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Public Apology to Brazen Hussy

Thursday, February 28, 2008
Brazen Hussy is graciously reviewing my dissertation draft, which is full of grammatical errors, annoying expressions, and typos. I want her and everybody else to know that she's a saint for doing it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:46 PM

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Burying the Dead

Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Why, may I ask, is it necessary to praise the dead? I know the cliche of not speaking ill of them. I'm aware that it's frightfully bad manners. However, the requirement that we speak only well of those who have passed away results in grotesque mythologies being built up around mediocrities and villains. William F. Buckley opposed the Civil Rights Movement, thought poor people should lose the right to vote, and wanted to purge the academy of liberals. Why must I remain silent while others prattle on about what a wonderful person he was? A person who smiles while murdering another remains a murderer, however charming that smile may be.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:25 PM

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Campaign Chronicles Part I

As requested, I will be posting periodically on the progress of the local campaign I'm running. Here's an excerpt from my previous post, just to refresh your memory:

...one woman ("S") and one man ("W") are incumbents, which means in the eyes of many people, the race will be between my male candidate (call him G) and the other nonincumbent female candidate (call her J). I don't really know J, but I can count: there's a very strong women's political organization here, and Democratic primaries are usually overwhelming female. So if it's a straight-up contest that falls along gender lines, we lose. Which means I'll have to focus on defeating the incumbent man, W (no relation to Bush!), who is about 80 years old and whom no one thought was seeking another term. Frankly I'd much rather try to defeat an old man who doesn't campaign much than a woman who's been involved in local campaigns for years. I'm going to have to hope that my candidate, G, can out-campaign and win over women by avoiding the impression he's running against J - all without going negative on W. Very tricky.

There were quite a few surprises on filing day. The incumbent woman, S, decided at the last moment not to run for re-election, choosing instead to run for another (higher) office. For about an hour I thought I had an uncontested primary of W, J, and my candidate, G. Then things got even weirder, as THREE OTHER CANDIDATES filed at the last minute. Wacky! I don't know how serious they are. One of them, B, has a background in radio. If he decides to run a real race, things could get very interesting. Lucky for me he has never done any work for the party, although he is well thought of and has pretty good name recognition. Also B announced without talking to anybody else first, so the party leaders are kind of hacked off at him. Which makes me happy.

Contrary to my expectations, there is only one woman (J) in the race. G has worked for a number of woman candidates, so I hope that he can get some support there, which will be essential. I finally got the chance to talk to J. She seems like a nice person, and has some experience in local politics, but she really needs to work on her public presentation. She looks and talks like a little bit of a crazy lefty. Now don't get me wrong - I have real soft spot for crazy lefties. But it's important not to seem like one.

G's campaigning skills are coming along. I've been trying to teach him how to write political speeches and press releases, but it's very hard going. G has done a lot of technical writing, so whenever I send him something he tries to make it twice as long and full of detail. I love that he likes substance, but it's been a chore convincing him that it doesn't matter if he knows what he wants if he can't communicate it to the voters.

We organized a campaign kick-off the other day, and it went pretty well. There were about 20 people, which is pretty good for this kind of event. We even got the event mentioned in the paper, which would have made it a victory even if no one had showed up. At the last minute G added some stuff to the speech, which predictably ruined the flow. Even he realized it though, so I think he won't try it again.

The good news is that we're way ahead of all of the other campaigns. We already have our signs ordered and some decent literature printed, have had our first public event, issued our first two press releases, and have a rough stump speech ready. The weather has been so awful we haven't been able to go door to door yet, and the fundraising isn't where I'd like it to be (candidates sure do hate having to call people asking for money), but other than that I'm fairly pleased with where things are. I don't know if we're going to win (although I'd say our odds are at least 50-50), but I do know that nobody is going to out-work us.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:22 PM

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Unlikely Good News

Monday, February 25, 2008
So you might have read on Brazen Hussy's blog that my cat Loki was sick. He's more my cat than BH's (I got him before we got back together), so one might assume that I'd be the one to post about it first. Well, the fact is that I just couldn't. I don't have kids, so I don't know what it would be like to have a sick child, but from the moment I heard that Loki had a heart condition, I was sort of wreck. I'm not much of a crier, but I was pretty weepy all week.

