sen. McCain debate the Democratic nominee one-on-one, with no moderators. Let us drop the artificial rules and let the candidates challenge each other rather than speaking past each other. These people are auditioning to be the leader of the world’s preeminent superpower—the very least of their challenges will be their political opponent. If they can’t take the heat of an unmoderated debate, how can we ask them to take the heat of leading the nation?

Hillary Wins PA

Since losing Pennsylvania to Hillary, I hear Obama is so bitter that he’s started clinging to guns and religion…

Looks like the margin will be right around 10%—and more interestingly if you add together all the popular vote including Michigan and Florida, Hillary has the popular vote. Will the Democrats decide to have their superdelegates override the will of the majority of their electorate? Will they do so by disenfranchising two major states in the process?

The Democratic chattering classes are firmly in the bag for Obama, but what we’re seeing is that he truly hasn’t been able to “close the deal” and Democrats should think long and hard about that.

UPDATE: Here’s something interesting. The second Obama stopped his speech, his whole demeanor changed. He looked worried.

UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin notes that while Hillary Clinton’s speech was rather upbeat, Obama’s negative attacks against McCain made him sound angry and small. Sorry, Sen. Obama, but you haven’t won yet, no matter how badly you’d rather it were otherwise.

Pennsylvania Predictions

Today is the Pennsylvania primary, where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton face off in the first primary in 6 weeks.

The RCP poll average has Hillary up 6% against Obama. Looking at the polls, with one outlying exception, Obama’s support in PA appears to be capped in the low 40s. Meanwhile, Hillary is consistently anywhere from 5-10% ahead.

We saw that late deciders had broken for Hillary in previous contests—this seems likely to hold true in PA as well. There are a small amount of late deciders in PA (less than 10%), but that’s enough to potentially swing Hillary into a stronger finish.

Obama seems capped at the low 40s, and that’s been a constant through the race. Hillary has the most chance at an upside by appealing to whites, Catholics, and men. Obama, as always, will convincingly win blacks, younger voters, and the wealthy.

In the end, my prediction a Clinton win—50% for Hillary, and 43% for Obama. There’s always the chance that this race could be a shocker and Obama could pull ahead, but none of the polls seem to show that. The most likely outcome is Hillary gets a victory, stays in the race, and the Democrats continue to battle for the nomination. Unless Clinton dramatically loses the next few races, the possibility of this race being settled in Denver will remain.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger

David Brooks defends ABC News from the attacks over last night’s Democratic debate:

I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that’s their own fault.

We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall. Remember how George H.W. Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis. It’s legitimate to see how the candidates will respond to these sorts of symbolic issues.

The middle section of the debate, meanwhile, was stupendous. Those could be the most important 30 minutes of this entire campaign, for reasons I will explain in point two:

Second, Obama and Clinton were completely irresponsible. As the first President Bush discovered, it is simply irresponsible statesmanship (and stupid politics) to make blanket pledges to win votes. Both candidates did that on vital issues.

Brooks is right on that. When Clinton and Obama did discuss substance, they didn’t help themselves. For one, Barack Obama admitted A) that capital gains tax cuts raise revenue to the government but B) he’d raise taxes on capital gains anyway. So the point of the tax system is no not to generate revenue, but to punish people for being successful? That’s exactly the sort of message that Democrats don’t want the American public to hear. It undercuts their own major policy arguments that the real purpose why the Democrats have an undying love affair with taxes is because government is chronically underfunded. Obama just admitted in front of everyone that he doesn’t care if a tax increase would reduce revenue, he’d still be for it. That’s a message that we’ll be hearing in GOP attack ads this summer.

Clinton doesn’t exactly have much to crow about either:

Both promised to not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 or $250,000 a year. They both just emasculated their domestic programs. Returning the rich to their Clinton-era tax rates will yield, at best, $40 billion a year in revenue. It’s impossible to fund a health care plan, let alone anything else, with that kind of money. The consequences are clear: if elected they will have to break their pledge, and thus destroy their credibility, or run a minimalist administration.

The chances of either Democrat running a minimalist administration are roughly the same as Mira Sorvino showing up at my door holding a winning lottery ticket and plane tickets to Tahiti for two. It just isn’t going to happen. So how are the Democrats going to fund universal health care, more funding for virtually everything (except the military) and not raise taxes on more than just the “rich?” The good money is on “they won’t.” The only way to fund all these billions of dollars in goodies is by reaching into all of our pockets to do so.

Brooks sees electability as a problem for the Democrats, but he’s still bullish on Obama. To win the nomination, for sure it’s virtually sure to be Obama. But if Sen. Obama keeps floundering like this when being asked tough questions, all the sycophantic media coverage in the world won’t save him. It’s understandable why the Democrats are flocking to Obama—but at the same time perhaps they should be less quick to shoot the messenger and start taking a hard look at who Barack Obama really is.

How To Tell Obama Lost Last Night

By the hostile reactions from the usual suspects. How dare they ask serious questions about Obama’s past associations with Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers or his association with the radicalism of Pastor Wright! They should have been lobbing softballs about how “universal” Obama’s healthcare plan will be!

