Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 24, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

MATCHING UP AGAINST McCAIN....Is Barack Obama incontestably a better candidate than Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup against John McCain? A couple of days ago Jon Chait called my insistence on questioning this conventional wisdom "maddening," and maddening it might well be. But the detailed results of the latest LA Times poll have now been posted, and they show that Hillary is indeed the tougher candidate: she does at least as well as Obama against every leading Republican, and in a hypothetical matchup with McCain she wins by 4 points while Obama loses by a point.

How can this be? Well, it turns out that the vaunted independent voters split right down the middle in both matchups. But Republican voters are more likely to jump ship if Hillary is the Democratic nominee and Democratic voters are more likely to stay on board. And that makes the difference.

For what it's worth, my take is still that these kinds of matchup polls are pretty meaningless this early in the cycle. What's more, there are lots of undecided voters in both matchups, and there's no telling which way they'd jump when they finally entered the voting booth. But that said, what the numbers do show is that Obama is no slam dunk. Maddening or not, there are plenty of reasons that Hillary might be a stronger general election candidate than Obama, and plenty of reasons to think she might run a stronger campaign against Honest John in particular.

UPDATE: Just to make this crystal clear, I'm not arguing that Hillary Clinton is a stronger general election candidate than Obama. There's good evidence in both directions. What I am arguing is that....there's good evidence in both directions. There's a strong thread of conventional wisdom saying that Obama is obviously stronger than Hillary in a general election, and I just don't think it's that obvious. There's more to a general election than just independent voters.

Kevin Drum 12:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (118)

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Comments

We're supposed to be all worried that if Hillary gets the nomination then the Republicans will freak out so much they'll swarm to the polls to vote against her.

But what if, most of these people really know in the back of their minds just how bad Bush has been, and the media swill gets so tiresome that they all just sigh and stay home?

Posted by: Joey Giraud on January 24, 2008 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

The '96 Clinton/Gore campaign is the model that should used by this year against any Republican nominee. The Democratic candidate needs to make Bush the Republican's running mate, just as Bill Clinton made Newt Gingrich Dole's running mate (their commericals almost always had a black and white picture of them together and refered to them as "Dole-Gingrich").

Who will be better able to run this type of campaign? Will it be a guy who has never run against a serious Republican in his life? Or will it be the folks who acutally defined and defeated Bob Dole in 1996?

Posted by: Anonymous on January 24, 2008 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

Rich Miller of thecapitolfaxblog.com has written extensively about the fact that Obama closes incredibly strongly once the electorate gets to know him. You're right that these match-up polls are generally meaningless at this point because they really do little more than measure name recognition.

However -- the Dem-Republican matchup poll that REALLY would be useful is in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada -- states that know all of the candidates well at this point. And also states that happen to be important swing states. I'd like to see how Hillary and Barack stack up against McCain in those three states before I make a polling-based judgment.

Posted by: Prairie Sage on January 24, 2008 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

This is like the Iraq War decision, Kevin - the seductive voice of plausibility, reason, and likelihood is telling you to just go along; support the invasion, it's the right thing to do, on the balance; vote for Hillary, she seems to know what she's doing, she seems like the rational choice.

It's your virtue that you don't let your imagination run away with you, like some of us; but this is a case where you should make a judgment that's a little more intuitive, a little more based on aspiration rather than numbers and brute force reality.

Hillary had made many big mistakes in her life, Obama many fewer; tell me in a few years you won't look back and say, gee, I didn't think she would screw that up that bad...

Posted by: lampwick on January 24, 2008 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

I'm an Edwards supporter, and have never really been much of a Hillary fan. However, she's beginning to grow on me simply because I like the way she plays the game. She's smart, articulate, and MEAN!

Posted by: pol on January 24, 2008 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK

While the numbers are obviously small, the sample shows 74% of Republican primary voters as plunking down for McCain if Hillary runs, but 81% choosing McCain if Obama runs.

Does this mean we better not let Obama get to the general against McCain because Obama will energize the Republican base?

Posted by: frankly0 on January 24, 2008 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary supporters are AFRAID that Obama can't beat McCain.

Obama supporters HOPE that Obama can win.

After 8 years of Rove politics, I'm not surprised that America tends towards fear. . .

(besides - Hillary is just another Corporate, war-profiteering sellout).

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 24, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary is indeed the tougher candidate

No shit? And here I thought all along she was more the tuberware party kind of gal...

Posted by: elmo on January 24, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

Obama is full of awesome awesomeness and will instantly convert any Independent/Republican who touches his pant leg. He is better than Hillary simply because people state that as fact and anyone who disagrees is a corporate shill.

McCain will trounce Obama. McCain, whether its true or not, is a change candidate who is a "maverick". Without the abstract notion of "change", what does Obama stand for? If "change" is neutralized by McCain, what does Obama run on? His awesome awesomeness?

Posted by: gq on January 24, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth, my take is still that these kinds of matchup polls are pretty meaningless this early in the cycle.

...unless it proves your point, eh, Kevin? Then it deserves a nice little pair of graphs, as wel as a few paragraphs...

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on January 24, 2008 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

What accounts for the large number (18%) of Dems supporting McCain over Obama?? There's something odd there.

Posted by: bubba on January 24, 2008 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

All respect to LAT, but its poll is the outlier here.

Compare: McCain vs. Hillary
to: McCain vs. Obama


Feel free to stick with the belief that polls this early are meaningless, but don't pretend they bear out your point that the two are equally electable against McCain (or against the other Republicans, against whom Obama has an even larger lead in polls).

Posted by: jbryan on January 24, 2008 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

...unless it proves your point, eh, Kevin? Then it deserves a nice little pair of graphs, as wel as a few paragraphs...

What you're failing to note is that the main reason such polls are meaningless at this point is that they don't take into account the expected toll attacks from the opposite side are supposed to exact on newcomer candidates.

The problem for Obama is that he's the newcomer, who should enjoy very low unfavorables, and relatively high favorables.

But he's already losing to McCain, whereas Hillary isn't.

To me it's really surprising that, according to this pole, Obama seems to rile up the Republican base more than Hillary.

I guess it's just Obama challenging conventional wisdom once again.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 24, 2008 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary is the better candidate. she has beat the republican machine twice, her husband has beat it twice, and together they beat down republican congresscritters many more times, even with the media against them.

Obama has won a Democratic seat in a Democratic state.

Hillary's negatives are as high as they can get.

Obama has not been touched by the slime machine yet.

Hillary will draw more new women to the democratic side than Obama will draw new blacks to the polls. Many disgruntled blacks are already calling him "not black enough" and the slime machine hasn't even started its whisperings along those lines. Hillary is seen as a strong woman by everyone not Chris Matthews, and watching white males squirm about Hillary coming to power makes a lot of women like her more.

I think both can beat any of the schmucks the republicans are fielding, but I know Hillary /will/ beat any of them.

But I would most like to see Edwards as president. He is more like FDR in ideology than the other two.

Posted by: Mysticdog on January 24, 2008 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

All respect to LAT, but its poll is the outlier here.

Not really by much, even according to your own link, which shows an average "win" by McCain of 2.4% over Hillary, and of 1.2% by Obama.

Hardly a good argument for Obama's greater viability, especially when you consider we haven't seen his dirty laundry yet, as seen under Republican klieg lights.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 24, 2008 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, that's a huge percentage for DK in the Obama McCain contest. Hopeless to predict this at this stage...

Posted by: JD on January 24, 2008 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I mean to say that in the current polls (according to the link) McCain beats both Hillary and Obama -- Hillary by 2.4% and Obama by 1.2%.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 24, 2008 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

not the do not know column for independents: it's almost twice as high for Obama at 21%. That suggests to me he's still an unknown to many people and as previously noted, people tend to like him when they get to know about him.

Posted by: evermore on January 24, 2008 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

Keep in mind no president has ever been elected by means of a popular vote. It's the electoral college that matters. Part of the Obama argument is that he could compete in states that HRC would essentially have no chance in. Maybe she'd win the popular vote against McCain by racking up big numbers in the states Kerry and Gore won. But who has a better chance of beating McCain in Ohio? Clinton or Obama? I'm thinking it's Obama.

