Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Clinton's Delegate Situation

As I write this, Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries by 135 pledged delegates. Presuming Hawaii's 20 delegates are distributed more or less according to the popular vote (i.e. Obama's way by a ratio of more than 3 to 1 with 68% counted), he could break the 150 delegate lead by the end of the day. Given the way delegates are distributed in the Democratic race (proportionally, rather than winner-takes-all) Clinton now faces an extremely steep challenge to recover the lost ground.

As I described in my earlier post, after mixed results on Super Tuesday the Clinton campaign decided to focus their efforts primarily on winning Texas and Ohio on the 4th of March, effectively conceding all the races in the month until then. While lack of finances are as much a reason for this move as poor strategy, it is undeniable that the past two weeks have seen a sharp shift in momentum towards Obama. During this time, he has won ten consecutive states for a net advantage of 113 delegates (not including Hawaii) and has now won the popular vote in exactly half the states in the union (including Hawaii). The basic maths now tell us that this race is almost beyond Hillary's reach.

In Texas and Ohio, Hillary now needs to win big. Even if she wins 60% of the delegates in these states (a net advantage of 59 delegates) and ties the others on the day, she will still trail Obama by about 90 delegates. Even if we include present pledged superdelegates in this count (who, remember, can change their vote at any time they wish), Obama still comes up on top. This is bad news for Clinton in itself, but it gets worse.

First of all, the polls don't indicate that she will win Texas or Ohio by anywhere near this hypothetical 20 points. Leaked Obama internals put the margin in Ohio at just 7 points and two indpenedent polls in Texas suggest that the race there is a dead heat. It's also worth keeping in mind that these numbers were taken before the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries (and so don't reflect any momentum that might have gained from his wins there), were taken before he had set foot in these states (he has generally been successful in states where he has been able to campaign at length) and don't reflect the fact that support tends to break for Obama in the last week or so before the primaries. Wisconsin was a statistical dead-heat a couple of days ago, remember, and Obama ended up winning by 17 points!

Texas especially presents a challenge for the Clinton campaign. Firstly, although the specifics of the process are completely mystifying to me, part of the primary is caucus-based. Owing in no small part to his superior grass-roots organisation, Obama has destroyed Clinton in the seven caucuses held up until now. With the exception of American Samoa, Obama has so far won every caucus (in terms of pledged delegates won) by a ratio of at least 2:1. As if this and the lukewarm poll-numbers weren't enough to give Clinton cause for concern about Texas, it now emerges that the manner in which delegates are distributed there is likely to favour Obama as well:

Supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are worried that convoluted delegate rules in Texas could water down the impact of strong support for her among Hispanic voters there, creating a new obstacle for her in the must-win presidential primary contest.

Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state's unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting this month, according to one person who attended.

What Clinton aides discovered is that in certain targeted districts, such as Democratic state Sen. Juan Hinojosa's heavily Hispanic Senate district in the Rio Grande Valley, Clinton could win an overwhelming majority of votes but gain only a small edge in delegates. At the same time, a win in the more urban districts in Dallas and Houston -- where Sen. Barack Obama expects to receive significant support -- could yield three or four times as many delegates.

Everything in this key state - if not the race itself - seems to be breaking Obama's way.

Given all this, if Clinton is to get anywhere near the nomination it is clear that she will be heavily dependent on the votes of superdelegates. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Clinton camp has already suggested that she "will not concede the race to Obama if he wins a greater number of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, and will count on the 796 elected officials and party bigwigs to put her over the top, if necessary". Apart from the reprehensibly undemocratic nature of this push, the numbers tell us - yet again - that this is not a particularly viable strategy, especially in the long-term.

Put simply, many of the superdelegates who pledged support for Clinton early in the race are starting to switch to Obama. There have been many recent examples of this published in the press. Clinton once had a lead of around 100 superdelegates, that number is now below 80. Up to date numbers are available here, but the trend is clear:

So it doesn't look like superdelegates can help her either, but that still doesn't exhaust the questionable methods the Clinton campaign may employ to get her elected. This next, last-ditch victory strategy should offend the sensibilities of anyone who supports the integrity of the democratic process and is clear sign of the desperation in Hillary's camp at this point in time.