Anyway, today we dropped Loki off at the vet. I'd convinced myself that he was dying. After all, the vet was acting like he was a goner. She said that it was very unlikely that his weird heartbeat was due to his respiratory infection. When we went to pick him up this evening, we waited forever in the vets office - I was totally freaking out. The vet came in the room, she acted stunned. It turns out that Loki's bad heart WAS because of the infection. Apparently the antibiotics are clearing up the problem. I am SO RELIEVED. I'll have Loki to put up with for a long while yet.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:06 PM

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Required Doses of Goofiness

Saturday, February 23, 2008
Can I just say how nice it is to hang out at the house with your spouse on Friday night drinking cocktails and dancing to lame 80's music? As BH noted last night, apparently we've become those old people who can't move past the music of their youth. But I don't care!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:11 AM

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The Psychology of Conflict

Thursday, February 21, 2008
In a conversation before Super Tuesday, I told a friend that I'd rather Clinton blow Obama out on February 5th than have Obama win at a contested convention after a long and bitter primary campaign. I prefer Obama, but the longer this thing goes on, the starker the lines between the two candidates' supporters will become. I've been pained to watch liberals for whom I have great affection relentlessly attack not just the other candidate, but the supporters of the other candidate. There are only two discernible policy distinctions between Clinton and Obama - the Iraq War and health care mandates - but somehow anyone supporting Clinton has become a racist pseudo-Republican corporate shill, and anyone supporting Obama is a misogynistic elitist naive cultist. Please.

It's not surprising, I suppose. It's natural that the longer a battle goes on, the more entrenched the two sides become. World War I started over a minor regional concern, but by the time it was done the Central and Allied powers were determined to grind each other into the dust.

I'm all in favor of enthusiasm, but remember - both of these candidates are Democrats. I think it's essential to treat those who are fundamentally on the same side of the great political questions of the day with a degree of charity. Let's not assume that our intra-party rivals are conniving, unprincipled monsters. Clinton probably meant to be insensitive racially no more than Obama meant to sound sexist. People make mistakes, and any statement can be misconstrued into something it wasn't.

Finally, it's important to note that those of us deeply invested in this primary election aren't really representative of the Democratic electorate, as we have been shown time and again. There is no deep-seated animosity between Obama and Clinton's voters (unlike the internet). They each enjoy very high approval ratings, and the defeated candidates' voters will quickly rally behind the nominee. Let's keep this all in a bit of perspective, shall we?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:48 AM

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Cause It's That Time of Year

Thursday, February 14, 2008
As seen lots of places.

Your Candy Heart Says "Hug Me"

A total sweetheart, you always have a lot of love to give out.
Your heart is open to where ever love takes you!

Your ideal Valentine's Day date: a surprise romantic evening that you've planned out

Your flirting style: lots of listening and talking

What turns you off: fighting and conflict

Why you're hot: you're fearless about falling in love
What Does Your Candy Heart Say?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:34 AM

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Far From Over

With typical recklessness, the national press corps is depicting the Democratic nomination race as just about over. According to the official account, Barack Obama's dramatic victories on Tuesday, where he ran up outrageous 25/30 pt margins in Maryland and Virginia and won among key Clinton base demographics (the elderly, working class, latinos), makes him the definitive frontrunner. Clinton's money woes and shrinking electoral base spell doom for her in the future primaries. Obama's campaign has promoted this narrative, arguing that Clinton has almost no mathematical chance of winning more pledged delegates than Obama before the convention.

Blah blah blah.

Certainly Obama's victories were impressive, and his 8-0 record since Super Tuesday makes the Scenario I I described a few days ago seem the most likely outcome. Clinton indeed has problems. She could very well lose Wisconsin, meaning that she would enter the all-important Ohio and Texas primaries down 0-10 since last Tuesday. If these repeated defeats result in a decline in her fundraising relative to Obama, Barack may be able to blanket the very expensive Texas and Ohio media markets with tv ads and erode the Clinton advantage in those states. In addition, if Obama is seen as the inevitable nominee and Clinton as a goner, then her supporters (most of whom like Barack, even if they prefer Clinton) could defect to the frontrunner. This is precisely why Obama's campaign is pushing the inevitability argument so hard - they want to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

BUT: Clinton is by no means dead. Obama's successes in winning Clinton base voters on the Potomac does not necessarily point to a long-term trend. And the one one bright note in an otherwise dismal evening was that (as far as I can tell) Obama performed very poorly among rural whites in Virginia - voters that, like Latinos, are very prolific in Texas and southwestern Ohio, as well as later states. Recent polls show Clinton with substantial leads in Ohio & Texas, and if these hold up, she will be very much back in the race. A dramatic comeback on March 4th could help her win Pennsylvania, and after that she has a good chance of winning most of the remaining primaries in Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia (Barack is probably favored in North Carolina). Should she do so, she could close the delegate lead Obama currently enjoys to almost nothing, and make a reasonable argument that Obama cannot win big state primaries - which could be a persuasive argument to Superdelegates as she tries to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations.

