Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hillary's lucky.

Last night, while talking to a girl at a party, the subject of the presidential election came up. Admittedly, this is the kind of subject I should stay away from when talking to girls at parties, but no one has ever accused me of being socially adept. Anyway, when I stated that Obama has the Democratic nomination pretty much locked up, and that, short of a miracle, even the superdelegates would not be enough to flip things Hillary's way, she was very surprised. Based on the media coverage in recent weeks, she was assuming that Hillary would get the nomination for sure. And this girl wasn't stupid--indeed, based on our conversation I got the impression that she was quite an intelligent person. Obviously, she wasn't as well-informed about the election as I am, but not everyone who is smart follows this stuff as closely as I do, and someone who follows it more in passing could certainly be forgiven for thinking that things were a lot closer than they are. This is one of the many ways that the news media treats the public like idiots. Not all the time, of course--there are plenty of stories out there about how Obama's pledged-delegate lead is practically insurmountable--but the headlines ignore this fact in order to create drama and grab ratings, and in so doing, misrepresent the facts in order to make their stories better. This is how the media treatment of the public as if they're idiots becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; when you report the news as if to idiots, it doesn't give the smarter people the opportunity to grasp nuances of the stories--nuances that as a rule are left out.

I wanted to talk about the fact that Hillary Clinton was incredibly lucky to have Pennsylvania be the state that restarted the primary votes after a six-week break; this concept was foremost in my mind when I created this blog a few days ago. I nearly decided to forget about the whole thing, since it took a few days to get the opportunity to write about it, but after talking to that girl at that party last night, I realized that a lot of people don't know the real story about that situation. Not that I'm flattering myself that anyone actually reads this thing, especially since it's only existed for a few days, but I wanted to go ahead and put this stuff out there, so that on the off chance that someone stumbles across it, it'll be available for them to read.

So, let's get into it. First and foremost, it's important to understand that Hillary Clinton was always going to win the Pennsylvania primary. It's a state in which people register by party and are then restricted to voting in the primary of their own party. So, Republicans and independents, groups that typically break heavily in Obama's favor when they vote in the Democratic primaries, were restricted from participation. Obama's campaign did as much as they could to help people registered as independent or Republican switch their registration in time to participate in the Democratic primary, but considering the fact that a lot of people see their registration status as too important to change just for one primary, this was never going to have that much of an impact.

Another important factor--other than Florida, Pennsylvania has the oldest average age of any state's population in the country. It's been shown over and over again during this primary season that Obama's strength is primarily with the youth vote. A state without all that many young people wasn't going to do as well for him, and Pennsylvania's one of the most lacking-in-youth states in the country. Plus, older people who are Democrats at all skew more towards Hillary Clinton. I tend to attribute this factor more to older women who want to vote for a female presidential candidate and don't think they'll live long enough to vote for another one after Hillary, but there are other factors here. Hillary is of an older generation than Barack Obama, who is only 45--the same age Bill Clinton was when he was elected in 1992. And while I don't like to figure that race plays much of a part in people's decisions on who to vote for president in the year 2008, the fact is that older white people are more likely to balk at voting for someone from a racial minority than younger people are. Since Pennsylvania is both older and whiter than average, it only stands to reason that Obama would have more hurdles to overcome here than in a lot of other states.

Hillary Clinton's campaign has used Obama's loss in Pennsylvania to portray him as someone who "can't close the deal", who can build up plenty of momentum but always gets derailed at the moment when he should be able to finally take the definitive lead. This line of argument ignores two really important points, and the fact that the cards were always stacked against Obama in Pennsylvania is only one of them. The other is that Obama, without a doubt, DOES have a definitive lead in the delegates needed to gain him the nomination. Hillary's 30-delegate lead where superdelegates are concerned doesn't even begin to cut significantly into Obama's 150-delegate lead in pledged delegates. And in order for Hillary to cut into that lead, she'll need either 65% or more of the votes in all 9 of the states and territories left to cast their votes in the Democratic primary--which she won't get--or 65% or more of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to go her way--which, again, won't happen, especially since Obama does have such a dramatic lead in the popular vote and in pledged delegates.

Would Hillary's campaign be able to argue that Obama was unable to "close the deal" if the first state to vote after the 6-week break was North Carolina? Certainly not--right now, Obama enjoys a 10% lead in North Carolina, and will likely win this state no matter what Hillary Clinton's campaign does. So, were this to have happened on April 22nd instead of May 6th, when it's going to happen, would it have shown that Obama COULD close the deal, where the Pennsylvania results didn't? No, of course not. The fact is, Obama closed the deal a while ago. He doesn't need to show anything else to make it obvious that he is the candidate that has secured the necessary delegates to win the Democratic nomination. At this point, as Paul Westerberg once said, it's all over but the shouting. Obama's loss in Pennsylvania did nothing to change that. It may have made Hillary look better in the press than she would have had she taken a loss, but that improvement in appearance is so much smoke and mirrors, and it'll be shown as such within the next month.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The news media thinks we're stupid.

No, seriously, it's true. Have you ever noticed that they always report the news about the presidential race with an eye to the opinions of the most shallow, inattentive, easily led members of the public? It drives me nuts. Take this ABC News story, as merely the most recent example of a near-ubiquitous phenomenon. The synopsis--Jeremiah Wright gives an interview to Bill Moyers of PBS, in which he attempts to explain his controversial remarks and the ways they've affected Barack Obama. The spin--this will hurt Barack Obama. Why? Because it keeps Wright and his remarks in the public eye, I assume. One thing that is never discussed explicitly nor considered implicitly--is it possible that, three weeks having passed since this controversy started, that the public has already made up its mind about it? Is it possible that people have evaluated things, reassessed their opinion of Obama accordingly, and moved on? Certainly not in the minds of ABC News and the various political pundits they spoke to for this story. "'If he was a Barack Obama supporter, I think he would pull himself off of the stage at this point,' said National Public Radio senior political analyst Juan Williams. 'Nothing good comes of this for Barack Obama,' concurred ABC News political contributor Cokie Roberts." And why not? Because they assume that we, the public, are only moving on from this issue because we forgot about it. Reminders will hurt Obama's numbers.