Posted by: Qwerty on January 24, 2008 at 1:15 AM | PERMALINK

JBryan:

All of those polls except the LAT one are over two primaries old. Most of them came right after Obama's 8 point victory in Iowa.

If there is an "outlier" among them, it would surely be the the +11 McCain Rassmussen poll, which skews the numbers significantly as well as being far out of line with the other polling.

Posted by: Mysticdog on January 24, 2008 at 1:15 AM | PERMALINK

The problem for Obama is that he's the newcomer, ........
Posted by: frankly0 on January 24, 2008 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

considering how badly the old-timers have screwd this country over in the past 20-30 years, being a newcomer is a big plus.

If only a 6 month old Mexican girl were running for President, I think we'd have it made!

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 24, 2008 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK

The Honest John was retired from the U.S. missile arsenal way back in the 1980s & anyway why would political candidates be running against a rocket...

Oh wait, THAT John.

That "Honest" part really threw me there for a couple of minutes.

"History can save your ass." - William Gibson

Posted by: daCascadian on January 24, 2008 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

It may be true that match-ups are not reliable so early, but they do tell a story: right now, today, the top Republican candidate is about even with the top Democratic ones. This means that eight years of Bush have not created the anti-Republican groundswell we were hoping for and many have predicted. It suggests that the general will be decided on personalities, not on a rejection of the Republican record which is well known to all voters. And that in iteself is not great news.

Posted by: JS on January 24, 2008 at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK

Barack seems to think that he is above the party. Nominate me, because I'm the only one who should be nominated. Right.

Posted by: rashad davis on January 24, 2008 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

Good point by JS that confirms my skepticism about the ballyhooed Democratic cakewalk in November.

Face it either Hillary or Obama could get creamed.

Also, what was Edwards thinking when he 1) called the Republican nom for McCain and 2) bragged that he could beat him. There's been a media blackout on Edwards practially the whole primary season, and he thinks he can slay the biggest media darling of them all? Right.

Posted by: Lucy on January 24, 2008 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

Um, the echo of rashad davis's "Right" was purely accidental.

Posted by: Lucy on January 24, 2008 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

Does it really matter if a Dem wins or a Repub?

Both will continue the Iraq occupation, cut taxes for those who don't need the relief, and not do much about energy independence or health care.

There is no real choice.

Posted by: gregor on January 24, 2008 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

I think this is merely name recognition. Hillary Clinton is still more well known than Barack Obama. There are a lot of really clueless people in this country.

It does seem that Clinton would stir up the Republican base more than Obama would... But if this was really the deal... Well really Edwards seems like he'd do far better than either. But oh well.

Posted by: The Presidential Candidates on January 24, 2008 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

I don't understand why everyone's worried about McCain, when the ads stating he wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years haven't even run yet.

Posted by: Killjoy on January 24, 2008 at 2:36 AM | PERMALINK

Obama went up against McCain on ethics reform last February and end up on the losing end. As much as the media may like Obama they act as if St. McCain can do no wrong.

Posted by: Obama is 0-1 on January 24, 2008 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

If only a 6 month old Mexican girl were running for President, I think we'd have it made!

And whose head explodes first; Luther's, Lonewacko's or Lou Dobbs'?

This means that eight years of Bush have not created the anti-Republican groundswell we were hoping for and many have predicted.

JS, I'm not sure about that. Right now, McCain's (and Romney's, for that matter) only actual opponents are fellow Republicans, and none of them are going to mention Mr. 24% or the GOP failures of the past seven years.

In other words, no one is running attack ads tying McCain or Romney to Bush . . . yet. That changes after the primaries.

Is there any doubt that this photo is going to get a lot more play this year?

Posted by: Clap_Louder on January 24, 2008 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

In every poll I have seen with ALL the Democratic candidates in it, John Edwards beats ALL the Republicans hands down. This number may change, but with the Edwards media blackout, it's too bad for the Democratic Party. They could have a winner, but they are too busy sucking up to lobbyist and corporate whores who are promoting the two frontrunners to even think about the real people who vote.

Yes, I am angry!

Posted by: TX Scotia on January 24, 2008 at 4:12 AM | PERMALINK

Could it be that racism is stronger than sexism?

- there, I said it.

Posted by: natural cynic on January 24, 2008 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, You need to pay attention to the fundamentals of the race, rather than polls this far out.

McCain has demonstrated appeal to Independents, not just in previous runs, but in the election results from this year. He attracts votes from people who are unhappy with Bush and who are opposed to the war. In other words, he fully retains his maverick image with the broad public, even if he has sacrificed it to the high information voters who read this site. Hillary has never demonstrated any such appeal.

But, even more importantly, McCain's media coverage is far far better than Hillary's. There's no comparison. What is the narrative on McCain? He's a tough talking straight shooter. Everybody in the Village believes this and nothing is going to change it now. What is the narrative on Hillary? She and her husband will do or say anything to win. That narrative has also been fixed for years, and it is also not going to change.

Hillary Clinton's numbers barely move. They have been the same for years. There's nobody's mind left to change. McCain's favorables are dramatically higher than Hillary's, and nothing is going to bring Hillary's up at this stage.

With these fundamentals, McCain is easily the most formidable general election candidate the GOP can put forward. He goes right for Hillary's weaknesses. Obama can take him on a bit as a change candidate and as a reformer. It may well be that neither candidate can beat McCain. At least there is more uncertainty about Obama. When I think about the fundamentals, I cannot find any cause for hope for Hillary.

Are we really supposed to believe that with negatives as high and as permanent as Hillary's that she is going to be able to win a two way race against McCain, of all people? Not even her far more popular husband ever got a majority of the popular vote! If it's Hillary vs. McCain, pray for a bolter party on the right, because that is what it is going to take!

Posted by: Fran on January 24, 2008 at 6:38 AM | PERMALINK

"I don't understand why everyone's worried about McCain, when the ads stating he wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years haven't even run yet."

Or the ones where he himself admits that he doesn't know shit about the economy. That's gonna play really well in an election taking place as we are sliding towards a full scale Depression.

Posted by: chaboard on January 24, 2008 at 6:49 AM | PERMALINK

When the polls were still including Edwards in these match ups he consistently did well against all the republican contenders. In the last CNN poll in which he was included he scored higher than either Obama or Clinton (who actually trailed in the head to head against McCain). Isn't it great that the candidate with the most progressive, pro-working people policies is also the best choice for the general election? Doesn't it "suck donkeys" (to use a term that seems apt for the democratic party at this point) that he is being overlooked?

Posted by: InitforEdwards on January 24, 2008 at 7:10 AM | PERMALINK

"she does at least as well as Obama against every leading Republican, and in a hypothetical matchup with McCain she wins by 4 points while Obama loses by a point."

These differences are all within the poll's margin of error.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on January 24, 2008 at 7:38 AM | PERMALINK

I do not understand why so many people think Hillary's negatives cannot go anywhere. Kevin has perviously argued they'll get better when rank-and-file Republicans see that she doesn't have horns. It is clear that many Democrats see her as much more Machiavellian than they did before. Opinion towards her appeared to turn on a dime in NH.

One key reason Hillary could win against McCain is because of the large gap between the primaries and the general election. That time will allow the ire of many Obama supports to fade. It's also necessary for her to pull off the 180 her campaign would need to start emphasizing "judgment" and downplaying "experience."

Posted by: Dagome on January 24, 2008 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

numbers are somewhat meaningless at this point in cycle - but later when/if McCain is the candidate and the meaning becomes clearer the numbers will more dramatically favor Hillary - with country involved in two wars and the economy sick McCain's resume trumps Obama's easily and one foreign policy flare up is enough to make that abundantly clear to the average voter. No one can beat Hillary, but McCain can and would beat Barack - and the Obama acolytes should lift their heads out of the fumes long enough to realise that.

Posted by: rossum on January 24, 2008 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that McCain should be easy for Hillary to beat. Republicans don't really like him. Now with his comment about not knowing much about the economy and the fact that he brought Phil Gramm to a meeting to help him discuss these issues, she really has an issue to clobber him with. Obama, on the other hand, would probably waste time praising Gramm's ideas and fawing over McCain maverickness. On the other hand, Obama seems offended by older people (he called Ted Kennedy "too old") so he might take to calling McCain an old fart or some such thing.