Does the latter scenario seem improbable? Well, it's certainly seems unlikely, but not dramatically so. The Obama people (and the press) have asserted that Barack can endure narrow defeats in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania and still end the race with more delegates. But will he really be the frontrunner if he has failed to win a single large state (other than Illinois)?

I think Ohio is potentially decisive. If Obama can win there, he can probably win Pennsyvlania and the nomination. But a loss in Ohio would seriously curb his momentum. If Barack wins Ohio AND Texas, (which is certainly not out of the realm of possibility), even by small margins, then this thing is totally over.

Of course, Clinton could surprise everybody and win Wisconsin next Tuesday and throw everything up in the air all over again.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:37 AM

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What's So Bad About Caucuses?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008
In part to avoid doing any real work, and in part out of masochism, I've been reading some of the comments regarding the presidential election on prominent liberal political blogs. Like a lot of folks, I've been a little disgusted with the vituperation coming from both sides. With some exceptions, the candidates have run pretty clean campaigns, but some of their supporters can get a bit....enthusiastic. It's frustrating to me that such small differences get magnified out of all proportion during a primary campaign. But I suppose stuff like this is inevitable.

In any case, one of the persistent memes floating around is that there's something wrong with caucuses - that somehow only primary elections are legitimate expressions of voter preference. The argument goes something like this: primary elections are a lot like general elections, where voters can make an anonymous decision that takes up relatively little time, whereas a caucus is a time-consuming public event, which could discriminate against working people or those who don't want to spend 3-4 hours arguing in public about politics.

The argument that caucuses are unrepresentative demographically isn't very persuasive, since caucuses take place on the weekends or at night. Where they are truly unrepresentative is in terms of interest - they advantage candidates who have a strong base of committed supporters. Which frankly is one of the reasons I like them. Primaries are very good at measuring the preferences of voters, but not so good at taking into account intensity of support. I contend that a candidate who has a hard core of enthusiastic supporters might be preferable in a general election than a candidate who has the lukewarm backing of a larger number of people - particularly if the latter group is willing to vote for the former's candidate (if they weren't, their intensity level would go up, wouldn't it?).

Caucuses are also a form of democracy that has nearly been lost - the democracy of face to face communication. Primaries are isolated events reflective of an isolated society. Caucuses give us an opportunity to meet our neighbors and hear what they have to say, face to face.

Finally, caucuses are much more effective in building up a party infrastructure than primaries. Caucuses can be the training ground of a new group of activists, while primaries tend to be one-off affairs in which television advertising in paramount.

I can understand why a lot of Clinton supporters are unhappy with the results of the caucus elections - I would be too. But Clinton's struggles have less to do with the structure of caucuses than her campaign's own strategic decision-making. Clinton has her own strong supporters, and there's no reason that her campaign can't get them to attend a caucus if tries. The reason Clinton has been losing most of the caucuses isn't that they're inherently unfair - it's that she didn't think they would matter. That was a strategic error, no different that Obama's failure to reach out earlier to Latinos. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the fairness of the process.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:12 AM

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The Fallout

Thursday, February 07, 2008
I didn't write about the Super Tuesday results yesterday out of combination of exhaustion and consideration. I wanted to take some time to figure out what it all means, and to learn how the media was going to spin the outcome.

As it stands now, the Obama and Clinton campaigns are tied in pledged delegates, with Obama having a small lead. How is this possible, since he lost California, New York, and New Jersey? Well, delegates are apportioned proportionately, with most selected at the congressional district level. This means that even a candidate that loses will still get a lot of delegates in a 2 person race. Also, the number of delegates allocated to each congressional district is based on the population, not the number of primary voters. Since Obama does very well among Democrats in heavily Republican areas, he tends to get more than his share of delegates even when he loses - hence his 1-delegate win in Nevada. Obama also simply crushed Clinton in Midwest/West caucus states - by something like 2-1.

The overall Clinton delegate lead being reported in the papers and tv is due to endorsements by super delegates - elected officials and party leaders who make up 20% of the delegates at the convention. They can support whoever they like, and can also change their minds.

On Tuesday night, Obama won more states and by bigger margins, while Clinton won bigger states, generally speaking. Given the even number of delegates for each candidate, and the nearly identical total popular vote, they probably appropriately labeled the night as a tie. Surprisingly, it turns out that the Super Tuesday was a close escape for Clinton. Apparently she was so broke that she had to loan her campaign money. If Obama had won California, I think she would have been finished.

The big question, of course, is what happens now. There are three different scenarios - the clean Obama win, the clean Clinton win, and the disaster.