Are you ready?

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign intends to go after delegates whom Barack Obama has already won in the caucuses and primaries if she needs them to win the nomination.

That's right. Clinton's campaign intends coerce Obama's pledged delegates - delegates that have been democratically selected by voters in primaries and caucuses all over the country to cast a vote for Obama on their behalf at the DNC - into voting for her instead. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Essentially, Hillary is willing to completely subvert the democratic process if it helps her to get elected. She is willing to ignore the will of the people if it results in her ascension to a position of power. The superdelegate policy was sketchy enough as it is, but this one - if genuinely reflective of her intentions - really does take the cake. If even the suggestion of stealing delegates doesn't make the bile rise up in the back of your throat then I really do question the orientation of your moral compass.

But still - for all there is to get riled up about at this stage in the primary process - I think it's all probably moot. Yes, that's right. At 11pm, Wednesday 20th February I'm ready to make the call:

Barack Obama will be the Democrats' nominee for 2008

Bring it on, Mr. McCain!

(With credit to Goons For Obama.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Howard's End

Anyone catch this last night? (Available to view on the 4 corners website if you missed it.)

The interviews were refreshingly frank, and by the end of it all I could only wonder what on earth must have been going through Howard's mind during that last year in power. The accusations that he had lost touch with the electorate proved to be understatements: he'd completely lost touch with his own party as well.

In many ways, he orchestrated his own downfall in the same manner that he conducted his politics: with completely incorrigable stubborness. His reluctance to be engaged, for instance, on the issues of climate change and reconciliation - even as his approval ratings plummeted as a consequence - is a good example of this. Just eleven weeks later, his passionate resistence to these issues appears increasingly obsolescent and largely unfathomable. But in the broader context of his defeat at the 2007 election, it makes perfect sense: his snowballing hubris wouldn't allow a backstep, no matter how small or inconsequential. As petty as this makes him seem in hindsight, his unrepentant intractability must have presented as an endearing quality to many voters during his time in power, and must surely be one of the main reasons for his long-term poltical success.

But the idea of a man being undone by his greatest strength is one of the oldest recurring themes in Western literature. John Howard's story in this regard could be lifted straight from the pages of Sophocles or Shakespeare: a man of great power and growing hubris destroyed by the very quality that made him great in the first place. Although he always publicly maintained that the length of his tenure would be dictated by the best interests of the party, the interviews in this program made it quite clear that he never had any intentions of leaving. The revelation that he had lost the support of his cabinet but decided to stubbornly persevere anyway, almost as if to prove a point (to quote Downer: "John Howard’s view was that he wouldn’t just stand down, he would not just stand down and run away from a fight and be seen by history as a coward") probably shouldn't come as any surprise. As petulant as Costello sometimes appears during this interview, it's hard not to sympathise with him on this issue at least.

But, of course, this is all about Howard. He acheived an ignominous end and it was entirely of his own making. I can't help but look back on the triumphalism that so characterised his years as PM (adequately demonstrated in the footage spliced into the program from the tenth anniversary celebrations) and find this to be anything but a very beautiful thought.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Christian Gets Elected, Uppity

You have to feel for Christians in modern Australian society. Making up a meager two-thirds of the Australian population, they frequently find themselves exposed to the cruel tyranny of the remaining minority. New Liberal MP Scott Morrison devoted his maiden speech to the horrors of this secular oppression:

"Australia is not a secular country — it is a free country," he said.

"This is a nation where you have the freedom to follow any belief system you choose. Secularism is just one. It has no greater claim than any other on our society.

"As US senator Joe Lieberman said, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not from religion."

Lost in the ecstasy that must come with giving voice to a well-honed persecution complex, Mr. Morrison seems to have confused himself about the target of his invective. It scarcely needs to be said: "the freedom to follow any belief system you choose" is a secular ideal! For Morrison, though, there doesn't seem to be any interest in understanding the ideologies that he feels come into conflict with his. Those who believe in the separation of church and state must also, by his reckoning, believe that "faith has no place in the political debate of this country". The idea that it is possible to support religious plurality and church / state separtion doesn't seem to have crossed his mind.

