A Better Primary

Regardless of stance on the seatings, we should all agree that the Michigan and Florida debacle has put into stark relief how messed up the Democratic nominating system is. With the ins-and-outs of delegate counting, superdelegates, scheduling punishments, and caucuses, it makes the electoral college look like a model of justice and simplicity. Say what you will about the Republican, winner-take-all system, but at least it models the general election status quo, which they like. Democrats, who uniformly detest the electoral college, and rightly so, should have a primary system that reflects our views on general election reform. Trapper John proposed a total overhaul of the system back in January. I strongly disagreed with it, but it led me to consider what a truly just primary system would look like, and after a few months I think I’ve worked out an outline of one.
1. Popular vote:
No delegates. Period. The nominee should be the candidate who receives the most votes. Last time I checked, that’s what democracy means. This also means that caucuses must be done away with. States can still choose to have open ballots; I think there’s a good case to be made for doing away with the secret ballot, even if I’m not wholly convinced of it. But regardless, the caucuses would have to be like the New Mexico one, with ballots and tallies as opposed to caucus groups and viability thresholds.
2. No spoilers:
First past the post is stupid. It encourages tactical voting, and prevents smaller candidacies from gaining a foothold. It needs to be replaced. The most obvious choice would be instant-runoff, as that’s actually in wide practice. My preference would be for the Schulze or Ranked Pairs methods, but anything from range to minimax would be much, much preferable to the current system.
3. Universal suffrage:
Democrats do a good job of this already by including Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and D.C. Every voter within the United States, whether that voter is from a state, commonwealth, territory, or district, deserves a say in the nominating process. But “every voter” means “every voter”. That is, every registered voter must be eligible to vote in the Democratic primary. Every primary must be an open primary. I appreciate the arguments of people like Trapper John who say that, as a private organization, Democrats have no obligation to include Independents and Republicans in the process. But the fact of the matter is that in a country with two viable parties, to have closed primaries is to disenfranchise millions of unaffiliated and third-party voters. They deserve a say, and they deserve more choices than “Obama or McCain” or “Kerry or Bush” or “Clinton or Dole”. I’m more amenable to excluding registered Republicans from the process, due to things like Operation Chaos, but I also remember the week last fall before the deadline for party switching passed, as I and the rest of the Obama team called every Republican supporter and leaner we could think of and tried to get them to switch. Enfranchisement shouldn’t have a deadline.
4. All at once:
This was the hardest part for me. Even as a New Hampshire native who got into politics because of the thrill of the 2000 Democratic primary here, I know it’s impossible to justify two states having the disproportionate impact that we and Iowa do. But then again, Nevada showed the chaos that can result when states that aren’t prepared for and desensitized to the rigors of retail campaigning have an early vote. We can’t just give the roles of first and second state to states that aren’t primed for that kind of intensity. They’d get pissed off at the campaigns’ persistence whereas we know it’s all in the game. If any states are going to go first and second, they have to be Iowa and New Hampshire. But if they keep their first in the nation status, things like Michigan will keep happening. Things like Florida will keep happening. The DNC will have to decide how to punish states like that, and if they do so when the popular vote’s close, the same chaos we saw this year will repeat itself. In sum, we can’t have staggered primaries without massive problems of some sort or another. There needs to be a national primary. This works well with preference voting; with staggered primaries with preference voting, you could conceivably calculate the result after each group of states votes, but it’d be hard to know how to interpret that. But with a national primary with a single deadline, there’d be no mindless speculation and punditry about these counts.
5. Postal voting:
It increases voter turnout, prevents voter suppression, and limits the importance of local machine in GOTV operations. What’s more, it would allow the party to run elections without any involvement of the part of local governments. The DNC could conceivably mail every registered Democrat, and every Independent and Republican who requests one, a ballot, have them sent to headquarters in DC, and do a national tally without regard to state or territorial boundaries.
So that’s my proposal. A DNC-run, open, national postal primary, with the result determined by Schulze ranked voting. Will it happen? Of course not. Would it be far, far preferable to the current system? Definitely. And, most importantly, would all the myriad catastrophes of this primary season been avoided under my plan? Without a doubt.