Posted by: BernieO on January 24, 2008 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

"But Republican voters are more likely to jump ship if Hillary is the Democratic nominee and Democratic voters are more likely to stay on board. And that makes the difference."

That seems counterintuitive to me, given what's sure to be a large number of black voters who won't dutifully come home to Mommy after the sort of campaign the Clintons have run. My poll of one finds that 100% of those polled will not vote for Clinton if she's the Democratic nominee, and would vote for the other two Democratic options.

Posted by: Hyde on January 24, 2008 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

if Dems are stupid enough to nominate Obama their only hope for getting back the White House is if conservatives are too stupid to nominate McCain, which, given new polls out of Florida, may indeed be the case. Regardless, there'll be whole lot of buyers remorse should Obama some how manage to pull it off. Hillary haters always talk about her unbridled ambition - but you ever hear Michelle Obama talk? That girl wants it bad. Makes Jeri Thompson look like a piker.

Posted by: funch on January 24, 2008 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

All you have to do is listen for 5 minutes to right wing talk radio. They are spending a whole hell of a lot of time jocking Obama. Why? He's a general election disaster for Dems. They know it.

Posted by: Pat on January 24, 2008 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

If you look at the "someone else" and "don't know" rows you might get a better idea of what's going on. It's the same everyone has been saying for awhile, Hillary has a lower floor and cieling. More people have already chosen sides when Hillary is involved.

Posted by: drosz on January 24, 2008 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

This poll doesn't seem to address the main concern with Clinton's electability:

13% of Republicans would vote Clinton over McCain, while 12% would vote Obama over McCain. OK. But:

Of the 87% or 88% who would NOT, how many would vote? The percentage of the 13% and 12% is also a concern, but not as much.

The main stated concern with Clinton's electability - and I'm not saying this is necessarily true, but it's definitely the feeling that a lot of people have - is something like this:

3%: Will vote for Clinton over McCain
2%: Will vote for Obama over McCain

10%: Would vote for Clinton over McCain if they had to vote
10%: Would vote for Obama over McCain if they had to vote

75%: Will vote for McCain over Clinton
50%: Will vote for McCain over Obama

12%: Would vote for McCain over Clinton if they had to vote
38%: Would vote for McCain over Obama if they had to vote

Again, I'm not saying this is necessarily true. But it's a common sentiment, and a huge factor if true, yet this poll doesn't address it at all.

Posted by: phonering on January 24, 2008 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary might be a better general election candidate, although I'm skeptical of it. But I'm certain she'd be a far, far worse president, given her propensity for incremental super-cautiousness, her previous record of failure that will cripple any Hillary healthcare proposal, her established high negatives among republicans, and what will undoubtedly be an administration of frightened positioning for the 2012 election.

She will govern like the current Dem Congress--in terror at doing anything that might jeopardize re-election, which guarantees a lack of success or progress. Further, she's got a proven track record of knee-jerk hawkishness on foreign policy. She's a card carrying memeber of the "decent left," and will certainly keep us in Iraq for another 5 years.

Not to mention the Clinton strategy of triangulating, which translates into selling your own party and its agenda down the river in order to improve your own poll ratings and re-election chances.

Really, the only two reasons to vote for her are for the judges--although even there she's more likely to nominate centrists than to pick a fight and use any precious political capital to make bold choices--and because the GOP is so incredibly awful. There's no hope at all that anything especially good or inspiring might come from a Hillary presidency. Her ceiling as a president is competant mediocrity.

Posted by: Doug T on January 24, 2008 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK


The way most Republicans hate the Clintons, I doubt if many of them will vote for Hillary

homer www.altara.blogspot.com

Posted by: Homer Hewitt on January 24, 2008 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Consider that no Democrat has gotten more than 50.1% of the vote since 1964 (Carter, in 1976). Hillary conceivably could win, but it would be another 50+1 squeaker, meaning four more years of politics-as-sound bite and gridlock. Obama has the potential for a sounder, broader-based win. I personally like the match-up of a young and vigorous Obama, always against the war (now and...ahem...THEN) against an aging McCain who wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years. Plus, in all these polls, we have to remember that, sad as it is, more Republicans and Independents actually vote on election day. So the candidate who does better with them -- which is clearly Obama -- stands a better chance of winning.

Posted by: Traven on January 24, 2008 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Another meaningless poll.
If you want to guess what will happen in the general election you need look at the electoral college map. What states do we win or loss with Clinton(likely nominee)or Obama vs. McCain or Romney(likely nominee).


Posted by: BlindJoeDeath on January 24, 2008 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I have always agreed with rossum on this:
numbers are somewhat meaningless at this point in cycle - but later when/if McCain is the candidate and the meaning becomes clearer the numbers will more dramatically favor Hillary - with country involved in two wars and the economy sick McCain's resume trumps Obama's easily and one foreign policy flare up is enough to make that abundantly clear to the average voter.

In a 'normal' year with no war in progress, I'm sure Obama would trounce McCain. But with troops in the field, people are going to look at the two of them and go for the guy who knows what he's talking about in military matters. Hillary has made the effort to at least cross the minimum competency level in that area. Obama has not.

Posted by: Dawn on January 24, 2008 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary has made the effort to at least cross the minimum competency level in that area. Obama has not.
Now I have coffee up my nose and on my shirt.

Posted by: BlindJoeDeath on January 24, 2008 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

"It may be true that match-ups are not reliable so early, but they do tell a story: right now, today, the top Republican candidate is about even with the top Democratic ones. This means that eight years of Bush have not created the anti-Republican groundswell we were hoping for and many have predicted. It suggests that the general will be decided on personalities, not on a rejection of the Republican record which is well known to all voters. And that in iteself is not great news."

I think its just a reflection of the McCain personality cult, which is quite soft. McCain is a "maverick" you see. He therefore isn't tainted by GOP failures of the last 7 years.

Except that he is, and any decent Dem candidate will hang the Bush record like an anchor around McCain's neck, along with his "hundred years" comment about Iraq.

The two biggest issues among voters right now are Iraq and Health care. McCain is on the wrong side of the voting public on both no matter his personal reputation. He is far more vulnerable than his polls show, IMO.

Posted by: Raskolnikov123 on January 24, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad that electability has FINALLY become a subject of debate. After Super Tuesday it may very well be too late.

A couple points:

1. The electoral college matters. We need to find out who does better in swing states. It is unlikely to be Hillary, but it wouuld be good to know some facts.

2. On the Real Clear Politics stats there are more undecideds on the Obama/McCain match up. That means Obama can go up in popularity. Clinton can't . Shhe's at the top of her reach aready. She can only go down.

3. Obama has the enthusiam factor. it is fashionable amongst Edwardianns to sneer at this but it counts. Ouur team is better off if leagions of young people are willing to work for our canndidate.

4. Clinotn's use of Rovian tactics mighht not be effective against McCain since the media will protect him.

5. Clinton is the Democrat who betrayed us on major issues ( thhe war, for starters, but more recently net neutrality). If Obama bashers keep bashing Obama thhey are likely to ennd up with Hillary-- and then thhey will really have something to complainn about. And that's assuming that thhe result of her nomination isn't a McCAin Presidency.

Posted by: wonkie on January 24, 2008 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Prair Sage asked:

the Dem-Republican matchup poll that REALLY would be useful is in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada -- states that know all of the candidates well at this point. And also states that happen to be important swing states. I'd like to see how Hillary and Barack stack up against McCain in those three states before I make a polling-based judgment.

Good question. Unfortunately, data is scarce. There's been no match-up polls against McCain - or any Republican, for that matter - in either NH or NV in the last three months or so. But for Iowa there are polls: Survey USA has matched up both Hillary and Obama against McCain in its polls in Iowa; in November, December and now in January again.

In those polls, Hillary went from 5 points up over McCain to respectively 4, 1 and 4 points behind. But Obama has consistently been ahead of McCain in these match-ups, by 8, 12 and now 17 points respectively.

Iowans love Obama; in January's polls he also leads Giuliani, by 40 points; Romney, by 26; and Huckabee, by 23. That makes Iowa the state where Obama does best against either Rudy or McCain in the whole country.