But to demonstrate just how far he has missed the mark in this speech, we need only point him towards the evidence (the bane of every believer...). It is simply beyond question that those societies in the history of the world that have best preserved religious freedoms have been the avowedly secular societies. Anyone who supports freedom of religion must accept the central tennet of secular ideology: that the government has no right to make "any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion". The corollary of this is that there must be limits (legal or self-imposed) to the range of religious ideals that can be legitimately advocated or enforced by elected representatives.

As a consequence of the imposition of these limits, we facilitate not the restriction of religious freedom, but rather its preservation. In limiting the power an MP has to give leverage to his religious ideals, we are protecting the freedom of his constituents - who may hold a different set of religious ideals - to give leverage to theirs. It is only when we prevent the possibility of those in power from giving preference to one religion over another that the "freedom of religion" Morrison invokes earns any meaning. Those countries that have most successfully abolished the secular principles against which Morrison inveighs (let us say, Saudi Arabia) are not renowned, afterall, for their tolerance of religious plurality!

But I think that I am probably taking him too literally at his word, here. I doubt very much that Morrison was interested in using his speech to investigate, with any sincerity, the consequences of secular policy. I think, ultimately, that he just wanted to winge about people who disagree with him:

"In recent times it has become fashionable to negatively stereotype those who profess their Christian faith in public life as 'extreme' and to suggest that such faith has no place in the political debate of this country."

There is, I think, a legitimate debate to be had about the role of religious belief in public life. Few would argue that becoming an elected member of parliament disentitles one from the right to practise a religion, much less from the right to "profess" it. But this is where Morrison - and other Christians harbouring persecution fantasies - get misled: there is a significant distinction between believing an opinion to be wrong or misguided, and believing that the opinion has no right to be expressed in the first place. To disagree with the public statements of Christian politicians is not to disagree with the idea that politicians have the right to make public statements about Christianity!

Ultimately, it needs to be recognised that religious beliefs should not be entitled to a privilaged position in political discourse. If your religion is integral to your political philosophy, then you have to accept that those beliefs can (and should!) be made the subject of debate. To believe in the right to express religious belief is to concede the possibility that it may be met with criticism. Ultimately, Mr Morrison wants it both ways: he wants the right to discuss his religious beliefs openly, but he also wants to prevent these beliefs from being discussed critically.

And this is the crux of the matter: the often conflicting aims for religious MPs between their duties as public servants and their duties as believers. To the extent that they are fulfilling their role as public servant, they are welcome to wax lyrical about their religion for as long as they wish to anyone willing to listen. Doing so, however, should imply recognition of the fact that their seat in parliament is not a pulpit from which spiritual maxims can doled out without right of reply: it is part of an ongoing dialectic. He has the right to argue that the Christian faith can be used to establish and reinforce "the principles of our liberal democracy upon which our own nation is built", others have the right to argue that it doesn't.

And that, Mr. Morrison, is how a secular democracy works.

Friday, February 15, 2008

How Hillary Intends to Climb Mt. Improbable

It would be difficult to outdo Rudy Giulliani in the "retarded election strategy" stakes, but Hillary Clinton certainly seems up for the challenge. A recent MyDD post describes this strategy:

The Clinton campaign made clear that it planned to win Super Tuesday based on a tight four-state strategy, focusing on California, New York, New Jersey, and Arkansas, which, they frequently cited, made up 40% of the delegates assigned --- a strange strategy in a system that isn't winner-take-all. Clinton's name recognition and her general support level across the country would have to hold her up in the vast swaths of the country that she had already conceded.


This strategy of focusing hard on winning the biggest states turned out to be one of this campaign season's great blunders, and it is one that the Clinton campaign seems to make repeatedly. The Obama campaign has repeatedly found ways to get ahead in the delegate count, out-organizing rural areas of Nevada to win an extra delegate while the Clinton campaign won Clark County, and then repeating that success to run a field campaign across 22 states that kept the delegate count close in states Clinton won and racked up the delegates in states Clinton did not bother to contest.