Resolved, with an Asterisk

All the Clinton hacks who’ve been harping on about how an election where only one candidate was on the ballot and that even Clinton said “is not going to count for anything” is totally valid, and how another one where no candidate was allowed to campaign and everyone voting did so with the understanding that it would be purely symbolic needs to be treated as if it were legitimate, can shut up now: the Rules & Bylaws committee has ruled.
The less contentious ruling is theirs on Florida, where they voted 27-0 to seat the full delegation with half a vote each. Given as this was originally proposed by Obama surrogate and noted coke & whore fiend Robert Wexler, and that even Harold Ickes voted in favor, it’s safe to say that this’ll stand. Clinton nets 19 delegates from this, which may be reduced if the 6.5 Edwards delegates break to Obama. In Michigan, the state party’s plan for a 69-59 delegates split – based on exit polling, according to party chair Mark Brewer – was passed in a watered-down form, with each of those delegates, including superdelegate, getting half a vote, as in Florida. This passed comfortably, 19-8. Combined, this means Clinton nets at most 24 delegates, and Harold Ickes is positively irate, saying it constitutes a hijacking by Obama of 4 delegates. He’s already threatened to go to the credentials committee, and thus the convention, on the issue. I doubt he actually will (by that point, Obama will probably have enough delegates from South Dakota, Montana, and Puerto Rico and superdelegates to reach whatever magic number the Clintons want), but regardless, I’m with Matt: it would be easier to just seat the delegates at half strength and allocate all non-Clinton delegates to Obama, if that would ensure the Clintons would just shut up already. Yes, it’s unreasonable, and yes, Obama’s already conceded more than he should in a just world, but the priority now is getting Clinton to see the light and drop out, not promoting justice.
Meanwhile, stay classy, Clintonistas:

Howard Dean may hope that the “healing will begin today,” but two blocks away from the northwest Washington Marriott where the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee is meeting right now to try to figure out Florida and Michigan, the Hillary protesters are occupying an utterly alternate (and healing-free) universe: a universe in which one of the big lawn rally’s speakers yells that the Democratic Party no longer is in the business of “promoting equality and fairness for all”; in which a Hillary supporter with two poodles shouts, “Howard Dean is a leftist freak!”; in which a man exhibits a sign that reads “At least slaves were counted as 3/5ths a Citizen” and shows Dean whipping handcuffed people; and in which Larry Sinclair, the Minnesota man who took to YouTube to allege that Barack Obama had oral sex with him in the back of a limousine in 1999, is one of the belles of the ball.
“They almost made me cry this morning when they told me to get out of there,” the blond Sinclair–who’s looking roly-poly and giddy in a blue-and-white striped shirt with a pack of Marlboros protruding from the breast pocket–says, referring to several nervous protest organizers who tried to evict him when he first showed up at the rally site early this morning carrying a box of “Obama’s DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS: Murder, Drugs, Gay Sex” fliers. Since then, though, he goes on, “I have been totally surprised by the reception I have received!”
He’s not kidding. Clusters of people in Hillary shirts ask to take their photo with him, one woman covered in Clinton buttons introduces him to Greta Van Susteren, and he estimates he has handed out 500 fliers. “You could improve your credibility if you downplayed the gay sex and focused on the drugs,” sagely advises one Hillary supporter with auburn hair and elegant makeup. But in this universe, Sinclair’s credibility doesn’t seem to be suffering too much. In fact, he’s treated nearly as well as he might be at a meeting of the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy.

Lovely. I actually first heard about this idiot from Dan Savage back in January, and Dan, as he always does, has the final word on it: “If Obama were a fag—and he doesn’t set off my gaydar—he could do a hell of a lot better than this toothless, pasty-faced, scraggly-faced, presumably-bald sack-o-shit.” Indeed.