Posted by: nimh on January 24, 2008 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin --

I've been watching American politics since, as a child, I followed the Nixon/Kennedy campaign. And I think you can sum up the basic premise, argument and question asked by the Republicans in every single missile-counting, commie-exposing, horseback riding, tank inspecting, gun-toting, pick up driving, who-would-you-rather-have-a-beer-with presidential campaign over all those years (probably every campaign since WWII) in one sentence: Who has the bigger one?

This has been true in the primaries as well as the general. And has only gotten worse, rather than better, as the Boomer generation, whose elites mostly shirked military service, have risen to power.

On the Democratic side, fear of this argument has, especially since, once again, the militarily-insecure Boomer generation began to compete at the presidential level, dominated and distorted the primary process. The panic about Dean, who saw the war correctly, and the mad rush for war decorated Kerry, whose huge deficits as a campaigner were obvious long before he got the nomination, were based in this dynamic -- in fear that the party would come up short in the macho department.

The same dynamic, of course, is at play in the fear of Hillary as a candidate. How can you play "who has the bigger one" when your candidate doesn't even have one?

My thought is this; far from being a disadvantage for the Democrats, having a woman as a serious contender in the race puts an end to that game, and changes the dynamic in our favor. In a way that can't happen with a male candidate -- whether it's Obama, Edwards or anyone else.

In this primary, Obama, Edwards and all the other male candidates have been spared judgement on that level -- been spared the indignity of mounting tanks, getting gussied up in camoflauge, affirming their love for their gun -- because their strongest competition is a woman.

In the general, especially against McCain, that will no longer be true. Obama's urbane cool will be disadvantaged in a race in which the other side will be playing up traditional notions of masculinity, and disdainfully pointing out every and any diviation from them. Plus, his passive aggressive campaign style -- baiting his opponent to make the first aggressive move -- hasn't yet proved very effective even against a female candidate for whom direct aggression is problematic. It will put him at a disadvantage -- especially in the debates -- against a candidate who will make his own aggression a selling point, in a traditional election in which "toughness" is still the dominant measure. (Obama's hesitancy and poor performance in the primary debates, by the way, is in large part accounted for by his habit of using aggression indirectly -- building elaborate, elegantly contorted high-minded arguments in which to hide the knife. Such an approach means he is rarely spontaneous and doesn't effectively take advantage of opportunities as they arrive.)

If Hillary is the candidate, the GOP will find that many of their best, most practiced tools can't be used against a woman without unanticipated reprecussion. This means they'll have to find a new way to play -- in a game they don't understand and are extremely ill-suited for.

Posted by: mary on January 24, 2008 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

In a 'normal' year with no war in progress, I'm sure Obama would trounce McCain. But with troops in the field, people are going to look at the two of them and go for the guy who knows what he's talking about in military matters.

Between McCain, who thinks that invading Iraq was just a wonderful and peachy keen idea and we should stay there another 100 years, and Obama, who thinks it's a disaster which has bogged us down in a strategic quagmire, which of them is really the guy who knows what he's talking aobut in military matters?

And remember: despite what the MSM trumpets, the war is unpopular. People don't like the war. They're sick of the war. They're going to be looking for the guy who'll promise to end the war, not the guy who wants to extend it past the lifetime of every American alive today.

Posted by: Stefan on January 24, 2008 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Wonkie is dead right about the weaknesses of this poll (whose data isn't really supported by any other poll, as far as I can see). Clinton has consistently had about 48% of the country opposed to her. This is not going to change just because she gets the nomination. She'll lose a lot of Obama supporters who think she ran a dirty campaign (which she undeniably has), will face renewed questions about all the 1990s ethical problems (not all of which are GOP witch hunts), and will be stuck with her Iraq vote (as Kerry was), which is a huge albatross.

Posted by: Howard B. on January 24, 2008 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Good point Stefan - that logic would certainly carry the day with me, other Dems, and Dem-leaning Independents. But I'm not so sure about the Republican-leaning Independents Obama is counting on. I hope I'm wrong.

I'm no John McCain fan, but I don't think his horrible judgement on getting into and staying in Iraq negates his knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the military, which is really what I was referring to. I admit I did not make that clear.

Posted by: Dawn on January 24, 2008 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

mary, that is an interesting take on it. I've been trying to figure out my reasons for the gut-level worry I get when I think of an Obama-McCain match-up. I think you explain it better than my military experience theory.

Just more reasons for hoping Romney is the Rep nominee.

Posted by: Dawn on January 24, 2008 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

They're going to be looking for the guy who'll promise to end the war, not the guy who wants to extend it past the lifetime of every American alive today.

If McCain is the nominee, he will not be talking that way anymore. He is playing to the base right now. (I know, it is hard for Dems to recognize it, since our own candidates aren't doing it very much.) In the general he will be full of concerned wise old man reasonableness, and the press will let him explain away the most bald-faced inconsistencies. A lot of the people against the war now won't be against it anymore when he gets done with them.

Posted by: Dawn on January 24, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think we should worryabout thhe Republicans--wht thhey will say or thinnk. They are mostly going to vote Republican no matter what. If wewant to winn we have to get inot thhe minds of indepenndents.

Inndepenndennts "vote for the person, not thhe party". Some are inclined D or innclinned R but the bottom line is whethher or not thhey like thhe candidate.

McCainn is likeable. Obama is likeable. Unfair as it is Clinont isn't.

Upthread an Edwards supporter rejoices inn her apparennt meanness. Her new meanness mighht be appealing to thhe Democratic base but generally speaking meannessisnot the quality inndepenndents find likeable.

A new meaner Clinton is just gonng to be hated more thhan thhe old unfairly smeared Clinton.

Posted by: wonkie on January 24, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

How can you play "who has the bigger one" when your candidate doesn't even have one?

A great Obama bumpersticker, no?

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 24, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

My thought is this; far from being a disadvantage for the Democrats, having a woman as a serious contender in the race puts an end to that game, and changes the dynamic in our favor.

I'm skeptical of McCain's delicacy in a pissing match with Hillary. Just imagine the debates: McCain's withering asides stoke the liberal-baiters, Hillary's hawkish retorts infuriate Democrats, the media cheers. Hello President McCain.

Posted by: Lucy on January 24, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans seem to be choosing their most electable candidate, while the Democrats are fighting and bickering over the two least electable candidates while the most electable (Edwards) gets ignored. Stupid. We're certain to hear the phrase "President-elect McCain looks forward to working with the new Republican Senate and Republican administration ......" in the not too distant future.

Posted by: Chrissy on January 24, 2008 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Washington Post Today:

Some in Party Bristle At Clintons' Attacks Anti-Obama Ad Heightens Unity Fears

DILLON, S.C., Jan. 23 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign aired a new radio ad here Wednesday that repeated a discredited charge against Sen. Barack Obama...

The ad takes one line from an Obama interview -- "The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time...

But in the original context, Obama was describing the dominance of Republican ideas in the 1980s and 1990s, without saying he supported them, and asserting that those ideas are of no use today...

Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, accused the Clintons of using the "politics of deception," and he compared the former president to the late Lee Atwater...

In Washington, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who endorsed Obama last week, castigated the former president for what he called his "glib cheap shots"...

That concern was also voiced by some neutral Democrats, who said that the former president's aggressive role, along with the couple's harsh approach recently, threatens to divide the party in the general election...

For some rank-and-file Democrats, the tack against Obama is prompting a reevaluation of Clinton and her husband...


Posted by: JS on January 24, 2008 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Have to give it to wonkie here.

Posted by: paxr55 on January 24, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

The WaPo link corrected.