Over at The Campaign Spot, Jim Geraghty wonders if Hillary Clinton didn’t knock Obama off his pedestal. Fat chance of that. To most of Obama’s supporters, Obama is the nominee, and Hillary has no right to compete even though Hillary has an at least plausible chance at winning the popular vote and neither candidate can win without appealing to the superdelegates. The reaction to last night’s debate is what I though it would be: it isn’t that Hillary Clinton has been telling Democrats that Obama is going to get creamed in the general, it’s that Hillary should stand aside and let Obama get creamed in the general. Sen. Clinton came perilously close to making that case last night, but never quite went there.

To be honest, Republicans should be exceedingly happy if Obama gets the nomination. Hillary Clinton could win the states that the Democrats need to win to take the White House. Obama has a ton of charisma, but is hampered by a total lack of experience, plenty of skeletons in his closet, and a tendency to actually say what he thinks. Geraghty is right, Team McCain should be very glad that the Democrats are embracing Obama, because the more they fixate on him the less willing they are to see his flaws.

UPDATE: Mitch Berg takes a rhetorical brickbat to the debate.

Is Obama’s Gaffe Hillary’s Salvation?

American Research Group‘s latest Pennsylvania poll shows a dramatic swing in the Democratic primary race from a 45-45% tie early this month to a 20-point Clinton lead this weekend. Could this be the turnaround for Hillary? If electability was what matters, yes, but electability is not what the Democrats are looking at in this race.

There have been many on the Democratic side calling for Clinton to withdraw from the race. In the end, Hillary Clinton may have made the right tactical call in hanging on as long as she has—the longer Obama goes under the spotlight the greater the chance of him saying something that would land him in trouble. Even though Hillary has made her own mistakes, nothing she’s said has been as destructive as Obama’s comments. Even though the electoral tide is still against her, by Denver it is possible that Hillary could come into the convention with a credible case for the nomination. Obama may lead in elected delegates, but he won’t be able to win without the superdelegates any more than she will. If Hillary leads in the popular vote when all is said and done—and that is quite possible—are Democratic superdelegates really going to vote against the majority of Democratic voters?

On the other hand, it’s not as though Hillary Clinton is a woman of the people either. Both Clinton and Obama grew up arguably middle class, they have a record of associating themselves with the academic elites. Clinton is hardly the poster child for a campaign against liberal condescension. Her outright falsehoods about sniper fire in Bosnia and her record during her husband’s Presidency don’t help her image.

The Politico has an excellent article on what Clinton wishes she could say, but can’t do so without jeopardizing her own candidacy:

There’s nothing to say that the Clintonites are right about Obama’s presumed vulnerabilities. But one argument seems indisputably true: Obama is on the brink of the Democratic nomination without having had to confront head-on the evidence about his general election challenges.

That is why some friends describe Clinton as seeing herself on a mission to save Democrats from themselves. Her candidacy may be a long shot, but no one should expect she will end it unless or until every last door has been shut.

Skepticism about Obama’s general election prospects extends beyond Clinton backers. We spoke to unaffiliated Democratic lawmakers, veteran lobbyists, and campaign operatives who believe the rush of enthusiasm for Obama’s charisma and fresh face has inhibited sober appraisals of his potential weaknesses.

The Politico article is right—Obama has not taken the kind of lashing that he will invariably get in the general election. The Clinton camp can quite credibly claim that if Barack Obama gets the nomination, he will lose in a landslide. The Democrats will do very well with urban professionals and African-Americans, and lose rural voters, women, Jewish voters, and Reagan Democrats. Beyond the Obama hype lies the cold reality of the electoral math: and all Clinton needs to do is carry the states that Kerry won in 2004 and win one swing state like Ohio, Florida, or Nevada. What states has Clinton done well in? Ohio, Florida, and Nevada. The electoral math favors Clinton, and the Clinton camp knows it.

Despite all this, Obama will still get the nomination. The Democrats are increasingly young, liberal, and affluent. Obama appeals to the New Democratic Party, while Hillary Clinton appeals to the old. Hillary Clinton, much to her dismay, is not the face of American liberalism today. It is hardly shocking that outspoken liberals who want to see America remade in the “progressive” image are flocking to Obama. He’s one of them.

The fact that this is a recipe for electoral disaster is not a factor in the Democratic race. Democrats voted with their heads rather than their hearts in selecting John Kerry in 2004 on the basis that Kerry was “electable.” Barack Obama is Howard Dean without the crazy and with the added benefit of being someone who can play to the African-American base of the Democratic Party. Even though Clinton probably has the better argument on electability, she’s winning the wrong contest. The Democrats don’t want electable, they want someone who represents what the Democrats want to be: a party that is unabashedly liberal wrapped in the mantle of “progressivism.” Obama is comfortable with the Daily Kos set, and it is that demographic that now controls the Democratic Party.

Obama has definitely hurt himself and that gaffe undoubtedly will help Hillary Clinton carry Pennsylvania, and perhaps win the popular vote. Yet the heart of the Democratic Party is understandably with Obama, and even though Clinton is the more electable of the two, electability is not the factor that will influence who will win the nomination this year.