In Birmingham They Love the Governor; Elsewhere, Not So Much

As I’ve made clear in the past, Jim Webb is a crappy, crappy choice for the vice presidency. But I there was any enthusiasm for the pick before this week, there sure as hell isn’t now. Kathy G did the definitive takedown of Webb’s retrograde views on women, Ezra elaborated on how Webb manifests the commentariat’s never-ending thirst for manliness, Matt Zeitlin has documented his racial prejudice, Ezra argued that the Webb pick would hurt the party, and Jim Fallows made the case that it’s a crappy move for Webb too. So picking Webb is (a) bad for women (b) bad for bringing ex-Clinton supporters into the fold (c) bad for blacks (d) bad for the Democrats and (e) bad for Webb. By my math, that seems to render it a bad move. Just maybe.
There’s a more general point to be made here, though. The last time one of the two national tickets lacked a Southerner was in 1996 with Dole and Kemp. The last time a Democatic ticket lacked a Southerner was Mondale/Ferraro in 1984. Just this once, can we not? Yeah, I know the arguments for adding a Southie, the ones about how the last three Democratic presidents were Southerners, about how Obama’s uniquely vulnerable in Scots-Irish heavy areas, about how matching a black man and slaveowner descendent would send a powerful message. But combined, the former Confederacy only has about 85 million people – barely over a quarter of the total US population. Moreover, as Tom Schaller has argued, it’s probably beyond the reach of Democrats in all but a major realigning election. The Southwest, Midwest, and Plains regions are all likelier pickup opportunities. Inasmuch as a VP pick can improve a candidates’ chances in a general election – and there’s not much evidence one can – we ought to pick someone like Ken Salazar, or Brian Schweitzer, or Kathleen Sebelius, who would put an actual Democratic growth region in play. While I still think Wes Clark has a unique combination of advantages, I also have a strong inclination to reject the conventional wisdom that Democrats must suck up to and appease the South by giving a native son a place on the ticket and pick Kitzhaber or Bradley instead. No region has had the stranglehold on our politics that the South has, and if one region is to, it shouldn’t be the most reactionary and socially retrograde part of the country. Having an-all Northerner (or Northerner and Westerner) ticket would send a message that the South’s era of domination is done.

Obama Qua Obama

This is a clever trick of zuzu’s:

So, here’s the exercise for Obama supporters:…what is your plan for reaching out to disgruntled Clinton supporters? What do you think Obama should do to reach out to these voters? And finally, please explain the reasons why disgruntled Clinton supporters should vote *for* Obama.
Please note — I said for Obama. I’m not looking for reasons why anyone should vote against McCain, or to preserve the status quo on Roe v. Wade, or to put a Democrat in the White House, or anything else. I know those arguments. I want to hear why Obama qua Obama is worth supporting.
As succinctly as you can, provide positive — and preferably policy-based — reasons to vote *for* Obama in November. Thank you!

See what she did there? She phrased the task exactly so that it’s impossible to achieve in a way that satisfies her. Let’s break this down:
“I’m not looking for reasons why anyone should vote against McCain” – here she rules out voting for Obama based on the fact that he’s better on Iraq, or that he’s better on abortion right and court appointments, or basically any argument based on the obvious and indisputable fact that Obama is much, much, much more liberal on everything than McCain. That’s an awful lot to rule out.
“I’m not looking for reasons why anyone should vote…to put a Democrat in the White House” – here she rules out voting for Obama for the same reasons Clinton voters voted for her, namely their support for things like funding stem-cell research, repealing DADT, repealing the Bush tax cuts, passing the ENDA, and implementing a fully-auctionable cap-and-trade system. Never mind that on 98% of non-foreign policy issues, Clinton and Obama are equally awesome – zuzu isn’t interested in hearing about that.
“I want to hear why Obama qua Obama is worth supporting.” – see, I don’t really believe this. Because zuzu already has heard the reasons why Obama, and only Obama, is worth supporting. She knows that he’s the only candidate in the race to oppose the war from the start, and that he promises a dramatic leftward shift in the political spectrum on foreign policy. She knows that he’s the only major party nominee ever to support marijuana decriminalization. She knows that there are serious experts who doubt that an individual mandate would do much of anything in expanding coverage. She knows that Obama has promised a more expansive pro-LGBT agenda than any major candidate. She knows that Obama has a record of successful legislative maneuvering, even against outrageously long odds. She knows this because she’s a political blogger, and like any good blogger she’s absurdly well-informed on all the candidates’ ins and outs. And the fact that she’s a Clinton supporter means these things don’t matter to her. She’s explicit on how unpersuasive she finds some of these facts, but the thing is, if she found them persuasive, she wouldn’t be a Clinton supporter. So the only arguments she’s interested in hearing, or so she says, are the ones she’s already, implicitly or explicitly, rejected. Clever, but not a good faith call to dialogue.
The thing is, any Clinton supporter who, like zuzu, seems to think that Obama’s infinite preferability to McCain on every level isn’t reason enough to vote for him, clearly doesn’t care about the consequences of their votes. I didn’t think there were many reasons to support Kerry qua Kerry over Dean or Clark in 2004, but I supported him in the general anyway. More to the point I didn’t think there were any reasons to support Gore qua Gore over Bradley in 2000, and so I supported Nader, and have not gone a day since without being thankful that 10-year-olds can’t vote. If you care about abortion rights, LGBT rights, getting out of Iraq, stopping global warming, getting universal health care, reforming the drug war, or any liberal policy goal you can think of, there is no excuse for not voting for the Democratic nominee in November. To fail to do so isn’t logical politics, it’s spite-based politics. It’s not making a statement, or doing a protest vote, it’s being an idiot.