Posted by: JS on January 24, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

"If Hillary is the candidate, the GOP will find that many of their best, most practiced tools can't be used against a woman without unanticipated reprecussion. This means they'll have to find a new way to play -- in a game they don't understand and are extremely ill-suited for." Posted by: mary on January 24, 2008 at 10:51 AM

This is a point which needs to be considered. I also have referred to this in earlier comments when I have referred to the type of attacks used against Clinton by the GOP would almost certainly carry a strong misogynistic edge/tone to them, indeed they always have. What I did not to think to add to that point and mary did is that the general theme of the GOP machine does tend to come down to who has the biggest dick and balls (yes, I know, that is a bit crude/rough in description, but it is a fair summation of what tends to be at the core of the GOP argument for Pres) to run things, especially in campaigns where the US military is in action somewhere. I've always thought that would be one of the most infuriating things for the to GOP have to deal with against a female candidate, especially one like HRC whose reputation for being a strong (usually too strong, ironically enough thanks to the GOP slime machine as much as anything she has done reducing its effectiveness by some degree/amount) woman is well established since a lot of their usual rhetoric against "the weak and cowardly Dems" have always had strong overtones of being too girlish (Breck girl anyone?) and pansy-assed (the usual gay bashing stereotypes that argue such amale is clearly too weak plus the standard misogynistic sneers because women are too weak don't ya know) and against a female candidate who is seen by many people as if anything too strong/brassy will not have the same effect as they normally do, indeed could very well boomerang back onto the GOP machine. Especially when you consider this is a well they are used to going to from the past few decades and have clearly become over-reliant on it and anything new they bring to try and deal with Clinton will not have the same time tested and time conditioned/imprinted effect within the electorate, especially in one as clearly agitated as the one in America at the moment.

Thank you mary for raising a point and argument that I have not seen much of and that is one that should be considered in the discussion over each side’s strengths and weaknesses.

Posted by: Scotian on January 24, 2008 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Wonkie wrote:

The electoral college matters. We need to find out who does better in swing states. It is unlikely to be Hillary, but it wouuld be good to know some facts.

I'm a nerd, so I actually have an Excel database with every state-level poll that has appeared since October matching up any of the top 3 Democrats against any of the top 4 Republicans. That's something like 350 poll results on Hillary alone.

Reviewing how Hillary did against McCain, Romney, Rudy and Huckabee with how Obama did against the same candidates in those months, and giving the newest polls extra weight, it seems that:

-> Obama matches up far better than Hillary in Iowa (see above) and also better in Illinois, Maryland, Washington and Oregon.

-> Hillary matches up clearly better than Obama in Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma and Minnesota, and also better in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Florida, as well as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In short, if you look at state-level polls rather than national ones, Obama seems to have a serious disadvantage compared to Hillary throughout the South; and possibly also in the Midwest. Obama has an edge in the Northwest, and arguably in the states where they know him best (IA, IL).

Posted by: nimh on January 24, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

the GOP machine does tend to come down to who has the biggest dick... especially in campaigns where the US military is in action somewhere.

Nice generalization. What would be some examples of this?

Posted by: JS on January 24, 2008 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

If Hillary is the candidate, the GOP will find that many of their best, most practiced tools can't be used against a woman without unanticipated reprecussion.

They aren't even trying to hide it.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on January 24, 2008 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, what does it say about the Obama camp that they are quite free in calling the Clinton’s masters of Rovian politics and now acting like Lee Atwater, hmmm? Especially in the case of Atwater one could interpret that as using "the race card" against the Clintons by the Obama side. Personally, I find the willingness to claim that the Clinton's are using Rovian/Atwater tactics to be more than a little inflammatory, more than a little dishonest (Are they playing hardball, yes, are they using the tactics those two men are best known for? I don't think so.) and more than a little desperate sounding.

Posted by: Scotian on January 24, 2008 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.amconmag.com/2008/2008_01_28/article.html


A lot of the comments here first-rate, especially Mary, above, an exemplar of commentsoshpere. Above is an article by an antiwar conservative, (me, actually) arguing why Obama would likely get trounced in November.

Posted by: Scott on January 24, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK
....considering how badly the old-timers have screwd this country over in the past 20-30 years....osama_been_forgotten at 1:20 AM
Here's a graphic of Bush record. I don't think the period of the BushBush interregnum looks all that bad. From what I've seen of the newcomer chaps, they aren't all that serious: they believe all the old discredited RNC crap, they're weak on policy and big on promises.
....It suggests that the general will be decided on personalities,....JS at 1:25 AM
McCain has a good press and since his record isn't that well know with voters it is a matter of presenting the facts to replace the pervasive media spin he is enjoying now.
Does it really matter if a Dem wins or a Repub?....gregor at 1:54 AM
I remember when people would say of Kennedy / Nixon that "there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between them". Perhaps you think so, but you'd be wrong.
....McCain has demonstrated appeal to Independents,..... He attracts votes from people who are unhappy with Bush and who are opposed to the war......... Fran at 6:38 AM
You assume that his extreme support for the war, for expanding the war, and for more wars will not become an issue. Obama's numbers aren't that much better than Clinton's and at this moment in the campaign, he has the support of the anti-Clinton media. You will be astonished how quickly that will turn. What has been interesting is that Edwards and his supporters, Clinton and her supports, have both promised to support the eventual nominee. Obama and his people, not so much. Some of them who claim to be anti-war have promised to vote for McCain rather than vote for a female Democrat. It shows the lack of commitment to Democratic principles on the part of the Obama contingent.
....not knowing much about the economy and the fact that he brought Phil Gramm to a meeting to help him ....BernieO at 8:20 AM
The late, wonderful Molly Ivins commented that Phil Gramm is so mean even his friends don't like him. His knowledge of economics is that if an ideologue uninformed by empirical reality.
...I'm certain she'd be a far, far worse president.... Doug T at 9:45 AM
Just come back from the future, did ya? I suppose that a candidate who triangulates from the right and promises not to be partisan, in other words, let the Republicans continue their policies, is the savior?
Washington Post Today:.... JS at 11:46 AM
This is typical of Obama neophytes. The Washington Post has long been a neo-con paper. They had a policy of deliberately lying about Al Gore, his record and his quotes. Their editorial policy is entirely neo-con: pro-war and Republican. This story is a bogus Clinton smear for an Obama setup. His quote, as is stated in the ad, was "I think it’s fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10-15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom."

This period included the entire Bush term. He did not comment how bad those 'ideas' were and he did not note that their "challenging conventional wisdom" has been a disaster.

Posted by: Mike on January 24, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think HRC or Barack will be running against the "Straight Talk Express."

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 24, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

If ANY Democrat can't beat this geriatric, cancerous leper, then they deserve permanent minority status in Congress. We better start planning the state funeral now if McCain gets elected, because he is gonna be teats up and six feet under within three years - Count on it!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 24, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

JS,

Nice generalization. What would be some examples of this?

Thanks for asking. On Tuesday I listened to an address Steve Sviggum (R, MN, currently not holding elected office) gave to some "Conservative Republican" group. That is what they called themselves.

Steve hammered a little on the "only Republicans will lower your taxes, the Democrats will RAISE them" falsehood but for the most part his speech came down to "Who do you trust most to keep you safe in these scary, scary times?!" He must have said "National Security" twenty times.

All this at the same time our soon out-of-office Republican Senator was complaining to homeland security that the new border rules were too hard on Minnesotans!

Republican politicians will rock the boat and tell you only they can save you from the storm.

Posted by: Tripp on January 24, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp, in 2000, Gore attacked Bush for not being sufficiently security-minded. See, for example:
http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/abmt/news/0430-103.htm

"George W. Bush's Foreign Policy Fails to Prepare for the New Security Challenges"

"BUSH WOULD "SKIP" A GENERATION OF WEAPONS"

"BUSH "FAILED" THE KOSOVO TEST"

"BUSH'S VISION IS LIMITED TO FOCUSING ON CHINA AND RUSSIA, IGNORES GLOBAL ERA"

"REPUBLICAN CONGRESS HAS TURNED TO PARTISAN ISOLATIONISM"

So in 2000, at least, it seems Gore was claiming he had the bigger one in terms of security and defense.

Posted by: JS on January 24, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, you're an idiot. In the sentence following the ones you quote, Obama explicitly said that the disagreed with and opposed those ideas.

Jeez, it's one thing to be a Clintonista, but at least admit it when Evita is lying.

Posted by: Slipsok on January 24, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

He did not comment how bad those 'ideas' were and he did not note that their "challenging conventional wisdom" has been a disaster.

Mike, the Clintons and their people (Hillary, Bill, Podesta, and others) were making a big issue a few years ago about the fact that the Republicans had all the ideas and the Democrats needed to catch up.