The most favorable Obama scenario is to sweep the rest of the primaries and caucuses in February, all of which appear to be good states for him. He uses these victories to build up momentum and brand Clinton as a loser, which should threaten her already straightened finances. Obama then wins either Texas and Ohio on March 4th, or wins Ohio and Pennsylvania (on April 22). In either case, Clinton would have lost so many consecutive contests that she would come under enormous pressure from the party to withdraw.

The best scenario for Clinton is to win at least 2-3 of the primaries in February, probably Wisconsin and Virginia, and then defeat Obama in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Her momentum would then be sufficient to win most of the remaining states (like Indiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina). Even if Obama stayed in the race, Clinton would enjoy a substantial delegate lead and would probably attract enough superdelegates to clinch the nomination, or at least to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations (more on that in a sec).

Then there's the disaster scenario. Obama sweeps February, Clinton wins 2 of the big three (Ohio, Texas, and Pennsyvlania), and they split the remaining states. A race this close and this long will doubtlessly also get very negative. Both candidates enter the Convention with roughly the same number of delegates, with Obama probably having a small lead. Clinton wins the credentials fight, seats the Michigan and Florida delegations, and wins the nomination. Obama's supporters are outraged because they think that Clinton has unfairly stolen the nomination, depressing youth, liberal, and black turnout in November. Clinton is also portrayed by the media as totally ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to win. The general election is then only 8 weeks away, and (after enjoying the bloodletting on the Democratic side), McCain probably wins over an exhausted and divided party.

Each of these scenarios seems equally likely to me. I suspect (hope?) that eventually one candidate or the other will start to build up some momentum. Because Obama and Clinton both have high favorable ratings among Democrats, it isn't hard to imagine that one candidate's supporters might start to bleed over to the other if their first choice looks like he/she is losing. But they both have strong campaigns and committed supporters, so this might go all the way to the convention, leading to scenario #3.

As you can tell, Clinton receives the nomination in 2 out of 3 of these scenarios, which means that until I learned of her financial troubles, I figured Clinton probably was still a slight favorite to win the nomination. On the other hand, Obama's cash advantage, demonstrated skill in winning over voters the more time he has to campaign, and the favorable calendar, all give him a perfectly reasonable chance as well.

So basically I have no idea what's going to happen. I'm just hoping that one or the other wins in the primaries rather than at the Convention. Cause I just hate John McCain, the crazy old geezer.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:33 PM

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Super Ultra Mondo Tuesday

Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Today is the day that half the states hold their presidential preference primaries. Originally many dumb people like myself expected that this Presidential election would operate in the fashion that previous ones have, with one candidate heading into Super Tuesday with a clear advantage, and with the states voting on February 5 ratifying the success of the winner. This has happened in every cycle in both parties since they invented Super Tuesday in 1988. I'm not sure why I thought this election would follow the normal rules. I mean, when was the last time a woman and an African-American were the top 2 contenders?

Today's conventional wisdom is that this Super Tuesday will witness a split decision, with both candidates emerging with roughly the same number of delegates and number of victories. This scenario has given Chris Bowers the vapors, as he predicts a closely contested race that goes all the way to the Convention and hopelessly splits the party. While this is certainly possible, I doubt it. Equally likely is that one candidate will clearly prevail tonight, with undecided voters breaking in one direction across the nation, rather than tipping in both directions depending on the state. If Clinton or Obama wins the vast majority of the states, then I expect the press will anoint a "winner" - even if the delegate count is relatively close. Also possible is that an tie this evening will be depicted as an Obama victory, after which he romps through a favorable February schedule, followed by decisive wins Texas and Ohio on March 4th, after which Clinton's money and support will dry up.

This isn't to say that Bowers' fear is implausible, only that it's a little too early to start talking about open conventions.

By the way, today is also Fat Tuesday. I'm trying to decide what to give up for Lent. Normally I give up self-discipline, but that's been coming in somewhat handy lately. I'm considering giving up Republicans. I really don't have much use for them anyway.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:16 AM

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A Probably Unimportant Realization

Friday, February 01, 2008
We thought we were going to have a snow day today, but instead it's just mushy goop. Fun.

Anyway, a quick thought: I was thinking about Edwards' withdrawal and McCain's likely nomination, and it occurred to me that in 2009 there won't be a Southern President for the first time in 20 years. In fact, it will be the first time that there isn't a President from a specific part of the South. Bush I (1989-93), Clinton (1993-2001), and Bush II (2001-09) were all from the same basic geographic region - the old trans-Mississippi South.

For some reason this makes me happy. Of course I would be unhappy if McCain won, but at least we wouldn't have yet another southern-fried Republican. I for one am sick and tired of the South's disproportionate influence on our national consciousness. A non-Southern Democratic majority in Congress and a non-Southern (and hopefully Northern Democratic) President would be nice.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:31 AM

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