After a primary this long and divisive, it's pretty amazing that Obama is still up by seven points in Virginia and by nine in Ohio. Assuming he keeps the Kerry states – and with the possible exception of New Hampshire I think that's a pretty safe bet – this adds up to a pretty easy win. What's more, Brendan Nyhan suggests that polls this early on are actually pretty good at predicting the end result, which is very encouraging indeed. The internals are more interesting still. SurveyUSA compared different VP picks for Obama and McCain, and every Obama pick reduced his margin of victory or resulted in a loss – except John Edwards. Indeed, Edwards guaranteed a double-digit victory in Ohio and an at least nine-point one in Virginia (against Pawlenty, Obama wins both by 18-points!). I still want to see numbers for Wes Clark and Jim Webb, and a lot of this is no doubt due to Edwards' higher name recognition, but all the still, it's a powerful argument for choosing him, despite his expressed disinterest. Neil the Ethical Werewolf is excited, as well he should be.
The idea of Obama being the first Democrat since 1964 to win Virginia is pretty awesome, but I'm beginning to think the whole election could be like that. Obama is currently up in Colorado and Indiana, and within striking distance in Alaska, Arizona, Montana, North Carolina North Dakota, South Carolina, and Texas. If he wins even half of those states, that's a Democratic landslide unheard of in recent memory, and a powerful mandate for his first-term agenda.
And it's not just the presidency – take a look at the Senate races. It's basically a given at this point that we'll make gains in New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Virginia – Shaheen, Udall, and Warner are up by so much that there's basically no question there. Alaska and Colorado aren't sure things, but Begich and Udall (the other one) certainly have the upper hand. That's a 56 seat majority right there. If the toss-ups in Minnesota and Oregon go our way, that's 58. But three new and totally unexpected toss-ups have emerged recently. Suddenly, polls have Ronnie Musgrove beating or even with Roger Wicker in Mississippi, Kay Hagen giving Elizabeth Dole a run for her money in North Carolina, and Rick Noriega in a dead heat with John "I'd Kill Judges Too" Cornyn in Texas. That's a 61 seat majority. Harry Reid could expel Joe Lieberman from the caucus and still have a filibuster-proof majority. What's more, of these candidates, only Musgrove is really to the right of the party. The rest are probably reliable votes for universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq, and fully auctioned cap & trade – the three policy goals Obama's first term will be devoted to. Of Democrat seats, only Mary Landrieu in Louisiana looks vulnerable, and she's up by double digits. And, who knows, maybe Lunsford will make a race of it in Kentucky, or Allen in Maine, or Kleeb in Nebraska, and the majority will be even more massive.
The point is that while a 1964-style landslide in the presidential race and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate aren't likely, they're certainly within reach. 2008 has the potential to be an election like 1980 or 1932 in which the old electoral map and party divisions are thrown by the wayside and a new majority is established. In 1932, FDR single-handedly destroyed the Gilded Age and ushered in 20 uninterrupted years of Democratic control of the presidency, and 36 in which a conservative didn't make it (no, Ike, you don't count). In 1980, Reagan single-handedly moved the American political spectrum sharply to the right, leading to 28 years during which only a centrist Democrat could get elected to the White House, and to the first period since the '50s of Republican control of the House. In 2008, I think Obama could accomplish a similar feat.

Clinton ’08: Because Obama Might Get Shot

You know, I would say "there are no words", but Keith Olbermann seems to have found them:

For me, the biggest symptom of disrespect and disdain for a politician is desensitization. That is, when they do something outrageous, when they raise the specter of their opponents' assassination or compare him to Robert Mugabe and herself to Morgan Tsvangirai, I don't care, not because it isn't despicable, but because it's to be expected. This is my attitude to the Bush administration, to right-wing talk show hosts, to the Michelle Malkin/Charles Johnson wing of the conservative blogosphere, to Joe Lieberman, to Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack's Iraq commentary – yes, they speak lies and half-truths and slanders with disturbing regularity, but that's what they do. And yet until this month, until this week, not for a second did I think that Hillary Clinton – who led the biggest fight for universal health care in recent memory, who stood up to the right during the national humiliation of impeachment, who until Obama got into the race I was fully expecting to support for the nomination this year – would fall to that level, to that crass, horrible low. And yet she has.