See this post from an earleir thread, and the article it links too. Seems to me whatever they are accusing Obama of saying now, they said themselves in much stronger terms in 2003.

Posted by: JS on January 24, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Anyway, in the end it will probably be Romney, and since he's only tall, white, handsome, male, rich, and a Republican, we can all relax.

Posted by: Lucy on January 24, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks to mary for her very pointed and interesting comment.

Your phrasing was perfect and enlightening & I will keep it in mind going forward. Since I`m not going to vote ReThuglican it won`t make much difference to me come the general but I certainly think it may be valuable to others. Should I get a chance to use it in conversation I will do so (for what it`s worth I`m a Vietnam vet & have a lot of other creds that would allow me to claim "a big one" though I don`t & dislike the culture that encourages such behavior - so junior high school & boring).

"Politics is just high school with guns and more money" - Frank Zappa

Posted by: daCascadian on January 24, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Romney reminds me of a car salesman. I'd rather have McCain than him.

Posted by: Daydream Believer on January 24, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

The lofty rhetoric
...But fluid as his speech was at Winthrop and engaged as he was with the questioners....there was something about so many of the phrases that sounded like extracts from speeches past, now stripped down and run through the blender of too many events and the fatigued memories of him and his young white speechwriters:
- There's a "desperation for something differentnot based on ideology but on practical common sense." (Dukakis)
- What I'm offering is "not spin but straight talk." (Truman)
- "Change comes not from the top down but the bottom up." (Saul Alinsky)
- I will "challenge the special interests." (Reagan)
- "There is no problem we cannot solve, no destiny we cannot fulfill." (Kennedy, either one)
- "I have seen people of all kinds," black, white, Latino, men, women, straight gay, "you name it" yearning for change. (Jesse Jackson)
- "We will invest in you [money for college], and you will invest back in the United States of America [community service]." (Bill Clinton)...
The Reality
And when a questioner asked him to imagine for her "eight years from now, and you're president, what does the world look like?" his [Obama's] response was rather striking in its timidity:
I want to say: "we're on the right track rather than the wrong track." You know the country is like an ocean liner; if you change course just a little bit you'll avoid the icebergs. I want to say "there will be a comprehensive health care system" there will be a green economy . There's still going to be rich and there's still going to be poor. Wealthy people will be asked to give back a little bit to help others climb the ladder of opportunity. There will still be racial prejudice, but we will have more in common than we do things that divide us. America will have restored its moral standingmilitarily strong, prepared. The average person overseas will be saying, "They're living up to their values, they're setting the course, they're leading." People will look up to America again.
"After all the lofty talk of dreams and visions, change and new chances, here he was saying, Basically guys, there's not a hell of a lot I can do. I'm running for president, and you don't do that if you're not a footsoldier for capitalism with at least the potential to commit mass murder. You don't do that (and be taken seriously) if you don't say America is basically a good and decent country that just got off course. So gradualism is about the best I can offer. "

they said themselves in much stronger terms in 2003. JS at 12:29 PM

So the official Obama response is on the order of WaaaWasaaaWwaaaaa, Bill Clinton did it too? That's pretty lame, especially coming 4 years later in the midst of economic tribulations and the endless disaster in Iraq, while the rest of those ideas you man couldn't bring himself to condemn come to fruition as complete disasters.

Posted by: Mike on January 24, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'm no John McCain fan, but I don't think his horrible judgement on getting into and staying in Iraq negates his knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the military, which is really what I was referring to. I admit I did not make that clear.

But who cares really if he has knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the military, if it's unacccompanied by any good judgment, foresight, or grasp of military strategy? So what?

Every sergeant with 20 years in has knowledge of the nuts and bolts of military strategy, but that doesn't mean they have any idea of the broader strategic sense of what the US should or should not do when it comes to overarching military policy. That's what the president is supposed to do, and by his judgment of Iraq McCain has shown that that's what he's an incompetent failure at.

Posted by: Stefan on January 24, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

those ideas you[r] man couldn't bring himself to condemn

Mike, you keep making this accusation even though it was pointed out to you that it's incorrect. Immediately after the sentence you quoted, Obama added:

You look at the economic policies when they're being among the Presidential candidates and it's all tax cuts. Well you know, we've done that, we've tried that. That's not really going to solve our...problems.

So yes, he did condemn them.

The Clintons, on the other hand, are the ones who spoke of the Republicans as the party of ideas (see earlier reference) and did not condemn them. Bill Clinton:


“Democrats have to have ideas to win,” he said. “We were missing in action in national security and we had no positive plan for America’s domestic future.”

Hillary, in the context of Republicans as the party of ideas:


“We do have to do a better job to compete in the arena with the ideas we already have,” she told me. “But it’s also clear to me that we need some new intellectual capital...

Posted by: JS on January 24, 2008 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

And Mike, since you quoted from counterpunch.org on the fact that Obama borrows material for his speeches (who doesn't?), take a look at what the same site has to say about Hillary.

Rather more serious stuff, I would say.

A lot of Hillary supporters refuse to see that Hillary's foreign policy team is made up of neocons who are not very different from Bush's neocons.

Posted by: JS on January 24, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Like mary, I have political memories going back to the Nixon-Kennedy presidential race, although I remember more watching my parents' reactions in 1960, not having many of my own.

And I also share some of her more uncontroversial views about election history since 1960, if not her closely reasoned (and rather startling) leap from there; to wit, that in 2008 Hillary Clinton's gender effectively halts the "whose is bigger" game that, mary asserts, underlies and animates our entire national security discourse.

I'll quote her: "How can you play 'who has the bigger one' when your candidate doesn't even have one?"

The GOP's answer, of course, is "quite handily." That's child's play for any opposing political campaign, and child's play given HRC's negatives.

But mary does well in fashioning the appearance of strength out of Hillary's manifest general-election weaknesses: dynasty fatigue, her vote for the Iraq war, and so on and forth. Again, this is not about whether or not Hillary is tough. She is. Tough is not enough, not enough if you want to reclaim independents and Reagan Dems.

This just in from a family member newly returned from Columbus, on business, having talked politics while there. During dinner with dispirited Thompson supporters (and Republican partisans) they reported to mr. paxr's astonishment that they were thinking about voting for Obama, that listening to him was "intoxicating." And his remarks about Reagan? They heard, I think, what Obama wanted them to hear: a hat tip, no more, to a watershed presidency that they remember from when they voting for the first time.

Their thoughts about Hillary? I'll spare you all that.

Posted by: paxr55 on January 24, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Miles and miles up the thread, anonymous made a great point. Clinton will know how to campaign against the republican nominee in a way that closely ties him to Bush.

How does Obama do that after basing his entire public persona on an "above-the-fray," "post-partisanship" message? As soon as he gets into the mud, he has betrayed his own transformational message. If he stays out of the mud, he will be John Kerry all over again.

I guess the rote answer from Obama supporters will be that his transformational message will sweep away the opposition, but I'm dubious. That scenario seems to ignore most of recorded political history.

Posted by: anoregonreader on January 24, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy --

I think the primary races are already showing that with a woman in the race women become more critically engaged. Please understand what I am saying here -- I am NOT saying that women will vote for a woman because she is a woman. I am saying that women will look at the race differently, more intensely and critically, because one of the candidates is a woman. And that it is quite likely that, as seems to be indicated by turn out in the primaries, larger numbers of women will, whether they decide to vote for the female candidate or not, become engaged in the race.

The truth is many women, maybe even most women, tend to discount, ignore, roll their eyes at, a lot of the arguments -- for lack of a better expression I'll call them "male dominance" arguments -- that take up an awful lot of time in traditional races between male opponents. For instance, do you know any woman who has the slightest bit of interest in or gives any credence to the "who would you rather have a beer with" argument? I don't.

We bear with such arguments, that are meaningless to us, because, well, we don't have any other choice. And male politicians and the media can continue to waste hot air on such non-issues because, well, we don't have any other choice.

But a woman in the race creates an entirely new, more interesting dynamic. One in which our (women's) observation of the proceedings, our reaction to the arguments made, is naturally going to be given more weight -- by both candidates, male and female. How the candidates handle aggression, how they approach the issues, which appeals they highlight, which issues dominate -- all of these things must be adjusted in a race that is played at least in part on a more feminine playing field, with much more awareness of how all of these things look in the context of a woman's experience and perspective.