It was not a lack of funds that led the Clinton campaign to ignore rural areas, to write off multiple states. Rather, the Clinton campaign seemed oddly unprepared, clinging to a misjudgment, counting on national poll numbers, unwilling to run the expansive grassroots national campaign that the Obama campaign had been preparing for for months.

As if to underline this, Clinton strategist Mark Penn recently came out with the following argument:

""Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn't won any of the significant states -- outside of Illinois? That raises some serious questions about Sen. Obama.”

With that kind of arrogance, is it any wonder that Obama continues to destroy Hillary in the smaller and caucus states? Does she expect to get elected in the general with that kind of approach?

But of course, even if she fails to beat Obama in the delegate count (not such a stretch given she's prepared to cede half the country to him already) she has a backup plan:

Hillary Clinton will take the Democratic nomination even if she does not win the popular vote, but persuades enough superdelegates to vote for her at the convention, her campaign advisers say.


Clinton will not concede the race to Obama if he wins a greater number of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, and will count on the 796 elected officials and party bigwigs to put her over the top, if necessary, said Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson.

"I want to be clear about the fact that neither campaign is in a position to win this nomination without the support of the votes of the superdelegates,'' Wolfson told reporters in a conference call.

Surely not even the Democrats would be so stupid, so inclined to self-destruction as to nominate a candidate who lost the popular vote and delegate count in the primaries? Is this the sign, perhaps, of a once "inevitable" - now failing - cadidate clutching desperately at straws?

Sorry is the Hardest Word

At least a decade too late, the federal government has finally followed the lead of the states in acknowledging the littany of horrors visited by this country upon its native population. It was a simple gesture in many ways, but the reactions tell us that it was not an incosequential one. For those - like our esteemed friend, Tony Abbott - who had earlier argued that a formal apology represented nothing more than a empty gesture, a token of politically-correct symbolism, the unbridled outpouring of emotion must have come as a surprise. Try telling the grown men in the crowds across the country, reduced to tears and inspired to the point of talking openly - perhaps for the first time in their lives - about the possibility for "hope" and "healing", that this was nothing more than an empty gesture!

The genuine impact of this little word and the ease with which it was said, underlines the pettiness and cruelty of John Howard's reluctance to be engaged on the matter. How small he now looks. His curious vendetta against reconciliation has been broken and the nation has moved on without him. His steadfast reluctance to formally apologize, as head of parliament, for the parliament-sanctioned kidnapping of Aboriginal children has earnt its rightful place as a historical footnote, an archaic oddity of national policy that future generations will struggle to understand. His legacy, however, may yet die hard.

Nelson's political acrobatics on the day - submitting in principle to the idea of an apology while simultaneously attempting to placate the skepticism of his conservative base - received the scorn they deserved. His attempt to charcterise the policy of reloctaing Aboriginal children (and refusing them any future contact with their families or culture) as an essentially well-meaning (and, in some cases, well-enacted) policy was particularly odious. The sentiment of this passage - and much of his speech - is the sentiment that goes right to the heart, I think, of the conservative reluctance to respect the legitimacy of this formal apology: that is, the rejection of any and all personal responsibility for the attrocities committed. I didn't take away any children, so what do I have to apologise for?

This has been a common theme, elucidated ad nauseum by rankled culture-warriors all over the country. They have, however, as usual, missed the point. Perhaps the most poignant moment of Rudd's speech was the one that addressed this issue directly:

"We, the parliaments of the nation, are ultimately responsible, not those who gave effect to our laws. And the problem lay with the laws themselves. As has been said of settler societies elsewhere, we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors; therefore we must also be the bearer of their burdens as well."

Without wanting to dive too deeply into the waters of post-modern thought, the notion of continuity - particularly of parliament - is essential for the meaningful existence of a country. If you want to recognise the legitimate need for countries (which, as I have outlined in a previous post, is something I have my reservations about) then it must be understood that new countries aren't formed every time a new government ascends to power. None of the individuals responsible for the policies that led to the stolen generation are still in power, but as benefactors of the nation that they helped form, we inherit their "burdens" as well. If the spirits of the Anzacs still live with us today,  as Dr. Nelson suggests, then so do the ghosts of the stolen generation.

And that is why we are compelled to say sorry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008