Later in the article, a telling quote: "'Even though he was defending himself, quite nicely, he said Barack Obama spoke as a politician. That is the last thing Obama wants people to think of him as. He has approached the American people as a pastor-type himself,' said Roberts." What? Yeah, you're right, I like Obama, and I feel like he's not quite on the same level as a lot of other politicians, but does Cokie Roberts really think that mere acknowledgement of the fact--and it is a fact--that Obama is a politician is enough to hurt him politically? As everyone paying the least bit of attention to all of this knows, everyone running for president right now, from Barack Obama and John McCain down to Ralph Nader and all the other third-party guys none of us have ever heard of, is a politician. That's what you call people who serve political office, and it's also what you call people who are trying to win said political offices. Who that isn't totally stupid doesn't know that?

You see what I'm getting at here? The news media thinks we're stupid. They think that polls are shifted and votes are cast based on stupid, shallow interpretations of what's going on in the political world. And then they report these stories in a way that reinforces a stupid and shallow view of the current political spectrum, rather than an intelligent and nuanced one. Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" and Bill Maher of HBO's "Real Time" both seem to have far more respect for the American viewer's intelligence than anyone at the mainstream news media, and the two of them are both comedians. It drives me crazy.

More on this later, I'm sure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Who I am and why this is here.

The name is a modification of the Minutemen song title "One Reporter's Opinion" (the lyrics basically have no relevance here, but I like the title). The Morlocks were a literary creation of H.G. Wells. In "The Time Machine", they are a humanoid race, assumedly evolved from working classes that were treated poorly and forced to live underground. They do all of the dirty jobs for the upper classes, keeping them happy and content, never having to think about the work done to maintain their comfortable society. The metaphor here is belabored to the point of cliche, and I probably shouldn't have explained it at all. The most interesting wrinkle of Wells's hypothetical future is that the Morlocks survive by eating the beautiful, contented Eloi. Don't worry, I don't eat the rich. Yet.

I think a lot about politics, specifically the mainstream American electoral politics that influence the lives of everyone that make their home in the United States of America... and let's face it, pretty much everyone on this planet. It's a constant soap opera struggle that I follow closely. But most of the time, I don't feel like it's a subject in which I have any say. This is despite the fact that it has a great amount of say in what happens in my life. It seems to me that the strings are mostly pulled by the rich, that acceptable public opinion within the mainstream debate framework is ridiculously restricted as far as its spectrum, and furthermore ignores or outright suppresses most of the information that the average American citizen would need in order to have an informed opinion. This information is the kind of thing that I track down in nonfiction books, alternative magazines, obscure corners of the internet, etc. And as a result, what passes for political debate in this country is often infuriating for me.

When I was younger, I focused on the sort of radical political thought that is more focused on pie in the sky concepts like revolutionary anarchism, socialist alternatives to capitalist government, or the downright dismantling of our modern society with all its conveniences and a return to pre-industrial agrarian or even hunter-gatherer culture. As a college dropout from a relatively affluent family background, who voluntarily rejected the middle-class lifestyle I was supposed to inherit, for both moral and emotional reasons, I was already on the fringes of cultural thought, and was spending most of my time within the subculture of punk rock. This was the sort of political thought I was mostly exposed to. However, as I got older and started to recognize that discussions of the ins and outs of revolutionary anarchism had no relevance in my life, and further started to realize that there were plenty of political issues that did have a great deal of relevance in my life, most of which I was ignoring, I found the entire punk rock subculture's political dialogue untenable. As a friend of mine memorably said about crust punks, "All they really want is to live in a treehouse and smoke weed all day." That was nothing I could relate to.

But where else was there to turn, politically speaking? The worker's revolutions of the early and mid 20th century were co-opted and neutered by increasing affluence of American society. Capitalism was running rampant over the political landscape, and in the late 90s, when Bill Clinton was still president, it didn't seem like either of the two main political parties had anything to offer someone who wanted to see the working class be taken care of and not left to starve. For a while, I thought Ralph Nader and the Green Party had something to offer, but after the electoral debacle that was the 2000 presidential election, I turned away from the idea of third party politics as well. I guess at this point I'm a Democrat, simply because nothing else that seems any better seems the least bit viable. I still know plenty of anarchists and socialists who scoff at everything mainstream American politics sends down the pike as all being equally unworthy, but they never seem to have any ideas or concrete actions that will change anything for the better. So for now, I'm in the Democratic boat, for lack of anything better. And I still don't feel like I have a voice.

But there is the internet, and in recent years it's become more and more of a way for people to make themselves heard. Therefore, I've decided to join the chorus, and throw my hat in the ring as a political blogger. If nothing else, it might alleviate some of the frustration I feel when I read the internet news feeds and watch mainstream political coverage on cable news. I don't expect it to change anything, and I don't expect anyone to read it. As far as I'm concerned, I'm screaming into a void. And who cares what a Morlock who hasn't even learned to eat the rich has to say anyway? But it's better than nothing, I guess. And maybe it'll help me to sleep a little better at night, to have an outlet for the frustrations I feel about this whole stupid process.

So hello. This is one morlock's opinion. I hope you get something out of it.