This is tricky territory. For the first woman who will campaign at this level as well as for her male opponent. I'm not suggesting that it is territory in which Hillary will naturally have an advantage -- there's no way to know that -- and, in fact, I believe women judge women differently and more critically than they do men. My point is that a dynamic this groundbreaking, that totally upends our cultural narratives about what power and authority is and what it looks like, and brings women, more than half the electorate, into the narrative in an entirely new way, can't be judged with the same yardsticks we've used in the past.

Posted by: mary on January 24, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Living as do in the land of the Philistines, I think that dems are trying to be PC but it must be said from here, Obama's skin color will be a significant factor in bringing over REagan Republicans who from their own situation have no reason to vote republican

Posted by: al green on January 24, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with the notion that McCain is a deceptively weak candidate. The Republican noise machine absolutely detests him. Republicans in general don't seem to like him- he has yet to win the Republican vote in any of his primaries. And his maverick reputation is going to be easy pickings for any competent (ah, there's the rub) Democratic campaign, as McCain has spent the last six years selling out to the Bush wing in the hope of getting his shot at the presidency. He does well now with independents because they don't really know him, only they think they do.

As for Hillary, I think she's a deceptively strong candidate. As much as the Republicans will rev up for her like no other, I think people underestimate the number of women she'll bring to the polls to vote for her, and the number of traditionally Republican women who will think twice before voting against her. I'm also not convinced that she has reached her ceiling as far as support. I've been watching the debates and, as an Edwards supporter, I can't help but notice that she's wiping the floor with Obama over and over again. By all accounts, debates are not Obama's strong suit, and maybe they aren't decisive in determining people's votes, but Hillary will be very impressive on a national stage in that setting. For all the talk about how the narrative about her is already set, I'm not sure how many people really know her or realize how intelligent and competent she sounds. I think she would pick up support post convention, not lose it.

Posted by: Sean on January 24, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Sean:

This seems like a reasonable analysis, but don't you mean that McCain is deceptively STRONG, that he appears stronger than he really is, and vice versa for Clinton?

Posted by: anoregonreader on January 24, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

mary,

I'm on my way out so can't respond properly, but thank you for your thoughtful and astute post. Brava! I'll ponder it in the car.

Lucy

Posted by: Lucy on January 24, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

The Democratic politicians in red states (McCaskill, Nelson, Johnson, Roemer) are telling us everything we need to know. These polls are meaningless this far out. What does seem meaninful is how these red state Senators have recently been jumping on the Obama bandwagon. They know their voters and how they think better than any of us and their movement towards Obama tells me a lot about Obama's appeal over Hillary to independents.

Hillary is bad news for Dems down ticket and will cost us seats we would otherwise win in Congress. These red state politicans can see that clearly enough to buck the Clinton juggernaut. They didn't do that lightly I'm sure.

Posted by: Dresden on January 24, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is tricky territory.

mary, yes, indeed. Negotiating a field of bull hokey-dink is tricky.

You are arguing that Hillary is the standard-bearer of transformational politics because she is a woman?

Posted by: paxr55 on January 24, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

A great Obama bumpersticker, no?

only to someone who totally missed mary's point.

Posted by: as it unfolds on January 24, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

When are the MSM going to call McCain out on his absurd "100 years in Iraq" comment? Is it not further testimony to the bankruptcy of our politics that the man who sponsored the enabling legislation for the biggest national security blunder in American history, and remains unapologetic about it, is even considered as a front-runner for Presidental nomination?

Posted by: bob h on January 24, 2008 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

"There's more to a general election than just independent voters." - Kevin

I'm sure most liberals who've said they won't vote for Clinton in November are just angry now and will change their minds. But some will stay angry and not change their minds.

Also, lots of Republicans have already said they would vote for Obama in the hope of healing racism, especially considering the weakness of Republican candidates.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on January 24, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK
....Rather more serious stuff, I would say....JS at 2:02 PM
I'm sure you would. A number of leftish sites like ConsortiumNews have taken an anti-Hillary stance. However, I do not take their caveats seriously and never their marching orders.

I hear Obama's new ad

“Hillary Clinton. She’ll say anything, and change nothing. It’s time to turn the page. Paid for by Obama for America.”
Now that you've brought back the politics of personal destruction, will you sending funds to Roger Stone's new 527 in the spirit of bipartisanship?

New politics, indeed. Are there any mirrors in Obamaworld?

.... REagan Republicans who from their own situation have no reason to vote republican....al green at 2:25 PM

Since racism is one of the core values of conservatism, they will always have a reason to vote Republican

Posted by: Mike on January 24, 2008 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, paxr55, I am saying that Hillary, as a woman, is a transformational candidate. Even more, she is a revolutionary one -- which is why her candidacy engenders so much more unease than Obama's.

How could it be otherwise?

Of course Obama is a transformational candidate in the context of our racial history. Transformational, but not revolutionary. The election of the first black male candidate would signal our trancendence of racial politics, the conquering of something shameful, that we no longer find tolerable. And that is something that most Americans would find easy to celebrate.

But the election of the first female president would usher in a radical new beginning, rather than signify an end. One in which our whole cultural understanding of power and authority is challenged and, eventually, transformed. That's harder to celebrate, and more difficult to even imagine, because it is a much bigger and more difficult change.

There are other cultures, including cultures that in many ways might be considered more "macho" than our own, where women leaders have been more easily accepted, despite the fact that those cultures do not share our notions of "equality." The reason for that is that embedded in those cultures are respected models of feminine strength and power -- that abide alongside strong, but different, notions of male power. For that reason, in those cultures, when women take leadership roles and exercise power, it does not upset traditional ideas about gender.

But in American culture, power and authority are, or have been, seen as pretty much exclusively male. Our narratives about leadership are told from a male perspective, our descriptions of the attributes and traits required to wield power, are masculine. So when women bid for power, they challenge not just our history (as Obama's bid for the presidency does) but our understanding of gender.

You can't get much more revolutionary than that.

Of course, even if Hillary does not get the nomination or win the election, some woman at some point will. Because the place and power of women in our society has already paid the lie to our traditional notions of gender. Even if we are not yet ready to fully recognize those changes.

Equally, if Obama does not get the nomination or win the presidency, some African American at some near point will. Because our cultural attitudes about race have changed -- and sooner or later those changes will be represented at the highest level of our politics.

Posted by: mary on January 24, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

"the election of the first female president would usher in a radical new beginning,"

Right, putting the Clintons back in the White House is a radical new beginning.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on January 24, 2008 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

I still cannot figure out why anyone pays attention to these national polls. It's all about NM, CO, MO, PA, OH, FL and a couple others. Show me who is winning those states in a hypothetical GE match up.

Posted by: Blue Moon on January 24, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno, mary. My mom would make a better president than Hillary. Or would have at age 60 anyway. I'm serious.

Your evocation of a revolutionary Hillary breaking glass ceilings, busting open gendered narratives, transforming exclusionary-male-American-sexist-political miasmas is good fiction. I'll grant you that. But it doesn't have much to do with the reality that attends her actual biography.

You write very nicely though.

Obama is running now, for president.

So is John Edwards. They're both by far better candidates than Hillary Clinton.

They shouldn't have to wait their turn just because Hill and Bill say so. And that's no fairytale.

Posted by: paxr55 on January 24, 2008 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

mary,

I was interested by your analysis of how women may be engaging the election since that kind of thing is pretty much off my radar. Aside from exasperation over how women helped tip Hillary into a 1st place finish in New Hampshire and Nevada and frustration at the impossibility of knowing all the various reasons they did so, I hadn't given the feminist angle, or what have you, much thought. And I appreciate your insights on that score.

But you lost me with your argument about whether a black man or a woman would be more "transformational". I appreciate the symbolism of electing a black man or a woman--it would certainly be a seminal event (um...maybe a bad choice of words)--but ultimately I think identity politics is bad politics. Not to say that I don't think diversity in government is important, or to understate the value of symbolism. But if Obama or Hillary are to be revolutionary, it will depend on how they govern.

