Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Awkward Like a Fox

I was surprised by the media's coverage of Hilary's joke that she "knew about evil men" on the stump the other day. The first question she was asked (by a reporter, that is) was the obvious one, had she been referring to her wayward husband? With widened eyes she protested, oh no, it had been about the political bad guys, haha. Then someone on cable news took it all literally: "It's a gaffe, isn't it Rona, and will it do her damage? And as if she expected us to believe it was about those bad guys!" It was a joke, and obviously about her husband, and he probably even helped her out thinking it up. It's got that Clinton sense of judo. Here's what's happening: Hilary has two tasks (among others) right now - that is, early in the campaign. First, the Dems lost by very narrow margins in the last two elections. The early campaign focus has to be on that base (Republicans understand this). Second, Bill has to be played front and center. He's the reason she's there historically, and he's very popular with the party rank and file. One of Gore's chief mistakes in 2000 was not deploying him where he would have helped (one of a couple of mistakes that, just by itself, would have turned that election). So Bill's got to be aired out. And, like admitting you inhaled, early on is the time to do it. Use the infidelity issue to your advantage: appeal to the experience of ordinary women. Exploit the gender gap, which might be wide in 2008 if the GOP is still running on national security issues. Above all, rinse the tension out of the Monica issue by finding a way to allude to it. And that's just what she did.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Puerto Rican Parties Undergoing Change

In Puerto Rico there are three main political parties, organized around the "status issue," the relationship between Puerto Rico and the US: The pro-statehood party is the Partido Nuevo Progresista ("PNP," the letters given their Spanish pronunciation); the Partido Popular Democratico ("Los Populares"), sometimes "The Commonwealth party," who favor preserving the current status as worked out by Munoz Marin in the early 1950s; and the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueno ("PIP," pronounced as in Spanish peep), or universally "Los Independentistas," whose name is self-explanatory. The reality for a long time is that the PNP and the Populares are the two leading parties, historically the PIP has had from 5 to 15 percent of the vote but in recent years that has fallen to dismall performances of less than 5 percent, bad enough that the party's formal credentials would be imperilled were support to drop any lower. "Melones" are Puerto Rican voters who are green (PIP) on the outside (talking on the street) but red (Popular) on the inside (in the voting booth), but even that political behavior is more rare as the two major parties square off over the governer's seat and the legislature. In recent years, after a period of seeming political domination, the PNP has lost power in the wake of a long, persistent problem with corruption. Pedro Rossello, the ambitious PNP cacique who had another senator step aside when he needed a seat after his election loss, was particularly damaged as many of the people in his cabinet and campaign were indicted on the most venal of charges (diverting money for personal use is almost always the gist of it here: even the AIDS money was stolen by the doctors in charge). The current Populare governer, known universally as "Anibal," was a party functionary when a replacement was needed for Sila Calderon. Calderon was the first woman governer of Puerto Rico, but she was essentially a conservative figure both politically and personally as a member of the island's traditional oligarchy. Anibal has performed, I would say, above expectations, but I write today because of interesting stirrings amongst the PNP. It was always discouraging to me, as a North American resident here, that the PNP, which nominally seeks integration with US political institutions, had so many problems both with corruption and with distinctly non-democratic (small "d") behavior. I think part of this reflected the style of Rossello, and now the party is moving on to other candidates. But I see this as part of something deeper. The political organization of the society here is not very well-rationalized. Natural divides between liberal and conservative policies are scrambled by the centrality of the status issue. Ultimately the problem for the Populares is that their agenda is to preserve things as they are, but in reality everything is changing day by day (including the relationship with the United States). On the PNP side there is at least a possibility that a political party will organize itself along broader social and political lines. Paradoxically, it may be that political organization that does not place the status issue at the center of everything will be the key to creating conditions where the issue can be resolved.

Friday, January 26, 2007

How to Reform the Primaries

The presidential primary system needs reform. States acting in self-interest have sought to secure their status as bellweather states by scheduling primaries and caucuses earlier and earlier. It's a degenerative problem. The earlier and longer the primaries, the less relevant to the political process they become. A primary in Nevada in February of next year would be little more than a glorified poll. The solution is a fixed, rotating primary schedule. Over the course of April and May of an election year there would be, say, eight elections (weekly), distributed over eight regionally-balanced and size-balanced groups of states, chosen by lottery. The political conventions would be held during the month of June (or something like that). Each election cycle the order of the groups of states would change in rotation through all the states. This primary system would insure fairness for all of the states, and would help to prevent the political dominance of regions. It would also produce some colorful politics.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The End of the Beginning on Environmental Policy

In the President's State of the Union speech last night, between the usual State of the Union laundry list of well-intentioned promises in the first half to the depressingly familiar obsession with terrorism and war in the second, there was one genuinely newsworthy moment. It was an historic moment, in fact. George W. Bush set the country the goal of reducing oil consumption by twenty percent in the next ten years.
I know, beware. What does he mean exactly? He's trying to lull us into thinking he's on the right page with energy policy, he's sneaky and persistant, don't trust. True enough. But making such an ambitious statement reflects both the degree to which public opinion now forces him to act and, possibly, a real opinion shift in the man. Remember these are the people who cut off alternative fuel research during the first week of their administration. This is the administration that abolished the National Biological Survey. The personal fortunes of the President and Vice-President are oil money. The "alternative fuel" research agenda of the Republicans is scamulous, with its emphasis on ethanol marketing (pork) and hydrogen cells (remote). But last night we saw the dawn of the day that all governments will have to pursue sound energy and environmental policy as a matter of simple necessity. A new age.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Winning the GOP Primary

Today's Republican Party is not capable of nominating a pro-choice candidate. I will believe it when I see it, not before. This means that the northeastern moderate Republicans, people like Pataki but most notably Giuliani, are likely going to exert influence on the platform (to use a dated phrase) by brokering delegates. I don't think hizzoner can be considered a front-runner for the party's nomination. I even think a vice-presidential candidate who had to explain to party crowds his pro-choice stance would dampen turnout too much in crucial states. Meanwhile Senator McCain could be losing some steam among the party's likely primary voters, although that's more of an odor than a proposition at this point. Could turn out to be a surprising primary.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ozzie and Harriet in Baghdad

The problem with a secular, confederate regime like the one Washington wants for Iraq is that everyone there, all of the actual individual players, have well-defined sectarian identities that will in fact be motivating their behavior for the foreseeable future. For Washington they are expected to join in an elaborate act of Kabuki theater.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What Hilary Has

What Hilary has is poll numbers. Everyone says her "negatives" are too high, but nobody appointed her the front runner. We're talking about Senator Clinton for one reason: polls of likely Democratic primary voters show her in the lead. In fact she does well in all kinds of polls, including match-up polls with likely Republican nominees. The only one who so far often edges her out is Senator McCain. The argument that people don't like her isn't persuasive when she rules at the polls. For myself, I'd be happy to get Bill back, and I doubt I'm alone on that. My likely-Democratic acquaintances who say nobody will vote for Hilary will all vote for her themselves if she's the nominee; at least, I haven't heard from any who wouldn't.