Barney Frank for Senate

This is disappointing:

Ted Kennedy has made clear to confidants that when his time is up, he wants his Senate seat to stay in the family – with his wife, Vicki.
Multiple sources in Massachusetts with close ties to the liberal lion say his wife of 16 years has long been his choice to continue carrying the family flame in the Senate. Kennedy won the seat in 1962; his brother John held it from 1953 to 1960.
“There’s no question that he’d like Vicki to continue in his seat,” said one Massachusetts Democrat with ties to the Camelot clan who spoke to Kennedy recently, before his health crisis.
“She’s smart, and smart politically.”
The 54-year-old Victoria Reggie Kennedy, a former hotshot Washington lawyer, is a Louisiana native and the daughter of a politically active judge.

Look, I understand Ted’s instinct on this one. He wants someone he can trust to carry on his legacy in the seat, and so Vicki’s the natural choice. Still, it’s a poor choice, not just because it recalls the history of Kennedy nepotism, but because, as Eve Fairbanks notes, it denies Barney Frank probably his last chance at a Senate seat. And Barney Frank needs a Senate seat. He’s unimpeachably liberal but internationalist, smart and funny as hell, and he still manages to work well with Republicans. Mostly though, I think it’d be immensely valuable, on a symbolic and practical level, for a gay man to be elected to the Senate. The symbolic resonance is obvious, but the fact of the matter is that the Senate caucus, even the Democrats, is disturbingly apathetic bordering on hostile to gay equality. Only five senators support marriage equality, we still haven’t gotten a vote in the 110th Congress on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or on the ENDA, and, of course, Democratic senators from Paul Wellstone to Pat Leahy sold gays out on the DOMA. What we need is a strong, influential gay senator to hold President Obama and the Congressional leadership’s feet to the fire on this, and make sure 2013 doesn’t pass by with DADT and DOMA intact and the ENDA not passed. Frank deserves to be that senator.

The Byrd Endorsement

Last week, when I was wondering about the implications of Hillary’s West Virginia blowout, I found myself asking what the state’s superdelegates would do. Nick Rahall and Jay Rockefeller had already endorsed Obama, so that left Joe Manchin and Robert Byrd. Well, Manchin will have to endorse Clinton now, I figured, and that’s too bad, but there was never a shot Byrd wouldn’t, anyway. Robert Byrd endorsing Obama? A former KKK kleagle endorsing a black man? The man who filibustered the Civil Rights Act and tried to block Thurgood Marshall’s court appointments, endorsing the son of a Kenyan immigrant? There wasn’t a chance in hell. It’d be like George Gilder endorsing Hillary. It wasn’t going to happen.
And then it did:

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., endorsed Barack Obama for president shortly after noon today, focusing on his hope to end the Iraq War.
“As people all across this great nation know, I have been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Bush administration’s misguided war in Iraq and its saber rattling around the globe,” Byrd said.
He said he had “no intention of involving myself in the Democratic campaign for President in the midst of West Virginia’s primary election. But the stakes this November could not be higher.”
Byrd praised both Obama and Hillary Clinton, saying their “integrity, honor, love for this country and strong belief in our Constitution I deeply respect…
“Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support,” Byrd concluded.

Now, Byrd has changed a lot since the ’60s, no doubt. He has said he regrets his filibuster of the Civil Rights Act, and that the greatest mistake of his life was joining the Klan. But he still has deeply disturbed racial views, including his continued casual usage of the word “nigger”. For him to put those aside, when he had the totally reasonable out of saying he was respecting the wishes of the voters of West Virginia, when Clinton has made it clear that she’s less than fully tolerant of blacks, in order to endorse the better candidate, well, that’s kind of beautiful. We are far from a post-racial society, and if the Clinton campaign’s conduct has made one thing clear it’s that racism is still very much a part of Democratic and national politics, but the Byrd endorsement is a signal of how far we’ve come all the still.