Posted by: Lucy on January 24, 2008 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

I think "identity politics" is a dumb concept. Women are a diverse group that make up half the population, how can they be a mere "interest group." African Americans' are also diverse, and their experience on this continent is as long and intimately enmeshed in the history of our nation, and in our nation's culture, as that of Europeans. How can they be a mere "interest group?"

To label discussion of issues of power and authority, participation in our political life, and the historical and modern (and ever changing) roles and experiences of either African Americans or women, "identity politics" is just a way of ending the discussion.

Women don't act separate from the culture, in their own little "identity" boxes. Nor do African Americans. The act within and on the culture.

But especially on gender, it is absurd how we posit gender issues as a competition or a "war" between the sexes. And put women's contributions to the cultural conversation in a box of "identity politics." The truth is, men and women are bound together like partners in a three-legged race. When one moves, the other is affected. Without some effective communication, both are destined to fall on their asses.

Posted by: mary on January 24, 2008 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

When I said that "identity politics" is a dumb concept, I did not mean for that to be some kind of comment on your use of it. I am hoping that did not come across as if I was slighting or dismissing you, and apologize if it did.

I am frustrated that after 40 years of dramatic change in how women lead their lives, how our families survive economically, how our economy and public institutions have come to depend on the energy and talents of women, we don't have newer, more productive ways of discussing these issues, and more reality based ways of framing them.

I'm frustrated that when the New York Times picks a woman to write about some of the gender issues that are impacting this election season, they choose Gloria Steinem to make an argument that would have been at home on their editorial page 40 years ago.

Haven't we lived and learned some things in the last 40 years? Aren't there some women, lots of women, out there who have lived and observed and experienced these changes and have some different and evolving perspectives than the ones we were hearing in the 70s? Someone other than an Ann Coulter, pushing 50 and still clinging to her mini-skirt and a gender comedy routine that hasn't much changed since the 80s? Or Maureen Dowd, who writes a silly, sexist book with the easily disproved and insulting (and oh so 70s) premise that men don't like smart women, and then expects to be taken seriously on a matter like the first serious female presidential candidate?

I'd like to bury "identity politics" along with the above mentioned inanities, and find a better way to discuss what's happen in our world -- the one men and women share.

Posted by: mary on January 24, 2008 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with this kind of hypothetical matchup is that it excludes the main variable we think Obama is a better candidate: that the more people are exposed to him, to his style of politics, the better they like him while the opposite is true of Hilary. He grows on you. She wears on you. And no poll taken now can measure that difference.

Posted by: James Brown on January 24, 2008 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan,

Every sergeant with 20 years in has knowledge of the nuts and bolts of military strategy, but that doesn't mean they have any idea of the broader strategic sense of what the US should or should not do when it comes to overarching military policy. That's what the president is supposed to do, and by his judgment of Iraq McCain has shown that that's what he's an incompetent failure at.

I agree - but I'm not the kind of lizard brain undecided voter that needs more than a split second to decide between Obama and McCain!!!!

Posted by: Dawn on January 24, 2008 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

mary,

No offense taken at all. I don't associate identity politics with interest groups so much as affiliations based on hereditary traits like ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. I don't need to tell you that the need for those politics arise out of cultural necessity. But in addition, those affiliations don't preclude diversity or complexity. You can introduce all the subtlety you want, but what we've been witnessing these past few weeks looks like identity politics to me.

White women are flocking to Hillary and blacks have rallied to Obama. The cultural impetus for all this is obvious, but it's still not quite the transcendental moment I and others were hoping for. Steinem's piece in the Times is exactly what I'm talking about! "I'm going to vote for Hillary because she'd make a great president and because she's a woman." Come again? Although I'd like to vote for a woman, it's a pretty low priority on my checklist for president. Still, it's a sign of the success of feminism, I suppose, that I have the luxury of thinking so.

But don't worry! Nobody takes Maureen Dowd seriously.

Posted by: Lucy on January 24, 2008 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

James Brown--

That people like Obama more the more they know him has yet to be demonstrated. The same assertion can be made about Clinton with more confidence based on the trajectory of her popularity as a candidate in New York. Plus, she has gained the increased confidence and esteem of voters despite hostile press coverage and an on-going environment of vicious attacks from the Right.

I'd remind you that so far only only one candidate in one race has achieved slightly (very slightly) more than 50% support -- Clinton in Nevada.

When one of the candidates starts receiving such a level of support consistently, we can maybe start talking about who is gaining the voters' trust and who is not.

Posted by: mary on January 24, 2008 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

Obama won in the bluest state in a walkover. The Repubs couldn't even field an opponent and had to import Alan Keyes from Maryland.

Hillary won in NY when her opponent, Rudy Giuliani, pulled out and she had a walkover.

Neither has shown they can beat a Repub in a straight-up national contest.

John Edwards beat a Lauch Faircloth who used the Jesse Helms machine in one of the reddest states.

Seems Edwards knows how to do it.

Now, what was all this about Obama or Clinton being better at beating Republicans? Ha!

John Edwards -- Leadership towards slammin' Repubs at voting booth.

Posted by: MarkH on January 24, 2008 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

James Brown--

That people like Obama more the more they know him has yet to be demonstrated. The same assertion can be made about Clinton with more confidence based on the trajectory of her popularity as a candidate in New York. Plus, she has gained the increased confidence and esteem of voters despite hostile press coverage and an on-going environment of vicious attacks from the Right.

I'd remind you that so far only only one candidate in one race has achieved slightly (very slightly) more than 50% support -- Clinton in Nevada.

When one of the candidates starts receiving such a level of support consistently, we can maybe start talking about who is gaining the voters' trust and who is not.

Posted by: mary on January 24, 2008 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

I've had it with this blog and Kevin Drum. He has never given John Edwards a voice much less a chance. Just like big media, it is and has been for some time, Clinton and Obama. I'm sick of this shit. If we (Dems) lose again, I hope Kevin and the NYT are proud of themselves for sticking us with another fascist Repug.

Posted by: Don on January 24, 2008 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Mary, your point seems to be undigested, even by Lucy who came closest. You're saying that just because she's a viable woman candidate ( as compared to previous long shot runs, ) Hillary will increase participation and attention of all women. Women respond to different things then men ( I agree,) and that will change the kinds of tactics that will work, and perhaps the Republicans have no "new tricks."

I think that's an astute point. It's kind of sad that the bulk of people are so horse race focused that they misinterpret your point as "Hillary is revolutionary."

"we don't have newer, more productive ways of discussing these issues, "

America's thinking is being directed by the media. Our language has been corrupted by commerce, most people are only able to speak and think in the terms and phrases they know from commerce. We worship money ( I say this as an atheist, ) and only winners are respected, ( gambling is rampant, in Vegas and Wall Street. )

Not to be a downer, but more productive ways of discussing big picture issues seems a long way off to my eyes.

Historically, first we must have total failure, followed by years of misery. Only then will we gain the skepticism, humility and seriousness we need right now.

Posted by: Joey Giraud on January 24, 2008 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK

markh: John Edwards beat a Lauch Faircloth who used the Jesse Helms machine in one of the reddest states.

Seems Edwards knows how to do it.

seems his popularity had sunk enough that he was in danger of losing his senate seat in 2004...instead he ran for vp and failed to bring in his own state. ouch.

i like edwards on policy. but man, you write some seriously stupid shit about his "experience" in your posts here. you sound like a wild-eyed cultist. stick to the facts because you're hurting not helping edwards with this crap.

Posted by: as it unfolds on January 24, 2008 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

If McCain is the R candidate, how can we not plaster this picture on every available space. And add whatever caption is appropriate.

Posted by: natural cynic on January 24, 2008 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

If Hillary loses, I will vote for Republican McCain. I will never vote for Obama; I can't stand the man. He is 100 times more liberal than Clinton and his double talk sickens me. He is nothing but a creation of the media with excess daily adulation. There is nothing great about Obama. If Americans can't see it now, they will be very sorry if he is elected. Count me in as a Democrat voting Republican in this election if Hillary loses. Right now I am counting on Hillary. (P.S. I've done it before - I voted for Reagan once.)

Posted by: Melinda on February 13, 2008 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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